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Adding Weight to Your Game Design Part 12: Appeal

Applying the animation principle of appeal to game design.

Part 1 - Squash and Stretch : Part 2 - Anticipation : Part 3 - Staging

Part 4 - Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose : Part 5 - Follow Through & Overlapping Action

Part 6 - Slow In, Slow Out : Part 7 - Arcs : Part 8 - Secondary Action : Part 9 - Timing

Part 10 - Exaggeration : Part 11 - Solid Drawing : Part 12 - Appeal


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

Appeal 

Applied to Animation

Appeal is the last principle and ultimately the culmination of every one that comes before it. Characters have to be relatable.  They have to emote, and they have to appeal to the emotions and sensibilities of the player.  This is all done by creating visually interesting designs, shapes and physical features.  A big key to this is knowing when to employ the use asymmetrical vs symmetrical designs and actions.  All of this is done in an effort to create virtual charisma for your character.  And this isn’t just used to create characters that are likeable.  You need to do this when the player should dislike the creations.  It is your job as the creator to make them dislikable, not because you created an uninteresting character, but because you made them a genuinely flawed being.  It all comes down to the player investing themselves emotionally and mentally into your creation from first sight.  Because if it is appealing to the eye, the player will be opening themselves up for continued emotional investment. 

 Every part of the character is designed to make the player feel a specific emotion. Design your games with the same attention to detail.

Every part of the character is designed to make the player feel a specific emotion. Design your games with the same attention to detail.

 


Applied to Game Design

Appeal is what games are all about.  We are connecting the player into our world, into our characters.  Into our gameplay scenarios and problems.  And if we can't appeal to them, to make them fully invest their minds and hearts, beyond just their hands, then we aren't living up to the full potential as creators.  What good is creating a visually appealing world, and satisfying gameplay sequences, if the characters fall flat?  If we let the player's mental and emotional connections lapse when it comes to story and character growth, we are reducing their experience down to a monkey pressing a button that flashes a light.  And personally, I can't think of anything more insulting to both the player, and the developer. 

 Asymmetry in any action or pose will quickly add appeal to any movement. Asymmetry in your levels or gameplay mechanics can make each feel unique and appropriate in different situations.

Asymmetry in any action or pose will quickly add appeal to any movement. Asymmetry in your levels or gameplay mechanics can make each feel unique and appropriate in different situations.

 

The first step towards creating an appealing experience is for you, the game developer, to be excited about your creation.  If you are passionate about what you are working on, you are injecting that excitement into your creation.  And that will be felt by the player, and appeal to THEIR passion. But if you are just churning out another game, that will also be felt.  Your lack of enthusiasm will show in your creation, just as much as your enthusiasm will.  And while spending weeks, months, and years on one creation can be draining, it is up to you to find ways to keep up that initial excitement.  Be it taking a vacation, finding a new band, a box of legos, some silly string or lame t-shirt contest, find something to inspire your inner child.  Because when you are excited, you are more willing to take on new challenges, and that is when you begin to create something truly appealing.  

To achieve appeal on something specific, you have to use all the other principles as the ingredients.  There is no perfect recipe, but if you have all the principles in use and then just go with what feels right, you will be on the right track.  You will create an experience that sticks with the player and has that “it” factor that they keep coming back to.  But the biggest thing to remember is that you can’t fake appeal, just like you can’t fake charisma.  No matter how much else you add on top to try to cover up a general lack of appeal, it won’t fool the player.  If you don’t have any appeal built into whatever it is you are creating, they will feel uninterested and put down the controller.  No matter how flashy your creation is, if there is no appeal then the player will check out.  And all it takes is one unappealing aspect of the game to drive the player off.  One action without follow through, one puzzle with poor slow in and slow out, or a level with terrible timing, and the game can lose its appeal for the player.

But with enough pre-planning and exploration, you can find the appeal in almost anything.  Take the time to use all the principles when creating something new.  Study and research it to become a method developer and become what it is you want to create.  Be aware of the staging, contrast, and exaggeration of the character or mechanic to know where it fits into the rest of the game.  Know when and how you want the player to anticipate what will happen next and where all the element's arcs fit together.  Find places to build in secondary actions to help strengthen and flesh out the core experience.  These are all how you convey a sense of weight and truth in your creation. 

Think and then create.  Otherwise you are just breathing air into your creation, not life.

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