There’s an interesting article in Gamasutra that discusses game “feel” using the Mario series for its examples. It’s a little pedantic in parts, but I think it does manage to lay out some of the difficult issues that a designer can face when trying bring a character to life, and then hand control of it over to an anonymous player.
However you describe it, it?s hard to deny that the sensation of controlling a digital object is one of the most powerful — and overlooked — phenomena ever to emerge from the intersection of people and computers.
There are lots reasons for this, but the main one is that game feel is slippery. It?s mostly subconscious, a combination of sights, sounds, and instant response to action. It?s one of those ?know it when you feel it? kinds of things. If it?s off by just a little bit, a game?s goose is cooked. If it?s ?responsive?, ?tight?, and ?deep?, it can be magical.
A good action games lets us connect to the game in a way that almost feels as if its us inside that world. It’s more than just the imagination. On some level you’re looping and flipping with the character. This column does a pretty good job of teasing out some of the ways that games allow that to happen.
One thing that I think it does overlook is animation. Even if you’re looking at classic “non-interactive” cartoons, there’s something about the clear animation that gives an audience the feeling of being there. It’s the same vicarious experience that draws people into a sporting event, or an action sequence. If you can’t capture the right details in your drawings the audience isn’t going to get what you’re going for no matter how powerful the engine is under the hood.
It’s not as hard as you might think to get it to work right either. The Xiao Xiao series started out as a series of short animations that manage to really capture the fluid feeling of a Hong Kong action film using only stick figures. Later on some actual games were created using the animation techniques, and it’s pretty obvious they were weaker than the animations themselves in terms of communicating with the audience. Finding that delicate balance between feedback and attention is where the real mastery often lies.
In his response over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Jim Rossignol adds a little more depth to that part of the discussion:
I can?t help thinking that what people are talking about when they refer to the ?feel? of a game is its capacity to get us into a flow state. We reject games with a poor feel because we aren?t able to get into that state. It?s somehow analogous to listening to music: we?re just able to enter the pattern completion of certain types of music, while our tastes seem to reject others. Games with bad feel can still be played, but they irk us, like dancing to music we don?t enjoy.
Feel and flow are one of those topics that we’ll probably never reach the bottom of, like music or dance, but it’s certainly a worthwhile discussion.