The more complicated your game, the more you need to talk to the player and make sure they know how do everything. The more you talk to your player, however, the more you run the risk of being obtrusive on their experience. Whether this comes in the form of a character shouting in your ear to do something, or the (somehow worse) situation of a game stopping entirely for a pop-up explaining some need-to-know mechanic, it’s frustrating! Typically, games stop doing this after they finally trust the player, but am I the only one with fondly remembered games made unplayable by these early sections? We call this hand-holding, but so often, it’s a case of poor UI design being “fixed” with over-compensation. This past week, we made a couple updates to Gears of Eden specifically to avoid this situation.
The first update involves the charging stations. Since the asteroid rotates, you’ll occasionally find yourself on the “night” side and unable to charge your battery via your solar panels. This is a deliberate mechanic, but we didn’t want it to be too punishing, so we put in these power beacons that you can drive up to and slowly recharge your battery (in later versions, these will be craftable rather than pre-existing). It works great! It’s effective, but it’s not so effective that the player forgets the value of solar charging. The problem, however, was that this mechanic wasn’t super clear; there was no UI to actually indicate that these stations did anything for you. Sure, you could see your battery’s bar slowly fill, but if you just drove through without carefully looking at battery level? You’d never notice. To make the situation clearer to the player, we added a piece of UI that only becomes visible in the specific situation of using a charging station. It’s a small touch (read: unobtrusive), but we believe it’ll be very effective in teaching this mechanic to an unaware player.
Another mechanic we have is one where the player can craft rover parts to improve functionality and their general play experience. Basically, after crafting the part, you can click-and-drag it over to its proper slot on the UI. This is simple, but it’s also a problem. Baking those instructions into the UI could break the player’s immersion, so… you’re just sort of expected to know this control scheme. We could have a one-time pop-up for when your part finishes crafting, but isn’t that annoying? And what if you took a week off and forgot? It is much simpler, much safer, and far less annoying to just add an “EQUIP” button to the UI. You can still drag and drop if you want, but now this’ll always be there for the player to make easy use of.
When a player starts a game, they start it without the knowledge accumulated by a designer for years of development. As the developers of Gears of Eden, it’s our job to catch you up on everything you need to know, and it’s our goal to stay out of your hair while we’re doing it. That’s all for this week’s Dev Update, but we’ll be back next week with another! Until then, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest developments, including the release of our new Reaching Eden Podcast! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope we see you again soon!