Making Jump-Out-Of-Your-Seat Moments in a Game

Some moments in games consistently blow players' minds, doing something totally out of the ordinary and creating an experience that you can't wait to tell friends about. In this article we look at the formulas for creating such experiences

This post originally ran on game design site The Game Prodigy.  Visit for more articles on useful and applicable game design.

In our final article detailing the Game Design Canvas, we talked about the Aesthetic Layout, the icing on the cake, the visuals and sounds and interaction methods that give games their artistic spark.  Many games are revered for their gameplay, but not as many games nowadays are praised for fun Aesthetic Layouts.

However, this is still an area ripe for innovation.  Playing with visuals, sound, or interaction in a way that hasn’t been done before is a highly underestimated way to add originality and memorable moments to games.  Some of my all time favorite anecdotes from childhood game experiences come from these little Aesthetic surprises, that are built not from the Base Mechanics or the P&R Systems, but from the developer’s fun ideas about making it more than a game and bringing it into a real world experience.

To illustrate, I’d like to highlight three of my favorite Aesthetic surprises, all of which made me practically jump out of my seat and say, “Wow!  This is so fun!”  With an open mind centered around a game’s Core Experience, developers can easily create these kinds of moments in their own games.  Thinking outside the box in this area also makes your game very noteworthy; it’s definitely the kind of moment that would be shared online or in person with fellow players.

Note that this post contains spoilers for all three of these titles.  So if you’re ready, my three picks for the best jump-out-of-your-seat-moments:

Star Tropics’ Secret Letter


This one goes waaaaaaay back.  In this tidy little action adventure title for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the player sailed and yo-yo’d all over the world in search of their lost uncle.  The puzzles were simple, consisting mostly of Zelda-style button and switch challenges.  The battle system was fun and the music was snappy; not a bad title in my book. 

But the moment that made this a jump out of your chair game for me was when you needed to find a secret password.  A character in the game told you that you needed to dip his letter in water.  The game came with a letter which, surprise surprise, revealed the numbers “747″ when dipped in water.  Wow!  A real secret message that was activated by water!  This made players really feel immersed in this tropical world; a real treat.

Metal Gear Solid’s Psycho Mantis


Metal Gear Solid is such a classic.  The Playstation juggernaut that revived a dead franchise had its fair share of twists and turns and story elements.  We could probably spend an entire post or more talking about the ways Metal Gear Solid manipulated its Aesthetic Layout for the player’s benefit and excitement.  But for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus on one specific moment that involved manipulating the Interaction Design.

During one portion of the game, Snake encounters an enemy named Psycho Mantis that has the power to control his mind.  Moving Snake around as though someone else were pressing the controller buttons, the Colonel eventually tells the player that they need to break free from Psycho Mantis’ control.  And since control is dictated by the controller, the way to do this is to unplug the controller from the P1 port and put it into the P2 port.  A fancy little trick indeed.

Trace Memory’s Stamps


Trace Memory was a fun little mystery game for the Nintendo DS that didn’t seem to make a huge commercial splash.  Nevertheless, I played through the entire game a while ago and really enjoyed the endearing story and the non-violent puzzle solving.  While the game wasn’t one of my all time favorites, it did contain a moment that blew my mind.

In one part of the game, the player was required to stamp some paper to progress in the game.  The player was told that the stamps needed to be pressed onto paper shown on the opposite screen, but actually how to perform this action was left as a mystery.  Eventually, you figure out that you need to actually close the Nintendo DS as though it was an actual stamp book, thus putting the ink on one screen onto the other screen.  It was a really neat moment that I’m sure was replicated in many other DS games, but it really helped to give that section of the story an extra umph.



All of these moments were fun, and it’s difficult to mess something like this up when putting them into your own titles.  It’s important to realize, however, that these little moments are part of the Aesthetic Layout, not the Base Mechanics.  The most common mistake is to try and incorporate them into the entire game instead of just a single moment.  However, trying to treat these Interaction Design tricks as Mechanics is asking for trouble.  If the player has to change controller ports, close the DS, or soak paper more than once, it’s going to get monotonous, and the experience is ruined.  The reason is that the player has already mastered the single interaction that’s required; anything more is boring and repetitive.  So be careful that you don’t overstay your welcome.

This post originally ran on game design site The Game Prodigy.  Visit for more articles on useful and applicable game design.

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