Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Overcomplex mechanics can be a *good* idea.

Something I like in games, but see very little of, is over-complex mechanics. Some people will suggest that ‘it is by definition the case’ that over-complexity destroys fun and leads to a worse game. I would like to disagree.

To me, a good game is either trivially simple and thus a time-waster (nothing wrong with that per-se), a game of reflexes and agility (most FPS games), or a simulation so complex that the actual rules and mechanics become background noise. This is, I believe, one of the keys to the success of Democracy 3.
D3 models about 2,000 voters, each of which has varying memberships of 21 voter groups. Each voter group has inputs from maybe a dozen decisions (policy sliders and situations) and ANY one of those objects can have an impact on any other, with an equation that might be linear, quadratic or more complex than that. Plus there are variable starting conditions, mods and DLC.

Lets put it another way.

You CANNOT master Democracy 3. You just cannot. Not in a million years. Nobody adjusts a slider knowing the effect it will have, they make a guess. They have a hunch, they have a gut feeling, and they go with it. They *feel* their way through the game, they do not think it. This is good.


A game that is complex, but not complex enough, can be ‘mastered’. You can work out how to ‘beat’ it, if you put the hours in. Assuming there is no fuzziness, it becomes merely a matter of solving a very very complex equation, which ultimately, all strategy games are. Once the equation is ‘solved’, all other strategies become moot, you have ‘beaten’ the game, and robbed it of any remaining fun.

When a game is so complex this is not an option, you do not strive for it. You aren’t trying to crunch the numbers and keep a model of the simulation in your head because this cannot be done. As a result you go with a more emotional, more touchy-feely approach to true strategy, instead of number crunching. I am a believer in the idea that all games are really about emotion, and if I am simply playing to work out what the numbers are, I’m doing maths homework, not feeling like a general, or a city-planner or an emperor or a politician.

I’m thinking about this now as I develop my next game design idea, and its in my head when I play other peoples games. I think designers have become far too scared of complexity, assuming that because there are lots of games, all games have to be casual, so as not to scare people off. We are getting less Grand Complex strategy and more games like cow-clicker. I don’t think its an improvement.

And I also think we can cope. Life itself is incredibly complex. We juggle so many millions of variables in our lives, but we don’t end up with decision paralysis or an inability to enjoy ourselves. We routinely shop at stores with 100+ types of biscuit, but we cope with the variety and the options. We can cope with it in games too. Give me more options, more mechanics, more systems, more biscuits.


Less is not always more.


3 thoughts on Overcomplex mechanics can be a *good* idea.

  1. So, under this system, would you consider a grand-strategy game like Europa Universalis 4 ‘solvable’? I keep up an internal model of most of the game in my head, and there are certain moves that are almost guaranteed to be effective, but I wouldn’t consider it a game that you can have a build order or set series of events for.

  2. That’s a nice idea and I’m glad other developers (such as yourself) exist who believe that users can handle complexity. Of course there will be a large host of users who will tend to ignore complex games but that’s okay – I think most indie developers are by definition targeting a niche in any case.

  3. The problem with ‘overly complex’ mechanics is that balance becomes extremely difficult to attain at any level. Just as the player doesn’t have a handle on the mechanics, neither does the developer, and the experience can be unchallenging and extremely inconsistent.

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