Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why some games feel better than others - part 3

The importance of hit pause

In videogames there are often times where you want an impact to feel harder than it really is. There are a lot of variables that can be used to achieve this. Obviously sound is really important as well as blood, screen shakes, controller shake, etc. One VERY important ingredient to this is the use of hit pause.

Hit pause is when the game pauses for a second when something ‘big’ or ‘important’ happens. For God of War we use hit pause everywhere! When Kratos makes contact with the enemies or during the complex throws and all sorts of other sneaky places. Hit pause and slowdown are 2 different things and sometimes we use them together. I define slowdown as slowing the action down so you can take it al in. Hit pause is when the game pauses even if it’s really minute and you barely notice it. Sometimes the pause can be used even longer for different effects.

To help explain what I’m talking about, I’m going to show a video of Sakura in Street Fighter Alpha 3. Street Fighter is a great game to show off basic concepts like this. Not only do most originate from fighting games but also they usually have a great training mode so I can capture really quickly : )

So first you see Sakura doing her standing Fierce (Hard Punch) attack which she hits no one with. I wanted to include this so you can see how the animation behaves normally with none of the goodies on top. Then she makes contact with Dhalsim on what is known as a ‘clean’ hit or a ‘normal’ hit. Alpha 3 has a major counter system where if you interrupt the opponent’s attack with your own you get a ‘counter’ hit. What you are seeing with the last attack is Sakura landing the same standing Fierce but this time in a counter situation. We get a great sound and even a 1 frame white flash, some particles around her hand and the whole game coming to a stop for a few frames before continuing with the action. This last attack feels vastly different and you really feel like you put the hurt on someone. While this pause is going on none of the players have the ability to move which also helps sell the overall feel of a hard hit.

Here is a still shot of all that action, including the hit effect:

Also note how you can see how much damage the attack did by looking at Dhalsim’s Health bar. For more information on health bars seeing a previous article I wrote here.

Street Fighter also uses hit pause in another great situation – to exaggerate the final attack one player does to another when they win the round. Capcom is great at having really fantastic poses during their animations so when the pause occurs you see the characters and think, ‘damn!’

Below is a video clip of Sagat killing Blanka on the first hit of his dragon punch. Everything really comes together – the sound, effects come flying in, text is flying everywhere and there is even a slight echo effect on Blanka’s final scream.

Now I also included a clip of when things don’t quite line up as well in my opinion. Sagat’s dragon punch has the ability to hit up to 5 times. In this video the third hit is what kills Blanka. Granted you get a nice pose of Sagat all elongated but it doesn’t have the same impact, at least to me.

I prefer seeing it like this:

Even though it’s a really simple concept, the skill comes from where and how to use it. Same with slow down. The ability to change an animation from something that doesn't feel very powerful to something that is just like, 'damn...that hurt!' is just massaging the animation with all the right goodies until you get something good.


Devin Greer said...

The last time I checked, Hot Topic had 1 God OF War shirt. It's black, with this sort of faded/scratched up looking picture of Kratos from the most common Hades level picture. Where he's standing on a pillar, with this look, like, "You wanna fuck with this?"

Yeah... I love getting into things like this when it comes to video games... In God Of War, I think these are used a lot, mostly when you parry, especially once Kratos gets the Golden Fleece. It really does deliver that sort of impact that you're talking about. Except, sometimes, especially when I fight the bigger enemies, the Golden Fleece "counter-attack" doesn't seem to affect them in any way, making me wonder if I was wasting my time and if they took any damage or not. I mean, I understand that they probably wouldn't show the biog of a reaction either way, but still, it's just a little thing. The best example I have of this are those... Mace wielding Ogres...? That's what people have been calling them. Although, I LOVE the CS move you pull on them, sweet... I think I might "write" a God Of War II "review"... Just post it on my blog and stuff, and give it to you and Cory for your professional opinions...?

the_dannobot said...

I'm sort of on the hedge about hit pause. Yes, it does make the hits feel harder. But it's been used for so long and in so many games that players expect it to be there.
If you play a game that doesn't use any hit pause at all, it feels incredibly fast-paced and frantic. The game might not actually be any faster than another game, but it feels that way because the hit pause is missing.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, it does make the hits feel harder. But it's been used for so long and in so many games that players expect it to be there."

The flaw with your statement is the assumption that this generic player has played 'many' games where it is present (or, indeed, played games at all). As a generic statement, yours is trivially false. Furthermore, commercially successful games are written to be enjoyed by most, not by a clique of l33t hardcore gamers. That latter realization is one of many signs of a good designer: know who you are designing the game for.

Devin Greer said...

