gestalt theory and a 2D story game

Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”. It refers to theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920s. These theories attempt to describe how people tend to organize visual elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied

Our most recent project was a narrative based game in a 2D rpg/adventure format. Many of the assets and aesthetic choices use examples of gestalt theory to help the player to understand the environment and game mechanics subconsciously. This goes well beyond the UI design and is ingrained in various elements of the level design including the placement of props and the aesthetic variation of game tiles.

One of the core mechanics of the game is the use of doors. The player uses these doors through out the entire experience therefore a consistent functionality needs to be obvious to the player. This was achieved by maintaining the pale blue colour and style of the doors regardless of the room and placement. This use of uniform connectedness (or similarity) ensures that a door is always recognizable as a door, which was fairly important for a game with a play time of only a couple minutes.



On the flip side of this the functionality of doors was not consistent through out the game. Some doors are locked and not usable to prevent the player from getting lost or distracted from the narrative. On top of this some doors would have a destination door that was a logically impossible to push the emotional drama of the narrative as well as route the player exactly to where we wanted them to be after certain events. The issue here is that doors did not visibly change to represent these alternate states which caused a small distraction to some players who felt the need to test every door, just in case, and the illogical door was more difficult to understand as a result. To amend this a simple pallet swap could have been used for doors that had swapped to an alternate destination to reduce confusion.


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Another mechanic that utilized Similarity to clarify meaning to the player where the interactive objects scattered through out the level. Interactive objects make a dialogue box popup and give the player a narrative dump. As these objects were in the form of props such as picture frames, the fridge the initial concern was that the player wouldn’t even know to interact with these objects. As each one would be a vastly different prop with vastly different silhouettes we added a pulsing fade effect to the sprite of all objects that would deactivate after the first time a player interacted with  the object.

After interaction

This helped the player to determine what objects would provide narrative text and when they were done with a room. This was also crucial as certain interactive objects needed to be activated to change door destinations and progress through the game.

Player walk cycle for each cardinal direction

The animations used in this project are an example of the Closure element of gestalt. Keeping a reasonable time-frame for asset creation as well as maintaining the aesthetic of an old Nintendo adventure game, pushed us to opt for a walk cycle that used very few key frames to represent motion.The cycle alternates between a neutral standing pose and a left and right step pose while the player is moving in a cardinal direction. Only the end of the arm swings and full steps associated with walking are shown in the animation, however the movement that would be in between is implied and understood by  the players ability to connect each frame as continuous movement.





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