My Screenshake Brings the Boys to the Yard

“Fill your games with love and tiny details”

(Nijman, 2013)

In his talk, Nijman (2013) discusses and demonstrates that intangible essence of a game, sometimes called game feel. In short, it is what makes the game feel excellent and what makes it sticky to the player. The creation of this essence will differ from game to game so Nijman chooses to focus on how to apply this to an action game. Vlambeer is of course excellent at this:

5Z4e5DkI think that a really important step that Nijman left out of the talk was that to add this essential essence you need to have a really solid idea of what the game actually is, the experience you want to create and what the player should feel. Of course, this is sort of assumed and juicing usually occurs later on in the design process.

Nijman’s (2014) demonstrates how the addition of several “tiny details” can make the game feel so much better. These details include things like: exaggerated animations and effects, improving the feedback system and working on the camera. I will explore these in more depth as I look into how Vlambeer put them into practice in their game Wasteland Kings.

KING OF THE WASTELAND

hqdefaultWasteland Kings is a fast-paced game in which you play as a mutant fighting to become the king of the wasteland. To do so you must defeat the enemies, collect pickups and improve your skills. The procedurally generated layouts and permadeath help to keep the stakes high.

This game incorporates almost all of the techniques that Nijman discussed in his ‘The Art of Screenshake‘ talk. As such it feels like a typical Vlambeer game: fast-paced, chaotic and juicy as hell. The camera shakes, kicks and lerps. The bullets are fast, inaccurate, big and loud. The characters strafes quickly across the map dodging the hailstorm of enemies bullets which fill the screen. Hordes of weak enemies rush the character. And, most importantly, there is a motherfucking super-machine gun:

UntitledThe gameplay aesthetic that the player experiences when playing this game is primarily challenge. The high stakes environment provides a chaotic obstacle course that the player is only too willing to try and overcome. Additionally, the game produces a secondary aesthetic of sensation as the game creates thrill, anxiety and tension.

The techniques that Nijman discussed in his talk have been used in this game to reinforce this challenge aesthetic. Some of these techniques have been used to provide feedback to the player that their action occurred:

  • Basic animations and sound
  • Muzzle flash
  • Impact effects
  • Hit animation
  • Permanence

Similarly, other techniques have been used to provide feedback while also exaggerating the power of the playable character and their gun:

  • Bigger bullets
  • Big, random explosions
  • Camera kick and lerp
  • Screenshake
  • Sleep
  • More bass
  • Player knockback
  • Permanence

Not only do these make the game more readable at a fast pace but they also make it feel “juicier”: the exaggerated feedback makes shooting the gun feel awesome and thrilling. This supports the challenge aesthetic by making the core game play feel good and by giving the player a satisfying reward for taking down an enemy. They don’t just die, they explode:nuclearthroneIn addition to this feedback, Vlambeer has included some of Nijman’s techniques that increase the pace and chaos of gameplay:

  • Faster bullets
  • Higher rate of fire
  • Less accuracy
  • More enemies
  • Faster, weaker enemies
  • Enemy knockback
  • Strafe

This again supports the challenge aesthetic through exaggeration. The game-play feels more satisfying and more of a challenge when it is fast and chaotic: twitch reflexes are needed and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Instead of just taking down a couple of enemies, you are mowing down a horde of weaker ones. This makes the game feel frantic as you dodge bullets and enemies but it also makes it feel more satisfying when you walk back through an area and see the ground littered in corpses.

Lastly, one of Nijman’s techniques was to add meaning into the game. This was simply done by adding a short message to the death screen:

rgadfbabnThis may seem inconsequential but it encourages the player to keep trying when they fail and this is a very important thing to include in a fast paced rogue-like.

BUT I’M NOT MAKING AN ACTION GAME…

The techniques the Nijman describes in his talk work to support and exaggerate the challenge aesthetic in a fast paced action game. Whilst the specific techniques make not be applicable to the game you are creating, what is applicable is the core idea behind his talk.

Having of good understanding of what you want the game to be, what you want it to feel like and what you want the player to feel is extremely important. From there, you should push in and really buckle down on how you can make these things happen. This is core concept behind “game feel”.

LOVE AND TINY DETAILS

Getting to the core of how you want the game to be and feel is the start of constructing this game feel. From there, “love and tiny details” are needed to construct this all important game essence. It is important to note that this will vary between different styles of games. For example, Brandon Keogh (2015) notes that the quiet and subtle title screen in The Last of Us works to support the feel of the game:

asdghSometimes these tiny details are visual and auditory, as it is in the example above, but they can also be mechanical. A good example of this is in the Japanese version of Ico. Within the game the characters must hold hands when running around.

089BC17D4To do this the player must constantly hold a button down. This simple little detail helps to support an idea and feeling that is core to the game.

This is a very difficult topic to right about because of how vague and varied game feel can be. It is, however, extremely important. Game feel, juice, essence, or whatever you want to call it, makes a game sticky to the player. There is no catch all guide or tutorial on how to construct it: instead it will need to be carefully considered and implemented.

REFERENCES

Keogh, B. (2015). Game Feel.
Brisbane: SAE QANTM.

Nijman, J. W. (2013). The Art of Screenshake. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdEqssNZ-U

Vlambeer. (2014). Wasterland Kings [Video Game]. Retreived from
https://vlambeer.itch.io/wasteland-kings

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