Author Topic: Control features that make a lemmings game good  (Read 5925 times)

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Offline Simon

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Control features that make a lemmings game good
« on: July 06, 2009, 08:40:16 PM »
Hi people,

I brainstormed about what simple, yet effective features a good lemmings game should have. Many of these are implemented by the original lemmings games or by today's players like Lemmix, Lemmini etc.

I'd like to know about which of these features are something you'd miss if they aren't there, what features would see little or no use, or what features would be strictly against the spirit of the game. :-D

How to select skills:

  • Click on the skill buttons
  • Hit a per-skill hotkey (F1 through F10 in DOS times. Nowadays in 2012, Lix and Clones bind skills to letter keys of the left hand, and allow free remapping in addition. This has proven to be the most comfortable method.)
  • Go left/right through available skills (Z/X keys)

The last method is probably useful on a handheld console because of its lack of F-keys. Does anyone use the last method primarily when playing on a computer?

If the game features a release rate selection, one can:

  • Click and hold the rate buttons.
  • Hold keys on the keyboard.
  • Adjust the rate even while the game is paused. (Thanks to ccexplore for mentioning this. Quote from his first reply:) This feature is actually absent in many ports of Lemmings.  Even in DOS, its availability might be more an accident than intentional, since when the game is paused, you can only change the release rate using the keyboard, not the mouse. (End quote)
  • Double click the Plus/Minus button to set the rate instantly to its max/min. I came up with the need for this some years ago, but IIRC some Lemmings programs use this already. ccexplore's comment should be considered for this as well.

Scrolling the level around!

  • Move mouse to screen edge.
  • Speed up the screen edge scrolling if the right mouse button is held.
  • Hold right mouse button to scroll just as the mouse is moved. This is a very user-friendly way. It can still exist without problems even if the right mouse button is heavily used for enhancing the player's lemming selection. The game should allow the player to toggle the way of scrolling if he doesn't like it.
  • If there's a mini map, clicking at any position on it scrolls there.

How to determine what lemming receives a skill if the player clicks on a bunch of lemmings?

  • A normal left-click on a bunch of lemmings gives the skill to the lemming with the hightest priority. This is the basic mechanism, but one can think about how the priority is actually determined.
  • Workers have higher priority than non-workers, i.e. lemmings doing something that they still could do if they got never clicked upon or nuked.
  • If two lemmings are both workers or non-workers, maybe the one with more permanent abilities (climber, floater, swimmer, ...)  could have higher priority.
  • One could further think about whether the exploder's countdown counts as a permanent ability or not for calculating the priority.
  • If two lemmings are still equal under these criteria, the one that entered the level earlier should have higher priority. L1, ONML and Xmaslems treated the one that entered later with the higher priority, but I think that's usually the wrong one.
  • Some lemmings can't be clicked at, even if they're the only lemmings under the cursor. It might be in the interest of the player to give the climber skill to a blocker at some time, but not allowing this saves more damage than allowing it provides use. (Edit: ClamSpammer likes the idea to just give blockers low priorities better, especially if there are more ways to release blockers than in L1.)
  • One could supersede any of these rules with arbitrary exceptions, like that blockers always have top priority, even over other workers that entered the level earlier, if the skill to be given is exploder.

There are several ways to enhance the controls for selecting a certain lemming.

  • Hold the right mouse button to give the skill to the lemming with the lowest priority under the curser instead. L1 and the like had a similar feature that simply caused workers to never be selected at all. However, inverting the priorities seems to make more sense than the L1 right mouse button feature.
  • Directional selection: Holding the left/right arrow key on the keyboard will take only those lemmings into consideration that are looking in the held direction. L1 doesn't offer this, although its physics allow the blinking cursor trick. (Clicking on the far left of a dense lemmings bunch will select someone that looks right.)
  • L3 used the right mouse button to highlight lemmings. Right-clicking in the air cycled the highlighter through the lemmings that were carrying a tool at the moment. L3D had highlighting as well, but didn't use the right mouse button for it. Assuming that holding the right button inverts the priority as above, does one still need lemming highlight when playing on a computer, not on a handheld? It would then work just like in L3D. For a handheld, highlighting should be the main feature because one can't right click.

The following points are ways to enhance the clicking precision.

  • Clicking lemmings during the pause gives skills to the lemmings. It usually unpauses the game as well.
  • Instead of just having fast-forward, a slow-motion feature allows pixel-perfect precision. The lemmings could advance 1 or 2 frames per second instead of the usual 17 like in L1. Paired with the ability to pause the game at any point, one has as much time as one would like to have during any frame.
  • Zoom: Twice or even four times the size for even more pixel perfection, especially if this is combined with frame-by-frame advancement or slowmotion.

Are these good ideas? Or do you think that pixel-perfect clicking at 17 FPS is an important part of the game that should remain at all costs? Unlike the scrolling controls, this has an effect on the the game mechanics for a human, after all.

