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Five surprising immersion killers in games

Immersion is very high on the priority list for our first game. It’s a fun topic to research, and in the future I’d love to talk more about my findings. But today, just one little thing: immersion killers that disguise themselves as smart, desirable gameplay features.

“Disguise”? Yeah, it’s not about things like invisible walls, small obstacles we cannot jump over, or NPCs repeating the same line over and over again. These are just examples of bad design and execution, and no one argues they are not.

No, this post is about things most people would consider “great design”, but, in my opinion, these people would be dead wrong.

As it’s always the case with these posts, this one is also written just to prod the brain. I don’t claim to have all the answers. When I say let’s question everything, I say it to myself too.

Anyway, here we go.

VISIBLE LIMBS IN FPP GAMES

Limbs in FPP

Most people would say it’s absolutely necessary that FPP games show hands and legs of the avatar. It seems obvious, right?

The problem is that limbs only work as an element of immersion if you see them all the time, or a lot. You just get used to it and stop noticing. That is why they work so well in any FPP shooter like Call of Duty.

But imagine a game without guns, i.e. without the reason to have your hands at the chest/eye level all the time. Whenever you saw the hands, you would immediately realize they were not yours. We, humans, recognize such things instantly. And because of that, the “show of hands” would be nothing else but a reminder that it’s not you in this particular game world. It’s just some dude that you control like a puppet, for some unexplained reason.

We use First Person Perspective to assure total immersion. Alien limbs popping up in our view just make us realize it’s not us in Karthok, slaying dragons. We’re here, at home, on the sofa.

LACK OF QTE IN FPP FIGHTS

QTE

Whoa, whoa, whoa… There’s no way I can find any sort of justification for the existence of QTEs, can I?

Yes, I can.

Anyone who played Black Ops 2 must have noticed that, unlike in any previous game in the CoD series, you win any FPP fight automatically. Any encounter with a thug and his knife is just a First Person cut-scene. QTEs are gone.

I get it. If you make the QTEs hard to win, then people will get pissed. If you make them easy to win, then 99% of people will indeed win, but, as a developer, you still have to produce “lose” animations just for the 1% trolling your game.

Still, the lack of any input makes you, the player, watch you, the avatar, doing stuff in the game. This out of body trip is not quite something we can easily live with, unless under the influence of certain illegal substances or during a near death experience.

When the FPP animation is short or when it’s peppered with the player’s input, it’s all good. But when your avatar does something for ten or more seconds without any input from you, the immersion is killed.

Just so we’re clear, this is not something specific to Black Ops 2. Many more games suffer from this issue.

LACK OF HUD

No HUD

Some people believe that HUDless games are the Holy Grail, because we can achieve “more immersion” this way, and we don’t have a HUD in real-life.

Well, we can also smell and touch in real-life, and we don’t look at the world through a small, flat 16:9 window.

When you fight a boss, and you have no idea if you’re doing any damage, if you fire a gun and have no idea how many bullets are left in the clip, or if you don’t see the vision cones of the guards, this may very well be a perfect mirror of reality.

But the problem, then, is: the game offers me a small percent of what my senses can be stimulated with in real life, but requires me to behave as if it’s 100%.

For the foreseeable future, games will have to compensate for the lack of the full spectrum of sensory inputs. For example, by using HUD.

QUICKSAVES

QuickSave

The ability to save anywhere, anytime can turn games from live, dynamic experiences into methodological, slow burn that’s less about immersion, and more about puzzle solving.

In Deus Ex: Human Revolution I’ve used the QuickSave button about one thousand times – or more. I always had a plan: I am going to be stealthy, kill this guy first, then go there, then kill that guy, etc. The gameplay was always a mere execution of that plan. Any failure, any slight deviation, any alarm raised – and I was already QuickLoading.

It worked well in Deus Ex, because the game was designed with this in mind. But how about one day we make a game where there’s no saving the game, and if we fuck up, we have to deal with the situation on the spot, and live with the consequences?

I know some of that is already popping up here and there, but that’s not actually the point here. The point is: QuickSaves kill immersion because the turn the game into a game of chess with yourself. You are not in the world, you are the world. You do not deal with the situation, you just recreate events you’ve already told yourself in your head.

SUBTITLES

Subtitles

I had a hard time choosing between this and “famous actors in video games”, but I have decided I was more bothered by the former.

It’s not a problem that native speakers will appreciate. For anyone else, they must know what I’m talking about.

Playing an English-language video game usually involves turning the subtitles on. It’s a good thing, right?

The thing is, we read faster than the actors say their lines. We’re done with the line after two seconds, but we have to wait five seconds more for the actor to finish the very same line. In games, moments like these feel like an eternity and crystalized pain, and obviously kill the immersion.

Turning the subs off is not a solution (I want to understand 100% of the game, not the most of it) and it’s not an easy problem to solve. But if anyone’s listening, could you please tell these actors to hurry the fuck up? I swear, actors in video games talk twice as slow when compared to movies or TV.


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