Posted by: Junahu | September 27, 2011

Junahu says stuff and you listen ~ Discoverability

Press A to eat the apple. Press B to make an invisible duplicate of the apple. Huh? What do you mean it's counterintuitive?

So far in these articles, I’ve only been talking about things that are pretty obvious to begin with (Characterisation, Pacing, etc). So lets leap right off the deep end into completely foreign territory; Discoverability.

Discoverability is exactly what it sounds like; the ability for something to be discovered. This is about making the process of picking up and playing your moveset, ~fun~.

Discovering new things is fun. But you know what’s not fun? Not discovering things. It’s a tricky balancing act; you want the moveset to be playable right away, with every neccessary part being obvious and intuitive. But you also want to hide some things beneath the surface, so that the player’s joy of finding new stuff extends well beyond the first few moments of play. But how hidden can something be, while still being discoverable? If your only hope to discover something is to use every move on every other move, in the futile hopes that ONE of these fire hitboxes might do something different, then you may as well be playing a Text Adventure Game.

Many Movesetters seem to assume that if their moveset makes sense when read, that it has good Discoverability. This is usually false. Remember that most players don’t have the luxury of knowing anything about the moveset beforehand. They won’t have read Brawl’s Instruction Booklet and they won’t have the patience to bother with any tutorial you mash in their faces. Don’t get in the way of their fun, or you’ll learn to regret it.

They want to just play the damn game now, and if their first experience with playing, is with… say, Banballow or Pennywise or god forbid, Strangelove, then Well Done! You’ve just lost a player forever! It doesn’t matter if your interactions are the most bluntly deep thing in the world, if your players can’t, or don’t want to discover them, they are utterly useless.

Expectation Vs Reality

People; They die when they are killed

So lets get down to brass tacks; expectations vs realities.This is when you gauge what a new player will be thinking as they start to play your character. I.e. you weigh their expectations against the reality that is your moveset, if they hit a brick wall of a learning curve HERE, then they will outright leave and never come back.

So, going into a new character, a player will have expectations on how they’ll play. This is unavoidable, and it’s exactly the reason WHY characterisation in a moveset is so important. If Bowser started spewing status effects instead of those powerful swipes and shunts, for example, learning the moveset would feel… wierd.

Pressing Buttons

The most basic expectation a player has is that pressing buttons makes things happen. If there is EVER a situation where pressing a button results in nothing happening (or nothing appearing to happen), you typically have a problem. Moves that outright require some kind of ammo, or circumstantial situation in order to work, have very low discoverability… for the most part.

But… see, the thing about discoverability, is that there are no set rules to it. Take Olimar for example. The majority of his moveset requires Pikmin to be present, and you can only create more by using a certain move while on the ground. Pretty arbitrary stuff huh?

Brawl handles this problem very well however. First of all, you start with three Pikmin, so no matter what, the player WILL see at least a couple of moves involving Pikmin. Secondly, the Pikmin’s presence is made very clear to the player. They form a daisy chain behind Olimar as he moves (with the chain getting shorter or longer as Pikmin die or are created), each colour of Pikmin gives Olimar’s attacks different qualities, they even grow flowers on their heads if you keep them safe for long enough. No matter the player, simply looking at Olimar will tell them that Pikmin are very important to him. Thirdly, and most importantly, the move that makes more Pikmin, is likely the first move a new player will test out; Neutral-Special.

Another good exception is Nicholas’ Spiderman. This moveset uses an ammo mechanic, and moves become unusable when you run dry. But the fact that reloading is an automatic action whenever you try to use webbing, without any ammo left, is genius. The player never really knows exactly how much ammo they remaining, but they know what to expect when it runs dry. This adds tension to the moveset, but without adding any arbitrary layer of interaction to what already exists. New players can just spam away, and they’ll quickly learn how much “ammo” certain moves seem to take. But best of all, when Spiderman runs out of ammo, pressing A actually DOES something. As a mechanic, it adds depth, but without denying a new player the chance to learn what’s going on.

Visual/Sound design

This is something that no one in MYM appears to care about, and that’s an incredible shame, because it’s the biggest part in informing the player of what the heck is going on. I could, and probably should dedicate an article to the subject, but for now, I’ll just cover the most basic point. Every attack should look and sound different, yet still adhere to some kind of theme. That is key in making the player identify and remember each attack.

