Elegance in Game Design

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

–Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

 

When I think of elegance, I think of refined grace, restrained beauty, something of an unusual effectiveness and simplicity.

Design is the embodiment of elegance. It is trying to bring something into existence with no more and no less than what is needed.

When it comes to game design, the elegance resides in the depth to complexity ratio.

Depth is given by the number of different possibilities or meaningful choices that come out of one ruleset.

Complexity is the amount of data that the player has to process at any given time. An elaborate ruleset and steep learning curve result in a high game complexity.

Two great examples of elegant games are Go and Bejeweled 3.

Go board

In order to reach a high depth to complexity ratio, game designers tend to reduce a game’s complexity using subtractive design. Subtractive design is thinking in terms of negatives (subtracting things) rather than positives (adding things) in order to create a form (a game in our case) that fits a context.

 

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

–Albert Einstein

 

We designed Elysian Fields with three basic things in mind: consistency, keeping the number of useless elements to a minimum, and trying to make everything as intuitive as possible. So far we’ve managed to create an immersive and fluid experience cutting most of the clutter between the player and the game world (such as unneeded UI). Also we’ve reduced all the player’s interaction with the environment to a single click without sacrificing any depth.

What other games do you find elegant and why? Leave your answers in the comments below.

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