Game Design Snippet 1: Yes/No Interation in FPS Games

The Mad Tinkerer’s Game Design Snippet 1

I have good ideas all the time. Hundreds of them don’t even get written down, which is a shame. So I am going to start weblogging them. That, in part, will be the new purpose of this weblog.

Now I’m not going to post whole game designs here. That’s for me to file away and use myself since I’m going to be a professional. Instead, I’m going to post ways to improve existing games and game genres in simple ways. Ways that are totally “public domain” and anyone who wants to use them is welcome to do so. Otherwise I wouldn’t be posting them in this weblog in the first place. So without further ado I present a simple fix/rant to First Person Shooters and the Half Life series in particular:

Half Life 2 is a wonderful game. There is no direct conversation with any of the characters like in Monkey Island or most RPGs, but the characters do react to your actions: turning to face you if you move around, complaining if you don’t do what they are telling you to do for plot reasons, and, of course, attacking you and attempting to avoid your attacks if they are an enemy. Gordon Freeman never speaks. They don’t want to add an abstract branching conversation system, and that’s all right. But not being able to directly communicate with NPCs at all just doesn’t seem good enough.

Let’s look at another series where the hero never speaks: The Legend of Zelda*. Link’s only lines are “hup” and “haaa!” and the NPCs always choose the subject of the conversation. However, Link CAN RESPOND TO QUESTIONS WITH “YES” AND “NO”. This simple conversation interaction adds an adequate amount of feeling of control to conversations without distancing the player much from the protagonist, and this is a series where the P.O.V. is third person.

Gordon Freeman could do this as well. Gordon doesn’t have to speak to do this: he can do what mute people do with people who don’t understand sign language: nod and shake your head! Honestly: just watch HE’S ALREADY DOING IT!

Nodding and shaking could work in all sorts of situations: accepting or rejecting NPCs that want to follow you, agreeing or disagreeing with what someone has to say, black market shops where you could buy ammunition if you accidentally use all the ammo on a level, disguising yourself as Combine and responding to the other Combine as if you were one of them, encouraging or discouraging Alyx… the possibilities are endless!

It doesn’t even have to affect anything important all the time: let’s say you’re in a pub and Barney offers to finally buy you that beer and you shake your head. He simply says “well maybe later” and offers to buy you a beer again later. It’s like one extra If statement, but it lets the player feel they’re actually making a decision! Maybe later in the game Barney makes a comment about how it’s too bad Gordon didn’t want the beer because the Combine blew up the pub. Or it’s good that Gordon did accept the beer because the Combine blew up the pub. It’s just a little detail, but it’s a “neat” detail.

It’s fairly easy to implement (in terms of the game detecting whether you’re moving the mouse in response to a prompt), it still allows “rails” and “plot”, and would exponentially increase the feeling of immersion in a simple way! In short, I think if NPCs actually responded to you nodding and shaking your head in Half Life 3, it would really add to the feeling of immersion.

*In fact, I first came up with Nodding & Shaking back when I was playing Link’s Awakening and Doom in the late 90s.

All Game Design Snippets copyright (C) 2008 Matthew Mather. Source engine used for illustration.

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