Game-Speed Controls

For those who weren’t aware, the little cog in the bottom-right corner of the minimap is a button that pauses/unpauses the game. As of last month’s update, you can now click and hold this cog to speed the game up! I promised to explain the decision-making behind this mechanic in greater detail, so here we are!

Most often a game-speed control is a toggleable button, but we’ve decided you have to hold this one down instead. To explain why let’s first explore the pros and cons of fast-forwarding a game. Generally you’d do it when not much is happening to save time, and then stop once something important happens. No-one feels the benefit of saving time more than those of us who have tested the same level a hundred times!

On the other hand, the ability to fast-forward time can also mask potentially ‘slow’ periods of the game that, ideally, we developers should know about. Game flow is important to get right, but instead of receiving feedback about that, people might just speed the game up and we’d be none the wiser. Holding the button down however means you can either play OR you can fast-forward, but not both. You can still skip through any ‘waiting periods’, but the game can only technically be played at normal speed still.

I also believe that game-speed controls can affect the enjoyment of a game. It’s important to know when a game feels rewarding. Let’s say you have a reasonably-sized base, you’ve just issued a bunch of instructions, all your dwarves are moving around, and you decide to just watch them go about their business for a while. I believe it is in these quiet moments, when you’re not doing much, that the work you’ve put in feels the most rewarding. As we’ve established however, the reason to use game-speed controls is also when you don’t have much to do. There is a dilemma here between the desire to capitalise on your free time, and spending that time just appreciating the moment. Do we really know which choice is best when we play? Furthermore is either option entirely satisfying while the other exists? Since the button is held down in this case, it turns this dilemma on its head, as your desire to save time actually encourages you to just watch your dwarves do their thing.

What about when something unexpected happens? Speeding up the game can make you feel rushed or anxious as threats emerge with great haste. Let’s say a goblin appears out of nowhere and picks a fight with your engineer. A booming battle notification appears and you’re suddenly in a panic! If you’re busy painting instructions, your work is disturbed and you have to find the button to slow the game down again! But what if you’re holding the button down instead? You are not busy with other tasks, and the moment there’s cause for alarm, you simply ‘let go’, like a dead-man’s switch. You remain in complete control, and do not have to juggle multiple actions or navigate the controls first.

It is for these reasons we decided the game-speed control should be held, rather than toggled. After playtesting and some refinement for what speed is preferable, we’ve settled on the current design. It maxes out at 5x speed, which I think is pretty satisfying to watch. Obviously in large bases, as the game engine is being pushed, you may not be able to reach 5x speed.

A slightly shorter blog this time, but a topic that I’ve been pondering on for quite some time. That’s all for this one, see you next time!

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