Skip to content
October 21, 2008 / jadettman

Flexibility vs. Usability

So, I’m slowly reading through a book called Universal Principles of Design that was suggested as worthwhile by one of the gentlemen over at Gameplaywright, Jeff Tidball I believe.

Anyway, this morning I read the entry about Flexibility vs. Usability, which talks about how the flexibility of a design increases the complexity and decreases the usability of that design. The entry specifically talks about the design of computers and remote controls but, of course, I immediately thought about roleplaying games.

The first roleplaying game (D&D for those not paying attention) wasn’t all that flexible. It was designed for one thing: exploring dungeons and fighting monsters. So, looking at the original design for D&D, the system was actually pretty straight forward. It had some charts to determine the outcome of situations that you were expected to get into and left the players (I’m including the DM here) to figure out the rest, if there was a “the rest” to be figured out.

As roleplaying games spread out to a larger audience and began to mature, the designs began to become more flexible and more complex. The designers realized that the players were doing all sorts of things that they hadn’t accounted for (like intrigue and courtly romance) and were muddling through on their own. In many cases, the designers originated as players and they were already primed for the next stage of development by designing house rules for the previous stage.

So, games became more flexible in an attempt by designers to account for as many possible situations as possible and, in so doing, became more complex.

More recently, game design has begun to revert somewhat as can be pointed to amongst some of the Indie/Story-games crowd and the latest (fourth) edition of D&D. These designers have decided that focused design that is (usually) less flexible leads to better games.

So, these focused games do specific things very well and ignore the complications of players doing unintended things with the game. In doing so, these designs reduce complexity but (theoretically) create more specific, and better, play.

This leads to some interesting ideas about what some folks in the Indie/Story-games crowd call “the Fruitful Void” and how it relates to the flexibility/usability spectrum but I’m going to leave that for another time. I want to think about it more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: