Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Push My Buttons

Although everyone seems to dismiss it as an archaic way to interface with a game, the act of pushing a button can really be explored to create satisfying play.

A digital (read: not analog) button has 2 states: on and off. Most every game only considers the act of toggling the button from its off state to its on state (referred to as the Positive Edge of input), but some (usually Japanese) games put a strong emphasis on the lifting of the button as well (the Negative Edge).

In Bayonetta in particular, every attack in the game is separated into two halves: an attack on the way out, and on the way in. These halves are assigned to the Positive Edge and Negative Edge respectively-- if a player so chooses, he can leave his attack "out" longer to deal extra damage, at the risk of spending more time vulnerable to a hit from behind. Through this mechanic, a single press of a digital button has an analog level of risk and reward associated with it, adjustable given the player's style and situation in-game.

The result is that each button press becomes two decisions the player is faced with: When should I press this button, and when shall I release it? Pushing a button is the simplest way to interface with a game, but it can packed full of context and tough decisions!

This solution creates a level of customization in every action the player takes, while maintaining the instant, fluid response granted from a one-dimensional input interface. The simultaneous pursuit of creativity and responsiveness has always been core to the Japanese genre of "Stylish Action Game", and is one of my favorite play mechanics in all video games.

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