Hidden Game Mechanics: Design for the Human Psyche – Extra Credits


Games are illusions. a big ol pile of smoke and mirrors. and sometimes… In an attempt to make the player feel something real through a virtual experience Designers have to get a little sneaky. ♪♪♪ In order to discuss the way that game designers sometimes hide mechanics from their players to improve the play experience, We have invited game designer and cool person, Jennifer Scheurle to help us write this. Here we go! When we think about design in other disciplines, We can usually tell the parameters they’re working within. and those parameters are defined by who they’re designing for, and what product or service they need to create. Furniture designers design for the human body and human needs. Their work has a very specific purpose and is mostly informed by how human bodies function. To make a chair, for example, the designer has to consider the human physique, how high up and wide should the seat be? How should the chairs back be shaped for maximum comfort? The design of everyday things like this is so deeply ingrained in our cultures and our societies that we only really notice them when the design is bad. Have you ever instinctively pushed on a door with a horizontal bar like this only to find that you’re actually supposed to pull it open? That right there, is some bad design. we actually did a whole episode on stuff like that. I’ll put a link to it at the end of the video. Game designers have to work within these parameters as well. However, unlike the chair designer, who has to design for the needs and comforts of the human body, game designers essentially design for the human mind and perception. Now, these are fields which even science does not fully understand yet. but we do know one thing above all about the human psyche. That it is deeply, and beautifully, flawed. and for game designers that means that we are designing for a system that is likely to lie to itself. To skew reality. a system that is utterly horrible at judging things like chance or self-awareness I will give you an example. Let’s say I designed for you a game with a combat mechanic where your ability to hit enemies is determined by a percentage chance. Let’s say that the game tells you that your attacks have a 50% chance of hitting your target at each time. and so you think, Okay! I have a 50% chance of hitting the target! Cool! but if the game was actually giving you a 50% chance of hitting, it would feel wrong. See, the human psyche is baaaaaad at judging chance. and so it expects a 50% chance of success to mean that attacks will succeed roughly every second attempt. but that’s not how chance works. In reality, a 50% chance of success could lead to four consecutive hits, or seven consecutive misses. But a game designer knows that missing a 50% chance twice or more in a row Just feels wrong and bad. when XCOM tells us that a shot has a 95 percent chance of success and we miss, that feels wrong. because our brain interpreted that as guaranteed success, even though that 5% chance of failure is real and sometimes you just happen to roll a 1. And so the game designers job is to design experiences in a way that accommodate and manipulate these quirks in the human psyche, in order to give the player a better experience. Have you ever played through a combat situation in a game that just felt amazing? because it looked like you just barely got out of there by the skin of your teeth with a shred of health and almost no ammo left. like you somehow managed to overcome the odds and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, And you get this huge adrenaline rush. I am sorry to report, it is very very likely that the game’s designers implemented hidden mechanics to create exactly that kind of scenario for you. See, one of the most common examples of hidden game mechanics are instances designs to give you a feeling of tension and empowerment and that can come in many forms. Maybe that very last bit of your health bar secretly represents something like a quarter of your actual hit points. Maybe your last few remaining rounds of ammo secretly deal way more damage. Maybe, when you take that first fatal hit, instead of killing you, the game leaves you with one hit point and makes you immune to damage for a couple of seconds, just to give you a chance to bounce back. All of these hidden mechanics play with our perception. They take our expectations, our understanding of how the game works and subvert them tricking us, in order to give us a better experience many health and damage balanced systems are deliberately designed to put you in a situation where you lose health quickly to make fights feel overwhelming, just so they can start kicking in hidden game mechanics when your health is low to help you overcome the challenge anyway, it makes those battles feel awesome And it creates these exhilarating moments of triumph that can really support a games core empowerment aesthetic. and there are many other types of hidden game mechanics that allow designers to play with our perceptions. To make us feel relaxed or engaged. some games like Bioshock make it so that enemies always miss you the first time they shoot at you, Which ensures that you don’t feel unfairly ambushed while you’re still trying to orientate yourself in an environment. other games like shadow of mordor slowly give the player health back over time to artificially extend fights for the sake of spectacle. One of the most common hidden game mechanics is something we call Coyote Time. which gives players a slightly longer window where they’re allowed to jump after stepping off a ledge. you will be hard-pressed to find a good platformer that doesn’t apply coyote time. it really helps to maintain a platformers flow and fast pace. Or if you want a really extreme example of hidden mechanics, there was this racing game back in 1995 called High Octane. it had a bunch of different vehicles And they were all displayed with a list of different stats. under the hood, every single one of those vehicles behaved exactly the same. There was no difference at all. But!! no one noticed. because seeing that list of stats made the vehicles feel different enough that players still debated over which vehicles was the best. Like I said before, video games are all smoke and mirrors. All designs to manipulate human perception. They trick us into being immersed in fantastical worlds, believing that the characters in our adventuring party have emotions They trick us into believing that we’ve overcome impossible odds all on our own. Or that we’ve significantly influenced the outcome of a story event. Or that we’ve even surpassed our expected limitations in ways that the game’s designers didn’t even anticipate. But those experiences are carefully orchestrated The designers are laying out dots in specific ways knowing that our psyche will be eager to connect them. Our brains are hard-wired to seek enjoyment, stimulation, and praise. it releases all of those feel-good chemicals, that leaves us in a state of joy that all players of all backgrounds and ages know in one shape or form in the of all backgrounds and ages know in one shape or form. in the end, a game designers priority is to engage and entertain. to sometimes lead players down paths that they didn’t even know they wanted. Human perception is flawed, and whether we players realize it or not, we want to be fooled. Designers hide implicit rules under the explicit ones because game design has always been the art of Illusion. And at the end of the day, everybody likes a good magic trick. See you next year! ♪♪♪

