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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.

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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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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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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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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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Original post by Oluseyi
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?


I see where you're coming from, and I think we were envisioning different games. In adventure-style games like Full Throttle or Monkey Island, it is probably easier to focus the environment so that you don't run into these situations. It especially makes sense to not put necessary items into hard to find places. But in RPG's and Zelda-esque adventure games, especially ones that strive to be nonlinear and "realistic", it's harder to avoid the ten thousand barrels problem. I'm thinking of games like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Morrowind. In games like these, most containers are empty or have useless stuff in them, but sometimes there is a nice magical dagger hidden behind a painting or a shiny diamond hidden in someone's desk. This isn't illogical in and of itself. But it leads to the player feeling like he should peek into every single box and barrel or mouse-over every pixel on the screen just to ensure that he doesn't miss something good.

In BG, for example, they patched in the ability to "light up" things that were interactive because people complained about the mouse-sweeping that was necessary. But then, you would walk around clicking the Tab key, and see that one particular painting on the wall was blinking, and know that it was actually a secret vault. I'd guess the options to avoid that are to either have every painting on the game blinkable but have most of them say "Just a painting", or to not have any secret vault paintings in the game. The idea of a secret vault painting and similar thingsis pretty D&D/RPG standard and kind of neat though; it would be hard to keep the feel if every interactive object was obvious.

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Original post by makeshiftwings
But it leads to the player feeling like he should peek into every single box and barrel or mouse-over every pixel on the screen just to ensure that he doesn't miss something good.

I think games like Morrowind could have benefited from Oluseyi's advice by having a stack of barrels and crates be 'openable' at once, requiring only one check to see all of the contents of all of the containers in a stack, of which they had many many in Morrowind bandit caves. I don't think it adds any type of gameplay to force the player to check individual boxes.

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I'd guess the options to avoid that are to either have every painting on the game blinkable but have most of them say "Just a painting", or to not have any secret vault paintings in the game.

Or to have only one painting with a vault while giving the player clues to where it is. If examining the other paintings details interesting information about the paintings, then randomly searching wouldn't be as bad. As long as there are less than 5-8 or so within the expected area.

Quote:
The idea of a secret vault painting and similar thingsis pretty D&D/RPG standard and kind of neat though; it would be hard to keep the feel if every interactive object was obvious.

I don't think they need to be obvious. But I think you should always have something cluing the player. I think it's important to make the player understand that they are not expected to search every container they find. That if something important is to be found in an unobvious place, hints will be given through gameplay and dialog.

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the scavenger hunt should be for scavenger hunt like items. A specific bottle of wine in a rack of wine, not for simple items that should be in their place such as a broom. but hunting for items should be a rare event.

as far as the barrels are concerned, you could take the route where only the one interesting barrel is slightly different from the next. Or have all barrels openable but only one of them has something useful AND there is an option to search all barrels but it takes time to search. If you know which barrel to open, and just open that one, you don't have to take the time to auto-search.


if you have any sort of skill tree, you could also have "search" as a skill, the higher the skill, the more items are found when clicking a use search skill button.


Now all these ideas may not be what you're looking for and I probably would only use some of them in certain circumstances, but it could give you a few more ideas.

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