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  • Maneuverability In Games: The Importance Of Speed And Control

    [02.04.20]
    - Tariq Adderley
  • The following is my thesis for Full Sail's Game Design Master's program:

    Find me @Sky_Dojo

    Movement, or "An act of changing physical location or position" (Received from Lexico Dictionary) is an inherit trait possessed by every living being. Even the most stationary of animals like the tube worm weave and dance gracefully at the ocean floor. Movement is what defines us as being "alive" and is the basis of creative expression. So, it would make sense that movement being the most basic yet crucial of mechanics in a video game and can make or break the entire experience.

    (B, 2008) "Parkour is the art of moving through your environment using only your body and the surroundings to propel yourself. ...the goal is to overcome obstacles quickly and efficiently, without using extraneous movement." - Dan Edwards

    This seems like a no-brainer concept; that movement should feel fluid and unrestrained. Yet too many current AAA titles struggle with creating a player controller that moves fluidly through their environment. This article will go into detail on what maneuverability is, why it is important for any game, and how it can affect the player.

    Methods and Materials

    Maneuverability in video games is how seamlessly the player's character can traverse through their environment. It is limited only by the player's mechanics, the environment the player is in, and the player's creativity. There are two primary components of maneuverability: speed - how fast it is possible to move in a direction, and control - how well you can turn while moving at a certain speed. Acceleration and deceleration - how quickly you can build up or lose speed, are also important factors in maneuverability.

    Control and speed are linked because without control you can only move in a line, and without speed you won't get anywhere. This is not limited only to ground based movement and any additional mechanics (like weight being attributed to air movement); can affect a player's maneuverability, but regardless speed and control are the main components. Finding a balance between the two is what creates a dynamic feeling player controller.

    This is where many AAA titles struggle to create a convincing third person controller that feels dynamic and responsive. Too many instances have occurred where a basic action like turning around to avoid oncoming attack required a slow turn around animation, or tank-y horse controls when trying to get past a tree. This is most likely due to the developers aiming for realism, but people don't move like sluggish puppets in real life. On the other hand, I find that many indie titles take a different approach to movement; while focusing on delivering a fun experience first and realism second.

    Findings

    Two games that exemplify maneuverability well are Zineth and Driftforce. The former, is an open world platformer where you take control of a cowboy dude and his mech as you skate and jump through a city in the middle of a desert performing different tasks. You can repeatedly click to skate, eventually reaching a min speed cap, jump, grind either on rails or horizontally on walls which both rapidly increase your speed, and lastly rewind, stop, or fast-forward time, if you messed up a jump or lost a lot of speed.

    These simple mechanics paired with a huge dense environment with multiple pathways allow the player to learn for themselves the nuances of the world, without overly punishing them for messing up, thanks to the time control system. Being a proof of concept, this game doesn't have much of a story/plot, or ending; but it does have some neat level design and a cellphone menu that can be used in tandem with the main gameplay. The cell phone lets you do a lot like play a pocket monster type mini game where you can fight other NPC's around the map, change the game settings or change your color, check twitter (yes actually), and change your current mission - amongst other things.

    While this game doesn't have an ending, the closest thing to it is the final mission which is to reach the moon. Doing so requires mastery of all your core mechanics as you scale the city walls, jumping through hoops at every corner. Eventually rewarding you with a speed hack that allows to you multiply your speed with each button press. While Zineth may not be the most visually appealing game, it does a decent job of selling speed by overlaying wind sound effects, when moving through the air or zooming out the camera the faster you move.

    (Figure 1. Screenshot of Zineth)

    In Driftforce you control a futuristic racer drone that hovers above the ground while moving at Mach speeds. It being a endless runner, the longer you stay alive, the faster your speed. This could be troublesome if it weren't for the handling of the drone. Turning feels smooth and responsive without being so sensitive that it's easy to crash if you're not precise, and for added precision there are strafe buttons that move the vehicle from side to side. Also, if you ever feel like the game isn't moving fast enough there's also a boost meter that fills up slowly over time, or you can collect boost orbs, or strafe into these green walls to build it quickly.

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