100 comments

  • Extra Credits

    Have you ever made it out of a tough boss fight with just a sliver of health and felt like AN ABSOLUTE GOD? Welp. We've got bad news for you.

    Check out the Twitter thread from Jennifer Scheurle (and tons of game devs) sharing examples of hidden game design: https://twitter.com/Gaohmee/status/903510060197744640

    Reply
  • Equivalent TheIncredible

    Wow. A major spioler to Undertale so elegantly packed at 6:19. Bravo!

    It was a hint that Flowey has no ability to feel emotion, and that's why he has done what he has done.

    Reply
  • Amine Be

    i don't get it 50% is 50% so you can't miss the second shot, right???

    Reply
  • Jakub Martin Nermut

    Me: Another good episode!

    Me at 6:18: And Undertale reference? Oh boy, what can be next!

    Me at the end: Undertale remix?! Oh man! This is my favorite episode!

    Reply
  • Gen Trooper

    you know what game doesnt have hidden mechanics to make the gamer feel good? DARK SOULS

    Reply
  • Curtis Mahon

    4:20 I am as high as this number looking at that painting

    Reply
  • Talon Greenlee

    You can still tell when they don’t do the health things if you die a lot in the same fight several times in a row. You can tell when it’s actually difficult by your failure rate.

    Reply
  • Bi$harp

    This is like telling me there's not Santa you know…

    Reply
  • Dick Semens

    This is why I love my hardcore PC shooters, there you know that you made that amazing play, not the mechanics

    Reply
  • Joewow12

    That's xcom baby

    Reply
  • DerpyDerpDeDerp

    7:13 nice

    Reply
  • Press_START 360

    Soldier shoots sectoid with pistol
    Central: why the F*ck are you SHOOTING AN ALIEN WITH AN PISTOL

    Reply
  • Buzzy Beez

    WAS MY BOY FLOWEY JUST IN A VIDEO?

    Reply
  • Chuck the Dwarf

    This instantly reminded me of left 4 dead(2) A.I director

    Reply
  • Asterk101

    4:26 Is that a Jojo reference?

    Reply
  • Objectively the best

    Actually Super Mario maker doesn't have Kyote time
    I've raged so hard when I jumped just a little too late and that's what caused me to die. Still fun though!

