So, another thing going on in my life right now is finishing up my PhD. I’m giving a talk at SIGGRAPH this year, and I’m defending my thesis right after…so I’m pretty damn busy 🙂 But I still find time to at least design and think about my current project, Moments of Reflection (MOR).
One minor revelation I’ve had recently is how to teach the player the reflection mechanic: Do it step by step. In Portal, you don’t get the full portal gun right away. First, you just step through a portal. Then you get to control a portal with a button. Then you get to place one portal. Then finally, after about 4-5 “tutorial” puzzles, you get the full portal gun. I generally find this sort of tutorial muuuccchh more enjoyable than tons of text boxes all over the place.
Give the player things one by one, and let them play around and learn it on their own without popups screaming orders at them all the time. Restricting the player’s abilities might seem lame at first, but it allows you as the designer to stop nagging them. They can’t mess things up too much, so you don’t need to tell them what to click and what strategy to use. They can discover it on their own! And self-driven discovery is always more fun than listening.
I’ve implemented this in MOR by initially removing the ability to change the mirror’s angle. So I have a few puzzles where you just need to position the mirror correctly, and it’s always facing left. This is better. But now I’m thinking, maybe I can go a step further and redo the controls a bit. Right now, you click to set the location, then move the mouse to set the angle. But playing with the position-only puzzles revealed a flaw in that system: You can’t continuously change the position. If you put down the mirror and then realize it’s not gonna work, you have to cancel, move your cursor, then click again. Why not just have the mirror’s position follow the cursor, so you can just move your mouse around? Then we can assign rotation adjustments (which are snapped to 45 degrees anyway) to the Q/E keys or the mouse wheel. This makes the intro levels less cumbersome, and I think it will make the rest of the game feel better as well.
I dissected the controls, and not only did it yield a better way of teaching the player, it also helped me to realize a better control scheme. This is why I love game development!