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The Trouble with Immersion, or the Opening of Metro: Last Light
by Adrian Chmielarz on 05/16/13 09:35:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This post originally appeared on The Astronauts blog.


Metro: Last Light has just been released, and I’ve played the first five minutes. I have no idea if the game is great or not, but those five minutes ooze of production values, atmosphere, and are a promise of extraordinary things to come.

They also suffer from the lack of immersion, the exact opposite of what the game is trying to achieve.

Metro Last Light

Let’s be clear about one thing here. I am using Metro just as an example. It’s just the latest game with this particular problem. There’s been a thousand more, and a thousand more will come. Heck, Metro is actually above most of them, as the developer does understand the issue and tried to deal with it, as I will show a bit later.

Side note: here is where I wanted to embed a YouTube video with the first 5-10 minutes of the game. However, even though I checked out about a dozen different versions, none would work. It's astounding how people record these walkthroughs. It's not that they rush through the game, it's just that they are completely clueless, staring at random walls and floors, and missing all the interesting content. Even if they notice something entertaining, they just look at it for a second, tick off a mental checkbox and move on. Such behavior could probably be a subject of a whole new blog post. Anyway, for now let's just use text and a couple of screengrabs.

Here is what happens (and don’t worry, this is not a part that can be considered spoiler-sensitive). A guy tells you to hurry up and see your commanding officer asap. You go to see the commanding officer. On the way, you can see a lot of people engaged in various activities: a soldier cleaning a weapon, a group of mercenaries discussing a rumor, etc. It’s all well done, interesting, and there’s a lot to learn about the world: both visually and through eavesdropping.

Metro Last Light 1

You may think that the problem I talk about is the conflict between the gameplay (mission: get to the commanding officer asap!) and the world (not stopping every ten meters to learn more about the world feels like missing vital parts of the story). It’s not.

Well, okay, it is indeed a problem – the soldier should have just told me: “Hey, your boss was here looking for you” and voila, problem solved, I know what to do, but I don’t feel the need to rush through the world anymore – but it’s not the issue I want to talk about today.

The problem is that the entire world does not feel like a real place. It feels like an animated diorama.


Humans are brilliant at reading patterns.

When we start playing a video game, its world and rules are alien to us. We do understand some of it (e.g. if it’s a game from a genre we know), but not everything. Those parts we don’t understand, we analyze. We poke around, try to interact with things, study the world.

We learn things.

So you begin Metro and look around. There is a guitar there, and an action icon appears. You press the button and “play” the guitar for a second. Okay, so that’s how this works.

Then you leave the room, and you see two dudes talking to each other. You stop and listen, trying to see what happens.

Metro Last Light 3

It’s supposed to be another immersive moment. But unless this is your first game ever, you know they won’t be talking forever.

When do you move away and continue your journey?

When the dudes stop talking and lose themselves in a never ending animation loop of looking at each other.

You’re done here, so you move on.

In another place, a soldier is cleaning his gun. It’s a delightful animation, most likely motion captured, the soldier model looks fantastic.

Metro Last Light 2

When do you stop watching? When his animation loops, and he begins cleaning his gun from scratch, repeating the same steps as before.

And then it hits you.

These are not human beings, and this is not a virtual real world. This is a theme park ride full of mechanical creatures.

As I mentioned it before, the developer of Metro tried to fight that problem, and they took things to the next level. When you approach another group, they stop talking to each other and start talking to you. After that’s done, they pick up their conversation from where they left off.

But when they finish that conversation, they inevitably get silent and begin their never-ending loop of staring at the windows and sighing.

Take a look at this very short scene from Max Payne 3. When I experienced this moment in the game, these were my thoughts:

“Cool! A nice looking mo-cap of kids playing soccer”

“They did not want me to interact with them, so that’s why it all happens behind a fence”

“I wonder if they will go into an animation loop”

“Someone called the children, and they left the scene? Nice. It was a one-off. No loop!”

…but not even for a second I was in São Paulo, watching children playing soccer. I was merely observing a perfectly animated script.

Oops, sorry for ruining video games for you.

Seriously, though, is it just me? Is everyone else buying this, and I just see these things because I am a game designer and I analyze everything I play?

Honestly, I don’t think so. I’ve been reading stories about movie directors crying during the movies of other directors – and in theory they shouldn’t, right? Also, everybody knows darned well that a horror movie is just a movie and it’s all fake blood and silly noises – and yet we close our eyes and wet our diapers just the same.

Scared Man

How to solve this problem? How avoid the loss of immersion in situations like the ones mentioned above?

One method is through a lot of work that only the biggest studios will be able to afford. I mean, isn’t it silly that you can look armed soldiers in the eyes for eternity, and they are okay with it? Shouldn’t they be bothered? Shouldn’t they threaten you and kick your ass if you keep provoking them with your First Person Perspective stare?

Or just never allow the player to experience the animation loop. Imagine the same opening in Metro as it is now, but with two guards escorting you to the commanding officer. If you stop for too long, they get angrier and angrier, until they murder you and you learn a valuable lesson.

I could keep coming up with these scenarios, and it’s all doable, but that is a lot of AI and a lot of extra scripting and a story re-write and a lot of extra hard work in general. Actually, it’s even harder than anyone thinks because it’s not about securing the game from player’s poking and prodding. It’s making sure that the player never even thinks to test the game in such way. You don’t lose me when I see an animation repeating itself. You already lost me when I decided to check if the animation would repeat itself.

Is there another way, then? Easier, perhaps?

Possibly, yes.

The handshake | Seals the contract | From the contract | There's no turning back

Remember that song? No? Never mind… Anyway, I’m talking about the contract between the players and the creators.

THE PLAYER: I agree to give it my best not to try to break the game or peek under its hood.