A punch may be a punch may be a punch, but only when the MYMer thinks a move is not worth expanding on. Play any fighting game whatsoever, and you’ll see a vast array of different, nuanced, punches, each entirely different in delivery and purpose. And the only thing that will clue a player in on the difference, is the way they look and sound.

Fun fact, Falcon Punch looks much more fun than a Pummel KO.

Maybe you want a strong punch to have a more visible windup. Maybe the character should stumble slightly when throwing the punch. Maybe a more visceral “Crunch” sounds should play when you smash the opponent’s face in. Maybe the strike animation (i.e. that little slash/spark/flame that tells the player you actually hit something) should last longer, or perhaps it should be tinged red. These small additions not only help the player identify what the attack does, but also makes playing the character more expressive and ~fun~

Leaps of Logic

Don’t just assume that, because an action has a real life corollary, that you can just stick THAT action into Brawl and expect it to make sense. Let’s say, for example, a moveset has a grab where, instead of grabbing, they stick out their hand as if to give the foe a handshake. Now let’s make this arbitrary and stupid, by having it grab the foe, but ONLY if they attack his hand with an attack that uses their own hand.

Now, one could claim that it’s “Discoverable” because handshakes involve putting two hands together, and because the player is clearly motioning for a handshake. Sadly, this is not the case at all. It’s a rather arbitrary sidestep of what Brawl supposedly entails, so unless the player has both the patience, and the mad logic that you the moveset designer have, then they will simply not bother to even try to see what this “Grab” actually does. For all they can tell, the character is just taunting.

Besides, why should that be the ONLY thing that you can do with an outstretched hand? Why not have it grab items that are thrown towards the player, or have it counteract the opponent’s own grabs? And why not have all this in addition to a normal grab? Would it be that big a crime?

Now, let’s take a real example; MasterWarlord’s Wario. Wario’s Down-tilt creates a flame that sets the opponent’s pants on fire, making them run about. Ok, fair enough, that makes sense- oh wait, NO IT DOESN’T. What makes THIS flame so special? Why does only THIS flame set people on fire? Heck, Wario has other fire hitboxes in his set, and THEY don’t set the foe aflame. If it were consistant, then it’d make sense. If EVERY fire hitbox, regardless of who it came from, sets people on fire, that would make sense. But having this, very special fire that behaves entirely differently from any other example of fire in the whole game, this is arbitrary. When the player discovers this, they will likely be wondering the same thing; why does only THIS attack set people on fire?

Input Arrangement

Brawl is kinetic, furious, but most of all, simple. The most complicated an input ever gets is “point the stick in a direction and press a button”. But that’s not to say that you can just slap any move on any input, and expect to get away with it. Pressing A roughly corrolates to “Apply force” and the direction you tilt the stick corrolates to which direction the force is applied. Smashing the stick in a direction is more forceful than just tilting it.

That’s not to say that “more forceful” just means “more knockback”. The “force” relates to how the move plays out, rather than its exact effect on the foe. This is why Snake’s Down-Smash plants a mine; because he buries it “forceably”.

Hi! I'm an example! Isn't that neato?

Knowing where to put a certain “attack” can spell the difference between a fun, deep set, and a total mess. Let’s look at my own Moveset, Arche, for an example of the latter that could easily become the former. The problem with this moveset is simple; who in their right mind would use Side-Special, which normally does nothing, during the very brief window when it actually will do something (while casting a spell)? And it’s such a simple problem to, not only fix, but improve tenfold. All I’d have to do, is shift the function of Side Special, over to her shield, and allow Arche to shield/roll while flying. That’s it.

It’s no secret that Arche players will be frequently under pressure during matches, so it’s easy to conclude that they will shield and roll whenever they feel like they’re in danger, usually while in the middle of charging a spell no less. By giving her shield the ability to Save Spells for later use, not only have we made the concept of combining spells much easier to discover, but we’ve also made Arche much better at handling pressure. We’ve even freed up that Side-Special, allowing us to add a whole other catagory of spells.


To close this article here is an out-of-context quote

It’s well documented that human perception is entirely fallible. We are sensitive to thousands of subtle variables and differences in what’s going on around us, and an individual’s performance in perception related tasks is at best unreliable, and at worst, difficult to accurately predict.

This often means that smart designs account for human limitations. They’re forgiving, they make it easy to recover from mistakes, and sometimes allow for multiple ways to do something, without adding confusion. That’s a hallmark of master level work.

In other words, eliminating stupid, unnecessary or infrequent choices from the list of decisions people need to make, is almost always a good thing. They don’t care about what they don’t need to care about.


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