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Fully Immersing a player into a game.

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So I've been thinking recently, and I wanted to know what you thought were the best ways to have a player fully immerse themselves in a game, and more so, which games you thought did these brilliantly, and which ones you thought failed miserably, or just lacked in execution. As an example, Take two of Rockstars biggest games, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Red Dead Redemption. In GTA IV, I rarely found myself immersed in the game, because among other things, I severely disliked almost all of the characters, excluding Nico, because of his moral ambiguity throughout the game, and Brucie, because screw it, Brucie was god damn hilarious to watch as he ran through life in the state of a perpetual drug high. But also because of how limited my play was, with such a large world with such a relatively small depth to it.

On the other hand, is Red Dead Redemption, which I found myself becoming more and more immersed in it. I felt that this was because not only were there characters that I liked and/or related to, but also because of the little things the game let you do, such as say hello to passers by, or the way in which I would occasionally hear my own actual real feats talked about around the campfire.

So, What about you?

Also, a game I felt lacked in the execution was the Assassins Creed series. Although I did in some places feel immersed, I just got fed up with things like the way in which Ezio never changed out of his singular Assassin outfit, and yet guards never seem to go "Holy shit! That's the guy that's killed like a hundred other guards", but also the way in which It seemed to me to force Ezio's plight down my throat, almost every time something bad happened to Ezio, it was a tradgedy, and every good thing was like Jesus christ himself had flown down from heaven.

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For me, the most important part for Immersion is the Music/Sound. Here is my List of Games that i felt/feel "fully immersed" in:

EVE-Online / Homeworld 2
The Music and the overall Atmosphere is what did it for me in these 2 games. Songs like
combined with a great Space Setting is just purely epic.

Command & Conquer (Original & Red Alert I)
Frank Klepacki. Need I say more?

Final Fantasy 7,8,9
Even though here the Music was great, I think it was mostly the Story that did it.

Unreal (I) & Half-Life
Again, the Sound Design of this game was amazing. Starting out in a crashed Prison carry with People screaming everywhere... Or the Voice Over in the Starting Tram-Ride in Half Life.. woah! Love it

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I'll second that. Sound is extremely important, and good music / effects are a simple way of ramping up the immersion.

If you're hacking away at some angry monster, and you miss (followed by a 'whoosh' sound through the air), this does worlds of help for immersion. Another example is if the sound of your footsteps change depending on the surface you are walking on. Little effects might not even be that noticable one at a time, but while you are playing you get this immersive soundscape that brings you in. Music is even more important. Bad/repetitive music is eventually just tuned out completely. I just ignore it. But good music is making the game experience better even while running in the background.

The Halo games had a great soundtrack that actually added to the flow of the gameplay.

In movies, they say that sound is about 50% of what makes it good. In games it's probably less, because there's a focus on interaction/mechanics, but it's still very important.
I've felt more immersed in a virtual location when it has background or theme music.

Games I've been fully immersed in:
World of Warcraft... but only when I didn't try to do any quests, and simply explored an area for the first time instead. It was rare, but WoW had it's moments.

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Sound is the big thing! I work a lot with people making tv and one of the first thing they learned is: "Pictures carry information. Sound carries emotion."
I do not even believe, that a lot of AAA-titles try to be immersive. They try to be fun (which I believe is a huge mistake, because it doesn't help evolving video games as "art", but that's kind of off-topic).
Now, the game I felt was handling immersion best, is "Amnesia - The Dark Descent". It doesn't really have that amazing graphics, yet the sound is incredible. (Even though I read, they didn't even hire a specialist (except for the outstanding voice actors. You should ALWAYS hire good voice actors.)
You should REALLY try the demo. And read the developers blog, because he really tackles the topic.
I only feel immersed, when the game(or movie, or book or play or whatever) evokes emotions and I believe good sound and writing and character design are the things one should care about to achieve this. Usually the focus on gfx and game play only hinders your efforts to get the player immersed.

Please excuse my spelling/writing. I'd appreciate a pm with corrections.

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I would argue that immersion is not always a good thing. To take the example of GTA IV, I never lost any awareness of the fact that I was playing a game, and never felt properly "immersed" in it, in the same way I've never felt immersed in Scrabble, but I had fun playing them nevertheless. The core principle of a game is for it to be entertaining, artistic value and immersion are either achieved as part of the process of making it entertaining, or forced in the hope that the player bear with a boring game to see what the point of it all is. Real life is about as immersive as it gets, but I'm sure there are times when we'd all rather be doing something more interesting.

Anyway, if immersion is important to a particular game, the thing in my mind that nobody's mentioned yet is pacing. This doesn't necessarily mean how quickly the action in a game takes place; that would only apply to a particular group of genres. A better way of thinking about pacing in a broader sense is the frequency with which the player is challenged. Challenging the player appropriately can help to immerse them in the game world and is also a major factor in the entertainment value of a game. At times the player may be set many challenges in quick succession, be it fending off multiple attackers, or solving a series of puzzles which allow the player to progress. At other times the player will have a single challenge which takes place at a slower pace, like navigating from one place to another, or piecing together clues gathered in the world. Depending on your intentions you might use the slower pace to build tension and the faster paced sections to bring about some sort of relief, or closure.