THE CREATOR: I will not tease and invite you to break the game or peek under its hood.

If you, the player, promise not to fire at the children playing soccer just to see what happens, we, the creators, will hide the end of their animation sequence by distracting you with enemies suddenly appearing and attacking from the some other direction. It will be absolutely normal that the children run away, and you won’t think twice about it anyway, busy killing people, and everyone is going to be very happy about the whole affair. Even the enemies, when they experience the glory of dying in slow motion.

If you encounter a soldier cleaning his gun, we promise that the soldier will turn to you and say “What, Artyom, never seen a gun before? Just fuck off, will you?” if you promise that right after his little outburst you will be on your merry way - just like you would if you were really there.

If you promise not to stare at a group of people to see when their animation loops, we will have them say to each other: “Hey, it’s that weirdo again. Let’s wait until he’s gone”, and if you promise not to challenge them with your piercing stare, then we will have them resume their talk just so you can eavesdrop on them, learn something cool, and leave when someone interrupts them and says they are needed elsewhere.

In other words, let’s meet halfway.

The contract.

You signed it once already when you played with your toy soldiers as a kid, right? Why not do it again, as an adult?

Toy Soldiers

To be clear, I did not use the examples above to show how I would “fix” Metro or Max. I just used them because we just talked about them, and they are a good point of reference. And honestly, I don’t even know if these solutions would work in “the real world”, as designing on paper and seeing things in action are two different things. It’s just a general idea that we need to try a bit harder (although it does feel silly saying it when you know this), but you also might want to cut us some slack.

Meanwhile, the paradox is that the worlds of Metro and Max Payne and hundreds of other games are the most immersive, and we feel the strongest sense of presence when we are just exploring them without a friendly soul in sight. So far, even if they could be full of "enemies", almost nothing beats barren wastelands, abandoned asylums, and forgotten ancient temples when it comes to immersion. Except interactive dramas and some open world games, but they are a whole different story.

Immersion is a bitch, and for now we cannot kick its ass without your help.


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Juan Barbosa
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In games like ElderScrolls/Fallout/LoZ: Majora's Mask the characters have animation loops for certain periods but fundamentally the characters have a routine and do different things throughout the day. Is this something along the lines of what your thinking but with a reactive experience to the player character?

Yama Habib
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I feel like those games in particular are even purer examples of immersive AI than suggested here. Rather than creating the illusion of characters that live their own lives, those lives are hard coded into the NPC's themselves. A lumberjack will be programmed to cut trees in the daytime, hit the bar in the evening, and go to sleep in his home at night. Even in the short term, in the case of Bethesda's games, NPC's will have a procedural conversation, end it, then proceed on to doing something else once it's done, nothing 100% scripted, nothing immediately looped.

Adrian Chmielarz
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This sounds good, but the problem is with also with linear games full of one-off encounters. We need to figure out how to make the player move on without the reason being "I've run out of things to watch".

Jeffrey Cochran
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@Adrian: Maybe the solution is to make everything more boring :)

imo, Honestly, at the end of the day, the average player isn't interested in sucking the marrow from the game. Take those let's plays that the author couldn't find. I think the issue is, like the author said, that immersion is ok for people who don't really care about what the AI says, or trying to hear every bit of dialogue. However, for some people, the game isn't "shoot all the bad guys," the game is "get every bit of story that the creators included." And the latter involves watching the game in such detail that it involves a break of immersion. I guess, kind of ironically, story-world immersion is left to the party who cares about it the least.

There's not going to be a chance to have a contract with the player, because even though everyone has the same software, it's a slightly different game to everyone.

Lewis Wakeford
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Nice Article.

This is pretty much how I play games already. I know I can probably look too hard at a game and expose how fake it is, but I'd rather react realistically (not hanging around staring at people like some kind of creep) because it's more fun.

James Gambrell
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You hit the nail on the head. Before you complain about games not being realistic, take a look at your own actions! You aren't going to shoot some kids playing soccer, if you are on a mission you aren't going to offer them candy, you are just going to walk by! So walk by! In reality its very rude to just stand there and eavesdrop on a conversation, you are only doing that because it is interesting! The realistic thing to do is keep walking.

So Adrian is complaining that the conversation is so interesting that it forces him to sit there like a creep, but the NPCs don't react to him being a creep by stopping their interesting conversation he wanted to listen to? Hmm.

Ernst-Jan van Melle
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Perhaps VR equipment like the rift will help make in-game situations more socially awkward for us. I have not yet experienced awkwardness in a game. But I would like to.

Bryce Walton
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This is how I play games, too. I see a world, but I see the cracks. When I see the cracks, I think to myself, "Ooh, maybe if I stare long enough/climb up there/explore that secret looking area/etc., there will be somehing else to see!" I'm a heavy explorer player type, and I want to explore the entirety of the game world. However, a fully 3D, high polygon, beautifully textured person standing there saying the same phrase over and over again just doesn't feel as "right" as the old 2D sprites did.

This disconnect is how I ruined Amnesia for myself. I saw a hole in the ceiling and a large number of crates I could move: Clearly there will be a secret up there if I can manage to stack every crate in the level just perfectly to climb up there! However, what I discovered was a room I was clearly not intended to enter - the walls didn't reach the floors at all. I suddenly broke the entirety of the illusion. I was in a game, and the monsters were just pixels. One day, I hope to return to the game and experience it as intended beyond the first level.

I also felt this disconnect in Halo 4, where the Master Chief I played was not the one in the cinematics. Cortana demands constant urgency in every objective, that I need to be there yesterday at all times. This urgency clashed with the stop and go of combat, which seemed to be in the way of the rush encouraged by Cortana and the Chief. I would trigger the next cinematic after sprinting across the battlefield, activating the cutscene under heavy fire and at a full run, only to enter a new world where Master Chief was walking carefully without the gunfire. There were so many firefights that I had nothing to do with, aside from being the moving target.

