Confusions of Game Design Series: Complexity is rarely desirable, Intricacy often is
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube
What’s the Difference?
It's pretty hard to separate the dictionary definitions: each is listed as a synonym of the other
But as I use it in gaming, there is a significant difference
I'm differentiating the details of the rules from what you need to account for during play
To be intricate is to increase what the player must take into account when deciding what to do, with minimal additions to the rules (minimal additional complexity)
Great classic core “gamers games” are often intricate, but rarely complex
Chess is not complex in its rules – especially if you use flat pieces with movement illustrated on the piece - but is highly intricate in its play
Checkers (draughts) is much less complex, but also less intricate
Candyland is very simple, but has no intricacy at all
Some Euro games are made deliberately complex in an attempt to increase intricacy
1. having many interrelated parts or facets; entangled or involved: an intricate maze.
2. complex; complicated; hard to understand, work, or make: an intricate machine.
very complicated or detailed; "an intricate network of canals"
synonyms: complex, complicated, convoluted, tangled, entangled, twisted;
1: having many complexly interrelating parts or elements : complicated
2: difficult to resolve or analyze
Let’s Focus on:
“having many interrelated parts or elements”
“difficult to resolve or analyze”
NOT complexity of rules, but factors the player must take into account to attempt to play "perfectly“
(This assumes that the player’s decisions make a difference – not true in some games)
When you put the player “on the horns of a dilemma”, difficult decisions with viable several choices, you’re using/adding intricacy to the game
An aside about opposition
The rules-light way to add intricacy to a game is to add human opponents
The rules don’t change, but the player must account for other player intentions
Some video games try to do this via programming, but a good human opponent is always more resourceful than the computer opponent can be
“The Core Loop”
Games tend to have one core loop, the thing players do over and over again (in variations, we hope)
Some games are very “pure”, say checkers, go, tic-tac-toe
The loop in a FPS is “move and shoot”; in a stealth shooter it’s often “sneak and overwhelm”
A game can be good, should be good, on the basis of the core loop alone
How to Add Intricacy?
Puzzle-games (including most solo/single-player/co-op games) add complexity
What a game designer really wants to add is intricacy, but not complexity
I try to go back to my core motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
Another form, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."
Make games as rules-simple (non-complex) as possible. Make them intricate, not complex.