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Extrarius

Does Simple = Fun?

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I just beat "Zelda: A Link to the Past" again on my SNES, and I have to say "WOW!". I'd forgotten so much about it that seing it all again was very impressive. I love the way the art is so simple. Using only a few colors for each type of terrain (grass, desert, mountain, etc) the artists still manage to communicate a lot of feeling. It starts out bright and cheery, graudually fading to dark and dreary. By the time you get to the dark world, the lower contrast and darker colors brings out the 'evil in the air' perfectly. The gameplay and item diversity is really nice too. I'll take 10 really different items over 10000000000 variations on a short sword any day. I also loved the way that I felt my character getting stronger after each dungeon. I actually noticed the difference each item made. I explored nearly the entirety of both worlds and there is so much that I still missed 12 heart pieces (I finished with 17 hearts instead of the 20 max). I love the way it mixed simple puzzles with action - just enough to slow me down a second or two and make me use a little bit of my brain. The mechanism where a faerie in a bottle brings you back to life is superb. I still feared dying, and actually did once or twice even when I started a level with 4 faeries in the bottles. At first, remebering that 'trick' made me reckless, but then I got the hang of it and started doing fairly well. Its nice to have a limited safety net. I loved the difficulty too. There wasn't any of that easy, easy, easy, easy, a little tiny bit less than easy, almost to above easy, still easy, etc stuff. It seems like it actually got harder along the way, without making me feel my new gear was useless. The game got more difficult AND my character got stronger. I hate it how so many of the games today only have half of that. A godlike character is just as boring to play as a useless one. Overall, it was GREAT! I can't remeber ever liking any other game so much. It seems to me that adding all these options and configurations and 1000 variations on each item type etc aren't really making games any more fun. On many of the "favorite game" lists, a lot of the games listed are fairly simple, at least comapred to the MMORPGs of today. Does anybody else notice the link between simple games and fun? It seems that in general, simple games are just more fun overall than the 'complex' modern games. ---------- Almost typo-ified using Extrarius' AUTOMATIC Typo Generator, but I decided to be nice =-) [edited by - Extrarius on March 1, 2003 11:36:14 PM]

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of course!
Tetris.... case and point.

also, MegaMan (though that was a little hard), Shinobi, Mario, Pole Position, Pong.

i think the idea of "complex" 3D surroundings has brought about a false of complexity in games. gameplay should be concise, world should be large but not so vast that if you start exploring it''ll take you 3 hours to get it back to where you''re supposed to be.

32 million colors, great!
but SMB did in what? < 256?

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Yes, simple concepts often go the farthest to make good games...

As far as Zelda (or Mario or Metroid, take your pick), it seems that Nintendo knew how to achieve that perfect balance between challenge and reward, and a true sense of progression that makes it such a classic. If I can emulate that balance just a little bit in my 2D sidescroller I''ll be content.

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Simple is not necessarily better. Certain things, like the game''s interface for example, should always be as streamlined as possible imo, but other things can or cannot be complex based on the type of game. RPGs, for example, usually benefit from a lot of variety and some complexity. The same thing goes for turn based strategy games. Other games, like fast action games and puzzle games tend to benefit from a very simple core gameplay mechanic, although more complex emergent and contextual behavior is cool.

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My grandfather used to say: "you get out of things what you put into them"

In other words, if something was easy, you take it for granted and you don''t feel like you really did anything. That''s not to say that simple can''t be fun in its own way, but I think that you can get MORE fun out of something that is harder to do.

The trouble is that people nowadays are no longer willing to invest time into something to learn. They don''t want a learning curve because they think it detracts from the fun and is frustrating. But in reality, as you gain in skill, the rewards are multiplied because you feel like you''ve actually accomplished something. It''s a rare feeling nowadays. The trick is in designing a game which is not terribly diffuclt to learn, but is hard to master and eases the pains of frsutration while trying to learn.

Take for example playing a musical instrument or even learning to program. AT first, you think..."jesus, I''ll never be able to do that". So why keep doing it? But as you take your first steps...maybe playing "twinkle twinkle little star" (which is very simple) you feel a little pride in having accomplished that. Then you build upon what you know. I still remember the first time I figured out how to create a class with an array, make a pointer to the class, and fill the array with data through the pointer. Fairly simple, but I felt like I was onto to something major. I''m still a beginner at programming, but no matter how daunting it seems to me at times, I still want to learn more (even when it wracks my brain trying to learn by myself)

That''s the key. Simplicity in itself means nothing. What we need are games that build upon simplicity into more and more complexity. This not only gives us a sense of accomplishment, but it also allows for more intricate gameplay and storylines. I think the only hard part is trying to get rid of the tedium of the learning phase to be able to play true masterpieces. If all we had was simple, all we''ll ever play is "Twinkle Twinkle little star"...but if we strive to learn, then one day you''ll wind up playing "Pachelbel''s Cannon".

