Polish or ‘juice’ is the last little bit of detail that goes into any game to make the world look more real and coherent. It’s the footprints your character leaves in the sand, the slash a sword leaves in the air or the occasional rain weather effect. Most importantly, it’s the line between indie and AA. With just a little bit of polish, any game becomes much more palatable to the average audience. Usually with a large shift upward in price perception. With all that said let’s go into 5 easy ways to take your game up a level.
1. Particle Effects
Unity’s inbuilt particle system is easy to use and provides a nice visual effect for any game. There’s virtually no difficulty in applying a particle effect to an object. The secret to make a game look polished is to apply a particle effect to almost every action in your game. Whether it’s shooting a gun, jumping or running. Generally the more the better, though keep them subtle when necessary, 2 or 3 small flakes of dirt is usually enough on a characters run for instance. In the other direction there’s this example of a bomb explosion from Wind Waker. There’s a total of 3 different particle types coming from the bomb and another 2 types from the debris it destroyed.
Of course you need to animate your characters walk/run cycle and their basic actions. But what you should be asking is just how many objects can you animate in any scene before it becomes ridiculous. A good rule of thumb is not to put anything into a level that your characters can’t interact with. So if you have a tuft of grass on the ground, it should become animated when a character steps on it. This is reasonably easy to do in Unity, simply put an animator controller and a trigger on some parts of the decor and when a character collides with them, move them left and right a bit.
3. Sound Effects
Much like animation, there’s simply not enough feedback in a lot of indie games. However it’s a lot easier to get to the point of being annoying if a developer feels the need to make every foot step as loud a car horn. My experience with indie development is that sound tends to get neglected until the game’s finished and it’s time to hire out a sound technician to finish it off (or worse, use generic stock sounds) but in order to get the most out of a game there should be some semblance of planning beyond the bare minimum. One easy trick is to vary the pitch of commonly used sounds to prevent any sound from getting too boring.
Pretty simple and yet often neglected. Compare the below screenshots of Super Meat Boy and Hollow Knight. It’s clear which one evokes a stronger atmosphere. On AAA games the lighting in each scene could be handled by a whole team of people, but that level of commitment isn’t necessary. Usually a simple lamp will do wonders for your scene. There’s 4 different types of lights in Unity. I’d suggest you learn how to use the directional light to make a day/night cycle or point a spotlight at the item you want your player to pick up to imbue importance. A little goes a long way.
5. Screen Shake
This particular effect is so widely used to the point where indie developers are starting to dismiss it (partly because it translates horribly to VR). However there’s no easier way to convey force than shaking the whole world. The implementation is easy, add a function to your camera script which moves the (x, y) position with a little intensity and randomness. The feedback is clear and is usually enough to distinguish your game from a mobile game where the effect isn’t often used and sometimes removed on a port.
For more tips and tricks, follow Nebula Innovations on Twitter @NebulaInnov and be ready to download Attack Of The Fishbots, coming soon to an Android device near you. See how much polish you can spot in the main menu.