The Importance Of Subtlety/Feedback


When making games, there are many things that are important.

The big and important things often come naturally, such as gameplay, neat graphics and features such as multiplayer or saving progress.

However, there is a lot more to the little and subtle things than initially meets the eye. It can even be more important than the big things at times. One very small thing that is easily overlooked is giving feedback to the player. This feedback is often very subtle and most importantly barely noticeable. An indication of a job well done is that none of the testers seem to notice the feedback. To name a few examples of feedback:

•Sounds when you collect treasure, open a secret door, etc. For example the well-known Legend of Zelda tune. Other examples include the sound in Binding of Isaac when you collect treasure and the ringing purse sound when you collect coins in more than a few games.

•Confirming a certain action has taken place. Nothing I can think of right now is a better example than the quiet *pop* sound a dropped item makes in Minecraft when you pick it up. However, there are many more examples, such as the reloading sounds in shooter games (which are a less overlooked example) and the sound when you switch weapons in for example Team Fortress 2.

Some feedback might be noticeable, but to show just how extensive feedback can be, I’ll describe the process of mining a block in Minecraft in terms of feedback.

1. You select the tool. – The tool’s name is now briefly visible.

2. You start mining a block. – You hear a mining sound. Important is that the sound gets randomly chosen each time it plays, from a small list of sounds. This is to prevent annoyance with the fact of a repeating sound. – You see the block break graphically through particles and a breaking texture. – You see your arm swing.

3. You are done mining the block. – The block breaks with a slightly louder sound than the mining.

4. You pick up the mined block. – The block flies towards you – The aforementioned *pop* sound plays – The block appears in your inventory slightly transformed before returning to normal dimensions.

How many of these things did you consciously notice last time you mined a block? Probably not even half. Yet you know all these things do happen. You simply don’t think about them. And that’s exactly what feedback is about.

•If feedback is given, it makes the game easier (because you know for sure that something you did succeeded) and more fun (feedback acts as a reward for executing the action).

•If feedback is too obvious, there are some downsides. It may annoy people. The feedback might be distracting or get repetitive. In this case, the game becomes less fun because the feedback acts as a punishment rather than a reward.

•If the same feedback is given a lot, it might get repetitive, even though it’s not obvious. To tackle this issue, vary the feedback subtly. This is done in Minecraft by playing sounds that are a little different each time, and in Terraria by rotating block sprites randomly rather than displaying an overlay mining texture like in Minecraft. This adds variety and makes the game more fun overall, even though it’s not highly noticeable.

Another very important thing is that subtlety not only applies to feedback, and not only to games. Music as an asset in general needs to be subtle. It adds mood, but distracts if it’s too noticeable. Good game/movie music should only be noticeable when it stops. I used to play Empire Earth a lot. The music is hardly noticeable after the first minute or so because it does not have a large variety in pitch or volume throughout the song. However, when it ends, it always startles me a little.

Keep this in mind while making games, and testers will probably give that much more positive or that much less negative feedback on your game. And generally, they will simply like your game more. Once released, it will make the game get reviewed better as well as simply more reviews.

About the author:
Kishan Kock, aka 2Create is a GMC-user, and he is working on a project since June called Clockwork Wanderlust: http://wanderlustdev.blogspot.com/

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One thought on “The Importance Of Subtlety/Feedback

  1. Kind of skimmed through it, but what I did read I liked, made sense what you said about being subtle, reminds me a lot of “polishing” one’s game; adding the details.

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