Game Development Reference
past. This combination doesn't just add up the experiences of looking and
shooting. It multiplies them into a combinatorial explosion of new emer-
gent possibilities. We can create aiming challenges where there were none
before. Players have to trade off targeting one enemy over targeting an-
other. The player might even have to learn situational awareness to know
where to look for targets off-screen. This simple look-shoot combination
is so elegant that it drives countless games, from The House of the Dead to
Space Invaders .
Now imagine adding a movement mechanic. The player can run
around an environment, looking and shooting in any direction. The
number of possibilities multiplies again. Now the player can move around
to dodge attacks, rush forward to attack, or explore a space to learn about
its story. Games designed around this simple combination of shoot, look,
and move earn billions of dollars every year. They vary tremendously in
their fiction and emphasis: in one, you're a space marine blasting aliens;
in another you're exploring a somber underwater city. But all these games
share the same elegant core: shoot, look, and move.
And those millions of different play experiences come at a remarkably
low cost. The designers need only implement a few mechanics. The play-
ers need only learn a few controls. Once that's done, a million variations of
triumph, sorrow, tension, and joy will emerge.
Elegance happens when mechanics interact in complex, nonobvious
ways. But this same complexity and nonobviousness makes elegant
design very difficult to achieve.
Elegance requires that different mechanics interact. For example, the
look, shoot, move combination works well because the player uses all of
these controls at once. Since the mechanics all work together, they can
multiply into many different possibilities. But this tight interaction be-
tween mechanics also makes it hard to solve design problems because
changes in one mechanic also affect all the others.
In an inelegant game, isolated problems are easy to fix. If the wizard's
goblin-killer rod is too powerful when used against goblins, the designer
can just reduce its power. Since the rod has no effect on anything besides
goblins, this change has no side effects and the problem is solved.
But this easy solution is only possible because the design is so in-
elegant. Why can't you use the rod against orcs, ogres, other wizards, the
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