heard from many people that the ideal game is the one that has everything. It's
a game where players are constrained by nothing. These people believe in a
sandbox where their very imagination is the only boundary. They believe in game
with no limits.
surface, this game sounds great. Who wouldn't want an infinite number of play
mechanics? Who wouldn't enjoy the complete freedom of the ultimate kitchen sink
game? But ironically, a title with too many avenues of influence becomes less
of a game and more like life. This game would be horrible.
course, this game isn't feasible. The scope of its game world reaches well
beyond what technology can accomplish. But what if we collapsed this game world
into one small room, keeping the infinite game mechanics? What if we could do
anything we want in this tiny space? Would it be fun? No. Because it's not this
theoretical game world's sheer size that dulls it. The huge set of game
mechanics is the villain, and its downfall is that there's just too much to do.
always just systems waiting to be understood. Fun is in the learning, and the
payoff is in our influence over these systems. But a player wields influence only through game mechanics. Anyone
would agree that by adding mechanics we inevitably complicate the player's
influence over their world. But while game mechanics always add complexity to
player input, they rarely alter game output.
example of mechanic complexity is the legendary Shenmue. While its interaction-heavy gameplay was a novel concept
at the time, the industry at large has since avoided such complication in
games. Players simply don't enjoy a game about everything. High mechanic counts
dilute a title's identity and possibility for engagement. In these following
paragraphs I will explore specific methods for distilling a game's fun by
reducing its mechanic set.
The Play Aesthetic
of literature, film, and music possess their own particular aesthetic. This is
the piece's overall feel and character. Not surprisingly, a work's aesthetic
reflects the sensibilities of its creators. When judged by a sensitive
audience, the aesthetic must always display a great sense of cohesion. Great
artists are careful not to include something that just doesn't belong.
no exception in possessing their own aesthetics. Interactive media even have
their own distinct form, the play aesthetic. This is the overall feel and
character of the gameplay, and it too must seem cohesive. Where painters use their
brushes to create a unified composition, designers use gameplay. Where artists need
to generate a harmonious color palette, game developers should engineer a set
of congruous mechanics.
God of War conveys a strong play aesthetic,
centered squarely on brutal violence. The meat of this experience is fluid
melee combat and how to master it. The Blades of Chaos exist solely to support
the feel of flowing, sinuous battle.
players would agree that God of War's
play aesthetic is unique and instantly identifiable. Platforming is secondary
to combo chains. Environments contain a sense of dread and the storyline firmly
rests on simple, violent revenge. This overall cohesion does much to
characterize it, but the unity of gameplay alone is enough to define God of War. This is a worthy goal for
aesthetics are always simple and identifiable. It's no mistake that Picasso's Guernica and
Sargent's Madame X evoke a straightforward but powerful emotion in their
audiences. Great stories like Moby-Dick, Lolita and The Old Man and the Sea get
their strength from foundations that are simple and robust.
must engineer their play aesthetics in the same manner. The overall look and feel
should be something palpable. If part of a game feels "tacked on," the
designers have violated this rule. Masters of many art forms have long been
practicing aesthetic techniques, but most game designers have not yet caught
The ways in
which game mechanics interact manipulate the play aesthetic. When players possess
a more limited arsenal of influence, odds are greater that particular mechanics
won't appear out of place.
Players must feel as though their possible actions
form a cohesive whole. They must think that they sufficiently understand the
system of their game world. Therefore we must make our systems strong enough to
be understandable. The inclusion of too many game mechanics is the surest way
to dilute this strength and rob players of their valuable insight.