Your Attention, Please

Half-Life 2 BreenboardSome video games we lambaste for holding our hands, others we chastise for letting us wander. For developers, then, balancing the flow of progression means… a walking of the tightrope. On this topic, then, I would like to share with you two interesting articles that I have recently read.

In “Guiding the Player’s Eye”, Matthew “Gangles” Gallant directs our attention to the complexities of orienting the player in a three-dimensional world by illustrating, via a generous amount of example screencaps, Valve’s use of various visual cues:

The best approach is to guide the player organically, catching their eye with elements that fit seamlessly into the game world. In this school of thought, Valve is peerless.1

I do think that Valve have succeeded, overall, in building a more lasting foundation of expectations by utilizing these various methods, also simultaneously educating players more about flow, timing and guidance, in turn furthering players’ trust in the company’s ability to make and implement gameplay-related decisions.

The chief role of guidance, after all, is to generate the very important feelings of empowerment and control, even reward. In his recent article, “Visually Directing the Player”, Joshua Nuernberger (Boryokudan Rue, La Croix Pan, Resonance) discusses these very same concepts, albeit from the point of view of the 2D adventure developer:

I would define it as using visual elements on screen as to give the player a specific direction to reinforce their gameplay goals. For example, a giant arrow pointing down a hallway telling the player to go this way, not that way.2

The point and click adventure genre has always been both extremely reliant on and innovative with audiovisual cues (which side do we position pixel hunts on?), and to have a developer explain his or her own take on the topic makes for interesting reading.

(Screenshots courtesy of A Hardy Developer’s Journal)

Finally, RPS’ John Walker connects the dots, pointing out that Nuernberger is effectively giving out “the same advice Valve has been shrieking at anyone who’ll listen”. To recap: “Guiding the Player’s Eye” available at The Quixotic Engineer, and “Visually Directing the Player” at A Hardy Developer’s Journal.

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