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I forgot to mention this...but perhaps it deserves its own space.

The japanese have a word for something they find beautiful: shibumi. But it''s a very simple and plain beauty...an austere and almost cold beauty.

But the key is simple. If you look at japanese architecture, landscaping, clothes, even their martial arts...it''s all very simple. No baroque designs or gaudy intricate carvings, embroidery etc. To them, cutting away to the essence of something is paramount. Clothing something in fanciness only detracts from what really makes something....something

I think this is where many "hard" or "complex" games go wrong. They don''t concentrate on the essence of something and try to throw everything and the kitchen sink in to make it seem better. I loved that scene in Batman where he''s facing this punk expertly weilding a club (or was it nunchaku?) and making a scene...and all Batman did was wait and kick him. To me, that''s what a lot of games are....a lot of wild flailing arms and legs that look neat, but don''t really serve the purpose its supposed to do.

I remember reading an article from a Zen buddhist priest commenting on things being hard. He gave an example of both swords and the tea ladle used in tea ceremony. He said that with the tea ladle, it would be very easy to give it an ergonomic handle, and to get rid of the ceremonial hand movements. Ditto with samurai swords...that could be made lighter with titanium alloys and better grips. But he said that wasn''t the point. The point was that it WAS the diffuculty that made them great tools to learn. That only when you relied less on the physical and more on the spiritual and mental would you truly learn to master both of these arts. He went on to comment on things like "ab-rollers" or exercise programs that "were so easy you only have to put in 20minutes of exercise 3 days a week!!!!". The point is, exercise is supposed to be hard. What people fail to see is that the reward comes at the end....and eventually when you get better, during the practice itself.

Some will of course say that games are fun, and fun isn''t about being hard. But is it? Why is fun not supposed to be hard? Fun is a strange word with different connotations for different people...but I have a lot of fun after spending an hour working out, or after wracking my brains for an hour and finally realizing what I was doing wrong with my code. Sure, for most of the time I was working out or coding, sometimes it wasn''t fun...but in the end it sure was.

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When I say simple, I don''t mean it was easy. I still died a few times even though my heart meter had to go down 4 times before I died.
Definition of "simple" #4 from dictionary.com - "Having little or no ornamentation; not embellished or adorned". I mean it was very plain in a beautiful way. The game didn''t need a billion rules to make for interesting gameplay. It didn''t need the latest graphics with 2^32 colors, or a 10000 page story. It didn''t need 10-button combo moves, or the latest in AI.

I remebered where every item was(well, all but 2 that I had to look up), how to beat each boss, etc, but the game was still difficult, still fun, and still interesting.

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Simple doesn''t have to be easy, but I think by its very definition, there are a limited number of ways of doing things.

Take for example strategy games. In my mind, they are incredibly simple games that really offer only a few means to beat your opponent. You don''t have to worry about supply lines, you don''t have to worry about controlling your troops, you don''t have to worry about morale (most games), you don''t have to worry about communicating with your forces, you don''t have to worry about intelligence gathering (other than erasing "black areas" off the map), etc etc.

I think RTS game designers have so boiled away the many intricate layers of warfare, that it''s no longer really about...well, war. RTS games in my opinion have created an artifical fighting paradigm that really does not model warfare very well at all. For its own way of doing things, it''s fun in its own way. But I think there''s not enough options for the player to really think about. Partially I think RTS games do this because of the real time nature, you don''t have a whole lot of time to think about something, and therefore the more things you have to think about, the worse off you''ll be. So it''s better for RTS game design to cull many features out so that the player isn''t so bogged down with so many levels of play, that he winds up not being able to do anything at all.

Look at tactical shooters vs. frag-style games. Tactical shooters require much more forethought and split-second timing, but many people find them just as fun as the run&gun style of play. There''s more levels of thought required to be successful in tactical shooters, and I personally find them more fun than frag games.

The disadvantage to more complex (note..I mean complex...not hard) games is that they often take more time. You can''t really have a quickie gaming session with more complex games. And sometimes all you want to do is blow off 15-30minutes before going to work or school or something like that.

