Complexity in Games: Dumbed Down vs Elegant

Posted: June 4, 2011 in Game Design
Tags: , , , , , , ,

If you are in the field of mathematics or engineering you may use the word elegant in a different way than common folk, usually some brilliant and simple solution to a problem is an elegant solution. Well there’s been talk about streamlining in games, and people usually cry “dumbed down” at it. Although I do think many cases of streamlining have made games worse, they can also improve if it makes for a more elegant game.

So now to explain what the difference between elegant and dumbed down. Super Mario Bros is a great example of an elegant game. The actions a player can take are walking around, running, jumping, and if you get the fire flower, shooting fireballs. That’s four different actions which is quite a bit fewer than in most games. We could say its a very simple game. And yet the very few actions a player can take provide hours of fun, because of the great level design. Essentially an elegant game has no unnecessary features. All the features in the game are put to good use through good game design to provide lots of entertainment despite the simplicity of the game.

Now an example of a not so elegant game, that is a victim of streamlining. How about Final Fantasy 13. There are a lot things in this game that set it apart from the previous games in the series, one of which has major implications, your health regenerates after each battle. This means that item usage, which was very important in previous games, is basically useless, and battles with monsters serve no purpose than to waste time.

Let me explain. In the old days of Final Fantasy, preparation was just as important, if not more important than the actual battle. The enemies you fought were individually weak, but served the purpose of slowly wearing you down. Do you have enough healing items, do you have the right gear equipped, do you have the right magic and skills, to get you through the dungeon?

Now that you regenerate health after each battle, battles with weak monsters are a waste of time that serves no purpose, and items are basically vestigial, you won’t need to use a potion the entire game. That raises a red flag right there, unnecessary game mechanic means this game is anything but elegant. An elegant game would have removed items entirely and spent more time improving the core mechanics.

Of course there’s the other main problem with the game, that the battles themselves are pointless. Well not completely pointless I guess, and this shines through mostly in boss, is that the battles are basically puzzles. Two of the three characters will attack automatically, and 99% of the time the auto attack option will be the ideal thing to use against an enemy so there’s no need to really choose what to do for the one character you do control.

Your only job as the player is to judge the current situation and switch the characters to different roles. If you can figure out the best roles to use against an enemy you’ve effectively solved it. When you’ve beaten one enemy of a certain type you can do it again and again with no trouble because its exactly the same every time, and the enemies will not wear you down as in previous games.

So what would be an elegant solution? Fewer battles. Ideally every battle would be unique, or at least very little repetition. Perhaps more types of enemies, and they would all be harder to beat, that way instead of dull repetitive gameplay its more of a puzzle to figure out how to beat the enemies. The only other solution is to do a complete overhaul of the core gameplay.

So I think I’ve made it pretty clear about the difference between elegant and dumbed down. Elegant has no unnecessary features, and puts them all to use in interesting ways, which can lead to quite a deep experience. Dumbed down, has very shallow features that it fails to use as well as it could, leading to a very shallow experience.

And I guess now is a good time to apologize for my previous post. I wrote it late at night in sort of delusional state of mind. I would take it down but maybe its better to leave it up as a warning to myself.

  1. krellen says:

    An elegant post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s