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System Depth VS Simplicity

In game design, what is your preference--a simple and easy to understand system that has a limited, but obvious number of ways to affect it, or a complicated system with a great deal of depth and many little handles you can grab and twist in different ways to steer the result?

When designing game systems, some consideration has to be given as well to the skill and experience of the player, within the system. For a shorter, casual game, or for a first time player of the game, it is important the system does not feel overwhelming and that the complexity loom like a monster and chase the prospect away. However, the long-term, dedicated gamer wants the system to continue to unfold with complexities, new twists, extra details that were previously uncovered and tactical challenges so that he or she can constantly strive to conquer it again and again in new ways, or on new ground.

We are building new systems all the time now. Health, damage, ranging, weapon costs and parameters... There is a great spectrum between simplicity VS depth. Got any advice for us, or thoughts you'd like to share?


  1. I am a believer in great depth in the very specific and secluded genre of space merchant games. The sort of great depth that is managed well however; rewarding the hardcore min-maxers, but not punishing the lunch-break players for their lack of absorption... At least not punishing them too severely. Ideally you'd want them to know there is a better way to do a task than the easy way, and to be inspired to figure that better way out. The longer path may prove more lucrative or less deadly than the straightforward path.

  2. Soylent,

    You must be a player of Star Traders! Your point on the fact that the system should encourage, entice, and lead the more casual gamer into the deeper, more rewarding and stimulating sections of the system is dead-on. Finding ways to do this can be difficult, but your comment implies both a depth of system and an ease of play for the casual gamer. Even more, it implies roads between, story, or some other mechanism that helps convert the casual gamer into a hardcore, play every day and love it fan.

    How about strategy games? Single player RPGs in which you are advancing stats, weapons, spells, etc?

  3. more depth to encourage repeat playing and to reward those who've spent a lot of time on a player.. its like.. um ok now what?

    more depth, missions, upgrades, planet colonize/taking..
    allow ur faction to take over another planet by blockading 20/30 times
    aliens aliens aliens
    more aliens n ships
    aliens and ships
    more unlockable upgrades and awards

    all in name of replayability

  4. Haha, this was not meant to be--but has become--a feature request list for Star Traders =) All of the items you have mentioned are on the official lists. I'd suggest, if you'd like to have more influence over the specifics, check out the forum where this stuff is in discussion:

    What about for other types of games--such as Secrets of Steel--a turn based strategy game where you control a squad of companions with different capabilities and powers?

  5. I can say at least that out of the 36 character classes I could have taken in final fantasy tactics advance, I never played more than 4 of them. In games like that I find more gear far more welcoming than more classes. I also feel, personally, that I'd rather focus on improving a group of characters as a whole, while tweaking their individual specialties, than having to level up a dozen characters individually. Skills and gear are easy enough to manage for casual players, and offer depth for thighs that want to change up their play style. As always I'm sorry if I dont make sense; had a very long Wrestlemania sunday. Go make some games :)

  6. Soylent,
    That, I can guarantee you, we are doing. Thanks for the advice. Gear and skill customization will be featured in a our next release heavily I think.


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