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Off TopicMar 13, 2020 3:51 pm CT

Developers have been subtly cheating to help us win

Your character hangs in the air, arms outstretched and reaching for that ledge that’s just out of reach — but you fall just short and the screen goes black. You didn’t make it. But you felt for sure that you were going to make that jump. 

We’ve all been there. Falling to your death because you missed a jump, or getting hit by the giant laser beam attack even though you pressed your dodge button. For some developers, those are just a part of the charm of their game. Dark Souls is punishing and if you mess up, it’s your own fault. Unless you’re playing Elden Ring and a pack of dogs just fall out of the sky on you that is. Celestea game about climbing a mountain — is all about aiming your jumps to land on small platforms or avoid deadly spikes. The only thing standing between Madeline and her untimely end is how good you are at pushing your buttons — or is it?

Turns out that developers have been putting their thumb on the scale for a while now. Celeste lead developer Maddy Thorson broke down some of the ways that platforming game Celeste has actually been helping you on your climb.

Take developer cheat number one: Coyote Time. Named for Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote, this helping hand lets you literally walk on air, for the first little time after leaving solid ground. Just like in the cartoons! Just don’t look down. That fraction of a second of grace period helps you to make those extra-hard jumps or save yourself from a mistimed button press.

The other tricks weren’t as colorfully named, but are no less important for making things just a tiny bit easier on you. The aforementioned deadly spikes? Turns out that they’re not so deadly if your character is moving in the same direction that they’re pointing. Need gravity to work a little less well in mid-air? They’ve got you covered. There’s also some slight forgiveness when it comes to jumping near the corners of walls.

Having that little bit of extra help is really important for the feel of the game. Celeste feels like a hard game, but simultaneously I always felt like it was a game that wanted me to succeed. It was always in my corner, even when my own thumbs might not have been. Now I know that it really was!

Celeste isn’t the only game to have these developer tricks happening in the background. Game-feel is an important concept for all developers and players alike. The best games are the ones that nail the little details that add up and leave you with a more positive feeling overall. Figuring out just what you can tweak in the background to help the player is huge.

We also see games like Celeste and Hades have robust assist modes that can help really swing the balance in players’ favor. Not everyone wants to have a game that is quite as punishing, and that lets players get through the story without having to feel too frustrated. I know that I’d probably really like the story and lore of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Elden Ring — but not enough to die over and over and over again.

In combat-oriented games like Doom and Assassins Creed, when your character’s health dips low those last few health points are sometimes more than you expect. By dragging out the last few bits of your health, it lets the game deliver more moments where you just barely survive and get that adrenaline rush of victory. Racing games like Mario Kart use rubber-band AI to keep the other drivers closer to your driver. If they didn’t chances are you’d quickly get an insurmountable lead and spend the rest of the race bored because there’s no way you could lose.

I know that how I feel about my characters in World of Warcraft is directly proportional to how much I actually play them. I love feeling invincible on my Guardian Druid, so I made him my main character. Conversely, I haven’t played my Mage since Warlords of Draenor because I stopped feeling like he was a fun character. That one is on me though — I chose too many of the passive talents in the Frost tree and got bored when I only had a couple of buttons to push.

I love getting these little looks behind the scenes of game development. Seeing all of the little tricks that go into making a platformer feel satisfying is really cool. I’m sure that the developers at Blizzard have a laundry list of behind the scenes help that we experience on a day-to-day basis and don’t even realize.

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