Silent Hill has been a bastion of immersion, though, specifically Shattered Memories and Downpour. Shattered Memories (despite -several- game breaking bugs, including the corruption of my save) built a world of a worried father searching for his lost daughter in a world of nightmares. From the A Button being tied to calling out for Cheryl at the start of the game, to the cellphone interface for game options (and showing you the battery level of the Wii Remote!), to some of the finest motion controls I've experienced, to the NPC women that you walk and talk with, who stop when you wander off and tell you to hurry up, who call you out on staring at them, the game feels like a world. Downpour has an equally strong opening, where the only action available is to move forward at a set speed when the prison guard calls you. This limitation sells the world from the get-go.

Immersion is a tricky beast, especially when the fourth wall is so thin with the player being the main actor of the show. It really does seem to boil down to the tiniest details and keeping the player interested I the task at hand as opposed to exploring behind the curtains. When it comes down to it, we're really just trying to hide the man behind the curtain, selling our own great and terrible wizard. Of course, there's always the option of tearing the fourth wall down entirely (see Kid Icarus Uprising)...

Mark Slabinski
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So it seems like you're saying that your suspension of disbelief was actively broken by these repeating loops, which I have heard before, oddly enough, from people who almost never play games (all the game-y stuff sticks out to them like a sore thumb). It could very well be that your enlightened state as a developer makes it more difficult to get past the fasle sense of immersion. I hate beating a dead horse when it comes to discussing game design, but Valve ran into a very similar kind of problem when creating Half-Life 2. They engineered nearly every sequence in the game to minimize these immersion-breaking moments. Characters do stuff, then exit the stage, so you always feel like there's momentum in what people are doing. It's not perfect, and there are plenty of examples of loops and game-y action, but it works really well after you've got the players hooked on the actual action and story.

Adrian Chmielarz
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Exactly. But exiting a room or splitting paths do not cut it anymore. Sooner or later it all becomes too convenient, too predictable. We need one more layer. But it's damn hard to figure out what exactly should that be :)

Vytautas Katarzis
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@ Mark:

I got to agree with HL2 thing. Valve really made these moments seem natural and not staged. There are quite few things worth mentioning : like say event happens behind semi ope doors, and you can only see the events through a small gap, once the scripted event ends, some npc (or just environment) will close the doors, it both looks natural and gives player that subconscious cue "well, time to move" without breaking immersion.

Another example is making loopable moments seem natural even though they are loopable. This one is quite tricky, because you can't make any loopable event look natural. Example from HL2 comes to mind in Sandtraps (?) chapter, when you are instructed to drive to coast to some lighthouse, when that NPC explains this he goes on to his radio station and tries to contact one of the outposts. There begins loopable moment : he tries to contact that outpost, and sends this message many times (well, virtually infinite), but it seems natural, because that is how a person would behave in such situation - he could stand near that radio station saying the same 2 sentences for hours, because he needs to contact that outpost and this is the only way to do this.

Kevin Fishburne
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I think this is an example of the various disciplines/facets of game development advancing at uneven rates. As Bryce points out, an [S]NES-era 2D idle animation is fine but a photorealistic modern one just looks weird.

One reason I can think of for this is that graphics, for example, can be improved by iterating largely the same old processes but with more detail, while something like AI has yet to be mastered by the greatest minds and fastest supercomputers on the planet.

Music and sound effects have largely stagnated since the rise of the CD-ROM and the ubiquity of the sound card/chipset with the exception of more money being pumped into production values.

I think the disparity in integrity between the systems that comprise modern AAA games is one of the things that turns me away from them. It really is just an animatronic-laden ride at Disney; cool the first few times, but then you find yourself wanting.

Michele Kribel
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I may be a mile off, but I think that one very underused in-game device which, however, defines us as a species in my view is the notion of 'time'. I think this is one of the core factors causing what is described in this article: the perpetual disconnect between 'my objective' and 'my not being compelled to reaching it', using time as a unit of measure.

I have not played the new Metro, but in the beginning of this article you stated that "A guy tells you to hurry up and see your commanding officer asap". Now why is it that certain players will simply ignore this basic instruction? Because they see something a lot more unimmersive than patterns. They just know that that urgency is fake, just flavour, and that there will be no meaningful consequence if they play guitar while an officer ordered them to go see them.

As an opposite example, think of games where in game time actually affects your story, such as Dead Rising. You're just not going to chat with every person in the same room you know? You have 30 minutes to get that one thing done, which may or may not be vital. And 30 mins feels really tight, because you have to get to the other side of the mall!

Another thing that is mentioned in the article is that 'fixing' these issues would be very expensive. I think we should stop thinking about games in terms of how high their production value is going to be to keep up the illusion of immersion, and actually focus on real immersion, by acknowledging that games are a different media than films. We should use gameplay to immerse players.

I'll use an old title as an example: if in Gothic 2 (look it up if you don't know what I'm talking about :D) you waltz into somebody's room, they will rush towards you and give you a warning to leave. As that happens, usually their buddies show up as well. Ignore the warning, and the second warning is a little more intimidating. On the third remark, the NPC and all of their buddies will come rushing in and beat the crap out of you, leaving you alive (with 1 hp). They will then steal your weapon AND all of your coins. This is a great device that stops compulsive RPG players from stealing everything there ever was, and leave a lot of areas unvisited, which is realistic and immersive. However, if you attempt the same thing when you have a high enough XP level that you are a truly intimidating foe and that NPC are not going to want to mess with you, suddenly looting anybody's home becomes possible, as NPCs seem to "fear for their lives" on the sole thought of what would happen if they tried to stop you. I mean, for all I know this may be a bug/exploit, but the mere fact that I don't know that is immersive, no?

