‘Vlambeer’, “Game Feel” And Everything In Between.

NOTE: Please wait for some of the GIFs to load properly. Thank you for your patience. Have some meat pies and Milo, and leave it for like few minutes to load everything up. Also, this is probably the longest blog I’ve done about video games, Cthulhu help me D:

 

Jan Willem Nijman and ‘the art of screenshake’.

control-conference-2013
‘Control Conference’ 2013 logo (2013)
2013 ‘Control Conference’ in Amsterdam was an interesting event. From ‘Dutch Game Garden’ which makes indie video games development, a thing in Netherlands to ‘INDIGO Classes’ that they have created to help young and/or inexperienced game developers to refine their craft. It’s smart. It’s fantastic. It’s what I wish my country would do the same for us creative artist back home.
But I’m going to be mainly focusing on a 44 minutes educational talk by Jan Willem Nijman (or J.W.), one of the founders and the game designers of the two-man video game development company called ‘Vlambeer’. In this talk, he brought up an interesting topic about what makes video games have this thing called “game feel” or in his own word ’30 Tiny Tricks That Will Make Your Action Games Better. You can watch the whole talk here below:

To sum it up this talk, J.W. points out tips on how to make an action game going from this:
without-game-feel
Hi, I’m this boring game that I don’t think you will ever play. Ever.
To this:
with-game-feel-final
WELCOME TO THIS CHAOTIC FUN TIME OH MY GOD LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE SHELLS FLYING!!!! PEWPEWPEWPEWPEWPEWPEWPEW!!!!!
Throughout his talk, he used a game creation software called ‘Game Maker Studio’ and used it like ‘PowerPoint’ or ‘Keynote’ slides. By doing that, he has add an advantage of “playing” his “slides” to support his points. Okay, I know it’s confusing let me explain;
See those two gifs up above? Those GIFs are a game that is also a part of the slides that he played during the talk. As he “progresses” through the slides, the “game feel” of that game gets “feel-er” and “feel-er”. How cool is that? Seriously, watch the talk and see it in action to get a better idea of how it works. It’s freaking cool.
Also, I’ve never thought I would use the word “feel” like that.

 

A Bit About Vlambeer and Their Games.

“Who is “J.W.” and what is ‘Vlambeer’?” you ask? “What makes them qualify to talk about video games?” you say? What’s that, you didn’t say that? Oh, okay…
vlambeer-logo
Vlambeer… Does it mean “Flaming Bear”? Or maybe “Bear in Flames”? (‘Vlambeer’ logo, 2015)
‘Vlambeer’ is two-man,  Netherlands-based company made up of Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman. They join forces after they’ve dropped from their game design course, and they have been making games together since. But not just any games. Like, REALLY good games. “What REALLY good games they’ve been making?” you asked? What’s that, you didn’t say that and you want me to stop doing that? Oh,right… Sorry…
These young folks are the young talented folks behind widely-praised games such as ‘Ridiculous Fishing’, a casual mobile fishing game where you kill your catches with all sorts of arsenal from uzi guns to a bazooka; ‘Super Crate Box’, a free-to-play 2D action shooter where you collect crates to get points in exchange for swapping your current arsenal (think ‘Bubble Bobble’ with guns); ‘Lufttrausers’, an “Atari-esque” multi directional shoot em’ up (or “shmup”) published by ‘Devolver Digital’; and finally ‘Nuclear Throne’, a rogue-like top-down shooter that was backed by ‘Kickstarter’.
971179_10100536394378185_94893296_n1-510x340
The people behind ‘Vlambeer’; Rami Ismail (left) and Jan Willem Nijman (right). (2013)
These duo are pretty well-known and well-respected amongst indie-game developers and gamers alike for their distinctive, “arcade-y”, “punch-y” games, as well as their interesting game development method or technique (when they were developing ‘Nuclear Throne’) called ‘Performative Development’;
i.e. “Development as content that a potential audience can engage with” aka engaging a potential audience of a content your developing through the its development process via communication methods that they can “directly” interact with you e.g. Twitch, Twitter, Facebook etc. Basically, they’re the indie darlings or poster boys of video games, for all the good reasons.
SIDE-NOTE:  I’ll touch more on ‘Performative Development’ method in future blog. But for now, let’s focus of the J.W. talk in 2013 ‘Control Conference’.
Most of ‘Vlambeer’s games have one particular thing in common:
It’s the “screenshake” effect in their games.
These “screenshakes” a part of what J.W. demonstrated during his ‘the art of screenshake’ talk. This, along with many other nuances and tweaks and polish are what add to the “game feel” of their games. But Nijman believe that this are the one that is easiest thing to add to the “game feel”, but not many (game developers) utilise it. Henceforth, this is why I believe he uses “screenshakes” as  a vehicle to drive the “game feel” topic forward.

