My Standard of Quality for Games

Your definition of quality in games is meaningful/interesting depth, right? Doesn’t that leave out satisfying gameplay? Melee would have the same amount of depth if there were a big input delay, all the sounds were really annoying, the animations were not as pleasing, etc.

Depth is not my only component for quality of gameplay, it is only the most significant component by a large margin.

Melee and other competitive action games end up being very different games if you introduce significant amounts of input delay, for reasons of reaction time. Though their absolute depth stays the same, their relative depth changes when you introduce a big delay like that, because players are less able to adjust and make fine grain inputs precisely, so the way they need to play the game changes, basically always for the worse.

Sound and Animations qualify as feedback, especially sound. I consider distinct and responsive feedback to be a factor into the quality of a game, allowing players to precisely discern states.

For example, Skullgirls has such good audio feedback that it’s possible to do combos blind rather easily. Ocarina of Time has such good audio feedback that you can literally beat the game blind. Thief has terrific audio feedback (except for certain monsters). Audio feedback helps reinforce visual feedback on a subconscious level. Audio feedback gets processed sooner than visual feedback, aiding reaction time. However you can accomplish these jobs and still have the sounds be extremely annoying and in my book, that is fine. This is because I’m a crazy purist. If a game has annoying or lacking sound effects but still accomplishes all the design functions that sound effects are supposed to accomplish in relaying feedback to the player, that is signficantly signficantly higher on my priority list, and I will shame you if you choose to reject the game on that basis, the same as I will shame you for avoiding playing Unreal Tournament 4 or Reflex because they have graybox maps.

Animations sit somewhere between being purely feedback and being a factor of the gameplay itself depending on the game. Animations are a special case and can affect games differently based on their implementation. Animations are part feedback, part game feel/kinaesthetics, and part gameplay design. How much of each these they are varies depending on the game. In Smash Bros, they’re very firmly all 3 of these things. Hitboxes are very directly tied to the position of the character in the animation. If you turn the visible models off, it is still very easy in smash bros to tell which character is which from just the way they move. This is not as true in SFV, where characters are gigantic boxes and attacks cause new boxes to emerge suddenly from the base boxes.

If you change an animation in Smash Bros, then you literally change how that move works in the process of changing the animation. If you change an animation in SFV, nothing changes on the game side. If you turn off all visible models for smash and enable hitbox viewing, the game remains extremely playable. If you do the same for SFV, the game becomes almost completely unplayable, because it’s now impossible to see and react to what move opponents are doing. Those unique animations provide important feedback. Feedback changes how the game is played. Therefore feedback affects relevant depth. The fog of war in starcraft for example is not purely aesthetic. Even though the same number of absolute gameplay possibilities exists in starcraft with fog of war on and off (ignoring the unwillingness of units to shoot into areas they don’t have vision on), the existence of it shapes the way players actually play, shaping the relevant number of gameplay possibilities for players.

As you can see, smash hitboxes are extremely detailed, even when the character is invisible, and SF hitboxes do not provide enough information alone to make good game judgments, even if they are very effective at fulfilling their role

Though obviously something like this is unaccepatable

And this is technically playable, but feels awful, and also forgoes a lot of information feedback that helps communicate what’s going on, like where the character got hit, and reinforce that they’re being hit at all.

Also notice that a lot of these effects play during the hitfreeze when no other animations are playing. So you get this freeze frame of the characters that lets you focus on the effect that just happened, gives you a bit more time to react and understand what’s going on, with the effects showing the point of impact, the direction of the attack, breaking up the visual profile of different attacks, etc.

Feedback is also important for determining the function of various actions. Like the relative strength of attacks. Old games did this really well with just tinting the sprite of a character when it takes damage. You might notice the flash game I posted the other day that I made has the head flash a very slight white when it takes damage, but the hands flicker flash pure white when they take damage, indicating they take more damage than the head. Then when the head opens up, it flashes white then yellow, indicating it takes way more damage than hitting the closed head or the hands. Plus I have the hands take less damage during this phase, and accordingly, flash less brilliantly, to indicate that attacking there is less effective and prod players towards moving to shoot the head. Flickering in and out of existence is also a great classic way of communicating invincibility.

I was playing Xenoraptor recently, and noticed the rail gun had a lame sound effect, which made it seem like it was less powerful than it was, even though it was an extremely effective weapon. People don’t always have their eyes on the health bar of an enemy, and in many games the health bar is at least partially hidden, so they can’t see how much damage they’re actually doing. Having visible indications and feedback about damage can help players choose the correct attacks to inflict the most damage. If this is not the case, then players can get confused when something that seems like it’s really powerful based on the visual effects takes forever to kill enemies, and when something that is actually very powerful has polish effects that make it feel like a pea shooter.

A lot of this is what can lead to the bullet spongey feeling. If an enemy takes too many hits to kill, then they can feel like a bullet sponge even if your attacks seem like they’re knocking the enemy off their feet and making them cry in agony. It’s like they’re an invincible ragdoll. I remember experiencing this in Nier and Bioshock Infinite. In Nier, you have the charge attacks on your weapons which have a ton of hitstop, elemental effects all over the blade, blood goes gushing, a really long windup, then it does like, barely more damage than a regular slash. Or you have the dark hand, which when uncharged punches enemies like a tap on the shoulder, but somehow does way more damage than taking the time to charge it up all the way, pulling out like 5 hands, and there’s this huge screen shake effect with quakes on the ground, and you get a whopping almost no damage frequently. It can just feel weird to have feedback that doesn’t match the amount of damage dealt.

