Game Development Reference
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worthwhile, but it can't be elegant because there's always a one-to-one re-
lationship between cost and payoff. A mechanic that's used 100,000 times
can potentially be very elegant, if it can generate new experiences every
time. The repetition doesn't guarantee elegance, but without it elegance
is impossible.
This is one of the easiest elegance smells to notice. It's hard to tell
how nuanced the interactions between a mechanic and its neighbors will
be. But it's typically easy to tell how often a mechanic will be repeated.
And there are many, many design ideas which sound great when they're
imagined once, but obviously sour after the thousandth time. Look for
those mechanics that will stand up when worked to the bone. Find the
million-repetition mechanics.
Mechanics that don't impose restrictions on content smell like elegance.
Imagine a science fiction detective game in which the hero finds clues,
solves cases, and occasionally chases bad guys. To improve the action se-
quences, someone proposes that the protagonist wear rocket boots that let
him jump 20 feet into the air. One prototype later, and designers find the
action sequences are immediately improved. The rocket boots are quickly
written into the official design and everyone cheers.
These designers might be celebrating too early. While they did make
the game better in the short term, they also created a huge hidden cost and
may have harmed their game in the end.
Now that the jump height is 20 feet, every level in the game must
change to support that jump height. There cannot be any place where the
player can get somewhere he shouldn't by jumping. So level designers
have to find ways to block the player from entering a thousand wrong
places. They have to contort the fiction to prevent the player jumping over
buses and park walls. The suburban bungalow map has to be cut because
there is no way to stop players jumping over the roof. Designers end up
adding piles of crates, invisible walls, or misplaced billboards just to stop
players escaping the play area. All of this means that the game gets a bit
more nonsensical, the fictional backdrop thinner, and the levels slightly
worse as designers spend time trying to contain high-jumping players
instead of making the game better.
The 20-foot jump created a content restriction . It required that all the
levels be built in such a way that the player could not break the game by
jumping 20 feet. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but in reality it's a huge
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