I'm not sure how expensive this piece of AI code has been, but it surely worked to teach me not to steal from other NPCs. :)

Second real quick example: BioShock1 vs SystemShock2...

BioShock: vast majority of audio logs is story driven and only contains fluff. Sometimes it's interesting fluff, but it still does not affect the player's decisions. There are exceptions of course, but I feel they are in the minority

SystemShock: numerous audio logs contain valuable information. Say, you may be led to finding a gun under a bed, where you likely would not have looked if you didn't listen to that audio log. Or maybe you'll find a different route to a place you may need, or not need to go

Sorry for the long comment and thank you for this interesting article.

Joseph Blower
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I had to reply to the "sorry for the long comment" thing (as my first site comment). I've found that longer comments tend to be better written (more cogent, with better stylistics). I like them, myself. I vastly prefer them to inane twitter content. :)

Steven An
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It's really hard to do this kind of stuff correctly isn't it? I still think Half-Life 1 was one of the best examples of doing it right. When they do a scripted scene, it's usually a Big Fucking Deal, and you can't stick around too long or you'll die. BioShock 1 did it pretty well, and ironically, BioShock: Infinite is full of examples of how NOT to do it (the singing kids..)

Dave Hoskins
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The Bioshock Infinite fairground bit was horrible, the whole town was standing still and in a loop, it didn't help that they looked plastic. Perhaps they were supposed to be manikins in the player's dream like world, but it lost all immersion to me. The companion was done quite well though, and I liked they way she ran ahead of me at obvious way points.

Thomas Grip
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Some thoughts that I might just drop here:

1) The most important thing to consider in these sort situations is "what is the intention?". Is it to convey story? Is it in order to show the suffering of the people? Is it just to have some juice that make the game extra shiny to look at?
And then when you know this, then you need to think about the best way to pull that off. If all they want is to add a feeling of juice to the game: this implementation is successful! If they wanted to provoke empathy, then they might consider another route.

2) If you are going to have some contract it is worth to actually explicitly state it at the start of the game. Games vary quite a lot in what you are supposed to do, so being up front about can be essential. We did this in Amnesia and it was probably the best single design choice we made.

3) The problem here is obviously that the action set available to the player is way larger than the output possible from the characters. Added on top of that is an affordance (really life-like people) that implies you full range of actions ought to be possible. Thus, the solutions available are:
- Reduce the sense of affordance. For instance, what if the people are behind glass, messages come from radios etc. No longer is it strange that your actions do not work.
- Limit the range of actions. If you are unable to engage in these people well enough why should you have the option to do so? Perhaps your only action is to decide whether to move forward or not. Of course this clashes with the controls for shooting sections, but that is pretty much the same issue that a dialog system has.

4) The solution to add more complexity rarely works out. For every additional actions that is possible with a character, it just raise the level of affordance and thus make other non-implemented options stand out. It becomes an arms race that end in utter chaos and/or sentient robots. It can work in scenarios, but often only by doing something from my 3rd point. The reason why the scenario in the post is so bad is because all options are open. If in a fire-fight, the horizon of plausible actions is greatly reduced and it becomes easier to implement suitable reactions.

Chris Clogg
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The soldiers in the games I play must think I'm really weird. I'm always the guy bunny hopping around during in-game cut-scenes.

Nick Harris
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...but no one ever comments on this. No one thinks you're rude for staring, or looking at the ceiling when they are trying to talk to you, or wandering around messing with their stuff, or turning your back on them, or attempting to look up their skirt...

The flip-side to this is that you ought to be able to nod in agreement, shake your head, or look at the floor to express your character's shame. The control scheme needs to deemphasize the switching of weapons, reloading and the like completely and support articulate conversational mechanics as a priority. If we want better plots in our adventures then we should prioritize all attempts that the player-as-character may make in the way of participating in a dialog as well as issuing orders when diplomacy fails and weapons eventually are required to persuade. We should view starting an adventure 'gun in hand' as a lost opportunity in terms of an interesting character arc - what happened to them to make them think that violence was the answer, why did diplomacy fail?

Normally, games contextually trigger NPC monologues when you stand in front of them. This isn't too bad if they are standing in one place like the waxworks in id's RAGE, but in Nintendo's Majora's Mask you are forced to race across the marketplace to interpose yourself in front of whoever you want to listen to and the only way to prematurely exit the "conversation" is to switch off the console. The solution to the first bit of unnaturalness is to let your character call out 'Hey!' to whoever is in the centre of their vision by pressing (A) on the 360 gamepad. The simplest reaction would then be for them to stop and turn to see who was shouting at them, but you could make it so that they didn't hear you if they were out of earshot, in conversation with someone else, wearing headphones, or deaf. Consequently, you might have to sprint up to them repeatedly pressing (A) to gain their attention, if only by inferring from the reactions of the surrounding crowd that you urgently needed to communicate with them. This frees them to be much further away, or on the point of leaving the area, or entering a building or vehicle and becoming unobtainable - thereby generating dramatic tension. Once the conversation was started you might want to prematurely exit their expository monologue (e.g. it may be your second playthrough), so you need some way to say 'Bye!' by interrupting them mid flow with a press of (B). They could get annoyed at you for this breach of conversational ettiquette and in future chose to ignore your hails, or worse: get angry. As you start without weaponry LT and RT default to melee attacks with the left and right fists - but these will only incapacitate, not kill and only until they gain assistance or eventually regain consciousness by themselves, luckily with no memory of the perpetrator if they were drunk.

As there is no way to construct sentences articulately with the 360 gamepad and using some form of natural language speech recognition is too unreliable (and reasserts the player's own identity and voice over that of the character they are role playing, breaking immersion), the player-character is constrained to passively respond to questions from the NPC that they have waylaid with 'Hey!'

