Reducing the Clutter
Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 3:12PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Clean Design

Games have become increasingly flashy and cluttered with special effects, numerous enemies, bombastic sound, and poor representation of these elements in the overall balance of the gaming experience. It is obvious that games don't have to be this way, and, if you trace the history of gaming from before we had controllers and computer processors, you'll find that games thrive on simplicity, straightforwardness, and elements that clearly communicate their function and rules. Such values I privilege in my assessments of videogames. After all, at the end of the day, if you have two equally fun, challenging, and deep games but one has a high learning curve that involves hours of play before the player can begin to train their eyes to sift through the gallimaufry of graphics, and the other is so cleanly presented that even those who aren't into gaming at all can watch you play and not only understand what's going on but offer helpful comments and/or advise, then it is clear that the latter game is better than the other.

In this post, I'll take a moment to point out some of the trends I have found that most easily lead to creating cluttered gameplay experiences.

simultaneously moving and shooting

over powered player ability

speed of character/enemy movement

over bearing graphics/sound/special effects (especially for death animations)

invincible frames

combos that are practically a substitute for a standard attack

Parts of a game that the player can affect without seeing the direct results

too much HUD

Theses are just a few games that I've mention that have some clutter some where in their design. Hopefully, you'll be able to come up with some more examples. Feel free to post any that you think of.

As a final note, I invite you to play Neo*RPG if you haven't already. And if you have, play it again. The download for the game can be found along the right side under the "Downloads" section.


Neo*RPG is an example of a game that eliminates every single one of the types of clutter that I have previously outlined. You can't move and shoot at the same time. Your character isn't overly powerful at all. The speed of movement for the enemies and characters seems slow at first, but quickly feels fast as the levels becomes increasingly complex and the enemy design starts to layer together. The graphics are minimally designed, while at the same time were added to communicate a specific function or condition. There are no invincible frames. Combos emerge from the simple mechanics. In other words, there aren't built in combos. They all have to be set up. All the action is all on the screen. And the HUD is very minimal.

Playing Neo*RPG should give you a hyper clean gameplay experience. Though it's far from perfect, Neo*RPG is a great game to teach with and learn from, and I will be continually referring to it in the future. In the meantime, go find some clutter.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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