Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Simplicity Isn't Bad

Sometimes 2 + 2 = 4 is enough.

This rant (rants? perhaps, we'll see) stems a little from what I covered about the interview with  St├ęphane D'Astous, the General Manager of Eidos Montreal. Although he didn't outright decry simplicity, he did extol on the virtues of complexity, saying that as games rise in complexity that it reduces the need for new IPs. Now, I don't necessarily agree with him on that point, but I can and do admit that complexity is a good thing ... at least when it's used properly. However, what I argue today is that the same principle holds true of simplicity as well, even now with all the technology and options available to us.

See, the thing is here is that every game starts off with a simple, core idea. Back when we only had stuff like the NES and Sega Master System around those ideas didn't really have the space to evolve a whole lot, but that also didn't matter. This is in part because video games were a shiny new thing, and playing something like Super Mario Brothers was exciting in and of itself (I'd argue that it still is, but that's for a little later in the article). These limitations didn't necessarily make the games bad, it just meant that what they could do had to be done well.

Look at the Mega Man franchise. For most of the Blue Bomber's career the raison d'etre has been "move right, jump over things, shoot other things, sometimes both, repeat until dead or victorious". When making the move to the SNES, there were a couple of new elements added: more powerups, the ability to dash and wall climb, things like that. It's still a very simple formula at it's core, but I'd say that for the most part the Mega Man series has done pretty well and that the games are fun to play even today. In fact it's when they actually tried getting a little more complicated by moving to 3D that gave the franchise it's most poorly received entries.

Now, I'm also not saying that everything needs to be simple. I've said that gamers aren't drooling morons (unlike what a lot of the gaming industry seems to view us as) and I stand by that. I'll be talking about complexity tomorrow. What I'm ultimately getting at here is that if something is simple, and works well either in spite of or indeed because of that simplicity, then what need is there to make it more complex right away? There can always be other iterations, additions as time moves on. Sequels and additions like DLC help add complexity as it is needed, but don't necessarily infringe on the notion of the core concept as initially presented.

Simplicity isn't a dirty word. I own the Mega Man collections and still play them. People play emulated versions of old games all the time, games that while perhaps not as complex as the current offerings today, have still stood up remarkably well to the test of time and more importantly, to the test of still being just genuinely fun. Fact of the matter is, if it's not broke don't brake it, and sometimes simplicity is the thing that isn't broken.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me think of this Penny Arcade comic:


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