 

J.W., “Game Feel” and Vlambeer’s “Game Feel”.

jan-willem-nijman-vlambeer-tijdens-zijn-indigo-classes-sessie
J.W. at the 2013 ‘Control Conference’ in Amsterdam (2013)
J.W. doesn’t like the word “game feel”. He feels that it is a terrible term. In fact, he tried to avoid using that word as much as he can during the talk. As I’ve said/written before, what he did instead is that he plays and shows step by step how he developed a game and increase the “game feel” further and further throughout his slides, by adding 30 features or tweaks in the game. Bottomline, he shows how ‘Vlambeer’ make their games through a game. It’s pretty meta.
“But wait Fedya, what is this “game feel” you kept on talking/writing about?”. And AHA, I know you said that, didn’t you?
The term “game feel” was spear-headed into popularity by Steve Swink (picture above) in his book ‘Game Feel: A Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation’. The best way I can describe about what is “game feel” (based on this Gamasutra article which is also written by Steve Swink), is the experience you have interacting with the game .
It’s the virtual or tactile sensation when you’re manipulating an interactive digital medium (that are mostly video games). It’s the end of the line of an “experimental, interactive garden”. Or a “refined” iteration of it. And what I have just said is barely scratching the surface of what it is. It is way more complicated than that.
maxresdefault-4
I seriously wish this is animated… Would be super cool to see it – ‘Forza Horizon 3 vs. DriveClub vs. The Crew vs. Need For Speed | Graphics, Rain Comparison PS4 & Xbox’ video thumbnail (‘Racing Video Games’, September 17th, 2016)
Why are all ‘Platinum’ games have been described to have tight controls? Why (most of) ‘Mario’ games have been described to have natural “feeling” to it when you’re playing any one of them? Why does ‘Wipeout’ and ‘F-Zero GX’ have similar concept, but plays differently to one another when you’re piloting/driving one of their “float-y” ships/cars? Why am I still scared of that monstrous “thing” in ‘Amnesia’ even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times?
See, all of that, are most probably “game feel”. But again, this is just scratching the surface of what is “game feel”. It’s not just the controls, but visuals, sounds, rules, mechanics etc. It’s many things all at once and also the lack of it. It is the “Alpha” and “Omega” of video games. As a filmmaker, the best way I can sum-up my understanding of “game feel”, is  with this Star Trek GIF:

e8aw6h6

For those who don’t know what is ‘Star Trek’ (shame on you), you should only know the context of this GIF. They are spaceship crew on a spaceship and this footage shows that they’re being “hit” by their enemy’s weaponry and they’re “feeling” the impact of it on their deck. But, It looks pretty silly right? It looks like their flopping and flipping and falling all over the place, right? What happened here?
Basically, the one who made this GIF simply removing the “shakes” on the footage and “stabilised” it back. That’s pretty much it. The illusion that they’re being attacked… all gone. So by looking at this silly GIF,  This is probably the best way I can understand what is “game feel”; When it is not there.
With that being said, what are the examples of elements of “game feel”? See, that’s a tricky question for me to fully answer. By the time I finished writing about this blog, I am still swimming in this “game feel” topic. But thankfully, there are people that are smarter than me that managed to tackle this topic way better than me, like J.W. himself.

 

Beneath The “Game Feel”

So we know how he did it, but let’s get deeper into that “how”. And the best way for me to show or play or explain it, is by playing through his “game slides” from the talk he gave at  2013 ‘Control Conference’. Watch this video to see me playing half of his game slides while commentating on it. I apologise for my mildly strong accent and my performing skills (it’s been a while):

I hope that wasn’t too painful for you to watch. To be honest, I would love to play through the rest of the “slides”. Unfortunately, it kept on crashing on me every time I went past certain parts of it. But, I was pretty lucky to get to the ‘Super Machinegun’ and ‘Meaning’ part of the slides and record it as GIFs. For those who refused to watch the video (I can understand), These are couple of things he added or implemented in the game (as well as other games he designed) as examples:

