Saturday, February 13, 2010

Heads-Up for the Display

Hey, time for a weekly update. Carnival started, and probably 90% of the province Brabant/Limburg is already dressed up, drunk, and/or sharing the bed with the neighbour. But still no costume here. Coming up with a custume was ussually more fun than carnival itself. Last eight years we went as cheesepeople, grandpa's, Samual Jacksons, superheros (painted myself blue, weared "external underpants" like Batman always does, and called myself "Plutonium boy"). And previous year we went as a bunch of rockers.

But this year... Everyone is on vacation or busy, no brilliant ideas for costumes, and to be honest... Being packed together with 600 drunken idiots into a tiny bar with "hoempapa" music isn't exactly my cup of tea anymore. Maybe we'll do something tonight, maybe visit the carnival parade with my daughter tomorrow. Maybe I'm getting old and boring.

Maybe I was too busy with making that damn game anyway. Added all kinds of tiny things to make this game feel more like a... game. The monster in the maze finally tries to catch you, makes scary sounds borrowed from Doom3, and the earth trembles with every step he takes. When I tested it for the first time, it was quite impressive to hear and feel the heavy footsteps approaching while not seeing the enemy due the thick layer of fog.

The monster approaches me dangerously, quicker than I thought. With a button-bash mechanism I try to run as fast as I can, but then I suddenly bump onto a wall. Fuck, cornered! I turn around but its already too late; A big silhouette appears out the fog. A few more steps towards me... so I could stroke and give him a treat. Of course, nothing happens. My player doesn't have health yet, there is no GAME-OVER! screen. What an anti-climax. So, I added a simple health bar as well, and all kinds of crazy sounds fade in when the enemy approaches.

I'm not a big fan of extensive bars and meters. Come on, do you have a Head-Up-Display in front of your eyes that tell you how much cigarettes are left, how many percent there is left until you fall asleep? And how the hell does someone know how many bullets are left when firing a MG42 3.24 seconds?

On the other hand, HUD and bars can stimulate or encourage things. It's nice to see your stamina bar growing when your Magic Goblin buys a new potion. In Farcry I actually cared about coverage as I would peek continuously at the "stealth meter". In case of The Sims, the whole house would be full of shit, puke and starving Sims if there were no bladder/hunger/comfort bars.

At my work I learned to keep user-interfaces as simple and clear as possible. The driver doesn't care if there is 15%, 16% or 45% fuel left. He just wants to know when to refuel, so an indicator + beep is enough. Same thing for games. There are often many (invisible) factors that influence your stealth, speed, aiming or enemy resistance. But what use is it if the player is not even aware of it? Why bothering camouflage if the effect is nearly noticeable? In these cases, the HUD can be your friend.

For now, a simple health and "mental" indicator. No precise numbers though. If I would ask you how you feel, you won't answer with "64%" now do you? It's just "zuperb, fine, normal, not so good, or like shit".

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