The imminent Resident Evil 4 remake, like the original classic, contains a whole lot of destructible crates. But now the boxes are a little different. As the game’s latest demo suggests, the developers have now marked these boxes with a painted yellow “X” to indicate that you should smash them to pieces for the possible goodies they may contain. This angered a well-meaning fan. “This must end,” they tweeted.
It has happened to all of us before. You walk down a fairly linear corridor. Suddenly out of nowhere you see a huge sign pointing you in the direction you went in the first place. Or maybe a spotlight is literally shining on an exit. You’ll probably have one of two reactions: 1) “Wow, that was so helpful!” or 2) “Does the developer think I’m an idiot or something?” The Twitter OP’s reaction was the latter, but there were plenty of developers who believed there was a case for the former.
“Elder Ring literally opens with an NPC telling you where to go, and that wasn’t enough,” wrote an indie game designer, referring to a popular debate last year about whether FromSoft was required to make its tutorial input more obvious. “So many people skipped the tutorial and complained that there was no tutorial.” Some developers had personal stories of playtesters who were so damn bad that the designers had to sign off heavily. Chet Faliszek, a writer who worked on series such as Half life, Portaland Left 4 deadquoted the original tweet with the comment“No one has ever participated in an observed playtest…” He went on to say, “It’s fun to watch the evolution of L4D mod cards on the path. Eventually they break down and just put up a sign, a safe room and an arrow.”
There are players who feel that a slightly different wood structure is enough to communicate destruction, especially those who played the original Resident Evil 4. But it’s possible that not marking these destructibles in a more obvious way made it more difficult for previous generations of RE players to get into the full experience. “It’s either this or the ‘glow,’ and I promise you, when we game developers see the playtests, people skip the eco-realistic props,” tweeted Dai D., a level designer for Watch Dogs: Legion. Unless you want a button prompt to “look at loot” every time you enter a room, learn to live with the yellow marks!
While designing levels for Legion, Dai quickly learned why giving players leeway and no direction was a mistake. In the mission “Digging up the past,” players were given the opportunity to freely explore with a drone before heading towards their objective. Unfortunately, players kept forgetting the actual quest. “We found that with the newfound camera angle on (the drone), players were too fascinated by where they were, what they were initially doing, and what their character looked like looking through the glass.” Dai described a frustrating process that sounded a lot like trying to guide a small infant.
“We ended up having an audio cue and a visual cue to keep the players on track. We reminded them that there was an opening (they had) to climb, and of course we highlighted the opening (and subsequent openings) in red outline,” they said. my city over DMs. “We even had a digital line pointing to the vent to keep players focused. We found that players rarely want to look up or even use the full features (even given the “view controls” prompt at the bottom right of the screen) of whatever they handle.”
The solution: Putting the mission objective in the players’ faces. Legion features an AI navigator that guides players via audio. The designers used it to constantly nag players to go to the valve and remind them of the drone’s jump function. Ubisoft gets flak for its maximalist interface designto the point where it has become a gaming meme. You can technically disable any UI that annoys you, but it’s not something new players might remember after playing for a few hours. And you never know when you might actually need the game to point you in the right direction.
Bill Gardner faced another problem while he was the lead designer on BioShock, 2K’s groundbreaking first-person shooter with stealth and immersive sim elements. Playtesters approached the game and thought it was similar Half lifeand then they went in guns blazing.
“When you put yourself out there and do something different, you have to go to great lengths to make sure what you’re doing is 100 percent clear,” Gardner shared my city over Twitter DMs. He described a particularly frustrating incident where a play tester failed to understand that a machine was actually a resurrection device. “In that test, we had a user walk up to the Vita-Chamber and stare at it for about two minutes. Fortunately, they went ahead … and then picked up the wrench. Progress! Unfortunately, they then did a 180, went back to the same Vita chamber and proceeded to smash it with the wrench for probably another four minutes.” Personally, I’m surprised they didn’t give up on smashing the chamber after 10 seconds. But in these playtests, genre logic seemed to overtake players’ reasoning abilities. Gardner believes that designing in ways that cater to preconceived genre expectations is one of the major challenges when innovating with gameplay.
“Shooters were mostly about running down a hall and blowing up the first thing that appeared,” he wrote. “There were exceptions, of course. But most of the masses were not used to having a weapon and not smashing everything that moved and (things) that didn’t move.” There were other non-combat sequences where the developers tried to dissuade players from attacking, such as Big Daddy’s introduction sequence. They tried to use subtle audio cues. Players started attacking anyway.”
Storytelling is also not immune to being designed around the lowest common denominator. Gardner told my city that when you work on their horror game Perception which has a blind protagonistthe team faced a major problem with players who could not understand the concept of the game. They received positive feedback from playtests three to four months before launch, but a playtester question raised doubts among the developers: “I really like how you told the story and the atmosphere, there was just one thing I didn’t quite understand. . . was she blind?”
That question prompted the “mortified” designers to make a major change. They asked the lead actress to record the brand new line, “When you’re blind, you learn a thing or two about trust.” While the dialogue sounds a bit over the top when taken out of context, it was meant to address an actual negative experience a player had with the game.
The person whose tweet started this discourse and whose Twitter account focuses on first-person shooters and their aesthetics, started a poll about paint signage, and it seems most players agree with the developers. People would rather have overly clear guides than miss something important. But even people who hate this less subtle interface design have reason to rejoice. Elder Ringwhich certainly doesn’t do much signage for the player, sold exceptionally well last year, and plenty of players have shown that they can enjoy a game without being told exactly what to do. other than that Horizon Forbidden West has a switchable climbing guide, and as accessibility and customization options improve, we might start to see these kinds of environmental tracks more often become an option that players can turn on or off as they see fit. Already in 2023, it is not difficult to find something that suits your personal taste.