18 September 2010

How To Trim The Fat Just Right - by Josh Bycer

      Posted 09/14/10 01:57:00 am  

Recently I started thinking about ways designers can broaden the appeal of their games. One popular way is to simplify mechanics or systems however if done incorrectly it can be seen as dumbing down. The funny part is that both terms mean the same thing but one is praised while the other is criticized. This leads me to today’s important question that I will try to answer “can you differentiate between the two without going to opinion?”

The challenge is that when we talk about these two decisions it can be hard to separate analysis from opinion. I remember with Deus Ex: Invisible War that the designers thought they were making the game better by introducing a single universal ammo type for all weapons as opposed to different ammo for each gun. The fan base however thought differently and criticized them for dumbing down the game. First off, I want to try to define both concepts in my opinion as separate entities.

Simplify: Either to present a game mechanic or system in another way or to reduce the complexity needed to understand the mechanic.

Dumb-down: To outright remove the mechanic or reduce the # of decisions the player can make while playing.

I think the best way to explain this is with an example; going back to Deus Ex IW for a minute the goal of the designers was to not have the player worry about ammo consumption, which leads to the decision of a universal ammo supply. However outright removing the player's decision about ammo leads to the cry of dumbing down, but I can think of a way of appeasing both groups.

Let's say that instead of the ammo supply being used for all guns that it is instead the material needed to create new ammo. For example five blocks of ammo can be used to create a twelve round clip of pistol ammo. Now let’s say that we could use seven blocks of ammo to create stronger bullets that do

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