Elements of Professionalism in Video Game Development

Features, technologies, and techniques of polished, professional games. These tips and tricks will help your student or hobbyist game compete.

Scene Transitions

Student-made games are notorious for sharp, jarring, instantaneous transitions between scenes. Professionally-made games, on the other hand, often feature a variety of soft, elegant transition techniques for moving from one scene to the next.

Exhibit A: Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

Aladdin screen transition genesis

Aladdin features several impressive transition techniques, including…

  • Soft fade from scene to black
  • Narrative Object Fanfare
  • Soft fade from black to scene

The Scarab “Narrative Fanfare” is particularly impressive. It’s sudden, colorful nature is a shock to the senses, giving the game a jolt of energy, and foreshadowing / reminding players of an object that is critical to the game’s plot.

Exhibit B: Cuphead (PC)
Cuphead cartoony screen transition

Cuphead features several impressive, cartoony transition techniques, including…

  • Circle-fade to black
  • Circle-fade to scene
  • Scene Intro Period (“Ready? Wallop!”)

The circular fade to black was heavily utilized in old, classic cartoons, and fits in well with Cuphead’s old-timey cartoon theming. The Intro Period gives players four seconds to get their controllers ready, study the aesthetics of the enemy and stage, and prepare themselves for a swell battle.

Exhibit C: A Hat in Time (PC)
Hat in time opening cutscene smooth camera

A Hat in Time features several impressive transition techniques, including…

  • Environment Preview Camera
  • Blink-fade to black
  • Shape-fade to gameplay
  • Gameplay Intro Period

The camera action that begins the gif above does a nice job of previewing the environment players will momentarily find themselves in– a technique utilized in modern 3D Mario games. The last shot of the preview shows an important collectable falling to the ground, providing a medium-term objective.

The short animation that begins gameplay sees the main character do a little spin, giving players a moment to ready the controller and prepare for action.

Backgrounds / Skyboxes

Student-made games are notorious for cheap-looking skyboxes, and static-looking backgrounds. Professionally-made games, on the other hand, typically feature detailed, rich skyboxes, and dynamic backgrounds.

Exhibit A: Owlboy (PC)

Owlboy parallax backgrounds depth

Owlboy features several impressive techniques for a dynamic, rich background, including…

  • Parallax scrolling (Tutorial)
  • Faded color palette to indicate distance
  • Vivid color palette to indicate foreground

The world of Owlboy feels dynamic, fresh, and very open– like cool air on a mountainside. The constantly-moving clouds and background structures look distant due to parallax movement, and how slowly they move compared to closer, foreground elements.

By fading the colors on background objects, Owlboy prevents players from being confused about what they may and may not jump on. The combination of these techniques create a world that is rich to look at, without being confusing. Gameplay isn’t compromised by the richness of the visuals.

Smooth, Juicy Cameras

Exhibit A: A Hat in Time (PC)

Hat in time smooth camera

A Hat in Time features several impressive camera techniques, including…

  • Camera focusing
  • Eased Movement

A Hat in Time is loath to warp its camera, preferring to move and ease it from place to place in a non-jarring, professional manner. In the gif above, the camera applies several eases as it focuses on Mustache Girl, including this one.

As mentioned above, the camera is used to shepherd the player’s attention onto something important– a mysterious new character appearing in the alley.

Exhibit B: Toy Story 2 (PS1)

Toy Story 2’s stage select features several impressive camera techniques, including…

  • Camera focusing
  • Eased Movement

Lack of Camera Jitter

Student-made games often have cameras that “jitter” when following an object. This is a natural result of Unity’s desynchronized rendering and physics-update loops. Examples are posted below, with a solution at the bottom of this section.

Unacceptable Jitter (look at the sphere)

unacceptable jitter camera unity
The above is a worst-case scenario, with nothing to mitigate unity’s desynchronized rendering and physics-update loops.

Distracting Jitter (look at the sphere)

small jitter distracting choppy unity
The above is a substantial (yet not complete) improvement. This improvement comes by setting the rigidbody “interpolation” property on the sphere gameobject.

No Jitter (look at the sphere)

no jitter unity game camera smooth

The above shows the ball lacking jitter, as a result of setting the rigidbody’s interpolation property, and by ensuring the main camera uses “Update()” and multiplies its movement quantity by Time.deltaTime.


Video showing the solution in action.

Unitypackage demonstrating the solution.

Color Palettes

Student-made games are notorious for bright, jarring color choices, or color palettes that lack diversity. Professional games often utilize softer, more cohesive color schemes.

Exhibit A: Google Homepage
google homepage color palettes unity game

Google’s home page exhibits some interesting color choices, including…

  • It uses blue, but not pure blue (0x4582F8 vs. 0x0000FF).
  • It uses red, but not pure red (0xEA4535 vs. 0xFF0000).
  • It uses black, but not pure black (0x74716C vs. 0x000000).
  • While the Hue of the colors vary dramatically, the Saturation and Brightness do not. (What is HSB / HSV?)

These color choices allow the homepage to be colorful, without being annoyingly bright. If they had gone much lighter with their color palette, users may have experienced eye-strain.


Audio / Sound Feedback

Student-made games sometimes lack audio and sound in response to critical moments or actions. Audio can perform a variety of crucial functions, including…

  • Adding additional “punch” and juice to an attack.
  • Setting an overall tone or atmosphere for an experience (via background music).
  • Make something as simple as walking over different surfaces feel juicy.
  • Clarify the game state.