Category Archives: Game Design

Game Feel Analysis and Tantrum of Cthulhu

I recently made my first iOs game called “Tantrum of Cthulhu”. It was a great tool to learn about some of the key components of Game Design. I watched several videos on Game Design on YouTube, and from one particular talk by Daniel Cook, I found out about a book called Game Feel. So I read it and learned that Game Feel is the moment to moment experience of a game that the player has. I also learned that the game designer can make decisions that effect this.
The six pieces of the game feel system that are malleable for the game designer are:
  • Input—The physical construction of the device through which player intent is expressed to the system and how this changes game feel.
  • Response—How the system processes, modulates and responds to player input in real time.
  • Context—The effect of simulated space on game feel. How collision code and level design give meaning to real-time control.
  • Polish—Effects that artificially enhance impression of a unique physical reality in the game.
  • Metaphor—How the game’s representation and treatment change player expectations about the behaviour, movement and interactions of game objects.
  • Rules—How arbitrary relationships between abstracted variables in the game change player perception of game objects, define challenges and modify sensations of control.
This leads to the Principals of Game Feel:
  • Predictable results—When players take action, they get the response they expect.
  • Instantaneous response—The player feels the response to their input is immediate.
  • Easy but deep—The game takes minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.
  • Novelty—Though the result of an input is predictable, there is enough subtlety and expressiveness to keep the controls feeling fresh and interesting through hours and hours of play.
  • Appealing response—The sensation of control is aesthetically appealing and compelling, separate from context.
  • Organic motion—Controlling the avatar creates appealing arcs of motion.
  • Harmony—Each element of a game’s feel supports a single, cohesive perception of a unique physical reality for the player
So, although the game I was implementing was the very simplest game that I could conceive, there was plenty of scope to analyse it through this filter and perhaps improve it.

Analysis for Tantrum of Cthulhu

Input

Touch screen. The whole screen is a big button.
I briefly considered using the new pressure sensitive feature of the touch screen on an iPhone, but didn’t do anything with it.
I also contemplated the ability to tilt the screen, which would have been cool, but taken too long.

Response

Accelerate  to max speed on press. Could experiment with different easing curves.
Sustain a max speed.
Decelerate on release.

Polish

Camera shake on impact
Wake behind boat
Waves need to move a little
Ideally, Cthulhu should move a little to give a sense of size and tantrum
Music? Silly sea shanty was eventually used.
I’d like to put some actual animated play dough if possible. (Didn’t get around to it)
Should get some other random things in the water for fun. (Didn’t get around to it)
Need a rewarding sinking animation for the boat getting hit. (The final particle effect wasn’t great, but better than nothing)
Boat should stretch and squash depending on speed.
Perhaps projectiles can shrink and expand simulating a projectile parabola path

Context / Spacial Simulation

Ocean and waves give sense of movement, size, space as camera moves around and size of ship gives scale. (I ended up using a static background with superimposed particle effect, which looked good enough)

Metaphor

Cthulhu, tantrum, ship sailing around. Absurdity of Cthulhu throwing a tantrum is celebrated by throwing weird stuff. The childish aspect was also helped by the silly pirate noises made by my daughter.
Tantrum and play dough are a nice fit.
Play dough is a good way to embrace the graphic design budget ($0) limitations I have. Also, it adds to the absurdity. And the kids could help!

Rules

You can only go forwards.
Shields give extra life.
Mermaid freezes the projectiles temporarily.
Projectiles get more difficult to avoid the longer you go on.
Score is the distance that you travel before your inevitable death.
Experiment with some kind of holding speed boost? (Didn’t do this)

Real / Iconic / Abstract

This is definitely an absurd cartoony, stop motion iconic style. Not real. Not abstract.

Predictable results

Nice simple control. Only one direction.

Instantaneous response

Make sure the start of the motion is snappy.

Easy but deep

Very easy controls
Simple idea
Tricky to get a long way.
I ended up adding depth to the original concept by introducing shields that you can pickup by travelling at top speed for a specific amount of time. This was incorporated into the metaphor of the game by placing the shield to pickup a defined distance in front of the player and having it disappear so that top speed is required for the prescribed time to pick it up.
I made a system for different types of projectile aiming so that I could graduate the levels with different skills required, introduced in a sensible order.
I introduced a “Freeze Ray” mechanic so that if the player stops for a certain time, the projectiles stop for a short time. This was introduced into the metaphor of the game by having a mermaid swim towards the boat while stopped. When the mermaid reaches you, a blob hits Cthulhu and freezes him.

Novelty

Need to put lots of expressiveness. However, I really want to make sure there is no going back in concept. Different aiming of the projectiles provides some interest. (This wasn’t done fantastically, but it wasn’t terrible either)

Appealing response

Must make sure that moving the boat is fun even without the projectiles to dodge.
Perhaps a bunch of polish that depends on the movement and position.

Organic motion

Smooth motion.

Harmony

Absurdity and silliness and childish play are unifying principals.

Conclusion

This kind of analysis really helped focus some of the design aspects of the game and improved it a lot, I think. I’ll be doing this for any future games I make. It has help get this game from a a concept made in a fun activity with my son a few years ago, to this much improved version.
It’s not the best game in the world, but I learnt a bunch of stuff, which is the main reason I did it.