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The single most useful advice I can give for making any game better.. feedback
by Lee Perry on 05/06/13 11:12:00 am   Expert Blogs   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.


There is one aspect of games I care so much about, yet relatively few people seem to place enough importance on it and schools generally completely overlook it.  It's something that can affect any game regardless of genre or scope.  So, here it is...

From time to time I've been asked to look at early versions of games and constructively criticize them.  Typically there's a great theme involved or clever mechanic, but it's not often that games in an Alpha or even Beta state feel like a really solid experience.  It's true of shipping projects from veterans as often as student works or garage projects from talented indies.

If there's one single thing I would drive into any developer's head if I could, it would be the importance of great player feedback.  When I talk about feedback, I mean the classic loop between hitting a button and the game responding in a way that simply feels great.

A classic example that floated around Epic for a long time was the first 3D Mario 64.  Simply pressing the analog stick resulted in Mario springing to life, arms outstretched like a plane, banking into turns, puffs of dust beneath his feet, great footstep sounds from giant feet...  then the inevitable, the player presses "A".  Mario unforgettably shouts "WOOHOO!", a cloud appears under his feet as he leaps abruptly, his arm is over his head, when he lands there's a camera bounce, another burst of ground dust, a solid "bonk" sound, etc.  Making Mario simply run in a circle and jump, even on a flat green plane of low resolution grass was absolute magic.

When we put cover mechanics into Gears of War we had the same bar.  The player is simply pressing the "A" button to enter cover, but the result is anything but simple.  Marcus slides forward abruptly towards cover, dust particles streak behind his feet as he travels, a gravel shuffling sound kicks in, the camera lowers while moving closer to the player, he hits the wall with a meaty metal sound, grunts "HUFF!", he animates shouldering into the wall, a huge fast dirt cloud spawns between player and cover, camera plays high intensity shake for a nearly imperceptible blink of time, and the field of view tightens to convey less exposure to fire. Every game needs a "feel like a bad ass" button.

Simply pressing a button has to be an experience people want to repeat.  It's what makes a game addictive, intoxicating... it's the recipe for a game that "feels" right.

The best game in the world, regardless of high concept or awesome mechanics, can feel absolutely neutered when these principles are disregarded or neglected.  Conversely, there's many simple games that nail player feedback and become extremely successful while people scratch their head wondering how they pulled it off so well.  Try opening Angry Birds, pull a bird back in a slingshot and smash him into a pig fort.  See if you can count all the things that happen under the hood from that one interaction.

Fruit Ninja gets it, even with slow swipe finger movements, when you intersect with a target there's a brief quick slash effect from your fingertip 'assisting' and speeding your motion (and many other actions).  Peggle more than gets it, they're the goddamn grandmasters of amazing player feedback.  The way each note in a sequence of impacts raise in pitch to a pleasing series, the flash of each peg before it dissipates, the slow motion as the ball approaches the final peg on the board, the unholy brazen insanity of playing ODE TO JOY(!!!!) WHILE FIREWORKS EXPLODE AROUND YOU as you clear a level.

Imagine any of those games without those elements.

"But those are action based or simple arcade games, I'm making a puzzle game or RTS".  It's even more important.  If you don't think simply clicking a cursor on someone can be satisfying, think back to the amazing audio reactions Blizzard piles onto their Warcraft characters when you simple select them or give them an order.  Slap an imp in Dungeon Keeper.  Watch the array of crosshairs that happen when you direct a unit to move to 'X', etc.  Great UI has satisfying "clicks" on menu items, and lighting changes, etc."

Here's the thing I can't stress enough.  Those items are not polish.  They are not something you add at the last moment in your game or put off to the end.  If your core concept is the skeleton of your game, these items are the beating heart that makes your game come to life.  You can spend an entire development cycle questioning a core mechanic that just doesn't 'grab' you like it does when you see it in your head; meanwhile, a couple hours putting in some decent feedback early on can make that item a key attribute of your game and literally pull a team together around your concept.  Do it early and often.

It's about salesmanship.  It's selling your concept to your fellow developers so they get excited and hop on board with your vision.  It's selling the features to the player so they give your game more than 20 seconds of their attention.  It's about bystanders or trailer downloads seeing amazing things happen and them dying to get their hands on the controller.

