Most people believe that interactivity is what separates games from other kinds of media, so how can you make games better by taking away that advantage?

Back when we were creating the interface on BioShock, Ken was the one who always pushed for a simpler interface. The main method we used was to remove options from the main in-game menu and placing them into the UI of machines you interacted with instead.

One screen that was cut entirely was the ‘Character Sheet,’ which listed all of your ammo, equipped gene tonics and weapon upgrades. This screen was not needed since you can get the information from other places and most importantly, players doesn’t need this screen available at all times.

In an interview with Wired, Miyamoto said:

Speaking as the individual who created the traditional controller, I certainly don’t want to speak badly of it! I think as videogames evolved, the videogame experience became more complicated. In order to control the more complicated experience, that resulted in more complicated controllers. The challenge of that is that videogames then became something that appeared to be difficult and complicated to people who don’t play videogames.

The word I found most interesting in that quote was describing games as ‘complicated.’ Is that the experience that game developers want to create for the user, a ‘complicated’ experience? Wouldn’t it be better to create a ‘rich’ or ‘deep’ experience? However, it is very easy to confuse ‘deep’ with ‘complicated.’

There is a great talk by Aza Raskin called ‘Don’t Make Me Click,’ in which he talks about the seduction of interactivity, how easily web designers confuse interactivity with providing a ‘rich’ experience. He showed a great example of making Google’s home page into a ‘rich’ web 2.0 like page filled with great looking icons and fluid animations but completely useless for search.

So far, all my examples have been about interfaces, but the idea is also applicable to all areas of game design. Here I shall recount a story in the style of a hacker koan.

Ian was a novice designer in Capcom.
He was working on an action game and tasked with creating the attacks of the main character.
So he sought out the advice of the great designer Keiji Inafune, creator of Megaman and Dead Rising.
Inafune said to Ian:

Make each attack perform a unique and vital function.

At that moment, Ian was enlightened.

The mark of a bad combat system is one that gives you lots of options and attacks, but there are a few effective attacks that you can use all the way to the end of the game, so you don’t ever use any other attacks.

This increased ‘interactivity’ hurts the game in two ways:

  • It takes time and effort to create these attacks which can be better spent on parts of the game that actually matter.
  • The player has to try out all the attacks to learn which ones don’t work.

Relentlessly cutting and simplifying things were also lessons that the Portal developers stressed during their GDC talk. Here is an excerpt from Joystiq’s coverage of the talk:

Final boss battle idea was a chase scene where the players had to chase GLaDOS. The pacing was bad, and players were confused. It was too complex.
The more complex they made the battles, it slowed players down and ruined the pacing…They realized they didn’t need a complex puzzle at the end.

Hopefully, one of my examples in this meandering post has hit home with you and you no longer think that more interactivity equals better game. If not, please leave a comment or email me at blog@alwaysongames.com and tell me why I failed to convince you.

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