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D. U. I.
Designing User Interfaces. Well, ok, not quite.

I had some free time on my hands, and so decided to play Yoshi s Island because of some of the praise it s been getting here. And while cruising through it, I realized just how many visual clues it has. Arrows and various signs are in abundance, so you re never lost or confused, and most secret areas arent tucked away under some obscure texture, but are in plain view, just waiting for you to figure out how to reach them.

So Im curious, how much importantance do you place on making your level easy to navigate and understand? Do you do anything special, if so what? Or should the player have to figure everything out by themselves? Does having these hints make it too easy?
... 
Matter of choice and personal taste, I would say. 
My Approach... 
For big ticket items, i like to have an obvious cue saying "i am a secret" like a megahealth behind bars, or a quad on a high ledge or something, to tease the player. This challenges people to figure out how to get the item.

For any secret, even a +25 health, i think it's important to have a subtle clue that tells players how to get it -- slightly rotated texture on a shootable door, or one light fixture that is a different color than the others, or whatever. The cue can be MORE subtle in cases where the tease is also present, becuase then people will be trying stuff anyway. (shooting walls, exploring, etc.)

As an alternative to the subtle cue, i like to put the access to secrets in a place that players often don't think to explore. This can be becuase it's obviously not a route, like the pool of water in house of desolution. Or, it can exploit the fact that players don't think about how moving objects change the environment -- the quad under the lift in contract revoked is a good example. You can also exploit the player's limited spatial sense, especially with regard to the vertical dimention.

Or... well, i'd give more examples, but i don't want to give away all the secrets in my unreleased levels :) 
Teh Secret Of Sterces 
Or... well, i'd give more examples, but i don't want to give away all the secrets in my unreleased levels :)

Heh, too true.

While cramming secrets into Contract, I tried to go for variety.
Some of the secrets are intended to have a direct benefit on subsequent combat, the lightning gun hidden in the first map is a good example - the LG is the best weapon to use against shamblers so providing it at that point allowed about 6 shamblers to be defeated more easily if the player found the secret. For that reason, the 'tantalizing visibility' trick was used so the player would at least be aware there was something to find.
For more powerful, potentially devastating benefits like a pentagram, I have no qualms about being an utter bastard, tho I always endevour to make the secret an integral part of its surroundings, like using the chequered platforms or wooden beams.
I guess I assume that any player will try to explore every reachable area of a map even if it's not part of required navigation; especially if it's not part of required navigation. I do that in every FPS I play - I'm a nosy cunt - so I tend to put secrets in corners, dead ends, pools , pits and so on.

In terms of normal navigation, I always try to make the path explicit. Arrows I find are a hokey way of directing the player because they look incongruously generous for an environment that is otherwise trying to kill the player; a last resort only. One of the important things about SP is giving the player room to look around - places to stand, distance to jump - so they can gradually build up an impression of the overall construction of the map. It also helps if the layout is based on consistent elements that the player gets used to.
Lighting is also critical - ffs, don't leave the most important exit in a room in total shadow. That can be really frustrating. Weapons should also be delivered to the player in a way that is unmissable even to a myopic elephant.
Basically, the more important a structure/item/route is to progression, the more prominent a place it should take in the player's perception. 
Another Point 
another rule i try to follow is: never give the player a key until after he sees the door that it will unlock. This is a specific case of a more general principle, that it's good to have places/things that a player sees but can't get to until later, creating anticipation/desire and then later providing closure. It also defeats the purpose of a key to have it unlock a door that you don't get to until you have the key, becuase the door never blocks your progress, then. 
Yup 
same goes for switches really; see moving part -> find switch.
Also, if a switch is remote from its target, there should be something to help the player match up action with consequence: center print message, texture similarity etc. Mostly important in a map with lots of doors or switches. e.g. all the shootable switches in Contract were for secrets only; all the same animating texture, different texture from 'normal' switches.
Consistency, people, consistency... :P 
Yeah 
I liked all the custom Q2 maps that used the destructable-crate texture on non-destructable crates. 
... 
I think metlslime is pretty much bang on.