Here's the awesome part.  It's actually not all that complicated, the improvement is immediately obvious, it's a very fun task, you get better at it every time you do it, you'll develop a very personal style and flavor to your features, and once it's done... your game will FEEL like a freaking game.  Honestly it's not all that labor intensive; sure there's examples above that use a dozen tricks for one button, but even two good feedback tricks can transform a placeholder feature into an amazing experience.  On the flip side, it's virtually impossible to overdo it... just make it feel great, and balance it after ;)


Here's a list of very basic and incomplete moments to consider ramping up based on genres (you'll find your own when you put your mind to it):

Shooters - Firing and connecting with a target MUST be fun.  Hit impacts on walls, hits on enemies must be obvious and communicate success, muzzle flares, and subtle camera action on firing or getting hit.  Convey getting damaged well and ramp it up as you're closer to going down.

Racing - FOV is your friend, play with it based on your speed, camera movement based on car dynamics (braking/swerving), high frequency camera shakes in intense moments and impacts, crossing the finish line with a flash or slow motion right at the line.  Tires screeching or a burst of engine revs when you blip the throttle, for speed games it's really not optional.

Puzzle games - Even turn based can benefit from awesome flash timing.  An element in your game disappears? Flash it 2-3 times right before hand.  Look at Puzzle Fighter and how amazing it is when you shatter a gem.  Hell, grab a mic at your desk and record a dozen lip smacks, mouth pops, swishes, paper tears, claps, etc... and tie them to some events.  You'll know immediately if it helps, and polish the audio later.

Melee combat - Consider the classic Street Fighter frame hitch on impact to emphasize a strike.  Camera jitters on impacts, if you have health meters, flash them any time they take a hit to show the damage timing.  Prioritize feel over realistic animations... crop out the first handful of attack or jump frames and see how responsive it feels, play your game at 1.5 speed and see if you're being dragged down normally.

Any game with a post-match summary or scoreboard - Don't just pop up a number, increment it with an amazing ramping sound.  Animate the elements like badges.  Unveil the information a couple elements at a time instead of one big info dump.  Play a nice swiffing or popping sound with every screen that transitions.  Fade the entire screen to white for .1 seconds and then back when a screen appears or disappears to cover transitions.

RTS - Make units respond.  Change cursors as you mouseover items to imply functionality, then change the cursor again when they act on something.  Major sounds on those interactions.  If you're 3D consider camera tricks like slightly narrowing your FOV as you pan a camera around quickly, then settle back out as they stop the motion.  Do everything you can to make it dynamic.

Mega artsy game - All feedback doesn't come in the form of a Thunder Valley Monster Truck Mania commercial.  Recall in Sword and Sworcery how awesome the wood spirits where when you tapped them and they floated upwards with that utterly amazing soft music chord.  Recall in Journey how satisfying the sounds of sand were under your feet, the way it deformed, or how the wind sounds seemed to pick up as you leap into the air and fabric flaps and waves.  It's all there.

Any game - grab a pack of audio "stingers" online.  Typically very short bursts of music or even a single chord that can be tied to actions as simple as pressing the "start" button on your intro screen.


A couple comments about mobile:

Play Halo sometime, but turn your volume off and see how the furious action holds up.  A problem with mobile development is that we know most players on mobile devices play without audio.  Games often implore players to put on headphones, because they really gave the audio the love it deserves, but it's largely ignored.  For the mobile space, it's even more important for visual elements to read loud and clear on a small screen with glare on a subway.

Touch screen controls are notoriously hard to get feeling "tactile", so it's critical to make those interactions affect the screen in notable ways to confirm to the player "yes, your control input was received, thanks for playing".  Virtual d-pads are bad news to many players, but find some way to visibly react to taps even when your buttons are hidden.  On an actual game controller we would call any button that didn't APPEAR to do anything when pressed a "dead button" and one players often won't press a second time.  Keep an eye out for times a player might get the wrong impression about your touch controls because you're not being obvious enough with the interaction.

Swiping or dragging motions are frequent on mobile games, it's worth investing in tech to allow streamer or splines or particles to emit from your fingertip as it moves.  It's up to you how subtle or tastefully you use it, but it's great when it feels like you're constantly touching the world and interacting.

Lastly, call it a stereotype, but I've heard the term "pizazz over polish" before from a notable mobile developer.  While I'm not sure where they blur the line with the two, they're kind of on to something with a market of new gamers flooding in and trying more games.  If you're making something you expect to be played by millions of people, know that the vast majority of those people like shiny things ;)

I hope this helps and gives you something new to think about as you turn prototypes into masterpieces.


