Scaling Down


This is probably my 50th post on the same subject, so I’ll keep it short and, hopefully, sweet.

It’s really hard to scale projects down. At a basic level, people who create often do it to make and build and see their imagination come to life. The thought of limiting that freedom of the mind is painful. Counter-intuitive. Even with the knowledge that limitations breed new (and often better) solutions, there is a fundamental disconnect with good practice and one’s dreams.

It’s so much easier to keep adding features. “Feature creep”, they call it. Add until you drop. Of course, in most cases, the focus on more more MORE means that each feature gets either less attention or requires a huge team to complete it. Independent game designers have to curb their ambition, else they’ll spend the better part of a decade making a single game.

As an aside, I notice this with all the Japanese mobile games I download. Indeed, most Japanese RPGs actually. They’ll unload every gameplay feature under the sun in the first 5 minutes. It buries me, and I’m a veteran. I know that I’ll understand everything in time, and I give games the benefit of the doubt, but I think it’s a serious flaw. Games like Terra Battle, Final Fantasy Record Keeper, Box Boy!, and Bravely Default do complexity right, slowly introducing more as time went on and the further the player progresses. Games like Mobius Final Fantasy, or older games like System Shock 2 on the other hand, could stand to introduce things slower. I’ll give SS2 the benefit of it being 20 years old, but MFF has no excuse. At least they’re both fun once they get rolling.

As an aside to the aside, Brandon Sanderson has said that he never recommends his Stormlight Archive book series to any first time readers of his works. With 2 prologues and 5 viewpoints early on, with about 12 chapters before a main plot is really introduced, it’s the kind of work you need to trust the author before you start. I feel the same about a lot of the games I play with bad starts. But I also think I need to avoid it with my own games, obviously.

Back on the topic of scaling features down, I need to focus more on getting the most varied and interesting use out of a single gameplay mechanic before expanding. Think something like Portal, Braid, Antichamber, or, from all accounts, The Witness. In my own work with a 3D platformer, I need to focus on making a single playable character play and feel great, and make areas that really let that playstyle work before I go on adding a second and third character, even if I really want those. With the RPG, I need to get the plot and basic battle system all worked out before adding more complex features to the battle system. Indeed, in a short 2 hour RPG, it doesn’t make sense to have too many features to your combat. It’ll just confuse the player up until the moment the game’s over.

I suppose I’m writing this mainly to keep my head in the right place. To remind me of things I already know.

Okay, off to the preschool. Time to teach basic numbers and lift kids in the air.


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