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Report article RSS Feed Guiding the Player's Eye

Exploring how game designers can subtly turn heads.

Posted by stenchy on May 28th, 2009

This is nice nugget of design that's probably known by many but mostly forgotten when it comes time for modders to reach into their bag of tricks. However, with the possibility of Valve's unveiling of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 a tantalizing prospect, a few people have been going back and playing the previous entries.

Matthew Gallant of Quixotic Engineer posted a write-up describing how Gabe & Co. used various elements to subtly grab the attention of the player. Things like startling birds into the air.

Matthew wrote:For instance, near the beginning of the game, the player approaches a cliff overlooking a small abandoned factory and startles a group of crows.


As the birds take off, they fly toward a rooftop where the player can catch a glimpse of a Hunter robot stalking them. This neatly foreshadows the upcoming encounter.


Along with other blog linked in the quote, this post continues adds to another old posting from Big Apple, 3AM (if you didn't read that with the Turtles in Time voice, you're doing it wrong!). Instead of relying on button prompts (a la Gears of War) or quick cutscenes that cut up the flow of a player's experience, games should strive for more organic solutions.

Michel wrote:Whether it's architecture, NPCs reacting to something "off-screen," or objects included for the express purpose of attracting the player's attention, using things that exist in the game world is the best way to make players turn their heads of their own presumed free will. Not only does it maintain immersion, it's more true to the interactive nature of the medium. Sure, a designer can cross and jump-cut as he rips control from the player's hands in order to display his cinematic prowess, but that's ignoring the fundamental potential of the medium. Video games require new techniques and a new language for setting the player's viewpoint. With the player in control of the camera, it's the designer's job to create circumstances that encourage and suggest, not force, ways to view the game world.

Links of interest:

Post comment Comments
CrowbarSka
CrowbarSka May 28 2009, 7:01am says:

fantastic! this is something that games should really strive for and HL2 demonstrates it wonderfully. I recommend anyone who considers themself a level designer read the links.

+7 votes     reply to comment
Killer_man_1996
Killer_man_1996 Jun 4 2009, 2:41pm replied:

yeah... it's pretty cool... :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
TheHappyFriar
TheHappyFriar May 28 2009, 7:34am buried:

(buried)

Hmm.... I found HL2 leads you around like you're blind dump idiot. Worst example of "how to" ever. Trying to force you to look wherever they want, do whatever they want. I haven't seen a game that restrictive & forceful ever. Windows Solitaire gives you more freedom & encourages you to interact more.

-14 votes     reply to comment
Ben_E
Ben_E May 28 2009, 9:34am replied:

I think HL2 does have some problems, but if you want unrestricted freedom in a game then you have to be willing to accept a less cohesive experience. Not everyone is ready for that!

+5 votes     reply to comment
formerlyknownasMrCP
formerlyknownasMrCP May 28 2009, 2:03pm replied:

I think they are, its just the publishers won't pay for those kinds of games yet due to how expensive they can be.

+1 vote     reply to comment
NullSoldier
NullSoldier May 28 2009, 1:54pm replied:

I respect your opinion but I disagree extremely, HL2 is a prime example of one of the most real time, dynamic, and organic games. They almost always let you move during "cinematics" with npcs and the primary tool they use to instruct the player is Instinct. If you think listening to your instincts is restrictive then I don't know what to tell you. Maybe bad consoles games that force you to pay attention via prompts and cut scenes are for you.

One example is in Half-life 1 when you jump into a small square room of water with two exists, the roof starts opening and they are dumping flaming barrels onto you. Everyone i've seen play instinctively dives into the water absolutely immediately. This is an amazing use of instinct and I think valve displays it amazingly of all people throughout all of their HL2 series games.

+8 votes     reply to comment
ben72227
ben72227 May 28 2009, 8:18pm replied:

I disagree with you NullSoldier. Valve games (in particular HL2) feel very linear and (at times) forced to me. Instead of traditional cutscenes, you are forced into small areas/rooms to hear long, boring dialogue. It's really no better than a cutscene, the only difference is that you can walk around...but you're still forced to wait on the NPC's to finish their conversation (i.e. in the beginning of HL2, when you have to go to Dr. Kleiner's lab in City 17) before you can get back to real gameplay.

IMHO the best system so far is what we're starting to see more and more with the open-world Shooter/RPG hybrids like Fallout 3 and STALKER - giving the player true freedom to do what they want in the game world. Crysis is another example, sans the RPG elements of course.