Thanks for reading!

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Game Designer


Lee Perry
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FWIW, this is the second post in a row where I mention something about school programs in a sort of negative light. I apologize if I'm coming off as someone who dislikes college programs for gaming, I actually value them greatly. My hopes are simply that this is advice that finds a good home in young developer's minds, and it's typically something I've seen people missing out on for many years into their career.

Phillip Engen
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It is hard to say, I currently am graduating and getting a B.S. in game design and development. The main issue for us is our teachers are so out of touch with the current tools and technology we just end up having to learn on our own anyway. The group projects so far have been the most educational as you work to get a game completed in a short 5 week time schedule. Though at the same time the same kind of skills can be learned at so many other places.

E McNeill
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I get what you're saying, but I'm also partial to Jon Blow's argument that great games don't need Ode to Joy and fireworks to be awesome, or Raph Koster's comment (from

"That said, the brain happens to loooove feedback. It triggers reward mechanisms in the brain. It is remarkably easy to trick the brain into thinking that it has accomplished something when it really has not. This can result in the player getting hooked on the feedback for a black box system that is actually remarkably simple — or even designed to not teach the player anything at all, as in gambling. In design, we often terms designs “juicy” when they provide plenty of rich feedback, but we sometimes call them “exploitative” when they simply abuse feedback to keep someone going."

Slot machines are remarkably effective, in no small part thanks to the feedback they give. I won't laud them as awesome games, though.

Scott Sheppard
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I'd like to chime in with defense for Lee here.

Braid felt great to run around in. It had those really solid controls that were also important in regards to completing puzzles, perfect sound effects, music that reacted to your movement, and even changed player sprites depending on if you pushed up or down on the controller effectively adding purpose to those dead buttons.

So while Braid didn't go all "juicy" for its effects... it certainly felt great to play. I think this is what Lee was trying to convey originally. Like how Geometry Wars and Mario 64 just feel good to play with.

E McNeill
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I agree, Scott. Certainly feedback and good game feel aren't bad things. I just worry that "more more more" might be a dangerous attitude towards juice. It might be a tool that, when overemphasized, leads us to pass over more unique, interesting, and enriching aspects of our medium; see Koster's point above.

Lee Perry
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Thanks for the comments. Something to reiterate is that good feedback can come in lots of forms. The example above from Sword and Sworcery where that audio chord and vocal was tied to the wood spirits floating up was still possibly the most memorable moment of the game to me. The forest with musical trees you tapped on, awesome. I definitely don't think every game has to follow the route of explosions and screams... and I don't think these techniques are something that should be focused on instead of having an interesting point to your game. But, it's something to look at as an actionable way to improve loads of games.

Raph Koster
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Slot machines are awesome games, based on their popularity? Come on, we can be better than using popularity alone as a metric of craftsmanship.

I am not opposed to great feedback at all! I just think you should create a solid game first, then make it better with great feedback.

I also think that "grace note" stuff like the wood spirits is incredibly important. It speaks to what Nicole Lazzaro calls "easy fun," and provides a sense of exploration and wonder.

E McNeill
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Jay: Popularity is not an end in itself, nor is it a perfect indicator of value. If I could engineer a more addictive cigarette that took the world by storm, should I pat myself on the back for a job well done?

I sincerely believe that, while entertainment and art is of great value, it also exacts costs that we often overlook. I tend towards being moralistic about it; look to Raph's comment for a more moderate view.

It seems to me that if you agree with "the principle to make the feedback proportionate", you agree that it can become exploitative at some point, no?

E McNeill
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Jay: I struggle with that line myself!

Raph Koster
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Popularity is a very tricky statistic.

For one, we often have very biased views on it. Studies have shown that popularity of a given song, for example, is basically driven by random chance more than anything else. Disconnected groups given songs to listen to created completely different "top charts" for the same set of songs.

For another, there's general consensus that popularity and critical respect don't always line up. The history of the Oscars is illustrative here, as awards given by peers in the industry, as compared to the box office winners -- and keep in mind that the Oscars are historically a pretty populist set of awards!

