Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

21 October, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Graphics over Text
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:22 PM

Last week we looked at Text over Graphics. This week we’ll do the reverse: let’s talk about what graphical games have over text games.

Focus on tangible items. Yes, graphical games are more popular than text games these days. Discuss why this is the case instead of merely pointing out the obvious.

My thoughts in the full article.

I think the best thing that graphics do over text is information presentation. The most obvious form of this is room information. You can take a glance at a room in a graphical game, compared to reading a paragraph of text. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is the cliché that comes to mind here. To a lesser extent, you can include UI elements. Bars representing hit points can be easier for some people to understand, rather than numbers. (Although, to be fair, you could do bars in text as well). Or, consider the shortcut bar in modern games where you can hit a single key to do an action. (And, yeah, macros/quicktypers were the predecessors of the shortcut bar.) The shortcut bar allows people with short memories to remember what all their shortcuts do with the icons.

So, what are your thoughts?


  1. One word: Tufte.

    Comment by Michael Chui — 21 October, 2006 @ 3:47 PM

  2. Here is Edward Tufte’s website for those too lazy to Google.

    Comment by Psychochild — 21 October, 2006 @ 4:48 PM

  3. Simplification of interface. You don’t need to know all the commands to play a good graphical game. It lowers the entry requirement. One handed play using only a mouse, or only half a gamepad can’t be discounted either.

    Players can also choose what to focus on. Rather than having to read the whole text picture of a scene, a player could be watching the sky, the other players, their footsteps in the sand, roaming monsters, the way the waves reach the beach, distant fish. It’s possible to be much more lavish with graphics, especially the ‘flavour’ graphics which do nothing but make the game prettier.

    It is possible to display certain statistical aspects in a graphical sense, in a sword and sorcery example a regular hit may cause some flash and glitter (though I’d rather it didn’t.) while a solid hit cause larger flash and glitter. A character who is wounded could stagger a little, become slightly pale or leave a blood trail. A sword could become less polished, then scratched or eventually bent.

    It is also my belief that most games do not take enough advantage of this, constantly dragging the players back for a feedback box. And using more efficient, therefore more effective text commands.
    Of coarse I may be wrong, most players probably love the feedback box with all its numbers and letters.

    Another thing graphics can do better is complex physical interaction. In half life 2 episode 1, the companion character Alex can be attacked by zombies, at which point she physically pushes them off, or kicks them or pistol whips them. It all happens in a second or two, but the kind of quick movements and reactions would be hard to describe in a text game. The text game would have to keep it intentionally vague for the player to imagine. When I played a martial arts text game, I found myself struggling to describe style and flow in just text. Bringing diagrams and animated gifs to a text fight doesn’t work very well.
    Humans have very complicated structures, and human/human interactions can be some of the most elaborate and complicated. Fighting, dancing, loving. A shame only fighting has really gripped the MMO market, and most seem content with the horrible auto-attack mentality.
    Related topics:(Also a shame that Violence is more acceptable than Sexuality.) (No beer in Stormreach, a game which involves rending other people apart with greataxes, has no alchahol to reduce its rating.)

    On the other hand, is the amount of information that graphics can display a good thing? Playing some new MMO’s with their colored names, difficulty pips and similar certainly helps distract me from what I’m killing. Rats, Ratmen, Dire rats, the kings pet rat – All with some conveniant one size fits all easy to discern killing interface. Unless you’re not allowed to kill them, in which case no such option exists.

    One funny thing I’ve encountered recently is in DDO, throwing daggers stick in walls, floors, breakables, mid air, and NPC’s. It unnerves my housemates when my returning +1 dagger just flies out of nowhere and sticks in their quest givers face. Beautiful lack of cause and effect there, if they actually got hurt I wouldn’t do it.

    Comment by Efate Blue — 22 October, 2006 @ 4:31 AM

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