Hey there everybody,
Today, I figured I’d take some time to talk about clarity and what it means for game design. Clarity really means that a player can look at and understand what a mechanic does, and, beyond that, can figure out the best ways to use that mechanic to its fullest ability. Clarity is essential to getting players to actually play your game because lack of clarity leads to anger, frustration, flipped boards, and quitting. Clarity was a hallmark of design at Riot, and I think it’s a huge part of the game’s success to this day. League of Legends successfully blends together the depth and mastery of a MOBA with extraordinary accessibility, allowing players to play the game, figure out what’s happening, and actually get into the game.
Clarity was not something I understood when I first started working on games. If you look at my first game I ever made, it was functionally unplayable (as I’ve discussed before), but as I grew as a designer I began to see more and more how important it was for a player to understand what was happening and how they could respond to it. Players do not like to be forced into situations they have no ability to impact. Even worse, though, is the inability to have an impact because you can’t understand what’s going on. A great example of this happened just the other day when my fiancee and I were playing Fallout 4 together. She was trying to figure out how to talk to an NPC at a given position on the map, but the NPC wasn’t at that position – he was clear across the map. What made it even more frustrating was that as she attempted to go find the NPC by fast traveling to the nearest location, he would move and be somewhere else by the time she arrived. Eventually she refused to fast travel and just took off sprinting after him and eventually got to him, but the frustration was apparent not only in her, but also in me watching her try to get to him. Not understanding what was happening or why makes a player feel lost and hopeless.
For my game, I knew I wanted people to be able to pick the game up and play it, particularly with the group of people I was targeting – dog lovers, and especially pug lovers. Given the target wasn’t board gamers, I needed to make sure the game was simplicity itself. If anyone could come along and play the game, this meant that a passionate fanbase – pug lovers – could help make the game a reality, even if they didn’t normally play games. To do this, I tried to consistently cut out rules and rely heavily on intuition. What would a player expect to happen in any given situation? Does this mechanic make sense, or does it require far too much mindshare to be functional? The simpler I could make the game (while still maintaining good decisions) was extremely important. Additionally, the slow build up to the heavier decision making allows a “warmup” period that I’ve discussed before, that allows players to get a feel for what’s going on before it actually impacts the game they’re trying to play. Even if you have no clue what you’re doing, you can still earn points playing basics every turn.
Along with all of that, I tried to make the actual player actions as simple as possible. All a player must do is play a card, then draw a new one. While some cards can be a little complex (and those are ones I continue to try to tone down), for the most part cards have a simple interaction that makes sense. Thirty of the 46 cards in the deck are basics, tricks, or disasters, the very base line for the game. Having most of the cards in the game be as simple as earn points/earn double points/block points allows for increased complexity elsewhere and allows players that are struggling to find a footing to find that footing.
Overall, I’m pretty excited by the clarity in my game. In almost every playtest I’ve run players have been able to pick up the game and the vast majority stated that about halfway through their first game they felt like they figured out what they were supposed to be doing, even for those that had no idea how to play any tabletop games. That’s a great place for the game to be!
That’s all I’ve got today! Tell me about a frustrating moment in a game due to lack of clarity or something you’re happy it was so easy to pick up due to great design in the comments!