Modal controls in video games

In UX, modes are when the same input results in a different action depending upon the state of the program.

I’ve played games where there’s a “town” mode and a “action” mode, where your “fight” actions are replaced with “talk to” actions, so you can’t run around the town attacking people.

Two games I’ve played lately have got me thinking about contextual controls.

First is Alan Wake.

Second is Flinthook.

Flinthook has a grappling hook, which will grab onto loops in the level, and launch you forward once it grabs one. The grappling hook can also be used to pop bubbles, for some enemies that are protected by a bubble shield.

The game doesn’t expect you to aim precisely at a loop, and if it did, that would be frustrating. In the heat of the moment, you can’t be expected to aim within a 10 degree range with a thumbstick. So there’s a pretty forgiving auto-aim.

But I can see how that gets complicated by the alternate use for the hook, to pop bubble shields. If you mean to pop a bubble shield, and it grabs a loop instead, it will launch you directly towards a shielded enemy. If you really did want to grab a loop, maybe you’ll accidentally fall to your doom.

Alan Wake usually changes modes more scene-to-scene than moment to moment. It’s more like the town mode versus

Alan Wake frequently sets you up for a particular scene, and lets you play out that scene with whatever subset of abilities you will have. Maybe you have a gun, so you can shoot the ghosts. Maybe you only have a flashlight that temporarily slows them down. And there are town-mode scenes where you don’t have either. But not just your items change, but you might lose the ability to run and jump, because you’re not in danger right now. You move at a normal walking pace instead of run. There’s one scene, where Alan’s wife screams from the next room, and suddenly you can run again. Because the character is suddenly in a state where they are willing to run.

A lot of games have contextual actions, where the same button will do different things based on where you are located. An “action” button that opens a door if you’re in front of a door, turn on a light if you’re in front of a light, talk to a person if you’re in front of a person. Does the player’s mental model accept “action” as a single ability? I think this is safe. We have lots of mouse-controlled games where precisely what action you take depends on what you click on, so controlling it with the position of the main character makes sense, too.

In UX, you’re supposed to be very cautious when relying on modes. Are you making something the user could be confused about which mode they are in?

I guess two things to consider about modes here are, visibility and granularity.

The Alan Wake example has a larger granularity than Flinthook. It changes from scene to scene, after you reach a new area and/or have a cut scene. Where in Flinthook, it can change because you were two inches to the left and now a different thing is in range. The Town Mode is large granularity while the Action button is smaller granularity. 

Visibility is important if you want the players to not be confused by the change in behaviour. A lot of games with an Action button will have an on-screen prompt that comes up when you’re in range of an item you can interact with. With the mouse-cursor example, hover-state to show clickable areas serves the same purpose. Alan Wake will include in the cut-scenes when you’re given a gun or a flashlight, etc. It may be less explicit when you are in town mode or not.

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Video game architecture and the dimensions of doors in Gone Home

This is a door model from Gone Home. Anything strike you as odd?

Computer model of a door from Gone Home. Dimensions are 206 by 123 by 13 centimetres

Dimensions of Gone Home doors.

It’s pretty thick isn’t it?

For comparison, I measured a door in my own home and referenced a Home Depot link on standard door sizes.

Sizes of doors available, width ranges from 30 to 36 inches, and height from 80 to 96

My doors are 80 inches by 36 inches, which is the most squat door you can buy from Home Depot. And 1 5/8 inches thick. Based on my shot here with a cassette tape for reference, the Gone Home door is about 4 inches thick.

A four inch casette tape laid lengthwise is the same as the thickness of the door.

And only 64 inches tall. That’s like a five-foot-four tall door? Pretty short. So maybe that’s the wrong point of reference. But if we assume the doors are 80 inches tall, as is standard, then they’re five inches thick and 48 inches across.

This point was re-kindled because Gone Home was listed in a list of architecture games. The doors in the game had struck me as a kind of uncanny valley of architecture. Like, I expect in a more fantastic-themed game that wasn’t otherwise filled with familiar objects, I never would have noticed how oddly proportioned the doors were.

