What makes video games feel good?

In this blog post I’m going to be talking about what makes video games “feel” good. After watching game designer Jan Willem’s talk on this subject, I found myself very surprised at how changing such small aspects of a game affected how the player experienced it. Jan Willem is a designer at Vlambeer’s Games. His talk was really amusing and entertaining to watch. I went in knowing nothing, and came out with a new understanding of game design techniques which made the player feel good. If we look at it simply, games are all about making the player have fun and feel good about the experience they are having. This is what Jan Willem emphasizes in his discussion.

How did Jan Willem make his game feel good?

Jan Willem’s game started off as a simple action shooter. It didn’t feel very good to watch or play. The gameplay was underwhelming, and didn’t convey a sense of excitement or fun to the player. Here’s some of the techniques he used to create a gaming experience that felt great for the player:

  • The first thing Jan Willem did was make the bullets in the game bigger. Disregarding realism and making huge bullets made the gameplay a lot more satisfying. He also added a more rapid rate of fire and decreased accuracy. Already, this is creating a more action-orientated experience.
  • He gave enemies a 30% chance to explode, which made the gameplay seem a lot more chaotic and exciting. Later on in the talk, he also added some bigger explosions which intensified this chaotic feeling.
  • Screen shake! Jan Willem made it no secret how much he loves this feature. Adding screen shake during combat created a sense of impact and action when fighting enemies. Having the screen shake tricks the player into thinking there is more action going on then there really is, and makes the game’s combat feel more satisfying.
  • Jan Willem created a pause in the game that lasted for a few milliseconds when an enemy dies. While barely noticeable, it makes the death of an enemy feel more significant to the player, even though they don’t know why!
  • Adding more bass to the shooting sound effects drastically improved the “feel good” sense the player had during the game. Making these sounds effects have more bass made combat feel more intense and impactful.
  • Jan Willem discussed how leaving clutter behind in the game creates a great amount of satisfaction for the player. Things like corpses and bullet shells show how much desctruction the player has caused, and reminds them that they have been to the particular area in the level. It is really satisfying to look back at all that clutter and think “I caused that!”
  • Descructable environment’s are a really great addition Jan Willem talked about. While they don’t have a real impact on combat, it just makes the player feel good to see the environment reacting to the chaos of combat. It increases the intensity of battle!
  • Knockback was added on the enemies and player to get a the player away from that static feeling in combat. It made the shooting feel a lot more powerful and foreceful.
  • Meaning – these techniques are wonderful, but the game should give the player some incentive to do what they are doing. Is the player the bad guy? Why are we shooting these people? While these things don’t have to be made obvious, there should be some indication as to why the player is doing what they are.

How Dark Souls makes players feel good

Funnily enough, Dark Souls, a game that is infamous for its difficulty level, is one of my favourite video games, and makes me feel good. I have always wondered why this game made me feel so good, considering the frustration and anger it brings out in most players. After watching Jan WIllem’s talk, I have a greater understanding of how the developers implemented subtle feautres which made Dark Souls a fun game to play.

  • Dark Souls has corpses. A lot of them. When you kill an enemy, most of them will leave their body behind. This is just a lot of fun, especially because of the physics. I usually run through huge piles of bodies when I play and watch them ragdoll about. It’s great because it shows you the path you have taken and all the destruction you left in your wake!
    Image result for dark souls ragdoll
  • Destructable objects is something I really enjoy about Dark Souls. It is such a simple feature which really makes the experience that much more entertaining. I can’t count the amount of times I have rolled through barrels, crates, chairs and tables just for fun. Sometimes there is loot hidden in barrels or crates as well, which makes the practice of destroying them more exciting! During combat, this feature also makes fights seem a lot more intense. Enemies can also destruct objects, or even burst out of them.

Image result for dark souls crates

  • Enemy and player stagger animations are a very important part of Dark Souls combat which make it both more entertaining and difficult for the player. It’s a really great feeling when you stagger an enemy and go in for the kill. It’s also scary when you are hiding behind your shield and your dwindling stamina can’t take the next hit the enemy lands on you. Your character stumbles backwards and the enemy might move in to kill you. This feature ensures that combat feels balanced and more impactful.

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  • One thing I noticed about Dark Souls is how during combat, hits feels really hard. When your character gets hit, you know it. When you successfully hit and enemy, you feel really good. I think that the combat animations are definitely a huge part of this, but another technique which creates this feeling is the sound effects. The sound effect for being hit or hitting an enemy is quite loud. The sound for when you die is particularly heart wrenching and disappointing. The sound for when you effectively backstab an enemy is music to my ears. A parry has a particular audio cue which just sounds so good. Killing a boss treats your ears to the sound of “Victory Achieved”. There are so many sound effects in this game which make the player feel good (or bad).
  • Movement speed in Dark Souls is another important factor in the overall gameplay experience. Depending on what armour you wear, you can either move very swiftly and roll effectively, or walk around a little clunkily and fat roll in your heavy armour. The funny thing is, I think both feel good in their own ways. Being heavily armoured might mean you move around more slowly, but feeling the heaviness of your steps and the huge thud of your roll is strangely satisfying. Likewise, feeling how swift your movement is and how smooth your rolls are in light armour is a great feeling.

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  • Blood FX is one thing which really satisfied me during combat in Dark Souls. When I backstab  or riposte an enemy and see a huge fountain of blood explode from them, it feels good! It might not make sense for blood to be gushing out in a huge fountain from certain enemies, but it doesn’t matter. It’s fun to watch, and it makes combat so much more satisfying.

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Now I have realised that there are so many techniques you can use to make a game feel good, and these things are things which the player might not be fully aware of. Jan Willem’s talk has opened my mind to a whole different side of game design. I will definitely now be looking for these “feel good” techniques in every game I play!

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