December Design Challenge – Winner Announced!January 6, 2021 By Amy Green For our December design challenge, we asked members of the Playability Initiative to tell us how they would adapt the gameplay in Genshin Impact’s combat system to create a one-button mechanic. We weren’t sure how much engagement we’d get this month with the holidays looming and people busy with their end of the year activities. Boy were we wrong. The submissions we received really impressed us and made us so thankful that we have such an incredible community of creative people who care about accessibility. In this blog, we’ll share with you all four entries along with the feedback and critique from two of our Playability Initiative game developers, Brock Henderson and Hayden Scott-Baron. Patrick Shaw submitted a design that offered some really compelling innovations. Patrick told us. “I would go with a “action-wedge” UI. A circular progress bar moves around a radial menu, highlighting different wedges, each of which represents a different choice. The player press the “one-button” when the desired choice is highlighted.” Here’s his write up: Introduction Genshin Impact is a polarizing game. Yet, beyond preference for this specific title, action games such as Genshin are not particularly accessible. And creating a “one button” interface for a combat system goes a long way to increase the accessibility of action games to more players. A solid design for such a system can be applied to many similar action oriented games. To address this design challenge I propose an “action-wedge” UI. A circular progress bar moves around a radial menu, highlighting different wedges, each of which represents a different choice. The player presses the “one-button” when the desired choice is highlighted. Action-Wedge UI In-Depth In this new system, combat becomes a new game “mode” that activates when you are close to enemies. During combat mode, the “normal” control scheme is suspended, and a circular UI appears on the bottom of the screen. The circle is divided into “action-wedges,” one for each current action. So there would be an action-wedge for normal attack, special attack, etc. Each action-wedge uses both an icon and a large text to indicate its purpose. A circular progress bar moves around the wheel, highlighting the different action-wedge. When an action-wedge is highlighted by the progress bar, the wedge changes color, size, and plays a sound. Also, a detailed description of the currently selected action appears in the left corner of the screen. Pressing the “One Button” selects that action-wedge and executes the action. The progress bar always repeats moves around the option-wedges during combat. If you miss a wedge or need more time to consider your options, then wait for a moment. The progress bar’s speed is adjustable in the game options to accommodate the player’s taste and ability. Some actions require multiple steps. For example, ranged characters can “charge up” to release an attack. For multiple-step actions, a new wheel appears for each step. So for charge attacks, first select the “charge” action-wedge. You would then be presented with a new menu with the choice to “attack” (e.g., fire the arrow) or “cancel” (go back to the previous menu). While in combat, the AI automatically moves your character on the battlefield. Automatic movement allows you to focus on the most effective, meaningful combat options. The “wheel” would include option-wedges actions to adjust the player’s position relative to the enemy (e.g., move back, close in, etc.). Similarly, AI positions the camera to get the best view of the action without adjusting the camera manually. If all of your enemies are defeated, or you choose the “flee” wedge option, combat mode ends, and standard controls resume. Open questions Should the enemy AI wait while you’re making choices? Turned-based combat may not mesh well with the rest of the experience. Yet, having the enemy wait relieves the pressure of possibly getting attacked while waiting for a specific action-wedge to appear. Where on the screen should the wheel go? Strong cases can be made for both near the screen center and the screen bottom. I have gone with the bottom to give a better view of the game screen. Yet, I don’t feel convinced. Our developer, Brock Henderson, really appreciated that Shaw took speed considerations into account, and had this to say about the design, “Automatic movement is a good way to keep the speed of combat. Giving players the option to fine-tune their positions is important for larger enemy battles. However, in most of the battles I would imagine not needing those options and simply focusing on switching between elements and timing your attacks.” Hayden Scott-Baron, a designer for the Playability Initiative added, “Using a stacked radial menu would be an effective way to manage increasingly complex battle scenarios. Nesting extra options also becomes possible so long as every line of action can be cancelled back to the root. “Managing the speed of the progress bar could be difficult if the number of options varies, or if ‘wedges’ change location around the circle. There don’t appear to be many examples of radial menus in existing one-button interfaces, such as iPhone and Android Switch Access, perhaps because of the timing disconnect for individual choices.” This entry also gets a couple shout outs in the critique of our winning entry, coming up next. Our winning entry was submitted by Amaury Français, who told us, “the fact that you cannot use hold for the button is super challenging.” We think he came up with an excellent design, and here it is! 1) Definitions Our goal is to make a version of combat as close as possible to the existing combat mechanics of Genshin Impact with only one button. Here are the rules around that button as gathered from the test: It is one button with only two states : pressed or not pressed The “pressed” state cannot be continuous (we cannot expect the player to hold the button) The button cannot move in any direction It could work on a touch screen but cannot require pressing different zones (it is only one button) 2) The Genshin Impact Combat System The Genshin Impact combat is, judging from the