A Colder Light - UI system feedback

Hey all,

My new game, A Colder Light, has been out for a couple of weeks now – I was wondering if anyone had any feedback on the UI system it uses?

For those who haven’t tried it; the game is a culmination of some experiments Erik Temple and I have been working on, to use an “object-focus -> pick verb” model for interaction. But the game isn’t an experiment, it’s a proper [short] bit of IF. There’s a link to it from my blog:

http://threeedgedsword.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/new-game-a-colder-light/

I think it manages to create a typing-like experience without the bother of typing, but I’m curious to see how other people found it. Too restrictive? Farming for options? Too easy?

If reaction is favourable, I could wrap up what I did to make it work and release it as an extension. It’s pretty much plug-and-play (although it does look a bit ugly under Zoom and WinGit and such; you really need the CSS styling of Quixe to render it nicely.)

cheers!
jon

I like the interface a lot. I think it provides enough flexibility for game-play, and it feels very natural. Nice work!

I’m wondering what happens with objects for which a useful command might be less than obvious. Let’s suppose there’s a secret door, for instance, that can be opened by turning or pressing an object that is not obviously turnable or pressable. I’m not sure how that type of puzzle would work with this UI. I wouldn’t call this a guess-the-verb puzzle – it’s a guess-the-action puzzle, which I think is a fair type of puzzle, as long as the action could be intuited somehow.

Just as a suggestion, if I scroll back and click on a highlighted word for an object that’s no longer in scope, it might be nice to see an “I cannot see that right now” output message.

Also, when I click on a noun for the first time, it might be nice if the interface ran the examine action automatically, rather than forcing me to click a second time on the Examine button. Again, just a suggestion.

Another thought: In my current WIP, there are several longish text passages. These may scroll the room description up off of the screen. In such a situation, your UI would likely require that the player use the scroll-bar in order to continue playing. (The game could perhaps add a “look around” button automatically in such a case.)

Thanks!

You’re right, this wouldn’t really work, and I think it’d have to be designed around. So instead I’d have a couple of objects which have to be turned appropriately to a certain combination, or somesuch. (Tilt the correct book from the bookcase, that kind of thing would work well too.)

Great suggestion. I think I’d rather if I could strip dead links from the UI completely, but this would be a good, actually-possible-to-do solution.

People keep telling me this :wink: I don’t like it myself, but you may well be right.

There should always be a look around button (and if you’re focused on an item, click the “<” button to get it back). But that’s an interesting problem I hadn’t considered. Hmm…

cheers!
jon

I think the issue may be the “<” button; the first time I played this, I started out by clicking on a bunch of items without even really looking down at my initial options. So “go inside” was hidden behind the “<” button, and I got stuck for a little while before I realized that was an option.

Perhaps make the “<” button more prominent and its function more obvious? Would labeling it “more” work?

I didn’t have Jim’s exact problem because I realized that clicking on the room name worked as “look.” These various “look” and “examine” shortcuts could lead to trouble with timed puzzles where “look” and “examine” take a turn (by costing you a turn when the object you want has scrolled off the screen), but “look” and “examine” should never take a turn in timed puzzles, so that’s not a big problem for you.

It took me a while to get used to the idea that clicking on items wasn’t going to put any text in the main window. The buttons changing can be quite subtle, perhaps especially when you’re clicking on inventory and things that are far away at the top of the screen. Maybe it would help to have those links at the bottom next to the buttons. Or, if you don’t want to show a full examine description, could you put some token acknowledgement of the click into the main stream? “I’m looking at the stars” or something like that? I’m not sure, it might get too clunky and repetitive.

More general comments: I thought you did a good job of covering the actions I wanted to do. I don’t remember being annoyed that I wanted to try something and I didn’t have the option.

One thing I do remember noticing was that it’s slower to do sequences of actions, when you know what you want to try. As in, when you think “hey, I could try putting the monkey in the dishwasher”, and type N, E, GET MONKEY, W, S, OPEN DISHWASHER, PUT MONKEY IN DISHWASHER. To do this by clicking is slower, and involves paying more attention to the screen to spot where the right links are. So it pulls you out of the flow a little where typing doesn’t.

