Why Watching isn’t Playing

This sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to say but watching a videogame being played is absolutely nothing like playing it yourself.

One bit of feedback I get after each video release is that the slowdowns that occur seem random and jarring and should perhaps be smoother and accompanied by a visual effect.

This is probably the best example of where watching isn’t playing. When watching a video of somebody playing a game you are missing a very important part – the intentions of the player. These days a lot of videogames are made so that they look good to the people who are watching them and often this can end up sacrificing the feel and fluidity of a games controls. Animations that flow nicely and blend well may look good in a gameplay trailer but you can be sure that the person playing it will be getting annoyed at just how long it takes to change direction or change weapon.

I have tried making the slow-motion in Waves look nicer and blend better. I’ve used tricks like smoothstep interpolation to ensure transitions are smooth not sudden and applying screen effects to indicate very obviously that you are using an intentional power.

I’ve ditched them all.

To somebody playing Waves the occurrence of slowdown is not a sudden and jarring event. It requires that they press a button and hold it. They have absolute control over when it starts and ends (well unless your charge runs out) and this is itself enough to smooth the experience. The players intention is to trigger slowmo. If they were to press the button and not get the full effect instantly then the controls feel laggy and unresponsive. If a screen effect suddenly made everything harder to see it can easily disorient and confuse potentially undoing everything the slowmo is supposed to achieve (make the game easier for 3 seconds).

I’m fully expecting to keep getting this feedback from people who have only watched the videos and not played the game. It’s something that I think may be tricky to overcome as I will freely admit that the slowmo looks more like a performance problem than a gameplay feature when you see it out of context.

Waves is about flow. It’s a game that exists in order to get people into a zen like trance state where they completely forget their self and just play. This means the game is all about feel and if I start trying to make things that feel good to a player look good to spectators then it will lose that.

UPDATE: Since writing this post I managed to find a way to indicate slowmo that doesn’t screw over the player and looks rather awesome. WIN!

2 thoughts on “Why Watching isn’t Playing

  1. I whole heartedly agree with everything here. Perhaps you could allow us to play the game to experience this zen like trance for ourselves. 🙂

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