 

A. Animations and Sounds:

super_mario_gifs
I chose this to represent “Animations and Sounds” because, you can just hear that Mario tune when you look at this GIF –  ‘Super Mario series: animated gif collection’ GIF (“SuperLuigiBros)
  • Basic Animations and Sounds – Walking cycle, jump animation, gun sounds, etc. How “alive” do you feel the game now? Does the animation makes you feel controlling your character, better?
  • Extra Animations and Sounds – Muzzle flashes (from the weapon), impact effects (on enemies, and environments), hit animations, impact sounds, landing from a jump sound etc. Does all of that contribute to the “liveli-ness” of the game’s world?

 

B. Weapon:

3241bedbdd6626c4eccdda210df375f6.gif
I don’t think I’ll able do to pixel arts like this. I guess that is why I’m in the filmmaking business – ‘Mercenary Kings’ gun types (‘games art’ on ‘Pinterest’)
  • Weapon’s Firing Rate – How fast your bullets coming out of the weapon. Do you have to keep pressing the button repeatedly, or do you just hold it?
  • Weapon’s Firing Type – How many your bullets coming out of the weapon. Is it just one at a time, or three, or maybe even five? What type of bullets coming out of the weapon? Is it a laser type (straight line) or is it more of a pellet-based?
  • Weapon’s Bullet Size – How big are the bullets coming out of the weapon. Is it chunky and big, or is it tiny and small? How about the length of the bullets? Is it or is it short?
  • Weapon’s Bullet Accuracy (Animation) – How accurate are the bullets travelling out of the weapon. Does it comes out straight or does it spray out?
  • Weapon’s Bullet Speed – How fast are the bullets from the weapon travelling from A to B. it is slow, or is it fast?
  • Weapon’s knock-back – How much knock-back you’re getting from firing the weapon. Does it feel like the weapon pushing you back when you’re firing it, or does it feel like it has knock-back at all?
WITH ALL OF THE ABOVE – Does this influenced how long or when and where you’re firing your weapon? Does this make it easier for your bullets to hit the enemies? 

 

C. Enemies:

tumblr_mkzg0hjZnM1s15tgzo1_1280.gif
Remember this game? SEGA, where’s my ‘Streets of Rage 4’? – ‘Streets of Rage 2′ enemy types (‘Old School Sprites’, May 25th, 2015)
  • Enemy’s Hit Points (HP) – How much damage can the enemies take from your guns before they die? Is it quick to kill them, or does it takes time? Does this dictate which enemy to kill first? Does this also influenced where you position yourself in the game?
  • Enemy’s “Amount” – How enemies do you have in your screen at one time? Does this correlates to your weapon’s “ability”? Is your gun OP? What if more enemies are thrown at you? would take make the game more “balanced”? Do you jump a lot or move a lot more when there are more enemies in screen?
  • Enemy’s “Collision” and Knock-back – Can the enemies collide with “you”? If they do, does it damage you? Does it kill? Or does it simply push you back? Do you avoid being touched by the enemies? Does this influenced the distance you stand from your enemies when you’re firing the gun? Can you knock the enemy back? Do you knock them back with your character’s body, or with your bullets?
  • Enemy’s Permanence – Does the enemies you’ve killed stayed there? Or do they disappeared after you’ve killed them? Do you feel you’re “invincible” after murdering all of those enemies after looking at their corpses? Or do you use it as a signposting of an area that you have already been through?

 

D. Camera

1379254312315847311
I know we’re talking more about 2D game camera here. But this picture is just too funny not to share. – ‘The Evil Within’ camera perspectives (‘Kotaku’, August 11th, 2014)
  • Camera LERP – Does the camera feel jerky to you? Or does it smooth? Do you feel that it is easier to control when the camera is smoother?
  • Camera’ s Position – Does the camera change depending on where your character is facing? Does it make spotting the enemies in front of you easier? How about behind you? Does it make it harder to spot the enemies behind you?

 

E. Screenshake:

super-cratebox
Using this GIF again, because, why not? They are the current “mover and shaker” of “screenshakes” – ‘Super Crate Box’ (2010)
  • Amount of “Screenshake” – What happens if you fire this weapon? How much does the screen shakes when you fire from that weapon? Does the amount shakes on the screen, determine the strength of the weapon?
  • Camera’ s Position – Does the camera change depending on where your character is facing? Does it make spotting the enemies in front of you easier? How about behind you? Does it make it harder to spot the enemies behind you?

