Something that has been bothering me lately in my design of Oricana, is that some of the abilities feel sort of... Simple. Use. Bang. Result. As if everything is a fireball. Flash. Damage. Done.
Okay then. Then, what is something interesting? What is interesting? When does something go from simple, to affording possibility?
I have to keep in mind, when considering this, that interesting must fit my game design. I can get inspiration elsewhere, try to find parallels, but I can't alter the core.
As of right now, Oricana has many mechanics. There is abilities, enemies, research, and crafting.
To me, an interesting mechanic might not be interesting design. And vice versa. Tools in The Legend of Zelda appear to give an array of possibilities, but often fit as keys for specific locks (good design, bad mechanic?). Abilities that play with physics are interesting to play with, but to be honest, they feel like the cheap solution for a designer: "Hey you! I'll let you invent your own solutions". The gravity gun in Half-Life was this, while the Portal-gun was the complete opposite: a tool for neat design, but as a mechanic opening possibilities... Well, there's probably a reason why it wasn't a general weapon in Half-Life.
I often return to Auro. Why do the few abilities there, seem so incredibly well-designed, yet they also enable me to be creative?
Well, at heart, I believe Auro is a board game. Every. Single. Action. Matters.
That is, the totalt state of the game changes whenever you do anything. Do right, and your options increase, and perhaps you get closer to winning. Do wrong, you move towards losing.
I think, this is what interesting is. If what you can do, leads itself to more possibilities, states that change in zig-zaggy ways.
And if this is all that matters to you, it's totally reasonable that most games seem super boring. The sociologist Roger Caillois split games into Agon (contest), Alea (chance), Mimicry (play-pretend), and Ilyx (vertigo).
To me, vertigo is something video games can simulate, and board games absolutely do not. Ilyx, at least for me, doesn't have to be literal dizziness. Anything I enjoy because of the tactility, audio, visuals or spectacle, is Ilyx.
Which means, that the simple, uninteresting abilities, are often good at Ilyx.
"Why not just make all actions filled with delicious feedback?" someone ponders. Well, what is interesting might not be helped by what is simple fun. At least, if all you care about is a wide range of complex, state-changing options, then if something cool delays the outcome, you might not appreciate it.
I want both though. I want some actions to that are simple and gratifying in their feedback, and others that might let the contemplating player read the current state and initiate chain reactions of more possibilities.
To have both, would require that consequences for selecting the, perhaps, less effective action, are not severe. This where I can have issues with well-designed board games. Without Ilyx, the less effective action simply limits me. This is also where I clearly see why I like Japanese RPGs.
Recently I've been consumed by Bravely Second. For so many reasons. In relation to this topic, Second has so many interestingly designed mechanics, but even the simplest provide such great OOMPH! It has both throwaway fights to play around in, bosses where the stakes are raised yet I can still be ineffective, and actual complex fight, that require strategy and system-understanding. The abilities all play around with the state of the battles, without punishing players (outside of special boss fights).
So what did I arrive at?
Interesting is something that opens up for state-changing possibilities. This has to be balanced with... Let's just call it fun. Fun is frivolous, gratifying actions that aren't severely punished.
Some abilities in Oricana are fun. Some are interesting. Second (and other good JRPGs) has shown me, that I can get both.