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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

It's All About the Feedback

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday August 5 2009 at 12:16AM
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It's midnight here and I find myself with raging heartburn and unable to sleep. So, to take my mind off of the random anxieties that flitter about when it is dark and quiet... you know, stuff like, "Did I lock the garage door? Are we going to get this project done on time? Is raw sewage going to start shooting out of the basement toilet?" Don't laugh, that last one was a little too close for comfort today...

Aw heck laugh because there is just something about the mental image of a geyser of poo that make the Jr. High kid in me chuckle uncontrollably.

In any case, to take my mind off of all that, I am once again thinking about games and systems -- what makes them good, what makes them fun. Of course, I have pounded the drum of interactivity and decision making before and so I won't beat that dead horse any more (tonight). The best game systems are interactive and involve making decisions.

But there is another side to that equation as well. Without sufficient information, there is no decision making. Let's do a thought experiement: pretend I have a combat system with lots of depth. I have tons of different types of attacks the player can use. I have effects for who has the higher ground as well as terrain effects. I have different weapons with different stats and uses in combat.

You are playing my game and find yourself in a tight stairwell, fighting two goblins armed with wicked daggers from the high ground. Do you pull your shortsword and use your Quick Thrust, or do you pull the polearm and Sweep Attack? Or do you cast a spell? Or run?

Of course, there is no answer because I haven't given you enough information. (Though just so you know, in my MMO, gobins will be horribly overpowered, so if I were you, I'd run.) Do the daggers have a speed advantage? Does the polearm take penalties for being used in closed quarters? Can spells be interrupted by fast melee attacks? Can I even outrun goblins?

Players need information -- the more the better. There are two types of information useful in computer games. The first is encyclopedic information. This is how much damage a sword does; what are the exact effects of a spell. Tooltip kind of stuff.

I think most games do this fairly well... the one offender in recent memory has been rehabilitated: City of Heroes, when it first came out, did not actually list the exact effects of any powers. A blast would do "light radiation damage" or "heavy slashing damage"... whatever that meant. In fact, no one knew exactly what it meant at all, since "heavy" meant heavy for your archetype... but that might mean "crappy" in the scheme of things.

Why no numbers? I don't know... some claptrap about "ruining immersion" and "thwarting minmaxers". Ugh! Of course, players spent untold hours getting those numbers through experimentation and finally, the game developers put the numbers in. No one's immersion was harmed; the minmaxers could put away their sliderules. Everyone was made happy, so it's all water under the bridge.

So yeah, everyone does the tooltip stuff. The other kind of information is direct, in-game, feedback. Show me what is happening as it happens. If my polearm takes penalties when I am in a cramped hallway, show me. Give me an onscreen message, show my penalty numbers above my head, or make an animation where my blade slams awkwardly into the wall, causing me to stumble. At the very least, put it into the combat log so later I can see why the goblins gutted me so quickly.

Feedback is critical. Putting it into your game shows the player the depth of your system and allows him to interact with it. It also adds an additional set of rewards. If a system shows me feedback when I do something correctly or get a bonus, I am certain to chase those bonuses more.

Heck, take game mechanics out of the picture. Every action in your game should have sufficient feedback. No user action in the UI should quietly fail and only the most trivial should quietly succeed. If I try to stuff a sword into a helmet slot, I should get a "Hey Dummy!" message somewhere. If I right click an object and it just disappears from my inventory... I am going to wonder where it went. But if you put the little coin clanking noise in there, I will probably realize I just sold the Sword of Ultimate Ultimateness as vendor trash and hopefully buy it back.

Anyone got 100 gold? I really need to buy this sword.

In any case, it is 1:00 AM here now and my heartburn is gone and my eyes are getting dry and heavy. My body is giving me feedback that it is probably time to get to bed.