These points go in the same direction. They make a lemmings game more like a designer's tool to draw/enhance a solution for a level until it is correct. This is how a good lemmings game should present itself IMHO, because I think of the game as a pure brain teaser, not of something that punishes slightly incorrect clicking. Point out if you disagree with me here, please, as this part shows the players' philosophies like nothing else. :-)

  • Action replay: Have all the actions automatically played again when you restart, jump in right before the error, and play on from there.
  • Rewind: Go backwarts through time to correct an error, by a single frame or by seconds. If you go too far, you can go forward again, which will be the same as action replay, i.e. if a player action is undone by rewinding, it's redone by this.
  • Saving and loading complete game states, this saves time if one would be action-replaying a long part of a solution just to correct an error at a rather late point.
  • If a replay is saved to the hard disk in a human readable form, one could edit it with a text editor to insert critical moves at an early time of the solution. This way, all the correct stuff at the later time could be kept, unlike it would be if if one uses action replay. This isn't cheating at all, because the game itself should offer as many tools as it can to enhance creating a level solution.
  • Or is there a good way to implement an in-game way to achieve this so it's as intuitive for the user as action replay? Maybe as a special menu that's usually not visible.

Thanks for feed-back in advance. Maybe some features are just plain overkill, but I'd love to play a game that sports all this. :-)

-- Simon

Offline ccexplore

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2009, 10:19:47 PM »
A lot of the features are highly desirable for people who wants to create "challenge" solutions of various sorts that tend to make higher than average uses of pixel-precise moves.  On the other hand, I wouldn't like it very much if all those enhancements end up encouraging level designers to create more levels that rely on pixel-precise movements.

Still, I suppose it's better to have more options available than less.

Zoom: Twice or even four times the size for even more pixel perfection, especially if this is combined with frame-by-frame advancement or slowmotion.

I don't really see how zoom helps with pixel-precise moves, other than maybe a slight reduction in eye strain. ;P

They make a lemmings game more like a designer's tool to draw/enhance a solution for a level until it is correct. This is how a good lemmings game should present itself IMHO, because I think of the game as a pure brain teaser, not of something that punishes slightly incorrect clicking.

Along the same line, I would say a good lemmings level should rely more on solutions that take thought to work out, rather than on pixel-precise moves.  That way there won't be opportunities in the first place to punish the player for incorrect clicking.

That said, your enhancements would certainly make it less tedious for a player to carry out various sorts of "challenge" solutions that may make heavier use of pixel precision.  I could certainly use some of the features in Lemmix for example in making replays for various challenge solutions for Lemmings/ONML/Holiday.

If a replay is saved to the hard disk in a human readable form, one could edit it with a text editor to insert critical moves at an early time of the solution. This way, all the correct stuff at the later time could be kept, unlike it would be if if one uses action replay.

I think this approach can be very prone to creating solutions that doesn't actually work if one were to do it with mouse and keyboard alone (ie. without editing the replay).  The move you inserted could change the timing of all future moves enough that your game cannot rely on the timing stored in the replay to determine when to execute them.

I do like the idea though in general, just that I think it'd be tricky to program this correctly.

======================

There was one thing you didn't mention:  ability to change release rate while the game is paused.  This feature is actually absent in many ports of Lemmings.  Even in DOS, its availability might be more an accident than intentional, since when the game is paused, you can only change the release rate using the keyboard, not the mouse.

It's one feature that I think is definitely worth keeping, as it gives the player much more control over the spacing/distribution of lemmings, effectively adding a whole new puzzle element that players and level designers can make use of.

Offline Simon

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2009, 11:29:13 PM »
The move you inserted could change the timing of all future moves enough that your game cannot rely on the timing stored in the replay to determine when to execute them.

I do like the idea though in general, just that I think it'd be tricky to program this correctly.

Yep, that's important. I believe that any replay format today saves just time and lemming ID for a skill assignment, not the location of the lemming. The early move might throw off skill assignments later in the game, so that the assignments either happen at wrong places or even without fulfilling a requirement, like assigning the builder skill to a faller.

If someone really builds in-game editing, then it could be in the form of a list of all moves. Click on a move to jump there (both time and scrolling position) to see if it still works, insert/delete moves or edit any move's properties.

It's not as intuitive as action replay and very similar to directly editing a replay file. The exception is that one can quickly check if and where any move is performed.

There was one thing you didn't mention:  ability to change release rate while the game is paused.
[...]
It's one feature that I think is definitely worth keeping, as it gives the player much more control over the spacing/distribution of lemmings, effectively adding a whole new puzzle element that players and level designers can make use of.

Thanks, this is good. I included it in the list, it makes a game mechanic difference and is very useful to the player.

ONML required correct RR changing in Flow Control, so I played this level in Dosbox using the standard one-builder solution. I saved 5/21 without paused RR changes, while 6/21 is easily managable with paused changes. If paused RR changes were intended, the number to be saved might been set higher than 3 for a Havoc level, but 5 and 6 aren't that far apart from each other on the other hand.

However, I like the idea of challenges relying on sharp RR changes very much as well, so paused changes are probably a good addition to the game.

