Mechanics and Interactions
Directness is also very important. Depending on the action, repeated actions should require repeated controller inputs. A machine gun can has a button hold for repeated fire, but Mario's JUMP works best as the result of an individual button press. Designing in this way makes each use of the game's primary mechanic intentional and distinct, which helps build a strong connection between the virtual world and the player's intentions.
Here's another list:
- Super Crate Box, Small Worlds: If you hold the JUMP button your character will continually JUMP. This is a common mistake indie games make. The game interactions become especially tricky to suss out when JUMPing up and forward onto higher platforms. Because the mechanic is highly sustained or buffered, you can get two quick JUMPs when you only intended on one. Games are generally more cleanly communicated when they're built upon individual actions that are layered and combined to create challenges.
- Planet Platformer, The Company of Myself, and The Unfair Platformer: In these indie game you can hold the JUMP button to repeatedly jump. This takes away from the directness of the button input. Furthermore, there's no variable JUMP height.
- Super Meat Boy: There are many unintuitive elements to Meat Boy's mechanics. For example, you can instantly stop when running at max speed, yet when you walk and reverse directions you slide. This violates the concept of inertia.
- Shotgun Ninja: In this game you may think the controls are "loose." Perhaps this is because of the unintuitive inertia. When you move on the ground, whether you reverse directions or release all directional buttons you slide to the stop. If you move, jump into the air, then let go of all directional buttons the ninja almost immediately slows to a completely vertical fall. Where does the inertia go?
The speed at which a game operates (not of frame rate but of action-reactions per unit of time) is an extremely important design choice. Speed affects everything across the skill spectrum. It also affects the ability for the player to comprehend the action of the game as it happens. "Non-stop-action" is actually very stressful and hard to follow. Because of our limited reflexive abilities and limited short term memory capacity, we can only see so much action as it happens in real time. In the same way that games and other forms of art do well with high and low levels of intensity, moments of low action are just as important as high action.
So when I play games that crank the speed up to 11, I generally do not agree with the decision. I much prefer the slower action of RE5/Halo to COD4 or Team Fortress. I prefer the cleanliness of Brawl to Melee. I like the action of the Zelda series' combat better than Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry.
For those who think that turning up a game's speed increases the skill of play, it doesn't (necessarily). I've explained the entire complex situation here near the end of my "an examination of skill" series. To recap, the faster the game speed dexterity, reflex, and timing skills generally decrease while adaptation gets reduced to a lot of guesswork and frantic actions. To compensate, players use their thorough knowledge of a game system to augment the other skills. Instead of reacting to the on screen presentation players see more and more of the game ahead of time in their heads. For example instead of failing dexterity challenges (like precise, high speed aiming) players learn strategies that require less dexterity. In an FPS these strategies may involve shooting early or aiming in the space opponents are likely to run into. So the idea is, the level is skill remains constant (to a certain degree). The only thing that the increased speed does is shift the skill spectrum stressing knowledge skills even more.
The problem with this is that video game complexities are varied and specific. Each rule of the game must be learned individually. And because learning/memorizing is a very slow and mysterious process, fast pace games can create a significant skill barriers. So, assuming the skill level is the same for a moderate versus a fast paced game, then this is really an issue of balance. With a more well rounded skill spectrum, players can use a variety of skills to help them learn and operate within the game system. The more players can use their dexterity, adaptation, reflex, and timing skills without taxing much of their knowledge skills the more engaging and the more clearly the game actions are communicated. Furthermore, the player can stay in the flow zone easier. More on that later.
When Mario gets hurt or grabs a powerup the game pauses giving the player a moment to breath and analyze the action. Otherwise, Super Mario Brothers is a game of moderate speed. To increase the speed of player, you're free to use the RUN mechanic.
Game speed in this sense also applies to mechanics design. For example, in a paltformer if the character movement is very fast, even with no other moving elements the platforming gameplay tends to be fast paced. Likewise, mechanics that have very quick animations cycles or that cancel into other moves can increase the speed of a game.
Indie games with speed issues:
- Super Meat Boy: I know that Meat Boy is the speed character, but the air control in this game is extremely high. Just tap forward and run in some cases, and Meat Boy will rocket off. Coupled with the fast falling speed and the gameplay becomes heavily stressed. So if there was a small design issue before (like hitboxes or mechanics), it becomes a bigger issue at high speeds.
- Super Crate Box: I like the speed of this game overall, but there are times when it's very difficult to see the interactions because of the fast movement speed of the player character and some enemies. Even if the game speed were slowed, the game would still maintain non stop action.
- FlyWrench: In this game you move fast and die fast. Before you know it, you can die, respawn, and die again. Of course you can get used to it. Perhaps the game isn't manageable/fun until you do.