Principles of Good Game Design - Part 3 - Negative and Positive Feedback

This is part three of my feature on good game design. I’ve gathered a bunch of principles of good game design from various game designers, including myself. I will present one every day and gather them all in a final blog post in a week or so. Some of these are arguable and, of course, they shouldn’t be followed religiously. After all, game design is a creative act, where magic sometimes occurs when breaking the laws or principles of what a good game is. But they can be used as general guidelines, I suppose. After a description of each principle, I’ve selected a game that I believe adheares particularly well to said principle. When the feature is over, I will tell you about how I’m trying to incorporate some of the principles in my upcoming Iphone/Ipad game, called Bouncy Flame.

Principle 3: Provide positive and negative feedback
“The player should clearly and almost constantly be told whether his actions had a negative or positive effect on achieving his goal.”

One of the most frustrating game situations happens when we are unaware of whether our actions bring us closer or further away from our goal. Many boss battles suffer from this. You keep pounding bullets into the gut of the boss, but nothing seems to happen. He just keeps on accepting them, without even reacting at all. Is he just extremely tough or is the player missing some sweet spot that needs to be hit? This is frustrating not to know, and it will likely result in the player getting stuck.

Likewise, in first person shooters, it’s important that an enemy reacts realistically upon being hit. He should perhaps fall to his knee after taking a shot in the leg, or lose his head after a head-shot. Animations are vital in communicating this feedback. Apart from being more realistic, thus immersing the player more, these reactions also make the player feel more empowered. You feel as if your influence over your surroundings is that much more significant, which makes the game infinitely more rewarding to play.

Obviously, there are many other ways to show or enhance the feedback mechanism. Score increases and health meters are certainly among them. Particle effects, such as blood splattering, can also enhance feedback. Sound is important too. A scream of agony coming from an enemy indicates very clearly that you’ve done successful damage. The characteristic tune playing when Mario dies also deserves mention.

Principle found in Tetris:
Tetris is an obvious example of constant feedback. At all times, you know exactly how well you’re doing just by looking at the height of the Tetris tower, which is always in focus, anyway. The height is updated constantly. As soon as you make a line disappear, the game shows you how the tower is diminished. Conversely, if you can’t get the bricks to fit, you instantly experience how the tower grows taller – ever closer to reaching game over. This visual feedback is complemented by constant score increases and music that is intensified in critical situations.

Principle also found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare:
The multiplayer mode in Modern Warfare is also a prime example. When you’ve killed an opposing player, you instantly see points on the screen, showing your increased experience. Making a headshot even plays a very distinct “bullet-to-skull” sound, which is immensely satisfying to hear. What’s more, the overall score is always shown at the top of the screen. Also, negative feedback is prominent when you become hit. Besides force-feedback in the controller, you see red arrows showing where the shot came from, and sounds get distorted while the screen blurs, becoming redder as your death approaches.

I realize, that this principle isn’t universally applicable to all games in all genres. Giving constant feedback doesn’t really match real-life experience. We don’t see a status display, in the top right-hand corner, when taking a walk in the park, for instance. We aren’t constantly evaluated in our daily lives. Therefore, games that strive for highly realistic gameplay could benefit from avoiding this principle – at least partially.

I hope this all makes sense. If it does, please like it on Facebook☺ Look in the blog archive to the left for more game design principles.

Read about all 8 game design principles here.