Why does our GUI look and act the way it does?

Two quick sections today just to follow up from the previous GUI post.  We’re still talking about the user interface, so I just want to show our reasoning behind some smaller decisions.

Why is our GUI in distinct sections instead of a single bar?

This is something that you find a lot in games like Legend of Zelda, Binding of Isaac, etc.. and it has to do with how we process numbers.  To put it in obvious terms, big numbers sound big, and small numbers sound small.  If you want people to manage health effectively, you don’t give them 20 hearts to work with, you give them 10 hearts and allow them to lose half hearts, or in some of the older Zelda games, even quarter-hearts.

We want sanity to feel like a precious resource, so we want you to be able to quantify it in low numbers.  Once you’ve lost a bit of your maximum sanity and you’re working with around 3 or 4 ticks, the game is much more tense.  It’s a subtle change, but I think it does have an effect.

Why is our GUI still visible when you close your eyes?

There are actually two different lines of thought we could have gone with here, and although the decision was made relatively quickly, it’s still something I occasionally spend a lot of time thinking about.

My initial thought was that having a GUI disappear when you close your eyes maximizes the disparity between the two basic choices the game presents you with.  If we want your blind state to feel dangerous, we ought to pull as much information away from you as possible while you’re in it.

However, there are several realities that make the choice a little more complicated.

Firstly, even if we’re hiding information from the player, we can’t hide everything.  To carry the previous statement to it’s logical conclusion, we’d have to blank out literally everything, including sound.  Essentially, you’d close your eyes and just press random buttons until you died, which wouldn’t be scary – just frustrating and . So the issue isn’t just about maximizing disparity between the two choices you make, it’s also about choosing the correct degree to stop at.  Sometimes the best approach isn’t the most extreme one.

Secondly, there is certain information just makes a lot of sense for you to have access to all the time.  Blind navigation is a subject for a different post, but it’s a good example of what I’m talking about, so I’ll go into just a little bit more detail on it.

Our original prototype didn’t have any indicators at all when you closed your eyes – we simple stopped drawing to the screen.  But in real life, when you close your eyes you have all kinds of sensory input, and the way you’re forced to rely on those senses that you might otherwise ignore is what makes blindness so fascinating.

The point is that giving you certain kinds of feedback makes blindness feel more authentic because it’s closer to imitating actual blindness.  I think sanity falls under that category.  As much as I want having your eyes closed to be scary, I also want to accurately express how that makes the game’s protagonist feel.  You should be able to get a sense of relief as you see that green bar go up instead of down.

Finally, an always-on GUI allows us to pull the same tricks I talked about in the last post.  When you get attacked, we want you to have a kind of frantic reaction.  So having a sudden change from your sanity being at max, or increasing to decreasing, rapidly, is an effective way to illicit that response.

What other things do we plan on doing with the GUI?

By far the biggest change we’re going to be making right now is adding additional feedback when you’re low on sanity.  It’s still relatively easy to forget what your “health” situation is, so we want to add more visual and auditory indicators of when you’re about to go crazy.

We’re not done testing and improving this thing, and we’ll keep you updated as we do.

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