Foundations: Quality Feedback Checklist

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I’m back! My holiday was lovely, thanks for asking. :)

So in my previous article I bore my soul over the infamous Balloon Game.

This final feedback article is all about giving you a summarised, checklist-format reference to stress-test your designs. Bookmark it for when feedback has you beat!
Scared Cat
Stay cool!

The Quality Feedback Checklist

You’ve designed some feedback. How can you know it’ll sit harmoniously in your game and do its job? After all, there are so many pitfalls for quality feedback.

Well, you can really only build it. But my handy Quality Feedback Checklist might alert you to some potential issues ahead of time. Good luck!
  1. Does your feedback have a valuable message?
    Does your feedback convey a message the player wants to hear? Be mindful of the pitfalls of giving players information that isn’t relevant or undermines their enjoyment of the game.

  2. Does your feedback have a clear message?
    Does your feedback have a clear message that the player will understand?

    It’s fine if players don’t understand the message the first time they experience the feedback, so long as they eventually get it. If they don’t get it after repeated instances, there’s probably something wrong.

  3. Does your feedback have a unique message?
    Is your feedback used in multiple different contexts? Does this affect its message? Carefully consider the message of your feedback, and how many different situations you use it in.

    Out of the box, my smart phone used the same alert sound for email, message and calendar events; essentially yelling “Something happened. Come look!” By setting distinct alert sounds, I’m able to tell what event occurred and decide whether it deserves my attention. If your feedback is reused in different situations, you need to carefully consider how users will interpret the message.

  4. Is your feedback related to its subject?
    Is it clear to players what object(s) your feedback is related to? It’s really important that feedback is as related to its subject matter as possible. If you activate a self-protection spell, the feedback relates far better if it appears on your avatar’s body, as opposed to a glowing rune in your UI.

    I've played games with audio jingles that I never learned the meaning of. This is an example of poorly related feedback. Or I'm too stupid. Actually, design for stupid! :)

  5. Is your feedback appropriately rewarding?
    Is your feedback rewarding? Should it be? If feedback is rewarding, players will enjoy it and want to do it more. This is very important for actions you want the player to continue doing.

    If the shotgun firing noise is cool, the enemy death is satisfying, the level-up effects are awesome and the coin collection sound is lovely - then you can assume the player will want to keep doing these actions.

    A word of warning; if your character’s death scream is sufficiently hilarious, you may be encouraging players to kill themselves for laughs. Don’t be afraid to change it or rip it out... or consider inventing a new genre!

  6. Is your feedback accessible?
    Does your feedback make use of visual, aural and rumble feedback?

    If a player has the sound down low, will they get the necessary information? If someone is playing on an old TV, can they see your visual feedback? Hedge your bets and cover as many senses as you can (within reason!).

  7. Does your feedback intensify appropriately?
    Does your feedback convey quality or quantity information? Is that information clear and consistent?

    When dealing with feedback that conveys qualitative (ok, great, amazing ... F to A++) or quantitative information (how much gold earned, or how much damage dealt) it’s important that the feedback can intensify to convey that information.

    In Street Fighter, the size and intensity of the hit effects scales proportionally with how much damage was inflicted. Players quickly learn the relationship. If an attack created a huge hit effect, but did little damage, players would be confused and disregard this feedback entirely as “misleading.”

    Can your feedback convey the full range of values it represents? Or alternatively, be replaced by discrete instances of feedback; light damage, medium damage and heavy damage? Also, do better ranks look cooler than lower ones?

  8. Does your feedback alert appropriately?
    Is your feedback trying to grab the player’s attention?

    If your feedback is actively trying to gain the player's attention, is it obnoxious enough to do so? Or is it too obnoxious, diverting the player’s attention away from more serious feedback? If your feedback isn’t intended to draw the player’s attention, is it appropriately subdued?

  9. Does your feedback simplify complex information?
    Does your feedback boil down information to what the player needs, without over-simplifying?

    This temperature gauge dispenses with the specific temperatures and focuses simply on how close your engine is to overheating. It saves you from the specifics, and instead provides a gradation between "status quo", "warning" and "catastrophe!"

  10. Is your feedback implicit, not explicit?
    Should your feedback give the player a chance to experiment and learn, or should it explicitly tell them something?

    Implicit feedback implies a message and it’s the player’s job to interpret what its saying; to connect the dots. Explicit feedback, on the other hand, explicitly tells you information about the game, like a tutorial window that directly explains how the game works.

    It’s much harder to design implicit feedback because you’re aiming to give the player hints that can be decoded and understood. You’re giving them results to their experiments - not telling them the answers in earnest. Use hint arrows, have money fly from your click up to the piggy bank, have two related elements glow at the same time to show their relationship.

    It’s also worth pointing out that sometimes explicit just makes sense; score and gold counters are traditionally explicit.

  11. Does your feedback utilise distinct channels?
    Does your feedback use the one channel to display multiple messages? Can you find new ways of communicating information so that simultaneous messages don’t clash?

    Consider for a moment the humble traffic light. (I apologise in advance if you’re from a country with wacky traffic lights...)

    It has 3 lights and 3 colours. It’s conceivably possible to use 1 light that can be red, amber or green instead of 3 lights, right? That would convey the same information and save money to boot.
    Unfortunately, it would exclude people with red-green colour-blindness (as they rely on which light is lit, not the colour). Also, the new design would confuse Europeans, who like to illuminate red and amber at the same time (for some reason).
    The design is robust (and flexible) because it doesn’t try to cram too much information into too few channels. Each light is a unique channel, able to be illuminated independently.

    Let's say you’re working on an adventure game - if your avatar’s body tints red to show it’s on fire, and at the same time, tints green to show it’s poisoned, the player will quickly become confused. Pretending for a moment that avatars are traffic lights communicating information, you could include the following distinct channels; particles coming off their body, their magic aura, their weapon’s glow, symbolic incantations at their feet, an orbiting defensive sprite etc. etc.

  12. Does your feedback communicate duration of state changes?
    If your feedback communicates a state change (temporary or permanent), does it remain in place for the duration of the state change?

    For example, when designing feedback for a temporary powerup (Mariokart Star Power Jingle, anyone?), ensure it remains active as long as the powerup is in effect. If the player collects a permanent weapon or shield upgrade, there should be permanent feedback to indicate the change, also.

Conclusion

Well, it’s been emotional.

With any luck, this is the definitive work on feedback and I'll never need to touch the topic again! :) Feel free to point out anything I've overlooked, though - we can always add to the checklist!

Cheers
-Daz

2 comments:

Matty said... 9 October 2011 at 11:12

Interesting. I've definitely played games where the feedback for death is so good you just wanna do it again and again. Ahem... Super Metroid.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6h8Nkx7cqg

Daz said... 9 October 2011 at 12:14

I remember reading that they made the super monkey ball death sequence pretty entertaining on purpose - players enjoyed it and it stopped them rage-quitting.
Monkey comically falling to his death = "okay, just one more go..." :)

Also, Halfbrick Echoes had a pretty amusing death sound, albeit briefly. :D

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