Posts Tagged ‘Riven’

Today’s Response: How big is too big?

18 December, 2009

Games have the potential to be needlessly complex. Developers sometimes throw in elements that are not needed to drive the game forward, or add elements that end up hindering a player. Is it pride that prevents developers from taking out such elements? Could it be that developers want to create this content so that they appear to have created something that is new and fresh? Could too much information and too many decisions be a sign of poor game design?

Certainly there a people who enjoy complex systems. There are war games which have an absurd amount of objects to control. There are games where skill trees alone are almost impossible to read comprehensively. People enjoy this though on some level, because it gives them something to learn. These games give players the ability to test their limits of memory and coordination. Such games can be very telling of a player. If a player who doesn’t fully understand the complexities of a game is playing against a veteran (who has seen every strategy that can be used) then the chance of the inexperienced player defeating the veteran is very slim. These games can lead to a true use of skill and knowledge by players for advantage in a game.

Some games don’t have to be complex in design, but the strategies developed by players can be very complex. Chess is a game with very simple rules. Each piece moves a certain way, and when a king is threatened with no form of escape the game is over. These simple rules are very deceiving. The strategies involved in playing chess are very complex and differ wildly from person to person. This complexity is very rewarding for the player who takes the time to learn every aspect of the game. Can video games be the same way? I think a lot of developers are trying to shy away from simplicity, thinking if there are few rules, stories, or bits of information, then the players won’t be able to create vastly different strategies. I can only think of a few games which can claim such simple rules and yet produce such complex strategies. One of those is Tetris. Within Tetris there is one rule: don’t let the pieces reach the top of the screen. However, arranging the pieces so that they don’t reach the screen requires many strategies. Learning patterns is rewarding for the player because they have a better chance of improving over time.

What about story telling in games? Isn’t it important that the player knows a back story to a character? Yes, but when games go into great detail about histories of characters and backgrounds their races, does that really benefit the player? I played through Vagrant Story several times, and each time I was amazed by how Squaresoft developed the characters. They tell very little about the characters inside the game. It isn’t necessary for them to do so, because all that matters is the main plot arc. If they need to bring up characters in another game they can develop those characters for that plot arc. A game doesn’t need to go through 100 years of history just to explain why x is fighting y. It may develop the characters, but honestly, I won’t care unless it advances the plot. If you learn about an enemy and their weakness through a flash back, then it would be helpful to learn about. If you learn that the Hero used to pull a bucket up from a well all day only to see his or her father once a day, well, that really doesn’t concern me as a player. What generally happens in these situations is that games have so many back stories of characters that it is almost impossible for the player to keep track of accurately. I don’t want to sit through cut-scene after cut-scene of history that doesn’t affect the game play at all. What is worse is having to read through a mountain of information inside of a game only to find out one or two details that will advance the plot. Riven is an excellent game, but at times I was frustrated that to advance in the game the player had to read dozens of books, some of which never aided in advancing the player.

Games can quickly become too big too handle. When I play a game where information is constantly being thrown at the player I have to sit back and wonder, “why is this information here?” Could the developers have spent less time focusing on creating a mountain of information, and instead focused on problems with game play? I think people sometimes are confused by the difference of enjoyably complex and needlessly complex. If the game play revolves around being complex, like in chess where the player has to know all information at all times throughout the game, then it is fine to include complexity. Otherwise think carefully about spending the time and energy to develop or play a game which is complex just for complexities sake.