-3 votes     reply to comment
The_camper
The_camper May 30 2009, 5:29am replied:

yes but the only problem is that in larger games like that you alwase miss a massive chunk of the content. however in linear games you feel that you haven't missed as much.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 30 2009, 5:59am replied: Online

But you also never want to come back to it since there is nothing new to do ( no deviation from the beaten path ) nor new things to discover. A bit a waste of money.

-1 votes     reply to comment
zombieOnion
zombieOnion May 30 2009, 3:44pm replied:

That depends wholly on what kind of experience you are after.
Open-world, uncohesive thing, like Fallout3, where the devs sacrifice immersion for the open-world-freedom. In Half-Life 2, the developers railroad you through the very linear story. What do you like most?
I like the railroad, as long as the ride is good.

+4 votes     reply to comment
windlab
windlab May 30 2009, 8:40pm replied:

As someone once pointed out, HL2 may be a railroad, but it has very polished rails.
I play and both the Stalker and HL series for their uniqueness.
They may take very different approaches, but in my mind at least, both succeed.

/ontopic
Very good article, I'd always admired Valve's methods, usually appreciated only upon second play through.

+3 votes     reply to comment
MrMazure
MrMazure May 30 2009, 9:57am replied:

don't forget mass effect :p

+2 votes     reply to comment
MrTambourineMan
MrTambourineMan May 28 2009, 5:13pm replied:

What you're saying is not true, it's typical anti-fanboy trash talk.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Mkilbride
Mkilbride May 28 2009, 5:22pm replied:

Seriously man. wtfbbq.

Games like gaylo and whatnot give you no choice on what to do. Half Life as a series has been one of the most open world styled ones to date. I'm talking straight FPS here, not MMOFPS / FPS / RPG hybrids, but as a pure FPS, it gives you alot of room to tackle things and choose where to go and whatnot.

+1 vote     reply to comment
NullSoldier
NullSoldier May 28 2009, 7:14pm replied:

Well I agree with the freedom part as in what you play but Half-life itself is very linear, however linear is not a bad thing infact it adds to the quality of gameplay very much by allowing the developers to give you a 300% better game where they know you'll be likely to go than a huge open travelable world that they have no idea which areas you'll go.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 28 2009, 8:28pm replied: Online

At first, who downvoted that comment? Another misuse of the system.

Second, it's correct. HL2 is totally linear. You have no freedom to deviate from the given path. If you think different you need to learn what "linear gameplay" actually means: HL2 is a prime example thereof. Now this does not have to be bad by itself but in HL2 it's extreme. Besides the article mentioned here is old news. It has been posted already around here in connection with ME about guiding a player. Though the guiding part is incorrect. Nearly all their instinctive parts they claim here failed on me ( and many others I know ). Simply because they fail to grasp the important concept of individuality. People are not alike so what works on one group of people won't work on another. This is why the concept of pulling a player through a game on a fishing hook does not work anymore as it used to in the past where people simply had no other choice. Once you played though games like Deus-Ex you know why this principle is aged and no more working.

0 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 28 2009, 8:29pm replied: Online

Some points to counter here ( @NullSoldier ):
>>HL2 is a prime example of one of the most real time, dynamic, and organic games.<<
HL2 is NOT real-time. Everything that happens is scripted. HL2 is also NOT dynamic. As mentioned, everything is scripted. AI of course by definition is not scripted but the AI in HL2 is not dynamic as it can not adapt to new situations ( that one is really hard so no direct hit on games not doing it right ). Now what you mean with "organic" is beyond me. That term is coined by you so please clarify what you mean with that.

And your example about the water pit is poor. Tell me a game which does NOT do this. It's not about instinct but leaving the player only one way to flee: into the water. In fact HL2 defies instinctive action because by instinct I would not have run into any trap since I smelled them beforehand but since the game is totally linear ( not dynamic ) I have been forced to trigger the trap. That's bad game design and not playing with instinct.

+1 vote     reply to comment
MrTambourineMan
MrTambourineMan May 31 2009, 4:17pm replied:

Yeah, Valve should make a Smellblaster(TM) just for you, so you'd be able to smell gasoline in HL2 and avoid traps! 8)

+1 vote     reply to comment
M@ty
M@ty May 30 2009, 10:12am replied:

There are several elements that makes game fun to play, "freedom" is one but its far the the be-all and end-all. Immersion, interactivity are all key aswell and HL2 does this amazingly. If you actually looked at the article it is not about "forcing" you.

