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Mechanics & Interface: Pillars

Mechanics are the primary means through which players interact or interface with a video game. For this reason, it's very important to fine tune them. I wanted to present Pillars by Axcho with artwork by brontosaurus; a one button prototype for flight movement. This prototype is ideal for showcasing different mechanic designs that each present interfaces of varying complexity. The best part is that you get to play the prototypes for yourself. 



  • This version is by far the least complex interface wise. Tapping the space bar FLAPs. Holding DIVEs. Colliding with a pillar changes the player state into a perch that also reverses the direction of flight. Do nothing while in mid air and the bird SOARS. 
  • This design is simple and clean. Every time you tap the space bar, you FLAP. Tapping faster makes you fly faster. Holding the button sends the bird into a dive after FLAPping once. For the most part the FLAP and DIVE mechanics are individual in the same way that tap to SHOOT and hold to CHARGE are individual mechanics in Mega Man. After all, DIVE is simply a FLAP that you don't let your wings go for. 
  • The mechanics are intuitive and direct giving players the ability to accurately maneuver around obstacles and through swirling clouds of flies. 


Pillars 1.6 Auto Turn

  • In this version, all the mechanics are the same, but the idle SOARing player state adds a layer of complexity to the interface. The bird will automatically reverse directions after a second of SOARing. This timing based state change is enough to force players to share control with the timer instead of being in complete control. Also, you can't smoothly SOAR diagonally down in either direction because of the auto-turning. 
  • Ultimately, the ability to somewhat control direction in mid air adds more complexities and limitations than I'm willing to trade for a loss of control and ability. 
  • There are limitations to how much control and how many different mechanics you can assign to a single button before the game begins to deconstruct itself through grouped functions and added complexities. PC keys are a simple on/off button. Taping a button and holding it are easy to distinguish. Anything more than this and the interface will potentially suffer. Just look at the next version of Pillars. 


Pillars 1.7 Double-Tap Turn 

  • In this version, the auto turning has been removed and replaced with a double-tap turn feature. This new feature is a timing based input. Because the exact timing that separates a double tap from two quick taps is unclear, you may find yourself reversing direction when trying to quickly fly upward or visa versa. You have to be a lot more careful and conscious of your tapping in this version to play accurately. 


Closing Comments: The Line Of Elegance In Motion

  • Personally, I think being able to turn in mid air makes this prototype far less interesting. In the original Pillars prototype, players can only turn around after perching or colliding with a solid surface. This simplifies movement and creates a sense of momentum that's accentuated by the looping sides. In other words, to gain altitude in the air, players have to continually fly up which forces them to use the looping sides. If you miss a perching opportunity, you'll have to keep flyign forward and perhaps loop back around to perch again. This momentum based circular motion reflects the flying patterns and proclivities of actual birds. Artistically, this design creates unique diagonally and parabolic lines of player movement that contrast nicely with the straight pillars that jut up from the ground and the elliptical motion of the flies. 
  • There's also a dynamic of space that is most evident in the first prototype. You've probably noticed that the player/bird can loop horizontally across the border of the screen view, but the flies cannot. This design gives players the ability to out maneuver the flies by continually looping back and forth between the extreme left and right side of the screen. Because reversing direction is dependent on colliding with the pillars, this highly effective tactic only works at the bottom of the stage. When you fly up and out into the open, you have to use a different strategy. To escape the flies, you either have to fly higher, lower, or skillfully through the cloud of flies. Finally, if you fly up into the floating group of blocks, both previously mentioned strategies combine. In other words, you can loop continually across the screen if you manage to continually land on the small blocks that are much harder to collide into than the pillars. But when you miss, you have to be careful to steer around the blocks and the flies. (see image above for a visualization)


The mechanical and strategic elegance of the first Pillars prototype is surprising and memorable. Though not quite a game, I know this project has a lot of potential. 

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Reader Comments (3)

I really like this blog post, it has some great info. Thank you and keep up good work.

February 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralgarve flight

Good post, but have you thought about Mechanics & Interface: Pillars before?

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYachtcharter Griechenland

@ Yachtcharter Griechenland

When I was writing an article about mechanics and interface, Pillars turned out to be a perfect illustrative example. So I made this additional post.

February 18, 2010 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

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