Game Development Reference
First, it is inherently invisible to designers. A designer knows every-
thing about his game — far more than most players will ever discover. We
can try to pretend that we don't know what we know, but there is no way to
actually have the experience of an uninitiated player. Without playtesting
or other safeguards to detect these problems, it's easy to think a game is
working well when it is actually critically information-starved and unplay-
able for anyone who doesn't already know it inside and out.
But information starvation also hides itself in another, even more
insidious way. It uses emotional blackmail to make us not want to find it.
It feels good to see a new mechanic finally work after weeks of design
effort. For many designers, that sense of accomplishment is our main
reason for doing the work. But hunting information starvation puts that
feeling in jeopardy. It threatens to show that that feeling of success was
just an illusion — that, in front of real players, the mechanic is an impen-
etrable mess. That's a terrible letdown for a designer, and it's emotionally
difficult to take actions to seek that result.
But it must be done. Information starvation is always found eventu-
ally. It's better that it happens before release, when we can still do some-
thing about it.
While too little information makes decisions confusing and random, too
much information erases them entirely. A decision is about seeing the
correct answer implied by the information given. If the answer is already
plainly stated in the information given, there is no mental process in seeing
it. The thought process vanishes; the decision is no longer a decision.
That means that sometimes we can generate a decision from nothing
just by subtracting information. By not handing players the answer, we
give them an interesting problem to think through.
For example, in Modern Warfare 2 the player can attach a heartbeat
sensor to the side of his rifle. The sensor displays a map with the locations
of nearby enemies in front of the player, even if they're behind walls.
If this is all it did, it would be an awful design. Much of the best play
in Modern Warfare 2 derives from the challenge of figuring out where ene-
mies are. A player given complete information on enemies' locations could
blunder around corners with no care, tension, or thought, and never have
to guess at enemies' movements. The game would devolve into a reactive
shooting contest, and the pokerlike game of cat and mouse would collapse.
The solution is to subtract information. But how, exactly?
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