The adventure knows what the player-character's supposed current active goal is, but it does not just have the NPC perform the necessary exposition you need to know what to do next, or how to do it, as they also have a modus operandi of their own. You may have to conceal your true intent and lie in response to searching questions:

NPC: 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party'

YOU: (X) 'No'

NPC: 'Do you consider yourself to be a Patriot?'

YOU: (Y) 'Yes'

...for illustrative purposes only...

Isn't it strange that most 'dialogue' in games has the NPC passive, subservient even? Where are the truly independent self-motivated dramatis personae whose interrelationships make stories emerge out of a deeper simulation?

Yet, this passive scheme wouldn't prevent you from tying an NPC to a chair and interrogating them by alternately beating them with LT and RT punches and simply refusing to answer WHY you were doing so, until they asked you if you thought they were responsible for some act of terrorism or betrayal, and when suitably softened up confessed to their part in a conspiracy. You could still mishandle this. Beat them too much and you may incapacitate them (it helps that LT and RT are analog triggers so you can hit them without full force). Go easy and they will test your resolve, dancing around your suspicions of them, questioning your motives and intel. You have to trap them intellectually with the right set of facts garnered from your prior investigations, weaken them and then at the appropriate moment give them a way out through their confession. This is where brandishing a gun in their face would just make them fear for their lives due to a possible angry split-second reaction. It is because NPCs can become plot points that melee can only incapacitate - it is important to keep that story thread alive after all the trouble the game has gone to in order to set it up.

Later, much later... you could find that this Cold War has grown Hot and you need to respond to a squad of marines under your command on some foreign battlefield. Again, they approach you with a radio message from HQ detailing the next objective, or somesuch and they await your decision to accept or reject the mission (the consequences of the latter on your career having to be balanced with the practicalities of the situation on the ground and how "suicidal" you feel that day under the circumstances). Confidence from the abstract hierarchy above and morale your tangible squad below exist in a dynamic flux that has to be constantly managed. The reason you are fighting and the trust you engender in those who fight for you reinforce themselves as you are required to intervene and reassure paniced soldiers who feel that they may never see home, that the war has turned against them and that they are on the losing side. They may well be, as the war itself is another simulated system generating stories, the outcome of which the game tries to make your contribution a deciding factor by dynamically rebalancing the circumstances you find yourself in whilst still varying the dramatic pace so you don't flake out with adrenal or emotional exhaustion.

Yet, command cannot rely on passive questions being responded to. Your squad could spread out and need to be ordered to Retreat. So, you press the Back button for them to seek safety - not that you have to micromanage them at all if you want to be a lone wolf as they will just do what they think is required of them, depending on their faith in you, when they aren't trying to resuscitate a fallen comrade and pull them out of the line of fire.

Pushing Up on the D-Pad will command your squad to directly move to a piece of intervening cover, or objective location (such as a building that should be secured, or vehicle that should be boarded), or assault the enemy target in the centre of your view. Similarly, pushing Left or Right will result in your squad performing a flanking manoeuvre on the same point of interest, again at their discretion regarding your foolhardiness under the circumstances. Morale will dip if you repeatedly order them into the path of unsuppressed targets, your role is to provide a "bounding overwatch" whilst they move, so that they can respond in kind when its your turn. Finally, pushing Down will make all the members of your squad regroup at your location that aren't pinned down by enemy fire.

Obviously, complex... but not involving a single cascading command menu and you don't even have to master its use if you don't want to involve yourself in that aspect of the game. Your typical weapon-related buttons exist in a 'Quasimode' where RB is held as the face buttons are used. You can then merrily reload, or... swap weapons with (Y) and there is no loss of player articulacy due to the fact that the forefinger is temporarily holding the bumper rather than the trigger as you wouldn't in reality be able to fire a gun whilst swapping it with your other one anyway. The same applies to not being able to reload whilst firing, they are mutually exclusive actions - and just as the face buttons can be given alternate meanings in this Quasimode, the D-Pad can be used to deploy a limited selection of military equipment, such as Claymores.

In games actions speak louder than words and given that they are systems of rules that can be used to simulate immersive worlds we should reject cutscenes whether or not we can walk around in them a bit whilst they trap us in a room whilst someone we haven't actively chosen to care about rambles on about something the author of the game thinks we should do next.

We should decide what to do next, we should be our own authors of our own dramatic misfortunes. There is no need to adhere to a predetermined script, however there is still opportunity for excellent incidental writing to elucidate character biographies and motivations to be teased out of NPCs as we gradually gain their trust, perhaps only to then subvert the situation by strategically betraying them. The game should attempt to continually reassert an underlying theme. It won't have a story as such, rather a history with an echo of a raison d'etre: some deep truth about humanity that your character, if you follow 'the contract' and role-play it as defined, will experience as you become entangled in a web of interdependent dramatis personae each driven by their own sophisticated machinations. The writer's role will be to create generic templates, or patterns, which when matching dynamical systems that have emerged in the game are woven into the history by manipulating the motives, place and especially time at which important events happen in the predicted future path of the player-character. It helps here that they can be semi-guaranteed to arrive at a given location 'sometime' in the fairly near future due to the assertion of time-sensitive friendly NPC entanglements. Your loyalties with NPCs are hard come by and a requirement to you progressing deeper into the adventure behind what were formerly "closed doors". Gain trust and you gain access and further introductions. Characters who were blithely unaware of your existence as anything but an innocent bystander come to view you as an acquaintance, friend, employee or witness, liability, enemy. To ignore a request to attend some location for some important reason can jeopardise a relationship and it is this psychological effect, or the drive to seek vengeance on the reported sighting of a foe, that can propel the player-character across an open world to a specific destination whose topography forms the stage for the contrived piece of ad hoc drama artfully forshadowed by its resonance with long-established plans percieved to have been behind a number of disparate reported or witnessed events earlier in the simulation and its rearticulation of the central theme. Hence, the writer still has a role, but multiple characters now use his words in a jigsaw of dramatic speeches bent to fit the specifics of each place and time. They do not have to actually 'speak' their lines... indeed, it is better with the state of current technology that they do not attempt to do so - subtitles will have to suffice - even though varying intonation was done with Starship Titanic via its Spookitalk system:

