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But since you know that someone spent 60 bucks on your game, they're going to give you more time of day before they give up on you, right? With a cheap game, or a free-to-play game, people will just quit if they don't like it. Whereas console developers can rely on the fact that someone who spent 60 dollars on something is going to not quit in 15 minutes, probably.
DA: I think it swings both ways, though. They spend more money; they're more likely to give it a good shot, and really like it. Or they're also more likely to hate it with extreme prejudice. Because again, no one's going to hate a one dollar game with extreme prejudice; it's not even worth extreme prejudice. [laughs]
JM: I personally, if I don't get hooked in the first hour -- if I don't turn it off and all throughout dinner I'm thinking about getting back to playing it, if that phenomenon doesn't happen, then I probably won't play it much more than that. Even if I spend 60 bucks on it, it's got to hook you pretty early on, at least for me.
With that in mind, do you work really hard to craft the beginning of your game? In social games, they're trying to turn it into a science. People will drop these games really fast, and they call it FTUE -- the first time user experience. I doubt you're quantifying it that analytically.
DA: No, we're not very analytical. I mean, we try to make the beginning not suck. [laughs] But I don't think we get that [analytical].
JM: I mean, we've made a conscious effort to have a really cool opening sequence, and that draws you in right away. But it's not like a science. I know what you're talking about; it's like "Within five clicks, this has to happen; within 10 clicks, this has to happen."
But on the same token, if you look at screenplay writing -- if you read books about writing screenplays -- there's all this stuff about starting in medias res. There are very established theories about how to start movies in Hollywood that are followed very routinely. This is the other side of the coin. Do you ever put any thought into that, or is it really just instinct?
DA: Yeah, we definitely do.
JM: Maybe a little of both.
DA: Yeah. [laughs]
Do you turn over control fast? You talk about how if a game doesn't hook you right away, it's not satisfying. So from your perspective, a game you're making, what elements do you drop in to get the player engrossed?
DA: Well, you've just got to try to engage them in the gameplay, give them some interesting stuff to work with. And there's definitely got to be a promise that there will be even more cool stuff if they just played five minutes longer, especially towards the beginning of the game.
And then at some point you get them hooked and, you know, it's not as important -- at least, for our game. As far as getting new abilities, make sure those rewards are coming fast and strong at the beginning of the game so that they're like, "Oh wow, this is awesome! I'm totally getting rewarded every five minutes!" And then you don't -- but you plant that seed in their head in the beginning so that they keep playing.
JM: I do think one thing that turns me off right at the beginning of a game is not [something you] put emphasis at the start of the game, per se, but it's just the overall feel. Like as soon as I hit the jump or the attack button... There are games that just feel good right away.
And you can just tell a bad game -- especially action games. Like if the attacks feel a little sluggish, or there's a certain timing that feels nice, and if it's not there, you know that game's going to be terrible. It doesn't really matter how good the story is, or whatever, if the combat just doesn't feel good, it's over, you know? It's kind of like picking up a book and you just hate the writing style. Like, there might be a good story in there, but it's like, "I can't stand this writer's descriptions and stuff." [Makes gagging noise.]
Is that why you spend so much time prototyping the core mechanics? You spoke previously about doing it so you can build content that isn't based on failed core mechanics. But also it must be for the feel, right?
JM: Yeah, and there is kind of a science to that, too. There is a specific amount of frames of animation that feels good when you jump -- how soon your feet hit the ground again. Like when you hit the button -- you know, that delay between when you hit, and when the weapon strikes the guy. If you're off by a frame, you can feel it; it just feels weird.
I think getting that stuff feeling good at the very early stages, before you put a ton of art on top of it, is critical. And we spent a lot of time on that on the first one, and then on the second one we kind of already knew the sweet spots for a lot of that stuff, so.
Did you use other games as a guide, or did you just feel it out like as you're prototyping it?
JM: Both. [laughs]
DA: And a lot of it is just feel -- like we literally sit around the controller going, "This feels kind of sluggish; tune this number." "It's still a little sluggish. Tune." "Ah! That's cool; that's awesome." So it's just having it set up so you can iterate stuff really fast through data; it comes in really handy. But yeah, it's just like you've played so many games in your life that you just get an instinctual sense for what feels good and what doesn't feel good.