A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming contains everything you need to know to dive headfirst into the wonderful, weird, amazing, heart-warming, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, and at times loathsome culture and industry that make up the world of videogames!
If you’re brand new to videogames, and even if you’ve been following the industry for years, A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming leads you through questions and discussions that will bring you to a high level of understanding about who makes games and how they’re made, which trends of today will impact future developments, what makes a game fun or addictive or great or successful, how the future of virtual reality and augmented reality will unfold, and a whole lot more.
A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming represents a veritable treasure trove of information on videogames, the people behind them, the industry surrounding them, and the culture that nurtures them, and if you’ve ever been even slightly curious about this world or you want to deepen your understanding of them, this book contains everything you need to begin, continue, and enjoy that journey.
Which members of this great blue planet we call Earth would benefit from the pages of A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming?
Without question, this book is for absolutely everyone and anyone, but if you need it all spelled out for you, this website is more than happy to oblige.
So who is A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming for? Let’s see…
- Parents, teachers, friends, family, and colleagues of videogame fans, looking to understand this grand hobby from the inside out, and how addictive videogame tendencies can be identified and avoided.
- Videogame fans themselves who want to know more about how games are made, the inner workings of the business behind games, and how fans are actively and passively changing the course of the industry (for good or ill).
- Current and future indie game developers keen to discover repeatable methods for how to make their games fun, successful, and even great in the eyes of their fans, while learning how to better promote themselves to press and fans.
- Full-time game developers unclear on how and where conversations about their games take place, how publishing is changing, how digital distribution has revolutionised the industry, and how looking to the fans can paint a clear path for the future.
- Full-time, part-time, and would-be members of the videogame press who want to know how their role in the industry is changing, how to weather the storm, and which skills they will need to earn a living now and in the future.
- Investors and business folk researching current and future industry trends to capitalise on, the future of virtual reality and augmented reality gaming, and the industry’s many and varied movers and shakers.
- Full-time, part-time, and would-be YouTube stars, Twitch personalities, and Mobcrush adopters – successful or not – looking for additional ways to carve out a living in this crowded scene.
Do you know who else A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming is for? Everyone.
What follows below is an excerpt from A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming, snipped from a section of the book discussing what makes a videogame fun, focusing on a particularly important contributor to the ‘feeling’ of fun in any game, whether a player recognises it consciously or subconsciously.
Please to enjoy:
Chapter Six: What Makes a Videogame Fun?
Part 1 – Player Feedback: Action Satisfaction and ‘Feel’
When it comes to everyday life, there are lots of things that the average human being can feel at any moment. You can feel a phone in the palm of your hand. You can feel scalding heat when you press your face up to the hot glass that separates you from delicious baked goods at the local deli. You can feel blinding rage when it’s doughnut day at the office and you don’t even see the box, let alone a single doughnut, Philip. You can feel your eyes rolling in their sockets as you read text written by someone who likes to provide too many examples of how an average human being can ‘feel.’
When it comes to videogames, however, what does ‘feel’ really mean?
The term ‘feel’ is very often used to describe a level of satisfaction that videogame players enjoy when gunning down enemies, jumping from platform to turtle shell to platform, or poking around a puzzle game. It all comes down to feedback, or how a game lets you know (consciously and subconsciously) that a button push or touchscreen swipe has had an effect on that game. This feedback begins as soon as the game does.
As soon as the game shows you that it’s loading and you’re sitting at the main menu, it’s letting you know what it’s doing and inviting you to interact. If you’re hovering over menu option buttons with a mouse cursor, swapping between options with a controller, or tapping buttons on a touchscreen device, the game will reveal what you can and cannot interact with, using buttons that react to your input by changing colour, or expanding, or animating (or all three), accompanied by a simple sound effect to inform you that an interaction can take place, and is taking place. The game is giving you useful information – feedback – that will help you progress.
These are the basics of feedback and ‘feel’ in a videogame, but a menu is just the beginning, because games should provide audio and graphical feedback for everything. To avoid confusion and frustration, a game should never be vague about what it’s doing, or when you’re able to interact, or how your interaction has affected the game. You should be receiving feedback at every stage of the process of playing that game, and instantly, too. Pressing a button and being left to wait and wonder if that button press has done anything – even for a second – is confusing and frustrating.