Another example from the architecture games was Mirror’s Edge, which is about free-running. The ways in which you experience a virtual space can be transformed by the abilities granted to the player in how they can navigate that space. I once read something (which I can’t track down right now) that made an analogy between skateboarding and cruising for sex, in that both transformed architecture by how the participants use it. Or your experience of a freeway is very different if you are walking versus if you are driving. Video games also dramatically change how you navigate a space based on what movement the game enables.

I myself made a recent point about movement restrictions being part of what makes a Pac-Man-like a Pac-Man-like. It’s not just about the shape of the maze, but that the character occupies the entire width of the path.

In this post from SciFi Interfaces, and in the linked video, the author notes that interfaces in movies really serve the audience rather than the characters.

So if the doors in Gone Home are not like normal doors, I think that’s because they weren’t designed for people living in a house. They were really designed for someone playing Gone Home. Not for someone navigating with their feet, but navigating with WASD and a mouse. And so, just as freeways are built at car scales rather than human scales, the Gone Home house is built at first-person controller scale.

Note also the doors are double-hinged. So every time you open a door, it opens away from you. That is definitely done for the player’s sake. If you’ve ever played a first-person game where the door ends up pushing you backwards when you open it, that can be awkward to get through. This could also explain why they’re wider than usual; a wide doorway is easier to drive through than a narrow one.

In my last post about Virginia and montage I had a brief tangent how video games almost take navigation of space as a given. Gone Home is a narrative-driven game, but it still has to have these considerations for how to navigate a physical space. Because that’s how you find the different pieces of the story, by navigating to the physical objects representing each piece of the story.

If you compare to narrative in books and movies, the physical locations of things don’t usually get as much attention as they do in games. People care about the relationship between two characters, more than exactly how to travel from one house to the other. But video games, the strengths of it, the types of interfaces we have, that makes physical space the most common interaction type. Even character conversations are typically controlled by walking to the location of the character you want to talk to. And in Gone Home you access the pieces of backstory by finding the location of noteworthy objects in the house.

For comparison, consider Her Story or Analogue: A Hate Story. Where they are similar to Gone Home is that the main story is really backstory. The player’s actions aren’t the story, they learn about the story. Where they differ from Gone Home is that you navigate those stories non-spatially. In both you access the stories from a diagetic computer, so the architectural space you navigate and the means by which you navigate it are both defined by that computer’s interface. Rather than any physical space. (In both, the computer is not quite working as intended, to add a challenge to using it.)

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Virginia, video games and montage

I played Virginia lately, which is unusual among games, I think, because of its use of montage. What I’m talking about isn’t exclusively what people call “a montage” in film, (eg: training montage) though there are some scenes like that in Virginia. But also the broader use of editing to connect one shot to another. Montage is a huge deal in film. It’s pervasive. Soviet montage theory posits that it’s the one element that is unique to film, that can’t be imported from another medium, like painting or theatre.

Even in movies that aren’t super-experimental, you’ll see edits that imply a connection between the end of one scene and the beginning of the next. Near the beginning of The Terminator, Kyle Reese searches through a phone book until he finds the name “Sarah Connor” and tears the page out. The next shot is the first appearance of Sarah Connor. It implies this is who he’s looking for without saying it outright. But this sort of thing is rarely used in games.

One classic example (which I think I picked up from a film studies book) is someone traveling by car from one place to another. In some early films, they would have shown a character get into a car and drive away, then cut to their new location where the car enters and they get out. Later, they learned how much of this could be eliminated. Maybe they could get into a car and cut directly to knocking on the door of the location they drove to. Maybe they could declare their intention to go somewhere and cut to them driving. And the audience would figure out the implication.

In Grand Theft Auto, (The last GTA I’ve played was Vice City, so let me know if this doesn’t apply to the newer GTAs) you have a button for getting in and out of cars. Unless it’s a cutscene, it’s always in your control to get in or out of a car. If you have the task of going from A to B and going inside a building, the game will show you every step of that process, however you do it. When you get into the car, it will not presume your intentions about where you’re going and cut directly to your destination the way a movie would. And maybe that makes sense, because what if the game’s presumption was wrong?

