complex mechanics actually weaken the game? In the latest Gamasutra feature, gameplay programmer John Rose examines how limiting mechanics can result in stronger play experiences -- tossing aside fashionable notions in favor of an argument for discipline in design.
While filling a game with features and sandbox elements might seem to answer requests from gamers for an environment with near-limitless possibilities, this can take away from the strength of the game's aesthetic and unity of gameplay.
Limits off players an opportunity to feel that they understand and have a mastery of their game world's environment:
"A recent trend in games is the ability of players to "play their own way." It's a design choice that includes more mechanics than any particular player will explore in a single playthrough. While superficially this seems like the Holy Grail of game design, the idea merely passes on the entertainment responsibility to the player. These games include a myriad of mechanics in the hope that the player will find some to suit him.
I argue that a few well-developed game mechanics in a strong play aesthetic will always be more enjoyable. Players ultimately want to learn and triumph over a system. But the inclusion of too many mechanics only serves to de-systemize the game.
Even worse, most games penalize the player for misreading the system and making the wrong choice, if only to add an element of challenge. When challenges become difficult, too many choices in the form of too many mechanics only confuse and irritate."
Weakening the aesthetic and including too many methods of action can hinder the player instead of providing more paths to success:
BioShock is an example a great game whose giant mechanic set only weakens its play aesthetic. While the title's story and environment have set the bar for many games to come, there's just too much to do. In many a difficult situation players are left to decide between their guns, plasmid powers, hacking, stealth, and the use of one-shot items.
The massive palette of game actions only serves to confuse and frustrate the player when challenged. The game's perfect cohesion in all other areas should have supported a strong play aesthetic; instead, players walk away from BioShock without a unified gameplay experience.
You can now read the full feature
, which features Rose's breakdown of how complex mechanics can dilute a game's aesthetic (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).