Posts in the Game Design category

Why movies look weird at 48fps, and games are better at 60fps, and the uncanny valley…

the hobbit

Damn you, Peter Jackson!

Let’s end this debate once and for all. Humans can see frame rates greater than 24fps (although plenty of people will argue that they can’t on the internet). I’ll explain more in a future post if necessary, but let’s take that as read.

Once you’ve accepted that fact, the next question is why do movies at 48fps look “videoy”, and why do movies at 24fps look “dreamy” and “cinematic”. Why are games more realistic at 60Hz than 30Hz?

The answer to all of this lies in two things – ocular microtremor, and center-surround receptive fields in the retina. And it predicts where the cut-off lies as well.


Why tripods have spirit levels and up should always be up in video games

This post is about designing cameras for video games, and for anyone who wants to shoot a movie. I think I’ve finally figured out why spirit levels are placed on tripods, why some people hate shaky-cam, why you need up to be up, and why dutch angles feel… well… off-kilter.

The reason has to do with your vestibulo-ocular reflex.


Announcing the Microsoft @ GDC App


So this is nice Smile My Windows Phone app just hit the Windows Phone Marketplace (you can find it in the marketplace under Microsoft @ GDC – or just click this link to install it directly on your phone). It’s a little app that gives you details on all of the conference sessions and talks that Microsoft are sponsoring, putting on, or otherwise giving at GDC this year. (more...)

What makes games fun?

It's an interesting question. A better one, though, might be... what makes play fun?

Bet you've not made one of these since you were a kid...

There's a lot of psychology being worked on right now on why games are fun, but some of it is common sense. Here's a quick laundry list I put together of what's fun and why.

  • Are you emotionally engaged?
    That's fun... or at least, it's engaging. It makes you feel something.
  • Are you narratively engaged?
    (Do you want to see what happens, or how the story ends?)
  • Are you physically engaged?
    Are you pressing buttons and getting feedback? Are the buttons consistent? Is there room to learn a new motor skill?
  • Are you learning?
    Learning is fun, provided that there is feedback and reward.
  • Are you projecting?
    Do you feel attached to the character you're interacting with? (eg. move your mouse to the top of the screen, and smack it there. You'll feel a little psychomotor feedback, as if the mouse is "sticking" on something. That's projection. It's what lets you feel the tip of a screw when you're using a screwdriver).
  • Are you learning new projection-related skills that are unlike things you do in everyday mundane life?
    eg. Rolling things up in Katamari Damacy, jumping 3 stories in Crackdown, dreaming about tetris blocks, creating Portals. You can tell if you're doing this right, because you'll look around your mundane everyday world, and think about how to do those things within it...
  • Is there direct feedback in the system? Are your actions connected directly to the actions you see on screen? Are the consequences mostly immediate (ties to physicality) or long term (ties to narrative).
  • Are you competing with another player, human or otherwise?
    Humans are competitive animals, and a lot of play in animals is to lay down the rules for territory and battle.
  • Are you collaborating with another player, human or otherwise?
    Humans are societal animals, and a lot of play in animals is to lay down the rules for cooperation and collaboration.
  • Does it provide a change in state for the player, preferably into a "flow" state? (eg. Rez/Geometry Wars/Zuma = Trance/Flow state)

Ultimately, a fun game requires:

  • Feedback - actions have consequences, preferably immediate (unless narrative)
  • Progressive induction - that is, start easy, get progressively harder. Challenge the player - but at a rate appropriate to them so that it causes frustration, but not too much.
  • Rewards - doing something cool must provide a reward.

Fun may or may not require:

  • Narrative engagement
  • Physical engagement
  • Emotional engagement
  • General learning
  • Competition
  • Collaboration
  • Projective learning
  • Induction into "flow" state

... but usually a fun game will require at least one or more of these ancillary categories to provide depth and engagement. The most powerful of these are Flow, Projective Learning, Competition and Emotional/Narrative engagement, in roughly that order. And they're also that difficult to attain, in that order. clip_image001

That's my take on it anyway.


Note that I'm only listing the dominant traits of these games. For example, Crackdown has a small narrative element, but it's really really small - certainly nothing compared to GTA4's storyline.

Panzer Dragoon Orta - a game which involves a lot of General Learning (to get the patterns right), Physical engagement, a smidge of Narrative engagement, and some gorgeous graphics

Physical engagement, General Learning, Induction into "flow" state

Physical engagement, General Learning, Competition & Collaboration, Projective Learning

Indigo Prophecy
Narrative engagement, Physical Engagement, Emotional engagement, General Learning

Narrative engagement, Emotional Engagement, Physical Engagement, General Learning, Projective Learning

Project Gotham Racing
Physical Engagement, General Learning, Projective Learning, Competition

The Suffering
Narrative Engagement, Physical Engagement, Emotional Engagement, General Learning

Physical Engagement, General Learning, Competition, Collaboration

Physical Engagment, Projective Learning (hugging the walls), Induction into "flow" state, General Learning

Rock Band
Physical Engagement, General Learning, Projective Learning, Collaboration

So what's the Upshot?

If you're designing a game, see if you're missing any of these elements, and try to figure out how to get them in. You don't need all of them, but most games will involve some kind of General Learning (ie. they're not totally random because that's unfair - even Minesweeper won't let you click on a bomb on your first move) by default. Identifying which elements of your game correspond to each of these categories can also help you to refine those experiences.