GameDev Thoughts: The Untapped Power Of Minimalism In Game Design

Many designers encounter issues by putting too many choices in their games. All designers mean well when doing this, but in the end, all you do is simply frustrate your players. Too much choice usually becomes a problem when there are more than five options to choose from. For newbies, choice overload can cause decision paralysis, leaving them unable to make a decision, thereby halting or seriously postponing any progress in the game. You can alleviate decision paralysis by either creating fewer choices, or by categorizing choices.

There are countless psychological implications associated with too many choices within gameplay. This article will debate some of the pros and cons of having too many options, as opposed to having too few options, and details on how to reach an optimal level. No matter how many choices are present, you player should be able to make any choice decision relatively quickly, and they should feel freedom in their decision making and in control of their own destiny throughout the game.

Creating too many choices initially will lead to higher quit rates. Yet, studies have shown that the more invested the player is, the less likely they are to quit simply for this reason alone. Studies have also shown that having too many choices is not only frustrating, but that it also decreases satisfaction once a decision is reached. Perhaps the player is saddened by all the things they did not get to choose, or perhaps the player is not truly happy with their decision. Or, perhaps they were too burdened by the decision process all together to receive any real pleasure from it. Whatever the case may be, you do not want this scenario as a game designer.

This situation leads designers to carefully consider exactly how they want their players to feel whenever they make a choice, and designers then concentrate on this first. Giving your players opportunities to test all potential options until they find a good fit is one option; this will not give the player decision deferral, but it will instead prompt them to play around with various options. In this case, no decision is so permanent that it cannot be undone. This type of flexibility truly makes your players feel in charge of their own destiny.

One way to help prevent decision deferral is to temporarily reduce the number of options available. Perhaps only certain characters and weapons are unlocked at a certain point in the game, or only after a certain amount of gameplay has been completed. By being able to unlock certain attributes, your player will feel more motivated to unlock as many items as they can. This options makes the number of decisions available completely dependent on the player’s motivation to play the game. At this stage, a large number of options will not feel like a burden, but rather a privilege and an achievement that your player has earned over time.

Important Takeaways: Including too many choices for players within games can often be a problem for designers, but there are several methods to resolve this. It is possible to limit the number of decisions which need to be made within a game, and you can also reward players for the decisions they make throughout their game progress. As we know, every game will feature at least some level of decision making, and it is important for the designers to make sure players don’t get decision deferral and become frustrated with the game. It’s up to the designer to ensure the decisions players make are a positive part of the gameplay experience.

GameDev Protips: How To Improve Your Indie Game’s User Interface

Your game’s user interface is a critical part of the gaming experience, and its design will impact gameplay by a large margin. The things that you emphasize in the UI and its ease of use can easily make or break the player’s experience. There are many key factors in creating a successful interface, so let's get started on a few.

Make sure to implement proper "call to actions" appropriately at each part of the game— even in the menus. A player who doesn’t know what to do is an unhappy player. Give the player a basic guideline on what needs to be done, and where, and let them settle the method of accomplishing that. Of course, not every game needs direction, such as in some sandbox games, but even open-world games can benefit from markers to show quest locations or other points of interest or low health indicators to provoke a response to heal.

In the design of it itself, don’t break immersion. Make sure your UI matches the style of your game, because after all, your UI isn’t the point of the game, the game is. The best UI, no matter how visually appealing it is, will be function and subservient to the game itself. It accentuates the game’s design yet doesn’t distract from it. As a side note, if you’re building a game that will have both a mobile port and a port on other devices, or will have one in the future, make sure to start with the mobile’s UI and enhance it for larger screens where needed. I’s a lot harder to move in the opposite direction. One thing to consider though when porting a mobile game to PC though is the importance of making sure that the UI doesn’t scream out lazy mobile port.

In terms of visuals, restrict the color palette and don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. If your UI is too busy, it can be hard to interpret when things are getting intense, or might take longer than desired for a person to look at and interpret meaning. Similarly, if you’re using colors alone to convey meaning, colorblindness is a huge handicap. There’s lots of ways to test if you’re relying too much on the color, but viewing the UI in grayscale is a simple, quick method to see if it works. Use other methods such as size, contrast, shape, orientation, and text to convey meaning beyond just color.

With regards to text, if you ever plan on translating the game, give the UI plenty of room to breathe. Some translations can make your text 2–3 times larger, so design accordingly and make sure you have enough room. Also keep in mind that left to right won’t always be the way it is read; other languages can read right to left and in columns. Make sure you’re not leaving in “strange” looking or sounding text, such as slang, awkward wording, typos, or blocks of text.

If you plan on having icons, be careful and make sure the player actually understands what they mean. They’re a good way to simplify your text, but many icons are completely arbitrary representations of ideas, and as a result the user may not have experience with them and won’t understand their meaning. Reading text will always be faster than icon interpretation, at least on a first-time basis. Ideally, you should have icons beside text on shortcut menus then allow the user to collapse the text at their discretion once they have a sufficient understanding of the interface. If nothing else, give the player tooltips so they don’t have to guess their way through the UI. I have seen various YouTubers time and time again fail to correctly interpret a stat on a car in racing games or some stat on a weapon in shooters due to the icon being a spring or a magazine without any actual explanation of what those things represent. Also, make sure there is enough contrast between your text and the background so that it can be distinguished quickly.

Important Takeaways: Your game’s user interface, is a key factor in making the player’s experience a positive one. Don’t break immersion. Make sure to restrict its color palette, and don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. Avoid “strange” text, make sure icons are properly defined, keep it consistent, and ensure that it is responsive. You want to make sure it is easy to interpret and visually fitting for the game. Don’t try to make your UI look obnoxiously fancy in an experimental way unless that particular design has been extensively tested and proven to be better and easier to use and master than the industry standard. The same concept applies to text. When in doubt, utilize the power of playtesters. Watch how the interface is used and where and when players get frustrated — you’ll be able to quickly recognize the pain points and iterate accordingly.