Remember Crash Bandicoot? It started as a very simple 3D platformer with two actions: jump and spin. You played as a genetically engineered bandicoot jumping and spinning his way through multiple levels on three islands in search of his girlfriend. This game was fun, challenging, and one of the best games available in the Playstation’s early years. Each new iteration in the series added new elements, slowly increasing not only Crash’s abilities, but the enemies and crates he would encounter. By the time the third game rolled around you could no longer count Crash’s abilities on two hands: he could belly flop, slide, crawl, spin, tornado spin, sprint, shoot a wumpa rocket launcher, ride a motorcycle, fly a plane, pilot a jetpack, swim, and ride a submersible. These additions, while fun for a while, just got a little out of hand. The third title, while still fun, began to feel gimmicky and the series slowly began to decline.
These days it would seem that the key to success is cramming as many features into a title as possible, which is truly unfortunate. Take GTA V for example. Sure, I loved it. It was hilarious and a fun ride, with a great multiplayer thrown in. However, how much did anyone really play the extra features: The tennis, yoga, and triathlons? Golf, play with your dog, or watch TV? These were all great and intrigued me during the first play-through, but in the end I just didn’t really need them. All of these resources were spent adding these features into a game that was already great, but ultimately still flawed. Where are the heists? They probably could have been in the launched title if Rockstar had just done things differently and followed a tried and true code of game design; find your core mechanic, make it fun, and make a game.
This goes back to the early years of development and was mostly a necessity due to the lack of resources available. One, two, or three guys was really all you had back then, and yet they managed to push out titles that still captured the attentions of thousands for hours on end. Yes, gaming has evolved in leaps and bounds since its birth, but that doesn’t mean we need to tack on every single mechanic created to date to make a game fun. Take Portal and Counter-Strike for example: Both were spawns of Half-Life, but with so much less. Portal has three main actions: blue portal, orange portal, and jump. That’s it. Counter-Strike is a bit more complex, but it’s really just a one-life death-match mode that came out of the original Half-Life engine. Valve saw how these single elements were super fun while developing their games, and sold them as a separate piece. Sure, they could have just included it in the final package, but would it have been the same? Would players care as much about Chell and her companion cube, enough to spark tons of cosplay and YouTube videos? Would Counter-Strike hold tournaments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and still have a strong community throughout each iteration? Just a couple years ago, there were still more people playing CS 1.6 than there were playing Source.
This is all a testament to the fact that fun doesn’t mean big. Fun doesn’t mean jam everything into a game. Lastly, fun doesn’t mean waiting until after a game is finished to play what should have been in it in the first place — the core mechanics.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments below!