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Info Overload? When?

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I''m trying to figure a general guideline for when a player will get overloaded with info. The general rule of thumb (not sure how applicable it is to design) is that a person can only keep track of about 7 things at once. There are games out there with tons of different factors, and players clamoring for more. Different parts of history for an RPG, or tons of weapons and monsters; different strategies and unit issues in an RTS; production cycles, technology, diplomacy, and strategic warfare in an empire game... What''s the difference between complexity and richness? I wonder if a general game design rule would be that you can have tons and tons of different factors, but only X number of those factors can be presented or be relevant at any one time. So you can have a game with 70 different weapons, jumping puzzles and movement strategies, and a dozen different conversation choices per character... as long as the complexity is spread out. It has to be wrapped up into neat little bit-sized bundles. That is, when you go to buy a weapon, only 10 of the 70 are available at any one shop. Only 2 or 3 jumping / movement strategies are necessary for each environmental puzzle. And each character has only 2 or 3 response choices per round, per character, with a conversation being only on a per character basis. Otherwise, the user would drown in detail, right? I know different players have different thresholds of tolerance, btw, I''m just trying to understand a general design principle... -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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Sounds like a reasonable statement especially in the US where we are breeding children with no attention span growing up on Jerry Springer. Just kidding

I think that is probably true. But I''d like to note I think you can have many things avaiable as long as the player is not forced to do any of them. So, perhaps you cannot throw more than so many things at the player but can have available many things. Least that''s my take on it.





...A CRPG in development...

Need help? Well, go FAQ yourself.

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I guess you could implement a detail level setting, so the player could choose how many factors could be observed and controlled by him. You could provide him tons of feedback, but since he cannot modify it or see/find out the direct use of it, better keep it hidden. I''m not saying you should throw out the factors, just hide them. Let the computer do his job: compute, and the player - play and have fun.
If the player has control over factors, it could be fun to experiment, but I guess that the more factors you have, the less will each affect the situation.
Let''s have Tropico as example. Each person there has stats as rich and descriptive as in the Sims, yet in Sims you have only a few characters, compared to several hundred in Tropico. Now I''m not going through every person to check it''s demands, I use the listing/sorting mechanism, but I DO have access to individual information if I needed it for some reason.

It''s good to have many factors that affect the game, just present them to the player in smaller pieces. Like if you have some kind of god game (real GOD game, not just some pathetic tamagochi-micro-city-management B&W), on cosmic scale you could have some laws of physics factors and ability to modify some of them (like the big blast element, gravity, magnetism), which would affect the rest (like universe lifetime, star life cycle, widespread elements), which in turn would affect the game world. On planetary scale you could have some rotation speed, size, density, distance to the sun parameters, has/hasn''t satellite, which would affect climate, dry land/water balance, polar caps size. On sub planetary have some tectonics, specific climate controls, water cycle, which will affect the formation of continents, relief, life forming. On biosphere level you could have control over mutation factors, evolution factors, which will affect the way life develops. All the levels are connected from the topmost to the lowest. Minimal changes in the topmost level could mean ENORMOUS changes in the microlevels. You have tons of factors, just separated in logical levels and player can concentrate on one of them in a time.

That''s it, now if you don''t mind I''m gonna start new topic with the above idea, seems nice and, as always, came to me in the process of writing.


Boby Dimitrov
boby@azholding.com

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The rule is actually that most people can only hold 5 - 9 items in their short term memory at any given time.

But good categorisation and ''tricks'' allow people to remember much more, by ''chunking'' bits together. This is how we remember long phone numbers, and so on.

The key is organisation. If information is presented in an organised fashion, then the quantity isn''t a problem. For example, if you have 100 options for a program, divide them into 10 logically-grouped sets of 10, and the complexity has been reduced by an order of magnitude.

The ''70 weapons'' example... remember that the complexity is not necessarily related to the number of different possibilities, it''s to do with what needs to be held in memory at once. If weapons have the following factors: weight, cost, rate of fire, damage dealt, then there are only 4 factors, not 70. You''ve not increased the complexity by having 70 possible permutations, just the granularity.

The 5-7 limit doesn''t have to be one you impose upon a player as a restriction. Instead, all the information can be available, but neatly categorised so that it is close to hand when requested and clustered with other related and relevant pieces of information. This will reduce complexity and the learning curve.

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Another key to memory is drama. If a list of objects is presented as a spreadsheet no one''s going to remember a thing on it. But if it''s more like a parade, where each is presented in a dramatic way, they''re much easier to remember. In the movie A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum several courtesans are presented, each with her own gimmic (e.g. the wild woman, the twins) and I can pull a description of each one out of memory when it''s been months since I''ve seen the movie.

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An important factor needed to determine the overload level, is the timeframe.

If a player can sit down, turn on his computer, start the game, boil some water for hot tea, take out the trash, look over some statistics, turn off the television, turn on the radio, look over some more statistics, turn off the stove, poor water into cup, look over more statistics, sip tea and then finally input some commands into the game software, he has enough time to filter through as much information as he wants.

