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.

Once upon a time…

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Apart from your ordinary stories that begin with “Once upon a time…”, our story starts on campus… our university campus. Maybe that is not the exact place, but that is the most probable assumption, considering the protagonists are students. Freshmen, to be more precise.

Raul, Ionut and Cristina, computer science students, wanted to create a game. Actually, Raul came up with the idea, Ionut eventually agreed to it and Cristina was the last one to join. But it wasn’t just a simple wish… The idea quickly blossomed into something more than a game…

We are Dream Crafters and we are weaving mythology, philosophy, psychology, game design, visual arts and sound together into an illusion for the player to immerse himself into. But maybe you would like to find out more about each member’s contribution. Cristina is the 3D, 2D and concept artist, Ionut designs the puzzles and also plays the role of the coding bear (because a monkey is small and agile) and last, but certainly not the least, Raul is the game designer, technical artist and programmer.

Our first, and current project is entitled Elysian Fields which is a slow-paced first person puzzle/exploration game. The story begins with a lost soul, who has forgotten who he is, searching desperately for a place to rest. But in order to be granted access in the much sought Elysium, he must first prove himself worthy of such an honor.

All the elements of the game, from music and sound to visual assets and story, are crafted so that they are guiding the player in a journey that has as goal reaching a state of self-awareness and bliss. He will get to experience a vast spectrum of emotions, starting with loneliness, sorrow, melancholy, emotional attachment, regret and shifting towards joy, fulfilment and love as he gets closer to the end of the game.

We’ve  submitted a prototype of our game for the Imagine Cup online competition and we hope for the best. However, failure would not mean the end. We are determined to continue this project whatever the outcome.

This is the beginning of our story, a story that we are continuously living and writing. We hope that you will join us throughout the development of our game. We will make sure to keep you up to date regarding the current state of development and we will use your invaluable feedback along the way.