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I'm working for a small studio on our first game, and one of the many lessons we've had to learn is how to meet player's expectations. Not the feature set - we were in tune with that from the start as gamers ourselves - but rather the details like keyboard shortcuts and feedback that confirms an action. As developers, we expect the game to behave as we designed it, and we trust it to respond appropriately to our actions. But gamers don't share our set of expectations, and they don't develop a trust of the game if perceived responses don't reinforce the input.

One of the challenges (frustrations) of adventure games is that the player often has to tap the designer's logic to solve the puzzles and advance in the game. In a similar way, an action game that demands a specific mental model of motion - the timing of a jump, walking speed, or falling damage - that the player can't get comfortable with or discover quickly will block immersion.

When these motion mechanics are derived from a simulation, the designer may even find them uncomfortable until the parameters are tuned just right. Varying those parameters as the story progresses, health changes, or other dynamic factors could seriously distort the player's perception of the game in unexpected ways. Of course, that might be the fun of it. Some people enjoy having the rug pulled out from beneath them.

I think it's definitely the case that we make the player's job of perceiving the game state far more difficult than it ought to be. The lens we give them to look at a game is basically smeared with Vaseline. In Prototype, worse than even the movement mechanics, are how chaotic all the powers are. It's awkward to execute some of them, it's rarely discernible which ones are useful what situation, etc.

Tom Francis had a pretty good reflection on how Prototype's powers could be made more readable (http://www.pentadact.com/index.php/2009-07-10-prototype-revised). If all of a game's mechanics, even the ones we take for granted, had symmetry and clarity of this magnitude, I think we'd definitely be moving in the right direction.

Matt: Supporting mechanics that fluctuates base on the situation doesn't have to alienate the player. A very basic example would be the walking in Resident Evil 4. As health goes down, you walk slower because you are hurt. This changes the movement speed of the avatar which is crucial in that game. This supports what I am talking about and I think other systems could be done. I am more suggesting systems that will remain constant throughout the game, but that will simulate more organic stuff where the player will be able to perceive certain things through his avatar reactions...

Thanks for the clarification; a goal of more organic, innate feedback mechanisms would more likely draw a player into a game than create frustration through dissonance. My tangent lost your meaning when it began to address input models instead of the approach of reinforcing that input, flavored by the context in which it is given.

I'm reminded of the first time I threw a grenade in Half-Life 2. I was used to having to think about the power and trajectory of a throw (usually by holding down the fire key and aiming somewhere above my target, which I always felt was an awkward and inadequate solution in a first-person environment) and dealing with small, pointless delays like the one you've described. HL2 forgoes this, taking the calculations you'd do unconsciously while throwing and essentially making them for you: where you aim is where it goes. After a moment's confusion with the new system it occurred to me just how obvious this solution should have been all along!

Glad to see a post here.

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March 2010

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