Everything the game does to respond to the player, aside from game mechanics.
–––Are the controls easy to use, yet fully functional and comprehensive?
–––Do the controls react sharply, or do you percieve lag?
–Responsiveness (does not refer to lag)
––Do you feel like the game responds to you in satisfying ways, or does there seem to be little to no responsiveness in the world?
–Visual and Audual aid (not to be confused with game mechanics)
––Do the shields beep when they’re down? Do audio clues give the player information about the world game state? Those are mechanics, but how they are presented belongs in game feel.
This is definitely going to be the hardest post to adequately convey. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and being able to play a game is worth a thousand words about the feel. One day I’m going to create a program that the user can change important variables, such as framerate, control scheme, latency, which will help even though those are just a small part of what determines the overall feel of a game. Basically the feel of a game is another word for how well it responds to the player.
This is partly easy, as a game that has less lag between when the player presses a key and when that action happens, also known as the latency of a game, is simply better than the same game with more latency. Likewise, a game that runs at 30 frames per second is simply inferior to the same game running at 60 fps, which itself is inferior to the same game running at 120 fps. The game will have less latency, and look much smoother. As a result, it will “feel” better to play the game at the higher fps.
To me it’s sort of a test for how full of shit someone is if they tell me that 30 fps is “more cinematic” than 60 and thus better, or they tell me that movies run at 24fps so the human eye can’t see any more than that and it doesn’t matter. The counterarguments to that would be that films use blended frames, which capture 1/48th of a second, and thus have much more information in them. What’s more, cinematographers have learned not to pan too quickly in films, and finally, the main reason that films are run at 24 fps is specifically because they are more blurry and “dream-like”. If 24fps was all your eye could see we would not have had any filmmakers pushing for 48fps, nor would anyone be able to tell the difference. Finally, films don’t have any input, which is the real reason to have high framerate. The higher the framerate, the lower the latency, all other things being equal. A test at Anandtech showed games with massively variable latency, from over 130ms, in Fallout 3, to just a bit above 60ms, in Team Fortess 2. Playing games at a higher framerate lowers the latency massively, especially with v-sync enabled, which every hardcore gamer I know, including myself, disables at 60fps for almost all games. Rant aside, higher framerate is objectively better, end of story.
When I talk about Mapping I’m referring to both the physical locations of the controls of the game, as well as the design of the game and the controls it requires. For example, in Dangerous Games, the game requires that the player be able to move in 8 directions, and aim a gun anywhere on the screen as well as fire it. For those key mappings I’m going with wasd or arrow keys for movement, as well as the mouse for aiming and the left mouse button for firing. This is a game with great Mapping, in that it’s very easy for the player to control the game in the way intended, partly due to the simple design, and partly due to best practices in control layout.
It might sound like I’m bragging, but intelligent Mapping is something that AAA games in 2015 have gotten pretty good at. If anyone disagrees, then try to play a game from before the 90’s on the PC and tell me if you still disagree. One of the great disappointments that accompany almost every “classic” game I play is the controls. At best I’ll have to waste some time re-mapping some keys. At worst, the game expects me to have 15 fingers on my left hand. Anyone who has played old games knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I recommend giving System Shock 2 a try, it’s a good game, but it illustrates beautifully what I’m talking about.
When designing a game, it’s important to keep in mind that there are some things that just don’t work on certain controller hardware. These are problems so serious that they require solutions or else a re-design of the game. For example, I am designing a First Person Shooter where the player character carries 5 different weapons on him. My first idea was to have the weapons be selectable through the mouse wheel, but the problem is that, while that works great with 3 weapons, with 5 weapons it’s possible that the weapon you want is 3 scrolls away. That’s three button presses just to select your weapon. Worse than that, the mouse scroll wheel is usually not a very great feeling button, which gets hairy when you ask the user to utilize it a precise amount of times more than once. The solution I used was to take Crysis’s ability selection menu. The way that works is that you press down the mouse wheel, and then you move the mouse towards the ability you want. If it sounds clunky, trust me it’s not. I’ve also used this in the design of an RPG before.
To those saying, “why not just use the keys 1-5?”, the issue with that is the movement keys are wasd, so the user has to take his finger off the movement keys just to switch weapons, as well as the high probability of mis-clicking. I could also have pressed SHIFT or some other button to switch weapons, but that doesn’t work well with more than two weapons. Using another button in addition the SHIFT, such as TAB, to scroll up through the weapons works with three weapons and works better than the mouse wheel scrolling for more than three, but takes up two very useful buttons and is unnatural. The pressed mouse wheel select is truly the best course of action, but it’s really the only control scheme that I can think of that works at all. The others are all too poor to work for the design of the game, and would force me to use, at most, three weapons in the game. I hope this example has adequately conveyed how important both the design of the game is, as well as the quality of the keymapping for the game, because games that fail at this are really horrible to play.
This is perhaps poorly named, as the whole thing could be called Responsiveness. What I’m referring to, is how often the game responds to the player in satisfying ways, in a non-mechanical sense. An example of this would be if the player walks by a door in a science fiction game. As he walks close, the door opens, as he stands there, the door stays open, and if he walks away, the door closes. It’s possible that’s a real game mechanic and might make a difference in a firefight or something, but for the most part it’s just the game responding to the player.
Likewise, if a player runs along a beach, it feels good to leave footprints. I’ve never fully understood why it feels so good. I think it’s mostly because it’s a way the game has of acknowledging the player. In the same way, casting shadows feels good, although that’s even simpler. Finally, I remember a game I played as a kid that gave you negative charisma when you had your sword out. It wasn’t really a mechanic, since there was no reason to have your sword out, and you could always just put it away, but it felt good to have the world react differently to you based on what you did. This is different from having the world interact with itself, which I’ll get to in the Place post.
VISUAL AND AUDIAL FLAVOUR
The more the player knows about the state of the game, the better. This is one of those that truly belongs under both mechanics and feel. What I mean, is that if your shields go low, then if the game lets you know that, that affects the way the game is played, and is thus a game mechanic. On the other hand, there are a million different ways to let the player know this, from beeping to a sexy female robot voice, to flashing on the screen, or blood dripping, really anything you can think of. In other words, it’s about the flavour with which the game tells you about its state, rather than that it tells you about its state.
There are problems with this list. For starters, it feels great when you move fast in a racing game, and yet that doesn’t fit into any of the categories I’ve provided. I thought about a “Spacial Simulation” section but that seems too specific. Really, that just goes to show that my understanding is not quite what it should be yet, but I will get there.
Whatever game you make, make it with a framerate of 60 per second at the very least. I can’t believe I have to write that in 2015. Additionally, the games controls had better be easy to use and responsive. If they are not, then redesign the controls. If you absolutely can’t figure out a comprehensive and easy control scheme, then redesign the game, no exceptions. Look for every opportunity to respond to what the player does. Finally, think about the tone when responding to the player in a game mechanic.