Friday, December 18, 2009

Game Design: Immersiveness

Immersiveness is a rather difficult concept to implement into a game. Of course, not every game should implement it. Not every game can. It is just a game design direction and preference. A straightforward game with levels as a core design feature, for example, contradicts the whole concept all together.

Gamers, or people in general, look for patterns in a game. Once they figured the structure for your game, the sense of immersiveness is lost. They will start to see your game nothing more than what it really is: A game. If you are reading this, you would probably want your game to be a little more than that.

People, being human beings they are, love their accomplishments and works to be recognized. A player does something, he expects something to happen. The more feedback he gets from the world itself, the more he actually 'felt' that he did something.

A good (and rather extreme) example is the Megaton nuke quest in Fallout 3. If you actually did the nuke and blew up Megaton, some NPCs all over the world will start to have reactions towards you when you talk to them (some are good while others are bad).

So the first step is reactions and feedback from the world itself. Feed the player's self-esteem and ego. They all love it. And don't just give them text or UI feedback. NPC, or even better, world feedback is the best. Maybe whatever the player did changes the climate of the area. The sky becomes red and it starts raining blood or whatever floats your boat. Of course, that was another extreme example, but you get what I mean. A simple NPC running up to the player going "omg you killed the vampire, you are my hero!" or "I heard you helped NPC01's garden, eh?" is good enough for smaller deeds.

It's even better if he was given the choice to do it or not, allowing different reactions and feedback depending on the choice chosen, and that brings us to the next point.

Of course, don't overdo it. There's a threshold before players start getting annoyed with all the feedback.

Another great way of implementing immersiveness is the freedom of choice. Of course, true freedom of choice is impossible. However, if you can implement a choice that hits what the player would really want to do, it gives them the 'illusion' that there is freedom of choice. The more variety of choices available, the higher the chances of them hitting what the player want. Usually you want to have the 'right' choice, the 'evil' choice and a couple of grey choices.

For example, an NPC that refuses to do your bidding. Choices usually goes like:
1) Kill them
2) Pay them
3) Persuade them
4) Preach to them

Of course, depending on the character or the content, you can have more choices that leads to better or more amusing results (like how Malkevians in Vampires the Masquerade can turn people insane).

Again, don't overdo it. It will potentially kill your scripters and programmers. Just have enough to cover most of the areas. Given what I said about feedback earlier, a single choice may result a lot more scripting elsewhere.

Party Memebers
Party memebers should never EVER be silent. They should never EVER only talk at events. In fact, they should be interactive enough to randomly comment on events around you. I think most of Bioware games did this, including the recent Dragon Age: Origins. It not only builds the personality of your party members, but it also gives the player the feeling that his characters are not just tools for battle, thus leading to immersiveness.

It gets even better if you allow your character's actions and dialogs with the party members to change their views on certain things. This can be initiated by either the main character himself, or the party members (like walking around and they randomly open a dialog with you).

Tension between party members creates a bit of drama, and everyone loves drama. Conversations should not only happen towards the main character, it should also happen between party members. Like in Baldur's Gate 2, recruiting Keldorn the Paladin creates a huge tension with Edwin the Mage (results can be extreme though; Keldorn ends up attacking Edwin).

This point should automatically create 2 important points for your party members (unless you really are creatively handicapped, no offense):
1) Interesting character personality
2) Character development

A Living World
This combines music, sound and graphics. This point should go without saying, creating an ambiance that fulfills the area. A bustling city should sound, feel and look like a bustling city.

Not only that, the area must have interesting things to look at, interesting things to interact with, giving the players the urge to explore your contents. A city with just guards walking around and beautiful ambiance, terrain and design wouldn't interest the players at all. Players will just end up getting to where they want to go and do what they want to do.

Create distractions. Distract the players from their goal. Create interesting places of interest and point your characters there with quests. Quests should never happen at a fixed type of location; it should happen ANYWHERE. Use that to your advantage. Give them the feel that they have lots of things to do, preferably in a disorganized way (like quest givers popping up from nowhere...don't overdo it though).

Just remember that you are trying to create a real-life-like situation here. Quests don't always happen selectively by the player's wishes. Quests can come in many many different ways; it all depends on your creativity. It can come in a form of a dream, a paid messenger, or even something your player saw. It can be anything.

Remember that the further you manage to distract the player from the norm, the more the player will fail to see a pattern in your game and thus resulting in the player thinking that your game is 'alive' and hence immerse them into the game.

That's it for Immersiveness. It's not even a word in the dictionary, but it is important to some games. Just my thoughts on it.

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