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Highlight on mouseover objects

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Hey all, As part of my thoughts on game design, I've been thinking about the mechanic often used in adventure games where useable objects look like just another part of the environment until the user moves the mouse over them, at which point they become highlighted indicating the item can be used or collected for some purpose. I'm currently thinking about the idea of creating a 3d platformer as a personal project and wondered if this game mechanic might make for a novel ingredient in such a game. I like the idea because it means the player has to really take in the environment carefully to ensure they don't miss anything allowing you to plant lots of secrets/red herrings/etc. I'm having trouble in deciding how exactly something like this could be integrated into the gameplay in a fun manner. I could just copy what the adventure games do and allow you to use and/or combine objects, but I feel like this might have potential for something better. Does anyone have any ideas? I'll keep thinking on it myself and post any ideas I can think of too. Cheers! Steve

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Actually, this is something I hate. Hiding useful objects in a wealth of other objects that can't be picked up or even looked at. If I wanted to play 'Where's Wally / Waldo?' I'd go and get one of those infuriating books. I also dislike going through a game and picking up every single item in the hope that some obscure combination of them is the answer to a puzzle. You don't want all of your items to be 'secret buttons' that only patiently trawling with the mouse will reveal.

In my opinion, unless the game explicitly calls for it, useful items should be in intuitive places - a broom should be in a broom cupboard, you might expect to find a hammer in a tool shed. Items should be logical in their application - 'the floor's covered in dust' = 'get a broom' and there should be sufficient information presented (via an examine option on the floor for example) to set the train of thought going.

That said, I do dislike glaring HUD boxes around items. The player should instinctively know where to look for something (looking for pr0n magazines? Try under the mattress) or be queued as to where to look elsewhere. Secret buttons (as in the Eye of the Beholder games) are an exception - these *should* be hard to find.

Just my 2p.

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I don't have any problem with it as long as everything that MIGHT be useful can be used in the way in which it seems useful. If there are flashlights and boots laying on a table, I expect to be able to pick up both the boots and the flashlight or neither at all. If only one is get-able because it's used somewhere, then no thanks, I'll pass.

Quote:
Original post by _winterdyne_
That said, I do dislike glaring HUD boxes around items. The player should instinctively know where to look for something (looking for pr0n magazines? Try under the mattress) or be queued as to where to look elsewhere.

How do you feel about it with distant 3rd-person perspectives where items may be small? Not unlike Fallout.

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Fallout had few places that were irritating, and generally placed small hard-to-see items in lockers and chests that were more easily visible.

I don't remember it ever placing HUD boxes over pickups (UFO: Aftermath does though). I agree with you regarding the placing (boots & flashlight).

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Quote:
Original post by _winterdyne_
Fallout had few places that were irritating, and generally placed small hard-to-see items in lockers and chests that were more easily visible.

I don't remember it ever placing HUD boxes over pickups (UFO: Aftermath does though). I agree with you regarding the placing (boots & flashlight).

Fallout used an outline. It used it extensively, though. On creatures that were behind walls and on items as you hover them. So I think it was pretty much a visibility issue, and not so much a "yes, you can do something with this" issue.

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I'm divided on this issue. On the one hand, I often share winterdyne's frustration when a game stops being an adventure game and instead becomes a game of "sweep the mouse cursor back and forth across the screen until it lights up". On the other hand, when a game just highlights everything important with a glow or lets you press Tab or something similar to light up all interactive objects with a glow, then you quickly start to ignore your environment and just look for the glows. It becomes too obvious and ruins immersion.

Take the example of a group of fifty barrels, one of which has an important item in it; the rest of which are basically just background. There are three ways this is typically handled: A) if you sweep the mouse back and forth over all the barrels, the important one will light up. B) you can press a key to make the important one light up, or it's automatically lit up. C) every single barrel lights up or is interactive, but 49 of them say "It's just a barrel" when you click on it, while the 50th has the important item.

