Nothing: The Hidden Input

_movementState = MovementStates.Idle;

I’ve been working on a side project in Unity, and I wrote that line.  You probably don’t need to know anything about programming to know what it does.  There’s a character, and it’s not moving.  It’s idle.

That line eventually started to bother me, and it took me a while to realize why.  Without going into too much detail, there’s really no reason not to move in this game.  It’s a 1v1 action game, and there are too many auto-targeting actions.  It rarely makes sense to just stop.

I’m sure it sounds strange for me to say that.  After all, “not moving” is an important state in any game that allows the player to move.  But it got me thinking: what if doing “nothing” did something?

This is not a new concept, but it raises an interesting design question: what does your character do when they’re not doing anything else?  What will they do if you leave the controller on the ground?  There are many interesting idle animations, but what about functional, mechanical idle actions?

There are a few noteworthy examples.  Link in Super Smash Bros. will raise his shield if left alone, and the shield will nullify projectiles.  Pretty cool.  Birdie in Street Fighter V will eventually flick a booger that is actually an attack.  Not terribly useful but it technically counts.

If you’re working on a game that requires the player to do a lot of “something,” consider making “nothing” a valid choice as well.  As of now, I haven’t implemented guarding in my game.  I was going to map it to another button.  Not anymore.  Each button input is precious, and I found a way to save one while adding a new decision to the gameplay.  Now, doing nothing will make the character auto-guard.  Now there is a good reason to do nothing.

There something…tense about it.  As a player, there’s a sense of power that I feel with each click, button-press, tap, swipe, and mouse movement.  I feel in-control.  If a game told me that one of the most important actions in the game is performed by doing absolutely nothing, I’d feel kind of…helpless.  It might even be hard for me.  I’d hesitate at first, yanking the leash on my ravenous instincts.  Even with the knowledge that my character can take care of themselves, at least for this one action.  Even then, in the heat of the moment, I might not trust them.

And that’s awesome.

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