Experience Points: Simplicity Over Complexity, Where Focus Is Essential
Talking about games is always a fickle subject among gamers, and actually getting to the nitty-gritty of why one game is terribly designed and another is more deserving of our praise is trying at the best of times. I love games, I write about them and I appreciate games that perhaps don’t tick everyone’s GOTY boxes. But the biggest thing I admire in a game is simplicity, not merely in mechanics and design, but I feel enlightened when a game can be complex and refined so well that its refinement reeks of simplicity as if intended by the developer (or perhaps it is). I think if I have to express this more specifically I mean that games which have a singular and simple focus elicit the most appreciation from me.
I enjoy it when a game plays smoothly, the HUD is not intrusive and all the gameplay elements meld together so well that nothing feels out of place, with pretty much elegance in the simplicity of the design. I think often at times we’ve become accustomed to having a multitude of game mechanics shoved down our throats as gamers, that we can’t abjectly express what is necessarily “wrong” with a game. The complexity becomes overwhelming, and some games feel as if they are complex and overwhelming for the sake of being abundantly muddled. As if a more streamlined approach to design is not possible? Why must the most round-about way be the prime choice for facilitating good game design practice in these types of games? It comes across as lazy and inevitably lacking design on the part of developers.
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A good example of doing complexity right can be seen in RPGs, RTSs and MOBAs. These types of games appear complex at first glance, but their complexity isn’t the result of bad design choices or lacking development, it is depth. Now difficulty, learning curves and challenge do not make a game complex. DOTA 2 is a good example of a game with a steep learning curve for new players; however, the game has been built on great design choices where there is no barrier to learning the basics, except perhaps other DOTA players. Truly a great game has the basics down, it knows what it is and hits the nail on the head in terms of its gameplay. These are games that play smoothly, where the game’s design and mechanics don’t in any prolific way intrude on the experience.
When a game has too many mechanics introduced and the experience becomes unsightly, it is often a lack of focus on key areas of the game that is most telling when playing a game. You have that “ah-ha” moment where you realise that a game would have been far better if the developers had refined select elements of the game, instead of focusing on others. Knowing what to focus on is a sign of good developers who have produced a quality game. Recent games are showing signs of a lack of focus, like Thief, the free running was atrocious requiring you to use awkward controls when Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has free running which enhances mobility in the game and increases the enjoyment of the game, it doesn’t hamper the flow of the game in any negative way.
A game can have numerous mechanics, yet they have to have a place in the game’s design that promotes functionality rather than being unnecessary additions that take a step backwards. The choice to simply focus on what is key in a game’s design will prove fruitful, and the end result will be more awesome games from developers.