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Dissecting Jordan Ranson's approach to designing Semi Condusctor, and discussing minimalism and UX in game design.

Andrew-David Jahchan, Blogger

July 18, 2016

3 Min Read

Today, we had a chance to sit down and chat with UX and graphics designer Jordan Ranson about his design philosophy and approach to developing the puzzle game Semi Conductor. Semi Conductor is set to be published under the new MADSOFT Games Publishing Program in the coming year.

When Jordan Ranson first set about building a game for the MADJAM Extra Life Jam, he knew he wanted to focus on design minimalism and colour palette experimentation. What kind of game could he create if he restricted himself to simple shapes and a palette of five colours? The prototype he ended up developing during that game jam formed the basis for Semi Conductor, his upcoming block-sliding puzzle game.

By placing these intense restrictions on himself, Jordan was forced to tackle some interesting challenges, particularly in how he approached teaching players the rules of the game.

“Consistency and context are important in any user interface,” says Jordan. “Video games are no different.”

With that in mind, Jordan set about creating visual attributes that players could naturally link to their associated game mechanics without the need for explicit instruction. In Semi Conductor, each colour or shade represents its own unique form of player interaction: the player is always represented by a white block, the “bad” or opposing force corresponds to the level’s second brightest colour, and the backgrounds are shaded with the palette’s darkest colour.

Additionally, by using similar simple shapes to show relationships between different game objects, players automatically assume certain truths about the game’s mechanics without the need for text-based tutorials or hand-holding.

These design rules can easily be observed in the game’s level layouts. The player is represented by a white diamond and the goal is diamond-shaped (albeit in a different size and colour). As such, players are naturally inclined to bring the two shapes together without a prompt telling them to do so.

Beyond the dynamics of player-designer communication, Jordan felt he also had to focus on the feelings evoked by Semi Conductor’s design. When using extreme minimalism, a game can feel really empty or static. Even if the mechanics are fun and interesting, if the game world doesn’t feel alive, players will end up feeling disconnected from their gaming experience. Semi Conductor circumvents this disconnect by infusing the game world with life and excitement. Adding visual “oomph” to Semi Conductor came in many forms, including using shaders, screen shaking, and particle effects to add juice to player interactions and implementing parallax effects to add an element of depth.

Semi Conductor’s design is still a work-in-progress, but the fundamental rules are in place. “Even though it’s been difficult at times, I enjoy the challenges,” says Jordan. “And I’m growing as not only a UX designer but as a game designer by facing them.”

Have you had experience designing games with a minimalistic approach? What are some of your favourite designs, in video games or other forms of media, that celebrate simplicity? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to subscribe to our MADSOFT Games newsletter for more Semi Conductor news, interviews, and behind-the-scenes development updates!

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