You may also want to read this old essay of mine, if you have the time and inclination:

In the very specific case of gambling at slot machines, we actually know the ways in which slot machines "entertain" -- they are indeed fun, but they do it by hijacking the reward system of the brain in a way very much like drugs do; in fact, it's known to be clinically addictive to a subset of the population. What's more, I think it is safe to say that those who create slot machines know that this is what they are doing. It is a conscious choice, made to maximize revenue over time, and they explicitly choose an exploitative method of doing so. I don't know of any slot machines set up to stop compulsive gamblers. Casinos are set up to kick out those who win too much, not those who lose too much.

Matthew Burns
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Great article Lee and thank you for also extending your views to games on mobile devices! This post hits the right note for me as I am entering this particular phase in my game's development.

I do believe you are correct in regard to the prevalence of players who mute mobile games' music and sound effects. As a app developer, this is a very difficult issue to overcome and am always looking for new ways to give my players different avenues of "feedback."

Dylan Jones
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This just absolutely nails it. Love the mobile section.

Jason Pineo
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Thanks Lee for a clear and useful article, and a good set of comments so far: always good to see!

Lee, when I reached your comment about mobile and players going without the audio, I thought also about the importance of supporting players with different sensory or interactive challenges. I'm hearing-impaired and often play without audio for a variety of circumstantial or technological reasons. When I do, games that have great visual feedback systems are the ones that grab and hold my attention.

When possible, have feedback hit on multiple channels (audio, visual, tactile if you have controller vibration available). That way any players that miss one channel can still know what's going on, still be drawn in and engaged by your game.

Troy Lonergan
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Really useful and great to keep in mind. Thanks :)

Erin OConnor
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3 ( of rather a few) games I absolutely loved to play.

Einhander - Each ship was different. The ship controls were great. Each gun served its purpose. The music also really set the mood of each stage. I mean who doesn't like blowing up ships to techno? Still waiting for a proper sides scrolling shooter to surpass what Einhander brought.

Lumines - such insanely simple gameplay that evolved in complexity over time. Plopping the blocks down as well as when they cleared contributed to the music as if you were creating the song by playing. I am surprised that there are not more games with interactive music.

Unreal Tournament - Not only did it look amazing for its time but running and gunning was so silky smooth. Each gun was spot on with its function (primary fire, secondary fire, range, damage). The various mutators added a ton of fun to the game. There was also a really solid AI. Most games now seem to really skimp on the AI. And lets not forget the music. Good times, good times.

Kevin Fishburne
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Article bookmarked. This may be the best article I've ever read here on game design. You nailed it, and citing an example like the hit/block slowdown in SFII I think boils it down to its most basic implementation. A lot of players probably didn't really think about or even notice that, and yet the subconscious feeling of "impact" it conveys is priceless in making the play feel solid and weighty. Such a small detail with such a significant effect.

Your exhaustive list of implementation suggestions is nice but it needs to be noted that the concept of enhancing feedback is broad and as such needs to be tailored to the specific game type and mood being conveyed. There was an article a while back about making everything "juicy" which has some overlap with this one. Enhancing feedback can be as simple as a couple frozen frames as in the SFII example or as over-the-top as blasting Beethoven with fireworks and all that. So basically make the enhancement fit the game, situation, mood or whatever, just like any other design decision.


Greg Garrahan
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Thanks for this article. Feedback is so important but we always neglect it. Or we know what we should do but still don't do it because it's a lot of work. One thing I've seen over and over is weak weapon sounds being used until late in development. Having great weapon and impact sounds makes your game instantly more fun, so why not take time to get them right from the start? The player may fire a hundred thousand times, so spend a few days experimenting with different sounds until you have it sounding good.

Another mistake I make is assuming everyone I work with is on the same page about what good feedback means. The feeling you want players to have may need to be broken down into very specific instructions for each team member involved, like exactly how fast and far debris from an exploding barrel should fly, or how much louder a gunshot should be than a door opening. Don't assume everyone gets it.

One last obvious but critical thing when it comes to feedback is making sure the right people are in the right positions. For example a person who loves shooters and plays shooters all the time is probably going to create better gunplay feedback than someone who only plays D&D and fantasy games.

Matthew Smith
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Thanks for the insight Lee. I'm currently working on something where adding this kind of feedback isn't a natural or straightforward addition. It's made me think about my overall design (well, the thinking will commence now) and how more of these elements could/should be added to improve it.

Lee Perry
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Thanks for all the comments!

