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6 Mistakes That'll Drain the 'Juice' Out Of Your Game

by Mike Salyh on 11/24/20 11:02:00 am   Featured Blogs

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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.

 

We game-devs love talking about “juicy games”. It’s a silly term, but players recognize "juice" intuitively: it’s a sensation that feels lively, satisfying, and well… juicy! To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart: you know it when you see it.

Unfortunately, players are also familiar with the opposite sensation: “dry games”. Games that are slow, awkward, and stilted. If you fear your game is falling into that category, don’t panic! Here are 6 mistakes that could be draining your juice:

 

Mistake #1: Unresponsive Controls

The leading cause of dry gameplay is a sluggish control scheme. That includes input lag, “slippery” movement, and anything else that gets in the way of player input. Luckily, you can greatly improve the feel of your game just by tightening up the controls.

As a general rule, the faster your game reacts to input, the juicier it will be. As much as possible, avoid long wind-up animations; try using explosively exaggerated motions instead. Players will feel the extra ‘oomf’ behind their button presses.

A dramatic reloading animation.

Look at how snappy and exaggerated these hand motions are! [Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward]

If your game requires slow wind-ups, there’s a trick to preserving the illusion of responsiveness: when the action begins, immediately snap the character into a slightly different stance. That quick motion will lessen the sting of the slow animation to follow. Check out this example from Bloodborne:

A warrior swinging heavy weapons.

He may swing slow, but he raises his weapons at the speed of light. [Bloodborne, FromSoftware]

 

Mistake #2: Robotic Motion

It's tempting to move game objects around at constant speeds (a.k.a. “linear interpolation” or “lerping”). While lerps are efficient to program, they rarely looks natural. Real-life objects take time to accelerate and decelerate. Animators call that effect “easing”. 

A red ball moving linearly, and a green ball easing.

Compare these two bouncing balls. Red is moving linearly (gross). Green is easing! [Graphic by Suresh V. Selvaraj]

Adding some acceleration and deceleration to your animations will give them a sense of weight. If you’re new to easing, it’s helpful to think about the underlying physics. I like to watch slow-motion reference videos on YouTube and act out motions in front of a mirror.

A rocket launcher from Halo.

Watch this rocket launcher recoil: the barrel leaps up quickly, then gradually slows to a stop. [Halo, Bungie]

 

Mistake #3: Dead Stillness

What happens when nobody’s interacting with your game? If the screen is still as a graveyard, your game is bound to feel dead!

The remedy to this problem is straightforward though: keep something moving on-screen at all times. “Idle animations” infuse scenes with a sense of life and energy. Having some motion also reassures players that the game isn’t frozen!

Fighting games are famous for their exaggerated idles. [Street Fighter, Capcom]

You don’t need to limit your idle animations to characters either. Particle effects are a great (and cheap) way to liven up your scenes. I like to incorporate smoke, sparkle, and wind particles into the background whenever possible.

Card games rely on idle animations to fill the dead time between turns. [Legends of Runeterra, Riot]

 

Mistake #4: Abrupt Disappearances

Instantly deleting objects is a major immersion-breaker. When it's time to remove an enemy corpse or power up, don't just disable the game object. Consider pairing that disappearance with a well-timed visual effect. Here are three of my favorites:

Sparkle-Bursts. Spawn a shower of glittering particles on the same frame the object disappears. This works great for money and other collectibles!

[Super Mario Bros, Nintendo]

Fade Out. Before removing the object, animate its opacity down to 0%. I like this effect 2D sprites in particular.

[Fire Emblem, Nintendo]

Smoke Bomb! Create a smoky explosion that hides the object before removing it. This is my favorite solution for removing enemy corpses because it’s so over-dramatic.

[Zelda, Nintendo]

 

Mistake #5: No Secondary Actions

In real life, big actions usually cause a chain reaction of smaller effects. If your game doesn’t feel lively enough, it might be missing those subtle “secondary actions”. Games that show off the cascading relationship between cause and effect feel deep and rich!

Take a look at this clip from Marvel’s Avengers:

[Marvel's Avengers, Crystal Dynamics]

The primary action is Thor swinging his hammer. But how many secondary actions can you spot? (I counted 7)

  • As Thor jumps, a wave of energy explodes from his feet.
  • When he swings his hammer, electricity particles emit from it.
  • When the hammer hits the ground, a bolt of lightning strikes!
  • When that lightning hits, the entire screen shakes!
  • As enemies fall down, pieces of their armor chip off.
  • When the armor breaks, sparks fly everywhere.
  • Thor’s cape flutters in the wind the whole time.

All of that came from a single attack!

 

Mistake #6: Lack of Clarity

Games naturally become more cluttered as development goes on. Left unchecked, they'll overwhelm players with a flood of extraneous UI. Juicy games know how to keep it simple.

If something is important, make it big; make it high-contrast; make it wiggle. If an element isn’t important, shrink or remove it. Graphic designers call this principle "visual hierarchy". I like to occasionally step back and squint at my screen. If I can still tell what's going on, that's a good sign! 

Less is more: When this popup appears, the other UI fades away. [Rocket League, Psyonix]

Of course, some games just require tons of UI. In those cases, you can strategically use animation to break through the noise. The human eye is instinctively drawn to motion. As a rule of thumb, players will pay attention to whatever is moving the fastest (whether they want to or not!)

There’s a lot going on here, but I bet you saw that laser beam. [Stellaris, Paradox Interactive]

 

Conclusion

When players call a game "juicy", they're reacting to a mix of graphics, timing, controls, and a thousand other variables. It's a mysterious and hard-to-quantify feeling. However, there's at least one trait that all juicy games share: they're bursting at the seams with emotion! In my experience, the best way to fix a 'dry game' is to ask "how can I add more emotion into the gameplay?"

I hope these tips help you "juice up" your games!

 

Additional Resources

 

 


About Mike: I'm a puzzle & game designer based out of Los Angeles, California. In my career, I've built escape rooms for a circus, gamified barcode scanners, and even designed an interactive wine tasting. I look for fun in unexpected places. Follow me on Twitter: @MikeSalyh.

 

 


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