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Pastryman

Immersion in Video Games

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While playing STALKER I realized that there aren't too many games that try to be immersive, in the sense of putting you into a world that makes you feel as if you are actually there. Back in the day Morrowind was the best that we had, but it never really went much further than that. STALKER for instance has a great ambience with the weather effects and gritty mood, but it doesn't quite go far enough. All of the characters feel bland with the same exact speech, and buildings feel empty with little to no detail in objects. I wanted to know what you could do in a game to make it truly the most immersive experience yet.

The concept here is to build a game that would be the ultimate immersive experience. By basing the game to achieve only this goal can it be successful.

The game takes place in a small closed environment: A village, a fortress, an island etc. By some unknown (and perhaps never revealed) reason, you are constrained to this area because of creatures that lurk beyond. For this example, we will use a village.

There will be highly interact-able humans that inhabit the zone, but only a few. Only 10-20 characters would be present throughout the entire game. These characters would form a breathing village network with a blacksmith, an alchemist, a few herbalists, an innkeeper, a few farmers, soldiers, etc. All of them will have extensive voiced dialogue events to every action in the game (without being repetitive). The goal with the speech would be to have them never repeat a line of dialogue for the rest of the play through. Single voice actors would do the speech for major characters, while some voice actors would be assigned to 2 or 3 minor characters (though the concept here is that every character is important). Characters would work on a weekly schedule, where every day they have tasks that they will carry out such as sleeping, eating food, etc. The blacksmith would grab ores and metals from his workhouse and walk outside on the counter to build swords. The herbalists would go outside and pick flowers and plants in the daylight. The soldiers would close the gates at dusk and ready their battle stations by night. Then the creatures would come.

The rpg elements of the game would be limited to the inventory and job selection. The character would be able to purchase armors or weapons (if they choose to play offensively) or even herbs and cooking utensils if they don’t favor playing a combat hero. By looting fallen enemies and exploring the outskirts of the village the player can find materials to bring into town to give to specific villagers for new items. The player and all characters will have to eat every few hours, where they will have to eat in real time (a piece of bread would take about 30 seconds to chew, a potato stew about 5 minutes). The player and characters will also have to sleep or else their performance in all tasks becomes clumsy (shooting a bow after not sleeping for 2 days would be difficult, as well as chopping a tree for lumber). Every item in the game could be used for a variety of things: forks can be used to eat, candles can be lit for illumination, etc.

The ambience would be groundbreaking. Advanced lighting and weather effects would make the environment seem to come to life. Houses would be decorated uniquely without cookie-cutter presets. Wind would blow leaves off trees and push wheelbarrows down the road. Crows would circle the skies and land to eat the scraps of bread left in front of the bakery. Thunder would shake the panels in the walls and push plates crashing off the cupboards.

The horror elements take place once the sun sets. Unidentifiable creatures of demented form would arise to terrorize the village. There would be many varieties of the creatures with randomly generated features. When in a group the creatures would be nearly impossible to defeat alone, so being near village soldiers would be crucial. Soldiers would be able to be recruited to travel outside the town’s boundaries (though most would refuse unless the sun is up). If a character is killed, they stay dead. If the soldiers are caught in a bad position, the entire village can easily be slaughtered. By this concept is where the replayability of the game would spawn from.

The game would span the time of a few weeks. One entire play through would be anywhere from 1 to about 15 hours. An entire day cycle would be a little less than an hour. The game would have a set ending of surviving the onslaught. Through clever manipulation of town’s people and objects found in the game the player can successfully find a way to outsmart the creatures and finally leave the village.

This is a basic outline of how the structure of the game would be. Some things could be added or changed, such as instead of a village it could be a single house with only a handful of occupants or even only one other person besides the main character. There could be no monsters at all. What is important is how immersive the experience is.

What do you think would make games more immersive? What would make the player feel more connected to the game world?

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Consistency.

As you've described, a game can have a great environment that is sometimes shattered by a loose screw of some kind. We pay attention to things that do not look right, and games that want to be immersive should take care not to distract us from itself with that one flickering polygon on the ground or stupid NPCs.

Make a game world feel like it is driven by a logical order, even if said order is vastly simplified.

The second most powerful force that has acted on me in games is music. I still find the original Unreal immersive mostly because Michiel van den Bos and Straylight made such a kick-ass soundtrack. Mute even the most graphically advanced game that tries to take you in, and you will soon be bored.

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One element that I've always found can make a game incredibly immersive is the sound. Not the music, but when a game uses sound as part of the user input to let you know what's going on around you, it becomes much more engrossing.

What I'm talking about here are sound elements like volume being connected to range (louder things are closer), and though many players don't have the sound setups for this, sound directionality. Hearing a shuffle off to your left or some kind of clink behind you is a great way to get a player immersed into a game, as that kind of information-passing by the game relies on the player to notice, interpret, and act on the information. You need to have great sound design to make this work, of course, as there need to be sounds that are telltale enough to really get a player's hackles up.

Also, and this may just be a personal preference, but I find first-person views more engrossing than third-person. I like plenty of third-person games, but first-person really makes you feel like you ARE the character, as you're viewing the world through his or her eyes.

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I agree that deeply developing one location and a few characters instead of the standard approach of shallowly developing an epic world and cast would increase immersiveness. The rest of the original post I'm a lot more dubious about - Stalker and Morrowind are certainly not the games I would pick as examples of immersiveness, nor does a medieval horror game interest me at all, and I don't really give a damn about realistic in-game weather, unique houses, plant physics or NPC professions. (Although NPC social relationships are definitely important).

One way to create immersiveness might be to make it part of the gameplay that the player tells the game what goal(s) the player wants to aim for within the game world, and in response the game places rewards on relevant sub-goals and makes the random events also be relevant.

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Figure out how readers get immersed in the books they read. Without graphics, without sounds, without music, without interactivity and gameplay. Then you will figure out how best to immerse your players in your game.

Otherwise we are just compileing a list of easily broken tools.


It has little to do with story, sounds, graphics, music, interactivity. It has everything to do with connecting with your players imagination. All those other things are tools used to draw them near. But those tools alone can't keep them immersed without allowing thier imagination the freedom to play.

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Quote:
Original post by Pastryman
I realized that there aren't too many games that try to be immersive

I completely disagree. IMO, most if not all TRY to immerse the player.

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I think an answer can be found in roguelikes... as example TOME. Or also Incursion. These are great examples of how to immerse a player with... nothing! well, just imagination and pure roleplaying.

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