In Virginia, you never get in or out of a car. But because it’s a video game, that means you never choose to get in or out of a car. It’s a thing that just happens when you complete the current scene. I think this gets at why montage isn’t used more often in games. So much of its power is in the things you don’t need to show, but every time you do that, that’s something that’s not in the player’s control.

If you chop down a tree in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the tree turns into a big log, with no branches. A lot of survival games that include the option to turn trees into wood will do just that. Trees change directly into wood at the moment you chop them down. Is this closer to the native version of the edit in games? The intention to turn the tree into a log was a safe presumption, so they abbreviated the action.

Though maybe that’s really about granularity of controls. When you tell a character where to go in an RTS, they do that. In a platformer, you have to tell them which direction to run, how fast, when to jump, down to the millisecond. Maybe choosing what is and isn’t under the player’s control is equivalent to choosing what is and isn’t shown to the viewer.

In some cases in Virginia, that lack of control makes things feel out of your control, like fate is pushing you down a certain path. I think this is in keeping with the intended tone. It’s actually in the slower parts where I found it more of a drawback that I didn’t know for certain what would trigger the end of a scene. I sometimes got into a “pixel hunting” mode where I had to guess which thing the creators wanted me to do.

One game that used montage more sparingly is Night in the Woods. One major difference is that it’s used near the end of the game in locations you’ve become familiar with. So when it skips over parts of what you’ve seen before, you can remain grounded and understand where you are. Where in Virginia, they use montage even in locations you’ve seen for the first time, which can feel disorienting.

I notice I’ve been focused a lot on locations and traveling. Maybe this says something about what things you do in games. GTA bills itself as an “open world” game, and that often means it treats its world as one big continuous location. My example of cutting down trees in Breath of the Wild is an abbreviation of actions other than travel. Travel seems to be the one action in games that is most likely to remain unabbreviated. People complain that “walking simulators” have no interaction but right in the name it says you can walk. Walking is taken as a given.

Which brings to mind the other use of abbreviated travel in Night in the Woods, which I might have overlooked. Much of the game takes place in the central Possum Springs platforming map, but often there are other locations that are accessed through dialogue options. Someone will ask you to come along to such-and-such and if you say yes, poof, there you are. I did almost overlook it, but I guess this abbreviation in games draws attention to itself only when it does take control away from the player. Since this one is explicitly activated through the dialogue choices, you don’t feel the missing time as much.

So maybe a lot of it is a distinction between continuous and discrete controls. 80 Days is a game all about travel, but the travel is controlled entirely through multiple choice, not by pushing a joystick. Your position will move to the next stop on your journey, rather than have the player move through the entire path. Where Virginia has you control your movement in first-person through continuous motion, so when that motion is abbreviated, you feel the missing time and the missing control.

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Games as systems of information

So lately I’ve been reading Rules of Play and I have a small discussion about something they get into in the chapter Games as Systems of Information.

In it, they summarize a typology of information in games as described by Celia Pearce in The Interactive Book. (Which maybe next I should read that)

  • info known to all players
  • info known to only one player
  • info known to the game only
  • randomly generated information

Rules of Play however disagrees with two things. One is that Pearce includes the rules of the game itself as information. Two is the distinction between info known “to the game only” is hard to distinguish from randomly generated information.

I think both of these points of contention are places that computer games allow approaches that would not be possible in board games. And Rules of Play interprets it through the latter without considering what is possible with the former.

In board games, at least one player needs to know the rules of the game in order to play by those rules, but with computer games, the rules can be automatically enforced by the computer. Video game tutorial levels are designed based on the idea that the player does not yet know the rules of the game. In which case, it does make sense to consider the rules of the game as information.

Consider Damian Sommer’s Chesh where the movement capabilities of the pieces are randomly assigned. When starting a game, the player does not yet know how the pieces move. When telling someone the “rules” of chess, you would likely include how each piece moves, right? So it would follow that Chesh is a game where neither player knows the rules, but the game does.

