Jumping in video games is important. As a gamer I think I always knew this, but never actually realized how crucial it is to overall experience until Steve Yegge pointed it out in his long article about Borderlands:
Jumping is fun. Period. End of story. If playing your game involves manipulating a humanoid ragdoll in three dimensions, and it doesn’t support jumping, then you suck. No, don’t go pointing at Zelda. Zelda gets a bye because it’s *Zelda* for christ’s sake. But Zelda is un-fun exactly to the extent that it fails to support jumping, except off ledges which is kinda OK but not really true jumping.
Practically the first thing everyone tries in a game is jumping. If the game doesn’t let you jump, then people enter a Fuck You mode that can be hard (possible, but hard) to overcome.
This actually 100% accurate, at least for me. The first thing I always do after testing out WASD controls is to look for the jump key. I don’t know why. I personally hate jumping puzzles. The only ones I was ever able to tolerate were in Portal, but that’s mostly because Valve actually understands how to implement a good save-anywhere system so even someone with as little hand-eye coordination as me can save-scum through difficult bits. In general though I hate being forced into mandatory jumping sequences. Platforming games are something that I abhor. I hate them with a passion. That Mario game for Wii – that drove me positively bonkers. You would think jumping would have no appeal to me.
And yet, just like Yegge said – the first thing I do when I launch a new game is to look for the “bunny hop” key. It’s like an instinct. It’s like human nature is tugging on my neurons and telling me “thy hast to moveth thy avatar in ye digital realm, vertically with great haste now!”
If for some reason I am unable to jump, I am usually quite disappointed. I can’t tell you how much it bothers me that Batman can’t hop around like he is the Easter Bunny. It’s true that he can glide, jump from the ledges and use the bat claw… But the only reason why I didn’t turn off Arkham Asylum after finding out he can’t jump, was because I actually spent money on it. I suspect that my enjoyment of both Asylum and City would be about 20-30% better if I could bunny hop my way through them. Hell, Mass Effect games would have been so much better with jumping. Hopping around like a little bunny just feels good.
Reading Yegge’s article made me realize why Morrowind is still my favorite Elder Scrolls game. It’s not the setting or the story – it’s the jumping. Yes, the default jump was kinda pathetic in that game, but you could enchant your gear to boost jump, and combine it with feather effect to prevent fall damage. Personally I would always tune my jumping so that I could hop from Caius Cosades’ house to the Silt Strider tower in Balmora. Or at the very least to clear the river – anything less felt too constraining.
If you are a game developer designing a new product, you really need to ask yourself these questions:
- Does your game allow jumping, and if not then why?
- Does your jump physics allow for scaling obstacles? If not, why?
- Does your game have a skill, power up or item that can enhance jumping height and distance? If not, why?
If you answer no to any of these, you better have a good justification. There can be valid reasons why you might not want your character to jump. I guess maybe Square Enix felt that bunny hopping around as Batman would spoil the mood and be at odds with the character concept. Which I guess is a valid argument. But a very weak one. Why? Because who the fuck are they to tell me what I can or cannot do with my batman. Yes, creating certain mood in the game is important. But you should never really use your concept of how they game should be played, to try to constrain player behavior.
But I think it goes deeper than just jumping. LA Noire not only did not let you jump, but it also prohibited you from hurting innocent pedestrians. You could not pull out a gun or punch people outside of scripted events, and most NPC’s would jump out of your way when drivng. I guess they were going for realism – they didn’t want the star detective of their story to be a homicidal maniac. But that completely backfired. I made it my mission to break that artificial constraint. When driving, I would usually eschew roads and use sidewalks instead. I would drive at high speeds trying to mow down as many people, road signs and mail boxes as possible. I would take people’s cars, and then try to run them over with them – and if that did not work, I would try to cause spectacular head-on collisions. I would watch the ever growing end-mission “collateral damage” tally and grin like an idiot whenever I beat my past record.
Why did I play it that way? Because the lack of freedom was suffocating. Skyrim is the opposite of this. It allows you to kill just about every single NPC and destroy the game world in various way. But despite being able to do horrible things, I would usually go out of my way to avoid them. I would try not to hurt anyone who was not hostile to me. I would actually role-play my character – a paragon of virtue. My Cole Phelps on the other hand was a road-raging maniac and a blood thirsty sociopath.
What’s the difference between these two games? The degree of freedom. Given a chance to allow a player to run-amok completely derailing your carefully constructed narrative, and constraining allowed behavior to preserve it you should always choose the former. Why? Because carrot is always better than a stick. Rewarding player for desirable behavior – the type you want to promote, works much better than trying to box in the player with arbitrary restrictions that break player immersion. That’s really the name of the game – you want the player immersed in the game world at all times. And the way you do this is by letting the player do crazy things.
For example, you may think that allowing the player to shoot an important quest giver in the face as he is delivering a pivotal, game changing speech would be immersion breaking. But it is not, because it is something that the character they are playing could possibly conceive of. Conversely, gluing their gun into their holster and making them unable to draw it during said speech, or disabling the trigger is much, much worse. Nothing breaks immersion more than being stopped from doing something you know your character can do in another context. Sometimes you can get away with things – for example, if there is no combat in your game, players will accept that. Amnesia, Dark Descent was great despite a complete lack of offensive capability – and most people did not miss it. In fact, it was more immersive for it. There is one exception though: jumping.
If you disable jumping, you are immediately breaking immersion. In real life we can jump. We usually don’t, but we can. If our avatar in the game is rotted to the ground, unless falling off a high platform then we get annoyed. It’s tat simple.
I apologize that I’m still mining Yegge’s article for content, but this insight really deserves some discussion. What’s your take on this? Do you agree with my assessment that player driven carnage adds to the immersion factor? Also, why do we like jumping so much? What is it about humping that makes us happy? Is it just the freedom of movement that appeals to us? Or is there something specific about jumping that tickles our brains in that special way. Let me know in the comments.