I was invited to speak for a design class at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy on Game Feel. For this presentation, I wanted to really create something tangible for the students to interact with so I built a prototype using Unreal Engine 4's Roller Ball as my base. With this Blog post, I want to share some of my slides distilled down and provide some examples of games on the market as well as how I established several points of Game Feel in the prototype. The prototype video is also at the end of this post.
Game Feel is a cerebral concept. It is difficult to describe but easier to experience. There is no equation for success or perfection when it comes to Game Feel. It is more of an “invisible art”, where like real art, the painter needs to continue to practice. Why though is Game Feel so important? It establishes a connection between player and avatar or player and the virtual space.
The connection is key and in Steve Swink's book Game Feel he says the definition of Game Feel is "Real-time control of virtual objects in a simulated space, with interactions emphasized by polish." This definition applies across the board to all games of every genre. The control merely changes perspective and the same rules can apply though they may have a different context. To be honest you can apply this sort of "Feel" to other areas of interactive design. Let me humor you for a moment, The Car Door Window Example:
If I try to roll the window in an older car with a “handle” it feels rough and a bit tough to control. The expected result is hard for me to feel out. How hard do I have to turn to reach the amount I wanted? By today's standards it no longer feels good.
If I try to roll down a window using a power window “switch” it feels more consistent. I get the same result as the handle, but a smoother experience and one that I have more control over. However, in some car designs, when I press the button to roll down the window it will automatically begin rolling down all the way. This may not have been what I expected or my intent and I then have to finesse with the switch to regain control.
A car window with the ability to react more naturally to what my intended input is can be an application of "Feel".
Now in a game, we have all played games that "feel" good and games that "feel" bad. These are holistic systems that come together to feel good and not singular instances. As the definition above outlines it is about the system as a whole and these systems can be broken down into parts. The player avatar will feel different than when driving the car. However, the interaction between the two is part of the larger system while each retains its own, smaller system. In his book, Steve Swink mentions key aspects of Game Feel that can be used as a measurement.
These are Input, Response, Metaphor, Context, Polish, and Rules. These six terms represent measurements within the game space that we can establish as game designers. Not every aspect requires every measurement either. Context and Rules are more commonly seen within UI, numbers, and data. Think the coins and lives within the screen of Mario. Metaphor can be applied to most physical interactions or object properties. Think if a feather is falling it will lightly fall to the ground but if a bowling ball is dropped it will slam to the ground. Input and Response follow each other as my input to move will be followed by some kind of response, but there may be orthogonal responses outside of my avatar. Think if I jump and land in a pile of leaves there may be a slight brush of air at the impact point sending some leaves flying.
In that last example you can already see that the systems are interacting and we can establish input (jump), response (land), animation air effect, and leaves blowing away (polish and metaphor). You can akin this to the argument of fun vs simulation. Games are generally more fun because they aim to be fun. Simulating a sword attack is probably very dull but the sword attacks in Dark Souls are not dull at all.
For this next part, I will disclaim that I work for EA so I criticize between these two games knowing that both are great and I enjoy them both. Here are two quick snippets of me playing Battlefield V and Apex Legends. In this example, we are going to observe the movement, animation, and UI between both games. I specifically crouched in each and continued moving forward to illustrate a point of polish that we can measure.
The first thing I want to mention in these examples is the action of crouching and moving. In both gif animations the avatar transitions from standing run to crouching. The battlefield example has a slight downturn to the gun and the camera shifts but movement speed remains the same. In Apex the gun downturns significantly and the camera drops. Both of these are similar but why does the Apex version feel better? Via this example, visually, it looks better but I suggest you go play both games and compare them for yourself. The Apex version uses polish to provide a greater impact on the response to the players' input. In the Apex version the Camera bobble changes, the gun changes angle, movement slows slightly. In the Battlefield example camera, bobble remains the same, the animations speed is reduced, and gun ever-so-slightly turns. Independently both of these meet their purpose. If you remove the visuals and animations they are functional, but between the two one does Feel better than the other.
If we look at our previous established rules, we can see the UI displays various pieces of information. Specifically, in this case, the compass. No, what I'm about to point out is a UX issue but to be honest UX designers are Game Feel specialists when it comes to the rules and context of a space, menu structure, or user interface. The compass at the top of the screen in Apex helps to establish direction and quickly conveys this information. The Compass in Battlefield is almost hidden on top of the mini-map in the bottom left side of the screen. Even though I was playing the Conquest Mode in Battlefield in large open virtual spaces where a player needs directional information the example in Apex is the better feel. There is less of a struggle for a player to locate, read, and announce the information in Apex over Battlefield.
Game Feel is an interconnected web of systems, animations, SFX, VFX, and more. There are many different ways to accomplish the desired Game Feel and there is a layering effect that improves the feel with each layer. These layers are affected by budget, time, competency. There is a base layer though, and even without the additional layers, the game should feel great. If I removed all of the sounds and visual but left you with a black box that can move around and shoot other black boxes it should still feel good. For some examples view the video below!