video, a fairly standard Action RPG combat system. We have, as the things the player can do : A four dimensional basic movement [left stick] A camera movement [right stick] A jump that seems to impact the combat very little (unless there is some sky attacks unseen in the video) [Cross] An ability to slide/sprint [R1] A basic attack that can be chained a specific amount of times [Circle] A special attack whose effect depends on the character [R2] A super special attack whose effect also depends on the character [Triangle] For ranged attacks, a button to move into “targeting mode” that transform the camera movement into a targeting movement. Here are the main important gameplay elements taken from the video: Movement is crucial to avoid attacks or gain distance from the enemy : There is an element of positioning important to avoid being attacked. The three different types of attacks are gated behind cooldowns : No cooldown for the basic attack Medium cooldown for the special Very big cooldown (or another mechanic to fill a gauge, not sure) for the super special. In ranged combat, there is an element of precision and of assessing the time needed to target versus the time needed for the opponents to reach you and attack you In both combat, there is an element of positioning for the specials that are affecting zones. Enemy attacks can sometimes be zones that are pre indicated in red, requiring quick response from the player to avoid those zones. Overall, for a player’s perspective, the gameplay requires : Strategic positioning between avoiding attacks and optimizing the effectiveness of the specials Skill check between reflexes for avoiding attacks and precision targeting with ranged attacks A frenzy of continuous inputs (there is no dead times as bashing the standard attack fills up the time when waiting to fire the specials). We’ll try to keep those considerations as much as possible for the design of the one-button combat. 3) Considerations of the possibilities of a single button design Because we cannot use an alternation between short, long presses or holds, we need to realize there are only two elements we can play around: Number of presses and timing. Number of presses is quite limited here, and more especially, could be challenging if the presses require a muscle that is not used to very fast repetitive pressing. Even standard fingers would find it tiring pretty fast to require 5 extra fast pressings to do an action repeatedly. Timing, on the other hand, is a very versatile tool: We can ask players to press buttons at a specific time, or we can also give a sliding bar of different options the player can choose from, and the way to select would be to wait until the selector hits your choice. 4) Conclusion on the design we want to achieve Let’s see how we could apply our three main gameplay points we’ve taken from the Genshin combat system with a single button design based on timing and waiting to do specific actions. Strategic positioning This is quite challenging, as a standard 4 directional movement system offers a very wide array of directions to choose. But it is also a very central component of the game we would like to keep. We can keep a positioning element by allowing the player to move to predetermined locations. In this situation, the player only has two options for movements : moving left or moving right. 2. Skill checks Thankfully for us, this is the easiest : A timing based combat system will already require a great control of timing, and considerations of time needed to choose an option versus the time needed for the opponent to attack you also requires thinking and skill. We can even introduce a ranged combat mechanic where the player’s target moves between different zones, and the player needs to press the button at the right time. No need to worry about that one. 2. A frenzy of continuous inputs We may be able to recreate a button mashing sensation with the standard attack by having it require no waiting time. This would be the most basic action, and we could press the button repeatedly until we want to do something else. 5) Design proposition 1. The “Timing Bar” as an option selector. Our one button design would show a bar that would allow the player to wait sufficient time to select the action they want to do. The yellow selector moves along the bar at a specific speed. As long as the arrow is on a zone, pressing the button accomplishes the action of that zone. If the arrow reaches the end of the bar it automatically comes back to the beginning, and repeats that process until the player decides to do an action. Once the player chooses to do an action, that action is executed and the selector goes back to the beginning of the options bar. The “Special” and “Super Special” cooldowns or gauge charges are visible as the icons on the bar so that the player knows if they can select them or not. The first action is the basic attack as it is the action that requires the most button mashing. A player can easily select that option multiple times in a row with this selector system. The Move left and right actions are then next as they require the highest level of quick reaction from the player to execute. Then, the last three actions are not used that often so they are relegated to the end of the bar, in order of expected usages in a combat session. 2. The enemies movement and positioning. As seen in our chapter 3 ( Image repeated here), the player would move between pre selected zones. The orientation of the player should always be towards the main enemy, so whatever direction you choose to move to, the camera would be focusing the enemy or enemies. There is also the possibility of adding more steps, as long as the options stay Left or Right (and therefore form a continuous polygon). See this example having two enemies : The color of the square indicates which enemy you’re facing if you stand on that spot. You can create situations where, for example, Enemy Blob 1 will set fire on all the spots of his color in 10 seconds, so the player needs to move out of its zone, but can focus on the Enemy Blob 2 during that time. The goal is to offer meaningful decisions similar to the standard Genshin Impact Combat, such as : Enemies preparing zone attacks that touch multiple squares, forcing the player to move to evade those. Enemies attacking specific squares that the player want to avoid temporarily. Special attacks dealing more damage to specific sides of the enemies. An enemy would only face you once you attack them, giving you the interesting decision of moving first around the enemy and then unleashing your special for maximum effect. 