 

F: Meaning(?)

conglaturation
This cracks me up everytime – ‘Ghostbusters’ for the ‘Nintendo Entertainment System’ (NES) winning screen (‘Jeff of All Games BLOG!’, August 29th, 2014)
  • You character’s “meaning”(?) – What is the purpose of your character? Why is he/she there? Is he/she there kill the enemies? Is he/she there to talk to the “enemies” who are not really enemies but are actually friends? What is the objective of killing the enemies? What is the objective of being friends with the “enemies”? Can you die in this game? What happens after your character dies?
    Oh my goodness, this is starting to feel like questions an existentialist would ask. I’m going to stop here, but the point is the “meanings” and “reasons behind the “existence” or the “doings” of the game, the character, the enemies etc.
Seriously, there are tons more about “game feel” than what I’ve listed above. You can  just open any game, and, well, play it. Feel it. Speaking of that,

 

Non-Vlambeer “Game Feel” vs Vambleer  “Game Feel”.

Of course, as I’ve stated above, Vlambeer games are not the only games that have ‘game feel’. What they do have is a certain type of ‘game feel’ or recipe to their ‘game feel’. Let’s use an example of a game that is not made by them, called ‘Teleglitch’ by the talented folks from ‘Test3 Projects’.
2305703-teleglitch
Wow. This Atari catridge cover-inspired artwork of this game throws you back. It is so nostalgic. And I wasn’t even born during Atari’s time – ‘Teleglitch: Die More Edition’ (2013)
It has the same basic concept of ‘top-down rogue-like shooter’ like Nuclear Throne. But when comparing it to the aforementioned game, it feels and play amazingly different to one another. Beside their many differences in terms of “aesthetics”, two major “game feel” examples that I would like to point out when playing these two games back- to-back are:

 

1. Game-Pacing:

game-feel-1

Nuclear Throne

It is fast and frantic. You are thrust into the action immediately at the start of the a new level. There are not much explorations involve and there are not much pauses between combat. Your main form of communication in this game is to ‘shoot first, ask questions later’. Items are constantly littered at you, and picking them up only requires you to walk over it. You pretty get the view of everything in the level from top-down, which helps to spot enemies and kill them quicker. The areas are small within the level are small, making it moving from one spot to another, easier and faster. It is action-packed arcade-y at its best.

Teleglitch

It is slow and methodical. You spent most of your time looking at your map exploring the level and reading text from what it seems like computers. The items as well the enemies are scarce. Picking up items requires a bit of inventory management. The level however spacious it is than Nuclear Throne, felt a lot more smaller, more claustrophobic. The black pillars surrounding the edges of a room and also being able to see only one room at a time, enhances it. You are almost always scared to enter a new room, and that slows down the pacing even more. This is due to way combat works. Speaking of that,

 

2. Combat:

game-feel-2

Nuclear Throne

Killing the enemies are easy and fast. This is due to their low hit points. But it’s not easy game. Enemies will be constantly thrown at you, and you, having low hit points as well, are forced to move around a lot while shooting. Aiming is thankfully easy when you’re moving, and some weapons (and ability) doesn’t require you to be precise with your aiming. Bullets coming out of the weapon are nice and fat and chunky. So hitting the enemies with it are easy,  and you’re not (that) scared to even kill them in close proximity. In fact, most of the times, it is  advantageous using close-range weapons to take down enemies, so that you can conserve ammunition. And strangely enough, you’re actually the aggressor of the game instead of the enemies.

Teleglitch

Killing enemies are hard. And they hit you hard. And fast. If there’s a group of them that is coming towards, you almost always move away from them as an act of defensive response. Thankfully, you have high hit points. But like Nuclear Throne, it doesn’t make the game easy. Bullets coming out of your weapon are thin and have low spread ratio. Aiming your weapon has its own dedicated button it and requires to hold it ala ‘Resident Evil’ style; Aiming is slow and requires that you be precise with your aim; And finally, aiming slows your movement to crawl and it is not ideal to keep holding the ‘aim’ button all the time. When you re-position yourself, you’re always make sure you have a lot of distance between you and the enemies to get a better aim at them. This dictates you to play it slow and in a safe distance.

