310: Green Barrels Don't Explode

Green Barrels Don't Explode

Players may sigh when they see yet another crate or barrel, but without those familiar gaming landmarks, it's easy to feel lost.

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Why are all these articles copypastas of 3 months ago?

edit: Ah, a best of I see. Don't see that part when linking through RSS.

I never sigh when I see a cliche. If the game is good/fun I couldn't care less. What's wrong with cliches when they work?

Sure, it's nice to see something different every once in a while, but I'm not going to love for that sole reason alone.

I do love my cliches. Especially when someone uses it ironically and breaks the fourth wall with it.

What's the problem with red barrels? Why do developers suddenly think exploding barrels need to have a different color? I mean, it's iconic for fire while green is iconic for toxicity. Why would you change anything about that?

I'm reminded of the Old Man Murry "Crate Review System".

Hmm, I missed this article first time through.

There's no such animal as an "intuitive" game interface. There just isn't. If developers are finding themselves slaves to cliche maybe they ought to consider actually *writing a tutorial* for once. And it doesn't have to be some pushy broad shouting at you over the radio seventy times to push the button, either. I mean, come on.

You're going to have a game where the attack button does different things based on direction and how long it's pressed? Okay then, design your tutorial level so that people HAVE to move back, forward, side-to-side, and do this for differing durations. End result? They'll accidentally do the many different moves enough times that they'll figure out what's causing it. They may even feel a little satisfied rush that they're "getting it". You can reinforce this by having little pop-ups or even achievements for discovering different moves. "FORWARD KICK!" "DOUBLE KICK!!" etc.

You're going to have a game where people can have different functionality by flipping items over? Give the character a nervous twitch where, when they're wielding an item that CAN be flipped, they periodically flip it around in their hand sometimes when they're "idle", so you get a random end when you go to use it. Not only will this educate the player in the fact that this flipping CAN be done, but they'll also get a nice visual cue on every item with this capability.

You want to get rid of the cliche'd crates and barrels? Mix it up a little. Maybe instead of the breakables exploding into a cloud of shrapnel when you wave the crowbar at them, your character instead executes a little timed "opening" animation. Let them use the crowbar on more things in the environment, too--maybe if they use it on an overhead wire, they can zip-line over to another part of the area. They can lever up grates/manhole covers/paving stones and look inside. They can smash electronics to disable gun turrets. They can temporarily use it to bridge electrical gaps and activate electronics. If you're using stuff in the environment enough, I bet you won't even notice if there's not anything around to smash.

The trouble comes when you present a game that seems to play in every other respect exactly like the cliche and expect people to pick up on the change. The entire game needs to change to reflect what you've done in some way. Maybe minor, maybe major, but you have to look at it as an integrated system.

I believe I remember reading this the first time around.

Interestingly, the topic of "game logic" versus real life logic came up in a discussion I was having with some friends a couple of days ago. We were talking about the Metal Gear Solid 4 fight against Vamp where you can't win unless you inject him with the nanomachines. It made so much sense by the game's own logic, but "game logic" (and it being ~4 or 5 in the morning) didn't permit me to consider that option. It stuck out to me as a rather clever inclusion (perhaps because it foiled me), though the MGS series is known for that sort of depth.

Having to close the DS to solve a puzzle in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass elicited a smirk from me, too.

How about, instead of changing the barrel's color, just get rid of the barrel. Or, if you need explosions, find something more contextually appropriate. With the former, you're potentially instituting knew, thoughtful game design. With the latter, you're falling back into the same issue (red versus green), but maybe if the player blows enough up they'll get the hint.

You know, it's been a while but I seem to recall quite a few games on the Master System that used the "hold the attack button and a direction for differant attacks" and I seemed to work that out just fine. Maybe it's just my memory playing tricks on me. Anyway, good artical. I one of my best friends has real trouble thinking out of the box. Not saying I'm any genius mind you it just seems like he's more focused on what something is supposed to be used for as opposed to what it can be used for.

JMeganSnow:

There's no such animal as an "intuitive" game interface. There just isn't. If developers are finding themselves slaves to cliche maybe they ought to consider actually *writing a tutorial* for once. And it doesn't have to be some pushy broad shouting at you over the radio seventy times to push the button, either. I mean, come on.

