January Design Challenge WinnersJanuary 29, 2021 By Amy Green One of our first thoughts when we played Animal Crossing: New Horizons was, “This game sure requires players to use a ton of buttons, but I bet it could be a one-button game.” We had already been thinking about our own one-button game, but Animal Crossing made us wonder why games so often equate “more buttons” with “more fun.” Do we humans really receive more joy from our play experiences when we are able to showcase our ability to remember the special functions of multiple buttons? Or could all of these complicated games but just as fun if their inputs were simplified? And even if we derive some measured amount of enjoyment from conquering the complexity, is that enjoyment worth excluding others from the experience for? Yes, these are the kind of things we think about while gathering apples, or fishing, or decorating houses in Animal Crossing. We’re a barrel of laughs, I know. But, our thoughts along these lines eventually inspired our monthly design challenges where we invite people to re-think the games they love and show us what it would take to make those games, or specific mechanics within them, a one-button experience. In January’s challenge, we specifically asked players to show us how they could make decorating in Animal Crossing a one-button mechanic. If you’ve never had the pleasure of building yourself an extravagant house and furnishing it with as much stuff as you can acquire, all while trying to work off your soul-crushing debt to Tom Nook, well, first, we’re sorry you’ve missed out on this capitalist cautionary tale, or this opportunity to be the star of your own animated American Dream, depending on your current philosophical leanings…. But also, here’s a quick video we made that shows you how decorating currently works within Animal Crossing. https://playabilityinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AnimalCrossing1.mp4 So, how did the entries we received simplify the process of decorating in Animal Crossing and make it accessible to players who can only press a single button? Let’s find out! Ian Hamilton’s entry solved the problem pretty simply and was recognized as this month’s honorable mention: “Nested scan & select, cycling between each wall, the floor, and cancel, then elements or locations within that. For placing, scan between objects to place, then choose a location as above, then cycle between grid squares within that location. Then ok/cancel/rotate – rotate sets the object rotating through directions, on the same scanning speed. For editing, choose a location as above, then cycle between objects in that location. Cycle between rotate, move, remove. Rotate as above. For move, cycle between available grid locations.” And we have to say, the fact that you can remove a whole slew of buttons and include thousands of extra players with just five sentences of design thinking is pretty impressive! These are not insurmountable design puzzles; they’re just a matter of consideration. As an industry, we aren’t excluding people from games because it’s too hard to include them. Ultimately, we’re excluding people because we don’t care enough. And a simple entry like this really brings that shortcoming to light. Here’s the feedback our Playability Initiative designers had for Ian’s design: Mike Perrotto said, “Scanning is a great way to go, and I think being a bit more precise when scanning is important to help expedite the player finding what they want to select. Scanning the entire room could take a long time if the placement the player wants is near the end of the list. I would recommend keeping the scanning within close proximity to the player to help make the process more rapid and keep the player engaged.“ Ryan Green added, “This is a solid solution for total control over an area. The main risk is that doing even simple decorations could take a long time in the event that there are multiple spots on the floor or wall. Starting with a suggested spot on the wall could speed up the process.” This month’s winning design came from Matthew Colon. Matthew has entered all three of our design contests so far. He has been our honorable mention twice, and in January, his winning design earned him a shiny new steam gift card in the amount of $20. (Just imagine all the buttons he’ll be pushing and all the joy he’ll derive from proving he can!) We are always impressed with how Matthew’s designs get to the heart of the solution quickly and with a really elegant creativity that not only allows access but really optimizes the player’s experience. Here’s Matthew’s entry: “I’ll define “cycle-based menu” to represent iterating a cursor of sorts over a small discrete number of selectable options at a speed configurable in a game menu in which the cursor returns to the first item after reaching the last. This will be the method of navigating through options with a single button. When I say below that the player selects an option, it’s under the assumption that a cycle-based menu is being used. Here’s what Matthew wrote up for the January design challenge: “I’ll define “cycle-based menu” to represent iterating a cursor of sorts over a small discrete number of selectable options at a speed configurable in a game menu in which the cursor returns to the first item after reaching the last. This will be the method of navigating through options with a single button. When I say below that the player selects an option, it’s under the assumption that a cycle-based menu is being used. Here’s my entry: Let’s start with the player character in the room having furniture and items in their inventory that they want to place. They