Friday, 12 December 2014

Signposting tips and tricks

Signposting is a term commonly used in level design to refer to the subconscious tricks designers use to steer players towards game objectives. Despite its name, it is the complete opposite of giving the players a signpost or way-point and instead using colours and shapes to tell the player without telling them. This gives the player a feeling of being in a real living world because it strips away some of those more game-y features. In this post I'm going to go over the basic principle's so you can experiment in your own designs.

Follow the light.

The easiest and the cheapest technique in signposting is playing with light. It's a natural human instinct to avoid dark places for fear of what could be there, and this operates on the smallest change in light. If you brighten one path over the other then players will prefer to take that path. This doesn't have to be scary either. just a little splash of light will do the trick. Beyond using the fear card, light can also serve to clarify certain shapes over others. If there are five doors and only one is lit, a player will on first glance see the door detailing on the lit door first, meaning they see that as a way forward before even realizing the other shapes are doors.

The Stanley Parable is a satirical take on traditional signposting techniques, but this is pretty much what's going on in most levels.

Colour cues

Colours have for a long time been used and reused for alot of things and now serve a functional purpose of conveying information, both in and outside of games. For example, red is a timeless sign of danger, which has been evolutionary ingrained since reptilian times due to blood being red, which caused poisonous animals to evolve to be red to point out their danger, and so on. If you want to forewarn players to stay away, be alert, etc, paint the town red. More specifically to the action genre, red also means explosive so that's another colour cue you can use.

From call of duty 4. as this door opens, red light spills out from underneath to warn the player of an oncoming assault.


The shape of things is one the most useful tools at your disposal. With it you can offer complete freedom or outright deny access to a part of your level. But lets look at what you can do to coerce people rather than force them down a path.
In multiplayer alot of maps follow a cyclical progression. Where fights will play out from a) to b) to c) and back to a). Now if you want people to move in a circle a great way to drop a hint is to create a big circular structure as a centerpiece for your level. The structure should be designed to produce a crossfire inside it so people are encouraged to skirt the outside, creating a good map flow.
Cones can also be a good steering tool in any kind of shooting game as when charging an enemy a space that opens up is alot more enticing than one that constricts. These are often used in open symmetrical maps to focus firefights to particular interesting play-spaces as opposed to the empty fields that dominate the map.

The Halo 2 map "Shrine" was built around a central cylindrical piece (technically octagonal) that suggested a cyclical motion to the gameplay and had cone-openings dotted throughout the tunnels and doorways.

Those are some basic tricks that can be used in your games to get you thinking. If you want to know more, look into psychology as that's what most of these tricks are operating on. Always explore new ideas and remember to play-test all the time. It's one thing to have a theory that sounds good, it's another for it to work in practice. If you have any levels and you're comfortable sharing, let me know in the comments and I'll be your guinea pig and see how it works.

1 comment:

  1. Useful post

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