And the use of computers also helps strengthen the difference between info known to the game and info that has not yet been generated. In the electronic board game Stop Thief, the Electronic Crime Scanner doles out clues as to the location of the thief, which the players are attempting to deduce. The clues can’t be completely random, they have to be determined by the thief’s true location, which none of the players will know at first. If we imagine the computer as a “dungeon master” we could re-frame this as information known to only one player. But that has its own problems. They aren’t making strategic decisions to attempt to win the game, they’re only facilitating the game for the other players. So would it make more sense to classify the Electronic Crime Scanner as part of the game, rather than a computer player.

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Super Text Mesh for Fungus

So a game dev from Winnipeg put together a text tool for Unity called Super Text Mesh which lets you do wiggly text and a few other things.


Since I’ve been playing with Fungus lately, I decided to see if I could get it to work with Fungus.

In standard Fungus, when you call a Say command, it grabs a SayDialog and passes it the text. The SayDialog then passes that text to the Writer component, which will loop through it, adding it character-by-character to the Text object, to animate the text being written out.

Here I wanted to use the SuperTextMesh object instead of a regular Text. And SuperTextMesh also has its own animation built-in that we want to use. So I extended the Writer class, and overrid some functions to make it just pass the full text to the SuperTextMesh.

SuperTextMesh also has its own sound effects. Fungus has a WriterAudio class to play these. You can associate a sound with a character, and the SayDialog class finds the current character and passes that audio clip to the WriterAudio component. In SuperTextMesh, you can set up a list of voices, which can specify different text colour, animations, and sound effects, so the obvious thing to do is associate a Character with a voice. The way I handled that, is you need to give the Character the same name as the corresponding voice.

The one down-side is that both SuperTextMesh and Fungus have their own tags, so I chose to ignore the Fungus tags to keep things simpler. SuperTextMesh has replacements for things like bold, italics, text color, but there might be some Fungus-specific tags someone would miss.

My addition is currently packaged with the SuperTextMesh on the Unity Asset Store.

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Platformers and making orthogonal movement metaphorically orthogonal

Someone made a side-comment about platformers, how it was based entirely around timing and therefor the lowest common denominator in games, and that’s the only reason they are so popular. (Of course, this was in the context of explaining why their favourite genre is superior.) I thought this was unfair but I wanted to think more about why.

The first obvious point is it’s not just timing, it’s timing plus position, at the very least. If you strip everything from a game except timing, you won’t get a platformer, you’ll get a rhythm game, like DDR or Parappa. Not that I think those are the LCD in games, but that’s a topic for another day.

But why is platforming so popular? Is it just the influence of Super Mario?

After considering it, I decided platforming is a way to add interesting complexity to the movement of a game that is also intuitive.

Orthogonal Unit Differentiation

There’s one idea in game design called orthogonal unit differentiation. Also explained nicely in this video in relation to Doom’s enemies, which was probably cribbing from this longer explanation here.

The short version is that if you’re going to offer variation, it’s a way to consider if it’s meaningful variation.

For example, if you had a shooting game with five choices of gun, and they were identical except for the amount of damage they cause, that wouldn’t be very interesting variation. You’ve differentiated them all in the same way. You might call that parallel differentiation rather than orthogonal. On the other hand, if you have a weapon that is powerful but slow and one that is faster but weaker, then the player can make a meaningful choice about which is better. (And one could be better in different circumstances.)

So, back to platforming?

OUD is usually brought up in relation to objects in the game. In the Doom example, it’s the monsters you are fighting. I gave an example with guns. The Harvey Smith presentation uses an example of army units from a military strategy game. So I may be stretching the meaning of it, but platform mechanics provide orthogonal differentiation between up, down, and sideways movement.

Now, in a literal sense, vertical movement is orthogonal to horizontal movement. That’s the original mathematical meaning of the word, after all. But for example, in Pac Man, if you took the maze and turned it on its side, you’d still have essentially the same game. Because movement in all four directions works the same.

