How to Use Beacons as a Visual Guide (Acagamic Tip Tuesday #22)

the acagamic tip tuesday Jul 12, 2022
Visual beacons in the game Left 4 Dead 2 indicate where the other players are when they are obscured by game geometry. The colour of the beacon outline indicates their status.

In today’s issue, we’ll learn how to use beacons as a visual guide in our game to help players navigate a complex 3D game world. I define ‘beacons’ here as game UI elements that are visible through any in-game geometry. This will only take a few minutes to read.

Game UX Tip of the Week

Use Beacons as a Visual Guide: In games, where players have to navigate through complex geometry use beacons (visual indicators that not obscured by game geometry) as a guide for players to their next objective or their co-players.

Beacons are beneficial in situations when the arrival at this location in the game is time-critical or the navigation through the game is highly complex. Using beacons is good practice in games and helps you avoid player confusion when they have trouble identifying the most relevant next location.

Unfortunately, many games don’t use beacons or use cues that are obscured by geometry. Furthermore, some games simply use directional navigation cues (like a compass), which are much harder for players to understand (watch the Netflix show ‘Snowflake Mountain’ to see a younger generation entirely puzzled by the concept of a compass).

Players don’t achieve game goals by chance. Designers carefully guide them towards relevant points.

Being aware of what to do next keeps players engaged in your game.

During gameplay, players struggle to make progress in a game because:

  • The game has not made it clear what the exact next step is.
  • The next step is clear but it’s not clear where it happens.
  • It is hard for them to keep track of their progress.
  • They keep getting lost on their way to their next goal.

All of these problems can easily be fixed by integrating beacons for important gameplay elements (co-players, missions, objectives) into your game.

Here's how you can build a beacon in your game, step by step:

Step 1: Decide on your mission-critical gameplay elements

The most important function of your beacon is to guide the player toward the desired outcome (like the goal of a level or the location of a co-player).

In Left 4 Dead 2 (see image above), the mission-critical goal is for players to stay together (the game’s AI director will unleash hordes of zombies onto players that stray too far away from the group). Thus, they decided the most important beacon is to see the location of the other players (and the safe room at the end of a level).

These beacons were created with an outline of the player models.

Step 2: Settle on a consistent visual (or audio) representation of your beacon

Often beacons are inconsistently used in games. Only some levels have them or only one element has them. Or the beacon is not self-explanatory.

For example, Fallout 4 (see image below) has beacons that guide the player to a location (depending on what quest is selected) of interest but they are ambiguous and hard to decipher as soon as the player is in a stacked 3D environment with multiple levels (like the Institute).

Left 4 Dead 2 did this well through the outlines around other co-op players whenever they leave your sight (one of the game design objectives is for the players to stay together). In addition, they encoded the status information of the player in the colour of the outline, so that players who are pinned down are easier to find. The result is one of the best co-op gameplay experiences ever created. Players know where other players are and when they are in danger.

Audio representations are much harder to do but can work well (at least for danger, e.g. Geiger counter) in some situations.

Avoid having ambiguous beacons and try to not make them too abstract. Players will have a hard time understanding them. Make sure to take some time to teach players how the beacons work.

Step 3: Test your beacon with players

Once your beacon is implemented, make sure to test it with your players to see whether the representation you chose works and whether they consider this helpful or important to their progress in the game.

Using an effective beacon to help players navigate your game will result in a much smoother gameplay experience.

UX Research App of the Week: Airtable

There are quite a few professional user research managers and databases out there, but if you want to start for free, Airtable is unbeatable in its flexibility of what it can do.

We use Airtable for all sorts of things, but it’s really nice when tied to survey apps (like Qualtrics or others discussed last week for data collection) and can filter and analyze your data quickly. It’s also close to a full CRM and can provide real benefits when trying to keep track of people for a study (some of which can be automated).

If you use my referral link above, we both get a signup credit.

Games Research Find of the Week

In this paper, the authors discuss the idea that colour intensity, brightness, and saturation of a video game environment produce an emotional effect on players. Their goal was to support colour scripting in game design, where mood boards and colour boards can serve to give a feel for the emotions the games should create.

They studied 85 participants (31 females and 54 males, average age: 32) looking at 24 screenshots of video games with different colour properties. Their results show a significant correlation between luminance, saturation, lightness, and the emotions of joy, sadness, fear, and serenity.

Based on their results they propose a circumplex model (akin to the one know from emotion research) to help game designers develop emotional colour scripting. The image of the proposed model is shown below.

Read the full study: Geslin, E., Jégou, L., & Beaudoin, D. (2016). How color properties can be used to elicit emotions in video games. International Journal of Computer Games Technology , 2016.

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