Although I see your point, it seems like you're calmly bashing what he thinks. Why the need to hide your identity behind the name, "Anonymous"?

the_dannobot said...

Hi Anonymous,
Yeah, a person who has never played a fighting game wouldnt expect the hit pause.

What I meant was that adding/not adding hit pause will change the feel of the game. Adding the pause makes the hits feel much much beefier, but slows down gameplay. The slow down is nearly imperceptible, but experienced fighting game players unconsciously expect it to be there and really notice when it isn't.

As for your statement of "know who youre designing for", youre absolutly right. The examples given in the article were Street Fighter, so I assumed we're talking about fight games. Any high-level fighting game player knows the game down to the individual frame data. I bet they'd love an option in the "Advanced Options" menu to turn hit-pause on or off.

The article states that hit pause makes hits feel heavier, which is true. My point is that hit pause makes hit feel heavier, but slows down gameplay by fractions of a second.

the_dannobot said...

I'd like to further discuss Anonymous' comment of "commercially successful games are written to be enjoyed by most, not by a clique of l33t hardcore gamers" in regards to 2d fighters.

For the most part, players of 2d fighers ARE "l33t hardcore gamers." 2d fighting games is what's known as a vertical market. There is a very small but rabid fanbase for these games. This is why there are few new offerings in the 2d fighter market from big developers. Not enough people buy these games for them to be huge commercial successes.

BTW, this is why I feel that 2d fighters are an attractive market for independent developers. Even though the fanbase is small, they are incredibly dedicated and underserved. Just go to a place like and look at the number of threads for obscure japanese doujin fighters.

Anonymous said...

"The examples given in the article were Street Fighter, so I assumed we're talking about fight games."

The examples were from Street Fighter, but the article is about how you 'hit pause' can convey a feeling of additional impact for games generically, unrelated to fighting games. Derek's statement "For God of War we use hit pause everywhere!" makes this pretty clear, I think. Indeed, 'hit pause' wouldn't even have to be applied to a hit at all; you could even apply it e.g. on landing from a high jump, and similar non-fighting situations.

Out of the millions of people playing God of War, only some small percentage would know they are being "tricked" by the hit pause into getting a better, more forceful, experience. Everyone else, just simply enjoys the game more, without knowing why.

That's why I took objection to your statement "But it's been used for so long and in so many games that players expect it to be there." Of course, it seems you were talking about fighting games only, whereas I assumed the topic was much more generic, so we might not be in disagreement after all.

Jeff said...

Interesting, the original reason I thought it existed in the God of War games was to sort of "signal" that you could counter, or could chain something together (like a ground slam and a grab), or even just to help you dodge certain attacks (the Pegasus battle comes to mind).

This has been in other games for awhile, though, as you point out. I think IGN's Matt Casamassina dubbed it the "slash stop" for the last few Zelda games.


Devin Greer said...

Derek, I'm sure that even if you do know, that you're not aloud to say anything. But I was really hoping to know what in the Gods' of Olympus' name this count-down is for!

Apparently the only information we have, which is from IGN is that it is confirmed not to be for the PSP game, and Sony said, "The website is for true God of War fans...Think of the original God of War." Please, any information that you could give me would be greatly appreciated...

Derek Daniels said...

dannobot said "If you play a game that doesn't use any hit pause at all, it feels incredibly fast-paced and frantic."

There is a difference between hit pause like the one I showed in alpha 3 and the stuff we use in god of war. For instance, krato's square combo has hit pause on it and it doesn't slow the timing of the game down what so ever. It reaffirms to the player that the hit connected and sells the impact - if even slightly.

The slowing down of a game, even for fractions of seconds borders on being almost being impossible to detect. I don't think it boils down to what feels faster but what feels better. Faster does not always equal better.

I think however we are all on the same page.

Jeff: God of War uses some 'subconcious' cues on when the player can block on certain moves but our game is a little weird since for the most part we let the player cancel at any point. So your comment is definitely valid, although there is a little more going on than just that.

Devin: Haha, sorry yo - I can't talk at all about the website. You'll just have to go back and visit it when the countdown is done

Derek Daniels said...

Devin: Sorry, I missed this last time I was replying. You should totatlly post a review of God of War 2. Can't wait to read it.

Jeff said...


When you say "subconscious", do you mean something like what I mentioned earlier in that "Endorfun" game, or something different? Is there a "sound" or something that lets the player now when to block? I've often been astonished at how well I'm able to block/reverse certain attacks. =)


Devin Greer said...

