An Artist's Eye: Applying Art Techniques to Game Design
August 31, 2010 Page 5 of 5
The final example is almost devoid of animation, showing that the principle is a universal one. Consider Star Power activation in Guitar Hero. A "Star Power Ready" message flashes center screen as the Star Power meter begins pulsing to draw attention.
Star Power in Guitar Hero carries a theme into the UI for maximum impact.
This is the anticipation. The player lifts the guitar neck upwards providing the action. The game sends electricity FX rushing down the play surface, notes turn electric blue, and the crowd roars. This is the reaction.
It's worth noting that the anticipation-action-reaction model has a parallel in interface design, known as "cue, action, feedback," about which much has been written (see Resources). No matter the language you use to describe it, it's a powerful tool for analyzing and creating interaction moments in games.
Here are three rules of thumb that may prove helpful when sandwiching player actions with anticipation and reaction:
Stage it. In animation, staging is the clear presentation of an idea. This usually means communicating one visual element of the game at a time, leading the viewer's eye to that one element, exaggerating its size or duration. Staging can be particularly tricky in games, as we often deal with an interplay of systems which, by their nature, throw up near simultaneous interactions.
The more actions you anticipate at any given moment, the less likely it is that the player will see or hear them, and the less well-staged they'll be. A cluttered HUD is an obvious symptom of poor staging. Some tips to help staging: anticipate only when you need the action (not all the time), remember to use audio and tactile channels, and always look for opportunities to simplify.
Theme it. Ideally, every element of a game reinforces the intended player experience. Theming can be a great way to do this. For example, to help the player feel like a Guitar Hero, we themed our secondary game mechanics in that game around Star Power. The idea was to boost the showmanship side of being a rock star knowing we already had musicianship covered in our core beat-matching gameplay.
We knew the user interface would need to be clear and themed around our idea. The question became what does Star Power, which is a bit of an abstract concept, look and sound like? The electricity theme we used felt right for a game about rock 'n roll, and crucially gave us a bold color (electric blue) to aid with staging.
Playtest it. It's impossible to know if anticipation-action-reaction solutions are working until you actually see people "get it," as they're co-animating your game with you. Clear anticipation is particularly hard to get right. Fortunately, it's very easy to tell when you're failing. If your playtesters don't perform the action you're expecting at the moment you want them to, chances are your anticipation isn't clear enough (which usually means it's too subtle).
Art for All
That concludes our whistlestop tour of the proven art principles we've found useful in game design. We started off with the thumbnail method, proven to help avoid common pitfalls in idea development. Andy showed you how the Golden Ratio can be used to stage a game's rewards and content. The tour finished up by showing how animators sell individual actions using anticipation, and how designers can harness the anticipation-action-reaction model to inspect and craft every moment of interaction with the player. Knowledge and practice of these principles can help you inspect any game with an artist's eye.
Applying proven art principles to your game design will pay dividends, and what we've covered here is just the tip of the iceberg. I'd encourage game designers from any background who want to improve their eye to break out some art books (see Resources for our recommendations). Let's not forget that many revered game designers began their careers as artists -- Fumito Ueda (Ico) and Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario) to name just two. So you'll certainly be in good company!
Illusion Of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams
A Painter's Guide to Design and Composition by Margot Schulzke
The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art, and Architecture by Gyorgy Doczi
The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler
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