Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Draw-style Controls

If you played the PC game Black & White, then you're familiar with the game's control system for enacting miracles. The player holds down the left mouse key and draws a symbol, with different symbols activating different avatar powers.

I was just watching the new Conan trailer, and I'm wondering why similar systems are not often used for combat-adventure games.

For example, imagine your character is just some brute with a sword.

  • Overhand Slash. Hold down the left mouse button (LMB) and quickly draw the very general figure of a half-heart, (left swing) starting at the enemy's left side, looping up and to the right, or (right swing) starting at the enemy's right side, looping up and to the left. The character will swing the sword down from his left or right shoulder.
  • Side Slash. Hold down the LMB and draw a line (left swing) from right of the enemy toward the enemy's midsection, or (right swing) from the left of the enemy toward the enemy's midsection.
  • Upward Slash. Hold down the LMB and draw a line from the side and below the enemy toward the enemy's midsection (right or left).
  • Overhead Slash. Hold down the LMB and draw a line from above the enemy toward the enemy's midsection.
  • Stab. Click the LMB on the section of enemy you wish to strike.
  • Slash Block. Hold the RMB and draw a line from the character's midsection to the quadrant or side you wish to block.
  • Stab Block. Hold the RMB and draw a line from beside the character toward the character's midsection.
  • Punch. Click the RMB on the enemy's midsection. This will punch the enemy with the hilt or dull edge of the character's sword.
  • Slam. Hold the RMB and draw a line from above the enemy toward the enemy's midsection. This will slam the pommel onto the enemy's head or body.

What I've just provided is an intuitive system by which a player can perform over 20 melee commands with only the use of a 2-button mouse.

And there are countless ways to augment this system. For example, scrolling up or down on the mousewheel could switch the player's character into magic command mode, by which all the same commands now enact magical, rather than melee, actions. And different weapons could have equally expansive but intuitive draw-command systems.

Not only does this expand and naturalize the user interface, but it provides opportunities to further immerse the character and add new, fun nuances to gameplay.

How much more fun would archery be if, rather than simply clicking a button or holding one to draw the bowstring (and only pretending you feel the tension), you performed a sweeping draw move that mimicked the real movement of an archer drawing an arrow from his quiver, nocking it and letting fly?

And what if a gamer playing a magician had to learn to keep calm during frantic battles, because the command for his fireball spell is a drawn spiral and larger spirals mean larger fireballs (at a greater cost of mana)? As an unexperienced player, he would waste precious mana because the situation was intense and he lost focus. An experienced player, like an experienced adventurer in real life, would know the value of maintaining focus. This would certainly appeal to competitive and achievement-oriented gamers, and a system that wasn't unduly harsh would appeal to more relaxed, self-paced gamers as well.

Basically, I see draw-command systems (DCS) as a wonderland of opportunity for all sorts of games, and it's a shame they're not taken advantage of more often.

I realize that accuracy of the player's draw movements (their accordance with the ideal symbol...and thereby the game's ability to recognize the player's commands) is a concern, so that's why the movements I suggested above allow for a wide range of error on the player's part. Great precision shouldn't be expected of the player.

Also, though DCS would be harder to implement on consoles, with a smaller range of possible commands and wholly different needs for accuracy, I think console games could make use of such systems as well.

1 comment:

  1. Their are a handful of Flash games released recently that have a similar control mechanism, you can look them up through Jay Is Games. The problem is that the precision required in some of these gestural interfaces is extremely demanding considering the strain that a prolonged, held click has on the inner-hand muscles. Wii have a better a approach. Mouse interfaces are really ideal for pointing.


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