One Hit Wonders
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 10:29AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Depth & Complexity, Misc Design & Theory, Rock Paper Scissors, Wario Ware

My love and preference for simplicity started with the Gamecube 'A' button. Then the DS touch screen and the Wiimote controller further convinced me. The intersection between controller hardware and mechanics design is only the beginning of the long process that is game design. Because video games are complicated, developers can adjust other facets of a game's design to compensate for any one lacking area. Therefore, there is no direct correlation between a game's skill, depth, or complexity and the amount of buttons a game uses. 

I design all of my video games with minimalist controls philosophy. A Progress Worth Saving was designed to be played entirely with the mouse and the left click. Neo*RPG just uses the mouse (both buttons and the scroll wheel). The DKART games (see links at the top of the site) were designed with as few inputs as we could manage. And Megafied: Makoto's World was designed around NES controls.


Knowing that many key facets of gameplay aren't necessarily hampered by a minimalist controls design, I pondered how gameplay is restricted when a challenge only allows the player to make a single action to win or lose it all. No spamming inputs. No multiple chances before reaching a fail state. Just one shot to make it happen. This article will highlight a variety of games that are designed around giving the player one action (or close to one action) to succeed. Keep in mind that I consider the D-pad to be 1 button and moving it around as 1 action. Likewise, 1 tap-motion-release of a touch screen and 1 motion (however complex) of a motion controller counts as just 1 action.  There is some interpretation involved with the more complex input devices. Still, I regard examples featuring just one press of a digital button as the strictest sense of a single action input.  



This post was inspired by COD:BlOps' "one in the chamber" mode and SpyParty. I wanted to examine how much gameplay can fit into a game centered around 1 action. It turns out, you can't fit much gameplay into a 1 action game. This may seem contrary to the examples I listed. But the clarity comes in how we use language. 

Gameplay, as defined in the Critical-Glossary from a Dictionary of Video Game Theory:

"A game’s gameplay is the degree and nature of the interactivity that the game includes, i.e., how the player is able to interact with the game-world and how that game-world reacts to the choices the player makes." (Rouse 2001, xviii) Gameplay can be seen as independent of graphics or fiction, but fiction plays a large role in helping players understand the game. (Half-Real, chapter 5.)

Based on this definition, which hasn't changed since I started writing this blog, gameplay is a term that depends on interactivity. In general the more interactivity, the more gameplay. This means, though puzzle games and other genres are highly engaging, the time you spend before making your first move isn't gameplay. All of the thinking and strategizing you do in your head is independent of the gamestate. This makes sense. While you're just sitting there, the game is simply waiting for you. It's silly to think of a non changing game state as gameplay.

Pushing our understanding further, a game's depth (interplay [back and forth counters]) is also dependent on multiple instances of interactivity. In other words, when you do something to win, the game responds to stop you, and then you respond to stop the game, the back and forth responses are only possible with continued interaction. This is why the Wario Ware games are made up of multiple rounds of micro games. This is why RPS is typically a best out of 3. This is why you don't leave a casino after your first bet, which you'll most likely lose. By increasing the rounds, the design has an opportunity to create interplay or at least increase the interactivity/gameplay. 


So the mystery is over. We no longer have to wonder how much gameplay can be crammed into a game that gives the player one hit to get it right. Games with limited interactivity probably engage the player with graphics, sound, or information (level set up, story, etc.). For if a developer decides to make games with little gameplay and little to engage the player, we probably won't be seeing them top the charts.  

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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