I think the key to make complex games more popular is to take them in little steps, building your knowledge and skill as you go. Just like when you learn to play the violin or viola, it takes a while before you learn to do vibrattoes, tremeloes, pluck-offs, or hammers. At the beginning, you don''t worry really about the angle of the bow on the string, or how close to the bridge the bow is. You just play at first But as your skills advance, you slowly learn to do all those things to make even more beautiful music. That''s what complexity is...the ability to have more options. It shouldn''t mean you should have to learn to do everything once. I think that''s the problem with many games today.

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I recently played the original NES Zelda for the first time, and I was struck by how many of the game''s elements were the same as in later Zeldas - particularly the various gameboy titles. And, historically, Zelda games have always pushed the capabilities of the hardware, so the percieved ''simplicity'' is more a tribute to the quality of the design than a measure of the objective complexity of the games.

I''m trying to come up with a way of expressing my intuition on the subject. The closest I can get is concepts like synergy, elegance, purity, harmony...

I don''t think fun is tied to simplicity or to complexity. Of course, the simpler an idea, the easier it is to implement (''tesselate falling tetrominoes'' captures the key idea of Tetris in three words) and there''s a difference between an intrisically complex idea (the idea behind Civilization for example) and a compound of simple ideas (like large numbers of adventure games where you have to be psychic to figure out how to solve certain puzzles - in some cases even after you know the solution you still can''t figure it out...)

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quote:
Original post by rmsgrey
[...] And, historically, Zelda games have always pushed the capabilities of the hardware, so the percieved ''simplicity'' is more a tribute to the quality of the design than a measure of the objective complexity of the games.


I kind of figured that would be the case, but its still simple by today''s standard of ''action adventure games'' (CRPGs if you must call them that) and it was still very fun. Maybe it was the fact that the technology wasn''t flashing in my face saying "LOOK AT ME I''M HIGH TECH" that make it less obvious that it''s pushing the hardware... I would also say that in many areas, Zelda doesn''t push the technology. For example, it doesn''t use many colors compared to a lot of other SNES titles (Mario All Stars had a colorful background in all the games, as did Super Mario World).

About FragFrest FPS vs Tactical Shooter - the fact that you have time to think and plan in most tactical shooters makes them feel a lot more elegant. Perhaps that is what makes me like them more than FragFests in the same way I like Zelda more than any MMORPG - its elegant and doesn''t feel so random. In a FragFest, its basically just people reacting reflexively to any threat, and in most MMORPGs that I''ve look at, the world feels thrown together with a story that can fit in a sentence or two (or when there is more story but the world doesn''t reflect it at all).

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No, I don''t particularly want to put hours upon hours of my time in to learning the way in which i''m meant to play a computer game ... that is best saved to doing something constructive like learning to drive or advancing your qualifications ... games are meant to be fun. I want something that I can pick up and play for 20 - 30 minutes and then put down again and that would be it. Online deathmatch games have this simple concept. The SNES classic "Smash TV" clone im developing will have this simple concept.

It is only very occasionally I will play an RPG for the escapism. The best one being "Illusion Of Time" on the SNES and, like Zelda, did not have hundreds of slight permutations for each factor.

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Zelda: A Link to the Past is not necessarily a simple game. Although the graphics are simple by "todays standards" (whatever those are) the gameplay is still pretty complex. It was probably one of the most complex SNES games, definitely more complex than any of the platformers. It even blew me away graphically at the time. Although the artwork is simple and very clean or cartoony, so is the new Zelda''s artwork (something that everyone complains about... and graphics don''t matter...) Gameplay wise, it is more complex than a lot of games that have far more complex graphics (in terms of the amount of processing power needed to render them.) Quake III and UT are simplier than A Link to the Past in terms of gameplay. Most first person shooters are basically Smash TV extended to 3D.

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Easy to learn, hard to master and retaining that element of the "unknowable" that makes mastering almost impossible. Case in point: Minesweeper.

No matter how long you''ve been playing Minesweeper or how good you''ve become at recognizing mine arrangement patterns, no matter how quickly your brain processes set theory operations (intersections in particular, to determine the positions of uncovered mines), you will still be confronted by uncovered cells with insufficient clues where you have to guess - where your success boils down to plain ol'' luck. It''s frustrating (in a minor way, because the consequences aren''t too severe) when you guess wrong and mildly exhiliarating when you guess right, and that''s what keeps people coming back for more.

Extrapolating those elements to the general case, build your game such that the fundamental skills necessary for advancement are quite simple (point and shoot, etc) but actual user improvements (better hand-eye coordination, etc) yield a better experience. Maintain challenges where the user''s success is non-deterministic (ie, basically random), but don''t make the consequence of failure severe (for example, it merely forces the player to have to take a longer route or face more enemies rather than leading straight to a "Game Over" screen).

