Hello there! It's been awhile since the last blog post and a lot of major updates have been made that we'll share here soon. But for this update, I thought I'd discuss one of the most critical updates to the player interface, which covers how the player interacts with objects in the game. The challenge is there are currently 32 contextual "actions" that a player can perform such as "open door", "drink", "eat", etc, but how can we make it easy to perform these actions without having to memorize keys, button modifiers, etc? Our solution was to borrow from two UI/UX mechanics and combine them into one.
The first mechanic, which can be found in various Apple iOS apps as well as other OS' is sometimes called a "picker wheel". The idea to use it in HEVN actually came from an iOS game/app we developed called Iambic, Are You? which makes use of the Apple picker/scroll wheel in a Poetry Types reference screen. Here's an example screenshot of the picker wheel at the bottom with the ad blurred out:
Basically, this list/scroll mechanic seemed like a pretty good way to convey a list of options that work contextually. So not only could we inform the player of the options that are available, we can also update those options based on what the player just chose, such as flipping between "open door" and "close door" in real time.
Application Switcher Mechanic
With a proven "list" mechanic in place, the next step was how do we let the player interact with this on various platforms from keyboard and mouse, to controller, to possibly touch screen? The current solution is to borrow from an OS "application switcher" style keyboard combination that allows users to navigate through all open programs using one or two keys. On the mac the keys happen to be CMD+TAB and looks like this:
By holding down the CMD key and hitting the TAB key, users can cycle through all open applications quickly. We decided to combine the "picker wheel" mechanic with the "application switcher" mechanic into one "player scroll menu".
Player Scroll Menu
The scroll menu allows players to use a single key to cycle through all interactive options quickly. As an example, on the Mac the TAB key can be used to cycle through the displayed options and the E key can be used to select it. This could also help with muscle memory, such as hitting the TAB key once to add an item to the player's inventory, while two TAB key presses can be used to examine or drop an item, etc.
And just in case, SHIFT+TAB can also be used to navigate the list in reverse order (note that on a controller using the D pad with the up and down arrows would likely feel much more intuitive). But it also means on a touch device we can use a single touch to navigate the options in a relatively simple manner.
With the mechanic in place, we also had to make sure using the scroll menu is responsive and hopefully not tedious to use. Essentially we set a few guidelines in place:
And here's a snippet of how it looks in action while interacting with a couple objects as well as the player helmet itself:
Here's a static image of the scroll menu with a player helmet equipped:
One of the benefits of having a simple contextual menu when looking at an object is that it conveys information and options to the player about the world in a fairly straightforward way. For example, when looking at a lamp it might list the options to: "Turn Light On", "Take", or "Examine". So just from looking around while walking the player can learn quite a bit about what is possible in the game's world.
Hopefully this will help to make the game feel deep and yet still accessible.
Well, that's it for now. Thanks for reading!
More game design details at IndieDB