Let's talk about controls

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by ZeHa, Nov 27, 2006.

  1. ZeHa

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    Hello,

    at the moment, we're developing our new game, and I've got some questions about the controls of the characters.

    Usually, I've always been a big friend of C64-style controls. Four directions and a fire button. That's just pretty easy for the player, he doesn't need to read any instructions or something.

    Then, NES-style controls were also okay, four directions but two buttons. Sometimes I mixed them up and I was jumping instead of shooting (especially when using an emulator with Ctrl and Alt instead of the original joypad).

    I liked Wolfenstein and Doom. One key to shoot, one key to open doors, and a modifier key (Shift) to run. That was also quite easy to do. Never used Strafing, by the way ;)

    Since then, games got more complicated and your keyboard got covered and covered by nice little functions that you just couldn't remember. I hated it and I always thought "why can't they just go back to the roots, it was perfect back then".

    Okay, that was the introduction, now over to my reason to post this ;)
    In our game, you can control the character with the cursor keys (no mouse movement possible), picking up items by just walking over them.
    But there are more things to do. And I'm not quite sure if everything should get its own key?

    Those things are: Jumping, Using Objects, and Using Items.

    Jumping will need its own key, because all arrow keys are needed for moving around. Using Items that you collected should have its own key too, think of a gun with one bullet or a brick that you can throw etc. But now there are also objects in the game, that you can't pick up but use. Doors to open, boxes to push around, switches on the wall to turn on and off, and stuff like that.

    Should I assign a key to this? The advantages would be having lesser keys, boxes would be pushed by walking to them and doors would be opened automatically, but the disadvantages would be that the player could ACCIDENTLY push a box (not being able to pull it back, just like in Sokoban) and he would find secret doors (as in Wolfenstein - walls that you can "open") too easily by just colliding with them.

    A possiblity would be to combine both Use functions, but then he would have to switch between being able to push the box or fire his gun (like in Tomb Raider) and this would also require an extra key.

    Do you have any other suggestions? How would you decide? There will be many secrets in each level, so that thing about finding secret doors too easily would really bug me, in fact. But three keys sends a "think over it again"-signal to my mind ;)
     
    #1 ZeHa, Nov 27, 2006
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2006
  2. KNau

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    I guess the real question is "who is your target market"? If you're going for a casual player then the fewer keyboard controls the better and just make routine tasks automatic. If you're going for a more arcade-y audience then the extra controls shouldn't matter much.

    Would it be too much work to make a contextual action button? For example, what is the likelihood that they character would be jumping while opening a door? Jumping can be the default action for the "action" button but if the player is in front of a door it opens the door instead, or pushes a box if they're standing near one.

    Anything outside of a hardcore simulation / action game - I would stick with movement arrows and 2 or 3 extra buttons tops.
     
  3. ZeHa

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    Hmm I think sharing the Jump key with the Action key wouldn't work in that game. At first we didn't plan to put jumping in it, but now we actually need it, and I think it wouldn't fit to the gameplay if it was shared with another key.

    But I could imagine sharing both use-keys. Normally you wouldn't fire a gun if you're right in front of a door. So that COULD work. But it might be confusing for the player, don't you think? Well it's not too easy deciding this...

    The game is targeted to a "not too casual but also not too non-casual either"-audience ;) it's not a match-3-game but it's also not World of Warcraft. But it depends, really. It should have a nice arcade-like gameplay, and it contains action, but it also contains puzzle-solving (altogether, not separated), imagine mixing Chips Challenge with a Super Mario like Jump'n'Run. Arcady ActionAdventure could also be used to describe it ;)
     
  4. C.S.Brewer

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    I like using the left shift for my "use" key it's right where my pinky sits when I do wasd, and my thumb is on the spacebar, so that's my jump. [edit: the only thing I don't like about this is probably not intuitive to everyone, but that's easy to take care of with a little screen in the beginning showing controls]

    I definitely agree with the idea that simpler is better, unless you are making some sort of mech sim game, then the more complex the better for me!
     
  5. jefferytitan

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    I'm in favour of minimal controls. I've only got so many fingers. ;) I like games where either controls are contextual, or there are modifiers which affect all/most other keys. For example, if you have a "run" key you can also use it as an attack (shoulder barge the person in your way), you can run into a button to push it, you can use it to jump higher, etc. Or like in some fighting games pressing a direction twice quickly makes you run, and you stay running as long as you hold it down. I'm not suggesting mortal kombat style mega-combos of course, I found them ridiculously bad UI.

    I would think it unnecessary to have separate use buttons. Why would you shoot while pushing a box? You push if moving toward the box while pushing the use button, otherwise you fire. Simple.

    Is your game 3d, or 2d birdseye? Just wondering why you have an up and a jump.
     
  6. ZeHa

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    The game is isometric, so you're able to jump and walk 4 directions ;)

    Well I still think it might be a little confusing, when you've got ONE use button. But I could imagine showing a little "use box" somewhere in the status bar, which displays your current item OR the door / box, so it's clear what to use. But I don't know if that would do the trick, though.