A related problem would be ‘look up beelzebub in grimoire’. The author doesn’t necessarily want to reveal all of the contents of a consultable information source. Ditto with conversation topics, I suppose. Some people like conversation topic lists – I don’t. But I can’t recall an example of a game where all of the contents of a consultable encyclopedia were listed as nudges for the player.

In The Spy Who Ate Lunch there is an encyclopaedia/handbook that lists the entirety of its consultable topics in a contents page. The sheer length of the list and the many-stepped nature of consulting topics in the book acts as a disincentive to looking up everything in turn.

In general, I like it too. I haven’t finished – I’m stuck trying to figure out

how to attach the blades to my moccasins

– but I think I’ve played enough to get the concept. It’s very pretty, plays at a nice speed in browser, and communicates affordances well, all good stuff. At least to me, it still feels like IF, in the sense of having a rich explorable setting and complex world model with lots to do. Some hyperlinked text games have pared things back enough that they engage me in a more readerly, less YOU ARE THERE way. Both are okay, but I’m especially keen to be able to present an IF-like experience in a more accessible way. So hooray for that.

Also, this isn’t what you asked about, but I’m enjoying discovering by exploration the rather surprising magic/religion of this world.

Possible mild drawbacks:

I found myself looking from the top to the bottom of the screen and back a lot. I wonder whether the top of the screen is the best place for inventory. This kind of split attention problem has been an issue with pretty much every deluxe IF interface I’ve ever seen/worked on, so it’s hardly unique to yours.

I think my ideal solution to the not-in-scope problem is to turn off the hyperlinks for items that are no longer in scope, so if you scrolled back to an earlier room, you would find that the objects there were simply not blue any more and were not actively clickable. I’m not sure how viable that is once material has already been printed to screen – it seems like something that e.g. Vorple would be able to handle neatly via javascript, but might not be doable with your tools.

I also did get a little frustrated with the two-click method of manipulating objects when

I was trying out various rune combinations and had to keep clicking to select a rune, lay it down, see whether anything happened, select that rune again, pick it up, select another rune, lay it down…

…as that was something that I felt I could have done much more quickly by typing. I wonder whether it would be worthwhile to have the option of a custom mechanic when dealing with game elements that are going to involve repetitive uses of similar objects. For instance, one might have a hand of cards and a display that allowed you to click them each once to play…? It was much less polished overall in terms of graphical design, but I recall that Stark Springs’ “Words of Power” had a similar interface feature to allow the player to assemble spellcasting components.

Without the “bother” of typing? Then why not drop the text entirely and introduce a 3D environment and videos? That way you get rid of the bother of reading. Of course it won’t be a text adventure anymore, but at this point, who cares.

I suspect I’m not the only IF author who would love to go exactly this route, or at least to try it out … if only I could produce 3D video games (a) with a budget of $0, (b) without a dev team, © within a time-frame of 3 months, and (d) without learning any new highly technical skills.

The reason to minimize “the bother of typing” is to make the IF experience more approachable to people who didn’t start out on machines that ran MSDOS or (in my case) CPM. That said, evvabody texts these days, so maybe typing is perceived less as a bother than it would have been ten years ago.

There are a few games that handle books to be consulted using menus (can’t think of titles off the top of my head, unfortunately), so there are at least a few that lay all of the options out for inspection. But things like “look up beelzebub in grimoire” are more often gated by in-game knowledge; e.g., you wouldn’t think to look up Beelzebub unless you’ve already encountered Beelzebub or some effluviate of his. So one way to handle this problem is to have the topics show up in the encyclopedia list only after the player has triggered the proper cue elsewhere in the game. The player still has to think to check the grimoire again after encountering Beelzebub, so nothing is given away for free. (And if the player is just casting about for something, anything to do, and stumbles on the Beelzebub entry, so much the better–we’ve just supplied a hint w/o any extra effort.)