God Of War II - Review - Devin Greer

Although my opinion may be a bit biased, because I've grown very attached to the God OF War series, I will try to make this as truthful as possible. The first God Of War... Man, when I first picked it up, I was amazed, and couldn't stop playing it. The same can be said for God OF War II. To keep this review as organized as possible, I'll try to put things into categories.

The aspect of game-play in God Of War II versus the game-play in the first game has come very far, if that could be possible. The ability to move around and strafe while you use certain magic abilities truly adds to the seamlessness of the game-play. You never really have to just stop and think about what you want to do and then sit there, leaving yourself available for an ass-raping. Also, context-sensitive moments in the game seem to be used a lot more, more so on the bosses and in epic moments of cut-scenes, but still, it makes it better. Putting those kind of things into game-play makes it much more satisfying than just watching it in a cut-scene. Although some of these are less satisfying and long-lasting as others. Early in the game, the ability to hop onto a Pegasus and take it into the air, for some tense aerial combat. This only happens twice, and although they are fun, they don't seem so... right... Like, just a little taste of what could be there. The swinging with the blades was also a lovely new addition, one that I can say I was happy for, as I am a fan of plat-formers. The swinging just provides some extra fun in the game, as well as the ability to make the level designs more complex. The best time this is used is in an about a minute long CS moment, where Kratos jumps from pillar, to pillar, in an array of epic style. Other than that, there's not anything too special to mention.

The jump in graphics from God of War to God Of War II is amazing. Basically everything from every stand-point looks better, especially the texture detail on the characters. Although, if you couldn't fork out the $600 for the PS3, then your PS2 may have a few problems, such as screen-tearing, skipping, etc. But these aren't nearly enough to make the game a lesser experience for anyone. And although the much-loved CG cut-scenes from the first game are still here, they aren't as many. They seemed to go more toward in-game cut-scenes, except when it really mattered to take it into CG. And the awesome fading of said CG scenes has also disappeared, although this doesn't seem to matter as much.

The sound is great, and the orchestral soundtrack made for the game is purely great as well.

In aspects of story, God Of War II feels like it falls a bit shorter than the original. Although the story went the way it seems it should have, and does a good job at it. The story found in the original is more entertaining and keeps you more interested. The second isn't so personal with Kratos, but ventures more into the roots of Greek Mythology and the stories behind the Titans and the Gods.

~The Rest~
The first game had all the extras a gamer could ever want, and God Of War II (yet again), kicks it up a notch. The extras DVD packs in so many extras, that it'll take you about 2 hours to watch them all, and they aren't boring. The Challenge of the Titans is great, it's nice to have a little challenge mode after the story. Bonus Play is also fun, giving the game tons of more replay value.

All in all, God Of War II is a better game than the first, and that's hard to believe possible. If you liked the first, then you'd be punishing yourself not to get this one. It is a truly amazing gaming experience and is there for us. Don't miss out on it.


Devin Greer said...

Well, let me know what you guys think. I appreciate opinions about my writing skills.

James M said...

One thing that always annoyed me about VF is the lack of much hit pause (if any) or any hit sparks. It makes it hard for me to see where hits are connecting or even if they are connecting.

ortholomeux said...

wow. i feel like i just went to school (in the good way of course)

having never made a fighting game (and having played a few of them)it's insight like this that i love to see. it's one of the reasons the team here in santa monica is so great. honed dedication to the craft.

i'm embarrassed to say that i had no conscious knowledge of this when i play fighting games (or games with this type of combat) but as soon as it was pointed out, it was like i always knew. of course it's in there. you'd be crazy to think it wouldn't be.

i'm a better game designer now. thanks for the schooling, and thanks for the dedication to the craft.

Devin Greer said...

I think I have an idea of what the site is counting down to. This is mainly going off of what IGN said that Sony said, "...For true God Of War fans... Think of the original God Of War..."

I think it could possibly be counting down to the release of God Of War 1 with the added features of God Of War II, such as the mobility with magic, etc.

This is just a guess, and one that would be a really nice treat. Derek, could you possibly tell me at least if it's going to cost me (as a God Of War fan), any money to experience.

Anonymous said...

Man, I thought I was one of the only people who was really sensitive to hit pauses. One of the things I noticed between the two Super Smash Bros. games is that in Melee, almost none of the attacks have any hit pause whatsoever, and as a result, nearly every hit in that game feels really weak, as opposed to the original, where the hit pause made powerful attacks like a fully charged Samus shot or DK punch look really painful. SNK games are also really good at making hits look like they hurt, especially on the super moves.

kamagra said...

Interesting concept, I dont think Mortal Kombat has this pause that you are talking about, although it is my favorite fighting game of all times.

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Yael Quintin said...

i think some games graphics are eye caching.

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