The Importance of Interaction in Interference: Intro and Basic Interactions

Video games exist on a bedrock of player interaction. But have you ever been absorbed in a game only for that engagement to be compromised by questions like, “why can I open this door but not that door” or “why can’t I look at this object closer”?

Interference is a game that experiments with player autonomy, and we knew early in the design process that constraining the playable area to a single room would necessitate heaps of interactive elements to successfully conduct said experiment. And it became clear fairly quickly that we would need to address those types of questions above or risk pulling the player out of the experience altogether.

Long story short: yes, you can interact with virtually everything in Interference.

We spent months prototyping interaction systems before settling on the one we are currently using. The first implementation completely broke our game and sent us straight back to the drawing board, and even now, we are continuously modifying and refining the current system to feel cohesive, yet expansive enough to cover the many “types” of interactions we’ve scattered throughout the guard booth.

Objects are broken into various categories to provide a framework for how we assign interactivity. This classification affords us the ability to create generalizations for how the player interacts with that object; through the use of parent classes, we are able to make an adjustment to one interaction type and have those changes reflected in every object of that type. For the player, categorizing these objects provides a shorthand understanding for how an object will work and what control scheme to expect.

Over the next few weeks, we will talk in-depth about the various “types” of interactions Interference has to offer: Basic Interactables, Physics Objects, and Focusables. Let’s start with Basic Interactables.

Basic Interactables

Interactive objects in their simplest form accept an input to perform a specific task. Some simple examples:

  • Light switches: turns lights on and off
  • Doors and drawers: can be opened and closed
  • Cactus: can be touched
Lights off, lights on, lights off, lights on…

Basic interactivity can be expanded on to create seemingly more complex interactions based on object states and external factors. For instance, objects that use electrical power in Interference cannot be turned on and off during power fluctuations or outages.

In any interaction, we break down what the fundamentals are for that interaction in reality to create a shorthand version for use in-game. Intention becomes important in crafting these simplified representations. Take our coffee system for example.

How does one use a coffeemaker in real life? Well…

  1. Water, filter, and coffee grounds go into the coffeemaker
  2. A button is pressed to brew the coffee
  3. Coffee is poured from the carafe into a mug
  4. The coffee is consumed

This process is one that’s ingrained into our daily lives; we don’t often have to think about the steps in the coffee-making process. However, while pouring a liquid from a carafe to a mug is generally a task that requires very little thought in real life, transferring that interaction to a video game is not so simple. All of a sudden you’re dealing with liquid simulation, multiple objects, and the need to replicate the motor skills necessary to delicately pour scalding hot liquid into a mug. Not to mention, what if the mug overflows? Does it burn the player? Do we let the player pour coffee on everything in the booth?

And the questions cascade. Believe us, we’d love to allow for such complicated interactions as soaking books with coffee, but we’ll leave that for real life. With the added layer of screen and controller, performing these steps becomes a clunky, complicated ordeal (VR perhaps eliminates this issue, but that’s a whole other story). Generally, we keep interactions self-contained, which is beneficial to both us (we want to, ya know, finish the game) and the player (through setting simple expectations for how objects work).

So, how do we approach the coffee-making process in-game? First, we distill the above steps down into its fundamentals of intent:

  1. Brew coffee
  2. Drink coffee

Then, we break down how best to represent each fundamental step:

Brew Coffee

If the carafe is empty and power is stable, interacting with the coffeemaker will simply brew coffee. While the coffee is being brewed, the player cannot interact with the coffeemaker.

Waiting for a fresh cup of joe.

Drink Coffee

Once the coffee is brewed and the carafe is full, interacting with the coffeemaker will allow the player to drink coffee (assuming there is at least one unbroken mug left in the booth). While the player is drinking coffee, player input is disabled. The level of available coffee lowers until the carafe is once again empty.

Ahhh, much better.

The rest of the process is simply represented by objects that can be found in the booth: a coffee tin, coffee filters, and mugs.

By breaking down complex processes into simple, straightforward interactions, we are able to quickly add all sorts of interactivity throughout the booth. However, Basic Interactables are merely one classification of interactivity; we are only scratching the surface on the depth of interactivity Interference has to offer.

Next time, we will talk about our next type of interaction: Physics Objects.

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