    The game "Snake Rattle & Roll" is similar, it's also isometric and you've got two buttons, one to jump and one to use your tongue. But if you are standing on a manhole cover, your tongue won't get used and the cover will be opened instead. It never bothered me, I have to say. But then again, you're always standing directly ON it. In our game, you stand IN FRONT OF boxes, doors, switches and such. Perhaps that's not too intuitive...

    Man I hate decisions like those :)

    But one good thing is that the game is not too finished by now, so there's plenty of time left to decide. And I could implement both options, and switch between them and have enough time to test.

    And now... as I write those lines... I got the idea... to let the user choose it. If I implement both for testing, I can simply leave them in the final game as well. That would be a good idea I think. In fact, we already want to let the user decide, if the arrow-keys-block is oriented to the upper left or upper right, letting him swap between both possibilities on the fly. So why shouldn't I just let him decide the other thing as well?

    What would you think about that?
     
  7. jefferytitan

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    Ah, I see. Perhaps when you are in range of a door/box AND facing it, it lights up to indicate it can be used now? I say AND so you don't stumble into secret doors quite as easily. Or perhaps secret ones don't light up, or take a few seconds to light up?

    It's definitely a possibility, but I doubt that more than about 20% of users will even modify the controls unless the defaults really suck. ;) People with hands-on experience feel free to correct me. As far as the upper left/right thing goes, it might be worth checking other isometric games to lower the learning curve. It's been a while since I played one, but my guess is that up should be up/left based on the wasd/waxd system. No wait, that feels wrong. Hmm.
     
  8. Olivier

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    Another vote for minimal controls. I'd use 1 button to jump and 1 contextual action button. Even console games like Zelda do it now.

    As a console gamer I feel necessary to be able to jump almost anytime and anywhere. And honestly, if I'm not facing an enemy nor walking in high grass I don't really need to use my sword.. or shoot.
    When the player stands infront of a door I suggest to let him open it with that same action button. I'd use the same mechanic to talk to NPCs, pick-up a pot, activate a switch, open an invisible door right in the middle of a wall, and whatever else your game features. :)
     
  9. ZeHa

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    @ jefferytitan: Well to me, it feels just "more right" if "arrow up" means "upper right". Most isometric games I played (mainly on the C64 or NES) are like that and so I would do it. But some friends of mine expected it the other way. So THAT will be customizable in any case ;) I'm gonna put an isometric view of the arrow keys into the status bar, pointing into the selected direction. Below, I will display another key (not isometric probably) which will change the orientation. So that should be very clear to the user.

    @ OliverPearl: The more I think of it, the more I think it should work that way. But it should be really clear to the user. The lighting up of the door, as jefferytitan said, would be a good idea, but I think it won't look very good in our game, but perhaps I'll find another possibility to make clear what's going to happen when the "action" key is pressed. But anyway, I think I'm going to implement the other way as well, just to test. It might be also helpful to explain both methods to beta testers (if anyone interested, please tell me ;) though it might last 5 years or so until we reach beta status :D ) and to ask them afterwards, which one they preferred.
     
  10. ZeHa

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    By the way, I remember in Spy vs. Spy it was also like this (at least on the C64). If you were standing somewhere in the middle of the room, button meant opening the items menu. If you were standing at a cupboard or something, it meant examining it (I think there was also a little "ding" sound or a white flash or something). And if you were facing your enemy, it meant beating the crap out of him ;)
     
  11. jefferytitan

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    A little off topic, but I would be fascinated to know whether the "right" setup is cultural, based on games one has played in the past or otherwise. It could be based on the way we view graphs - a graph that is low at the left and high at the right is "going up".

    The reason I suggested a visual effect on the door itself (or perhaps the player) is to reduce the "cockpit effect". Where possible you want the max amount of screen devoted to the game world itself. As far as testing goes, I would suggest not mentioning the different control methods to the testers, just release 2 versions with different control methods and compare their feedback later. Perhaps give them the other version AFTER and ask them to compare. Warning someone beforehand changes their focus from that of a standard player. Would also be interesting to see if anybody changes the settings of their own accord.
     
  12. jefferytitan

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    BTW, did anybody get the urge to sing "Let's talk about controls baby, let's talk about you and me..."? No? *skulks away*
     
  13. ZeHa

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    Yes, me :D
     
  14. zppz

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    I was thinking this too. Presuming you need to be next to an object to use it, this should work fine. It would mean you can't fire your gun point-blank into a door, but hopefully that's not necessary.
     
  15. dishmoth

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    I'll add another vote for two fire buttons ("jump" and "use") being the maximum. As well as reducing the complexity of the game, it's worth noting that some (older) keyboards won't respond correctly if more than two or three keys are held down at once, so keeping the number of keys to a minimum is a good thing!

