System Complexity

There is a field of study called Game Theory which is essentially problem solving with win-case solutions.  Mathematics have a single correct answer for any given problem (be it a range or a value) yet real-world problems have so many interconnecting systems that you aren’t looking for an answer, you’re looking for a result.  For example, if we raise the purchase price of rice (which is supplied by 2 companies, world-wide) by 10%, what impact does it have on the world?

Moving specifically into the game sphere, the concept of inter-connecting mechanics has been seen for quite some time.  Oregon Trail had a few variables, Ultima 4 and beyond and most RPGs have elements that impact others, all along a chain.  Being oblivious to these mechanics isn’t detrimental if your focus is on the story/adventure and not so much on success.  I could build an Engineer in Mass Effect and still finish the game, even though a Soldier is obviously the superior power choice.  This “face” of the game allows players easy access without having to worry about the technical details.  Blizzard does this fairly well with their mantra of “easy to learn, difficult to master”.

One of the earlier games we learn to play is checkers.  A simple enough concepts, where movements are limited and the rules are simple.  You could teach a 5 year old to play and they would do reasonably well.  Give the same game to a 30 year old, with a penchant for strategy and you find yourself in a complex mathematical game.  There is suddenly a method to the madness.  Expand that up to Chess, where a 10 year old should be able to play.  Grandmasters of the game have the ability to play through hundreds of strategies in their minds, in a fraction of a second.  Put them up against a rookie and they will win but not without a lot of head scratching, wondering just what their opponent is trying to do.

That reminds me of a story where masters were asked to quickly look at a board with a game that had started, then replicate it on another.  Since they saw strategies instead of pieces, it was easy to replicate.  Have kids set up the pieces and suddenly the master’s were unable to replicate the boards – since strategies were removed.

Game mechanics are somewhat similar.  Street Fighter is notorious for pattern combat.  Seeing high level players compete, with fraction-of-a-second reflexes makes it seem amazing but what they don’t tell you is that they have the movesets memorized.  Guile has 3-4 attack patterns and if you can defend against those, you can defend against the best players.  The recent Batman: Arkham City has a flow to its combat system that makes it feel like a dance.  Once you get that pattern down, with a few variants, it’s really hard to die, even on the hardest difficulty.

MMORPGs are down the same vein.  You can level without strategy or pattern and even at max level, you can complete a lot of content by just button mashing.  If you want to execute the top tier content, you need to understand the mechanics (or have someone explain them to you) and then perfect your dance.  PvE content is somewhat flexible in this domain, since the numbers are stacked in your favor.  With 25 players, only 10 or so need to play optimally to succeed.  Heroic content needs 20 people.  PvP content however, is merciless.  WoW 3v3 arenas are dominated by the RMP (Rogue, Mage, Paladin) builds for a reason.  They offer huge burst damage, the best healer survival options and multiple control abilities.  Being able to lock down players completely for 10 seconds or more is simply masterful.  Waiting until the last second to interrupt that heal, means more damage dealt.  This is why E-Sports is so entertaining to those who want to learn the systems and seems completely fanatical to outsiders.

The best Starcraft players hover around 250 actions per minute (APM).  That’s 5 different actions, per second.  A starting player is closer to 50, making a pro 500% more effective at time management than a beginner.  Both are having fun, both have the same opportunity to compete, just on different platforms.

WoW’s LFR system lets casual players experience raid content and the heroic system allows the hardcore raiders to do so as well, with additional rewards.  CoD’s matchmaking system will let the rookie players play together and the pros on their own matches, ensuring a fairly even skill field at any given time.  SWTOR currently only provides a challenge to the casual market, limiting their potential userbase.  EvE is the complete opposite, putting up a large barrier to new players.

The mark of a good game, that meets multiple demographics, allows people to play a simple game if they want and provides them with appropriate rewards while allowing a more in-depth strategy to develop for those who want it.

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