GameDev Thoughts: Sometimes Less Is More In Game Design

We’ve all gone through that honeymoon phase with a new game, where you’re super excited about finishing your base game, or getting all of its ideas down, but you want it to have all of the bells and whistles that make a game stand out from the crowd, supposedly at least. As a result, you start adding adjusting things a little bit at a time, eventually turning these adjustments into new features. When you have a bunch of new features, any adjustments to those could turn into new game mechanics that cloud your original vision of the game, but due to the fact that you’ve already gone so far down the rabbit hole of unnecessarily exotic game design, there’s no way to return to your original vision without starting over again.

So then, how do we create a unique product without oversaturating the game with unnecessary features? Before you do any of that, always look to see what you can subtract from a game before you add. An overly-complex game is a negative in itself most of the time, so remove whatever you deem appropriate to make your game play more smoothly. An example I always like to cite is Overwatch its lack of a maximum ammo system. There’s no running out of combat to get more ammo for your weapon like there is in a game like Team Fortress 2; it’s strictly action-packed team strategy without that unnecessary layer on top of it. As a result, it plays much more smoothly as the gameplay is focused on that particular element, and it’s much more fun not having to worry about jumping out of the action.

Editing by deleting can help a fresh-faced developer learn what’s truly necessary in a game and what isn’t. Oftentimes you don’t need a massive feature list to make an enjoyable, well-received game, as is the case in a classic game like Pacman or the original Super Mario Brothers. Focus on making the game play smoothly without having to constantly question the effects of some action on one of the millions of meters present as a result of feature inflation. If you’ve stripped a game down to its bare necessities and you feel like it’s lacking something to make it enjoyable, that’s the time to start looking into some fancier bells and whistles.

Important Takeaways: Sometimes when a game designer is feeling insecure about their game’s standing among the crowd, features end up getting added at an exponential rate to supposedly increase the game’s quality, or at least its uniqueness. This isn’t always the case, however, as some of the best games of all time have had relatively small feature lists. As a result, change your perspective on improving your game; instead of adding features, look to get rid of unnecessary ones. This way your original vision won’t be consumed by oversaturation of game mechanics and your game will play smoother overall. Once that’s been sorted out, if you still deem it necessary to add something to the experience, it will be completely justified.