1st Edition

Game Feel
A Game Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation

ISBN 9780123743282
Published October 13, 2008 by CRC Press
376 Pages

USD $58.95

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Book Description

"Game Feel" exposes "feel" as a hidden language in game design that no one has fully articulated yet. The language could be compared to the building blocks of music (time signatures, chord progressions, verse) - no matter the instruments, style or time period - these building blocks come into play. Feel and sensation are similar building blocks where game design is concerned. They create the meta-sensation of involvement with a game.

The understanding of how game designers create feel, and affect feel are only partially understood by most in the field and tends to be overlooked as a method or course of study, yet a game's feel is central to a game's success. This book brings the subject of feel to light by consolidating existing theories into a cohesive book.

The book covers topics like the role of sound, ancillary indicators, the importance of metaphor, how people perceive things, and a brief history of feel in games.

The associated web site contains a playset with ready-made tools to design feel in games, six key components to creating virtual sensation. There's a play palette too, so the desiger can first experience the importance of that component by altering variables and feeling the results. The playset allows the reader to experience each of the sensations described in the book, and then allows them to apply them to their own projects. Creating game feel without having to program, essentially. The final version of the playset will have enough flexibility that the reader will be able to use it as a companion to the exercises in the book, working through each one to create the feel described.

Table of Contents


PART 1: Deconstruction

1. Why Feel, Why Now?
This chapter focuses on the impetus behind the book, asking the reader to recall the sensation of controlling a virtual avatar and talking about why feel is so important (and why it is often overlooked.)

2. The Grand Scheme of Game Design
This chapter assigns feel a place in the larger realm of game design, defining its scope and boundaries, talking about how it fits into creating the Ultimate Game Experience of life-enriching flow and empowerment. Using diagrams and research derived from Maslow's Pyramid of Wants and Will Wright's concept of Granularity, feel is identified as one of the atomic units of game construction, one of the most basic building blocks of interactivity.

3. Games that don't Feature Virtual Sensation
There are some types of digital games - Civilization, Solitaire, the Sims, and so on - that don't focus on feel or utilize it as one of their core elements, separating them from what will be discussed in the book. An interesting aside is that we are indeed experiencing virtual sensation whenever we use a mouse but that it is so intuitive and familiar that there's really no rational motion translation or skill to build. This brings up an interesting point: much of the pleasure of controlling something purely visual is in the challenge of mastering it, in the obfuscation. In fact, we're wired to receive pleasure for remapping our neural pathways to gain skill and mastery in this way, and it's one of the reasons that overcoming challenges (playing games) is so pleasureable.

4. What is Feel?
How do players experience feel? It seems to be mostly subconscious, though there are some artifacts that will be of use to us. Citations here of various forum scrapings and interviews with players looking for feel descriptors (floaty, twitchy, smooth, unresponsive etc?)
What does academia have to say about feel? What are the metrics that can be used for such experiences, and what kinds of research have been done along these lines? How can we better know what players are thinking, experiencing, and feeling, and what beneficial, applicable research has come before? A brief introduction to Flow Theory.
Where does the rubber meet the road? How do game designers categorize various types of feel? What is their common language for describing it and what do they think about it? How do they test for it? Is there any kind of standard emerging?

5. Where Does Feel Exist?
Virtual Sensation is a slippery phenomenon, arising from a system that includes software, hardware, input device, feedback device, and live players. Where does it occur, why, and how? It appears to occur primarily in the player's mind. If we view this as the ultimate goal - programming the player rather than the game (a Will Wright quote) - we begin to see that many different, equally valid strategies arise for creating sensation. This includes physics simulation, baked or layered on animation, ancillary effects such as screen shake, and tactile or external effects like controller rumble. Interestingly, the only thing a game designer can really affect (unless that game designer gets to design controllers and hardware too, like Nintendo's Miyamoto) is the space between player and game, often called mapping. A final note here is on the power of metaphor to frontload a lot of player programming, to load up a library as it were. Using a strong, easy to comprehend metaphor lowers barrier to entry and makes it much easier for players to engage with and find enjoyment with a given virtual sensation.

PART 2: Classification

6. Genres: the Ugly Legacy
A brief discussion of Genre Theory in film and classification in biology followed by a survey of the current game genres we have. A possible alternative for classifying games based on player experience rather than metaphor, perspective, or common rules and structural elements.

