Thoughts on Jumping

Posted on 15th May 2011 at 09:30 by Joe Martin with 29 comments

Joe Martin
It may seem an odd subject to focus on, as jumping doesn't seem to be very important on the face of it – cut it out of a game, though, and it can make a huge difference. Games in which players can’t jump, or at the very least dodge or roll, can seem painfully slow, dull and static. Games in which players can jump around and use that movement to interact with the environment can seem immeasurably more fun because of it.

Take Half-Life 2, for example. It’s a game which nearly everyone would agree is well-made, decently written, fun and fast to play through. Now cast your mind back to the first scene in Kliener’s lab, where Gordon is first properly introduced to his allies, where the plot is given its first proper push and where you’re gifted with the HEV suit again. It’s a busy sequence; lots to do, lots to take in. You’d expect most players to pay close attention, at least the first time around.

Instead, every single player I know spends most of the time jumping around. Sometimes they try to jump on the scenery or knock over objects, other times they just leapfrog around the room when a simple stroll would suffice.

Thoughts on Jumping
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The same behaviour holds true in most other games too, I’ve found. When I played Beyond Good and Evil for the first time I hardly walked anywhere across the surface of Hillys; I rolled. In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, any hallway that involved walking for more than two seconds would be punctuated by periodic bounding. It seems like aberrant behaviour at first, yet it seems as though everyone does it. Why?

The reason, I think, is actually more to do with player speed than actually jumping. It’s not that people always like to move fast through games or that they enjoy spending time off the ground. Instead, it comes back to the original point – games that don’t feature jumping can feel static and slow, so we use these features if they're present to help negate this effect. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a pretty fast-paced game, but running down a long corridor can still feel dull and empty; jumping as you run lets you vary the speed of the game. It creates tiny events of player agency and interaction, which stave off that staid feeling.

At the same time, adventure games that don’t feature anything so much as a sprint button? Don’t they seem increasingly slow and dated these days?

Mirror's Edge trailer

This isn’t the only reason why jumping is important, though. It helps you practice for later. It can be used to ward off boredom. It helps you to further explore the game space away from the key features. There's an abundance of smaller reasons; not least of which is possibly the fact that some people just have twitchy thumbs.

For the best games, though – and this ties into a more overarching theory of mine about character speed – the act of jumping can be a joy in itself. Master Chief’s jump, for example, is pleasantly floaty, while Dante’s can last for as long as you can hammer the attack buttons. Faith’s standing jump in Mirror’s Edge, however, is realistically awkward; she’s much better with running leaps.

Getting these nuances of player speed correct is one of the most subtle and important aspects of making a good game, especially for first person shooters. Trust me, I play a lot of really rubbish games and I can tell you that, if you throw all the cleverness away and boil it down to basic functionality, Half-Life 2 would still stand above Conspiracy Island 2 based solely on player speed. And the quality of the jumping.


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FelixTech 15th May 2011, 09:37 Quote
The 'roll' feature in Ocarina of Time springs to mind too :P

Now you've got me wondernig whether bunny hopping and circle jumping were intended features of the source engine, or whether they were merely side effects that it is now too late to remove...
feathers 15th May 2011, 09:40 Quote
Some years ago when I was playing CSS on a daily basis, I assigned my Logitech Formula Force GT racing wheel pedals to issue keyboard jump and crouch key presses. I played it that way for a long time. It felt more natural using my feet to control these actions and it was great to free my fingers from carrying out these chores.
barrkel 15th May 2011, 09:41 Quote
Jumping that is excessively realistic (e.g. no in-air course correction) is also very unpleasant. It's hard to transmit physical agility via precise input, especially when that input is frequently binary, on-off (particularly with PC keyboard input). A game might require a whole range of different jump distances, from one platform to the another, but trying to do encode the whole range of jumps in a single control is troublesome, even if it's a analogue control. Instead, we turn analogue fine tuning into binary timing, and the intent of the gamer is translated much better.
Bauul 15th May 2011, 09:46 Quote
It's definitely to do with varying player speed, or more precisely giving players the choice about how they can move about the environment.

It doesn't have to be jumping, you just need to feel you have the ability to react in a way other than a standard forwards motion.

