Another thing you could do with that water example is to show an NPC walking around in the water in one of the first maps. This invites the player to think "I wonder if I could do that too" and lets them try it out and see. You could also put a reward of some kind in the water, like a chest or a sparkly "there's something hidden here" interactive event. These would reward the player for trying what you wanted them to do, one of the other things mentioned in that video.
Yeah, I just went with the first thing I could think of. There are plenty of ways to signify that you can walk into it. I just thought it was funny when I was playing a game where I could and the game never told me, so I was using bridges until I accidentally walked into the water and was like "HEY"
This is an awesome and informative post (one of the better ones).
Since we are on the topic of teaching players, I am curious what you think of pushing the player in a general direction (via visual hints and the like) vs outright telling the player what to do.
Modern Games tend to just tell you exactly where to go (even if the party doesn't actually know where that destination is) while older games relied heavily on visual cues and experimentation. Note: Of course there are exceptions to this.
I think it depends on the game. If the game has a strong exploration element, then telling people where to go is kind of meh. But if the point of the game isn't the exploration, its not really an issue.
I think, with regards to "go here" vs. hints, there should be some sort of balance. Visual/audio clues are good--if you're in a building and most of the carpet is blue, but the carpet outside the Special Room You're Supposed To Go In, Hint Hint is red, many players will catch on. But I also prefer including an NPC element that will at least hint where to go if a player talks to them once ("Did you see that weird patch of carpet? What's up with that?") and then outright tell a player if they're really stuck and ask twice ("I keep hearing noises from behind the second door in the left hallway... Do you think it's a ghost? [...] No way am I going in there. How about you go and tell me if it's safe?"). Maybe a player just didn't think to note the color change; in that case, the NPC's first hint would clue them in. Maybe a player is colorblind, or is playing on a monotone computer screen, or has some other problem distinguishing between colors; then, a second interaction with the NPC would effectively allow them to progress.
Sure, the player could always look it up or check the manual--but a direct mention within the game prevents them from having to break out of the game and look for a solution elsewhere.
Gameplay elements shouldn't need a sign, but I think providing an optional sign can be really useful to aid the player experience.
Also, how about a notable example of "don't let the player get something one way and then never again/make it seem like the player can get something from repeating element that doesn't give them anything"--Pokemon. You can interact with every single trashcan. Heck, you know you're not going to get a Master Ball out of it, but you do it anyway. They even have an award for it! Personally, I don't think that it detracts from the playing experience. Is it the exception that makes the rule, or just an example of nonsensical game design?
This kinda goes to the whole "Sparkly" spots vs. non-"sparkly" spots thing. Lots of devs (myself included) use the shiny spots to show something is interact-able in the environment.
To me two things are important here:
1. Stay consistent in having shiny spots vs. non shiny spots in the game. Don't have shiny spots for interact-able objects but then suddenly have spots that are interact-able that don't have shiny spots. At least not unless there is some sort of super obvious tell there is something to do there (like establishing early on all bookshelves are examinable).
2. If not using shiny spots make it clear which objects can be commonly examined. I don't go into rpgs anymore simply assuming I can examine random objects in the environment, I expect to be told/educated I can do so. The post points out consistency here is important to.
Anyway I like relatively obvious visual clues for other things, have something be discolored from the norm or objects around it that hint there is more to the other than a glance suggests. Sometimes though you just can't beat quickly showing or telling the player, "hey you can do this!"
I like it best when the design leads me where to go instead of telling me where to go. I love Zelda games, but I am sure sick of being told every single little thing about how to play it or where to go next in every single game. There's a good but rather crass video that talks about this concept and explains how the first level of Mega Man X is nearly perfect. There were brand new elements of game play in that game like wall sliding and charge shot, but they never once explained how to do it. Instead they built the design in such a way so that the players just instinctively knew what to do. The best part about designing a game like that is that it's seamless, the player will think it's their idea if it comes up at all, and it'll make them feel clever.
Designing this way isn't just things like mapping with different tiles or pops of color, it's also the way you map lines into the scene. Imagine you've got an open map with no actual boundaries, but you've got tiles to decorate it that look roughly like this: / | \ Where would you go? Up and in the middle, right? Our minds like to find patterns and fill in gaps, as a designer it's good to use that to your advantage and imply lines and imply form so that people fill in those gaps and come up with the solution themselves.
Anyway, I don't think it actually does depend on the game, I think if you're not heavy handed with it there's a way to design a way forward instead of posting it outright for every type of game. You may not want to do that for every little thing that needs direction, but I think overall it's a good way to go.
I think that subtle visual and auditory clues can do wonders, not only for the quality of the gameplay, but storytelling too. But I'll have to say that it's one of the more advanced developing techniques, since we even see most AAA titles expositioning the brains out of a game and hand-holding to an insane amount.
The navigation problem through a non-linear map first came in my mind too. A bold, threatening level design, a sinister change of tone, even the name of the area can alert the player that maybe this place is better left for later on.
Seeing an NPC use a device in some manner can let the player know that this specific item you can interact with.
Places better lit up in a dimmer environment will always catch the eye.
Those are just some examples and it's my humble opinion that if the dev cares enough to dedicate some time to it, they can find some incredibly smart new tricks.
To stay with the example of the shallow areas in the pool.
1. In the first section I would use only deep pools (without any shallow tiles) and let the player get used to the look of a tile that can't be passed.
2. After a while or in the 2nd section I would start to add shallow pools (without any deep tiles) and with small secret areas behind them (depending on the game type I would probably also give the player a hint in form of a riddle, but NOT obvious enough to push his nose to that fact that shallow tiles can be walked on)
3. At the border to the 3rd section I would create a deep pool with an obvious path or bridge made of shallow tiles in it and the necessity to pass it to further progress into the game.
By then the players brain should been used to one colored deep pools and one colored shallow pools to recognize the difference. If it takes the player a bit of time to get behind the idea, it's even better because of the enjoyment to have solved a riddle.
Must say this guy in this video reminds me a of a friend I knew in the late 80s. By then computer games usually came with crude design and animation flaws and often the fault wasn't the early computer technology but the ignorance of the game designers and he always explained me why things he did had a so much better look and feel than everyone else's. One advice he gave me was to observe the things I want to recreate closely in all functionality. It's like the door with a handle and the door with a plate, if you don't observe it closely and just copy the handle because it looks good without the understanding of the use behind it, then you probably end up creating a Norman Door.
Norman doors are everywhere not just in map or door design. Meaningless dialogues as an example are one bad way of using a text box, but even worse is a meaningful dialogue that didn't catch the attention of the player or wasn't clear enough to be understood, so at some point I've started to think about making important dialogues stand out.
This is a huge topic, because design (in this meaning) is hidden anywhere. Animations, Character personality, Dialogues, Dramaturgy... let's make only cool designed games from now on ;-).