Game Development Reference
cost for level designers. It becomes a wet blanket that slows and distorts
everything they do.
This mistake is endemic because the benefits are obvious while the
costs are hidden. A new design that creates content restrictions can create
an immediate, visceral design benefit. It feels good in prototype, tests well,
and makes people look good. The benefits are concentrated and immedi-
ate, while the costs are spread over years and imposed chiefly on others.
But although each restriction enables some narrow short-term benefit, the
combined weight of too many of them can smother a game.
There are a thousand kinds of content restrictions. Jump distances,
room heights, character counts, resource amounts, dialogue lengths, in-
ventory sizes, and vehicle sizes can all be restricted by design decisions.
Sometimes, as with a 20-foot jump, the restriction grows from implica-
tions of the design. Other times, as in the case of character counts, it's
about keeping the game running at a playable frame rate.
More elegant mechanics can improve a game without creating such
hidden costs. Seek out those designs that work with existing content, and
keep in mind that the cost of content restrictions is well concealed and
usually greater than anticipated. Even a great mechanic might not be
worth it if it forces the rest of the game to twist to accommodate it.
Mechanics that use the full expressiveness of the available interface
smell like elegance.
If the game's interface is an analog joystick, it can sense the exact
angle of the stick, not just the direction. On an analog trigger, a game can
sense quarter, half, and three-quarter pulls. Even if the interface is just a
button, the game can do something the moment it is released or while it is
held instead of only when it is pressed.
The danger in this is that you may frustrate players with oversensitive
inputs. Such expressive controls work well when the whole spectrum of
input is useful to skilled players, but most of it can be safely ignored by
novices. For example, anyone can play a driving game reasonably well by
ramming the wheel all the way left and right, ignoring most of its expres-
siveness, but only an expert can use every degree of turn to optimize his
This idea extends to board and card games as well. How many things
can you do with physical cards, dice, or tokens?
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