    Reply
  • Simon Margiovel Alindugan

    6:20 flowey!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  • vintprox

    Everything with random numbers is just awful IMO.
    But tricky design of lying UI just feels ok for me)

    Reply
  • phantom gaming

    you also have nuke Gandhi in civ where he has a secret program where he is highly aggressive

    Reply
  • Humboldt Oregonian

    So in essence, if ones perception of reality is no so flowed, any video game that uses such "smoke and mirrors" wont have any appeal. I hate most video games purely because I notice such things. Taking Simcity 4 for example, after a city hits 1,000,000,000 people, the mechanics of the game fall apart making the games illusion fall apart. After realizing what what going on, the game lost it appeal. My point is, realism is grate. As sobriety is it's own high, realism in games shall be it's own thrill.

    Reply
  • the wolf studio

    I love it when I have a legit 1% chance on something and get it.

    Reply
  • DamienZshadow

    I am playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild right now and I am absolutely feeling this concept. The open world and wide array of tools and tricks I could use keep me thinking I arrived at my location in my own unique and creative way but I am sure they planned on me feeling that way.

    Even Mipha's grace saves my butt when I suddenly go in over my head!

    Reply
  • issac thompson

    "tricks you into thinking the characters feel something"… Flowey was literally perfect as a visual to go along with that line

    Reply
  • Johanonym Sellerie

    I know a good game without the coyote time… Donkey Kong Arcade

    Reply
  • Keegan Mackey

    Speaking of XCOM and hidden mechanics… in XCOM 2, depending on the difficulty, you get bonuses to hit if you keep missing, the enemies will get penalties to hit if they keep on hitting, and if your amount of squad members gets below 4, you start getting bonuses there, too. The game feels very different once you install a mod like Perfect Information that tells you the actual chances for everything.

    Reply
  • Antiochus Library

    The X files theme begins playing in the background

    Reply
  • Keagasourus

    I'm thinking of X-com Enemy unknown and the absolute blindness all rookies appear to have.

    Reply
  • Jade Brimhall

    Undertale; Shop theme; good ending.

    Reply
  • Nitgo

    I already knew that but it feels wrong. get it?

    Reply
  • federico saviano

    Yesterday I rolled 4 consecutive 1s in a D&D match

    Reply
  • Artsy Fox

    Talks about characters having emotions

    Shows image of a character who's main character trait is that they are physically and mentally incapable of feeling true emotions.

    Reply
  • Mambodog 532

    PS4 Spiderman did this. I easily caught onto the fact that the game would regularly dump you at 1 hp, giving you a time to heal or activate your ability.

    Reply
  • silenceimpaired

    No-oooo… I picked that ugly truck for better health stats on Hi-octane… I could have had a cooler vehicle

    Reply
  • Rabix

    Jackspedicey

    Reply
  • Waleed Afzal

    I second this as a software developer who went rogue and made games.
    I intentionally developed games that gave rewards for being in a shit situation; the game was easier when you were in a bad situation

    Reply
  • tangles01

    What moron thinks 95% is a certain?

    Reply
  • Jason Godwin

    I can't stand hidden game mechanics. It caused me infinite frustration with DC Universe. I can tolerate the smaller amount in Team Fortess 2 and Counterstrike. Some games now take longer to learn like when I purchased Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 there is just so much more than i was used to in eg. Mortal Kombat 2 in the 90's.

    Reply
  • Commentur The Great

    6:30 "At first, Stanley assumed he has broken the map. Until he heard this narration and realized it was part of the game's design all along."

    Reply
  • Animator

    That's why the first shot always does so much damage

    Reply
  • No LateGame

    I remember the controversy over Truehit in Fire Emblem, which was basically you roll the hit chance twice and pull the highest when over 50% and the lowest when under 50%.

