Dots, Lines & Good Design

Way back when, I was reading about the process a well-known game designer (I believe it was Peter Molyneux) goes through to designing a good game.
What intrigued me was how he described his “protoype” phase. In essence, he and his team would map out the constraints, rules and characteristics of the game and then create a very crude implementation of the game with practically no graphics. The various elements would be represented with very basic shapes and objects like lines, dots and boxes.
The rationale behind such an approach is that the game should be engaging and fun without all the bells and whistles. Sure, there is a visceral satisfaction that comes with great graphics and sound. For example, realistic graphics and sound coupled with simulated physics can make for a very satisfying feeling when launching a shoulder-mounted rocket. But that satisfaction is short lived. The real enduring enjoyment that can come from a good game is derived from its most basic elements that make it fun. And as the theory goes, those elements have little do with great graphics and sound.
Nintendo’s upcoming Wii game console is a practical counter-argument to the super-charged game consoles that flaunt powerful hardware to deliver a good gaming experience. Nintendo is betting on good game design to trump sheer horsepower – and they’re probably going to win.
There’s a great lesson to learn here. In an era, As we design applications, their truly long-lasting value will be derived from their…well…value. Their value stripped from the skin and whiz-bang effects (*cough* gratuitous Ajax *cough*).
Think ebay. Think Craig’s List. In an era of Web 2.0 aesthetics, prove out your value before you apply those seals and shiny buttons and fade and slide effects. First make sure that there’s more to your product than good looks.

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