Most, if not all, magic systems in games are necessarily hard magic systems, often with mana limits (or cooldowns) and a limited set of spells to prevent spamming god-tier spells in early game.

Other than breaking the rules in cutscenes (which makes every player mad), how would you go about designing and implementing a balanced soft magic system?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean when you say "soft magic"? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Soft magic is a world building term that refers to wild and mysterious magic rather than well-defined magic with clear and rigid rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beefster
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ This site isn't for "hypothetical questions". It's for game development questions with well-defined answers. You could come talk about it in Game Development Chat if you wanted! :D \$\endgroup\$
    – Almo
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think we might be able to narrow the focus of this question to something less opinion-based if you edit it to include more specifics. Following the game-design tag guidance, can you tell us more about the context of your game and how it works so far, and identify specific player experience outcomes that would constitute the kind of soft magic you have in mind? With that info, we may be able to suggest specific solutions that deliver those experience outcomes. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Mar 9, 2019 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that this is possible. Video games are a collection of clear and rigid rules implemented by program code. That's a limitation of the technology. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 10:25

1 Answer 1


This is a really interesting idea, and while I haven't thought about it before I'll give my initial thoughts on the matter.

Hard Magic Systems implies strongly enforced rules within the logic of your narrative universe. Soft Magic Systems implies not having strongly enforced rules within the logic of your narrative universe. In games, you need to code systems, and code is a set of rules and instructions for a computer to follow. However game logic != narrative logic, so I believe it would be possible if you can get your game logic to give the illusion of narrative freedom. We try to do this all the time in modern open world games.

The easy solution: Naratively your character can do anything, gameplay wise they can only do what you've programmed explicitly. While this technically gives you what you want, I assume you really mean having a more open gameplay.

The hard solution: Design a system that allows you to freely combine and generate new magical abilities. This is all about the illusion of no rules. This would be incredibly hard to balance from a gameplay perspective, as players could make / do a variety of things you may never have tested. However you could see a system like that used in starcraft/dota, with data driven spells and abilities. This way players could freely mix data points and the system would output an effect. Imagine starcraft 2 editor but done naturally through a players interactions in the game world. This is pretty complex but doable. See: https://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Dota_2_Workshop_Tools/Scripting/Abilities_Data_Driven

The AI Approach: I'm sure some machine learning to generate spells and abilities could help, but i wouldn't recommend it. Seems like trying to assemble a shelf with a sandal.


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