    For a context-sensitive "use" button, a lot of console games approach this by displaying a small image of the button and a one-word description of what it does whenever its use differs from the default. So, for example, whenever the player is standing facing a door, the message "X - Open" could appear above the player's head to indicate that the X-key now controls the door.

    This would probably work okay for your secret doors too, but if not you could always be more creative. Take Zelda games, for example (since most game design problems can be solved by asking yourself, "What would Zelda do?" ;) ). In those games, secret doors can be discovered because they make a strange sound when you hit the wall there with your sword. Once you've found a secret door, you "open" it by using a bomb to knock down that bit of wall. No extra keys are needed, the game just makes creative use of existing controls (sword and bomb).

    Finally, remember the following statistic (which I've just made up, but which is true none-the-less :D ). Every time you add something that makes your game more complicated to play, 50% of your audience gets bored and walks away.

    Simon
     
  16. Anthony Flack

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    I think directional controls and one button is perfect, two buttons is a reasonable compromise that gives you some flexibility, and three buttons is already too compicated for most people.

    Cletus Clay started out as a 3-button game (attack, jump, and a third button for everything else). Then I realised that three buttons was overkill. I moved the "everything else" onto the attack button instead, and I'm using AI to try to guess what the player intended the action to be. It's not perfect; it still needs lots of tweaking before it works just right, and certain actions had to be lost (he can no longer collect and throw sticks of dynamite, since that would have overloaded the buttons; I wouldn't be able to guess whether the player wanted to throw dynamite or shoot). But generally, it's working.

    In each case, I've tried to make the AI choose the action that is least likely to harm the player. For example, if you are standing next to a box or a lever, and there is an enemy nearby, the action button will make the player attack rather than pick up the box or pull the lever. If that wasn't what the player intended, it isn't likely to have any detrimental effect (unlike picking up a box when you had intended to shoot an attacker). The goal is, hopefully, to be able to just "push the button" and have the character perform the action you had in mind without the player having to think about which button they are supposed to press.

    There are lots and lots of possible moves you can perform in the game though, so it requires a lot of fiddling before it gets to the point where it "just works". But I think it's important to not exceed two action buttons. I'll never design another game that requires more than two main buttons; I'll even try to keep it down to just one whenever possible (this isn't really practical in a platform shooter, though).
     
  17. Edtharan

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    By having a single button do multiple actions (open doors, shoot, etc), it is effectively a change of state of that button.

    Now if this state change is internal (i.e. not visible to the player until they press the button), then the player can be confused about what the button does. This confusion can lead to a separation from the player and the game. They will not feel like they are in control of the game.

    All it take to restore this connection to the game is feedback on the state of the button.

    Anthony, you system sounds very good, but I think it would be improved if the player had some feed back on what the current state of the button (that is what it does).

    This could be a simple HUD element that changes when the state of the button changes (usually with an animation to attract the player's attention to the change).

    This applies to any change of state (change of function) of a control. Feedback is essential to maintaining the connection between the player and what they control in the game.
     
  18. jefferytitan

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    I think this depends a lot upon the game in question and the player's mental model of what the controls do. I would argue that a player can happily cope with a general "do stuff" button as long as they don't ever get stuck in the game because the "do stuff" button won't perform the action they want it to. It is of course easier if the button at least has a theme (e.g. attack) and can perform half a dozen different attacks depending on where they are relative to their enemy.

    Perhaps it's personal choice, but if you do need a clue what the button will do, I'd rather see it in-game (e.g. door handle starts to turn as you approach it, item is highlighted) than in some sort of control panel. I always feel like control panels intrude between me and the game itself.
     
  19. ZeHa

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    A friend of mine said something very interesting, though it won't be possible in my game ;)

    He said the best thing would be a mouse pointer, because normally you NEVER know where the player is looking to. But if he's got a mouse pointer, you can ALWAYS know where he's looking ;) and the pointer could change to the action you want to do etc. And it won't be necessary to make the size very big or something, it can be as small as every mouse pointer else, because still you know the player is always looking there.

    But as I mentioned, I don't want to have mouse controls in the game, so that won't happen...

    About status bars: Well okay, I also like "Full Screen Power" ;) but in our case we need a tiny bar to view current items and other status things. So it will be there anyway, and there would be enough room to display a "current action" image or something. But of course, it might not be the perfect solution. Perhaps, instead of making the door or box lighten up, I might try to show an outline around it. Or perhaps flash up instead of lighten up. So it would be just a second, and perhaps a "blip" sound or something.
     
  20. zppz

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    A natural way to express this would be to let the character put his hand on the door/switch or lean into the box when the button mode changes. If you also point the gun down to the floor or something this is a good visual reinforcement to the effect that pushing the button now will not fire the gun. I'm pretty sure I've seen similar methods in many games, just can't think of any of them...
    Perhaps for secret doors and the like, the door could function as normal but the character does not give away the presence of the door by assuming the 'button mode changed' pose.
     

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