Form follows function

Form: the shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material

“Form follows function” is a principle that emerged from architecture and is now used pretty much everywhere, including game design. Games have a whole lot to communicate and as a game designer, you try to do it as well as you can. As described in “Good design is good communication“, game designers have all kind of tools to communicate, interaction being one of the big ones. And form plays a big role in this too. Before you even press a single button in a game, you make certain assumptions about how you will interact with it based on its form. When they’re naturally intuitive, they’re called affordances. Extra Credits has a great video explaining it further.

Around 3:45, he makes an important point that form in a certain context can imply a whole lot more than when it’s just on its own. A grey circle becomes a coin when put next to a cash register. I encountered a similar principle for Circles (the game).

For a long time it was difficult to imply the function of a circle. Players would have no idea what would happen if they touch a circle. So in the beginning there was this indroductory level:

You start left, go right to the grey goal and would inexplicably touch the red circle in between. You see you ‘lost’ the level and restart it. This seemed fine as an idea, but in reality players kept bumping into the circle and had no idea what was happening.

A big reason for this problem was that players had no idea what this red circle meant, or what it would do. What does just a circle imply? It’s red, so that’s something, but it didn’t do enough to signal to players it was dangerous. Some even thought it was a coin to collect, which didn’t help either, but it did give light to an insight. If a lone circle can signify something like a coin, what could it do in combination with others? Something like this:

Suddenly a row of these signifies a wall. Put it all around the player and it implies the walls of a room. Now the first level is just this. It seemed weird as an introduction, but worked very well. The player goes through it, comes to have an understanding of it right away and doesn’t have to touch any to find out.