Game Design: "Too many minds"

“Too many minds”

That was the advice to Tom Cruise’s character in “The Last Samurai” as he kept getting beaten while training with wooden swords against other samurai.

His failure was caused by his internal conflict – too many thoughts and emotions – he was fighting himself and his opponent at the same time.

I played a lot of the top selling games (Xbox, PS3, Wii) games during the holiday.

I was surprised that some were not as good as I expected and how one of those in particular felt over designed. It had the core game idea and then was overloaded with too many “so so” features.

Instantly made me think “too many minds”.

This kind of design pattern is usually a symptom of too many people (designers, team members, managers, company executives) directing the design and mandating features.  The game fights with itself for simple clarity.

With FarmVille, we followed the philosophy of a single strong voice to guide the game. It works well.

If your design ever feels flat, confused or uninspired, check in on whether there are “too many minds”. Reducing to one creative voice might make things better quickly.

3 Responses to Game Design: "Too many minds"

  1. James Tucker January 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    The other side of the coin is we all get creative thoughts and energy to improve. How do you draw the line between “too many minds” and “single strong voice?”

    • Mark Skaggs January 9, 2010 at 2:57 am #

      It’s a balance. Common misconception is that the single strong voice = “comes up with all the ideas”. That doesn’t work. Instead the single strong voice makes the call of “in or out”.

  2. Andrew Pellerano January 12, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    The reason why you want one person at the top of the design tree is because every design has bucket loads of unspoken elements contributing to the air surrounding the game. Games are more than the mechanics printed in the rule books, they’re a chance for the player to escape. Only with a consistent vision of how and where they escape to can players make that jump and join the designer in the fantasy.

    I do believe that there is one other person that the lead designer should be intimate with, though, and that’s the lead artist. If that person does not understand what is motivating you when you make decisions for the game, the art will come back flat and you’ll have missed out on one of the key ways to pull players from reality.

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