3. Potential alternative options based on character class/Game style. We can recreate the feeling of different gameplay pace between the ranged and close combat characters by creating alternative ways of moving/attacking. If our current design so far would be made for the swordsman, next chapter is how we would design the ranged class. 6) Ranged Class Design Here is the options selector bar for the Ranged class: Here are the new and different options and their behaviour: 1. Attack Targeting: The attack targeting is a simple target moving between different enemies or zones of the screen. The player would have to press at the right moment. The movement can also be non continuous (acceleration in the center) to create a more difficult targeting experience. 2. Dodge: The dodge would be a quick movement behind to avoid approaching enemies. If the map is limited in space for the duration of combat, you can only select this option for a certain amount of times until you reach the end of the zone, at which point you need to select the Move selection option. 3. Move selection: Instead of the “left/right” decision, the decision is to where exactly you would want to go. As with the targeting system, a selector would move around the map and pressing the button at a specific moment would move you to where the cursor is. This allows a much more precise movement, but takes a lot more time to decide. As an archer, you can select a space far away from the opponents: 7) Conclusion The possibilities are quite big to create different classes that offer an array of choices between quick decisions like the swordsman or more paced like the archer. Obviously, a lot of testing and balancing would be required to make all options equally viable and fun. Depending on the player, an option to modify the general speed of the game could also allow an experience challenging for any player. I hope this gave you some ideas for a potential combat design adapted to an interface with a single input! While reviewing this entry Brock Henderson really appreciated how this entry clearly laid out the parameters in the Definitions section. He had this to say about the design: “The ergonomics considerations really show care for the audience. The wheel from the first entry might be a more cohesive shape than the timing bar, since the bar would require a jump from the end back to the beginning. I’m really glad that change character was included in the timing bar list because selecting the right elemental matchup in the game appears to be key. These action options feel pretty good. I still wonder if the movement options are really needed for a lot of the game. Perhaps the move options could be replaced with Dodge? It would make sense for the timing bar to scale through play. At the beginning of the game, you would have Basic Attack and Change Character and it would slowly build as you unlocked skills. The thought that went into considering the different needs and play styles of classes shows time and care was put into this entry. I would really like to see some of the AI implementations from the first entry included. The fighting is so fast in the current game and there are so many encounters that I think AI could go a long way to preserve the feel of the combat while still reducing input to meaningful choices.” Hayden Scott-Baron added: “This is an excellent example of focusing on the needs of the player. A lot of the existing gameplay in Genshin is focused on the player trying to balance just a few options, despite the otherwise complex controls. “The class specific action bar is flexible enough to allow for new classes, but familiar enough to make each class comfortable for the most common actions. “Getting the timing right for many of these actions will be difficult without changes made to the gameplay, which is something the design points out carefully and compensates for when possible.” Our next entry was submitted by Jonah Monaghan, who told us, “This is my first time trying to make a one-button system; however, I want to do more one-button game jams in the future.” We were so excited to get his entry because we want The Playability Initiative to help spawn new ideas about accessible video games among the next generation of game designers. Here’s Jonah’s submission to the design challenge: Genshin Impact – One-Button System This is a submission for the December One-Button contest for The Playability Initiative. Understanding the Current Genshin Impact System Currently, the PS4 controls are as follows: The key controls to look at for this are: Triangle – Elemental Burst Circle – Normal Attack X – Jump R2 – Elemental Skill R1 – Sprint (used for dodging) L2 – Switch aiming mode D-Pad – Switch Party Member This makes for a total of 10 buttons. Now to try and simplify it to a single button. Normal Attack The normal attack is the first input that needs to go. Having it as an auto-attack system is the best idea since combos are consistent. There is a heavy attack (hold attack) to apply knockback which I find is used most when enemies are used near a ledge, so the auto-attack system would automatically detect if a ledge is nearby. Jump This will also be automated since aerial combos aren’t a huge part of the game. If the player reaches an obstacle they can jump but not walk over the process will be done automatically. Similar to jumping in Ocarina of Time / Majora’s Mask. Sprint Push twice in any direction on the joystick to toggle sprinting, once movement has stopped then the sprint will be turned off. Character Switching To switch, you press the button, the switch will go through the party rotation in order. This system will allow you to plan your party based on elemental effects and begin strategizing for an optimal rotation in combat. Since, elemental reactions are the most impactful