All this verbiage could be condensed to an earlier statement: elegantly simple (ie, non-complex) in each small area.

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Ah, yes, Minesweeper. I keep a shortcut in my taskbar, so I can play for a couple of minutes when the mood strikes. It''s my biggest productivity killer!

Actually, it''s also there because of its low resource requirements; it loads almost instantly and sucks so little CPU time, so I can play it while something is loading, compiling, processing, etc., without any real effect. My whole point is, sometimes simple even in execution and requirements, not only in design, can push a game up a couple of notches in the how-often-played list.

I know it''s often mentioned, but I''d like to reiterate Shigeru Miyamoto''s whole theory that the player shouldn''t have to worry about more than, like two buttons when in the middle of an intense action sequence. Mario: A for jump, B for run and fireball. (Directionals are kinda different, both in design and they way the player percieves them, so it''s not a big deal.)

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Alot of simple games can be fun but I think that is mainly because they are highly accessible and have a shallow learning curve. I think that the best games are ones that have complexity and depth but have the accessibility of simpler games. The grand theft auto series is a perfect example. You''ve got deep gameplay but you can still pick it up and play it without spending hours learning it.

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Different people have different tastes, so what anyone considers "fun" will, of course, vary. However, in my experience the games that are declared fun by the most people, regardless of taste, are precisely those that are simple to learn and difficult to master -- just as many of you have stated in one form or another. The question is, why are these types of games fun?

One reason is because it gets you into the action immediately; you don''t have to read a manual to play. Another reason is because part of the challenge is improving yourself; as your skills improve, so does your satisfaction with the game. The first game that comes to mind for me is Super Smash Bros.

It is unique in its genre for many reasons. The goal is not to beat your opponents down to zero health; rather, you must knock them off the level. This becomes easier as you do beat them down, but I''ve managed to stay on the level with as much as 200 percent damage. Success relies more on clever you are, rather than how fast you can mash the buttons.

Another reason: it supports four simultaneous players. I live for multiplayer games, especially team games. I won''t even pick up a game anymore unless it supports at least four players (with Halo being the only exception). Bomberman, D&D arcade, Gauntlet -- these are outstanding games because they''re multiplayer. Interestingly enough, they also meet the criteria of being very easy to learn, very hard to master.

Miyamoto was onto something when he said a game should require no more than two buttons to play. I am of the same opinion: two buttons required, and the rest of the gamepad is there when you''re ready for more options. That''s another thing that made Smash Bros. number-one in my book: it had none of the joystick combos that plague other fighting games. You pressed a direction, you pressed a button, that was it. Simplicity at its finest.

I think the greatest "fun" game would be one that encompasses as many styles of play as possible. Players who are new to the game would take on a direct role as fighter, defender, whatever. Controls would be limited to a few simple commands, and objectives would be equally simple. As you master the game and thirst for more complexity, you could make the leap into another profession: base builder, convoy leader, diplomat -- something that required more thought and/or hand-eye coordination. New players who are comfortable with such roles could immediately fill these positions. Ideally, no single position would be required to play the game successfully; every position would be beneficial, but none would be more useful than any other.

To answer the original poster: yes, I do see the link between simple and fun, but "simple" comes in many forms, and whether or not you consider it "fun" is entirely a matter of taste. Personally, I can''t stand the Zelda series anymore.

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Maybe Zelda is simple cause the games now are not. When I played Zelda the first time I did not think it was simple, the complexity of the games now may let me think that Zelda
is simple.

you talk the talk, but do you walk the walk

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Maybe Zelda is simple cause the games now are not. When I played Zelda the first time I did not think it was simple. Maybe the complexity of today's games may let me think that Zelda is simple now.

[edited by - White Crow on March 6, 2003 12:57:46 PM]

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I was writing a lot of DnD dungeons at the same time I was playing Zelda. Even though the game had its complexities, it left enough open to the imagination to appreciate the fun of it all.

Games are so absolutely immersive any more with high quality music, character animations, voiceovers, story detail, etc. the enjoyment doesn't feel as "academic" as it did with Zelda. By academic I mean that there was a sense that you could take the concepts of Zelda and practically make your own game from it. The way the game expressed itself almost encouraged that. It felt like a teaching game, somehow. Even though I know they didn't make the game to really teach anyone anything, its presentation felt like that. The simplicity of 2D games seemed to generate that feel, mostly, until the SNES went nuts with the concept. (Probably made me feel pressured to keep up with the animation and design techniques)

I know this is just a subjective opinion. The way I enjoyed the game likely had to do with all the other things I was involved with at the time.

[edited by - Waverider on March 6, 2003 1:13:17 PM]

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