Jan 112011
In which I ask for feedback on some very fundamental game mechanics.

I need your help. So far, this little game project has been running on a square grid. This wasn’t an intentional decision; it was just an artifact of the tileset I had, to put it politely, “borrowed“. Now the time has come to move to my own assets, and before doing so I want to make that a more conscious decision. I have my own thoughts, but I don’t want my preconceived ideas to color the the essential question: What feels right?

So, squares or hexes? And while you’re trying it out, diagonal moves or not? Diagonal attacks or not? Please try out some of the possibilities and let me know in the comments what feels better to you. I really do value your feedback.

Grid type

The biggest choice is between the two grid types. They both evoke a certain kind of nostalgia. The square tiles are all about classic gaming, whether on the Apple II in the form of Ultima and Deathlord and others, or on the console in the form of Zelda. The hexes point towards tactical board games and tabletop gaming, which has its own warm memories attached. Hexes have been less-used in the computer gaming world (outside of Civilization V), which might be good or bad — fewer people have an attachment to them, but the uniqueness might be a draw.

A square grid is much more naturally suited to human architecture, at least as it’s practiced in our society. The hexes seem to give me much more organic looking terrain, because there are no grid lines that continue infinitely. But do I necessarily need to reproduce our world’s architecture and/or terrain?

I think hexes have an advantage for projecting tiles up into a pseudo-3D look. On a square grid, a door in a north-south wall can’t be seen unless you tilt the entire map 45 degrees, and I’ve always felt that just made the world feel askew. (Sorry, Fallout and Baldur’s Gate.) With hexes, as long as they’re aligned east-west rather than north-south, I can literally sidestep that problem.

Diagonal movement

For the diagonal movement, I’ve set it up so that you can move diagonally if both of the cells you could potentially walk through as intermediates are empty. If not, you’ll have to take two grid-aligned steps. Visually, that means that to move from the green cell to the red cell, both yellow cells must be empty:

Timing-wise, I’ve made diagonal moves take proportionally longer depending on the length (i.e. after such a move, your character can’t move again for a longer time). That’s 41% longer for the square grid and a whopping 73% longer for the hex grid. It seems a fair choice but it tweakable.

For the square grid, diagonals feel like a win all around. For the hexes it’s less clear-cut. Being able to move along 12 different directions definitely smooths out movement, and it makes up for the grid not supporting a true north/south axis. Try moving due north the length of the screen on the hex grid, with and without diagonals and you’ll see what a difference it makes. On the other hand, on the hexes it’s a very long distance. With diagonal hex moves, does it feel like monsters can “jump” into attack position from too far away?

Diagonal attacks

On the square grid, I also experimented with adding diagonal attacks. Do they feel right to you? Does the potential for being mobbed from eight directions at once (rather than just four) outweigh the benefit in flexibility? I’ve skipped left them off the hex grid because it felt too much like a reach attack (the “diagonals” don’t directly abut), but on the subject of getting mobbed from too many directions at once, are the six possible attack directions on the hex grid a balance issue for you, as opposed to the four or eight in the square grid?


I have my own answers to all of these questions, but they were the same answers I had before I wrote a single line of code, so I don’t completely trust that I’m letting go of my preconceptions and going with what plays right. Design is an iterative process, and nobody can iterate in a vacuum. So what plays right to you? Let me know below!

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This post was written by

Andrew Meggs – who has written posts on Shiny Toys.
Hi! I'm the main code & tech guy at City State Entertainment, a small and pugnacious game studio. I co-founded it with Mark Jacobs, the godfather of Mythic Entertainment and Dark Age of Camelot. In the past I've been a senior or lead engineer on games like Skyrim and Warhammer Online. We're currently working on Camelot Unchained, a new MMORPG that emphasizes long-term player interactions over consumable content, via a successful Kickstarter. If you think this sounds like cool stuff to work on, we are actively hiring.

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  7 Responses to “Hexes and Squares, Oh My!”

  1. In this style of game, I honestly feel more at home on the square grid. The hexes throw off my perception of movement (where I can go, and how I’ll get there), though they certainly make the landscape look better.

    As far as movement/attacks are concerned, I’d prefer either the pure square grid (movement/attacks are only n,s,e,w), or Diagonal movement & attacks. If I can move in that direction, I should be able to attack and be attacked in that direction.