If you took Mario Brothers and turned it on its side, you’d completely change everything. (And it probably wouldn’t be a very good game anymore.)
Mario Brothers rotated on its side

Moving from the bottom to the top of this screen is a completely different action than moving from the top to the bottom. Or from the left to the right. All thanks to gravity and jumping.


Imagine trying to explain this movement without any reference to “jumping” or “gravity.”

“Your character can move along the horizontal axis by pushing in the same direction with the joystick, but along the vertical axis, you can’t. Instead you can push a button to increase your upwards speed, but only when you’re touching the top side of one of a solid object. Then your character will be given some upward speed, and will accelerate in the downward direction until such a time that you’re touching the top side of a solid object, upon which your vertical speed will stop, but the upwards speed button will be re-enabled. If you move horizontally to a position where you’re no longer touching the top of a solid object, you will also accelerate downwards until you are again touching a solid object.”

As a movement mechanic, it’s surprisingly complex, and I think only manages to stay intuitive because it piggybacks on concepts that people are very familiar with.

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You’re A Mimic!

So I did the latest Ludum Dare and made You’re A Mimic!

I guess because I’ve been playing with Fungus a lot lately, it’s something where you try to find the holes in a treasure chest’s story, to prove it’s really a mimic.

I’d been making another Fungus game lately, but hadn’t really constrained it, in terms of it’s a conversation that you can take in a lot of directions, which makes it hard to keep the amount of dialog I have to write from growing exponentially. Which had got me thinking about what methods visual-novel-style games use to keep everything on track. I think there’s a lot I could still learn about that, but one approach is like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney where a witness tells their story and you can pick apart the facts from that.

The theme for this Ludum Dare was “shape-shift” and that lead to the “mimic” that’s in some video games, disguising itself as a treasure chest. I’m apparently not the only person to take the theme in that direction. So this combined with my previous thoughts about the Ace Attorney-style mechanic to become You’re A Mimic!

In building it, I spent the most time drawing the graphics, and possibly the second most time programming the “fact” process, since it’s not something built into the core Fungus engine. I might return to that “fact” add-on and figure out ways to make it scale to larger games more easily.

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Hex vs Square

A tweet got me thinking about hex and square tiles in board games. It is several months old at this point, but that means I’ve given the subject a thorough going-over.

You might be interested in this blog post I read titled 20 Fun Facts about Hex Grids.
Or Red Blob Games’ really cool demonstration of some stuff about hexagons.


Obvious difference is a hex tile has 6 neighbours. Squares have only 4, unless you’re counting diagonals, and then you’ve got 8.


Which brings up diagonals. With squares, you’ve got these neighbours that might or might not count as neighbours, depending on how you want to interpret that. In a hex grid, you haven’t got that ambiguity.

In hex chess variants, sometimes they come up with something for the bishops to do, but it feels kind of forced, to me. Diagonals are a natural idea for squares but not for hexes.
movement of a bishop in hex chess

For purposes of orthogonal unit differentiation, it’s simple to have pieces that move diagonally, cardinally, or both. With a hex grid, you have to work a little harder to find different movement patterns.


One thing that’s odd with squares is the difference between diagonal distance and cardinal distance.

The length of the diagonal of a 1×1 square is the square root of 2, or about 1.4. But if you instead just count the number of tiles it takes to traverse the distance, you end up with a different ratio. If you allow diagonal movement, you can travel 40% faster than you would intuitively expect. If you don’t allow diagonal movement, that takes two steps and you’re traveling 30% slower than you might expect.

If you think about distances as the non-tiled distance, a circle contains all points that are equal distance from the centre of that circle. But for square tile-based movement, you’ll get a diamond shape. And for hexagonal tile-based movement, you get a hexagon.
hexdistance squareDistance

If you find a formula for the number of tiles X tiles away from a centre-point, (doubling back is not permitted) it does work out to 6X for hexagons and 4X for squares. If you were looking for the circumference of a circle, the formula is 2PI*X. 2PI is roughly 6.28318. So 6X comes a lot closer to the non-tiled version than does 4X.

