[Recently, Sidhe usability expert Gareth Griffiths examined a number of styles of boundaries in games for their visibility and affordance -- interface-design terms that describe how easy they are to comprehend and use -- and found them lacking. That's the bad news. What's the good news? Griffiths has synthesized the comments from the original piece into a follow-up which looks at potential solutions.]
Previously, we looked at the various types of boundaries that a game player often collides with when in a game world. The article examined the invisible barrier, multitudes of inoperable doors and those other barriers that magically appear and disappear -- to name a few.
From the comments it received, it was plain that while many agreed with the point put forward, it was clear that more thinking would be needed that could maybe offer viable solutions to the situations that were put forward. In order to do this, I decided to go back to the drawing board. Armed with a bucket-load of information from the numerous comments, I decided to sit back and ponder this question.
The first stumbling block in this process, though, was that whenever I'd come to a seemingly viable solution, the devil's advocate would pop into my head and whisper ways it would break.
What was continually bothering me was that, while what we are playing is called a "game", we still struggle with the issue of reality versus fantasy. On the one hand, if a game goes beyond the bounds of reality too much then you often hear players saying "Oh man, there is no way that would happen in real life!" But then, on the other hand, you're just as likely to hear someone say, "Why won't the game let me do that? It's a game! I should be able to so what I want!"
Because of this we need to tread carefully and somehow incorporate some fantasy into the reality -- standards whereby the player can do crazy stuff that basically adheres to the boundaries that would exist in the real world.
Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't use things like doors, walls or other kinds of barricades, but it is important that they are consistent, fair, and conceptual, and that they follow the visibility and affordance guidelines I discussed previously.
For example, take a game that sees you walking alongside a cliff, that won't allow you to fall off the edge, no matter how hard you try. This is probably a good thing, isn't it? There's probably nothing worse than running along when all of a sudden you make one slip-up and down you go. And yet, if you can just hug the edge and no matter how hard you try it will just be impossible to fall off, will this break the immersion more?
A good example of this was the chasm that appears as a result of an earthquake in Gears of War. This blatantly stops you from going anywhere because you cannot fall off the cliff, as shown in Figure 1. So is this good or bad? Does it tear the player away from the game in some way?
Figure 1 - Gears of War chasm
In order to look at the various types of boundaries, I decided it would be easier if I could first place them into some kind of category that way I would be able to organize things easier.
Firstly we have a "macro" boundary, which would be described as the world area. This is the limit of your game world: we will not come across this that often -- the cliffs in Gears are an example. Secondly, we have a "micro" boundary, which the player will come across often within the game -- doors, for instance.