Is Depth not Enough if it’s not Stressed?

Would you say that a deep system in a game is not enough, the game must appropriately push it? thinking about this while playing Bulletstorm, which has great weapon variety and ways to defeat enemies, but encounters don’t really demand it, and you get points for doing combinations to compensate and in DMC series, often you can just get used to the attack patterns of enemies to avoid them, and spam a basic attack, and you can get through even Dante Must Die with that, and the game basically becomes God of War, despite having far greater possibilities. Whereas Quake for example ammo depletion forces you to change weapons, and enemy positioning forces you to use movement options and level geometry more fully, so you necessarily get a more complete exploration of the system’s possibilities through the game itself, and those possibilities are actively being tested.

To an extent yes. I have two measures of depth, absolute versus relative. Absolute is the amount of differentiated game states in the game as a whole. Relative is the number relevant to the playerbase. There might be a huge depth inherent in a game, but the playerbase will only access a certain portion of it. To that extent, the game developers must be cognizant of how the game will actually be played. Creating depth relative to the playerbase is a matter of balance. If you have one weapon for which ammo is abundant which does the highest DPS to enemies in all possible situations, then the amount of depth relative to the playerbase will shrink in relation to the absolute depth of the game. If you have enemies which can be dispatched easily regardless of weapon choice, then the game loses the depth of strategic weapon selection as the situation demands it. If you have a ton of weapons that are each only good at killing one enemy, options that only do one thing and don’t even slightly overlap, then you lose all the scenarios when you use a normally suboptimal weapon for an optimal situational purpose (and a lot of alternate solutions, the game becomes more puzzle-like). If you have a ton of options that all do the same thing, then they lose differentiation, which also is a lack of depth.

Designing for depth is about making it so as many different components of the game are relevant in as many different situations as possible. That’s why I have my 3 criteria shorthand, a given option should have it’s own niche (different role from other options), it should have multiple uses, and create different outcomes based on manipulation of the option or circumstances (like allowing jumps of different heights, getting more distance from different timings, more damage for better timing/positioning, inheriting properties from other variables). It occurs to me that I should add a 4th criteria, for whether an option has an interaction or synergy with another mechanic.

From a design perspective, I feel it’s stronger when a ruleset is enforced by winning or losing, by barring progression or recognition of victory until you actually succeed. It’s one thing to have scoring or time as a supplementary objective, but for most people, that feels really weak. Most people don’t care, I usually don’t care. Difficulty can act as a selective force, pushing players to try different things out to optimize their play, which is what brings out the depth of the game.

Yes, I’ve considered how you can just get by spamming a basic attack before and discussed it with a few different friends. I didn’t like how multiplayer games push us to master everything about the game, but single player games seemingly lack this capacity to always push us higher. How do you even grade high level play in DMC? It’s a matter of style and creativity? How could you make a pass/fail system for that type of thing? The truth is, you can always win literally any beat em up game by spamming the weakest attack and not getting hit. This isn’t true of another human opponent, because they adapt. You can’t spam the same thing forever because they’ll just start doing the thing that beats your spam every time. Though theoretically, you could win a match against a human opponent by spamming if you just always did it at exactly the right time.

If you push for scoring systems, then more often than not, solutions become incredibly rigid and repetitive, rather than vaguely allowing anything that manages to get through.

Yeah, you could probably beat DMC3/4 by spamming nothing but stinger, but I don’t imagine it would be particularly easy to beat it that way. Ninja Gaiden can be beaten with flying swallow, but it’s slow and harder than using other moves.

NG is arguably a good case study here, you shouldn’t always use flying swallow because it doesn’t have the best damage output (though it can insta-kill many smaller enemies), and it can be blocked and punished. You shouldn’t always run directly at opponents because many have ranged attacks that will punish a straightforward approach. You shouldn’t always block and counterattack because enemies have guard breakers or throws, which require you to either reverse wind away or dodge outright. You can’t always spam powerful combos because other enemies are around to hit you, and some will block and punish you (though this is only really true of enemies with super armor in NG1, I noticed the chapter 2 boss of NG2 will do this, requiring hitconfirming). Even without an adaptive AI, if you throw in moves like these which incentivize using some moves for some situations, it influences the decision-making process of the player. Oh, and you should always use the ultimate technique, it just may be tricky to find an opportunity.

Another good case study is DMC4’s bloody palace, which has not only waves of enemies, but the timer which you need to defeat enemies quickly and efficiently in order to earn more time for (with only the loose bonuses for enemy deaths, and no damage). Where in story mode you can win with anything, bloody palace is far more selective, pressuring players to not only deal damage without taking it, but to continually do it the most efficiently they can. Though if you play well enough, you can earn a ton of time and not care how much you waste. Might have paid to set a cap on the maximum amount of time you can earn, to like 15-20 minutes or something maybe.

Regrettably even Quake doesn’t require everything from you. I’m pretty sure it can be beaten with nothing but an axe. (Don’t quote me on that, a vore + shambler like in the final map might be trouble). Still yeah, Quake does a lot to make sure all the components in the system are used through ammo limitations (otherwise lightning gun or rocket launcher would wipe everything out).

Still it’s a pretty good example. Custom Gamer goes over rather frequently how even though one enemy, like a Shambler, might be easily beaten with just an axe (which he does) by itself, if you have two enemies, they can fill in for each other and prevent you from just repeating the thing that kills one enemy dead easily. If you throw in a fiend, then you can’t move into melee range for the shambler, then out again as he attacks, the fiend will hit you. You need to dodge both the fiend and the shambler at once, and the optimal pattern for one doesn’t overlap with the other.

But yeah, difficulty, in particular challenges that stress the different options the player has, requiring them to prioritize some over others, making it difficult to pick the one necessary to survive on a moment-by-moment basis, and giving each a chance to shine, is a big deal for depth.

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