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Designing Games by Tynan Sylvester

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Chapter 2. Elegance

In a way, every game exists already. They’re out there, hidden in the logic of the universe. We don’t create them. We find them like a sculptor finds the statue in a block of marble—not by adding anything, but by taking away the excess material that obscures the form within.

EVERY GAME MECHANIC HAS a price tag. It costs design effort, since it must be implemented, tuned, and tested. It costs computing resources which we could have used somewhere else. It might force changes in the fiction, or blur the focus of the game’s marketing.

Most importantly, however, it costs player attention. Players must work to understand a game. They have to follow instructions, make mistakes, fail, and try again. Some won’t be able to, and will leave. Others will become confused and frustrated.

Players submit themselves to these costs because they want a meaningful experience. Good design means maximizing the emotional power and variety of play experiences while minimizing players’ comprehension burden and developer effort. This form of efficiency is called elegance.

Elegance from Emergence

The game of checkers has just a few simple rules, but can generate an endless variety of different games. Some games are long struggles. Others are quick sweeps. One game might have a remarkable tactical upset, while another teaches an important lesson. And the price tag for all this? A few minutes of simple instructions at the start of the first game. That’s elegance: countless powerful, varied experiences ...

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