The other scenario would be:
Player''s character is left with just a little bit of life. He''s running around trying to find an exit. His equipment is wearing him down. His enemy is raining blows on his back. His friends are lost.
The player wants his character to perform several actions.
1) Drop some equipment to make escape lighter.
2) Yell for help.
3) Keep running as fast as possible.
4) Find exit.
5) Use an item or cast a spell to get enemy to freeze in place.
In this situation, the player has NO time to look at any information. He''s not able to look at all his items to determine which would be the best one to drop (lowest value+highest weight), not able to look at a map of the environment, not able to type ''help'' and use the shortcut keys for the desired spell.

The amount of information that can and needs to be displayed at any given time is highly dependent on the situation.

What''s the difference between complexity and richness?

To me, a game should always be as complex and as rich as possible.

COMPLEXITY:
A player should always be able to play a game according to his own wishes. Skilled players should be able to choose to play the game at its most complex level. Rookie players should be able to play the game at it''s least complex level. This doesn''t mean that they can''t all play the same game/level, just that for example a skilled player will be able to manually control his fights where a rookie player will choose to let the computer manage his fights (sort of like the difference between manual shifting or automatic shifting in racing-games). If you give weapons 20 different statistics, the skilled player might want to know all 20 of them, because in SOME way they are all important. But the rookie player will probably just want to know 2 or 3 of those 20 statistics: what''s the damage output, what''s the weight of the weapon.
Mastering the complex level of the game will give slight advantages to the gameplay (but not TOO much. Just enough to give skilled players a feeling of superiority because of their skill)

Let players pick their own level of complexity.

COUNT on the fact that an average player will only be able to remember 5 to 10 of his most important moves in the heat of battle. But, also count on the fact that skilled players might be able to remember more than 10, and that rookie players will be able to remember less than 5. Create a fun gameplay experience for all these different types of gamers. Not just to appeal to a broader audience, but mainly to create different types of gameplay inside one game. Don''t just let players level up (to take current RPGs as an example), but drastically change the way they play the game over time.

Make it as complex as you want, because there will always be players who will seek out complexity. But make sure to give players the OPTION to play the game on a low-complexity level.

Hope this makes more sense than my usual blabbering.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
A better question might be what is the similarity?

I can think of many complex games, and many rich games, and rarely if ever do they coincide.

An example everyone is familiar with is Chess. Chess is a rich, deep game, but it is not "complex" in the sense of rules. There are less than ten types of pieces, the board is small, and there are very few actual rules that govern play. On any given turn, there is not a whole lot you can do, especially once you throw out the obviously dumb.

What makes Chess deep is the way one action effects the next. If you get your middle clogged up you may suffer from it for the entire game...that sort of thing.

Adding more rules, or weapons, or "structures" or things like that rarely improves richenss. And needless complexity just gets in the way. The last two demo games (professional) I downloaded I stopped playing after 10 minutes because there was too much stuff going on that I didn''t want to learn.

"Easy to learn, hard to master" should be your motto.

I would also point out that it is much easier to balance and polish a small number of options than a large number. And really, is the newest FPS or Civ clone any better because it has 5 "never before seen" weapons or "over one-hundred structures!!"?

Say you have a game involving guns, and guns are rated in four categories: (say range, firing rate, damage, accuracy) You can twiddle the nunbers in these four categories to create perhaps hundreds of weapons, but do you need to? If you have a weapon rated 5,5,5,4 creating one rated 5,5,4,5 is more trouble than it is worth and will clutter things and confuse the player more than it will add richness to the game.

At what point are more options more trouble than they are worth? I would say that point is fairly low, and I think history would back me up.

What you want to do (IMO) is create a set of easily understood, solid, well-balanced rules, units, structures, weapons, whatever. The "richness" of the game comes from how the player uses the things they choose, not in choosing from a huge list of options. Especially if the game is multiplayer competitive, balancing will be hideous as you add more complexity. As the complexity increases you are bound to miss things that will break your game later.


quote:
Original post by Wavinator
What''s the difference between complexity and richness?



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To sum up then, perhaps ''complexity'' comes down to the number of orthogonal features that have no direct effect on each other, and ''richness'' is more down to the combinatorial possibilities and implications thrown up by those features.

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In your example Wav, a shop with only ten things? come on! how is THAT reducing complexity? Just make sure that they don''t have to keep track of more than 5 things every second. And make small things autonomous. for example in a game where you have 5 fighters, each of which you control like a FPS, the player will end up playing as if he had one fighter and four reserves.

Don''t clutter the interface with a hundred stats, and don''t forget to put on the interface anything that is vitally important. If you still have a clean interface, you''re probably fine. (and in an rts, Make sure you can combine many little units into larger units for control purposes. Everybody already does it so...)

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