It only occurred to me when I saw this promoted on Gamasutra's Twitter feed that I really screwed up the title. I didn't mean it to sound like "OMG, this is the best advice you will EVER get!!!", haha... I copied and pasted this over from my personal blog but messed up retyping the title which was originally "Single best advice for any developer ***I can offer***? Controller Feedback."

Haha, fine distinction. It's generally just advice I find myself giving people over and over, so it seems like it might be one of the most important things I personally have to contribute. I don't want to come off as thinking this is actually THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT GAMES EVAR!!! Sincere apologies if that's what it sounds like... I'm new to blogging ;)

(Edited title)

Christian Philippe Guay
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Thank you Lee for sharing. It's definitely the most useful advice.

Kevin Fishburne
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Examine the gameplay feedback loop suggested by this video clip with respect to sound effects:

Alexzander Protasenya
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Hi, Lee! Please accept a huge thanks for this article!
The moment I've read it I decided to improve feedback for games, which are now in development at my company. I feel that an example with Mario 64 you've cited has a lot in it: if it's cool to enjoy basic mechanic without even expanding your view to the whole game's structure-goals-etc, than this mechanic should have a really excellent feedback built.
But I have this question: can I have that as an ideal measure? Say, I work on some element's feedback and than use this element isolated of all the other mechanics and dynamics. If it feels cool this way than I've got it right. Is this a valid tool and position?

Lee Perry
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So, I think you're asking "If you have an element you're looking at, and that element stands by itself as being satisfactory and feeling fun, then I'm doing it right?" If so I would say that all the core actions in your game should ideally feel excellent when you do them. BUT, just because you've created something that is fun doesn't mean it's automatically valid to put into your game. I'm sure for Gears of War we could have made jumping or double jumping feel amazing and heavy and cool, but that wouldn't have made it a good call to include.

Nick Harris
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May I recommend you take the time to download and study this large .pdf of the original game manual for Super Mario 64:

I feel that along with your actions being reinforced by feedback (cartoonish, Chaplinesque, 'over-sold' animations), the more sophisticated acrobatic manoeuvres require more complex and challenging to master timed control sequences. However, these are all available at the outset of the adventure outside the castle and do not need to be unlocked in the main body of the game through some stop-and-master-this-before-you-are-allowed-to-continue mini tutorial (and they are only really needed when trying to obtain difficult stars on later levels).

I would also say that the control scheme (its ergonomics and articulacy) are of primary importance, then physical feedback with animation. Presentation, challenges, pacing, rewards (perhaps expressed through progression through some over-arching predetermined story that is itself another form of feedback on your character(s)), orchestral music and voice actors are of decreasing importance. Unfortunately, too many modern 'cinematic' games start with story which imposes constraints from the wrong end of the design process, inhibiting your freedom to make the most expressive, satisfying, controls you can. Shigeru Miyamoto started Mario 64 with a ball being moved about with inertial impulses and even when he put a running plumber inside of it he wasn't happy with how fast he was reversing direction:

'When I was working on Super Mario 64, I realised halfway through that it was getting boring. I don't remember if it was when I watched someone playing it, but I was like, "Wait, a minute…" So I went around and asked everyone, "This game was really fun in the beginning, but now it doesn't feel fun anymore, does it?" And just as I'd expected, they all said, "We agree."

In the beginning, we had Mario turning really slowly, so that it was really overemphasized. But at some point he'd started turning really quickly. He kind of zipped around. So then we changed it so that he went back to turning really slowly. And well, I'm not sure if that was the right change to make, but it was really important to me. Because Super Mario 64 was a project that started from that turning movement.'

- Shigeru Miyamoto

This may also be of interest:

P.S. I'd like to echo Mr Perry's comment that the controls define capabilities which will have a deep effect on how your character is percieved by the player, how they fit in the 'world' of the game: whether they are empowered or disempowered, for example. So, in a sense you get to direct the actor as well as write the script to both define and explore a character.

Alexzander Protasenya
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Thank you all for your advice!

Lee, I've got your point about actions and feedback being congruent with the essence of the game, thanks for that one. In all honesty, that was not exactly what I was trying to ask, but I guess I got my answers anyway.
I really have to boost my "clear thoughts communication" skill up. :)

Nick, the game mentioned does not have an actionable character, it's a casual puzzle, but all that you've lined up will be very useful when I finally get to my other projects. Thanks for the experience and resources shared.