Complexity vs. Depth
A message from our lead game designer, Snoogms
First of all, thanks for the party and thank you EDCon attendees for your extremely welcoming attitude and your passion for the project! It was a delight to interact and converse with you and the amount of feedback you gave us is invaluable. Speaking of feedback, one concern of yours stood out to me: the complexity of the game, that it would be too hard to learn. Given the amount of information Dragoneers are treated to, it is absolutely understandable that this is the perception.
But, because perception is reality, I want to address this explicitly.
If you’re not into game design philosophy here’s the gist of it:
- As early Dragoneers you are privileged to work in progress.
- This work can often seem complicated.
- The work itself isn’t intended for the average player, it is there to grant a rare view into the process itself, to instill confidence in the product you are supporting.
- The complexity of the work you are exposed to isn’t required to play.
- In fact there’s only a handful of rules you need to know to start playing.
- Everything else comes step by step as you continue to play.
Easy to learn, hard to master
All game designers aspire to design games that fit this old saying. But how is that done? How do you design games purposefully so they are easy to learn but hard to master? For that explanation we first need to understand the difference between game complexity and game depth. At least, the way I differentiate between them …
Complexity vs. Depth
I have always considered game complexity to be a function of the amount of rules one needs to learn and I believe that a game’s depth is decided by the amount of choices offered to players.
A game with few rules is easy to learn but risks being shallow (not enough decisions to make). On the flip side, if a game requires players to learn a whole book of rules it inherently becomes complex. To top this off, a huge set of rules doesn’t guarantee a lot of choices, it only guarantees that it’s hard to learn.
Even if a game has a lot of rules, good design makes sure that only a handful of them are required to start playing. These essential rules are then introduced one by one and visual feedback is used to reinforce this learning, you see this in tutorials all the time. Additionally, each of these initial rules should be sufficient to give players immediate choices, to quickly provide a sense of agency.
But even if you only have a few rules, the rules themselves can be complex. To avoid this I personally have a working-rule that curbs rule complexity. It states that rules, whenever possible, should not contain exceptions. I.e. if a rule contains words like “if”, “unless” or “except”, it immediately stands out to me as a bad rule. One should have as few rules as possible that contain exceptions, having none being the goal. That being said, having one or two rules that contain exceptions isn’t terrible, but one must make an effort to keep their numbers down.
So what do you need to learn to achieve agency in Chapter 1?
The Basic Rules
There are two basic steps in Chapter 1 you need to learn to start making intelligent choices. The first one is recruiting units and placing them into the arena, the second teaches affinity bonuses and unit turn order (in which order units take their turns).
- Click any unit for sale in the Battle Shop to recruit it.
— It appears in your tray.
- Drag the unit in the tray to a tile in the arena.
— Because of how targeting works, it doesn’t matter at all which tile you place your first unit on.
Know that, in the tutorial mode, only units of the same affinity are available at this point.
- Recruit any unit as your second one.
- Place your second unit into the arena.
At this point two things happen:
- Firstly, the affinity bonus icon lights up.
— Interacting with its icon displays the bonus and why you have it.
- Secondly, units become labeled with their turn order (which one acts first).
— One is labeled “1st.” the other “2nd.”
— Rearranging units lets players decide their turn order.
And this is everything you need to know to start making intelligent choices in Chapter 1. You start puzzling affinities together and you start deciding in which order you want your units to act. After these basics, everything else emerges as players start to investigate unit skills as the skills themselves always explain all of their functions in plain words.
All this begs the question: if the rules are so simple, won’t the game be shallow? The answer to that is a resounding “no”.
Here’s how I look at it:
- More rules, more complexity.
- More choices, more depth.
A game’s depth is decided by the amount of choices it offers and its complexity by the amount of rules one needs to learn. In Chapter 1 you only need to understand the rules in the above steps to start making choices, and the choices then deepen as you read and understand more skills.
Here’s what is complex though. We designers require complex methods to make sure our designs offer all those interesting choices and interactions, but it’s super-important to know that those methods are not information players need to learn to play the game, i.e., you don’t need to know how the engine works to drive the car.
But because we want you, the early Dragoneers, to have the same faith in the game that the team does, we provide you with an exclusive tour of our supercar factory where the engine is being built
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See you soon,