Designing and Improving Game Feel

Game feel is entirely a subjective construct, it is the idea, the essence, and the soul of what makes a game feel, Good, Awesome, and overall, fun. It is hard to describe, as it changes from game to game. Game Feel is not just the mechanics, it takes literally any form of a particular games' aspects.

What is Game Feel and where is it found?

Game Feel again, is a made-up concept used to describe what tiny things make games engaging and fun. Common examples of game feel include the basics, like:

  • Screen and Shake
  • Upbeat Arcade Music
  • Particle Effects / Transients
  • Particle Permanence
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Shockwaves
  • Squash & Stretch
  • Subtle Random Offsets
  • Kickback / Blowback
  • Pitch Shifting
  • Camera Kick
  • Easing / Linear and Non-linear Interpolation

We mention some of those things in our Polishing the Game sections, but game feel goes deeper than what can be added with just a coat of paint or soundtrack.

Polish a game is about getting the fewest, biggest upgrades that will bring the most satisfaction.

Game Feel is about paying attention to the many, little things that bring us satisfaction. For instance:

  • Does the screen always shake at the same magnitude, or is it dependant upon player movement speed?
  • What are the animation frames for not only when a player is falling from a jump, but falling while damaged?
  • How can we design a system that ensures the player rarely dies, but has many heart-wrenching battles in a short sequence?

Let's continue by examining Game Feel in multiple aspects of Game Design.

Inputs and Controls and Game Feel

How quickly the game reacts to the player's input has long been cited as a core component of Game Feel.

A 2012 study by Sophie Jorg, Aline Normoyle, and Alla Safonova of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Human Modeling and Simulation Department of Computer & Information Science did a study of How Responsiveness Affects Players' Perception in Digital Games. Here are their findings:

Our study shows that even a relatively small delay of approximately 150ms on average affects the user experience in several ways. We confirmed that the player finds it more difficult to control the virtual character with the delay. Generally, the Delay condition caused players to be less satisfied with their performance both subjectively and objectively: players with the Delay condition took longer in the tutorial section, collected fewer gems, lost more health, and lost more lives.

In summary, we do show that a quick responsiveness is very important for the player but becomes crucial for more challenging tasks that require precise control. We verify that delays increase the perceived difficulty for controlling the character, increase player frustration, and reduce the performance for some tasks.

When thinking about Game Feel and player input, it is important to not only focus on the inputs directly related to the character. Responsiveness of the camera, user interface, and sound effect / force feedback timings are more things to consider.

There is some controversy about input timings, especially in fighting games, where the players' input is tied to animations or physics systems not directly controlled. Animation canceling is one of the ways designers can address input latency, however, its implications on the game could be very large.

Graphics and the Particle Juice

Graphics may not be the most important aspect of a game, but a player's perception of a game can be a very strong motivator in a purchasing decision.

Graphics don't just mean the sprites or backgrounds used in a game. In today's complex development pipeline, graphics really represent everything that the player experiences visually. Particles don't have to be "Particles" like you would have in a game engine, particles, in this case, can be any type of transient game objects instantiated primarily for effects and animations.

It has been well documented that adding glossy sprites, chromatic aberrations, ambient occlusion, or particle effects increase the "polish" of a game, but they don't necessarily make the game feel better.

It should be considered what particles are emitted when the player reaches a goal, how do those particles interact with the scene, or even, if using particles is the correct way to go.

Queuing player input until after the character animation completes is a common game design mechanic used in fighting games. Jak and Daxter, or Dark Souls both implement long animation sequences.

Motion blur is used in many games to smooth the apparent movement of the camera. Motion blur communicates to our eyes the movement between two consecutive frames.

We cover more of the graphical aspects in our last 20% of a project overview.

It can be tempting to add everything

It can be tempting to include screen shaking, loud dynamic sounds, and bright vibrant colors, but sometimes, it can do the opposite. Trying to fill your game with all of these techniques is ill-advised, use what feels right. That's the real point of game feel. Focusing on the many, tiny things that when added up, create a solid, replayable, and memorable gaming experience.

Something as simple as a smooth transition between two game levels can increase the game feel. Getting the framerates stable is also an underrated way to increase the overall feel and quality of your game.