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.
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