  2. Fun either way. I enjoyed hex + diagonal, but wanted the ability to stop halfway (on top of a diagonal). You could make movement totally freeform. Let the entities move and attack in any direction, and just use floating point position. Then hex vs square is just an artistic debate. Or you could even use layers of both.

    • I think it’s a deeper distinction than artistic. For instance, should there be 4, 6, or 8 squares around a character from which he can be attacked? I’m not opposed to freeform movement, but I think it might be hard to do in *this* project. I’m interested in doing more with the idea of very discrete actions, where each action you take delays for a certain time — essentially capturing the feel of a turn-based tabletop or board game, but in realtime. If you can do arbitrary fractions of an action that loses some of the tactical-gaming feel for me.

      Visually speaking, did the cell boundaries stand out for you? If not, maybe making gridlines more distinct might help guide people to a feeling of “this is the cell I’m moving to”. Have to try that for the next revision…

  3. I prefer the square grid, because I’d like to move around using the keyboard. I’m so used to square grids for video games that hexes are kind of jarring. Though I do think that any square that touches yours should be able to be attacked or moved into, so I prefer diagonal moves+attacks.

    Having a tile you can move into but not attack feels very weird, like you’re playing a bottom-up arcade shooter where your attacks have fixed directions. If you had a tank sprite this would make more sense; or if you were building a turn-based puzzle like Seven Seas instead of real-time, where dealing with that becomes part of the strategy.

    I’ll admit hexes look way better, and there’s no difference between touching tiles (as there is on a square grid), so if you’re building a handheld-only game it’s got some strong advantages. Hexes + diagonals is the worst of both worlds, though, you’re “teleporting”, which is weird, and can’t attack the target tile, which is annoying.

    • There’s actually keyboard movement on the hex grid — for now. The keys are W/E/A/D/Z/X. (If I rotated the grid 30 degress, I could use Q/W/E/A/S/D, which would probably feel a little more natural to people used to an inverted T.) That may become less relevant in the future, though. I’m planning to build in control of multiple simultaneous characters, so you’d be driving around a party rather than a single guy. In that case I see the movement as more “one hand on the keyboard to switch the active characters, one on the mouse to control him”.

  4. Definitely prefer the Hex grid with or without diagonal. Might just be due to excessive amounts of Civilization 5 recently, but I definitely felt more comfortable navigating and fighting on a hex grid.

  5. I do not like “hex + diagonal” at all. The movement squicks me out for some reason, like I’m teleporting everywhere.

    I like the movement on hex grids but the artwork tends toward ridiculous geodesic 70s-version-of-future nastiness if you aren’t careful. Take a look at Wesnoth if you haven’t seen it – most buildings are big hex Legos. Civ 5 is the first I can think of that has mostly avoided it but there’s still that “Frank Gehry wasn’t doing his best work today” feel on occasion.

    Squares alone are kind of boring, but then again if that’s not the point then who cares.

    Squares plus diagonal move is problematic in that diagonals allow you to move faster, but also enemies can move faster to you. The way you fixed this by providing longer move times makes sense on paper but it feels like something is wrong in the game – like it’s losing a keypress somewhere along the way.

    Squares plus diagonal move plus diagonal attack I just don’t like as it was depicted above – same issues as before, but you’re more of a target. You can easily get surrounded far too easily for the capacity to strike in one direction, and if the enemy moves then you do the slow move-delay shuffle while they all spank you like parents from the 1950s.

    Have you considered squares plus diagonal attack, but no diagonal move? This prevents “slippery floor” issues of you accidentally zipping diagonally when a monster dies or moves away for whatever reason. There’s still the chance of becoming a pincushion but as long as you aren’t surrounded NSEW you have a way to escape, or else if you kill yourself an escape path then the enemy queued up in your diagonal doesn’t immediately rush into the NSEW gap to block you off – if it’s diagonal it would likely remain in place whacking at you while you move into the gap. Unless it’s a smart enemy that hates your face.

    Plus, diagonal attack plus NSEW move means you could potentially have weapons that attacked “straight ahead plus the diagonal to the right” if your character was right handed or something, or straight ahead and diagonal to the left if you were left handed. Spells with “spread” could be direction pushed plus adjacent diagonals. Maybe certain character types have easier access to attacks, special attacks, etc – like an attack that went forward and a lesser attack directly behind you for a polearm with spiky bits on either end. This could be applied to monster attacks as well, which means there’s player strategy in the inevitable MMO dogpiling.