You can't jump in Doom for instance, but the game's so fast and slippery it doesn't matter. You can't in Mass Effect either, but there's cover and sprint options to make up for it. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to react to a game event in a certain way and finding you can't because of restrictions on your movement options.
barrkel 15th May 2011, 09:47 Quote
FelixTech - bunny hopping / circle jumping are artefacts that Source inherited from Quake (which also has those two), which in turn inherited their root from Doom (which has a movement bug, wall-running (strafing into the wall while running along side it), that at least Quake also has). John Carmack wrote about it many moons ago; they were fine tuning the movement logic for Doom, and there was just something right about the way it worked, and it carried over into Quake; unfortunately, it had edge cases about how it conserves momentum through angle changes and only momentary floor contact.
barrkel 15th May 2011, 09:53 Quote
The documentation on wall-running shows it to have a speed benefit of up to 40%, which would imply that it probably has something to do with the squaring of the movement vector circle. Normally, when you give input to a character, you can choose some combination of forward/backward and strafe left/right inputs. If your maximum speed is S, then forward should give you S forward, while strafe should give you S to the side; but using both simultaneously should only give you S along a diagonal (so the components of the fore/back and left/right vectors, at maximum speeds, describe a circle). But wall running, bunny hopping and circle jumping interfere with how the Doom and descendant engines calculate that maximum, and you end up with a square formed from the vectors, not a circle; i.e. you can get up to sqrt(S^2 + S^2) = sqrt(2*S^2) = sqrt(2)*S = 1.414*S, i.e. approximately 41% speedup. Combine that with a bug in not losing enough speed when touching the floor momentarily while jumping, and you end up with the bug.
stoff3r 15th May 2011, 11:06 Quote
The Gears of War run-jump-roll is a great past-time :) same can be said for Unreal Tournament double leap. Games that let the player interact with the obstacles on-the-go without loosing much speed are the best, like a perfect timed Mirrors edge rund.

However those oposite that slows you down on whatever speedbump, like Battlefield 2 and Stalker amongst athers is intolerable (still play them though). The jumping in Battlefield 2 and sometimes Bad company 2 is one of the worst in gaming :(

Anyone still play climb-maps from CS 1.6? :):)
Kris 15th May 2011, 11:14 Quote
and what would happen if you wouldn't be able to jump in wow? :D i think it would result in the immediate death of the mmo :D
Stotherd-001 15th May 2011, 11:18 Quote
I don't jump for reason. I only jump when the game expects me to, or to get to high ground during a firefight. Seems mildly pointless to do it otherwise, and kind of ruins immersion.
MiT 15th May 2011, 12:03 Quote
I guess it depends on game, but i like to jump. Makes it more real life, image if you couldn't jump in real life when running around..
13eightyfour 15th May 2011, 12:26 Quote
I remember playing multiplayer matches on goldeneye on the N64 that imo were faster/better and more awesome than any other game ive played and iirc you couldnt jump in that.
LaM3a 15th May 2011, 12:41 Quote
Strange, I've just begun Painkiller and only move by jumping, it feels much more dynamic indeed.
FelixTech 15th May 2011, 13:07 Quote
Originally Posted by stoff3r
Anyone still play climb-maps from CS 1.6? :):)

Of course not! There are climb maps in CSS for a reason :P

Part of it probably comes from the fact that moving generally requires holding a button rather than pressing it, so whether it's the W key or forward on an analogue stick the gamer is not doing anything at all while they move from A to B. If you designed a game so that players had to press the W key each time they took a step forward, we probably wouldn't have the spare time to be jumping :)
Skiddywinks 15th May 2011, 13:10 Quote
Two words:

Ninja Gaiden
Ayrto 15th May 2011, 13:34 Quote
Stating the obvious... but, with FPS games, you could have the best game ever, graphically speaking, but it you fail to get the movement right (incl,jumping). The game could well bomb. No one wants a pretty game where you move like a brick .

Just look at how much people argued about the dodge jump distance when Epic changed it and removed the cool UT2004 double wall dodge jump ability. That totally changed the feel of the game, in place, a more weighted , less floaty feel for UT3. It annoyed the hell out of those that favoured continuity..
SMIFFYDUDE 15th May 2011, 14:18 Quote
Battlefield 2 would be greatly improved if bunny hopping was removed and replaced with Red Orchestra's way of jumping.
Tangster 15th May 2011, 14:38 Quote
Mass Effect had no jumping, but it didn't feel static.
Kiytan 15th May 2011, 15:15 Quote
ME did have the sprint + slide to cover thing though, which was cool
thehippoz 15th May 2011, 16:12 Quote
I should load up quake 2 and make a video on what jumping is really all about..