However, it should be recognised that promising though this is, it is one thing to record multiple intonations of a word, for interrogatives, expletives and the finality that marks the ending of a sentence, it is another to do the same for all manner of emotions for a large cast of characters and pull off anything approaching a dramatic performance - even if the raw text were laden with metadata for the electronic thespian. Perhaps, this would work for an invented language like Klingon or Elvish for which the majority of players would be unable to discern a 'weak performance' and then use the subtitles to translate the gibberish - much as in Majora's Mask to a certain extent.

Ending on a purely practical note, Metro: Last Light could start off with your character being pushed forward as if by an invisible tsunami. They could walk or run to where they needed to be, ignoring all the incidental details as was their wont, or they could pause and observe... only for their head to be forced to turn away (whilst still allowing for some latitude of head movement), as the tsunami caught up with them and pushed them forward before the man cleaning his gun had to "exit stage left". The same would apply to a cut-scene temporarily disabling Jump so you couldn't bunny hop throughout. Asking the soldier if he is in desperate need of the toilet is just going to encourage the player to see what other 'Easter eggs' are buried in the game's code. We need to get away from thinking that we need to see everything, to unlock everything, to get our £40 worth... the way to do this is to make adventures based on themes underlying simulations rather than competitions in conflict with stories.

Maria Jayne
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@ Nick "but no one ever comments on this. No one thinks you're rude for staring"

I seem to recall Alyx Vance from HL2 looking at me quizzically and asking "what?" when I looked her up and down during a moment of silence and no action. Although I agree it's very rare, it does happen in some games.

I often do a repetitive action on npc's to see if they react, quite often they do. Even in WoW the Night Elf npc guards will respond with several self aware comments that you keep clicking on them.

Things like npcs tracking your with their eyes and head, lowering your weapon when you speak to someone, these were all at one time not implemented although these days they are quite common. The trick is explaining to your publisher or investors why you need extra money to add in something that to an outsider may seem superfluous.

Dave Hoskins
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Crysis 1 did a great job of open world AI, sure they were comedic at times, but great fun to interact with.
The problem may come from game designers and boardroom suits wanting their games to be more like a film with a fixed story, where animators have to recreate THIER world design, rather than being AI led in a proper game world.
Game characters should have AI with needs like hunger and the desire to keep safe or fight, IMHO. If there's a chair or a bed and they feel tired, they should use them. If there's food on a table or a menu, they should use it. Not necessarily in a Sims way. Or more relavant to FPSs, if there's a gun on the floor, an AI character should at least try and pick it up!

Nick Harris
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Mr Chmielarz, I need some advice...

I'm currently enjoying Bulletstorm and have got to the part just after the cacti where you enter a disco and are presented with a choice of pressing (X) to Drink one or more bottles of alcohol that are lying there. Your cybernetically-patched up partner Ishi Sato has just growled a stern warning at you (Captian Grayson Hunt), to not even think about getting drunk again - because your inebriation led to your drunken act of revenge on the General who betrayed you.

I'm sure you know all of this plot... I'm just putting it here for the sake of others who may not otherwise be able to grasp the context of my next question:

'Should I get drunk?'

Obviously, it is a free gameplay choice on my part. Under the circumstances I have found myself in (i.e. fear, apprehension, shock), my instinct is to stay as sober as possible. I would imagine that getting drunk will blur my vision and swing my aim away from targets I anticipate I will soon be ambushed by, it isn't as if I am looking to make the game harder for myself - I am playing it on 'Easy' as it is anyway. Yet, what may seem prudent as a survival-see-all-the-content-I-have-paid-for-by-finishing-the-game's-challenge is actually me deviating from correct role-play. Am I not supposed to be playing reckless, drunkard, Captain Hunt? Would he not take the opportunity to quench his thirst and hang the consequences? I am in two minds about this and it isn't often that you get the chance to ask the developer of the game what to do with respect to staying "in character" to further cement immersion. Are we not, to some extent, actors who are expected to perform not only dramatic stunts, but demonstrate idiosyncratic character flaws which may not only be counterproductive to completion, but sit uneasily with an adventure that is also so evidently a skill points driven challenge?

Adrian Chmielarz
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What can I say, games are weird. Most of the time, we are in 100% in control of a certain character. We tell him to move, he moves, we tell him to fire, he fires. And yet the rest of time the character is autonomous. For example, he kills someone we puppeteer him to, and then comments on the kill with his own voice, in his own style - one that's not necessarily ours.

It's an odd, schizophrenic experience. It should not work. It has no right to work. But it does not bother most people like it should.

The "pure" game will have a character that is 100% you, i.e. 100% of the actions allowed within the mechanics are yours. An example would be almost any shooter's multiplayer. But in Single Player games? Heck, even Skyrim features a cut-scene...

So for now the best we can do is not to bring the attention to the fact that "games are weird" - for example by not teasing the player to behave out of character by offering him an alcohol (or, if you do, make sure there are real consequences to this behavior).

