Saturday, June 27, 2009

Minimalist MMO Design

I’m a software developer by trade. I read programmer news aggregation sites like programmer reddit to find inspiration for software projects and to reinvigorate my design ideas. Last night I came across a great post by Jeff Lindsay about minimalist software design. This article offers some insight into how to design games as well—I think that a minimalist method of game design will lead to a lot of advantages for the player and developer, allowing games to be much more replayable and rewarding while taking less time to make.

The trick with minimalism, in general, is knowing what’s actually important—the essence of the message or design. This is a big part of my design process. Asking, “How can I fold these requirements into fewer features and UI?” instead of directly implementing a feature for every requirement.

The fundmental principle of minimalist game design: sets of simple rules interacting can create complex but parsable situations that are fun and rewarding to untangle, understand, and later manipulate. I believe this is the essence of good gaming and games that harness this will succeed and continue to be rewarding experiences for their players after repeated playthroughs.

But you can’t just throw any set of simple rules together an call it a game.

The risk with minimalist software is that a simple design choice can drastically change the direction of the abstraction and make or break whether the software fits your needs.

Like any other design principle, if you aren't careful and thoughtful, you can still produce crap. The rewards to the designer and the player are tremendous though.

“Luckily, minimalism buys you a sort of abstraction that can enable projection. By this I mean that users can project their actual process and workflow onto the software.”

This means that the player can grasp the fundamental concepts that you’ve designed and recombine them dynamically ad intuitively in an attempt to achieve a goal that the system doesn’t explicitly grant the player. This kind of emergent behavior can be difficult to control, but if harnessed may be the next source of great games in the MMO industry.


Alan G. Labouseur said...

This is what makes Tetris one of the best games ever: it's very simple and very addictive.

motstandet said...

"Easy to learn. Hard to master." The game designers' mantra.

mike said...

hhmm yes video games