Episode 015 - Game Polish

015: Game Polish – The 5 Major Aspects of Game Polishing All Game Developers Should Pay Attention To.

So what exactly is game polish? It’s all in the details, details, details. It’s all about mastering the art of fine tuning and learning to be slightly obsessive. Mix this with a sprinkle of OCD thrown in for good measure and you’re on your way to becoming a polishing Jedi.

The truth is, polishing your game could in theory go on forever, and the urge to tweak details over and over can seriously impact on you actually releasing your game. So, as game designers / game developers, just when do we know that we’ve done just the right amount of polish?

We’ve put together some of the most important tweaks for you to hone in on during your game polish process. For us, these are the solid bedrock of polishing stages that we do on every game we release and ones we recommend you do too.

1. Feel / Controls / Mechanics

Feel:

Your finished project should feel nice in the hand and satisfying to play, with a smooth UI transition that fits with your game. This is one of the most critical aspects of polish and indeed your game building in general. Think about playability and the overall feeling and satisfaction of the game play.

Controls:

Make sure your game controls are responsive. When your player clicks on the ‘jump’ button for instance, is it going to work straight away or will it take a couple of taps for it to spring into action? Either way is fine, it just needs to be consistent. Players are notoriously impatient so your controls need to respond at the right time. It gives your game that ‘playability’ factor. Do the controls feel fluid and “non-clunky”?

Mechanics:

Whatever your mechanics may be in your game, and obviously this will change depending on your genre, you’ll need to nail the execution. Jumps should feel natural and relative to the environment, shooting should feel instant etc etc. Your game mechanics should be, without a doubt, one of the most polished areas of your game.

2. User Interface ( UI )

Line up:

Make sure all your UI game buttons and icons are lined-up. For instance, UI game buttons such as pause and score are typically placed left and right at the top of the screen, these should be of equal distance from the sides and the top.

If any buttons are central, make sure they are pixel perfect central. It takes very little time to get this right and it makes for the best overall visual appeal on your UI screens.

Match up:

Matching up your games’ colour palette with your UI, typically brings your whole game together to create a complete product.  Even introducing just one of your in-game colours into your UI screens can make the difference between a cohesive looking design and one that looks a little miss matched and cobbled together.

Feedback:

Don’t forget your buttons! All your elements should be interactive. This could mean they either light up, depress, or make a sound when pressed. You don’t have to go crazy here, it can be super subtle, just something to indicate that an action has been made. Players receive the recognition that they have actually clicked on the button, as opposed to no feedback where your player will be thinking “did l press it?”

3. Game & Level Design

Collision shapes:

These are the ‘outlines’ of your characters, objects or enemies, in fact everything within your games’ universe. These ultimately determine at what point they interact with each other. Ensure your collision shapes sit tight and snug around your objects, if your collision shapes are too generous, or the opposite, too tight, then your world will feel “off”.

This can often result with your players feeling cheated, confused, and left with a sense of unfairness. So check and double check that your collision shapes are correct and always be over generous rather than mean.

Object placement:

Much the same as your character collision, make sure your game objects line up as you’d expect. For example, if you have a brick breaker game ( Breakout / Arkanoid ) you’d want to double check all the bricks were lined up and spaced evenly. Pretty obvious you may think, but it’s super important.

Scene transitions:

If your game scenes don’t run smoothly together, then your characters are not going to run smoothly either, it’s so important to not overlook basic game building in this way. Make sure your scene transitions are level, to pixel perfect, so that your characters never get ‘stuck’ on an uneven floor.

One really common example of this we see a fair amount, is backgrounds not lining up. These are usually tiled incorrectly and spotting the joins is a real giveaway of an unpolished game. Brutal perhaps? Maybe, but, certainly if you’re looking to get a publishing deal, or hitting the heights of landing an Apple Feature, you’ll need to get these spot on.

4. Sound / Music / Audio Effects

Audio in your games always has a massive part to play in your games’ overall production. Where you have things like firing guns, moving walls, falling boulders etc in your mobile game, give an audio effect when they’re in use. It gives immediate feedback to your player and pulls them into your game environment, that ‘real’ feel.

For instance, having a sound when collecting coins, players could receive a satisfying sound reward that goes along with collecting the coin itself, once again, reinforces feedback.  If your character collects a boost / power up, have a particular ‘bigger’ or different sound that comes in, to let the player know they have picked up something a little bit more special than say, a regular coin.

Think about your characters and enemies death animations, they certainly need feedback. If you’ve ever played a game where it’s taken you an age to kill an enemy, only to find that it just disappears in silence, you’ll know it’s quite disappointing. So give it a sound, it goes a long way for player satisfaction

5. The Overall Experience Loop

Polish for us comes in rounds. Although we tend to polish as we go, which we highly recommend you try to do also, we still end up doing 2 to 3 rounds at the end of each and every game.

The last 10% of your projects will be the hardest stage without a doubt, and as a perfectionist, I struggle here, and that’s why I adopt what I call the Overall Experience Loop.

This essentially entails striving for 87% perfection. You’ll never hit that 100% perfection, it’s just not achievable and certainly isn’t practical. After all, our primary goal is always to finish and release our games!

Curtailing the 100% down to 90% is the way I approach this. Forget about that last 10%, nobody apart from you will most likely ever notice and you’ll still achieve fantastic quality. On top of this we cull 3%. This is all the nice to have, additional polish, which again, nobody will ever know that it’s missing.

87% is the magic number. 90% polish goal minus 3% for all the fussing, playing around with and generally overthinking stuff.

At the end of the day, polishing your game is directly related to overall production quality, but we must never lose sight and let this overwhelm us into striving for perfection.

Build. Polish. Ship.

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Kevin and Jilly - RisingHigh Studio