In games, like any art, nothing is as it appears, not even something as straightforward as Mario’s jump. What initially seems to be the simplest action in all of gaming is actually fiendishly hard to bring to a finished state. Taking the time to get the basics right marks out a polished game from a typical one.
So the question for your game is, irrespective of budget, time or platform, have you got the jumps right?
It’s a feel thing. Does the joypad button respond quickly enough? Is the animation just so? Does the timing for a double jump feel natural?
The same is true of most great games. Their developers spend a lot of time on the apparently simple things like controller responses, shotgun sound effects and the right feel for skidding. That kind of attention to the basics shines through, and helps bring a higher quality of engagement from players.
When an action feels right you know it, and the robustness that comes with that provides a strong foundation for how the rest of the game will play. It’s not the sum total of all design, but a great feel is one of the key ways through which games become less opaque and more thaumatic.
The right solution is usually not the correct one. The Master Chief can leap distances that defy biology and land without a scratch, while in many a racing game the car is able to take far more damage than any vehicle ever would. The correct solution, meaning accurate simulation, usually produces slow, unconvincing or overly punitive results.
The right solution is always the one that feels right, physical accuracy or no. Is there are a way to define right? Possibly. If all games need to be simpler, fairer and more empowering than real life (Hint: They do) then ask yourself three questions:
1. Is the action as simple as it could be? How long does it take to get to stop speed? Does it use one button, two or three to achieve?
2. Is the action fair? Does it feel as though the player is in control, so if he fails then he sees that it was his fault? Remember, fairness is a perception.
3. Is the action empowering? Does it let the player do something bigger or stranger than life? Is it fun to do every time he does it? Is it causing real change in the game world?
No? Then it needs more work.
The Worthy Trap
But one thing to note: Getting the jumps right is not enough.
It's one thing to spend time getting them right in the service of a sexy game, but it's quite another to get lost in simply making a game that's worthy. If all your game is is Mario but with even better jumps, you lose because nobody needs a better jump than Mario. What they need is a different game, but with the same quality execution.
(Today’s image is, who else, Mario from Super Mario Bros Wii.)