Windows Were Meant to be Resized

June 16, 2017

Creative works don’t come out of a vacuum. They’re inspired by the things we see and hear and experience around us. Sometimes they’re inspired by other people’s creative endeavours. One such source of inspiration for my Robyn HUD computer game is the 2007 adventure game Experience 112 (a.k.a The Experiment in North America). The things this game gets right provided some level of inspiration but the things this game gets wrong provided even more inspiration.

The basic idea of Experience 112 is that you’re not controlling the action directly. Instead you’re seated in a security room somewhere. From there you have access to various security cameras and things like lights and telephone ringers that you can use to send signals to the main, non-playable character Lea Nichols. In this fashion you indirectly guide Lea through the environment. This was one of the key inspirations for Robyn HUD. In Robyn HUD you will also be using cameras to keep a view on what your non-playable partner Robyn is doing.

[Camera, map, password info, laboratory inventory...Where did I put the direction controls?  A few of the windows in Experience 112.]
Camera, map, password info, laboratory inventory…Where did I put the direction controls?
A few of the windows in Experience 112.
Click to view larger.

Moving beyond the basic idea of using cameras to see and influence the action of the game, I found much of the design of Experience 112 to be problematic. A perpetual source of awkwardness in the game came through its Windows-esque interface. As shown above, during the game you use a variety of windows for controlling things like the cameras, a map, email and file viewing, remote controls, etc. The problem is that these windows can’t be resized. They can be moved and some of them have two or three different fixed sizes they can appear at, but the player can’t set custom sizes for the windows.

The problem with not being able to resize the windows is that you can never comfortably arrange them in the game. You can close some windows to give more space for others, but then you can’t see the important information on the closed windows. Or you can leave the windows open and have them overlapping one another, which leads to the same problem of still not being able to see the information you want to see.

It was just over a year ago that I first started thinking about Robyn HUD and how it would work as a game. Learning from the difficulties I’d encountered playing Experience 112, I knew that when I implemented the windows in my own game that they absolutely had to be resizable. The thing of it is, strictly speaking it’s not necessary for the windows to be resizable to play the game. It’s just necessary for them to be resizable to play the game well.

Since it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have resizable windows to start development on the game that was a task that ended up pretty far down the list. At the same time, I knew resizable windows would make a big difference to the playing experience of the game. I’ve only shown early versions of Robyn HUD to a handful of people at this point. I’ve been hesitant to go beyond that for a number of reasons, but certainly one of the biggest has been the non-resizable windows.

[Resizable windows!]
Resizeable windows!
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As you’ve probably gathered, implementing resizable windows in the game finally bubbled to the top of the list. I’ve been doing serious development on the game since the end of January. In that time I’ve been living with non-resizable windows. I knew that resizable windows would make a difference in how the game played, but I was surprised and excited to see just how much of a difference it was. The quality of the game play and the production values of the game as a whole just seemed to take a giant leap forwards.

If you ever make a game the player plays via multiple windows, make sure to make those windows resizable. You’ll thank yourself for it and more importantly your players will thank you for it (actually, your players probably won’t because they’ll just expect it to work that way, but still! :-).