The Little Details
After playing Duke Nukem Forever's main campaign, I decided to try out the DLC "The Doctor who Cloned Me". When I got to the game room section of the game, I noticed something I hadn't the first time I played the pinball machine in the main campaign: Duke's hands actually move the controls on the machine. Additionally, his hands are visibly moving the joystick around when you play the Space Invaders arcade game. Finally, for all the people claiming Duke is a misogynist, he notably declines to play a distasteful game called Pimp Slap; he loves women, he doesn't hit them.
The small details of Duke controlling the joystick and pushing the buttons on the pinball machine are more important than they seem in game design. I've noticed details similar to this in other games. In Metroid Dread, Samus will often place her hands on walls organically. In Mario games, dust will be kicked up off the ground as you walk. In most games, walking on different terrain will change the sound of the footsteps. It's little details like this that aren't graphical details that make the game's environment feel more alive.
I've only just begun to add small details like that to my games. In Robot Ops, many characters would change their facial expressions when performing certain actions. There was also a difference in the running animations between each character, which helped to make each one feel unique. I also included two to three different jump animations per character depending on whether they were jumping normally, double jumping, or getting a super jump off of a spring.
I'm hoping that in my future games I will be able to add more little details like this. While the big elements of game design are ultimately more important, the little details do bring much more to the experience than you realize. The best little details are the ones the players don't necessarily notice; when they're that good, the player just feels better about the game and has no clue why.
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