    Reply
  • TheRedJester

    Was that a JoJo reference

    Reply
  • MinccinoLuna Playz

    Pokemon should use this!! * Mutters * "Dumb stone edge misses every time"

    Reply
  • Bentley Storlie

    Are Pokémon percentages real? Because those are all things I have to look up and the game doesn’t tell you. And people analyze the, so much I think people would notice.

    Reply
  • Quinton Craig

    I had the reverse of the horizontal bar door.
    It had a normal handle and couldn't be pulled open.

    Reply
  • Sam DunKley

    4:26 Game design can be an Enigma….

    Reply
  • belltully1yahoocom

    Madden scripting sacks and fumbles for example

    Reply
  • Ryan Blakeman

    But Pokemon does not care.

    Reply
  • Leopanther

    Hm.. flowey shows up.. undertale music at the end.. but no mention of the 'omega' fight which perfectly matches the topic? :p
    Actually undertale utilizes this in a few battles. In the mentioned 'omega' fight you take heavy damage from each hit at full hp, yet the lower your HP goes (which in this fight isn't shown by a number) the less damage the hits deal. Or in the first boss fight (end of 'tutorial') there are attacks that are very difficult to completely avoid if not experienced with the game yet – but the boss actually uses attacks that avoid hitting the player once their hp falls to the point that the next hit would kill them.

    .. being vague with names to avoid spoilers, even though the game is fairly old by now ^^

    Reply
  • Nerd Monger

    Dark Souls.

    Reply
  • atticus bulan

    6:18 "believing that the characters in our adventuring party have emotions"

    *shows character without emotions

    Reply
  • Selenium Glow

    Holy cow. I didn't think I'll ever come across Hi-Octane mentioned on Internets, let alone in a video by a real person. It was such a fun game 😀

    Reply
  • ØЫívîöñ Sømëøñ3

    And still people call gamers idiots

    Reply
  • Addison Rahn

    Late to the party, but I’m curious. In games like shooters (Call of Duty immediately comes to mind, but battlefield, Mass Effect, Halo, etc. would work too), does turning on hard mode actually up your damage taken? Or do they just crank down the number of freebie shots that miss from enemy AI?

    Reply
  • teakhanirons

    mf jojo reference

    Reply
  • Temp singer

    So mostly every type of game is just a MIND game

    Reply
  • Jorge de Lemos

    good platformer without coyote time: Celeste

    Reply
  • Dunross B

    That's XCOM baby!

    Reply
  • Courtney Bailey

    Gotta love the people who are certain these mechanics don't work on them or that x game doesn't use them (Dark Souls for the win)! Of course, as the video says, all games are illusions based on perception, fantasy, and affect. Not because devs are inherently lazy liars, but because that's how the human mind works. Demonstrated precisely by people who think they're above or outside such dynamics–talk about fooling yourself! This stunning, yet unsurprising, lack of self-awareness ultimately just proves the point.

    Reply
  • Joseph Autumn

    My favorite mechanics is the loot boxes, becase that's how I feel IRL instead of buying i need to rent everything out by small increments.

    Reply
  • Diorange 『Journey of the Sorcerer』

    Where did this narrator go

    Reply
  • Diorange 『Journey of the Sorcerer』

    Hotline miami has no mercy for the dumb

    Reply
  • Cynthia Sydney

    Do you how to be a ninja

    Reply
  • Arklaw

    Fire Emblem: 2% critical chance and oops, my character's dead.

    Reply
  • BLACK GHOST

    4:25 iS THaT a jOjo reFereNce ?

    Reply
  • error 404

    I got the flowey thing

    Reply
  • Jordan Eggerman

    Yeah, I don't think Bethesda intended for us to be able to one-hit Alduin, or Whirlwind Sprint off of the Throat of the World…. I'm jus' sayin', that fortify restoration potion is O P… lol

    Reply
  • strippinheat

    The "guts" system and "magic pixel" have ruined fighting games.

    Reply
  • Mzero113

    My heart broke when he said "See ya next year"

    Reply
  • Jarid Gaming

    I loved Video Games, then i got a degree in Computer Science and Game Design and now i dont play them lol

    Reply
  • L G

    In farcry 4 you can take a few extra shots when ur health bar is empty before u die

    Reply
  • Detachsoup60

    What about destiny’s cheesing raids?

