Friday, July 16, 2010

Heavy Rain, Pt.5: Controls


Perhaps the oddest thing about Heavy Rain was the juxtaposition of moments where immersion was outstanding with those moments where it immersion was utterly broken. When things broke down, it was a combined problem of control abstraction and lack of information about the character you play.

Consider the following examples:
You need to keep track of your son, and suddenly worry as he begins to run off. You are in the middle of purchasing a balloon, however, and need to pull out your wallet quickly to pay the vendor. Four icons appear showing different quicktime-event-styled actions, and you fumble around from pocket to pocket, trying random icons until you succeed. The entire time, you are screaming bloody murder because you want to look after your son but have no idea where you put your own goddamned wallet.
Your wife comes home and asks you to help out. You want to! She says to pull out some dinner plates. You look around and don't notice the plates anywhere. In frustration you start looking around wondering where the hell anything is because it's your own house but you're completely clueless to its contents. After a moment, your wife complains about your performance.
After losing your older son, the younger one is distant and depressed. Your wife has left you. You want to make your life better, and are intent on doing good by your wife and son, so you look at the list of things you must do for him (e.g., feed him dinner, etc.) and at what time, to make sure everything is humming. It's time for him to eat, so you open the fridge. Different icons appear, but all they do is drink orange juice, beer, or close the fridge. Fail. Time is flying by in game-time (i.e., at a minute a second or so) while you accidentally get drunk. No! You try going to the microwave. No icons. The cupboard? No icons. You try using the game's "thought" system for a hint, and think out loud that your son is hungry. Great, thanks. While you fail at this simplest of tasks, you had no idea that you had to talk to your son to initialize the event, and only after the scripted animations from the last event are totally complete (e.g., he finishes walking back to the couch for more TV). It sucks when as a character, you want to be a good father, but you can't, because you can't mechanically figure out how to cook a microwave damned dinner.
It was interesting that even though the Dragon's Lair approach to connecting you with the characters lives was mechanically minimal, having them all be context sensitive and appropriate to each scene made them enough of a connection to absorb me. However, when they became unintuitive obstacles to perfectly reasonable and actionable intent, it was amazing how rapidly my immersion died.

Next, some brainstorming about control fixes.

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