Counterpoint: The Depth of Interplay pt.2
Monday, April 6, 2009 at 11:38PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Counterpoint, Depth & Complexity, Interplay, StarCraft

Interplay is the core of truly dynamic and emergent gameplay. When game elements respond to each other and change appropriately and dynamically to various actions, a shared dialog is created. This dialog, like a spoken conversation, is flexible enough to cover different ideas or to explore the established subject. Whether between the computer controlled elements, players, or some combination of the two, this silent, action based, functional dialog gives truth to this quote from The Matrix Reloaded: "You do not truly know someone until you fight them," Seraph. For our purposes, let's replace the word "fight" with "interact with."


Besides creating this dialog, the design of interplay can have the following effects on a game system. Interplay design can...


Every mechanic certainly doesn't need to be designed to counter some element of contrary motion. But like suspension, powerups, and variation, a little bit of interplay goes a long way in building counterpoint through level design. Some literary works and movies are often described as being deep because the more you invest in them through investigative and critical pondering, the more they give back to you by way of fostering interesting ideas or proving to be a more cohesive work. Video games are the same way. The more you put into a game with branching, chain, or triangle of interplay (more on each later), the more each action/element in a given scenario shapes the nature of the challenge and the more the game responds to your actions. The better a game is designed, the more likely its response to the player's actions will be accurate and well communicated. When this happens, the gameplay experience becomes more personal as you continue to learn and interact with the game system/player opponent and visa versa. As long as the game doesn't bend or break its own rules to counter the player's efforts, with a certain amount of interplay in its design, the game can be considered deep.

But many people, book/film/game critics alike, confuse depth with complexity. Interplay (depth) is rooted in interactivity, while complexity is rooted in knowledge and information. Due to interplay, player actions change the nature of the game. Complexities are all about presenting a greater range of information that must be processed at a given moment/state of gameplay. Complexities are the range of data that players must sort through in order to figure out what they don't need/can ignore/can optimize/can simplify before making an informed decision/action. Because in nearly all video games, making informed decisions is how players reach the goal, adding more complexities/information to a game can have a lot of serious negative effects.


Complexities can create the following effects on video games.


Games With Lots of Complexities

In part 3, we'll look at how interplay and complexities come together through game design and how the two can be balanced to achieve the best of both worlds.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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