“A game must have no more variables than play allows.”

I was playing Borderlands 2 really this morning while my son slept in my lap. He had lots of trouble sleeping last night, and would basically wake up the moment he was not in direct physical contact with me. I can’t sleep in a situation like that.

So I played Borderlands 2.

I recently finished my first run of the game. I’ve created about eight characters, and played co-op with five or six other people. And I hated the game.

Today I noticed a couple things — after finally figuring out how to reach one corner of one particular map that has eluded me — first, the game is deeper than I gave it credit for, however I feel it makes unreasonable demands of the player.

Like saying that a Final Fantasy game “gets better twenty hours into play,” Borderlands 2 suffers from an incredibly steep barrier to entry. I’m more than forty hours into the game and only now enjoying the nuances in play.

Understanding the second point is contingent on this first one — the game is unnecessarily complicated, and clumsily paced. Extra Credits has more than one episode about the importance of tutorials and introducing game content.

Link: Extra Credits – Tutorials 101
Link: Extra Credits – Pacing

Borderlands 2 requires you to manage a lot of stuff. Here’s a short list:
– Cash and Eridium
– Health and shields
– Ammunition and grenades
– Inventory and item quality
– Guns and manufacturers
– Classes and mods
– Skills and relics
– Enemy and damage types
– Environment and cover
– Quests and characters

I tried to pair each “simple” thing with something else that’s complicated to underline just how much information the game expects you to absorb.

When I stopped to think about it, I finally realized what was wrong. The game demands so much of you and really doesn’t offer much in return — little to no incentive — to commit mental resources to storing so much information.

Sure, it gets fun. Later.

That’s when I stopped and thought about my own game system. After some thought, I realized that I was doing something wrong too.

Something needs to go.

I realized that I’ve over-designed my game — to an extent. I think I may also have an idea of exactly how much I’ve over-designed the game.

This feeling, this sense of knowing — is indescribable.

It could be the first step toward a “perfect game.” Which is not something I’ve ever even considered, or necessarily wanted.

And yet, for a moment — I could see it.