Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Keep it Simple, Devs - The Post Not About Diablo

Not joking with the title. Plenty of my colleagues on my sidebar there and most of the internet have voiced their opinion already.

Lately I have been speaking quite a bit about MMO's that are far closer to simulations than games. Creating a realistic fantasy world you can interact with. I'm going to take a 180 here and talk about the problems with making a game complicated in nature, and why sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

Last night, while returning from my D&D game on the subway, I was talking with our DM. I had mentioned that I missed the 3.5 skill system, if only because I believed it allowed some flexibility for a simulation type of game and that it was made fairly simple to add custom elements. He wasn't quite convinced, as the complex rules made for some interesting loopholes.

Then he told me about the Peasant Railgun. In 3rd edition D&D it was a free action to accept an item, and a free action to pass an item to someone else. So, say you have a quarter staff. You hire thirty peasants to stand in a line, all of them ready an action to pass the staff along the line, and the last peasant readies an action to throw it. A round is six seconds. Each peasant takes up a 5 foot square, so in 6 seconds that quarterstaff just traveled 150 feet. Or we can get 300 peasants to cover 1500 feet in 6 seconds, which is around Mach 2.

As he puts it, "When I can pass a quarterstaff across Poland and nuke something in Britain, there is something wrong with your rules."

Complicated systems are fantastic, but sometimes we  forget how difficult they are to create, and how the return on that work is not as high as it should be. EVE Online is an incredibly complex game, and it took years for the developers to reach the place they are now. They did so by having a small, devoted audience support them which slowly grew and grew. Not every project is quite so lucky to be in that situation.And even if they are, they may have a publisher that would cut them from the budget for not being as popular as WoW or the other big name titles.

Even then we find there are players who despise complicated systems. I find myself sighing in disgust whenever I start to reach level cap in WoW, if only because it means having to research on Elitist Jerks for strategies, rotations, reforging advice, expertise and hit caps, haste percentages, and even after that possibly running it all through a simulation just to get myself to a point where I won't be yelled at by other players for sucking at the game. Complication adds depth , but it also adds barrier of entry.

WoW's formula was simple. Minecraft's formula was simple. I could list a tremendous amount of titles in the past decade that have become surprise hits with a simple, yet fun formula. At the end of the day, even though I would love to interact with a simulation-esque fantasy world, I still want to play a game.

1 comment:

  1. That is a classic trade off in role playing games: simulation vs. game (vs. narrative, that doesn't carry over to CRPGs nearly as well). We all fall somewhere on the spectrum. The sooner someone figures out what kinds of games fit those needs, the better experience they will have.