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Wavinator

Best Way to Organize Interactive Options

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If, by default, there are MANY different ways to interact with objects in a game world, what's the best way to organize these options? I haven't played many of the newer games of late so I'm a bit out of touch with the current vogue. For the abstract RPG I'm working on I've been trying to figure out how I could present lots of ways to interact with the game world's elements yet keep up to date with current trends. The base objects I have fall into a few classes: Structure, Item, Vehicle, Creature, Person, etc. At one level I see there being a mapping of "verbs" (attack, lift, take, hide) to objects based on class. But then I also see verbs changing by context, say maybe such as that created by mission requirements or status effects (unable to use the base "attack" on an ally, for instance; or can't "take" an animal/person that isn't SUBDUED status). Things get more complex when you add in inventory. Because each area of interactivity is basically going to be a screen, descriptions and discrete sub-regions in the area your characters can move I was thinking of adopting an adventure game paradigm where you use objects on other objects. For example, let's say you want to burn down an opera house. I could present "Burn Down" as an option, maybe in a pie menu, or I could make you create fire then "use fire on." I'd like there to be literally dozens and dozens of quirky inventory items, but in terms of clarity I'm not sure whether it's better to embed the mechanics for interacting with objects in inventory items or the targets themselves. In the former, you won't even know if you can do something until you have the inventory item (e.g., tank of gasoline = fuel vehicle or burn vehicle). But in the latter you'll get big, bushy pie menus or racks of buttons, most of which would likely be greyed out(no fuel = set vehicle on fire) because you don't have the required equipment. Thoughts?

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Original post by Wavinator
I'd like there to be literally dozens and dozens of quirky inventory items, but in terms of clarity I'm not sure whether it's better to embed the mechanics for interacting with objects in inventory items or the targets themselves. In the former, you won't even know if you can do something until you have the inventory item (e.g., tank of gasoline = fuel vehicle or burn vehicle). But in the latter you'll get big, bushy pie menus or racks of buttons, most of which would likely be greyed out(no fuel = set vehicle on fire) because you don't have the required equipment.
I would much rather spend my time in the game world going "ooh, gasoline. I wonder what this will let me do?", than "hmm, 'burn building' is grayed out. I need to go on a treasure hunt for flammable items..."

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Original post by swiftcoderI would much rather spend my time in the game world going "ooh, gasoline. I wonder what this will let me do?", than "hmm, 'burn building' is grayed out. I need to go on a treasure hunt for flammable items..."


That's a good point. But I forgot to ask about this variation: What do you do about those actions which don't require an inventory object, but which are innate to the player? For instance, hitting something with your fists, an action which has greater applicability the tougher you are (a cyborg hitting a car or picking it up to throw).

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For a project I started, I had the idea of offering a menu on the target that figured out what were valid actions. So a player could click on a monster and the "attack" menu item would appear. If the player had food, the "feed food" item would be listed, but if they didn't it wouldn't appear. If the player wanted to try something "outside the box," there would always be a "use item" option, so the player could try "using the alarm clock on the door."

(Game trivia: What game contains that quote?)

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Depending on the puzzles you are going for, it could be as simple as the myst/obsidian/etc. type games. Where you just have the option to interact (mouse changing to a hand). The Puzzles stop being about what you can do with what and where (your character knows what will work), and more about if you have everything needed to solve the puzzle.

But, I've always been a fan of the old Lucas Arts franchises like Indiana Jones. And the simple push/pull/pickup/give/look/use/open/close list. Though you can always adjust this to your needs. Push,Pull,Open,Close could be reduced to "interact", while expanding "use" into use-with, combine-with, use-on. Thus making the interaction of a lighter and lighter fuel slightly more interesting, since you now have the option to fuel the lighter(combine), ignite something of interest(use with), or just light the fuel itself on fire(use on). Thus making the object-object interactions more complicated as needed. But overall this system makes for a really simple way of interacting with the world in a way that doesn't solve the puzzles for you, but gives you all the tools you need to solve them yourself.

Oblivion's alchemy system was kinda neat. Where in you combine random items and it would display what you have a chance of creating when you hit the combine button. So you'd have windows where you'd drop items, people, vehicles, creatures of interest, and it would give you the stats on the item to create if one is posible. So gun + vehicle body + person would yield an armed car with some set of stats based on the gun and body and your combine skills. This doesn't solve the interaction with the world, but makes for a really nice way of showing what you can do with the items in your inventory.

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Well, the poster boy for having a huge number of items with all sorts of quirky behavior and interactions has got to be Nethack. It definitely goes the way of "embedding in the items" as you put it, and to be honest I couldn't imagine it doing things the other way; it'd be horrible.

In general, I'd say all you really need to start with is a context sensitive "use with/on" command (USE gasoline ON vehicle = fueled vehicle; USE gasoline WITH lighter ON vehicle = burnt vehicle). Sorta adventure game style. For a mouse interface, I could imagine something like: right click to USE, right click for WITH, left click to target ON.

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