Less is moreEveryone who's ever taken a graphic design course, designed a webpage, or even spent much time reading understands the importance of white space on some level, even if only subconsciously.
In graphic design, the use of space without text allows what text there is to achieve a higher importance and draw the focus of the reader. It's also much less fatiguing to read text that's broken up in interesting ways, compared to giant paragraphs. It's the reason this blog is centered in the middle of the screen and uses small paragraphs, instead of spanning the whole screen and using large paragraphs with no space between them.
Using white space takes self-restraint, though. Think about your resume, for example. It's so tempting to convey the maximum possible amount of information, but doing so just makes it confusing and unreadable. Compared to my grad school resume, my current resume is much easier to read, but it's still probably too dense even after all that trimming.
Know what game you're not makingIn game design, there's a very similar temptation to pack ten thousand features into every game. You want to keep players with every possible playstyle happy, sell your game to every imaginable demographic, and include ideas from every member of your team.
Sadly, though, it's not possible to do everything all the time. Even if by some miracle of scheduling and funding you do manage to include every feature every possible player could possibly want, you'll end up with a game that has no focus. And even though each player will have every feature they wanted, they'll also probably have a lot of features they didn't want, which might serve to drive them away anyway.
It's incredibly important to know who your audience is, what types of fun your game is focused on, what features are the most important to get done by launch. However, it's equally important to know which players you aren't shooting for, which kinds of fun belong in another game, and which features would be nice but just serve to water down your game. Likewise, it's important to define nongoals for individual features or fixes.
Teams that don't keep these nongoals in sight end up shipping the videogame equivalent of a huge wall of text. There may be some really interesting stuff in there, but just trying to take it all in and parse it is overwhelming:
If you can't easily describe your game to someone in a few seconds, or if different members of your team give vastly different descriptions of what your game is or isn't meant to do, chances are you've got a white space problem.
Define both goals and nongoalsIt's important that each member of your team is easily able to find out what goals are and aren't important for your game. Features will often worm their way into your game because a prominent game has it, one team member really loves that idea, or over time people simply forgot what the team's goals were.
Here are some ideal times to state goals and nongoals for the game or a feature:
- In the initial game pitch
- When announcing the project to your team
- In the design document
- When training a new hire
- At the beginning of a meeting
- When pitching to your publisher
- When planning your marketing
- When announcing new features to your players
Save rejected ideasJust because a certain idea isn't right for the particular game or feature you're currently working on doesn't mean you should toss it out entirely. Keep a section on your wiki, or in your bug database that lists all the things you've decided not to do and why.
Tracking all these nongoals and nonfeatures will allow you to go back later on and mine ideas for a new game, a subsequent expansion, etc. When I used to work on The Sims, we had a section at the bottom of our design documents called "Considered but Rejected," which is where we'd put all of the suggestions that were too low priority or against the goals of the feature, and why.
Leaving these items in the docs helped us avoid rehashing the same arguments over and over again when too much time had passed or a new person was assigned to work on that feature. By spending less time debating which features should or shouldn't be in your game, you'll be able to spend more time on making those features you do include much better.