The are two things I find I say to myself which signify a bad map design. The first is: "so what the hell do I do now?" And the second is: "why the hell did that happen?" Saying hell is an integral part of it. :)

Do what Nintendo does, not what Cyan Worlds does. 
 
I liked all the custom Q2 maps that used the destructable-crate texture on non-destructable crates.

On a somewhat related note: is there ever a point when these design elements become cliche? And if so, how wise is it to try and change it to something new? 
Yes, 
they can become cliché. But the principles behind them are universal, i think. 
Hmm 
cliché? 
Hmm... 
clich� 
Weird... 
i typed clich� both times... i wonder if my change did anything. I can't see how, as all i did was add calls to PHP's addslashes function. 
Hmmm 
Well the little bit above the E looks a bit like an apostrophe. Maybe the board has fuzzy logic, like those new washing machines. 
 
Fuzzy logic: like wooly thinking, only less so 
WTF? 
now the two that were broken (posts 9 and 10) are fixed, and the "fixed" ones (posts 11 and 12) are broken in a different way. 
 
they can become cliché. But the principles behind them are universal, i think.

yeah, but the issue I kind of want to bring up is the communicating to the player those underlying principles.

ex: let's say I thought that using the gold key to open a door was cliche. So instead, I make it so you have to kill a certain monster to open the door. So now how do you know you must kill the monster to open the door?

So, I guess, I'm wondering if there are any kind of, I don't know, universal concepts or important ideas to know while trying to convey to the player what he can, or needs to do.

For instance, I like kell's comment on making sure the important exits are well lit.

The are two things I find I say to myself which signify a bad map design. The first is: "so what the hell do I do now?" And the second is: "why the hell did that happen?"

yeah, personally I agree. But now I'm interested in taking it one step further and asking: what helps make maps understandable, or not?

I don't know, maybe this is an intuitive issue, which can't readily be discussed and analyzed. Players either understand your map, or they don't. Anyway, I just thought I'd bring it up. 
C . . . . O . . . . . 
"ex: let's say I thought that using the gold key to open a door was cliche. So instead, I make it so you have to kill a certain monster to open the door. So now how do you know you must kill the monster to open the door?"

Get the map going early on with a grunt almost right in front of a door. Every one kills the grunt, and everyone will be watching when the door opens. They'll easily make the mental model you want and now they know that it's in your bag of tricks. And now you won't have to resort to printing "X more to go" messages on the screen, which is a terrible kuldge.

It's like in Zelda: everyone knows the defeating all enemies, pulling switches, lighting torches, etc are possible tricks. Thus puzzles which might be too hard in other games are more reasonable in a Zelda game. It's all about helping the gamer form the correct mental model. 
Pushplay Said It: 
set a precedent.

A good example is in rubicon, where i have ladders which are really just really steep staircases. At the time (1997,) those sorts of ladders were not common, so i made it so you couldn't even leave the first room of the level until you figured out how to climb. That way, later on, when you see a ladder in a combat situation, you won't get killed trying to figure it out. 
Metslime... 
...you DA MAN.

P.S. I spent an hour and a half trying to get out of that first room, shooting and pressing everything in sight, I even no-clipped to see if there was a secret exit I was missing. Eventually I resort to imp 9 and rocket jumped out....although the weapons did make the rest of the map rather easy... 
Wow... 
i really AM da man. 
Really? 
I walked towards the ladder..and shot up through the hole.
"Oh", I thought, "that'll be a really steep staircase then" and carrried on into the water.

:P 
Good Stuff 
any more tips? any "tasteful/subtle" solutions to not even being able to understand the precedent? have an Monster/NPC run up the ladder?


and just to add to the mix...
http://celephais.net/board/view_thread.php?id=3226&start=15

One of the best things about this map: instantly understandable layout.

my obvious question: Why? 
Really? 
Of course bloody not!! 
Really! 
but somehow, Shamb, I can't imagine you completed Rubicon without impulse 9

:P 
Lun3dm4 
"One of the best things about this map: instantly understandable layout.

my obvious question: Why?"


It would be interesting to see a study done on what makes map layouts effective but here are some general reasons why lun3dm4's layout is so easily understandable:

1. Open Space. It's much easier to pick up on a layout when the player has plenty of space and subsequently a clear field of vision. Extremely tight maze-like maps hinder this and are harder to learn.