element of combat it was important to set it as the primary button use. Elemental Skill / Elemental Burst To use an elemental skill (provided it’s charged) press the button twice. Elemental Bursts on the other hand will activate automatically provided they’re charged and the character is still active for a period of time after its charged (i.e. if you don’t want to use the skill immediately switch to a different character). Bow Aiming and Control Since stealth isn’t a key element of the game. I’ve decided to omit the bow aiming system. It is nice for stun locking enemies, however, it isn’t essential to combat. Final Notes This is my first time trying to make a one-button system (however I want to do more one-button game jams in the future). I’ve set the document to accept comments so I would greatly appreciate any feedback people have. Brock Henderson pointed out that this entry does use a joystick in addition to a single button or switch. While some people with disabilities are able to use a joystick, this challenge is designed to think of the most demanding limitations, which means excluding the use of a joystick. Brock appreciated that this design really focused on the elemental reactions as they are the most important part of the combat system, and was impressed with the decision to use an auto-attack system. He added: “I really like that this designer isn’t afraid to pare down nonessentials.” Hayden Scott-Baron had similar feedback, saying: “Focusing on the existing controls makes sense for an adaptive accessibility technique (such as a controller adapter), but this design relies on plenty of new gameplay functions. There’s sadly no mention of choosing position, just a mention of sprinting that relies on a fairly tricky joystick input. “I really like the idea of character auto-attack the selected enemy, and initiating knockback when near ledges. The hardest part of this would be choosing which enemy to attack, and whether you would intentionally drive them towards ledges.” Our final entry comes from Matthew Colon, who is our honorable mention two months in a row. This entry really impressed us and almost won the December contest. We were all quite taken with his elegant design. From the video, I’m seeing a few things that can be abstracted out. On one hand, you have attacking and dodging/recovering. On another, you have different attacking and recovery strategies. To simplify this for a one-button game, let’s drop ranged combat as a consideration for now and only focus on melee. Also, let’s remove player-controlled movement and assume the player will be automatically moved to each battle and their one-button selection can determine whether she is physically in an attacking or recovering position. For the core gameplay loop, the player will participate in a string of battles against enemies that are weak against certain auto-attacks she can do, and the player chooses to engage and select which auto-attack to perform or chooses to retreat and select to dodge or heal. When the player is engaging an enemy, we show four auto-attack options, e.g. fire, ice, earth, and lightning for elemental attacks, and a retreat option. A cursor or selector remains on each option for a few seconds and when the player pushes the button on an attack option it starts auto-attacking using the selected attack, and the cursor or selector continues to move through the options in case the player wants to change her attack or retreat. While the player is auto-attacking, the enemy is attacking the player back at a certain cadence. If the enemy is weak against the player’s selected attack, the player will make short work of them. However, if the enemy is not weak against it the player will still damage it slightly but also be taking more damage herself over time. If the player is taking too much damage, she can choose the retreat option when the cursor lands on it, which disengages with the enemy and moves her physically away from it. The enemy will switch to a ranged attack and continue to damage the player, though either at a lesser amount or a slower cadence. The player’s options change from the four attacks + retreat to three: heal, dodge, and reengage. Again, the cursor or selector remains on each option for a few seconds, and when the player pushes the button on heal they regain some HP, when she pushes on dodge she will avoid whatever attack the enemy is currently doing, and when she pushes reengage she will physically move back to melee range with the enemy. This retreat stage allows the player to have a little breathing room with two options that will help them mitigate and recover from damage, and then resume the battle when ready. Upon reengaging with the enemy, the original four attack + retreat options are shown once again. If the player defeats the enemy, they are physically moved in the battlefield with their current HP to the next enemy, and the loop continues. The player wins if she mitigates her damage received successfully throughout the battles and defeats all of the enemies on the battlefield, but if an enemy defeats her either while she is engaged or recovering she loses. While reviewing this entry, Brock Henderson said, “Although this entry does not go into as much detail as some of the other entries, it really solves the problem well. It automates the combat to maintain pace and remove fatigue while leaving the player with only meaningful choices.” Hayden Scott-Baron added, “Breaking the gameplay into larger discreet action and decision spaces helps the player focus on the most important use of resources rather than dwelling on the inputs. When people talk about the way they won a battle it often focuses on the smart use of elemental attacks and different characters. Having a common language for the way that players react to the group of enemies would allow players to adapt to face new enemies with a core input set. This is a really smart design.” We feel like our whole community learns from the entries we receive every month, and we can’t wait to see what January’s design challenge teaches all of us. Our January design challenge was posted on Friday, so make sure you’re a member of our Playability Initiative Facebook Group to participate.