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Control scheme for a monkey-ball style game

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I've decided on a manageable fun little project to work on after my 3D Airhockey clone to get my portfolio going. I'm going to do a Super Monkey Ball style arena battle game. Players will roll around as spherical robot called an Orb that can bump into other robots, collect powerups, health, and jump around a 3D arena. The objective of the game will be to damage the opponent until they are destroyed, or knock them out of the arena so they fall to their doom! Now I'm wondering how the game should be controlled. On a console, it would be obvious to use a dpad style control as it is quite intuitive and provides a good level of fine directional control. On a PC however, the arrow keys (or asdw keys) on the keyboard alone do not quite fulfill this role as effectively as a dpad, so I would like to look at some alternative control schemes and which of them should be used. Firstly, allowing the player to use the arrow keys to move left, right, up and down, relative to a fixed view on the arena would be intuitive, but would lack in allowing the player fine directional control of their Orb. This would also make it rather easy to cross some narrow bridges as movement control is precise. An alternative would be to keep the same view relative arrow controls, but have the mouse control the view rotation, to allow slightly more directional control. This is not quite as intutitive as a some novice players may have difficulty grasping the concept of rotating the camera and moving at the same time. Another alternative would be to use a mouse click to specify the target movement location. This would be very intuitive indeed, but the effects of momentum would need to be considered... should the Orb automatically control it's momentum to stop at the target point? Would this make the game too easy? We could allow a mouse click to specify the direction of movement, with acceleration being applied for the duration of the click. This would keep an element of slight lack of control, but may be slightly less intuitive. We could have a fixed view with controls where the arrow keys move the player relative to the players rotation, in a manner similar to the old Micro machines games. This is less intuitive as control is not view relative, but affords a high degree of control. We could have a scheme where mouse movement determines Orb movement relative to the view. I tend to dislike this control scheme though as the mouse is quite intuitive to use in this manner, but is not really designed for sustained rolling in a single direction as is often needed in these kind of games. Finally, we could have a 3rd person control scheme with movement controls like a FPS, where the arrow keys move relative to the view, which is always fixed behind the player, and the mouse movement controls player rotation. So these are my ideas for control schemes... which one do you like best and why? Do you have any alternative suggestions? Which do you think would be best for a novice/expert player? Would it be wise to try and incorporate several of these control schemes into the same game and give players a choice of control scheme, or would the choices make the game unfairly easy for players using a particular control scheme over another? Any thoughts are greatly welcomed! Cheers, Steve

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I think the best way to emulate Monkey Ball on the PC would be to map all movement to the mouse. Not by clicking, but by moving the mouse itself. This would afford you the fluidity you'd need to really get Monkey Ball style movement. If you're worried about being able to move in a single direction, you could have it so left click accelerates and right click brakes, while the mouse itself is just used for turning. I know you're not crazy about this kind of control for the game, but for something like Monkey Ball, which actually involves tilting the world and not the ball itself (except in multiplayer), I believe it would be the most appropriate control scheme. Just make sure the controls are tight enough that you don't accidently roll off the world all the time.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I to was about to say go with the mouse idea and use the arrow keys for views.
Seems logical. I havent played Monkey Ball before but I have seen some screen shots and some previews. But mouse for movement and arrows for views.


BullDog

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To be honest, I don't think I could accurately say which control method is the best in theory. It would depend on what sort of level design you want.

Arrow keys could be used in a number of different ways; such as providing a fixed amount of tilt if you hold the key down, or slowly tilting the board and holding it in that position(for fine control), or slowly tilting the board and then moving back to the neutral position when the key is released.

The mouse would allow you to emulate the same functionality as a analog joystick, but would not be as intuitive in its action.

My recommendation is, once you start this project, throw together a test level and then experiment with control schemes to see what works the best. Spend a lot of time at the very beginning finding the perfect control system.

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That's an interesting idea, I'm guessing that with the mouse scheme people are suggesting, you effectively have the mouse act like a d-pad centred on the player character. Moove the mouse to the right a little bit (and stop) and the ball will roll slowly to the right. Move it further from centre and you will move faster. I somewhat like this idea, but I think it does have the slight problem that unlike a dpad, the mouse will not snap back to centre upon release (bringing the ball to rest by default). This means that it could be difficult to bring the ball to rest.

Perhaps a button/mouse combination could have the same effect, when the button is pressed, the mouse acts like a dpad, when the button is released, the virtual dpad snaps back to centre. This unfortunately means though, that we have to continually hold a button whilst rollling around which could be quite tiresome!

The only thing I can think of is to create an obvious deadzone for the control and perhaps aid the player with a graphical view of their control. I played a game recently (Ballance) which during the tutorial showed the strength and direction of your movement with a translucent arrow..

I've also just got a Gamecube for my Birthday and picked up Super Monkeyball so I can try it for myself as I'd only previously played it for an hour or so at a friends! (Monkey Battle party game is very similar to what I want to create!)

I think I will try the test level idea though... though it may take some time to knock something up that works, but I think it really will be the best way to test. I still think there may be some hope for one of my other methods of control too. I wonder if there is any half decent 3D prototyping tool I can use until I have coded the physics and modelled myself a map for use in my own game engine... I looked into Virtools, but can't seem to locate a free version of it. Does anyone know of anything else?

Cheers,

Steve

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