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For this post, I am viewing “limits” as self-imposed restrictions within the design of games. This is different from “constraints” that developers utilize to make their games feel consistent. The best example is as follows:
- Limit - The player can only hold 100 pieces of wood in a single chest
- Constraint - Only these 6 colors will be used across all art in the game
In another post I’ll touch more on the benefits of constraints, but right now we’re looking more at those limit examples.
So, Why Stop Adding Limits?
I will admit that the title is a bit clickbaity, mainly because you should not completely stop having limits. Rather, you should go through the process of evaluating when the limits in your game are giving or taking away value from the player’s experience.
To return to the above example, we may ask ourselves - “why can this chest only hold 100 pieces of wood?” There could be numerous responses:
- The chest is super small
- The chest can only handle a certain weight
- The player will never need more than that amount
- The performance might suffer with endless resources
These are all valid points, which is why we have to narrow down the importance of having this limit. If small size and weight thresholds are a unique mechanic to the game that players explore, then the limit’s inclusion makes sense. Conversely, if the limit never shows up elsewhere, then it will likely frustrate the player and break immersion when it appears. I think it would be safe to assume that in most cases as well, these limits are not unique ideas. Having item stack sizes and limited storage options are common limits in nearly all games. From your own experiences though - did that item limit ever bring positive experiences? Or was it simply another roadblock to overcome?
I could very well be assuming a lot here, but I would bet that at its best, item/chest limits in games are simply expected obstacles, and at their worst, a source of frustration and fatigue in gameplay.
This is where your indie game can truly shine! Take these familiar limits in popular titles that players have all but cast aside as lost causes and mix them up in your game. Imagine a player’s first experience with a chest, and finding out that they can store unlimited items! It feels powerful, exciting, and brings several new design opportunities such as constructing bases or organizing treasures.
Keeping the limit might be interesting as well! If we want to dig deeper into weight thresholds, perhaps we could encourage smart storage, like allowing the player to fit more items into a chest based on how they arrange them (games like Subnautica dip into this premise). In this case, it brings a more visual element to storage that also side-steps the issue of being restricted by a given number above each item.
How Do I Know If Players Want Those Limits?
Testing! Player feedback! And all other forms of showing these limits as part of gameplay to other people. They will give that fresh perspective outside of development to help narrow down what limits potentially require some reworks.
It’s a bit unintuitive as well, but with testing you don’t necessarily need to ask if a limit is frustrating or not. You can keep it vague and those observers and playtesters will naturally detail what parts stand out to them. For example, you could say, “How was the experience of placing and pulling items with chests?” They may detail a specific action that needs attention, or the larger system if there are multiple elements to address. From there, you can re-evaluate if those experiences are rooted in limits, if they are core to the game, and how they can be improved.
Limits are bound to show up in the design of your game, whether intentional or not. It is worth investing some time to ensure the limits are designed with the audience in mind. Essentially, don’t add limits in your game’s design because everyone else does - add those limits because they directly add value to the player’s experience!