Some of the greatest and best-selling games ever are linear.

Grief. Read a book on games design or something. Fool.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 31 2009, 7:21am replied: Online

Point denied. The best games did evolve away from the linear principle. So don't go tell me about game design. And no, HL2 did NOT good on "Immersion, interactivity" as you claim. HL2 does not have interactivity at all and the GravGun doesn't count as interactivity ( as it's just a tossing around tech demo tool ). Also immersion is something you look in vain for in HL2. Immersion and linearity usually does not play along nicely since linearity makes the player hit walls all the time disrupting immersion.

So much for game design teaching M@ty. Do your math first please before attacking me the next time.

-2 votes     reply to comment
Relto
Relto May 28 2009, 2:20pm says:

Valve is not the end-all for game design. People seem to not pay attention when they talk about how much they dumb down games for the lowest common denominator to play them. There's a reason Half-Life holds your hand completely from start to finish.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Sketch23
Sketch23 May 28 2009, 2:51pm says:

hl2 does hold your hand, but it doesn't drag you by it! this is what these blogs are saying. it gently moves you through the game and lets the player experience the best possible view of the game.

i can think of alot of games that lead the player about badly... Fear is one of them. everything thats scary in that game simply is a shock factor. most of it happens right in front of the player. and seems to be activated by trip-triggers in the hallways. hl2 has a lot of subtlety that the average player will often notice on a first play through. there have been countless fps games i have played where i am dragged around by blinking arrows and glowing objects that scream at me "go here", "pick this up dumbie" or even, the one i hate the most; "oi you; yea you the player! see this-----> :D <-------this is the object your looking for you thick amoeba. and its gonna be under a big flashing arrow and you will have another big flashing arrow guiding you there so you don't get lost or have fun OKAY! and don't worry if you are gonna try and go elsewhere because we will tell you your not going the right way!"
so really compared to a lot of games hl2 does pretty well on player freedom for an fps.

+4 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 28 2009, 8:30pm says: Online

Incorrect, see above. If a player can not deviate from a given path and has to trigger all traps it's a linear game. HL2 is fully linear, there is no room for deviation.

-1 votes     reply to comment
freeze_L
freeze_L May 30 2009, 1:47pm replied:

u don't seem to get it linear is fine, it is not supposed to be dynamic, it is meant to convey a story and doing it though a linear story arc and path is the most logical way to convey a story where you are the main character! Its not meant to be a RPG but a story based single player game, HL2 does a great job giving the player freedom to make decisions in a linear enviorment. If you need an example of this look at ravenholm, the frist time i played through this i had no ammo and had to use traps + the grav gun. i played through hl2 again and i had full ammo never touched the traps and had a different experience, same path different choices in tactics. HL2 Is organic in the sense that there is no Blinking Arrows or signs or breaks from the supresion of reality that it offers.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 31 2009, 7:23am replied: Online

You had no different path. You walked along the exact same path. The only thing that changed is that you had to use the traps which have been placed there by the devers. It's linear because of this. They want you to use the traps so they place them there. That's the core design of linearity. So saying the level is not linear there is blatantly a lie.

-2 votes     reply to comment
freeze_L
freeze_L May 31 2009, 3:33pm replied:

Read the dam comment next time i did not say that it was not linear but that it had many different ways to aporach it. and it felt Natural, LINEAR IS GOOD FOR A STORY LINE!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord Jun 4 2009, 4:18pm replied: Online

You said only one thing right: "Read the dam comment next time". In HL2 you can "NOT" approach things the way you want. You have to follow the way laid out by the developer. This is the definition of linear. No matter how much you try to deny this ( and fanboys try to downvote ) it's the hard truth: period.

0 votes     reply to comment
card176
card176 May 29 2009, 3:30pm says:

can you all just STFU because you are just flaming each other and that is not what people want to see all the time. HL2 is linear i guess but it is a great game no matter what. Instinct is a important part as well because when you hear something and if you hear it more clearly in a certain direction, chances are the NPC the sound comes from is there like a hunter, soldier, etc. so please just stop flaming each other. Flaming never helps and i am not saying anything mean but linear or not games are great. and also not ALL VALVe games are linear! be specific like SP games or MP games so people understand better.

