Early in the design of The Torus Syndicate, we knew that we wanted some sort of object that the players can throw in the game; This object would provide alternative combat options that required some skill to use, but results in a great payoff if placed/timed right. The goal was to create meaningful choices for the player while they’re playing the game; Whether to use the powers now and risk not having it when a more challenging scenario occurs, or to use it now in order to get past a particularly tough situation.
The initial approach we went towards is to simply let the players pick up the object and throw it. It was the intuitive solution; Since the players now have hands; Why not let them actually toss the object? Surely it would increase immersion!
As it turns out, the mechanic was a double-edged sword; While it was certainly awesome to chuck a grenade across the world into the feet of some poor NPC, it was also incredibly hard to do so with any kind of accuracy. After a couple throws, we also found it to be quite tiring if the grenade needed to go somewhere far away. On top of that, it was also really inconvenient to use, requiring the player to do multiple steps in order to actually use the grenades.
Stepping back from the ledge of bad game mechanics disguised as new immersive experiences, we had to ask ourselves the question; Is it too much? Are we getting what we want?
In the initial goal, we know that a successful player should be able to use this tool in a skillful manner. Having the player toss the grenade introduces a mechanic that is so variable that a skilled player might still fail in their task from time to time, and a novice player has practically no hope of the item doing what the player wanted to do. This isn’t fun, it’s the definition of frustrating.
The example above goes back to one of the earlier topics about mastering the craft; Being a master requires not just knowing what to put in, but what to leave out, as well. A director doesn’t use every type of cut or transition he/she knows simply because it’s a film. Instead, the good director chooses the types of cuts and transitions that best communicate the goal of the movie, which is to deliver a story.
In a similar vein, we realized that we needed a different way to deliver the gameplay we wanted. We eventually repurposed a common teleportation approach in VR; Using the user interface of a parabolic arc teleporter, we had a method to show the player the trajectory and landing location of their grenade using a single button press, and provide real-time feedback to the player on how changes to their controller orientation would affect the trajectory. This fits the design goal of providing timely and effective usage of the tool, it was also accessible to all players (independent of their strength) and saved us significant amounts of time than if we implemented another system. It’s certainly a more game-y design, but we think it’s an appropriate trade-off when we see it through the perspective of usability.
Hurray! The Torus Syndicate is now on Steam.
Check out our store page and buy our game if you’ve been enjoying these posts!