When I was a young boy computers were new. The first simulation game ever I played was Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator. It only had four colors because back then there was only CGA. EGA, VGA, and SVGA would come into existence later on. Now everyone knows that Flight Sims require memorizing a multitude of buttons and button combinations. Back then, it was fine for me to learn a game that used every key on the keyboard. In fact I played Rogue, Hack, and even Mechwarrior. Each of those games were incredible and used nearly every key to do different actions.
Fast forward to today and I’m just not as fine with it anymore. My response time, hand-eye coordination, and even my memory are not nearly as good as they used to be. Games I use to love I shy away from nowadays and the problem is, it doesn’t need to be like that anymore. A lot of today’s games use context sensitive controls.
What does this mean? Simply put, the button you push changes the action it performs based on the situation from within the game you are playing. Take for example, you are playing a first person shooter. You have your reload, shoot, and jump buttons. Now let us say you need to interact with the environment. You can use the reload, shoot, or jump button to double as the interaction button. But as a game developer, which should you choose?
The jump button isn’t a good candidate because the player needs to be able to jump at any time regardless of the situation, while it still can be done it isn’t practical and may suffer the player with picking up items or opening doors instead of jumping.
How about the shoot button? Absolutely. Not much of a problem here except that you would have to make sure that if an enemy is under the reticle the button will shoot rather than interact with the environment. But again we may suffer from control responsiveness. After all; who doesn’t like to shoot anytime, anyplace, and anywhere.
Possibly the reload button, then? Why not. Just keep in mind when you script the code that the reload takes precedence over the interaction functions. It doesn’t help if you are in an intense fight and you need to reload, but instead you pick up an item. One way to solve it is; if bullets=0 then reload else check for collisions. If no collisions then reload. Something else that could be done is combining the shoot button with the reload in a context sensitive way, checking if there is any bullets left and if not, the weapon reloads from available ammo.
Keeping the number of buttons to control your game to a minimum helps out a lot. Also having on screen displays of what the button will do when you press it given the current situation is an added bonus. Regardless of how you map the buttons in your game, it is important not to let the game play itself. Players need more than one or two buttons in order to feel engaged. But too many buttons can be overwhelming.
Controls are important too.
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