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Juicy: a useful game design term?
by Josh Whitkin on 01/31/14 10:11:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Juicy is an irritating adjective to me. It cropped up in the casual game boom of the 00's, and then seemed to be covered by more recent layers of trendy buzzwords. However, I found myself needing it in design discussions recently, helping an engineer understand my reasoning for wanting a certain trivial-sounding (to an engineer) features.  After a brief pause, during which I racked my brain for a less annoying word, I realized "juicy" was, indeed, a useful term.  In this post I dust the term off, and argue that it has matured and seasoned nicely. In this post I define a specific meaning in today's game design practice.

What is juicy design?  The general idea was poetically stated by Morgan and Brown here: “the satisfying feeling we get when potential energy is converted to kinetic energy. That point where we release energy from a design in a way that creates surprise, delight,…”. 

Most hit casual games are loaded with examples, but Popcap’s games are commonly cited with good reason. Plants vs Zombies, Peggle, and earlier games all exhibit great examples. So many of their tiny actions, whose meaning is vanishingly small, satisfying and building holistic player satisfaction.  Among the many reasons Popcap has given for their success, juicy design ideas were in there. Producer Matthew Johnson explained it like this:

"...it's about that thing that happens right now, that feels great and sounds awesome – that's always been in the DNA of Popcap games."

Let’s find where "juicy" fits in other design ideas (aimed at the beginning game designer, as a FAQ).

Q: How is Juicy different from basic good software interface design practice?

A: Most designers are comfortable with logical or factual design lenses: e.g. a “click” sound helps the user realize they clicked a button. Simplify  the screen so the important ideas pop out. These make sense.   By contrast, Juiciness is not as logical. Juiciness is an emotional lens on design.  A well-designed juicy game matches the players subconscious feelings of fairness and reward/punishment “I did that well, so something good should happen.”

Q: So, Juicy is a description of reward / punishment, Skinner Box type game design?
A: Juicy is not that coldly logical. It is about tiny player actions than overall scoring or rewards.  When you collect a coin in Plants vs Zombies, after doing a successful move, notice your feeling of expectation of “good stuff”.  Notice the satisfaction of the coin appearing. Then, before you click, imagine the coin just vanishing when you clicked it.  Now, click it. That little flash and spinning of the coin, traveling to your points? That’s juiciness. It’s all the small stuff.

Q: So, Add fancy animation and your game is juicy?
A: Maybe.  A failed attempt at adding juiciness to a game will add fancy animations that don’t relate to the player’s experience. It will feel ‘tacked on’, or unrelated to the game activity.  It's also possible to overdo it: Hearing "crowd goes wild" sounds for every tiny decision will feel false to the player, who knows that a minor action shouldn't generate major cheering.

Q: Does juicy relate to the big picture – the game’s purpose – or is it only about small picture - the UI, in the moment, tiny things?
A: It’s small picture, but it can add up to the big picture.  Popcap's Johnson explained how early arcade games had juiciness as the key reward:

"... with Pac-Man. Partly, the reward was the high score table, but primarily, it was the emotional feedback - it had to be immediate.

"If you think about the voice in Bejeweled that rewards you when you make a match or the 'extreme fever' in Peggle, or the little things in PvsZ that make you connect with the characters, it's not about the player building up stats over a long period of time, it's about that thing that happens right now, that feels great and sounds awesome – that's always been in the DNA of Popcap games."

Q: Is juicy a design approach? Is it better than other ways of designing games?
A: No to both. “Juicy” is a narrow but useful lens to view a game’s design.  One cannot simply “make a game juicy” and be certain it’s better. 

For example, consider characters in a casual game.  A mascot game character, like the Bookworm worm, reacts to player choices and personified game outcomes. I feel Bookworm's primary function is to mirror and validate the player’s internal, emotional state (it also gives hints and instructions, but as a secondary function).  This is a “juicy” character.

Now consider the player character in a serious first-person immersive war simulation game (e.g. WWII Online).    Can the enemy see the player’s head above the barrel?  This is not an emotional, “juicy” design decision. This decision requires rational thinking.  The primary purpose of such a 3D game player characters is not to reflect the player’s emotional state (though it is part of the purpose – for a richer discussion see Gee).  Imagine “improving” the game by having player character thinking snarky comments, celebrating head shots or wiping tears away, when the game is primarily strategic.  Hopefully it’s obvious that making this character more “juicy” could easily hurt the player’s overall satisfaction.