You're going to have a game where the attack button does different things based on direction and how long it's pressed? Okay then, design your tutorial level so that people HAVE to move back, forward, side-to-side, and do this for differing durations. End result? They'll accidentally do the many different moves enough times that they'll figure out what's causing it. They may even feel a little satisfied rush that they're "getting it". You can reinforce this by having little pop-ups or even achievements for discovering different moves. "FORWARD KICK!" "DOUBLE KICK!!" etc.

You're going to have a game where people can have different functionality by flipping items over? Give the character a nervous twitch where, when they're wielding an item that CAN be flipped, they periodically flip it around in their hand sometimes when they're "idle", so you get a random end when you go to use it. Not only will this educate the player in the fact that this flipping CAN be done, but they'll also get a nice visual cue on every item with this capability.

You want to get rid of the cliche'd crates and barrels? Mix it up a little. Maybe instead of the breakables exploding into a cloud of shrapnel when you wave the crowbar at them, your character instead executes a little timed "opening" animation. Let them use the crowbar on more things in the environment, too--maybe if they use it on an overhead wire, they can zip-line over to another part of the area. They can lever up grates/manhole covers/paving stones and look inside. They can smash electronics to disable gun turrets. They can temporarily use it to bridge electrical gaps and activate electronics. If you're using stuff in the environment enough, I bet you won't even notice if there's not anything around to smash.

The trouble comes when you present a game that seems to play in every other respect exactly like the cliche and expect people to pick up on the change. The entire game needs to change to reflect what you've done in some way. Maybe minor, maybe major, but you have to look at it as an integrated system.

I feel like you're marginalizing this issue. Some of your suggestions are decent but I hardly think them concrete enough to guarantee alleviating this issue. How exactly do you design a tutorial that subtly forces the player to hold the A button a bit longer as opposed to mashing it? Getting players to realize that's a mechanic without stating it outright wouldn't be particularly easy, because the chances of people trying it without prompt are next to zero. That's the whole point.

And I'm not sure how you expect an idle animation to teach the player anything about gameplay. Once again, the idle animation trope tells the player that they're nothing but mildly amusing diversions from the actual game. In BF2 my character starts flipping his guns around and balancing his knife on his finger. Doesn't mean I can let go of my knife or shoot my pistol behind me. Even looked at from the de-tropifying perspective, it makes no sense to teach the player anything with idle animations. The player would be forced to leave their characters idle in order to proceed. Sitting around for a couple of minutes every time I pick up a new weapon to try and discover its secrets does not strike me as good game design.

Blah blah enough nitpicking. I agree wholeheartedly with your final point about the integrated system. People are more inclined to learn new tricks when they realize that things are working different, and the more stuff you change, the more obvious that becomes. But that point doesn't really dismiss the big issue. What if I want a crowbar to slap people in the face with, but I don't want crates to bust or indeed crowbar-zipline sequences? What if I want to introduce a more complex fighting system to my platformer, but want to leave the basic jump system? You've provided some good ways to work around it, but there is absolutely still an intuitive interface for each of your usual genres, one that will delegate a significant amount of work to anyone who tries to deviate from it.

Oyster^^:

I feel like you're marginalizing this issue. Some of your suggestions are decent but I hardly think them concrete enough to guarantee alleviating this issue. How exactly do you design a tutorial that subtly forces the player to hold the A button a bit longer as opposed to mashing it?

Pits. Or other things you have to dodge very precisely while fighting. Duh.

And I'm not sure how you expect an idle animation to teach the player anything about gameplay.

Because when they go to USE the item, they get a random end to work with, that's why. The point is that the character does actually flip the item over and *change* which end is presented.

but there is absolutely still an intuitive interface for each of your usual genres, one that will delegate a significant amount of work to anyone who tries to deviate from it.

No there is not. People do have automatized habits, it is true. You just have to be aware of what needs to be taught in a tutorial and get them to automatize the habits you WANT them to use. If you do that, you're not bound by any cliche's whatsoever--you can use the features you want and drop the features you don't want with impunity. And your game won't just feel like Generic Shooter XVIII.

 

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