Game Feel (Gaming)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Monday, November 25, 2019, 17:10 (11 days ago)
edited by Cody Miller, Monday, November 25, 2019, 17:20

A game 'feeling good' is kind of a nebulous thing. It's pretty hard to talk about, because I think a lot of elements are at play. But I think it boils down to a combination of responsive or expected player control, and the aesthetics of the action matching their expected physicality. I've been thinking about this because I've played two games recently that are kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum with this: Golem and Death Stranding.

Golem has ostensibly interesting action that doesn't quite feel right, and Death Stranding has ostensibly uninteresting action that feels great. Both games are richly detailed and wonderful to look at. Your room and the city in Golem look real, intricate and well lived. The environments in Death Stranding are breathtaking and humbling. Yet, one I could not get enough of, and one had me much less excited.

Both games have responsive player controls. When you make an input the action that occurs matches your expectation. But it's that second aspect, the aesthetic and physical link that sets the two games apart.

The weight of your weapons in Golem is nothing. This is necessary due to the weight of the move controller. And so I don't know, the combat just doesn't feel satisfying, because the sword does not feel like a powerful weapon that I can wield. I mentioned that it sometimes feels like the game doesn't register my block even though I'm sure the weapon is in the right place. People have told me that, no, it's actually you and you can get better if you keep playing. But do I want to get better at this? Do I want to try to improve at something that doesn't really feel innately satisfying?

But weightlessness is itself not a problem. I've played Job Simulator, were you can pick up objects and hurl or knock them around with no sense of mass. An apple and a microwave weigh the same. But that game is aesthetically a simplified cartoon. The lack of weight doesn't bother me, because the game isn't trying to say with its presentation that the objects have weight. In fact, it is actually satisfying. They can bounce around because it's a cartoon. It works here. It works in superhot because it's likewise and outrageous farce of reality. But Golem is very realistic looking. It suggests a world that should feel as real as it looks. And when it doesn't, I couldn't helped but be pulled away. The sections without combat had the opposite effect. The intimacy of 3D had me very immersed when my father was talking to me, my sister showing me the city, when Sky's Golem towered over me, and when I wandered the floor as a tiny doll. This was quite stunning actually. So much so that I was outrageously excited to take my time and take it all in. So the first 90 minutes (and last 9) of Golem had me in awe, but the middle 210 put me in an uncanny valley where everything the beginning built up kind of fell apart.

Conversely, everything in Death Stranding felt great. The animations as Sam struggled for balance or tried to walk down a hill by leaning back and digging in his feet gave the simple act of travel a satisfaction. Climbing a rope or trudging through the snow felt real. It felt like he and the world were reacting to each other, and so made both feel even more immersive, even though people joke the game is a 'FedEx simulator" (there is more going on there, but at the basic level yes, the game is about delivery and fetch quests.) I can walk through a mountain for 20 minutes and love it.

It's something I've been thinking about ever since Bioshock Infinite, where the mechanical / aesthetic mismatch made the world seem fake and pushed me out instead of pulled me in. I don't think it was ever something that I noticed or thought much about before, because games just weren't that sophisticated aesthetically. If a NES game controlled badly, there wasn't really a clash because the representation was crude, and so really things could meaningfully behave in almost any way the designers wanted to and still 'work'. If you glide along underwater in Unreal, the water didn't look like water so your brain never rejected that.

This is a really weird thing to be thinking about in terms of whether I like a game or not, but it's inescapable. Aesthetics and mechanics can no longer be evaluated separately. The days of scoring graphics and gameplay categories are over. They are the same.

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