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Making Stuff feel good (in Unity)

What is Game feel

This is not some new technology that appeared in the past six months that’s going to revolutionize the software industry. This set of concepts can be applied to anything we build. The funny thing is that they don’t have a set-in-stone definition. Where UX is a set of guidelines you follow, our topic of discussion refers to the feelings people have when they interact with something. It’s about emotions, perception and expectation. (all references will be linked at the end of the article)

As a general rule, our topic of discussion in this post will be about the feedback towards the user in response to an action. For reasons we’re going to discuss later in this post, we’re going to call this feedback “Game feel”. You are going to find a lot of definitions for these concepts, however, I found that the most accurate way of representing what’s happening is just by explaining it one step at a time and trying to form a sentence from it: The system acknowledges the user’s input and conveys the state of the system back to the user.

Any system that requires some form of user input should apply these concepts. Usually, people expect the system to behave in a certain way depending on their actions and when the system doesn’t, they feel like they either didn’t understand how to use the system properly or that the system didn’t understand their actions properly. As Nicolae Berbece put it in his GDC talk, “if game feel is there, nobody notices, but if it’s not there, everyone will notice”.

CodeCamp Presentation

Examples of Game feel

Notice how when you activate your turn signal in your car, a beeping sound starts playing? Older models had a physical switch that actually moved in order to close a circuit and turn on the light, but newer models don’t have that (especially if the lights are LEDs). A beeping sound is played only because you, the driver, expect the sound to be there. It’s also a good indicator that you have the turn signal on. As an experiment (I don’t recommend doing it, but if you attempt it, make sure you are in a safe area, under the supervision of a specialist and always wear your seatbelt outside of this experiment), try driving without a seatbelt. A beeping sound will alert you to fasten your seatbelt. While that sound is playing, try activating the turning signal. You will notice that the turn signal indicator in your dashboard will light up, but the sound won’t be there since a more important sound is now playing, the seatbelt one. This is an indicator that the sound of the turn signal is added there just because you expect it.

BMW has an entire team dedicated to how the doors sound when you close them. They could just let the doors slam and damage the door or the body of the car. Instead, they use dampeners to prevent this damage. The downside is that the doors don’t sound the way you’re expecting them to sound anymore, so engineers have to come up with different materials or design elements in a certain way so that the door sounds the way people expect: heavy and safe in a limousine, light but not cheap in a sports car, etc.

Movies do this A LOT. We know that everything in movies is exaggerated, but there must be a reason why this is happening. Using just the visual and audio cues, movie directors have to convey different feelings to the audience. Let’s say that you can differentiate pretty easily between a happy and a sad moment (different music, some colour grading, etc.), but how do you convey the importance of a moment relative to another moment of the same type. How do you tell the difference between a corner store robbery (which is a terrible event, but it’s a relatively small scale event) from an alien invasion? Some movie directors opted for explosions as the answer to this. The bigger the explosion, the more important the moment should feel. A corner store robbery will have some bullets fly around, some people getting shot and probably a water bottle exploding in flames ( because movie logic ), but an alien invasion will have thousands to people running, screaming, buildings falling over, explosions as big as an entire country (usually the USA, since that’s the only place aliens are interested in attacking).

As you can see, the concept of feedback in regard to the user’s expectation can be applied to pretty much anything, but we’re going to talk about Game feel and how it works in video games.

The term Game feel comes from the book “Game feel” by Steve Swink. Amazon’s summary for the book is: “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”. Again, it doesn’t have a certain definition, but there are some key concepts that are involved. I’m not going to go in-depth about these concepts, I’m just going to mention them and then give you some examples that I’ve built for demonstration.

Key concepts of Game feel

The different areas that can be manipulated to improve game feel are:

Input — How the player can express their intent to the system.

Response — How the system processes, modifies and responds to player input in real-time.

Context — How constraints give spatial meaning to motion.

Polish — The interactive impression of physicality created by the harmony of animation, sounds, and effects with input-driven motion.

Metaphor — The ingredient that lends emotional meaning to motion and provides familiarity to mitigate learning frustration.

Rules — Application and tweaking of arbitrary variables that give additional challenge and higher-level meaning to motion and control.


Stay tuned for the next part of the article, where we’ll present some game examples and demonstrate these principles.




Ionut Tamas – Senior Unity Developer