Thursday, April 1, 2010

ME2, pt.13: Team Control

The design team did an impressive job with a complicated set of control requirements. Controls take time to master but when that mastery comes, they avoid having to mind-read player intent at all (a big win) and keep players' fingers in the right places. Without the full knowledge of the design team, my quick suggestions will look half-assed, but control design is too fun not to at least try one as an exercise, warts and all. And since warts are likely, let me be clear about the purpose of the attempt:
I wish that the mental map of my controller made me think of "commanding a team."
This is my only boxing parameter, and below is my wild swing at meeting it. Try reading it with an Xbox controller in hand.

Control Alternatives
  • LB/RB (tap) = L/R ally acts on reticle target (goto / duck behind / fire at)
  • LB/RB (hold) = L/R ally uses power on reticle target (game paused) (same controls as current power menu, but limited to that particular ally)
  • Right Analog Stick (click) = Shepard's power menu (game paused) (click again to execute)
  • D.Pad U/L/R = select weapons for Shepard (U)/L/R allies
    • weapon menu springs from character portraits
    • B = exit menu
    • D.Pad = make selections
    • A = equip weapon/ammo
    • X = change ammo of selected weapon (shortcut)
  • D.Pad Down = regroup
The idea behind this exercise is to bring your team to the forefront by making LB/RB "Command Left/Right Ally" instead of "Weapons/Powers." In theory, it would make it more natural to issue commands to your allies since LB/RB is easier to access in combat than D.Pad, and still allow for pause-game aiming. If characters had only one unique power, it would additionally mean not having to muck with ally power menus (but the game could still pause as a "dilation of time" than an exercise in menu juggling), and Shepard could access his/her single power with Y (Right Analog Stick (click) could still exist as a simple pause from which you could still issue commands).

Problems
But I won't let myself get away that easily. Some problems:

You can't control your Left Ally (LB (tap)) while zooming with Left Trigger (LT). In the default controls, weapons are relegated to LB because chances are slim that you'll want to be zoomed in and change all your weapon settings. But if LB/RB is the core idea, what options are there?
  • Tough it out
    • Players testing the system might not notice or be bothered enough by the limitation.
    • Players can still control allies sans zoom; if your view over cover is a problem (?), try lifting the camera when looking at ground directly in front of you.
    • Players are more likely to notice this limitation when commanding allies to attack a zoomed-at target; if the attack target functionality remains unchanged (both players attack the target), RB (tap) could still command both to attack (however, the new control scheme might make this behavior seem out of place).
You can't use a Left Ally power (LB (hold)) while zooming with Left Trigger (LT). A similar problem, but more likely to rear its head.
  • Auto-zoom while holding LB/RB
    • Could choose a "middle zoom" between "no zoom" and "sniper zoom"
    • Could adjust zoom based on the distance between Shepard and the reticle target
      • Instantly zooms back
      • Gradually zooms forward
      • Zoom back may disorient
Using D.Pad to regroup is weird since LB/RB control ally AI
  • LB+RB (group), or LB/RB (double-tap) (individual) could also be used to regroup

Final Thoughts
I'm sure more problems are lurking in there, but I hope the exercise was as interesting to read as it was to write. Control design can get complex fast, and other problems hide until implemented and tested. Looking back at screenshots, it's clear that the design and interface team tested a lot different approaches to combat control presentation, but I think they did a good job juggling complex design requirements. I think reducing the number of requirements would be good for the controls and experience overall, and realistic or not, still wish that combat felt like more of a team effort.

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