I think that feedback and ‘feel’ is best demonstrated in a first-person shooter, because there’s nothing vague about a massive weapon protruding from the corner of your screen, ready and waiting to be used to devastating effect.
In an action game, as soon as you hit a button to shoot your weapon you get a reaction along with a cascade of feedback that’s instantaneous: The gun violently kicks back; the screen shudders in surprise; a fiery muzzle flash explodes from the end of the gun; the sound of the shot rips through the world; a brass shell is expelled into the air; the bullet strikes a wall with a puff of dust; the wall lets out a sharp crackly ‘yelp;’ a small round wound appears on the wall to mark the bullet’s destination; the gunshot continues to echo around the room; and the brass shell lands on the floor, bouncing around with a satisfying ‘tink-tink-tinkle.’
In a game, all of this happens in under a second. Even though each step in that process takes just a few milliseconds to play out, every single piece of that feedback is important in telling you that your interaction has had an effect in this virtual world. If any element is removed – the sound effects, or the gun bucking back, or the muzzle flash, or the puff of dust, or the bullet hole decal on the wall – that feedback is reduced and will leave you questioning if your shot has been effective or not. With everything in place, you’re provided with a satisfying ‘feeling’ of shooting that weapon because there’s no room for confusion – the weapon was shot, and the reaction to that shot is obvious.
We can go a few steps further with the first-person shooter feedback example, too, just to see how deep this ‘feel’ and feedback rabbit hole goes. To do that, we’ll enlist the help of one of the masters of this realm, Bungie, and the studio’s games, Halo and Destiny.
In Bungie’s games, the aiming crosshair, or reticule, in the middle of the screen is constantly changing to tell you how accurate or powerful your weapon is going to be. In its default state, the reticule might be a simple small crosshair or a circle with a crosshair in the centre. When you’re moving, that reticule increases in size to represent a lower accuracy while running, but when you’re standing still, aiming down the sights, or crouching, the reticule shrinks to represent the pinpoint accuracy you’ll be rewarded with for being patient. Different weapons will have reticules of different shapes and sizes, too, and while a shotgun’s reticule will be large and/or wide by default to demonstrate the spread and power you can expect from the weapon’s fire, a sniper rifle’s reticule will be a smaller dot to demonstrate its precision. Even without firing a shot, you’re given useful information – feedback – about the weapon you’re wielding.
The placement of a character’s hands as they grip the weapon is also important to instil a feeling of power and presence in the game, as is the position of the gun on the screen. These two elements are more instinctive than can be explained, but personally I like to see the in-game character holding a weapon as though they’re trying to fight against it flying out of their hands, and I also like to see the end of the gun to get a better idea of where the shot will exit. When I see a gap in-between the character’s left hand thumb and the gun, I get the feeling they’re not holding it tightly enough. When I see the top of the gun round off at the end and I can’t see the nozzle, shooting that gun ‘feels’ weak and inaccurate to me.
Sound effects also play a massively important role in making a weapon ‘feel’ appropriately powerful or not, or weighty or not. A bassy ‘boom’ for a shotgun and a short, sharp explosion for an automatic rifle are both good starts, but the sound of the gun’s mechanism and the sound heard at the moment the bullet exits the chamber need to lead the bursts of fire to give players a sense of pulling the trigger and ‘feeling’ the result. Clever use of vibration in console controllers helps tremendously here, too, which is a feeling I often miss when playing PC shooters with a regular mouse.
It might sound a little twisted (or very twisted), but the feedback provided for firing your weapon at an enemy also plays a vital part in you ‘feeling’ the result of your actions in the game. Bursts of blood spilling from the bullet’s initial impact point (and an associated ‘meaty’ sound effect) is followed by a dramatic flinch by the enemy as they twist or stumble back from the force of the shot, reeling back from a hit to the shoulders, stomach, arms and legs, or head.
