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Indicating that a button/switch activates a particular object

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by dgoyette, Dec 26, 2018.

  1. dgoyette

    dgoyette

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    I'm struggling a bit with a design aspect of my game, and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas/approaches I haven't considered.

    In my game, the player often pressed buttons to cause other nearby devices to turn on/off. Sometimes this is completely unambiguous, as there's only one nearby object, so it's clear that the button will affect that object. But it gets more complicated when there are multiple objects, and potentially multiple buttons.

    The most basic approach to this is just to keep the button extremely close to the thing it activates. For example, a button embedded in a door probably opens the door. A button on a moving platform probably makes the platform move. In those cases, I don't think anything else is necessary. But in my case, buttons activate things that are potentially across the room, and for various reasons, couldn't be physically located directly next to the device.

    So, the question is: What are ways to show the interconnection between buttons and the devices they control, when the two could be quite a distance from each other?

    Approaches I've seen or considered:
    • The button has a screen that simply says what it does. But if there are several of the same kind of thing nearby, it's not as clear which will one of those things will be activates.
    • The button has a physical wire connecting it to the device it activates. You see this approach in Portal and the Witness. The really nice thing is how unambiguous it is. You can immediately see, visually, what affects what. It's very clear. But, it's pretty annoying to put down the wires/cables connecting things, and those approaches feel remind me so much of those two games that it would feel like a real rip off.
    • Placing a symbol of color on the pair of items. For example, putting a greek letter next to the button and the thing it activates, or putting a light of the same color next to each. I think the player could come to understand the idea, after some training, but it lacks the clarity of the "wires" approach. It's also not always simply to place the symbols so that they'll be highly visible.
    • Finally, a non-approach: Don't tell the player anything, and let them monkey around with all the buttons until they know what affects what in any given location. At first this kind of seems like a problem solving step, so maybe it feels good gameplay wise. But, to me this weakens puzzles a bit. I'm not a big fan of puzzles that require trial and error. Making the player press a bunch of buttons to learn what they do before they even really start to solve the puzzle feels a little unfortunate.
    Anyway, I wondered if anyone else had some ideas on this topic. Again, the major goal is that ideally the player would know visually what a button will do before they press it.
     
  2. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner

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    I color code switches. In my game the player has to flip a number of switches to open doors, activate elevators, or turn on energy bridges. If you approach a locked door, you’ll first notice that it’s color very much flashes with everything around it, making it stand out. The switches are the same color. I also took inspiration from Quake. In Quake 1 you’ll often come to a door and a message appears on the screen “This door opens elsewhere.” In my game it’s “a red switch opens this door”

    I also occasionally take camera control away from the player for a few seconds and point it at whatever the switch activated. Not all the time, but for when the route isn’t immediately obvious or the switch activated something far away.

    You could also make an audio cue when something changes. Stereo sound is subtle, but very effective. Obviously only headphone users would get this benefit so it can’t be the only cue.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2018
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  3. SparrowsNest

    SparrowsNest

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    not unless the button does something really complex that wouldn't be obvious by the thing that's attached to it / the player already know's what he's after, could be a nice addition depending on the art style of the game (like if the world it's in have holographic HUD build in to everyday tech for example)

    Excellent graphical addition regardless, as a player I would expect a game like that to have this.


    This is what I was gonna suggest.

    No reason you can't have both this and the cables, and even color-coded cables.

    To draw attention I'd use the glow you get from the shader emession and the bloom, but lookout to not overdo it if you do, haha.


    The answer to this lies in your game design and what you want to make of it, it makes the game completely different.
     
  4. dgoyette

    dgoyette

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    Just curious, as you use colors to indicate the connection between objects, have you run into issues of either running out of colors, or having color ambiguity? I'm fairly cautious with colors because of the meaning that certain colors tend to have. For example, if I saw a door with a green light on it, I'd first assume was unlocked, not that green meant I needed a green key. Red often means locked/closed/off, orange tends to be caution/warning, etc. But I guess it depends on the environment.
     
  5. dgoyette

    dgoyette

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    It's interesting to hear you support the "cords" approach strongly. Two design reasons have made me shy away from it: I don't want to copy too much from other games where this concept feels very distinct. But also, when you think about it, it's kind of a silly thing in the content of the game. It makes sense in Portal, where the in-game explanation of them fits with the game-design reason. But can you image walking around a building where every power connection was run on the floor or along the walls, instead of being hidden behind the walls/floors? It definitely helps add clarity to the game, but it also raises questions of "who would ever design a room like this?"
     
  6. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner

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    No. It’s a nice side effect of having a maximum of four switches in any given level. :).

    I also would assume a door lit with red light means locked and green means unlocked. That’s why I didn’t make the doors lit that way, I literally painted my doors red. That way you can still have red and green lights on it to indicate a locked state but the door itself is always bright red. This is effective also for setting a mental checkpoint. If you’re going through endless silver doors then suddenly come across a red one, it’ll stick in your mind as a point of interest to come back to.
     
  7. SparrowsNest

    SparrowsNest

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    What I had in mind is some mad scientist's lab with all sort of crazy contraptions, it may not fit you game, it does depend on the style of the game.

    About the colors, you can use a color for the type and a symbol for the pair, like if you have things that run on water(like the government, they have this car.. that runs on water man) they can have a blue trim and a pair them with shapes( triangles, circles, etc.)

    If you have a light over the door I would be surprised if green/red isn't open/locked or green/yellow/red for base alert(like evil genius), Like @newjerseyrunner said, you just gotta paint it in the right places