Game Development Reference
Do a quick mental count of the number of interactions expected from
a proposed mechanic. If it interacts with many other mechanics, it's more
likely to be an elegant design. If it interacts with just one or two, it's prob-
For example, when considering a spell in a fantasy RPG (role-playing
game), ask: can it interact with other spells? How about with party mem-
bers, with multiple adversaries, with the environment, the morality system,
the narrative, or the player's stats?
Mechanics can even interact with themselves. For example, pawns in
chess can be arranged in many different structures to claim various parts
of the board.
Simple mechanics smell like elegance.
Elegance is as much about reducing the cost of a mechanic as it is
about increasing the benefit. A bloated, overly complex mechanic might
create good results, but it's often not worth the learning burden it puts on
players. Simplifying it might mean losing a few nuances in play, but it also
opens up mindspace for other, more efficient designs.
Furthermore, reducing the complexity players are exposed to increases
their appreciation of what's left. Players who aren't overburdened will fully
explore a game and enjoy every morsel of experience. Those buried in
complexity will miss much of what the game has to offer.
The most elegant-smelling mechanics are so stupidly simple that they
seem downright obvious after you hear them. So try to find designs that
you can write on a cocktail napkin.
Mechanics that can be used in multiple ways smell like elegance.
A tool that can be used creatively, offensively, defensively, tactically,
and strategically is more elegant than one that only fills a single role. Not
only does it interact in many ways, but it also creates new choices and
relationships by coupling these different roles together.
For example, in most shooter games, guns are purely offensive weap-
ons. Players defend themselves with movement and cover, while using
guns to defeat enemies. The Resident Evil series of zombie survival horror
games handles this differently. In Resident Evil , the player cannot move
while shooting, and gunshots cause oncoming zombies to stop in place for
several seconds. In this game, guns are both offensive and defensive tools,
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