The Coefficient of Clean pt.4
Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 4:59PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Clean Design, Mario Kart, Skill, Super Smash Brothers, Zelda
Part 1Part 2. Part 3.
One of my greatest accomplishments of 2010 in the gaming space was writing the An examination of Skill 19 part article series. In it I used some neuroscience research and careful thinking to articulate some of my theories and explain various phenomena. It turns out that speed is a very unintuitive concept to grasp. To quickly recap, increasing the speed of a game doesn't necessarily increase the skill ceiling of gameplay. In fact, making the game faster shifts the relative importance of individual facets of skill along the skill spectrum, generally putting more stress on knowledge skills. Along the same conceptual lines, gameplay that requires or allows rapid action can suffer the same drawbacks making for a less clean interactive experience.
Action Frequency
So many Joes! So much action. 
Previously in this article series I explained the importance of actions and their reactions. Such interactivity is the heart of gameplay. The faster the speed of a game, the less players can actively see. This is an issue of reflex and knowledge skills. The less a player can actively or consciously process (in a timely manner), the harder it is for the player to absorb and use any kind of feedback from the game. If a game lets you play (inputs and actions) at a speed that's beyond your ability to keep up, then the emergent action can create clutter that works against the gameplay. 
Cancels (discussed in part 1 of this series) can certainly increase the action frequency of a game. When there are too many poorly designed cancels in a game, the player can spend more time spamming buttons and canceling moves than seeing any action from start to finish. Many have faulted fighting games for button mashing especially when this tactic is effective against players playing "normally" (or should I say consciously). If you prefer games where players make interesting choices, then rapidly inputting tens of actions per second practically removes the volition from each action. Action frequency when too high can influence players to turn their brains off. 
Action frequency mainly applies to spamming non continuous actions. If you spin the analog stick around in a 3D Mario platformer, Mario will merely move in a circle. There's no clutter in this smooth and continuous action. This is different from rappidly inputing the same action or different actions. With continuous actions the feedback players look for is consistent and simple, which is very different from unleashing a series of attacks on a target. 
The following are a few examples of games with high action frequency (measuring the potential for rapid action not the necessity of it). 
(emergent) Behavior-Fits-Fiction
Link's curiosity and behavior has consequences.
image from
Fiction is very important in a video game. The entire concept of form-fits-function is built around how people relate to in game interactions intuitively with real world experiences. In other words, the consistency of the fictional world in the game is important for its story and gameplay. Developers work hard to create characters that act like themselves. Mario runs and jumps. Master Chief shoots and punches. All of these actions fit. On a mechanical level developers have a lot of control over this area. But once the controller is in the hands of the player, odd behaviors can emergence.
No one can stop a player from playing however he/she likes. I assume most of us play games to win most of the time. We try to get to the end of the level in Mario. We're not content with just roosting up on a ?-block and taking in the sights as the time ticks down. We see little point in playing World 1-1 and intentionally running into the first Goomba over and over. This functional drive also shapes our behavior. When moving from point A to B, we tend to look for the safest or fastest option and then look for ways to make our experience more fun. So for sake of cleanliness, designers have to be careful designing mechanics that give optional yet more efficient (safer/faster) ways to move and play.
Normally, developers focus on combat mechanics so that one move isn't too powerful creating a dominant strategy. But it seems that much less attention is put on simple movement mechanics. The following is a list of games with emergent movement techniques that warp the look and feel of the game. 


In part 5, we'll look at arbitrary limitations, static-space, and excessive complexities.  

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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