Flappy Bird: Creator Dong Nguyen's Philosophy of 'Design Simplicity'

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By Pavithra Rathinavel | March 12, 2014 6:51 PM EST

When Steve Jobs said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," perhaps Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen took it by heart.

Nguyen's philosophy of simplifying the crux of the app making it frustratingly difficult to sail through the game and in turn making this game notoriously addictive is phenomenal.

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As Nguyen put it, "When you play game on a Smartphone the simplest way is just tapping."

According to the recent interview with Rolling Stone, when Nguyen released the mobile game Shuriken Block, the objective was to stop a cascade of ninja stars from thrusting five little men in the screen. The game had one instruction: 'Tap'. Tap the falling star at the right moment, and it would bounce away.

Nolan Bushnell, creator of Pong and founder of Atari, described the mantra of game design as "easy to learn and difficult to master."

Nguyen followed this mantra to the core. Shuriken Block was deceptively ruthless. Even the quickest player will have trouble lasting more than a minute before the men were propelling blood. Nguyen was pleased with the results, but the game got dropped in the iOS store eventually.

When he was mulling a new game, Nguyen wanted to go even simpler. He wanted to let the player tap anywhere and still have a thrilling and interesting game. He built the game idea over this simple design philosophy. He'd drawn a pixelated bird on his computer that riffled on Nintendo fish, called Cheep Cheeps. He also drew green pipes (a homage to Super Mario Bros.) for the bird to navigate.

He modeled the game on Paddleball. Paddleball is a one-person game played with an attached ball and a paddle. With the help of a flat paddle with a small rubber ball attached at the center via an elastic string.

Similar to Paddleball, he limited his game to a few components: the bird and the pipes. He skirted the urge to dramatize the action by adding new elements as the player progressed. This probably was the master stroke. The difficulty came in understanding and mastering the physics of the game, fighting gravity so strong, even the slightest wrong tap would kill the bird.

Since the deaths would be so common, Nguyen wanted to make them entertaining. He made the bird explode in a bloody pulp or bounce back across the ground, before settling on a face plant. He then sifted through hundreds of sounds before settling on a kung-fu-style thwack to make the bird's demise even funnier. The idea is to make the user laugh and have fun while enjoying the hardcore difficulty of the game.

"The bird is flying along peacefully and all of a sudden you die."

Once the Flappy Bird App was ready to make its debut, Nguyen had gone in Twitter and posted a screenshot of his "new simple game." Other than a couple of tweets, Nguyen said he did not put any marketing behind the launch. Like any other random game, Flappy Bird flopped. The first mention of the game on Twitter didn't come until five months later, on Nov. 4, when someone posted a review on the addictive game.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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