“This is what designers do—we look at tools we have available to us from programming or whatever, and ask ‘how can I break this? How can I use this in a way that will horrify the programmers when they find out how we’re using it? And use it for something that’s very different in game.’”
- Tyranny game director Brian Heins
If you want to make an omelette, you’re going to have to break a few eggs. And if you want to come up with a creative solution in game design, you’re inevitably going to do something that freaks out your programmers. Or at least, that’s what Tyranny director Brian Heins told us last week.
For context, and the sanity of your programming team, Heins was specifically talking about how Obsidian’s latest RPG Tyranny utilizes mouseover text, and how some of its implementation came from trying to use it in ways it wasn’t intended to. For developers working on choice-driven gameplay, it’s an anecdote (seen above) worth listening to because it seemingly provides a solution for delivering metatextual information about the state of gameplay—or adding flair to character design.
In case you haven’t played through a Twine game in the last few years, the system Heins is talking about is one where text displayed in a dialogue box can be highlighted to reveal additional narrative information. Instead of a typical tooltip—which might explain gameplay information to the player—the mouseover text of Tyranny can provide basic background information of the world and keep the player up to speed on why new NPCs they encounter may be friendly or hostile to their presence.
Heins himself calls these "lore links," but their purpose goes just beyond making a game's lore accessible.
For instance, there’s the programmer-horrifying solution that Heins says Tyranny’s narrative director came up with, which was to use the mouseover text to lend an air of creepiness to a major character called Voices of Nerat. Instead of providing metatextual information to the player, Voices of Nerat invades that metatextual space, and speaks directly to the player in a way other characters can’t hear through mouseover text.
It’s a clever choice—and even if it’s not one that solves any “problems,” like the way Heins says other instances of mouseover text can, it’s still an excellent layer of storytelling that may be worth implementing in your game (just be sure to thank your programmers when you suggest it).
Be sure to subscribe to Gamasutra's Twitch channel for more developer interviews and gameplay commentary, and check out our full interview with Obsidian's Brian Heins from last week.