In the modern age of realistic physics systems, I still feel that handcrafted flinch and death animations ‘feel’ the best when shooting at an enemy, while having an enemy simply flop down in a heap using physics calculations robs players of important satisfaction – one of my key complaints against Counter-Strike: Source versus Counter-Strike 1.6 all those years ago. In a first-person shooter like Borderlands, additional immediate feedback is provided with dozens of numbers popping off of any enemies you shoot representing health removed, while that enemy’s health meter can be seen getting chipped away, too.
Bungie also does a fantastic job with the reload animations in the studio’s games, most notably Destiny, where ripping an old bullet cartridge out of the gun and slamming a new one into the weapon ‘feels’ solid thanks to a combination of sound, forceful animations, and clever use of the camera, swaying and bobbing in concert with each stage of the reload animation as the movement of the camera leads the action that’s about to take place – a technique that Bungie learned by studying boxers who lead their punches and rebalance themselves using the movement of their head.
This continual feedback – this ‘feel’ – that you experience in a first-person shooter is an essential component to these games, providing a steady stream of information that reinforces your presence in a game world and constantly ensures that you know your actions and interactions in that world are, without a doubt, having an effect on walls, enemies, furniture, and plant life alike, with satisfying audio and visual rewards as a result. A lack of feedback leads to confusion and a feeling of weakness, both of which inhibit any fun you might otherwise be having.
First-person shooters are of course not the only games that place a great deal of importance on their feedback, because avoiding ambiguity is the aim of all most games if they want to invite you to interact with and explore their worlds. Ambiguity and mystery is certainly used to great effect in the Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne games by From Software, but even these games focus on second-to-second feedback for your actions and teach the basics of movement and combat fairly well… or at least well enough so that any experimentation and discovery along the journey feels dangerous and exciting without being hindered by control issues.
Feedback also comes in the form of information, like enemy base locations, available actions with current resources, or trade exchange proposals in a strategy game; track layouts and competitor progress in a racing game; time limits and combination possibilities in a puzzle game; the potential results of item upgrades, timers on a cooldown to limit actions, or item crafting in a role-playing game; and the moves and capabilities of characters in a fighting game. All of this data – from little details to overarching objectives – needs to be delivered clearly and before you’re expected to react to that information.
The more information you have at your disposal, how that information is doled out to you over time, and the more feedback the game provides, the less confusing and frustrating the game will be, allowing you to make better, more informed decisions to progress – and have fun – in that game.
Well, the end of the excerpt, anyway. Hope you enjoyed it – there’s a lot more where that came from in A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming!
You can read another excerpt from A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming over at Gamasutra, which is an example of how I introduce readers to the people who make games, in this case, programmers – the sorcerers of game development!
Following the book’s original release in August 2015, A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming was fortunate to have received some glowing coverage online!
You can read a wonderful review by Catherine Jenkin over at DigiKids, which calls the book “enchanting,” while putting it on blast for its Spice Girls reference(s):
Listen: Hashtag Radio audio interview
Following the launch of the updated edition of A Gamer’s Guide to Gaming in August 2016, Oliver will be collecting together some choice, kindly remarks that readers might have bestowed upon the book, so check back in the near future to see if you agree with their complimentary comments!
Those are at least the kinds of comments that Oliver hopes to find while trawling the vast expanses of The Internet. If he comes back with nothing but a Twitter feed full of old boots, together with miscellaneous .txt files full of rusted tin cans, however, he’ll be casting nets for a little while longer.
Having spent all of his life alive, and most of his life dedicated to following the goings-on of the videogame industry, Oliver Snyders is at first blush a perfect candidate from which to learn about the fascinating world of videogames – not only does he have in-depth knowledge of their inner-workings, but his steady pulse is convenient, too.
In addition to nearly three decades of playing games and reading about them, Oliver has sought to understand what makes videogames tick by developing some of his own, selling games in a store, and writing about games professionally while visiting international events like E3 in Los Angeles and Gamescom in Germany to speak directly with the people who make games.
If you would like to contact Oliver Snyders for whatever reason you can dream up, please use cutting edge ’email’ technology and message him here:
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