    Reply
  • cloudcolumn cat

    The darkest dungeons made good use of this design element, well-programmed the benefits and weaknesses of stress and stamina, the rate of play and the brightness of the torch, and the percentage elements of the items themselves know how they help even if it's a bit hard to understand. It's designed really good.
    In the moments of really despair, most of the heroes who have worked hard literally have all died, and when they really think of despair, the moment of virtue events is very good.
    Darkest dungeon is not an easy game originally, so it's also a game that requires the sacrifice of a hero. If lost, hire a new one. Hire again when they die. How tragic

    Reply
  • ben plays

    Undertale

    Reply
  • Tasty Rainbro

    I play sao on the switch for a while now and just decided to play with npcs only. If they die, they're gone forever, unlike the other "non-npc"-npcs. However, they are also blank and fully customisable and fun to play with.

    And i nearly messed up, but got away safely somehow. I don't know, but that particular boss seemed to not spawn a bunch of their minions in the same interval as normal, luckily.

    The same while playing Minecraft.. As soon as i'll become kamikaze against skeletons, i usually win a loosing situation and don't know why. I usually think about my hidden talents rather than of some extra delays or reduced chances in such intense moments. What am i talking about minecraft?! I do mean tboi of course! Moments where i was somehow able to dodge everything while practically dead

    Reply
  • ItovaSythr

    You say that its designed that way, but I seriously doubt Blizzard intended for hunters to be able to solo 40 man bosses.

    Reply
  • IvanLagayacrus

    Watching people who normally play games like fire emblem and shift to tabletop games like dnd is always interesting because you can see that shift in how chance works and how they fail to filly grasp how they've missed this 60% chance to hit 3 times now

    Reply
  • Stray Dog

    I shouldn't have watched that video… It's always been hard for me to actually be proud of my accomplishments but now I can't enjoy any victory or success in video games anymore. Because now I know, that none of my accomplishments are real and none of them were because I'm actually good at something

    Reply
  • Tutorials Suck

    Ugh I prefer the single rn calculations in fe 1-5 and 15 as opposed to the double rn system of other games because hit rates aren’t obscured. If you’re curious what I mean it only takes a few minutes in Serenes Forest

    Reply
  • neversparky

    Oddly enough, Pokemon actually manages to circumvent our inability to judge chance by re-framing what's considered "Risky". For roughly the first half or more of the game, all your attacks have pretty much a 100% chance to hit, with less accurate and more powerful moves being introduced closer to the end of the player's progression. This framing actually drives people to be acutely aware of almost any possibility to miss, even an 80% chance to hit as being quite risky.

    Just look at how a certain move with 75% accuracy is so frequently called "Focus Miss"

    Reply
  • Chan nel

    You're overselling this. And I feel like it gets radically overused…

    I don't see why lying to the player should be treated like some sort of logical necessity… some necessary evil that can't be designed around. You can implement these intensely biased situations while making the player completely aware of them and not feel cheated.

    For instance, the good old 1 hp save. SUCH a common mechanic. Where you survive a blow that should have finished you off with 1 hp, giving you that last chance to turn the tide. Done badly, it's hidden from the player, but you know who did it perfectly? Mischief Makers! When you get struck by something that should've killed you, you go to 1 hp and instead of hiding this fact, the bar actually flashes violently! Giving you an epic visual cue warning you of the urgency of your situation, and turning the situation into an adrenaline rush. I don't feel cheated when that bar flashes in Mischief Makers. I don't feel like I should have died. I feel like this is an opportunity to prove myself.

    I felt cheated when in Bioshock I got hit by something in a game, something I'm very familiar with the damage of, and I survive with like 2% hp where I know I should be like at least 20% below… like, "huh?!". So then I test the damage, then I test the damage near low hp, and sure enough… yeah… feels bad. Because now I get the pleasure of sifting through the old footage in my head of every single close encounter I've ever had in the game with skepticism, unable to tell the difference between my deserved close-call victories and times where the game "cheated" FOR me.