And if you look at the shape of those two, the one based on square tiles makes a diamond shape. If you consider the circumference as travel distance without diagonal movement it would take twice as many moves, and then the ratio is even further off.

So I think if consistency of distance is important in your game, you might prefer hex tiles.


One way to measure a connected graph is the clustering coefficient. This is defined by the number of triangles made of three points divided by the number of “triplets.” Triplets in this case are any three points where at least one point is connected to the other two.

According to this value, there’s a dramatic difference between a square grid and a hex grid. A hex grid has a global clustering coefficient of 0.4, a square grid has a global clustering coefficient of 0.

On a square grid, (assuming no diagonals) the smallest loop you can make is a square, with 4 points. So no triangles.

So if you want slightly more or less interconnectedness, consider that in light of this.

Let’s consider two games and how the balance of the game is changed according to these differences.


Carcassonne tiles are square

I’ll ignore for the moment the river, but each edge of a tile can be either open field, road, or city. The simple formula is 3*3*3*3=81, but you have to take into account some of those are equivalent when rotated. I didn’t think of a more elegant way to do it, but a brute-force approach says there are 24 possibilities when you account for rotations.

If it’s got 6 sides, then 3*3*3*3*3*3=729, but by my brute-force accounting for rotations, that’s down to 130. That is over 5 times as many possible tiles.

In Carcassonne, when you play a tile, you must match it to one or more of the existing tiles, road to road, city to city, etc.

So what percentage of cards will meet the requirements of one edge? Of two? Of three?

Again, I didn’t do anything too fancy, just brute-forced an algorithm that loops through all the possibilities and counts how many could fit.

What I found is if you do a straight comparison of 1 edge hex to 1 edge square, 2 edges hex to 2 edges square, etc. the hex tiles find a match a higher percentage of the time. Which makes sense. You have six ways you can rotate the tile instead of four. But of course, with square tiles, we can have at most four edge requirements, while with hex tiles, we might have up to six. So it starts out easier to make a match, but it becomes much more difficult once you’ve added more sides.

Matches for hex tiles
# of sides sides # of matching tiles % matching
1 field 116 89.2307692308
2 field + road 70 53.8461538462
2 field + field 54 41.5384615385
3 field + road + road 27 20.7692307692
3 field + road + field 25 19.2307692308
3 field + road + city 27 20.7692307692
3 field + field + road 27 20.7692307692
4 F + F + F + F 7 5.3846153846
4 F + F + F + R 9 6.9230769231
4 F + F + R + F 9 6.9230769231
4 F + F + R + R 9 6.9230769231
4 F + F + R + C 9 6.9230769231
4 F + R +R + F 9 6.9230769231
5 F + R +R + F + C 3 2.3076923077
6 1 0.7692307692
Matches for square tiles
# of sides sides # of matching tiles % matching
1 F 18 75
2 FF 7 29.1666666667
2 FR 9 37.5
3 FRF 3 12.5
3 FRC 3 12.5
4 FRFC 1 4.1666666667

Note there is variation between, for example, field + road and field + field. I didn’t consider every possible combination, so these numbers are imprecise, but they should be roughly representative. The variation within a specified number of sides seems to be smaller than the difference between different numbers of sides and between hex and square tiles, so I think it’s still useful without being more precise.

So if you compare them as matching one edge, matching two edges, matching three edges, then hex tiles are easier to play. But if you compare 3 edges on a hex to 2 edges on a square, because both are 50% of the edges, then hex tiles are more difficult to match.

I don’t have a solid way to prove this right now, but I feel like this would encourage a more disperse layout. A tightly-packed layout requires you match more edges. But I think tightly-packed Carcassonne is the more interesting Carcassonne.


In Hive you win a game by surrounding the other player’s queen bee. Obviously having 6 neighbours or 4 changes the difficulty of that. Note in the photo the the white queen is surrounded on 3 sides. If a square was surrounded on 3 sides, that’s one move from losing, but as a hex, it’s only half-way.

