Designing Tools for the Invisible Art of Game Feel

Mads Johansen

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Over the past decade the related terms and concepts of game feel, juice, polish, oil and feedback have become more common among game developers. Although books, blog posts, and videos on the subject exist, the terms are still vague, and practitioners do not fully agree on what each concept entails.

This thesis presents a study of game feel design and how design tools can support game developers in designing game feel. The project resides in the intersection between game feel design and mixed-initiative tools. The project addresses how design tools can support game feel design? Focusing on providing tools that speed up juice prototyping and help novice game developers understand the process.

This thesis combines practice-based research methods and user testing to explore the topic and solutions to address the problem. The author draws on practical game design experience, as well as methods and knowledge from research through design, evolutionary algorithms, procedural content generation, and human–computer interaction to explore the subject. Research questions with practical implications are posed, with knowledge acquired over five years as a professional game developer. Experiments and software are designed to evaluate those questions through practice-based design research methods.

The thesis is based on five research publications. The presented research examines game feel from various perspectives, including psychology, human–computer interaction, and game design. It explores game generation, AI evaluation frameworks, and building mixed-initiative tools for game developers. The tools are evaluated through qualitative user testing, focusing on functionality.

The practical result of this Ph.D. is the development and release of several open-source frameworks and tools. The tools were developed and described to conduct experiments, inspire others to explore the topic, and support future research.

The three main practical contributions of this thesis are:
1. A survey and collection of the current state of the art in Game Feel Design, with our attempt at solidifying subjects for individual design tasks, their verbs, and actions.
2. The release and description of the open-source tool Squeezer. Squeezer is a mixed-initiative juice prototyping design tool that has been evaluated through two rounds of user testing and has been integrated into an automated game design system.
3. The release of the open-source UnityVGDL, an adaptation of the GVGAI framework in Unity.

Introducing the unexplored topic of game feel to the mixed-initiative and automated game design research community through several publications. This thesis sheds light on new areas for mixed-initiative, creative computing, and automated game design research by describing, presenting, and evaluating the tools and the approaches used to create them. The thesis and the related open-source projects are a body of work with the potential to contribute to research, game design practices, and learning environments.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages197
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-071-0
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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