Pete Molyneux has said gimmicks are one of game design's most attractive traps, and outlined a possible solution in Lionhead's new "golden line" approach to game making.
"What I try and do – and now I try and do it more as a sensible designer – is I try and say to myself ‘is this idea that I’ve got a gimmick or a real mechanic?’" Molyneux told Develop.
"I have to consider if it is something that would sound good on paper but actually wouldn’t be that good to engage with, or is it something that is compulsive and fresh and new?
"That’s always the challenge from with inside yourself, because you can get very attracted to the gimmicks. If you don’t think that all the way through then bad things will happen."
The famed designer said he's searching for the "golden pot of pure entertainment", but finds himself pushing his team away from it on tangents.
Hence Lionhead's new strategy, which eschews the "pillars" of departmental game design for a literally linear approach.
"The devil is in the detail, so now the design approach at Lionhead is all about laying the experience out in this golden thread.
"… We’ve got this tool that allows us to lay out every minute of the gameplay so that we can talk about every minute from the start to the end. Every minute is storyboarded and if there are branches in there we have branches in the tool.
"Before we start work we talk through the whole of the experience, designing each minute of the experience".
Molyneux explained that the result is a kind of spreadsheet or branching storyboard outlining the player's experience at every point during the game, allowing the team to see how different mechanisms work in various environments and situations, and within the overarching storyline.