Rules Synergies

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Rules synergies aren't rules in and of themselves. The elements found in this section of the ontology are the observed effects, or synergies, that a set of specific rules in a game might have. They describe the relationships between rules and can also describe the strategic options available to players.

For example, when considering a real-time strategy game in which a player must use certain resources to buy units, the costs associated to each of these units can have overall synergies and effects on the strategies used by players in the game. If the cost of a new unit increases when the player already has units of that type, there is diseconomy of scale. The marginal cost of each new element increases as more units are bought. If, on the other hand, the cost decreases, there is an economy of scale. In this example, an economy or diseconomy of scale is a rule synergy.

Rules synergies are also related to a property called emergence. Many games are simple to learn to play. They don't have many rules and the rules aren't very complex. However, knowing how to play is not sufficient to play the game well. There is more to playing games than simply memorizing the rules. (Juul, 2002) The emergent complexity of a game, can be explained in part by the synergies between rules.


Strong Examples

Quake 3

In Quake 3, players discovered that there were ways to achieve jumps that where higher than normal. The technique used applied the fact that a rocket-launcher explosion created a blast-wave that knocked things back. Thus, players where able to jump extremely high by jumping and then firing a rocket-launcher blast into the ground directly beneath them. This was an unintended effect of the weapon by the game designers, but was a result of the synergies between the physics model in the and the rules governing the effects of the rocket launcher.


Long term power involves forsaking early units for structures that advance the technology tree, unlocking more powerful units (or pouring money to stabilize your economy). This creates a defensive hole where a small number of weak units can topple a player optimizing his overall strength. Players are motivated to slow their growth early to defend against a potential rush attack.

Super Smash Bros Melee

In melee, there is a technique known as wavedashing that has been discovered by players. The wavedash is done by performing an air-dodge close to the ground diagonal to the ground. This causes a sliding effect that allows players to instantaneously change their direction while running or to move while performing attacks that normally require the player to stand still. This is possible because of the physics that accompany air-dodging since the player can air-dodge before actually leaving the ground.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft is a strong example of rule synergies. For example one of the main activities/goals in WoW, running dungeons requires a diverse group of classes/talent specs to be successful. It is entirely possible in the games coding to allow an entire raid filled with one class to enter a dungeon, however that raid will have little to no success because it will lack the needed elements from other classes left behind. In fact in almost any activity from PvE to PvP in WoW that includes more than 1 person generally can be analyzed and improved by bringing the correct synergy of classes and builds appropreate for the given situation.

Weak Examples

Cave Story

The game is highly linear with a complete lack of customization in both the player's approach in progressing in the game, as well as the way weapons can be used. An attempt is made in terms of special weapons combinations, in which certain NPCs have the ability to upgrade your weapon by combining it with another, but happens rarely and is irreversible.

GTA: San Andreas

One of the many hazards of this game is the fact that cars explode if they take enough damage. If the player is positioned correctly, this may result in the player being flung either down the street (and out of harm's way) or onto a previously-unreachable rooftop. However, more often than not, this ends with the player taking too much damage from the explosion and dying.




Juul, Jesper: "The Open and the Closed: Game of emergence and games of progression". In Frans Mayra (ed.): Computer Game and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings. Tampere: Tampere University Press 2002. p.323-329.