Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Principle of Elegance

The concept of balanced mechanics fascinates me. Core game mechanics, based on flexible yet static rules, which would react to each other in scaled perfection, are the Holy Grails of my obsession. In short, Elegance.

I am well aware that blind faith, more than factual conclusions, allows me to believe that elegant core mechanics can co-exist with each other, but that does not dim my philosophical obsession. Simplicity in games can lead to some very elegant core mechanics, but it is when complexity is added to games that we tend to lose elegance.

Why is so little effort put into balancing a games core mechanics before it is rushed into production? Or is the realization of elegant mechanics so Utopian that it is not possible, no matter how much effort is put into it? Is the need for patches and nerfs a symptom of bad core mechanics, or the resulting growing pains of an industry still in its infancy?

I believe that deconstructing and analyzing the major balance issues in most games would support the argument that it is mental laziness, not inability, which prevents truly complex yet elegant mechanics. The lack of elegant solutions is frustrating, and until more gamers demand finished products that are complex and intuitively balanced, we will be stuck with the cheaper solution of patching patches, never knowing if complex elegance can be designed.


Todd Bursztyn said...

First of all, I think you've really improved your blog template and layout. The shorter posts with the "read on" links are more visually appealing, and that lets me get a taste of your insight without having to dive headlong into your "obsession."

Second, I think you're looking for that elusive "one step closer" to perfection that the industry just can't support. There's such a push to get games out there (and the inevitability of patches and mods) that complex elegance is often sacrificed for a more immediate profit. Developers bank on the lenience of their gamers.

I too believe that the myriad patches reveal a kind of "short-cut" mentality. I wish they would just take the extra couple of months to work the kinks out before hand, and strive for that initial, complete elegance rather than pass out half-assed sutures to cover their negligence.

Still, there are truly great games out there that come close to your ideal. I don't want to seem completely fed up with the industry. I'm more of a console gamer now, and have to worry less about patches, but I can't help but bristle at the memory of past downloads.

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You have chosen a wonderful topic. Elegance is a wonderful and beautiful word. I like it.