cs inherited the circle jumping from the quake 2 engine- it's why you could bunny hop and end up in the hall on dust before anyone else.. if you've never experienced double, strafe, and circle jumping before- you've missed out on something in gaming that was great (probably never see again with consoles as big as they are)

jumping across all 3 boxes in the mega room of dm1.. and when mastered you could do this backwards came naturally after a while.. but in a duel it allowed you to get at those resources a whole lot quicker than a guy who was flat footed and jumping up each box

the mega itself was'nt reachable without a rocket jump.. but with circle jumping it was possible to get there without damage

there was many different ways to do it.. that was what was so great- peeps were always finding new ways to shortcut through the maps.. in the end they took out some of the coolness in quake 3 because thresh decided he didn't like it

heck he didn't even like footsteps.. then the guy disappeared as newer players could kick his ass (and he went tony hawk) and started firing squad.. heard he sells insurance now :( legend my ass
echeb 15th May 2011, 16:48 Quote
It is a lot more important than some people think. Whenever I fire up Dead Space after not playing it for a while I spend the first 5 mins trying to find the jump button before realising that there isn't one and in Crackdown I always jump right across the city even when driving would be quicker and simpler.
tommykl 15th May 2011, 18:49 Quote
Take Marathon for example all three games didn't feature the jump button and you had to use the rocket jump technique to get past certain points in each. I don't know how many times I had to go back to a previous game save an redo a section so I had enough life left to perform a rocket jump without killing myself.
Malvolio 15th May 2011, 20:10 Quote
Although I appreciate jumping within a game, I just want it to be a bit more realistic: a six foot jump is a bit silly, but at the same time not being able to scale a waist-high box due to a more "realistic" jumping height is frustrating. Games such as GoW are the worst for this in that you can parkour to a certain degree, but if you're on a gentle switch-back your character cannot even fathom climbing a small fence or a two inch-high pile of dirt, leaving the player with a feeling less of immersion than that of an on-rails shooter. Dead Space is another game that deals with this in a very poor way with arbitrary limits to where you can walk and the inability to scale (through jumping or climbing) even the smallest of obstacles. This isn't even beginning to discuss my issues with excessive movement or course correction whilst aloft (some games get this right though, such as minor correction within Portal 2 which feels more akin to minor bodily manipulation than outright "in-flight movement" of several feet or more as some games have).

All the games I've mentioned are great on their own, but it's hard for me to stay in the moment because the character I'm controlling simply cannot shimmy on up a box or step over a rock or two. There is definitely a middle ground to be reached here, and nobody seems to want to go there.
Eiffie 15th May 2011, 22:38 Quote
I played through bulletstorm recently and the lack of any jump button killed that game for me.
Toploaded 16th May 2011, 06:54 Quote
It's one of those things that bugs me at first if I play a FPS and you can't jump, but I soon get over it. I think the original condemned was the first FPS to catch me out like that, but I ended up finishing that game and enjoying the entire experience.
DbD 16th May 2011, 09:18 Quote
Originally Posted by Ayrto
Just look at how much people argued about the dodge jump distance when Epic changed it and removed the cool UT2004 double wall dodge jump ability. That totally changed the feel of the game, in place, a more weighted , less floaty feel for UT3. It annoyed the hell out of those that favoured continuity..

It's more then that, in ut2004 movement became an advanced skill. There were people who got very good and could move in ways and get to places the rest of us couldn't (despite us having access to exactly the same jump buttons). Carefully designed maps made for a kind of aerial ballet which ut3 ruined by giving everyone lead boots.

After ut3 I think most ut2004 players decided Epic didn't actually have a clue what made their game good and just got lucky with ut2004.
gentlearc 16th May 2011, 11:29 Quote
I think jumping is also a way of gaining perspective in our surroundings. Unlike reality, we can't feel the hardness of the ground as we run along it. We can't walk up to an obstacle and judge the ability for one to clear it by it's relation to our own height. As Malvolio mentioned, there is very little way to have a clear understanding of what the terrain will allow us to do. The poor consistency of our environment causes us to habitually test every element of surroundings whenever possible.

How many times have you seen someone repeatedly trying to jump onto a box you have already established as too high to jump onto (which shows that both of you are interested in whether it is of value to you).

During times when we're not engaged, jumping becomes a built-in mechanism for surveying out surrounding. We are always doing this in real life. When you walk up a handicap ramp, you automatically make a silly self-assessment of whether you can vault over it. The difference is, in reality we don't always test the theory, but in-game there is no penalty for satiating our motivated curiosity.
faugusztin 16th May 2011, 15:20 Quote
Two words : Say apple :D.
ObeyTheCreed 16th May 2011, 23:23 Quote
I think Assassin's Creed has the best jump feature I've played yet. The ability to literally glide through the air as Altair jumps down onto a guard is awesome. I spent more time jumping off stop or tackling people to the ground to assassinate them it took almost 3 days to beat both games ;)
Sloth 17th May 2011, 19:46 Quote
Love the HL2 example, it's exactly what I did!

Any discussion of jumping also brings to mind the various jokes about characters being able to pull of incredible feats (Kratos, Snake, player's character in Demon's Souls etc.) but be unable to jump over low walls. Thankfully those games all have additional movement modifying features such as rolling.
Originally Posted by Kris
and what would happen if you wouldn't be able to jump in wow? :D i think it would result in the immediate death of the mmo :D
That game and other MMOs have managed to tear apart multiple space bars over the years. :D
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