4 January 2011

Adding Weight to Your Game Design Part 3: Staging - by Michael Jungbluth

Intro

Weight is a physical and emotional sensation that people feel everyday.  And conveying that in a visual way can be incredibly challenging.  But it is something animators do all the time, and the principles they use can be applied to game design. 

In fact, it needs to be, as many of these principles are sacrificed by the animator for the good of playability.  Thankfully, since both animators and designers have to juggle multiple disciplines to bring their creations to life, they speak much of the same language.  They just use a slightly different alphabet.   

Each part will lay out the 12 principles of animation, and how they are not only used in animation but how they directly relate to game design.  Both animators and designers will realize quickly that many of these are unspoken truths, but the benefit comes in knowing that they can now speak to each other on a deeper level.  A level that takes animation and design past being purely functional, but now fully functioning towards creating an honest experience. 

It is how both can add an extra sense of weight and purpose to the game and the characters within it.  Many of these fundamentals are inter-connected, and it is through a combination of all of these working together that you will have characters that move with weight and emote with weight.  And that is what will stick with players.

 “It is important for the animator to be able to study sensation and to feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation.” – Walt Disney

Staging

Applied to Animation

Staging lets the player know what in the world has the most weight.  This means you must know what you want to tell the player, and have everything else frame that focal point.  Clarity is the key and being aware of the entire scene is essential.  In animation, this means everything on the screen and the performance needs to be designed to keep the focus on what is important. 

The environment, the pose of the character, the way they motion with their hands, where they look with their eyes... it all comes together to focus the player's attention on where and what is important.  Even without words or sound the player needs to instantly understand and connect to what they are seeing, and clear staging is the key. 

Staging is also how you can psychologically impact or deceive the player when the character or scene’s deeper intent is not what they are being lead to believe.  How you tilt a camera or place objects in an environment can quickly make the player feel a sense of emotional weight in a very subtle way.

Applied to Game Design

In game design, think again of the whole scene.  Think of where the characters are standing.  Think about the lighting.  Think about the placement of power-ups.  Think about the clutter, and the definition of shapes surrounding the environment.  How does a long corridor with lots of debris feel compared to a wide open room?  When in a forest, think of the difference of having gnarly, spiney trees vs towering redwoods or young, sprouting saplings. 

Figure out your intent and theme, and everything else should lead to what is most important at that moment, to the level, and to the narrative being delivered.  Then after you have established those major points, make sure everything else in the scene supports that focus, and does not compete with it. 

Because when they compete, that is when you get players confused on where to go, what their objectives are, what a mechanic is used for and what to do next.  And once you or your game are no longer clear of what you want with the player, they will lose their investment on where they fit in the world.  And once investment is lost, getting the player back is harder than establishing it in the first place. 

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