    Fuck EVER doing that. This isn't the PS1 era where we're not gonna find out about it, so just be completely upfront about it. You don't have to put it in your tutorials (though that would be nice), but don't actively mislead the player about raw data.

    Reply
  • Softy

    This is why I like competitive multiplayer, the adrenaline rush of barely killing an equally skilled player is 100% earned.

    Reply
  • Dumitru Cozma

    Im soooo diply disapointed.I want a fair game,realistic in stats and not to be fooled by those mechanics,i want to lose when i take a critical shot,no 1 HP or things like that,i want 50% chance of hitting and miss 10 times in a row.
    Knowing that games behave like this makes me fell disapointed and makes me not wanting to play them.Even if always i suspected that this could be the case.Now that im thinking about it,i remember wondering some days ago why i improved just a little bit the fire rate in a game and it felt like i was improving the double and after a while of shooting it turned back to normal…sooooooo disapointed 🙁
    Sorry for my english tho.

    Reply
  • apenas um nome de canal

    Them there's rubberband where the game trolls you giving the ia a v80 engine.

    Reply
  • Lucas Steffen

    Except for Dark Souls

    Reply
  • Bill Jensen

    got yer nose!

    Reply
  • Zetimenvec

    I would argue that XCOM's failings weren't so much in teh display of statistics, it was the mismatch of statistics to game information. When a unit is pointing a rifle point blank at an enemy and they barrel would need to be greater than 30 degrees from teh enemy for it to actually miss visually, THAT was XCOMs failing of having the projectile exit the barrel at 30-45 degrees from the direction it was pointing.

    Reply
  • Áron Schneider

    But how are we going to learn that 50% is not every second time, if games lie to us? For casual games this may be good, but in more serious games the challenge is to overcome these biases.

    Reply
  • Armadillito

    Kilksphilip recently did a video on Dirt Rally's campaign, in which the bot drivers' times depend on yours.

    Reply
  • Blacklight Gaming

    Almost instant Headache 4:18

    Reply
  • Ichbims Derepep

    Xcom is maybe a good game, but any game where you stand right in front of an enemy and you dont have a 100% hit chance is a bad game

    Reply
  • evil leafy Production studios

    4:25 jojo refrinse

    Reply
  • Kyubeyz _

    50% is one half of 100% so we expect every other to be a success/failure but the thing is 8/16 is equal to 1/2 and so is 23/46.
    But because it’s told as a percentage out of 100% and not the accurate fraction, we do the math and realize 50 goes into 100 only twice. That’s why we think the outcome happens every other time.

    Reply
  • nighthawk5986

    stuff nintendo does not do with pokemon

    Reply
  • Raistlarn

    This is why I hated when my dm brought statistics into d&d. "You are guaranteed to get a 20 in 20 rolls," yeah right I'm guaranteed a 1 in 20 chance depending on how biased the dice are for 20. So 1 roll is a 1 in 20 chance the nex TV roll is a 1 in 20 chance same for every roll after. Same could be said about 1s, but I'm more likely to get those due to the negative bias.

    Reply
  • nara ishiga

    Subtítulos incluso en vietnamita pero no en español… Me cago en todo

    Reply
  • Chance Shaw

    I have never seen coyote time in any game besides Mario. If anything I've played games where you fall SOON3R than you should.

    Reply
  • Shahriar Shirazi

    Thank you for telling me that I am getting played by my games.

    Reply
  • MGAMMM gaming

    No, it's bad design when you're supposed to PUSH a door which has a bar on it.

    Reply
  • Negasuki

    original X-com from 1995.. 99% chance to hit.. missed.. I still remember that. It cost me the entire landing squad.

    Reply
  • Sevrin

    That makes me uncomfortable. I'd rather not have shit like that. Makes me think of games that get easier if you fail a bunch of times whether you want it to or not.

    Reply

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