Feeling of Speed

What makes for a good “feeling of speed” in racing games? that’s one of those terms reviewers use a lot but I’ve never really understood exactly what it consists of

That’s okay, they don’t understand what it consists of either.

I haven’t done much study on this, but I’d say it relates most heavily to the scale of the camera, it’s position relative to the vehicle (how close or far it is), the scale of the vehicle relative to its surroundings, the scale of detail in those surroundings, and particle effects.

Katamari is a great example. You start out small and get progressively bigger. At the smallest stages, you almost entirely fill up the screen, and most objects are bigger than you, with the areas being very wide and open. This allows for a moderate sense of speed. As you get slightly bigger, the camera pulls out a bit, and objects are now of the same size or smaller than you generally, areas appear to be closer to your size, so I think at this stage you seem to move pretty fast, because things don’t seem as far away. In the late stages of the game when you’re huge, like building sized, the camera pulls out really far and the world appears a lot more sparse. You’re literally moving much faster, but you appear to move really slowly. So at both the smallest and biggest scale, the world appears sparse and objects appear far off. To appear fast, you need to have things rush past you. Your speed is contextualized by the scale of your environment, and how close the camera is pulled in. Doom guy can run at like, 50 miles per hour and it looks pretty normal because the environments around him are big. Beyond that, particle effects, like those in mirror’s edge, can help.

Try looking at the scale of the characters relative to the environment and how close the camera is pulled in for a bunch of games, like Sonic Generations, F-Zero, Quake Defrag, Shadow of the Colossus, Wonderful 101, Street Fighter versus Marvel versus Guilty Gear versus Skullgirls.

Also there’s a bunch of games like minecraft that try to sell going fast with effects alone, like minecraft changes the FOV, but it doesn’t really work because you’re not moving significantly faster. TF2 does this too.

Also this is why mini mushroom mode in smash makes characters appear to go so fast, because even though they’re still generally moving the same speed or slower, their movement relative to their proportions is really big. It also helps that the camera is not directly attached to the characters, so their movement can be seen in context of the character’s dimensions rather than how quickly their environment moves around them.

Don’t you think the controls are involved in a sense of speed too? The camera tricks you described are all totally spot-on, but they would produce the same sense of speed in a spectator as the player, which we know doesn’t happen. It seems like you’re only describing what makes the appearance of speed, not the actual “feeling” of speed that reviewers describe having, which spectators watching the game don’t have.

I think that most of the feeling is just how it looks honestly. The last bit that completes it is simply being in control of it, of seeing the thing that appears to be fast respond to your input. When there’s a tight time correlation between something happening on screen and someone doing something, they feel like they caused it.

In real life the “feeling of speed” is more force of acceleration, which game can also emulate by changing the field of view, and pushing the character a bit further away from the camera.

Apart from that there’s tons of tiny cues about speed that can be represented in the way the vehicle or character is animated or handles, particle effects around them, the like. You get stuff like inertia, braking, drifting. These are all cues for the car or character moving at a high speed. You get these in response to your inputs and it feels like you’re fast.

Whenever game feel is brought up you always mention “particle effects.” Can you elaborate what that means and how it contributes to game feel?

The book Game Feel calls it Polish Effects specifically, which is a wider category than just particles. A particle is a small object that is emitted and plays an animation before disappearing. For example, hitsparks, or speedlines, or turbulence around a character. The red or blue sparks when you drift in mario kart are particle effects, as are the speedlines around the edge of the screen in mirror’s edge. Or dust kicked up by a character’s feet or out of a vehicle’s exhaust. Particle effects help sell an action in a bunch of ways, like showing the point of contact, the path of a quickly moving object, the time when a change occurs, helps sell when a character is damaged, helps communicate that a persistent effect is present that isn’t strictly animation state based (like poison).

Here’s a talk on “juice”, which is another word for game feel that some mobile designers cooked up:
Skip through a bit and be sure the catch the part near the end where they turn off all the effects then turn them on all at once. They don’t change the function of the game at all, but they seriously affect the way it feels purely with particles and polish effects.

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