There’s also a restriction that you can’t move a piece if it’s the only thing keeping two parts of the game connected. So for example here, the white queen and white ant can’t move, but the white beetle or grasshopper could. I think here the possibility of triangles makes a big difference. If a tile and two neighbours form a triangle, then any one of the three can be moved without disconnecting the other two. With square-based tiles, the smallest loop with that property requires four tiles.

Or another way to think about it, if a hex tile has two adjacent neighbours, they are also neighbours of one another. For a square tile, this doesn’t happen, and it requires a further tile to bridge them together. So if you tried to play Hive with square tiles, I think you’d have a lot more pieces that become trapped because they are the only piece connecting other pieces together.

More than two possibilities?

Now these two are the most popular, but if the right circumstance comes up, I think some other tiles could make sense.

Triangular tiles would be pretty straightforward, just alternate triangles pointing up and down. Only three neighbours. Those neighbours are not neighbours, so not very tight clustering. (In fact the smallest possible loop is 6 tiles arranged in a hexagon.) Distances can be twice as far depending on whether you’re lined up with one of three directions.

Five-sided tiles?

There was an announcement that a new tiling pentagon was discovered. There were already 14 different classes of tiling pentagon though there are some complexities here.


None of them are regular (equal-length sides) like our squares and hexes are. So mechanics that rely on being able to rotate the tile in any direction aren’t going to work.

Even though they have five sides, many of the patterns have more than five neighbours. (And some cases they might have different numbers of neighbours.)

Some rely on the tile being mirrored, so whether that’s acceptable for your purposes may vary. If you are printing tiles for a board game, for example, you’d need to print both sides. And it might be an additional complication for players.

Free-form maps?

And of course there are games with maps that don’t use on a single repeating tile, but are more free-form. For example Risk, or Metropolys have boards where at any given location the number of neighbours at that location can vary. That puts more emphasis on the landscape of the board. A tactic that works in one location needs to be adjusted for other locations. So when considering the question “squares or hexes” consider whether you even need things to be tileable.

Here’s the map from Metropolis with the number of neighbours for each written down.

That’s 4 ones, 5 twos, 21 threes, 20 fours, and 5 fives, if you’re curious. Risk (not pictured) has 4 twos, 13 threes, 13 fours, 7 fives, 5 sixes. So, overall more connected than Metropolys. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader to consider how changing that would change the balance of the game.

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Reload sounds

So a difference I noticed recently between Mutant Alien Assault and Super Crate Box. Reload sounds.

The two games are kind of similar genre, so I think it makes sense to compare them. Both require the player switch weapons fairly often.

In Mutant Alien Assault, most of the weapons with the longest reload times have a sound effect that plays when the weapon is available to fire again. For grenade, rocket launcher and mines, it’s pretty obvious, a solid click or beep. The sound for the sniper rifle is a little quieter and easy to miss. The plasma ball (not 100% certain what to call it?) weapon is the one weapon with a long reload time where I can’t hear anything to indicate it’s ready to fire again.

In Super Crate Box, there are a lot of weapons, like the mines, the rocket and grenade launcher that have long reload times but no indication that I can see or hear that the weapon is ready again. I think this has made it a little more frustrating for me to use these weapons, when I don’t have the small sound reinforcing the reload time.

Small thing, but one of those design questions it’s worth considering. If you have something that always takes a certain amount of time, are you doing anything visually or audibly to show that to the player, or are you assuming they will memorize it?

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Yet another thing for Fungus

Okay, now I made something that modifies the Fungus Say Dialog to work more like it’s a text messaging system, where it shows a series of bubbles of what characters have said, instead of just the most recent Say.


You can download the files you need here but of course you’ll also need Fungus.

I’ve got an example scene and a prefab called TextDialog. To use it you just drag the TextDialog into your scene. The colour and alignment of the text bubbles are set according to the Name Color and Portraits Face values for whichever character is talking. The left and right on the text bubbles are kind of cheated by putting offsets into the background images. So you’ll need to make your own images to adjust that.

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