Nick Harris
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@ Mr Chmielarz

Thank you for the reply. Actually, since I made my post someone I live with took an interest in the conundrum and took the view that I should stay in-character and act as Captain Grayson Hunt would. I am not playing as me as I wouldn't shoot someone, neither am I playing as an "alter ego" who would kill to defend themselves under the circumstances portrayed in the Bulletstorm as they would try to shoot their adversaries in the head quickly and cleanly, not perform sadistic acts of cartoon violence: kicking people onto large cacti or electrified panels. It was one of the reasons I disposed of my copy of 'Gears of War', as I ended up having more sympathy for the brutally dispatched Locust whose planet it was anyway...

So I did get drunk and as expected I was promptly ambushed whilst lurching around the disco with double-vision. What was interesting was that the game gave me an 'Intoxicated' skillshot for killing an enemy whilst drunk worth 100 points that I was able to convert to more bullets.


The system of rules behind the game world was inclusive of the protagonists character flaws. My act of consistent role-play was the correct choice and the level of immersion increased as I got into the spirit of things and actively sought to leash enemies into a fan (100 points for 'Sucker'). The cartoon nature of the violence helped ameliorate my qualms, but it was more my decision to meet the game halfway and adopt the role of a sadistic drunkard that got me off my ethical hook much as if I were adopting the role of Richard III, or Hitler - I can portray them without that implying that I am equally flawed.

It reminds me of that line from the movie 'Total Recall'...

"What is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken?"

My experience with Bulletstorm has persuaded me that, from now on, I don't want to play 100% as I would under those circumstances. I want to both escape into another world and escape from myself. Consequently, I will be rewarding consistent role-play in my own game as I think it brings the player into the gameworld through the lens of their character, making it more immersive.

TC Weidner
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Great article and topic.

My pet peeve is that a lot of time npcs simply dont act nor speak as they would in real life. As mentioned in the article A simple " The LT wants to see you" is a realistic plot mover. Too often we see way to much verbosity and so forth.

As for the main topic, I think we just need to do more with less. Instead of having 35 half ass npcs, why not just have 15 or so and do them all right.
Using the gun cleaning soldier example. Having that soldier clean his gun 24/7 is just lazy design. Why not simply have him clean his gun, if you get to close to the door, like in real life, have the soldier kick the door close while giving you the " wtf look".

Later switch off that animation, and turn on some simple animation of the soldier lying in bed watching tv, or talking on a cell phone, so if the player wants to peek through the window, trying to break immersion, he actually gets immersion by seeing the soldier not cleaning his gun but kicking back and talking on a cell.
That is how you create immersion.

The article states that players peeking under the hood hurts immersion, I thinks its just the opposite, it allows for more immersion to occur. For me, I love trying to break immersion looking for lazy animation loops, or so forth only to find on occasion just the opposite. It actually brings a smile to my gaming face when this occurs. It makes me appreciate the effort that went into the game, it make me more willing to buy into the immersion, and it makes me want to stick around and explore and be part of the virtual world. This whole world is going on around me and not just for me is what makes games like Mafia, GTA, RDD, etc so fun and immersive.

Bart Stewart
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Adrian, I think you are completely not wrong that the kind of Contract you describe would probably reduce immersive disruption in a game filled with people. I think it would also allow more NPC-filled games to be made because it would reduce the development costs somewhat.

Is it right to ask players to do this?

When you ask players to agree that "I agree to give it my best not to try to break the game or peek under its hood," what you're really asking them is: stop being curious.

Don't explore. Don't be interested in things. Don't look closely at anything. Don't listen closely to anything. Don't stop moving. Don't wonder about the history of the place you're in or any of the people in it. Your role in playing this game is to react in the developer-approved way to the explicit directions that you're given.

I think there's a place for games that make that kind of request. I'd argue that the Call of Duty-style games need players to commit to those limits in order to maintain the high level of visceralism and intense sensation these games uniquely deliver.

But I'd argue equally strongly that it would be wrong to expect all games to be about intense sensation. Telling players that curious play is wrong immediately destroys any opportunity to make games that encourage exploration and narrative engagement and playing with the systems of a simulated place.

Is immersion even worth doing if it can only be defined as a flat, 2D version of what's possible?

Yes, getting past the Uncanny Valley of behavior is hard/expensive right now. But giving up on solving that problem -- which is what "stop being curious" really proposes -- cannot be the right answer over the long term.

Adrian Chmielarz
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I agree, that's why I said "for now". I stuck to this "pledge" in the rest of the game, e.g. whenever I felt like the conversation is dying, I moved on.

Think about it this way: when you are reading a mystery novel, you don't read the ending first - because you don't want to ruin the experience for yourself. And yet when we're playing a shooter, we fire at the sidekick to see if the game does anything about it. Why?

But still, I agree this is on the developer mostly, and we should keep finding ways to make better and more immersive worlds.

David Keyworth
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This idea of the "Contract" actually fits very well with a certain form of immersion I found in the Phoenix Wright games, that was actually criticized for being excessively linear. It goes something like this.

Judge: "I believe I am now ready to render a verdict against the defendant."
Phoenix: (Oh no! He's going to render his verdict! What do I do?)
The player is presented with two options; Raise an Objection, or Hold Back. If you Hold Back, Phoenix at first thinks to wait and see what the judge does; until he realizes that the judge is going to label his client Guilty, and objects anyway.

The reason for that part is essentially that the game didn't want to provide an instant game-over for people who were just messing with the choice system. Because in reality, that's the only reason you'd pick the second option; you were treating it like a game, poking the system, and seeing what choices you could get away with, much like the invincible Guybrush Threepwood poking around in dangerous places most real pirates would never survive. Anyone emotionally invested, "immersed" in the case and concerned for their defendant, would never simply let that moment slide without an objection.

That's why, to me, that pretty bad design of railroading the player into one choice was never such a bad thing, and wasn't such a bad way to save on narrative budget; as long as the game and its player are in a form of agreement, that second choice will never come up anyway.