-- Simon

Offline Dullstar

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2009, 11:46:14 PM »
That first post is such a wall of text it kind of loses you.  Remember to bold key points.  It's easier to read that way.

Things the games SHOULD have

>>>Changing release rates in the paused mode
Mentioned by ccexplorer
Useful.  I really don't care if you can do it with the mouse as long as it works with F2 like it did in DOS.

>>>Skill selection can be used with keyboard both ways Simon mentioned.
I think it may have been in the Amiga version, though I love having this on the computer version.  By the way, Z and X do not change skills in DOS. :P

>>>Skill selection with mouse
Mentioned by Simon.  Good for slow paced levels, though something that I only think is acceptable to be lacked in console versions.

>>>Changing the release rates in general
NOT mentioned.  Some ports do not let you change the release rates, and Lemmings 2 LACKED this feature.  Leaving this out is generally a bad idea.

>>>(reasonable) Fast forward
Surprising no one mentioned this yet.  This is always useful to have so you don't sit there waiting for lemmings to... walk.  However, some games have implemented a fast forward feature, but obviously did not limit the speed.  Maybe fast forward needs a configuration setting that can be used to limit how much faster things go on fast forward.

>>>Using the arrow keys to pick lemmings when arrow keys are available
I hate it so much when I try to pick a lemming that is headed one way to do a skill, but the game picks one in the other direction.  Simon has mentioned this.

>>>Replay
Saves a lot of frustration when you fail.

I may add more to this later, but I'm going to post what I have now.

Offline Clam

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2009, 01:11:07 AM »
Like ccexplore, I'm concerned about the possibility of level designers making levels that require these features to be used extensively. I guess that's inevitable at any rate though. At least we can discourage such levels by not playing them or giving them bad reviews :D


A few specific thoughts from me:

Savestates: I tried using these in Lemmix and found it quite awkward. It might just be that the two keys you have to press (ctrl+f1) are far apart on the keyboard, but I prefer to use replays, frameskip and fast forward to retry something.

Rewind: I think this would feel a bit strange to use. I like the idea of keeping a list of moves though.

Text-editing replays: I would consider this to be against the "spirit of the game". I think we should give the player as much control as possible while playing the level, but taking that beyond the level just doesn't seem right. With all the other features mentioned here, it will probably be unnecessary anyway.

Highlight: This was very good to have in L3 where the skills were associated with particular lemmings rather than a global pool, but it could be useful in L1 for keeping track of lemmings with permanent skills. I think this would be preferable to prioritising these lemmings, because sometimes you'll want to select them and sometimes you'll want to avoid selecting them. And if you have a higher priority lemming in the same spot (one that is using another skill, or has a different permanent skill), then the lemming you want could become unselectable even with the option to right-click to select the lowest-priority lemming. A highlight option, with the ability to cycle through lemmings and details of the abilities of the highlighted lemming, would ensure that you can always select the right lemming when you need to. Also, rather than cycling through lemmings, you could have a list of lemmings and choose one to be highlighted, to speed things up when choosing from a big group.

Priority orders: I had the idea that a blocker could be assigned a skill like any other lemming, and unblocked by giving another blocker skill, to make them more dynamic. Under this system, the blocker would have the lowest priority for every skill, so you won't unblock it by accident, and you can only select it with a single click if it is on its own. (Or maybe you could make it always require another key to select, just to be sure.) Under the current system, it makes sense to have top priority for exploders only.

Assigning skills while paused: I don't think this should unpause the game. Keeping it paused would allow much greater control. Cycling through highlighted lemmings should be done without unpausing too (I can't remember if L3 let you do this or not).

Offline The Doctor

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2009, 01:35:26 AM »
My favourite control, which I've only seen in the PSP/2 version:

When the crosshair is gathered over a group of walkers in a confined space, and there is a Lemming digging/bashing/building/blocking/mining, the crosshair will prefer to be over the Lemming doing one of those skills. The crosshair can still point to other Lemmings, but within a certain proximity itwill hop over.

The utility of this is hard to describe. It is seen by some to make levels too easier. But s*d them, I like it!
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Offline Dullstar

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2009, 01:43:54 AM »
I know Mr. K wants the PSP version.  If I recall correctly, the only reason he didn't get it was because he didn't have a PSP!

Offline Minim

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2009, 12:40:30 PM »
There is another thing in the PSP version which nobody has mentioned. Holding the square button with the crosshairs over a highlighted lemming will actually make the crosshair follow the lemming. This technique is good for those build over the blocker style levels like "stepping stones".
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Offline Proxima

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Re: Control features that make a lemmings game good
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2009, 01:31:13 PM »
How to select skills:

  • Click on the skill buttons
  • Hit corresponding function key
  • Go left/right through available skills (Z/X keys)

The last method is probably useful on a handheld console because of its lack of F-keys. Does anyone use the last method primarily when playing on a computer?

I certainly do! In places where you have to assign several skills in quick succession, it's much easier to have one hadn on the keys and the other on the mouse. And because it will be your weaker left hand on the keys (unless you're left-handed, which I'm not) then it's much easier to have only two keys to think about rather than eight.