Reductive Design – Simplicity of gameplay in Lucidity
This quote from Anna Anthropy sums up the point of the article well I think;
“contemporary game design is a victim of clutter,” says Anthropy. “because the games industry is hit-driven (big budget games need to sell huge amounts just to recoup their costs), games are designed to be everything to everyone. unfortunately, the result is a game full of features which all tug in different directions, and which stretch the idea of the game thin beyond recognition … they stretch an hour’s worth of ideas over eighty hours of filler.”
Reading this reminded me of conversations we had about the Lucidity gameplay during early prototyping. We started expanding the core functionality of the game, adding a much wider range of different pieces and also power-ups. We decided in the end to strip it back because we felt that the additions really didn’t add anything beyond more things to have to think about while playing.
I think when done well, a reductive design is awesome. Portal is a game that comes to mind that I feel was very successful at this. I loved the elegant simplicity of the game and how they just played around and challenged the player while always staying within the core gameplay loop that they developed.
Of course the danger of a reductive design can be that you risk stripping too much out and then people feel there is a lack of variation. I think the urge to off-set this by adding functionality can be tempting but can lead to a fractured, overly complex experience. With Lucidity, we decided to focus our efforts on making sure the increased challenge came from the ramping of the difficulty curve. One tool that really helped with this was our use of telemetry data to help balance the game. Joe Ching, one of our designers, will have a post soon that describes that process more.
So what do you guys think? Do people enjoy a simple reductive design? Or do you like to be challenged with a game that continues to grow and offer new features and gameplay mechanics the deeper you progress?
What are your favorite examples of games with a reductive design?