The Toilet Problem

What does a designer actually do? What is design? While Liz England (designer at Ubisoft Toronto) would answer this through “The Door Problem”, I prefer using toilets as my reference point in embarking on the questions a designer would ask themselves when working on a game.

Questions a designer would ask when approaching adding toilets in-game

  • Will there be toilets in game?
  • Why or Why not?
  • If so, where?
  • How many toilets are there in game?
  • How long does it take the player on average to reach the first toilet?
  • Are the toilets in-game interactable or for show? If so, how?
  • How will you telegraph to the player that a toilet is interactable? With non-diegetic user interface, a highlight when hovered over, or is everything in game interactable and by association the player would know this is interactable too?
  • Can you pee or poo in the toilet, or is the toilet used for some other purpose? For instance, drinking in Fallout: NV, saving in No Heroes, or loot in Borderlands.
  • Is the amount you can defecate limited based on food intake? Time?
  • Do you press and hold a key/button to defecate or does it require a series of specific key/button presses or gestures?
  • Is defecation limited to just the outside of the toilet?
  • Can you interact with your waste post-defecation? E.g., Duke Nukem Forever where the player was able to pickup and throw a dukey as well as have their action acknowledged by a fourth wall breaking voice over from Duke.
  • If the toilet does more than one thing when interacted with, is it consistent in offering those same options throughout the game or does it vary based off the type of toilet, placement, character progression, or story plot?
  • How does the player choose which affordance to execute on if there’s more than one option in interacting with the toilet?
  • Do enemies spawn inside the toilet and surprise attack the player?
  • Do AI take bathroom breaks? How many AI can fit in one stall? Is the stall door locked whilst the toilet is occupied by the AI? For how long?
  • How does the physical interaction on keyboard and gamepad mirror or represent the real-life action of interacting with a toilet?
  • Can you lift the toilet seat, how about the lid?
  • If so, is this opening and closing done through animation toggling on input or directly driven by physics.
  • If animation, if something is in the way of the toilet lid closing or on top of the lid preventing it from opening will the animation be interrupted to a stop, go through said objects, or push them away?
  • Can you also interact with the shut off valve?
  • If so, does it disable the flushing simulation from happening or is it connected to something else?
  • Can you take off the tank lid?
  • Is there a Realtime working flush mechanism viewable after taking off the tank lid?
  • Is there any surprise or Easter egg inside the tank next to the flushing mechanism?
  • Can you flush?
  • If so, does flushing just start a particle effect, sound, and animation of urination levels lowering and water turning clear? Is it physically simulated to interact with other objects in the scene should they fall inside?
  • What happens when you try flushing when the flush sequence is already in effect?
  • Is there any achievement for flushing 100 times? 1000?
  • Does flushing a certain amount of times trigger an event. For instance, annoying the AI or causing it to clog or overflow?
  • If it overflows, is there physics driven water simulation that pushes objects in contact?
  • Can AI slip and hurt themselves on the overflow? Will there be a janitor AI that comes and puts a “wet floor” sign down near the flooded area. Will other AI use pathfinding to avoid said area?
  • What type of pathfinding will the AI use to avoid the fecal infused overflow spill?
  • Can you use the flush handle to communicate in Morse code? Will this be a part of a puzzle?
  • Is the toilet a dead end or is there a secret passageway/portal behind it?
  • Does the player character have a gender? Are the restrooms gendered with signs on the exterior?
  • Is there any difference between a men’s restroom or women’s restroom?
  • Are the two gendered restrooms linked together for ease of navigation via a broken wall?
  • Is the act of defecation inside the virtual toilet biased? Can you defecate standing up as well as sitting down?
  • What values (cultural, political, etc.) do you think toilets present in this game?
  • Are these values communicated through interaction with these toilets intentional?
  • What does the toilet say in regard to environmental storytelling?
  • What’s the size of the toilet?
  • Is there an accessorily rail modeled next to the toilets? If not, are there no disabled characters in your game world?
  • Is the user interface for interacting with the toilet differentiated with color or pattern? Can colorblind players interact with the toilet with as much ease as non-colorblind players?
  • Are you excluding a group of players in how you represent toilets? Is it intentional or unintentional?
  • When is a good time to stop asking yourself theoretical questions about toilets in-game and move on with the rest of the game?

In summary

A designer’s job is to think of literally everything and how everything creates and influences the overall play experience. To pay attention to not only the minute details, but the big picture, the gestault of the game. “The role of the game designer is, first and foremost, to be an advocate for the player.” - Tracy Fullerton, Game Design Workshop. By putting thought and care into toilets, designers show their advocacy for the players. If a player wants to flush a toilet, why dissapoint them? So if that means paper prototyping the handle, laying out the floor plans of toilet placement on a grid, or rapid prototyping and iteration... design is design. As long as your design communicates the gestault to the engineers, artists, and players, then you've done your job.