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Author Topic: Cursor iconography  (Read 1637 times)

Eric

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Cursor iconography
« on: 09 Mar 2012, 17:21 »
I've been giving some thought to cursors over the past few days, and while ideas are obvious and abundant for actions like 'look,' 'walk,' and 'talk,' I'm less enthusiastic about the options I've come up with for the 'use'/'interact' cursor.

Part of the problem is that while each of the other actions has a single body part associated with them, e.g. I'm not, in this game, going to have a 'wink,' 'kick,' or 'eat' cursor, the hand shares time with the action for 'pick up.'

I know there are standard other icons--the turning wrench, the spinning gear--but my character isn't a mechanic, and this feels somewhat inauthentic. But I'm hard-pressed to figure out something in-character for him that would be simple enough to use as an icon.

So I thought I'd start a conversation here about this specific quandary, and maybe cursors in general. How do you approach creating them for your own games, and what successful examples have you seen in other games (pictures of actual usage are a plus)?

EDIT: Though I thought I'd adequately searched everywhere for pre-existing conversations, here's a related earlier discussion about interact cursors. This one can be more open than the pointed question of that topic, though.
« Last Edit: 09 Mar 2012, 19:37 by Eric »

Narushima

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #1 on: 10 Mar 2012, 20:11 »
I remember the one from Sam & Max Hit The Road. Actually it took me a long, long time to understand that it was a "thing" getting squeezed by a hand when hovering above a hotspot.
So I guess you'd definitely want a simple one that's identifiable at first sight. But you probably already knew that.

What about using labels "walk" "use" "talk" as cursors ? They may seem ugly at first but by playing you very soon abstract them into what they stand for, which is what always ends up happening with any good cursor.


Khris

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #2 on: 10 Mar 2012, 20:29 »
If you haven't started actually building your game yet, you might want to think about a different interface altogether. I myself prefer a two-button-interface, the sierra cursors always kind of annoy me because seldom are they actually made proper use of.
(Two give two examples, clicking on an empty spot should send the player there even when the walk cursor is not selected; it's unnerving if I have to switch cursors all the time, especially in scrolling rooms. And useless actions should give appropriate responses. If those two points are followed, the sierra interface is ok in my book.)

To answer the actual question, why not design the cursor with respect to what the game is about? A wrench is an obvious choice for a mechanic, for instance.

Eric

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #3 on: 10 Mar 2012, 22:04 »
If you haven't started actually building your game yet, you might want to think about a different interface altogether. I myself prefer a two-button-interface, the sierra cursors always kind of annoy me because seldom are they actually made proper use of.

I am actually intending to do this, after reading Vince Twelve's WYGIB essays (and the discussions that followed). I haven't played Beneath a Steel Sky, but in Broken Sword, even under the two-button system, there are multiple cursors depending on the object/hotspot over which you're hovering. I guess these don't include 'walk,' though -- I'm thinking of the that denotes room exits (which is yet another use of the hand). I find these morphing cursors helpful in knowing what to expect when I click on the object at hand.

While I have you here, there are a couple of module options for this style of cursor system. Do you use either of these, or have another system?

SingleCursor 1.0
Control Modes (BASS, SCUMM, Sierra All in One module)

And useless actions should give appropriate responses.

This is actually what I see as the major drawback to the two-cursor system. I intend to do something more than play-testing (which is mostly a sort of bug-checking process, correct?), and more like the usability testing I do for web design. I want to sit in the same room with some of the players, watching them as they play, asking them to think aloud about their decision making processes, not guiding them, but letting them explain to me why, for instance, they chose to try to combine two objects, or why they thought a solution to a puzzle might work.

This would give me a chance to create numerous responses, or even rethink the solutions I'm providing for some puzzles. A two-cursor system cuts down on this a little, though, for the purposes of actually getting around to one day publishing a game, this might be beneficial.

To answer the actual question, why not design the cursor with respect to what the game is about? A wrench is an obvious choice for a mechanic, for instance.

Well, like I said above, I'm having trouble coming up with something this specific. There are no real defining tools for my PC's profession -- he's a steward, and the tasks/puzzles he faces as part of his job are disparate and varied. I'll keep thinking on it though! Thanks for the ideas.

straydogstrut

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #4 on: 10 Mar 2012, 23:00 »
I'm in favour of the Broken Sword approach myself with the 'one-click does everything in context' approach so i'm pleased to see you mentioned it. I love those animated cursors :) You could also right-click to do a Look At command and have George comment on things if I recall correctly. I like the simple 1-2 cursor system rather than having to cycle through numerous cursors.