I have a bit of this problem in DMC4 with Nero as well. It’s hard to tell what the actual best way to punish is. It feels based on the effects that the various command moves he has should be the highest damaging way to punish enemies, but the basic 4 hit slash combo does more damage than any of them. More importantly, the launcher does less damage than the other two specials, but you can’t totally tell from just the polish effects and so on. The DT activation looks like it only launches without dealing damage (at least that’s what I’d intuit), but it actually does as much damage as any uncharged ground command move. EX moves vastly multiply the strength of command moves, and have appropriate feedback relative to regular command moves, but there can be significant disparity among them. Also important is that roulette spin, the air move, is way more damaging than ground command moves or calibur, plus it comes at the end of a high damaging air combo too, but it has the same amount of feedback as all those. And the health bars don’t read cleanly in DMC, they’re weird fireballs around the lockon indicator, so good feedback is important. I feel like Dante has good proportionate feedback to damage however. I also feel it’s very obvious that ranged attacks and lucifer deal different amounts of damage to the cloaks of mephisto and faust based on the number of hits required to remove their cloaks, but that could also use an alternate hitspark or sound effect to better communicate the difference in damage. You get a good hint in the form of the devil buster inflicting special hitstun on cloaked enemies, but that’s about it.

Game feel is something partially aesthetic that I make a special exception for when judging a game’s quality. Both because it is a sometimes important part of feedback, and because it can make something innately unsatisfying to use, as is the case with Crash Bandicoot. It is also possible to have good animations without good game feel, like in cinematic platformers, or good game feel without good animations, as in Super Mario Bros, or a good consonance of both, as in Jak and Daxter or Smash Bros Melee. Even in a game like SFV where the animation does not affect or even relate very significantly to hitbox placement, there is still a kinaethetic sensation to each animation that is dependent on the quality of the animation, or how it is animated. This is probably what makes Japanese fighting games + Skullgirls feel fluid to me, and Nether Realms games feel stiff (there might be other underlying factors, but I’m not currently aware of them). So I say that the quality of the animations is a priority for me in this case, in making the games feel good. I consider the poor quality and more importantly clarity of animations in games like Zelda, Skyrim, or Nier to be significant issues with the game. Obviously I would not do the same with a turn based RPG, where the quality and clarity of animations are meaningless.

Of course this brings up the matter of prioritization.

I’d order my priorities

  1. Depth
  2. Challenge (for single player games, multi has challenge automatically)
  3. Clear Feedback
  4. Game Feel/Kinaesthetics
  5. User Experience
  6. [none]
  7. Quality of Graphics/Sound/Animation/Story

Clear Feedback and Game Feel are a tossup here, they can vary in importance based on what type of game it is and how the game is built. I hate games with bad user experience issues, like unskippable cutscenes being the worst offender, but I’m never going to reject a game based upon it.

I enjoy Graphics/Sound/Animation/Story, but I don’t care about them. I’ll never recommend or disrecommend a game based upon them. I will never rate a game well or poorly based upon them. If I mention them, then you can consider them bigger asides than the quality of the speedrun for determining the quality of the game. I enjoy good animation or pleasant sound effects, but I’m a purist to the Nth degree and will not evaluate a game based upon these things until they affect the quality of feedback or the gameplay in some way.

How is it possible to establish which values we should hold games up to in order to figure out how good the game is? You can point to the best games and say they have X value, but in order to establish that those games are great, you have to presume a value by which to judge it.

It’s based on people. People tend to like certain things, we notice what those things are, we attempt to establish what values within those things are desirable, we produce new work based on those values, we see if our work is effective, and refine our model.

It’s a big cycle that informs itself. We need to build models, and refine them based on observation and experimentation. Nothing of what exists today came to exist in a vacuum. We’ve gone through millennia of cultural evolution. I think that the base desires that motivate us have stayed relatively consistent on a human level (though this is debatable, and also culturally influenced) and we’ve steadily found things that we respond more strongly to, then we had children, who also responded strongly to those things, either because culture informed them they should, or because it’s a human desire, or both, and the previous generation died. So the next generation is stuck with preexisting works that express preexisting values, and does not begin totally from scratch. We’re born in the middle of a chicken and the egg problem. Objects from the prior generation are already considered valuable by the time we get here, and we need to individually interpret whether that value is true or false. I wasn’t around for the NES, I came to the conclusion NES games were good based on playing them myself.

I’ve selected values based on what I think the most important aspects of games are across observation of a bunch of games, and tried to separate those values from the influence of culture. These might just be what I personally value more than anything else, people have certainly accused me of that in the past, and will again in the future. However I try to separate it from my own value system by acknowledging that not all games I’d consider good are necessarily games that I like, and not all games that I like are necessarily good. I think that the values I’ve chosen tie back to human nature, or exist for practical design reasons. I recognize that human nature varies a bit on an individual level, but I think we’re similar enough as a group to attempt to make general value evaluations.

I think what people get hung up on with your way of thinking is that you think of the word ‘good’ as objective while things you ‘like’ are subjective, whereas to most people they’re both subjective and pretty much the same thing. Why bother ‘liking’ things if you can’t call them ‘good’?

Because the qualities I admire in them don’t outweigh the negative aspects of those things, but are unique to those things. Or I liked them as a kid and still unironically like them even though they’re fucked up or kinda lame. Like Dungeon Keeper 2, even though everyone else seems to prefer Dungeon Keeper 1 and DK2 itself is kinda broken and one dimensional in a lot of ways.

I think most people connect things that are good to some type of objective basis. I think that when you assign something a property, you’re saying that belongs to the object, not to your perception of the object. Rampant subjectivism comes from recognizing that we assign properties to objects based on our perceptions of objects, so it is assumed that especially for non-functional or impractical objects that their properties are indistinguishable from our unique perception of them, which is unmappable to other people’s perception of them. I’ve explained my reasons for disagreeing with this in the past and don’t really want to repeat myself.

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