In short, I find the term "juicy" to be useful, if irritatingly catchy, and hope you do too. I would be delighted to hear that there is another word that other designers already use with substantially the same meaning, but I fear that we are stuck with "juicy".  I look forward discussing with you in the comments.

 


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Comments


Jay Anne
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Great article. I have heard the term used in different ways. The most common being specific to visual audio feedback that is satisfying. The definition in your article is far broader than that. It sounds like you expand it to mean "highly compelling uncertainty" or perhaps "satisfying uncertainty".

In any case, regardless of the semantics, you bring up an interesting topic. There are known classes of "anticipation" in game design that are universal. Simple Newtonian physics as applied to a goal is one of them, seen in Peggle, Angry Birds, Doodle Jump. Because our brains can predict gravity's effects on trajectories, we can look at a falling object that has a purpose and we inherently derive a compelling anticipatory emotion from it. But once you couple rigid body physics to it, the system is sufficiently complex that we can't help but tie randomness to it. Once you tie a compelling reward-penalty to the outcome of the physics, it becomes a visceral gut level compulsion to predict its outcome and yet cringe at its anticipation. When highly responsive visual audio feedback is added, it becomes juicy and the system comes together. Perhaps an important component is the use of the right kind of anticipation to add to the potential energy that converts to kinetic energy.

Much as in the physics example, a key component of juicy is the balance of responsiveness. Make it Too responsive and the system feels blatant and uncertainty goes out the window. Make it not responsive enough and the system feels limp and un changeable. There's a sweet spot where ideally your brain is tricked into anticipating a proportional response for every input, or perhaps yearning for a slightly disproportional response. In this way, it's likely similar to flow concepts. Perhaps the reason why juiciness often depends on visual audio feedback is that just the right balance of feedback responsiveness triggers the uncertainty as far as expecting a response, and may instill that yearning for a disporportionately favorable response. One great example I can think if is how strong the feedback is for the final peg event in Peggle.

ganesh kotian
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Thank you for the post

Daniel Cook
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I tend to look at juicy through the lens of Steve Swink's Game Feel and interaction loops. (ex: http://bit.ly/1bnI3ig)

Juicy feedback can be described as a design practice where:
- You consider high frequency interactions or loops involving short timescales.
- In the loop, you have the player's mental model, the action, the rules interpreting the action, and then the feedback to the player. The juicy bits happen in the feedback stage.
- By adding evocative stimuli (visual and auditory elements that carry an emotional payload) to these moments of feedback, you make the loop more 'juicy'.
- There are some standard evocative stimuli (screen shake, slight pauses, etc) that current indies rely, but feel free to experiment with short evocative ideas that generate a blip of emotion.

These same techniques can be applied on lower frequency loops, but we have different adjectives for them. Juicy is just a shorthand method of describing one variation on a standard system. I find it useful, but I've found it even more useful to understand the bigger picture that it fits within.

All the best,
Danc.

Kevin Fishburne
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There was an article on here a while back about this. My personal take from it was that juiciness is an unnecessary visual or aural detail effected by a "parent" action or object. I like this, as it's simple and I don't know a better word to describe it.

Some examples:

1) Changing directions in a side-scrolling platformer initiates a "skidding" or "turning around" animation.
2) Alucard's hair flowing in a wavelike motion when running in Symphony of the Night.
3) Freezing the render loop for a fraction of a second when a hit connects (large pause) or is blocked (small pause) in Street Fighter II.
4) The four note jingle in The Legend of Zelda when Link acquires a special item.
5) A selection cursor scaling along a sine wave instead of having a static scale.

Bejeweled has some serious juice going on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb5dyiARWek Just another boring grid-based puzzle game, but slathered in BBQ sauce it looks pretty enticing without evening knowing how to play.

Think of chess. Now think of Battle Chess: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6HYbQCRwgk Battle Chess has the juice. All that extra crap in Battle Chess is unnecessary--it's still chess--but wow does it feel better playing it that way.

Josh, I like your article, but I think for terms like these to be useful to more people the definitions need to be clear and simple.

Daniel up above had some good comments, including "Juicy is just a shorthand method of describing one variation on a standard system." I would modify that however to include not just variations but consequential additions (running creates dust puff particles when running over sand, for example).

Take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. I like things simple. I perhaps naively believe the world can be boiled down to mathematics, so as I often am could be gravely mistaken here. Keep up the good posts.


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