Folks said similar things about my initial iteration of this interface. I didn’t see it then, but I also felt like I wasn’t experiencing the interface as a player, and that I needed to reserve judgment (being still too close to the design of the thing to see it accurately). After experiencing Jon’s version–purely as a player–I’ve decided that the divided attention issue probably isn’t worth worrying about. I didn’t have any difficulty or even minor annoyance looking to different parts of the screen for different kinds of information.In fact, I thought it was rather neat that I had to look up to see the constellations.I suspect that the feeling of needing to look around is mostly experiential bleed-through from the standard single-window parser IF experience. First-person shooters, racing-games, RTS, roguelikes, etc. scatter far more information all over the screen–and then expect folks to make split-second decisions using that output. This interface provides three well-defined zones for interaction and gives you all the time in the world to make your next move.

Of course, seeing what newcomers to IF say about the interface is the right way to test this hypothesis…

Moving sidewise a bit: I’ve had a couple folks find my blog by searching for “Colder Light tutorial” or “Colder Light hints”–so it may be that the interface isn’t clear to those who don’t already know the basic expectations of parser IF? I wonder if the ChoiceScript community–much in our thoughts lately–would be interesting in having a look.

That would be nice. It could probably be hacked into vanilla Quixe with a bit of work. I addressed the problem in my implementation of Sand-Dancer by simply clearing the screen every time the player moved to a new room. That didn’t solve every possible issue, but it was pretty effective. It also made it very clear when the player moved into a new space, since the screen was cleared and the scrollback was zapped. (Some folks probably aren’t willing to lose the scrollback, but I don’t find that I tend to use scrollback for anything productive as a player anyway…)

I used UNDO to manage this, probably the same as I would have if I was playing at a command line. But I also thought it would have been neat for that mechanic to have its own, more graphical interface.

Nooooo! The preciousssss…

What I’m trying to say is, I would be sad to lose the scrollback. I use it.

Aw, and I was so heartened by the fact that no one even commented on the lack of scrollback in my demo…

Likewise.

eek. Because I really like reading, but when I type, I foten spell things wrong without noticing.

Also, because people who don’t know how to play IF don’t know how to play IF, and they don’t know what to type. So they give up, even when they might have enjoyed the game.

Also, as an author, the freedom of typing anything creates a x4 work factor. [3D and video creates a x60 work factor though.]

jon

Thanks for the all the feedback!

I gotta say, I’m anti-turning off scrollback, too; I think scrollback is a strength. I’d rather clear links, but I think that might be difficult, since the interpreter layer won’t know what’s in scope.

The inventory at the top I don’t much like, but at the side it felt too false and functional, and at the bottom it cluttered the main input. My next best solution was “have a really small inventory”. But then I went and ruined that by adding in links for other useful things up there, because having links accessible helps.

I think there are optimisations to be made to the flow of trying combinations of things. I tried to automate a chunk of tasks - picking up things you’ve dropped, for instance - but there’s probably scope for more.

Conversation / Consulting books is an issue - you could simply offer choices; you could nest topics under sub-topics to provide some “discovery”, but that might make it hard if you know what you want to say/look up. You could pop-up a keyboard. Not sure. I dodged it for now :wink:

On the speed side, Jimmy Maher, when I showed him a pre-release build, had the smart idea of not using the parser at all, since it doesn’t need to. Currently links paste in commands, but they could equally well trigger off actions. I may try that if I get a moment to see if it makes it more iPad friendly.

Sounds like, though, it still ‘feels’ like IF, which is a win.

jon

I think it’s deeper than experience from traditional IF. I think it’s reading. Your brain is very used to reading fast from a single stream of text.

(This is why despite having played games with a status line for years I still never use it. I still do a “look” rather than check the status line if I forget where I am.)

So the comparison with games that don’t have any sizable chunks of text doesn’t work, because you aren’t engaging the serious reading hardware when you play those.

That’s about to change soon! :wink:

good good good… :wink:

It’s part of the “magic” though. It’s fun trying to examine everything and interact with it in a multitude of ways. It enhances the feeling of being there, in a world that really exists. It’s probably the main reason why sandbox games are so popular. I’m not really interested in a text game that lacks that element.

It’s more work, yes. But more work means a better result.