2. Structure Variance. Every single area in lun3dm4 is uniquely built, whether it's the main atrium with the jump pad, the pit-like megahealth area, or the carved out cliff area by the red armor. The player can tell exactly where he or she is at all times because of this.

3. Well-lit. It always helps when a map is nice and bright.

Perhaps this helps. 
Oh.. 
i thought what he meant was "why is that good?" 
Clich� Indeed! 
Once I`ve been thinking about, what was the tritest clich� in both SP and DM maps, and it was unequivocal that that is making the end of the map or a later/better part or a secret item visible. Every map consists this clich�, in different levels, but mostly on a very high level. I`m not talking about that showing later map parts is stupid, a good map should even consist such things, (as they do too). But the whole effect and idea and wittiness of the map should make it a background feature. When this teasing-feature is too flagrant, then it makes the whole effekt of the map duller. If one has been already playing on lots of sp maps, then it`s very annyoing even.

And there should be less shoot-button secret areas too, because that's also hackneyed and not really creative too. 
 
No, I think he meant 'why is it easy to understand' and Tombstone pretty much nailed it. 
 
And there should be less shoot-button secret areas too, because that's also hackneyed and not really creative too.

Yes, though it gets difficult to invent new ways of hinting/revealing secrets after a while. 
But 
I don't think the whole shooting a wall secret is nearly as clich� as the lock and key method. 
"difficult To Invent New Ways" 
Most secret places come during making the map without the thought of putting a secret there. And there are countless possibilities for that. (It doesn`t mean that a mapper who creates most of the secrets this way, is not creative, but it's because the fantasy of a man is not infinite.) 
Oops 
I guess I could have made that easier to comprehend. Anyway, I did mean 'why is it easy to understand', as I assumed that it being understandable is, in fact, a good thing. though any reasons to why it's a bad thing would be welcome.

It would be interesting to see a study done on what makes map layouts effective

I think so too, so how about we do it right now? it's the perfect time and place, I think. 
What Makes Map Layouts Effective 
That's too broad. First you need to define effective. Then you need to define what kind of map. Finally you need to define what kind of user. 
Pah 
but somehow, Shamb, I can't imagine you completed Rubicon without impulse 9

Dude I had to use Impulse 0 in Libris Improbis demo level to remove all weapons to make it just slightly challenging... 
Go, Shambler! 
/me gives Shambler the Amulet of +9 Dick Waving 
*cough* *cough* A Bit Of My Own Medicine 
That's too broad. First you need to define effective. Then you need to define what kind of map. Finally you need to define what kind of user.

effective in terms of understandability.
any kind of map, or part of.
user == newb.

Basically, let's just make a list (or Top Ten!!!, you guys like Top Tens, don't you?) of maps that people learned almost instantly, or very quickly, and afterwards try to find any more common traits or methods that the authors used. 
Oh, 
and of course no box maps. the map should be in actuality somewhat complex (ie: > a box map), but seemingly quite simple. 
Or, 
perhaps we could take it the other way. We could make a list of maps where you got so lost and confused, that you had to take drastic measures (like propelling oneself at high speeds through small holes) or just gave up. Then we can find the what-not-to-dos, and extrapolate to find the to-dos.

This would probably the easier of the two lists, since the beauty of understanding something really well, is that you don't realize just how well you understand it. 
 
Dude I had to use Impulse 0 in Libris Improbis

Haven't heard of that map - is it on your site?

you guys like Top Tens, don't you?

No. Fuck off. 
Oh 
 
Impulse 0 
LAFF 
Libris Vertiginis 
...ya ya, okay I forgot.

Gilt interesting idea....might have a think about it....custom maps right?? Ones that really made sense as far as navigation and stuff goes.... 
Gilt 
That's a better idea. Unfortunatly my memory isn't so good. 
 
I see no reason to limit this to custom maps, or even quake. this is a universal issue. As long as it is 3D FP it will benifit us.