The basic idea behind changing the pace of a game for the purpose of immersion is that it makes the player both considerer the game in a large scale; the mechanics of the world or the effects of their actions, and focus them on particular instances and hold their attention deeply on a single goal. Remember that the immediacy of past-paced gameplay will always take precedence over the slower pace, you shouldn't be expecting the player to think about financing their empire whilst fending off a band of rampaging space orcs.

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The only game which lets me fully immerse my self into it is World of Warcraft.
I tried quitting many times, only to find other games aren't up to par.

I was trying to comprehend what it is in WoW that works, and what it is in other games that bothers me so. And came up with this small list, surely it's not a complete list
1 - being able to go anywhere.
As an example in Guild Wars (I only played original), or Dragon Age, there are certain places you simply cannot go. It maybe a tiny hill that seems like if the character just raised their leg knee-high could climb on top of it.

2 - awkward pathfinding
When games do the pathfinding for me, it's often going to end up looking awkward. The character first spins to the direction they want to head to, than starts running there, slowing down in some places ... it's just odd. So I prefer WoW movement of having full control as to where your character is going

3 - never stuck
It is important for your character to always be able to progress. If the next battle is just too hard, going back and doing something else should always be an option. Getting stuck rips me right out of any sense of immersion.

Besides those points, there is nothing that 'terrible' about other games I've tried, that I can point out.

WoW also offers many ways to capture and keep attention.
1 - many professions.
Having professions is interesting. Having so many of them that any one toon can't learn them all is even more interesting, it keeps you hooked if you're willing to level more characters to learn those professions

2 - many playable types
In WoW terms it's races such as orcs/humans/etc. They all have their differences and they aren't stricktly cosmetic, they actually have race-specific talents/spells/things to do

3 - auction house
this can keep you occupied for a while every time you go there

4 - different instances

5 - both solo and multi-player
WoW has both of those

6 - the most important thing to keep someone hooked is to reward them for time spent playing
WoW does it all.
Kill a boar? - gold.
Kill a boss? - item
Kill a player? - points to be turned into items
There isn't a reward for just being logged in - which is good though.
Fishing - gold
Archeology - potential for items, lore

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I think there's a distinct difference between "immersion" and "keeping you busy". A lot of the things that you said make WoW immersive really just keep you busy. If I had to choose one game that immersed me I'd have to say Half-Life one and two. The world in both, regardless of the graphics in the first one (which I still think are pretty damn good, but I don't jerk off to pixel shaders), was so detailed that I often got lost in it. There was not a single dull moment in either of those games because everything was always fresh.

As for the thing that I think destroys immersion, I'd have to say: cut-scenes.

I watched my roommate play one of the newer Final Fantasy games and I felt like I was watching a movie. Every important plot development was so totally removed from the player that I asked her why she was playing. Her answer was that she didn't really know, she just wanted to have beaten them all. The Metal Gear Solid series is another offender. MGS was a great game, and I loved every second of game play. However, I got really sick of watching 20 or 30 minutes cut-scenes; If I wanted to watch a movie, I would go watch a movie.

I'm very glad that a lot of modern games are starting to shy away from long cut-scenes, or even using them at all. One of my favorite parts of Half-Life (the entire series, really. Blue Shift, Opposing Force, HL2, etc) was that there weren't any cut-scenes. Instead they used scripted sequences, which are much more effective at advancing the plot without removing the player and forcing them to be passive.

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1) Sound track. I think of Zelda OoT, Oblivion, Halo....

2)Reward system. Nothing should be repetitive, especially earnings.

3)Scenic vistas. I couldn't play New Vegas for more then 15 minutes because it was PAW everywhere I looked. Of course, you need to be able to roam to achieve scenic vistas.

I think realistic exploration also adds to the game. With Zelda OoT, it was the first game I really could sit for hours and hours. Day time transitions helped, as well as other transitions like weather and sound.
IMO if you can create a situation where the player can feel like they are safe inside an isolated area, doing their own thing in the middle of a much larger space, you have a good chance of satisfaction. Oblivion did a good job with this with all of the small inns with people and quests that were in them.

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Agreed with Half_Duplex's second point, rewarding system is also very important for immersion, it makes player addictive to your game and thus forgot their time.

Recently I am playing NFS: Hot Pursuit and I am always totally immersed in that game. Every time I completed a new event, I would won a lot of bounty to unlock a new car and to give me another higher title. This rewarding system keeps me addictive to the game and forgot the time sometimes.

What's more, the tension it generated during a match kept me busy. Though I agree that being busy is different from being immersed, keeping you busy with the staff created in game necessarily leads to higher emotion like immersion cause few things in reality will divert you. So it is OK to let the player being busy, provided you have offered a complete and deep world.

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