Here's something that struck me about Josh's devlog for July 3, 2014
Josh Parnell wrote:In June, I started an interesting paradigm of trying to hit one element of content, polish, and tech every day. Despite not achieving it every day, it was a good driving force and motivator that helped me spread my focus in an effective way. In July, I will do the same. This time, however, I'll focus on content, playability, and polish. The introduction of playability and dropping tech as a focus means that I'm shifting my focus more towards a playable game and looking ahead to the BETA release.
Playability, content, and polish -- in that order -- remind me of the three levels of the Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics
model described by Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek. I consider that to be a Good Thing.
is the level of the game/human interface. In a game design sense, playability and mechanics are both concerned with the definition and implementation of the "verbs" with which players directly perform actions within the game world. These are low(ish)-level activities such as moving, shooting, trading, sensing, and building. When those core mechanics work correctly, and when they've been tweaked to a silky smoothness, you will have a game that feels highly playable.
is what's in the world of the game, and especially the parts of the game world that have active effects beyond just appearance. This is a reasonably close match for dynamics, which in the MDA model refers to designing the structure of the elements of the game that respond to player actions. Particularly for a game that relies as heavily on procedural generation as Limit Theory, I suspect "content" will in many cases be active (dynamic) elements -- objects and systems in the world that change state on their own and in response to player inputs. These are things like the game economy, NPC AI, colonies, asteroid-based resources, and object frequency emissions.
is about the feel of the game at a high level. We think of a game as being "polished" when, as we play, all of the pieces seem to fit together well, when everything we see and interact with makes sense in the overall context for that game. That's pretty much the definition of "aesthetics" from the MDA model. Polish is harder to specify as a list of observable features... but players know when it's not there, when the game consists mostly of separate bits of mechanics and content that don't all work together to create a unified, distinctive play experience.
I'm happy to read that Josh is planning to think in terms of playability, content, and polish because I think the best games are consciously designed and evaluated on each of the levels of Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics. (I include in that list the fourth and lowest level of Kinetics, which are the physical sensations you get when repeating the core gameplay loop of a game. Good developers make that core loop feel physically satisfying to do over and over again -- that "just one more turn" feeling in Civilization is an example of a highly refined Kinetics level.)
When Josh tests and hones Limit Theory on all these levels, he will be following the MDA prescription of making sure that his game is satisfying on all the levels with which players experience a game. Consciously assessing and improving dynamic content, playable mechanics (including the kinetics of the core gameplay loop), and polished aesthetics is precisely what I think has been emphasized in the best games of all time.
So I'm very happy to hear Josh thinking about Limit Theory in those ways, even if the terminology is a little different. I think that emphasis for the next few months will prove to be extremely useful in helping LT gel into a uniquely memorable and highly playable game.
In other words, I think there's no better way to optimize the fun of Limit Theory than to focus on playability, content, and aesthetics.