0 votes     reply to comment
Jyffeh
Jyffeh May 29 2009, 10:13pm says:
Quote:Bash Half-Life and get -50 hurr.

PROTIP: Linearity isn't necessarily a bad thing, and HL2 is anything but free reign. It's a purely factual argument. HL2 wasn't the best game to use as an example.

+4 votes     reply to comment
Wraiyth
Wraiyth May 30 2009, 4:24am says:

I think everyone is missing the point in that HL2 is a prime example because it GUIDES the players eye to something rather than FORCING it. Most games grab you and say 'here, lose control and watch this cutscene so you know whats going to happen!' whereas HL2 uses these kinds of prompts - crows, sounds, NPC lines (theres an instance where Alyx points up and says 'watch out!' and human instinct tells you that something is probably happening.
Its not the freedom of GAMEPLAY and STORY - someone mentioned Fallout 3 and STALKER - this is discussing the methods of drawing the players attention to a specific event in the world. HL2s events will still play out whether or not you pay attention to them. Yes, its linear and 'on rails', but so are plenty of other great games. Movies are linear as well, I don't see movie viewers complaining about not having freedom in choosing what happens in their movie.
The problem is less about linearity and more the fact that designers STILL have no idea how to actually present a proper story and all the events in the game. Movies encompass many things, and games only explore a fraction of them. Theres plenty of non-linear, open-ended games that have problems, but this article isnt about that.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 30 2009, 6:03am says: Online

Ever wondered what the difference is between games and other medias like movies? It's "interactivity". Linear games have no interactivity so that's why you can compare them with movies, and that's wrong. If we strip games of interactivity we can right away go watch a movie which costs less and you can much chips and drink a bear while doing so.

Now what goes for the example with Alyx don't make me laugh please. Any game since the dawn of time does this. Why is HL2 suddenly a "prime example" of something which is nearly older than games themselves? Why is old and tried stuff re-hashed in HL2 suddenly an "innovation" of HL2?

-3 votes     reply to comment
Cmdr.Giggles
Cmdr.Giggles May 30 2009, 8:18am replied:

But, HL2 isn't non "interactive". You still interact with the environment, NPCs, etc. It just guides you to these encounters. And the puzzles in the game are, I think, much more subtle and interactive then many other FPSs.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 31 2009, 7:26am replied: Online

Getting smacked in the face with an "obvious" sledgehammer is anything else but "subtle" nor "more interactive then many other FPSs". Interactivity is not simply frobbing some objects. This we know since the dawn of time. If this would be the case we could go and bury the entire game development right away. Interactivity requires "choice" since otherwise it's not interactivity but simply triggering, and HL2 is all about triggering not interactivity.

0 votes     reply to comment
M@ty
M@ty May 30 2009, 10:25am says:

It sells, it gets huge reviews, so something works, womething is fun.

Immersion is key and this doesn't have to come in the form if interactivity. You also forget the physics of Half-Life 2 play an intrinsic part of the gameplay, when it came out, that level of interaction was almost unheard of.

These designers are far more qualified in what they say that yourself, and even me.

I'm fed up of inexperienced designers climaing they know better than the professionals =.=.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord May 31 2009, 7:27am replied: Online

Great how "professionals" claim this has not been done before if it HAS been done before. Now who is the unexperienced one?

0 votes     reply to comment
MrTambourineMan
MrTambourineMan May 31 2009, 4:24pm replied:

The level of polish HL2 has as far as physics in FPS go is still unmatched 5 years later.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord Jun 4 2009, 4:20pm replied: Online

Level of polish? Objects getting randomly stuck in world geometry and other objects is "polished" and "unmatched 5 years later"? That's really hard to belief.

0 votes     reply to comment
Lucífer
Lucífer May 31 2009, 9:58pm replied:

Probably a misconception at most.

+1 vote     reply to comment
crimtion
crimtion Jun 1 2009, 3:52pm says:

fps's on the wii are playable but bland due to their low damage and inefficency

+1 vote     reply to comment
hideinlight
hideinlight Jun 2 2009, 7:48am says:

I enjoyed Halflife2, was fully immersed and couldn't put the game down. It was awsome.

That's all that matters, I enjoyed the game and it was memorable. Back then I didn't care about game design etc. It was just fun.

The main problem is games are like magic, once you know how the trick is done it'll never be the same.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Wooly
Wooly Jun 13 2009, 1:13pm says:

Dragonlord, you need to STFU.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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