 

Conclusion:

Nuclear Throne VS Teleglitch

To sum it up, yes, they’re both rogue-like top-down shooter, but one plays like an arcade action game, and the other plays more like a survival horror game. And those two difference, like seriously, doesn’t that put a smile on your face? Knowing that you can tackle a niche(?) game sub-genre but still tweaked it to make hell of a lot different from its predecessors? It’s fantastic!

 

“Game Feel” and J.W.

When I was watching the talk by J.w. and researching about “game feel”, I didn’t know it would such a complicated and long topic to be blog about. At least for me. I know I said the same thing when I blogged about ‘Dys4ia’, but really, this is very a drawn out topic. And I’m just scraping the surface of this massive iceberg.
Doing a bit of extra research about ‘Vlambeer’, their games and its unique game development method are such fascinating thing to read and research about. As a filmmaker, knowing and still learning about “game feel” makes me have a deeper appreciation and respect towards ‘games development’. And I hope to those who is reading about this blog, will too.
To end this long and complicated blog, the GIF down below is the best way to sum up my feelings after researching and finally finishing this massive 3620 words of a blog:

galv5il


References:

Links/Articles
1. ‘Vlambeer co-founder shares advice on building better action games’ – Alex Wavro, Gamasutra
2. ‘CONTROL CONFERENCE FT. INDIGO CLASSES’ – Dutch Game Garden
3. ‘Vlambeer’s Performative Game Development – the way of the future’ – Brandon Sheffield, Gamasutra
4. ‘Game Feel: The Secret Ingredient’ – Steve Swink, Gamasutra
5. ‘7 rewarding lessons ‘game feel’ teaches us about business’ – Michael del Castillo, Upstart
6. ‘Vlambeer – Talk on how to improve the “game feel” of an action game’ – DarkSiegemeyer, Reddit/r/Gamedev
7. ‘Vlambeer’s Wasteland Kings is now Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne, still looks great’ – Tom Sykes, PCGamer
8. ‘Vlambeer press info’ – Vlambeer
9. ‘How the Dutch Game Garden Helped Remake Video Games in the Netherlands’ – Kat Bailey, USgamer
Images
1. http://speakerdata.s3.amazonaws.com/photo/image/859885/971179_10100536394378185_94893296_n1-510×340.jpg
2. https://images-2.gog.com/2cc6e99f5392a74c18e5cdb13e3b08bc67658d1d6653f18e9ac60b88d8a8bfdd.jpg
3. http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/nuclear-throne/images/9/97/Newart.png/revision/latest?cb=20150302112259
4. http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8457/8048880584_c024793567_z.jpg
5. https://i.ytimg.com/vi/vzKcJ8QFbMk/maxresdefault.jpg
6. http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/nuclear-throne/images/8/8f/Jan-Willem-Nijman-Vlambeer-tijdens-zijn-Indigo-Classes-sessie.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140202225024
7. http://www.interactiondesign.se/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/game-feel.jpg
8. https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3541/3483640217_3ef0a407f3_b.jpg
9. http://www.zo-ii.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Control-Conference-2013.png
10. https://i.ytimg.com/vi/WaZZgrF6miA/maxresdefault.jpg
11. http://www.superluigibros.com/images/super_mario_gifs.gif
12. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/32/41/be/3241bedbdd6626c4eccdda210df375f6.gif
13. http://31.media.tumblr.com/fbc80098c8ac43dcdd7ccdb51293189a/tumblr_mkzg0hjZnM1s15tgzo1_1280.gif
14. http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/t_original/1379254312315847311.jpg
15. https://thoughtsofathirdworldfilmmaker.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/0bda0-conglaturation.jpeg
16. http://static2.gamespot.com/uploads/original/364/3649215/2305703-teleglitch.jpg
17. https://i.imgur.com/e8Aw6h6.gif
18. http://www.reactiongifs.com/r/galv5Il.gif
19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlambeer#/media/File:Vlambeer-logo.png
Videos
1. ‘Jan Willem Nijman – Vlambeer – “The art of screenshake”‘ – Dutch Game Garden
2. ‘3 Things I Learned While Making Nuclear Throne – Rami Ismail’ – Videobrains Event
3. ‘The Design & Marketing Of Nuclear Throne’ – GDC
4. ‘Nuclear Throne: Performative Game Development in Hindsight’ – GDC
5. ‘5 Tips to Improve Your Nuclear Throne Game (dont hate me for #3)’ – Chubbyemu
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