I mean, real life Casinos are notorious for creating buildings that are hard to leave. The principles should be the exact same. 
So... 
don't put clocks in your level. 
Oh, 
so that's why there are no responses. oh well, better luck next time. 
Ez 
I dont think that simple and easy-to-figure layouts make a great DM map. Such maps are shallow 
Hrm 
Not necessarily, Speedy. 
Gilt 
this stuff doesn't work in quake. this is part of the "nintendo school of game design", which is best exemplified in the zelda games. You can make secrets obvious because these games constantly extend your possibilities through items and skills, so getting there becomes a puzzle. In quake, once you see that is a place you can go to, getting there actually isn't a problem, since your skills are always the same (bar fps physics differences :) You have almost no way to create a path that is obviously there yet hard to imagine how to pass. 
Aye... 
but you're talking I think about a cerebral approach to puzzles - "I know the things my character can do, I can see the path I need to follow, so how do I match them up?" In Quake, as you say, the player jumps the same height/runs the same speed/fits through the same hole from the beginning of a map to the end. That doesn't mean those abilities cannot be tested, it just means the tests are based on the player's own skill. Not puzzles, but obstacles. Which maybe is where it ceases to be what Gilt is talking about because a test of skill is not about 'communicating to the player'.
Sorry, I don't really seem to have a point to make atm :/ 
Quake Obstacles 
well, there are a few things that can prevent you from getting somewhere even though you know how to do it, in quake.

- not having enough firepower to get past a bunch of monsters. (this is underused, i need to start doing this in my levels.) The only problem is that a player might be skilled/lucky enough to get past the 10 shamblers without the extra weapons.

- an obstacle that is easy to get past with the lights on, but the lights are off to begin with. E1M6 does this, but the problem is that it's muddied up by the closed door and locked door immediately behind it. So it's not a pure example of this.

- You know you need a key, but you don't have it yet. This is not underused. 
And Don't Forget... 
...jumping puzzles! Don't we all just love jumping puzzles?
Don't we?
Guys? 
Well... 
i was sort of limiting it to things which i think wouldn't suck. 
Yeah I Love Jumping Puzzles 
No seriously. I do.
I suppose I'm the only one though... 
Ee 
u can use items like penta, suit etc aswell
too bad they are instant 
I Like 
the jumping thing where there is a ramp and a superhealth suspended in air. zed is the map (or zed 2 i forget). ok, not a puzzle, just a nice touch added to vanilla dm.

i'm like the majority (or perhaps minority): i suck at space dm and i HATE lava. :-0 
123, Abc 
I dont think that simple and easy-to-figure layouts make a great DM map. Such maps are shallow

You know, it's viewpoints that really interest me, when it comes to this type of discussion. Rules and standards are all nice and good, but I think the thing that most influences how well things are designed are the attitudes and philosophies of the designers.

this is a classic line of thought:
easy-to-figure-out ==> simple ==> shallow

it's no wonder that obfuscation is praised, and that any attempt to make something more understandable is considered dumbing-down. the designer snob is the worst type of snob, imo, because he actively hurts his audience, and almost seems to relish in doing so.

In another thread I was reading here, the mentality of "idiot gamer" bounced around quite easily and unthreatend. Ultimately, if a desginer, esp. with games, can't see that the player is the most important part of the game, then we're in for a bumpy ride... 
There 
Designing your anything for the lowest denominator might force you to degrade your originlal concept or idea.
Though retaining good complexity and yet making production (anything interractive, be it game or a gadget; not book or movie!) understandable by some brain-dead individual or careless kid is probably possible for the high skill experienced professionals.

But in the statement mentioned above I was spaking from the players pov. You replay deathmatch maps numerous times, and there is not much to master in easy maps and they get boring pretty soon. This coming from q2dm1 junkie hence its just imHo. 
Btw Gilt 
Less talk, more action ! 
 
I wasn't trying to single you or that specific statement out or anything, but I've read similar points of view before and I just don't see the jump from easy-to-figure-out, to shallow.

Though retaining good complexity and yet making production understandable by some brain-dead individual or careless kid is probably possible for the high skill experienced professionals.

Why black box what an "experienced professinal" can do? surely, if they can do it, we can learn how to do it too. 
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