Interface Design

This weekend I feel that Stasis took the leap from ‘cool project’ to ‘Adventure Game’. Its a difficult feeling to explain, but there is that moment when you are creating a game where it start to feel less like a collection of screens, and starts to actually feel like a playable game. The thing that prompted this leap? A newly streamlined interface…

Below are some of the major changes I have made, as well as the reasons ‘WHY’.

OBJECTIVE BAR.

I have been playing quite a few older AG’s, and comparing them to the new Action, story driven games (the Deadspace and Bioshock series being my main template for a modern AAA title), and have tried to take as much from those games as I can in terms of how they direct the player, and how they keep the game flowing. One of the main things that they have is that the player always has a clear objective. Now where the balance has to come in, is that in AG’s, you dont want to hold the players hand. The fun of an adventure game is in NOT knowing what to do-but, in playing the older AG’s, I’ve sometimes gotten frustrated with having NO direction.

As I said, Im designing STASIS as a game that I know I would enjoy, so for me that means making sure that as a player, I always have some sort of forward momentum-in having a definite OBJECTIVE.

EDIT: Spoke to a friend about this (hey Mike), and he suggested that it may be a bit like brow beating the player over the head with the objective. Should the OBJECTIVE just be more of an ‘inbuilt’ hint system? Something that  Comments/suggestions?

ITEM DESCRIPTIONS.

Something I have also been wrestling with is how to have a managable way of having the world around you described. Now the ‘ideal’ would be to have you click on an object, and Maracheck responds by saying something about it-but Im not doing that for two reasons.

1-I really feel that to have constant voice overs will really break the atmosphere. I want you to really feel alone in the game, so that when you arent alone (dum dum DUUUUUUUM), its almost disconcerting. Perhaps even welcome….sometimes not.

2-Managing that amount of voice over content, without access to voice actors for the entire duration of the project is something that I just cant do. Also, I want to keep the game to a manageable size.

Looking towards RPG’s for direction, I am going to be going the way of FALLOUT.

Note how the description in the lower left hand corner isnt from a first person point of view…its almost ‘story like’ in its wording. Doing the descriptions like this eliminates both issues I had, as well as lets me get really descriptive for areas of the game without having Maracheck come off as someone who talks to himself in descriptive ways.

CONTEXT SENSITIVE CURSOR.

And the final, I read a fantastic article called WHY YOUR GAME IS BROKEN about Interfaces in Adventure Games (http://americangirlscouts.org/agswiki/Why_Your_Game_Is_Broken) , and I really took what he was saying to heart. The interface in Stasis is now completely context sensitive. What this means is that when you move your cursor over an object that can be SCANNED, your interface ‘Pie’ will automatically be set to SCAN. If its an object you can INTERACT with, the cursor will automatically be set to INTERACT. Im still working out the logistics of certain things, such as being able to INTERACT with an object, and SCAN it (which is more important for the interface to switch to), and things like, should you have to SCAN an object to INTERACT with it-but I can tell you that the game flows MUCH better like this.

.

Here are some screens of the new interface in action. (Note that Descriptions are temporary).

…and a screen from the opening cinematic. Work in progress… 😉

-Chris

  • David Edwards

    Personally I prefer as much freedom as possible, but at the same time appreciate having to earn that freedom a little as I progress through the game solving puzzles etc. It’s important to understand when to reward a player with something new and different, and different being a key word.

    To be more specific to your question I think it’s important to give a clear goal per act, but from that point until the next act, they should find clues etc that provide a library of hints.

    At this point i’d like to recommend a game, Lost Horizons. For me personally I feel this is a very beautiful game visually, however the game completely fails when it comes to allowing the player to think for themselves and hold’s their hand with a vice through every act. The whole game is pretty much like watching a movie and simply pressing a few keys or walking to a door to progress through the game. A real shame given how beautiful the game is.

    On that note, maybe ask people to point out games/devices that they feel don’t work very well. It’s often far easier to point out the crap, in fact you can learn far more from knowing what doesn’t work than what does.

    I like the old school third person descriptions too. Maybe if you move the cursor over the character it shows a bubble or something that describes a personal thought from the character, you could also include hints into that system that’s sensitive to the environment and current objectives.

  • http://www.stasisgame.com Chris

    I’m thinking of keeping the OBJECTIVE system in place, but only having it on a ‘novice’ difficulty of the game. The ‘novice’ mode will also have HOTSPOT LOCATORS enabled, allowing people that perhaps aren’t used to the ways Adventure Games work to enjoy the game without getting to stuck.

    With pointing out things that don’t work, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. 😉 I’ve been playing older AG’s, and making notes on the things that irritate me in those games-and trying to figure out either WHY they did them that way, or what I can do to get around them.

    I’m thinking of perhaps also building hints into the game as a sort of limited resource. You find an item, and using it if you are stuck will give you a hint to continue. Perhaps its some sort of drug that heightens senses, or something?

    The third person ‘story’ descriptions are definitely staying. Last night I managed to add descriptions to about 20 hotspots in a single room. Its amazing how much it fleshes out the game world so much more, and the fact that’s its so easy to add in (going back to my reusable systems rans!) means that I can add a ton more detail and depth to the players experience.

    -Chris

  • Mike

    Hehe, I still stick to my guns in terms of the Objective bar… Take Minecraft for example, you get ZERO objective, not even a hint about combining certain reagents (eg making a pick axe).

    Agreed, adventure games are a different breed, but I still strongly suggest that the objective bar be “behind the fold” or not on screen at all times. An unobtrusive message that pops up in the top left corner of the screen and fades out maybe?

    The context sensitive descriptions I love however. The old sierra games breathed so much life and quirky personality into the game via those little asides, it would be a good thing to bring them back. It’s debatable whether they should appear next to the object in the scene or in a bar along the bottom. I would say it’s better next to the object.