will have around them in Animal Crossing style a cycle-based menu with the following options: – Inventory (select items to place) – Shuffle (randomize the placement of items already in the room) – Decorate (interact with individual items in the room) – Photo Shoot (has the camera pan over the room at different angles for a short time where the player can take pictures) – Done (finish decorating and return to some other part of the game) The player starts by selecting “Inventory,” which opens their Animal Crossing-esque inventory and a cursor iterates through the items in their inventory and a “Done” option. If the player pushes the button while the cursor is on an item, the item is toggled to be selected/unselected in regards to adding it to the room. When the player pushes the button while the cursor is on “Done,” it will playfully toss all selected items randomly throughout the room so there’s a starting arrangement, and the player will return to the “Inventory/Shuffle/Decorate/Photo Shoot/Done” cycle-based menu. If they don’t like the initial random arrangement, they could select “Shuffle” as many times as they like to randomize the arrangement. For some players, the results of shuffling might be sufficient for what they want, and they can select “Done” to finish decorating and do something else in the game. Once the starting arrangement is satisfactory, now it’s time to select “Decorate” to personalize the space. A cursor will appear that iterates through pointing at each item in the room and a “Done” option. Selecting one of the items will put a cycle-based menu around the item with the following: – Move – Rotate – Pick Up – Done Selecting “Move” will replace the cycle-based menu with an arrow that cycles through pointing up, right, down, left, and a “Done” option. Pressing the button will move the item in the direction shown. If “Done” is selected, they return to the “Move/Rotate/Pick Up/Done” cycle-based menu. Selecting “Rotate” will replace the cycle-based menu with a curved arrow that cycles between pointing clockwise, pointing counter-clockwise, and a “Done” option. Pressing the button will rotate the item in the direction shown. If “Done” is selected, they return to the “Move/Rotate/Pick Up/Done” cycle-based menu. Selecting “Pick Up” will bring up another cycle-based menu asking if the player is sure they want to pick up the item from the room, showing “Yes” and “No” options. If they select “Yes,” the item is removed from the room and added back into their inventory, and if they select “No” they return to the “Move/Rotate/Pick Up/Done” cycle-based menu. The player can continue to work with the various cycle-based menus to select items to move and rotate them until they have their room just how they want it. At that point, they can choose the “Photo Shoot” option to have a fancy pass through their room at different angles to view their creative design (here’s an example of the photo shoot style from Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer: https://youtu.be/DCk2Cgdzp-8?t=949). If the player pushes the button during this time, it will take a picture that they can view elsewhere in the game. After the photo shoot ends, control returns to the player and they see the “Inventory/Shuffle/Decorate/Photo Shoot/Done” cycle-based menu again. At this point, the player could select “Done” to return to the rest of the game, “Decorate” again to refine their design, “Shuffle” to throw it all up in the air again, or “Inventory” to add items to the room (new items are randomly tossed in but the existing items stay where they are.)” When Mike Perrotto from the Playability Initiative reviewed this entry, he said, “I really like the idea of the “shuffle” when placing items. For some players, they want to decorate but don’t mind as much where everything goes, and sometimes it’s easier to start decorating with options already presented to you instead of having a clean slate. Some players really enjoy the clean slate approach. This option would support both types of players.” Ryan Green agreed, “With cycle-based-menus, it’s good to look for opportunities for automation. It doesn’t necessarily reduce the player’s agency; it reduces the energy and effort needed to create something nice. The “shuffle” is a very welcome automation option. It would create a really nice starting state with only a few taps.” Mike went on to say, “I like the rotation options, and I’d encourage a test on whether both directions are necessary. Maybe only one direction to limit choice, and then the player can quickly rotate multiple times to their desired rotation. Moving objects in proximity to the player seems to give the player the most agency. Incrementally moving across the screen could provide playful experiences (additional dialog, sound effects, or animations) and keep the player engaged. Prompting the player, especially during destructive activities (like removing objects from the room), is very welcome in a scanning system. There is always the chance the player can make a mistake. I would even suggest an undo option. I love the idea of a camera mode while decorating. Being able to take quick snaps of different designs could be very helpful. My only question now is how do I see the photos I’ve taken while in this mode?” 🙂 Overall, we love that Matthew’s design not only solved the problem, but it also focused on optimizing the experience for the one-button player. Well done, Matthew! We’ll be posting our February One-button Design Challenge on Friday, February 5th. If you’d like to participate, make sure you’re a member of our Playability Initiative Facebook Group. We can’t wait to see your creative designs!