What about using labels "walk" "use" "talk" as cursors ? They may seem ugly at first but by playing you very soon abstract them into what they stand for, which is what always ends up happening with any good cursor.

I think this is a bad idea in terms of usability. The benefit of an icon is you can come up with a universally recognisable symbol - hence the eye, mouth, footprint and hand we've all see before - which is more accessible to people whose first language is different from the game author's, deaf gamers etc. Okay, given that they would mostly be one-word verbs, that's not such an obstacle, I admit, but then you'd also have to consider how that verb might change depending on the situation, and also translations for other languages. Not saying words shouldn't be used at all, but I think visual metaphors bring much more life to the game. It's much more tactile.

In terms of designing a cursor, i'd definitely make it suit the rest of the style of the game. I think this can only enhance the experience. The Broken Sword cursors aren't a great example of this, admittedly, although the hand cursors remind me of those old-fashioned entrance signs you see in bars. They do use a lot of hand cursors, but the animations really help to differentiate them. I think Syberia used a similar context sensitive system. Its cursors weren't very detailed but they were in a sort of cog style which suited the clockwork theme of the game.
« Last Edit: 10 Mar 2012, 23:21 by straydogstrut »

Khris

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #5 on: 11 Mar 2012, 19:49 »
Eric:
Sorry, I didn't reply to your topic until a couple of hours after I read your post and didn't re-read it.

The SingleCursor module sounds good, I'd go with that. (Actually, I'd code it myself, but if you don't want to, that module should do a fine job.)

As for the cursor, what if you didn't use a talk or interact symbol but just a general indicator that the cursor is above an active hotspot?
You could use crosshairs that turn into this:
 _   _
|     |
   +
|_   _|
If the player is supposed to know beforehand whether an NPC is going to be hit or talked to, put the action's text in a label.

Eric

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #6 on: 11 Mar 2012, 21:21 »
Sorry, I didn't reply to your topic until a couple of hours after I read your post and didn't re-read it.

Hey, that's OK. I hope that response didn't come off as rude, I just meant to say I've thought about this as a best practice and am flummoxed by my inability to come up with a way to make it work.

Quote
The SingleCursor module sounds good, I'd go with that. (Actually, I'd code it myself, but if you don't want to, that module should do a fine job.)

You may have noticed from the fact that you, personally, have had to answer two or three questions on programming difficulties that the coding and implementation isn't my strong suit. On one hand, coding my own cursors would probably be a good learning experience. On the other hand, I'm trying to cut as many corners as I can!

Quote
As for the cursor, what if you didn't use a talk or interact symbol but just a general indicator that the cursor is above an active hotspot?

I think I'd still like to try cursors that change according to the hotspot they're hovering over. I think in some ways, adventure games are about selling the illusion of immersion, and I think it helps foster the illusion if, even under a two-button system, I'm at least showing the different actions. This might just be a personal view, though.

Word labels might work. There are usability drawbacks, as Narushima notes above. I will have important information in text and dialogue as well, though I suppose these can be translated via the...translate function, whereas the cursors stay static.

Things to think about. I appreciate the conversation here. It's leading me to put a lot of thought into the fundamentals of my game's design.
« Last Edit: 11 Mar 2012, 23:09 by Eric »

Pyke

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #7 on: 12 Mar 2012, 05:50 »
Stasis uses a simple pie cursor, with SCAN, MOVE, and INTERACT. It's a context sensitive interface, so when you can use something, the cursor will change to INTERACT. When the cursor moves into 'level space' (areas you can walk to), the cursor switches to MOVE. The entire game is controlled with only one click for an action. No cycling through cursors.

My idea was really to try and make the interface as invisible as possible. Even opening the inventory is 'click free' with just moving the mouse over the interface to open it up.

It works really well, and keeps you in the game, making you not really think about the interface at all.

I've also added invisible auto saves. My idea is that you can pick up the game, hit start, and play through the game without ever needing to go to a menu or really 'thinking' about the interface.

Eric

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #8 on: 12 Mar 2012, 06:25 »
Thanks for that input, Pyke. Is Stasis a completed game where I can see these things in action?

Pyke

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Re: Cursor iconography
« Reply #9 on: 15 Mar 2012, 16:51 »
The game is still in deep development, but I have a gameplay video here:



Not sure how helpful it is, but everything you see there is a one click thing. No cycling through options, etc.
You can also see how the cursor automatically changes and highlights your options. Watch in HD to get the detail.

Since that video, the game has gone through some slight changes (Dialogue portraits, etc), but the basic interaction is the same.