What is recover time?
In game world, players sometimes have to give up control due to some reasons. For example, when Mario suddenly brake before falling into abyss, player can’t manage to stop Mario immediately and they sometimes can only pray that Mario will stop in time. That sliding time is recovering time, which recovers from running. Another example, in combating game, you punch your opponent and then you need a little time to recover to the ready phase. Time between attacking and being ready is recover time as well. So, you may understand that these little time slices are recovering time, which we usually lose control in playing games.
Why not simply eliminate recover time?
Recover time sometimes are very annoying. Players hate it because Mario can’t stop before falling into abyss. What’s wrong with this game? Why I can’t control every step I take? Players may complain if we don’t handle the recovering time well. So, why not eliminate recover time?
The answer is simple, we need it to simulate the reality. In real world, we know there is inertia, which is a common nature of our physical world and has rooted in our intuition. When we watch cartoons, we expect that after a sudden brake, the characters will slide for a while and then stop in an exaggerated manner. This is a very important factor that we feel the game world by our intuition.
Control feeling partly decides the player’s duration of attention on your game, unless your game is a pure art piece. This principle is similar to user experience design, developers hope players cost minimum time to learn how to use the system. And leveraging player’s intuition is a very simple and effective way to achieve that goal. In my opinion, cultivating intuition is actually applying metaphor reflecting situations in real world, so people will know what to do by consciously or unconsciously recalling their previous experiences. As a result, recovering time is inevitable. It reminds players of real feelings in real world. Or the game world contradicts to our intuition and interrupt the joyfulness of fluent controlling.
How to reduce recover time?
Inertia and other similar factors like gravity are very common in 2D games. It’s easy to add them into our world but hard to tune them well. Recently I have a thought about this.
Minimize the recovering time, under the condition that if it will not seriously contradict to player’s intuition.
Mario’s control strategy is a classical textbook on how to polish control feelings. And its control of jumping reflects our core concept well. Hardcore players may have noticed that when Mario is falling the gravity is bigger than that when Mario is jumping up. Actually, the falling gravity is three times of gravity when Mario is jump up. The goal of designing this trick is two folds. One is to make players feel that Mario is heavy; and the other is to reduce the recovering time, letting players have more control over Mario and thus enhancing the smoothness of controlling. See, a typical example. It’s very annoying that you can do little when Mario is falling. Thus, designers reduce the recovering time to make control more neat and fluent.
Mario’s Horizontal Movement
It’s wired if we remove the inertia from Mario’s world. Liking watching cartoon, people expect Mario brakes with inertia and actually people like this inertia. Without this, Mario will swerve direction immediately after player’s pressing button of opposite direction. This abrupt swerve really contradicts to people’s intuition. It ruins the consistency of player’s perception of velocity in game world. Yet letting Mario slide for a while is far from being wise, the sound solution is to increase the friction and let Mario stop quickly after opponent direction button is pressed. A player experiences inertia while control it easily and well. That’s a fantastic feeling!
Recently I am developing a game leveraging the accelerometer to adjust the horizontal velocity of player. The basic idea is mapping tilting value to acceleration, and thus changing the velocity. The main goal of this game is to avoid the obstacles, so I would like to offer player a very sensitive and smooth control feeling. In order to swiftly avoid the obstacle, player should have the ability to swerve the movement direction. However, due to the existing of inertia, reducing velocity to zero has to take a while, so it’s quite hard for player to estimate the distance before stopping. As a result, I double the acceleration when player tries to swerve the horizontal speed. This small trick doesn’t eliminate the feeling of inertia, yet it greatly improves the control feeling and let player feel they are controlling more. Let’s look at the insight, this trick reflects the benefits of our core concept – reducing recovering time. On one side, as I mentioned above, simulating a real world can take advantage of player’s intuition. This serves as a cornerstone for controlling. On the other side, a sudden change of speed direction contradicts with player’s intuition, which creates a sense of stiffness and devastate the joyful control feeling. Hence, keeping the recovering time yet reduce its negative effect on control feeling is quite useful for this game.
Recovering time is a very little slice of gameplay, yet it plays a subtle role in shaping control feeling. Mimicking real world leads to great benefits of leveraging player’s intuition and thus recovering time inevitable. Under this situation, designers hide the negative effects in order to please players’ intuition. The balance between hoaxing and simulation is very challenging for every designer, however, it is well paid.
Yet I have to warn every developer that it is not always true to reduce recovering time. For example, in a combating game, you may need intentionally create some recovering time in your core mechanism. Say you will be invincible if you immediately switch back to defense phase after each punching.