C is the most realistic, but also the most annoying. B is the least realistic, but gets you the item the fastest, but results in a game where searching for things isn't part of the gameplay; everything you need is generally put right under your nose and you're just going through the motions. A is a happy medium between the two, but it's still pretty annoying to constantly have to sweep your mouse cursor around the screen all the time.

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Quote:
Original post by makeshiftwings
C is the most realistic, but also the most annoying.

I don't really think that's a very fair comparison compared to most practical gameplay situations. I think C is only annoying because the situation itself is extremely annoying. I'm being totally serious when I say do not put 50 barrels in your game with only 1 having something inside. I think the point of C would be to allow the use of player logic, where A is just mouse fishing, and B is fishing with grenades. Personally, I wouldn't want anything to do with either A or B. If C is done well, and by well I mean practical, it won't be annoying.

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Quote:
Original post by makeshiftwings
Take the example of a group of fifty barrels, one of which has an important item in it; the rest of which are basically just background. There are three ways this is typically handled: A) if you sweep the mouse back and forth over all the barrels, the important one will light up. B) you can press a key to make the important one light up, or it's automatically lit up. C) every single barrel lights up or is interactive, but 49 of them say "It's just a barrel" when you click on it, while the 50th has the important item.

D.) Just use one barrel.

Why are there fifty barrels, if 49 of them are pointless? And why does artificially treating 49 as though they don't exist (by only making the 50th one "light up") seem to be a reasonable design approach? The problem here, in my opinion, is not with the idea of making every object active, nor is it with the highlight on mouseover approach; the problem is with careless design.

Put one barrel in the scene. Or, put 50 barrels but treat them like one barrel, so that the action for the group of barrels need only be triggered once - "search barrels" - giving you the efficiency of B but the realism of C.

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Kest and Olusei, you are correct; my example was a little over the top. I agree, tailoring the environment to the gameplay is a better idea than forcing gameplay into an environment that doesn't handle it well. In some ways though, this sort of thing is going to come up no matter how hard you try. Sure, 50 barrels in one room is outrageous. But what if there are cupboards, chests, barrels, etc., throughout an entire town? The town would look suspicious if it was completely devoid of containers except in the one house where it mattered, but if there are containers everywhere, you need to somehow point out that the special one is special. It's fairly common in a game to want to have something in a container for the player to find, but you may not have time to actually make every container in the world functional and full of random useless items (though Morrowind and Oblivion did just that). Sometimes people like having "secret items" in the game that require you to pay close attention to your environment. Option D is similar to B in that it basically puts the object under your nose so it's hard to miss, just without the glow.

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Well, you raise the larger question of Why do we think sending the player on a scavenger hunt for items that are illogically scattered all over makes for compelling gameplay?

Sticking with your example of a town with cupboards and other storage galore, What am I looking for? Where can I go to get it, either by purchasing it or borrowing it from an NPC I know or have a relationship with (including a note of introduction, etc)? Most games with puzzles of this sort have you rummaging through everyone's house, which is most irrational behavior. If the objective is to be funny ha-ha a la Monkey Island, then, by all means. If, on the other hand, the game has moments of humor but does not exist in that zany lateral thinking dimension, then should the number of important containers dwindle significantly to a manageable number such that they can then all be imbued with relevant gameplay?

I think this is the real core problem. In a game like Full Throttle, for instance, the things you needed to solve puzzles were relatively logical and the places where you would find them made sense. The gameplay, then, was in the process of obtaining them, either in solving other puzzles to extricate the object (like using the meat to lure the cyborg guard dog into the scrap hovercar, then using the magnetized crane to lift the hovercar into the air so that you can get past the point the dog was guarding) or navigating conversation trees to convince NPCs to assist you.

There's nothing wrong with highlighting on mouse over. Just use it to confirm what the player should intuitively try based on visual, aural and story information - not as a success condition for a screen-wide hit test.

In my opinion, of course. [smile]

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