Icons - Classic Simplification in Design

Simplify Your Design

A big part of good design is simplification.

Simplify Your Design with Icons - Classic Simplification in Design
Photo by Harpal Singh.

I often rewrite rules text, fiction, or code, and the rewrite almost always ends up a lot simpler than the first draft. Version two is often more intuitive, which is a big part of why simplification is important. If something’s too complicated, it’s hard to wrap your head around and more likely to break down.

Write - Design - Program: Simplify Your Design
Write – Design – Program

Here’s an example from my recently released Manual of Masks. The first piece was my initial stab at a magical puma mask that gives the wearer a speed bonus when they’re running:

Totem Spirit Mask – PumaWondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)
While wearing this mask you gain a +20 ft. bonus to your speed while taking the Dash action. This bonus is doubled along with your speed as part of the Dash action, effectively giving you a +40 ft. bonus to your speed while using the Dash action only.

The rules weren’t clear enough, and another designer questioned the mechanics as well. The second piece is much clearer and takes far less space:

Totem Spirit Mask – Puma
Wondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)
When you take the Dash action while wearing this mask your speed is 50 feet.

Less is More — Refactoring

In game writing, writing in general, and in coding, the simplest solution is always the best. In practice, it might take several attempts to find the most elegant option, which is why rewriting or refactoring is so important — it’s what makes “good enough” better. The more time you put into simplifying your work, the more it will shine.

In On Writing, author Stephen King gives the following formula:

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

King writes that this simple formula had a big impact on his writing and was at least partly responsible for his success. It’s not only that the formula reduces word count, but that it forces you to chuck the unnecessary baggage your story is lugging around.

Design Question: How can I simplify.

A Pathfinder Example

A lot of you may be following the Pathfinder 2 Playtest. If you have you’ll likely have noticed how Paizo has gone out of their way to make Pathfinder 2 simpler yet still as deep as its predecessor. Pathfinder 2 is essentially the same game refined through a process of simplification. The end result can be seen in mechanics like the streamlined action system and their more intuitive encumbrance system.

Some Homework

If you’re a game designer, you probably do this anyway, but next time you play a digital game, take a hard look at the menu system and the graphic user interface (GUI). Great pains are taken to keep the GUI intuitive. Explore the GUI of your favorite games and find what works, what doesn’t, and how the designers have attempted to simplify things.

Till next time, simplify your design and Make Good Games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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