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No More Wrong Turns

August 25, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6


Okay. So that's all the tools and methods I can think of. I hope that you've enjoyed the read and that it got your gears spinning. However, to give you something to really work with I want to close the article with some tips on when and how to best use the presented tools and methods.

The first step to using them is already done: now that you've read the article and are now definitely aware of their existence can begin to consciously use them to solve your design problems. This doesn't mean that you'll always have to throw so much information at your player that he feels like he has no other choice but to follow your instructions.

An important part of all these tools is that they make it easier for the player to make meaningful decisions. They do not remove his ability to decide. This is why methods such as sealing off all doors after the player has passed through them to only allow him to move forward are not listed above.

Also keep in mind that less is often, as they say, more. In some instances it can be desirable to not give any navigation hints. For example, the madness maze that can be found in Max Payne is such a case. Here the player is supposed to have a hard time finding the right path. All the walls look alike and so the player will wander around aimlessly. This can be annoying but since the area in the example is quite short it's not so frustrating as to become a problem.

However if you decide to provide some help to the player, how do you go about it?

Below I'll have a couple of notes and tips for you. There's some repetition of important information mentioned above but there's also some new points in there as well. I've chosen to use a bullet point format to make it easy to get an overview. So that said, let's get started:

Discrete Navigation Tools

  • Discrete Tools are the general rules of the game used in many environments
  • They are a part of the game's Graphical User Interface
  • Discrete Tools are designed by the Game (or Interface) Designer
  • They can communicate more information than just spacial data (position, line, area, volume)
  • They can easily adapt to moving or changing targets
  • Discrete tools are used consciously by the player
  • Are often very obvious and hard to overlook
  • The information displayed through them seems very important
  • Discrete Tools can be optional, players can adjust or deactivate them
  • Too much information and options can easily confuse the player

What are the properties of Maps and when and how do you use those?

Maps provide an abstract view of the game space as an overview

  • They are best used in games with non-linear maps, complex spaces where tactical use is important or levels with lots of units
  • Games where you want the player to focus on the game itself should not use maps
The right degree of abstraction is critical
  • Simplify the display as much as possible while still making it easy for players to quickly understand where each place is
  • 3D maps are often too complicated to use quickly and easily
Maps can be static (no interaction with the game itself) or interactive (allowing interaction, often while the game still runs)
  • Static maps are good for games where you only want to communicate information since they are less complicated
  • Complex games where there are lots of resources and units to manage do benefit from an interactive map
Maps can be a separate screen or an element of the regular game interface
  • Separate screens provide you with more screen real estate to use for the map but this breaks the regular game flow
  • If during your game the player often needs to sneak a quick glance at the map it's better to display it embedded in the GUI
Maps can be a paused or live, that means being displayed and updated while the game runs
  • A map on a separate screen hides the regular view and often needs to pause the game, especially if its static. This breaks game flow
  • A live map doesn't interrupt gameplay but in stressful situations it becomes difficult to both pay attention to the game and the map
Areas on the map must first be uncovered by visiting them. Alternatively the entire map is visible from the beginning
  • If your game features a strong element of discovery then the uncovering of the map helps support this
  • If the game is less about uncovering the map but rather about how to use the environment then it makes sense to make it all visible
Areas on the map can be uncovered as a bonus, maybe through collecting items or fulfilling side-quests
  • Unlocking parts of the map can be a great bonus if this information grants the player an advantage such as showing a hidden route
  • This can even be used with already fully unlocked maps by displaying previously secret information like a secret area with powerups
Maps can mark areas already visited by the player
  • This is especially helpful for environments where the player has a lot of different routes that he can take and side paths he can uncover
  • This is only really needed if the map is areas of the map are visible without the player having visited them, maybe because they were visible from the start or because they were unlocked as a bonus

What are the properties of Markers and when and how do you use those?

Markers highlight a target or target area by using a graphical interface element
  • They are best used in games where the player needs to be aware of the precise location of different important targets and their states
  • They make more sense in non-linear maps but can also be used in linear environments
Markers are visible in the regular game view, directly marking the target
  • This makes it easy to understand what the marker refers to once the target area or object is visible
  • When the target is not in view, the marker is also hidden forcing the player to look around. Here Markers can be well complimented by compasses
They can be displayed only when the object is visible or all the time
  • Marking the target only when it's on screen makes it easy to understand what to do within the visible area but provides no navigational help otherwise. This makes sense for very localized interactivity that would otherwise not be entirely obvious
  • Always showing a marker is useful for when the target is of relevance regardless of position

Markers can also be shown/hidden based on the player's distance to the target to achieve a compromise

  • They can easily communicate additional information about the target area
  • Because of this markers are very useful to highlight targets of varying types and different states
Markers are "in the face" of the player which makes them look quite important
  • This means that the players will make conscious use of Markers
  • Too many elements however can distract the player or clutter the screen. Fading out Markers when they would obstruct (near the center of the screen perhaps) could help mitigate this.

What are the properties of compasses and when and how do you use those?

Compasses point the player toward a target by means of the graphical user interface
  • They are best used in games where the player needs to be aware of rough direction towards important targets
  • They are mostly used in non-linear maps but can also be used in linear environments, especially if the target is in motion
Compasses only give a rough direction towards the target
  • It can sometimes be difficult to understand what the compass is pointing to, especially if the target area or object isn't otherwise marked. Here Markers can be used to clarify
  • This slightly unclear information can be an essential game element by making the player actively search for the target and explore the area
Compasses can communicate additional information about the target area
  • Because of this markers are very useful to highlight targets of varying types and different states
Compasses can look quite important, especially if they're in or near the center of the screen
  • When they're in the middle of the screen players are consciously aware of them
  • Like with Markers, too much can clutter the screen. Fading out the compass when not needed can help lessen the negative impact

So that's all about the discrete tools, now on to the immersed methods, their properties and a few pointers on how to use them.

Immersed Navigation Tools

Immersed Methods are different based on the specific application in a certain level
  • They are a part of the environment
  • They use elements of the Level Design toolkit and are the responsibility of the Level Designer
  • Immersed Tools have a stronger effect when they are linked with gameplay elements
  • Consequent use of gameplay related hints is necessary to work properly
  • Small changes can often be enough to properly lead the player on but note that the amount and scale of hints is relative to the size of the space they are in

What are the properties of Attract Methods and when and how do you use those?

These methods are used to attract the player to a certain location to subtly steer him through the level
  • Use these if your players always turn left and end up in a dead end while you want them to go right
  • They are only really useful if there's specific routes you want to highlight, regardless whether the level is linear or not

What are the properties of Identify Methods and when and how do you use those?

Identify methods are used to distinguish different areas so the player knows his relative position within the level
  • Identify your areas if your players get lost in the level and don't have a clue where they are
  • These only really make sense if you have open levels where the player can freely navigate or if you've got a lot of back and forth movement
Awareness of the different areas still does not make the player understand their spatial relation.
  • To help with this, the game can teach the space to the player so he will develop a mental model of the different areas
  • Alternatively Maps and Guide can help as well. They are especially useful if they can easily be visually linked to the target (by style or color for example)

What are the properties of Guide Methods and when and how do you use those?

These methods are used to provide guides so the player can chose which way to go to reach his intended target
  • If your players never know how to get to the place they want to visit
  • This is only really relevant if the player has a choice of routes to take, that means non-linear levels
  • Guides are used consciously by the player

[The author would like to thank the people that helped shape this article (Daniel, Beren and Matthias. Please comment below, and for more on game and level design, visit his blog at]

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

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