Game Dev Corner: Complexity vs Depth

This is part 3 in a series exploring Depth and Complexity in game design.
Part 1: Complexity
Part 2: Depth
Part 3: Complexity vs Depth

So now we’ve come to age old argument, Depth vs Complexity.

In earlier posts I put up this chart:

This was meant a visual aid in how I think various games fit in a depth vs complexity argument.

Looking at the chart, most game purist would consider the games in the bottom right quadrant (High Depth, Low Complexity) to be the pinnacle of “good” design, yet plenty of games in the top left quadrant (Low Depth, High Complexity) are extremely popular and have a loyal fan base. This is because everything involving what is fun or enjoyable is subjective.

Depending on how you look at it, Complexity can add Depth and Depth can add Complexity. Each game system has a little of both, as no game system adjustment adds pure Depth without Complexity or increases Complexity without adding Depth.

Take for example the inclusion of vespene gas in Star Craft. You can argue that it adds nothing but complexity to the game as it muddles resource management with an additional resource without increasing options available to the play. On the other hand, vespene gas breaks up the unit production options depending on how much gas you have available. If a player wants to build units but does not have enough gas, they must build alternative units or secure vespene gas resources elsewhere in the map. Setting up maps to put vespene gas in hostile areas will drive conflict. Depending on how you look at Star Craft holistically from a game design prospective will dictate whether you think vespene gas increases complexity and depth and to what degree if effects both.

Depth and Complexity are both tools for game design. Sometimes increasing complexity is appropriate and sometimes decreasing depth is what your game system needs. Depth and Complexity are not mutually exclusion nor are they independent. Treat both tools are measurements to hit the needs of your audience as well as the the needs of your game systems.


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