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Principles of Virtual Sensation
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Principles of Virtual Sensation

November 14, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 13 Next

What is the “feel” of a game? Every gamer knows it and can easily recall the sensation, the kinesthetic feeling, of controlling some virtual avatar or agent. It’s what causes you to lean left and right as you play, swinging your controller wildly as you try to get Mario to move just a little faster. It’s the feeling of masterfully controlling some object outside your body, making it an extension of your will and instinct. This “virtual sensation” is in many ways the essence of videogames, one of the most compelling, captivating, and interesting emergent properties of human-computer interaction.

The sensation of control is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon: so many things have to happen, both in the computer and in the player’s mind, for this powerful, compelling feeling to occur. How, then, can it be mastered and used as a tool to create better games?

This paper explores the underlying principles that govern the “feel” of controlling something in a game. Just as the “Principles of Animation” guide good animation, these principles of virtual sensation are intended to guide good-feeling gameplay. For reference, the Principles of Animation are:

1. Squash and Stretch - Defining the rigidity & mass of an object by distorting its shape during an action.

2. Timing - Spacing actions to define the weight & size of objects & the personality of characters.

3. Anticipation - The preparation for an action.

4. Staging - Presenting an idea so that it is unmistakably clear.

5. Follow Through & Overlapping Action - The termination of an action & establishing its relationship to the next action.

6. Straight Ahead Action & Pose-To-Pose Action - The two contrasting approaches to the creation of movement.

7. Slow In and Out - The spacing of in-between frames to achieve subtlety of timing & movements.

8. Arcs - The visual path of action for natural movement.

9. Exaggeration - Accentuating the essence of an idea via the design & the action.

10. Secondary Action - The Action of an object resulting from another action.

11. Appeal - Creating a design or an action that the audience enjoys watching.

The Principles of Animation are fascinating because they are non-negotiable aesthetic standards. An animation that adheres to the Principles of Animation will be better than one that doesn’t. This is interesting because the subjective nature of aesthetics would seem to make a universal aesthetic standard impossible. There’s no accounting for taste, the saying goes. The Principles of Animation are applicable to all animation, though, because they pertain to aesthetic properties that are processed subconsciously. You can’t tell why you like an animation that has squash and stretch and why you dislike one that doesn’t. You just feel it.

The medium of videogames has a similar set of governing aesthetic principles. Identifying these underlying principles adds another tool to the designer’s toolbox, allowing a clearer understanding of virtual sensation and how to create it. This will save time in game production, reducing the iterative workload and allowing designers to focus on solving the interesting problems unique to their specific game. If we’re not wasting valuable production time reinventing the wheel, we have more time to create something unique and beautiful.

Article Start Page 1 of 13 Next

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