7. Foundation for Classification
A comprehensive survey and deconstruction of the current state of game classification among players and game designers.

8. Virtual Sensitivity
This provides the building blocks for a new system of classifying feel in games, based on the concept of virtual sensitivity (which includes Input and Reaction Sensitivity, and the affordances of input devices.)
9. Constraints Define Sensation
The new classifications will be based on constraints and context, which are the primary ways a designer can create feel for a user. This includes various types and implementations of collision, gravity, dampening, and the method by which arbitrary force is applied to the system (through user input.) Finally, we account for context, both spatial and temporal, and how much this affects virtual sensation. For example, the same mechanic feels wildly different in the context of a cramped, overfull level. In a level where the objects are spaced in a way that's well suited to the mechanic, the same mechanic will feel great.

10. The Role of Sound
How sound affects virtual sensation. In some instances (Pong and Wii Sports: Tennis provide nice bookends) sound is the main component of a game's virtual sensation. Again, it's all about creating impression in the player's mind.

11. Ancillary Indicators
A discussion of screen shake and other ?Camera? effects and how they relate to virtual sensation. How can a well timed screen shake make something seem heavier? Conventions here have been primed and borrowed from film. Another interesting direction is in haptics and tactile feedback. This may be the future of virtual sensation.

12. The Importance of Metaphor
How to factor metaphor into our classification. Should we? Or should we evaluate virtual sensation as if everything were reduced to its primary elements (had no metaphorical representation.)

13. How People Perceive Things
Realism in Games
The Real World vs. the Ideal World
Every Game is Principia

14. A New Taxonomy of Feel in Games
The culmination: a new classification of feel in games including everything discussed up to this point: Smooth, Hard, Floaty, Twitchy, whatever the final classification structure ends up being.

15. A Brief History of Feel in Games
Important advances in game feel, with our new classification method applied.
Oscilloscope Pong
Spacewar, Asteroids, and Lunar Lander
Atari Pong > Magnavox Pong
Arcade Revelry - Space Invaders, Pac Man, Defender, Tempest, Joust
The Jumping Man
Mario Evolves
Mighty Wings
A Platformer Without Jumping
Speed Machines
Speed Machines 2
The Third Dimension
Modern Refinements

PART 3: Measurement

16. Existing Game Metrics
Soft versus hard metrics. What are the existing metrics, if any for measuring a game's feel? A note here about the difference between soft metrics (are the players having fun?) and hard metrics (what was the score?)

17. How to Measure Feel
On a scale of 1-10, what is love? The point here is that what we're trying to measure is very subjective, very difficult to quantify as a hard metric. Once again, what the players are telling us and what it means. Also, what measures and methods are available to use from the realm of behavioral psych and congnitive science? Likert scales, interviews, Csikszentmihyali's methods. How can we measure type, amount, and how do we account for subjectivity?

18. Four Metrics for Feel
Four ways to measure the feel of a game.
1. Timelapse Diagramming
2. Playtesting Relativity
Traditional Playtesting or "See What Sticks"
Usability Testing
Virtual Sensation Testing
3. The Input/Reaction Axis
How to Apply Metrics
4. Integration with the Design Process

PART 4: Creation

19. Exercises
Sensitivity in Space
Lunar Lander
Sensitivity on Platforms
Super Mario Brothers
Bionic Commando
Ghosts N Goblins
Sensitivity in Flight
Captain Skyhawk
Super Monkey Ball
Sensitivity on the Road
Gran Tourismo
Mario Kart
Grand Theft Auto
Sensitivity in 3d
Super Monkey Ball
Super Mario 64
God of War
Mario Kart DS

20. Feel the Future
There are two main places for virtual sensation to go: new types of reaction, and new kinds of input. Look at games like Gish, Ski Stunt Simulator, and other physics games to get a sense of where reaction sensitivity can go, the different forms it can take on. Look at input devices like the Wiimote, Sixaxis controller, and Novent Falcon haptic feedback pen to get a sense of where input devices can go.

21. Where Can Feel Go?
As a whole, where else can virtual sensation go? What frontiers is it pushing towards? What are its unsolved problems? What should its frontiers be?

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