Lit A.F. Game Design Newsletter #14

Hello Game Designers,

This week we have an article on UX design by Celia Hodent, the former Director of UX at Epic Games. We also have a Noclip documentary on the design of Hitman 2 levels. And finally, our game juice of the week is actually a game by yours truly!

Here is what happened this week in game design.
Good Reads
I want to first state that this article talks much more about UX and Psychology than Fortnite. This is a firsthand account of the rise of Fortnite from one of the key employees.

Celia Hodent is a rockstar in the world of UX and video games. She has spoke on the topic of UX at multiple GDCs and is the former Director of UX at Epic Games.

Understanding the Player's Brain
Hodent starts out by covering a few key areas of cognitive science through a game design lens. One of these is memory. You can't rely on the player remembering everything you tell them. The Forgetting Curve (see full article for graph) shows that after 19 minutes, the player will only remember 30% of what you told them.

One of the best ways to combat human forgetfulness is good HUD design. All relevant information should be shown on the screen at the right time in an easily digestible way.

Following a Game UX Framework
Good UX is a combination of usability and engagability.

Usability is making it easy to understand how to play the game, there is clear feedback to user actions, and a well designed UI.

The best way she described engagability is that your game could be usable, but boring as hell. Engagability deals with motivation, emotion, and game flow.

The main difference between the UX of games and other products is that games keep adding new challenges to the player. That challenge needs to be paced out and have a good balance of stress and release.

Applying the Scientific Method and Establishing a UX Pipeline
Solving problems is easy, it's finding the right problems to solve that is the hard part.

Hodent advocates for constant usability tests to find weaknesses in your game and find out why it's happening. Establishing a system for finding and solving these issues will increase the feedback loop and enable your games to iterate faster and more effectively.

This is a fantastic article that takes a look at game UX from a psychological perspective. That topic is probably my favorite when it comes to game design. If these are topics you enjoy then Hodent also has a book called The Gamer's Brain that you should check out (I just bought a copy for myself).

Watch and Learn
Great videos on game design

Revealing The Tricks Behind Hitman's Level Design

First of all, Noclip does the best documentaries on game development. Period. They tend to focus on the entire development process so I don't get to include them much in the newsletter. I'm pretty excited to share this one with you all since it focuses specifically on level design.

Danny O'Dwyer talks to three leads of different Hitman 2 levels and they breakdown how the levels were made and what things they focused on during the design process.

The levels are Miami, which takes place at a race track, Mumbai, which takes place in the slums, and New York, which takes place in a bank. For some background, Hitman levels are open ended stealth missions with at least one target to kill.

One of the key aspects of designing these levels was making them feel believable but gamy. The team took trips to their respective locations (they skipped taking notes inside of a bank) to get a feel for what that locale should feel like when creating a level around it.

For the bank, one thing they tried to do was balance people's expectations for what a bank (and it's vault) would look like while throwing the player off with some unexpected twists.

While these levels are pretty open ended, there are still times the player can come across scripted moments that let the player in on the story that unravels around them. My favorite are scenes that foreshadow different ways to kill the target. For example (trying to minimize spoilers here), in one of the levels a character will overly emphasize how sharp a unique object is.

The developers also discussed some of the issues they had during development. These levels take over a year to make and an issue is that designers of one level might never play any other level until the game is ready for release. On one hand, designers might miss some level cohesion by not playing other levels. While on the other hand, they get to be creative with their own level without influence from the other levels. Either way, the game is a critical and commercial success so I think it worked out.

This video is one in a series of documentaries on the Hitman franchise from Noclip.

Odds and Ends
A collection of links from around the interwebs
A Day As A Game Designer [Article]
A great intro to different aspects of game design

Why Does Celeste Feel So Good To Play? [Video]
Platformer controls deep dive

Building Better Creators with Super Mario Maker 2 [Video]
Breaking down the success of this UGC (User Generated Content) focused game

Mixed Success [Video]
More than just winning and losing
Game Juice of the Week
Juice is feedback to a player's actions that is delightful and exciting. This can reinforce behavior or just feel good.
Game: Ninja Climb
Studio: Lit A.F. Games
Platform: iOS, Android
Release: March 11th, 2019
Ninja Climb is a wall jumping game where you try to avoid obstacles and collect coins.

There are a few nice pieces of subtle juice here that make this game feel polished.

The first is that the camera zooms out just a tiny bit when the player jumps, then lands back at its original position when the player hits the other wall. You can notice this best by looking at the bottom spikes.

There is a nice squeezing of the player on jump and land that gives the ninja a feeling of mobility.


A few of the smaller ones are that the coin particle effects match the action of hitting the coin really well, the streak text bounces nicely when the player collects multiple coins in a row, the ninja flashes when they hit the other wall, and the points text on each spike changes from grey to orange when the player is on fire.

In terms of improvements, the score text is on top of the moon which have very similar colors and the asteroids (and other background objects) look like they are interact-able but they are not.

We want to hear from you! If you have opinions about the newsletter, please respond to this email!
Thanks for reading!
- Olin
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