Abel Bascunana Pons
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The most inmersion-breaking things in order for me:

- Dialogue Loops
- Blocked Areas
- NPC Pathing Loops (A to B, B to A)
- Animation Loops.

Of these ones, the most irritating are the first two. It has already been said here how to minimize the effects of the first one.

For blocked areas, It's frustrating when designers let you go to a narrow street to find out it's blocked by cars (Left4Dead 2, Resident Evil, etc) and you see this trick is used over and over again. It also happened in Half-Life 2, and it was specially blatant in medium-sized levels. For very small areas and big outdoor maps, immersion was better, as you could understand why there was no other exit than the one proposed (I remember the dam, it felt very organic with no "patches" on the level design, so you didn't feel forced to travel the only single route available).

Kyle McBain
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Nailed it! : "This is a theme park ride full of mechanical creatures." There are so many games with these issues. Not to mention, I'm a grown ass man with a full time job. I would rather see a smaller game that was quality than a huge game that takes forever to get through and is really just fake feeling.

@Abel Blocked areas are also something that piss me off. I hate playing through games with a lot of dead ends. I 've been playing a lot of Skyrim as of late and I think it is a good example of how to avoid that problem. Not only are there several Entryway/Exits to most areas, but there is hardly any dead space, and most dungeons loop back to the start point. If it feels like dead space, the overall aesthetic usually tells you that it isn't for you and you shouldn't be there in the first place anyway.

Pallav Nawani
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Sorry to say, but this is much ado about nothing.
It takes money & time to fix these things, and no studio, however rich, has an infinite amount of those. Short of writing the matrix, you're never going to get this done.

Funny thing is, it is not even worth it. As long as the player knows he/she is playing the game on a PC/Console, he/she always knows that its a game. In other words, the player is never truly immersed in the game.

Adrian Chmielarz
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"As long as the player knows he/she is playing the game on a PC/Console, he/she always knows that its a game." - tell that to people freaking out when playing Slenderman. In other words, it could not be further from the truth. Just because most games either do it badly or have some smaller issues does not change the fact that the full (or "satisfying level of") immersion is achievable, as proven by Amnesia, Journey or The Walking Dead.

That last game is a great example, btw. Most people start TWD the way they start most games: they try to "game" the system. Around third episode they begin to let go and start doing things they want to do, things they would do if they were really there, and they stop looking for gameplay benefits. If that's not immersion, then I don't know what is.

David Navarro
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"Seriously, though, is it just me? Is everyone else buying this, and I just see these things because I am a game designer and I analyze everything I play?"

Immersion is collaboration. It's perfectly possible for me to experience *any* game in such a way that I will never become immersed, if I don't want to, the same way that I can TROLOLOL through Doctor Zhivago if I want to. In either case, I'm wasting my time and my money.

Of course, some games make it impossible to become immersed (hello "XP CHALLENGE INITIATED"), but those that do need the player to pull their weight too.

Joseph Blower
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This is a little random, but I've always hated "trophies" in games. Every time I see one in the corner of the game it wrecks immersion (it's like screaming "This is a game! This is a game!"), and I feel like developers are trying to jerk me around on a string.
I think it's important that gamers can disable trophies (currently on the PS3 this isn't the case, for instance).

Jan van der Crabben
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Hmm... I never feel the urge to stand there and look at an NPC for several minutes. Sure, some people do, but we all know that games weren't meant to be played this way. I don't think many people would *expect* a game to not have such infinite animation loops.

Patrick Haslow
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"Seriously, though, is it just me? Is everyone else buying this, and I just see these things because I am a game designer and I analyze everything I play?"

It's you.
The way you explain your experience to me screams that you are game designer and you are over analyzing your play experience.

Like Dave N. above, I don't buy the film comparison either. If you take a film class and watch a particular film as an exercise in critique, you will have the same analytical, non-immersive experience with that film.

It goes without saying that the industry is constantly on the search for ways to enhance immersion. I don't think you pointed out any unasked questions or made new observations in this post.

James Gambrell
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I would agree, this is a player problem. This is the kind of problem I hear from people who don't like video games. If this kind of thing breaks immersion for you, you probably just aren't the kind of person who will really enjoy video games, sorry =(. Enjoyment of video games requires a brain that is able to fill in the 1000-and-1 cracks in the facade and maintain the sense that yes this is REAL!

James Gambrell
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This problem is not an immersion-breaker for me. The reason is that these little conversations you overhear in Metro, Bioshock, etc. are just optional sideshows, they are not where most of the immersion actually comes from. Also, they are not as unrealistic as the writer of this article makes them out to be.

1) For me playing in my home theater, the immersiveness of Metro comes from the excellent 3D sound design, the cutting edge graphics, the lack of overlay UI elements, the sound of breathing through your mask, the realistic loss of control when your character is flung around or suffering from some other mobility limitation, etc. A few sideshows that I don't even have to pay attention to does not impact all these other elements. You are totally free to blow past those conversations if they bother you.

2) People in real life often DO finish speaking to each other and proceed to more or less stare at each other or out the window...ask any waiter. I don't find it incredibly jarring.

Craig Jensen
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I think developers should simply strive to get players mentally engaged in the game. I can play FTL: Faster Than Light and actually have dreams (!!) about it later that night, because the game is engaging, even though it has "8-bit style" graphics.

If you are really engaged, the question about whether or not you are "immersed" becomes irrelevant. Of course, until we get full VR sets, people are always going to realize on some level that they are at a computer typing in stuff or on their bed pressing buttons on a ps3 controller, etc. It is just that if you are sufficiently interested in the game this becomes irrelevant. And the game should have that ever-elusive "good gameplay" to guarantee that you are interested/engaged enough in it.

Edit: Put differently, if the players of your game are dicking around doing stuff not related to the core gameplay (e.g., trying to break the game as if they are a playtester, for example), then chances are they are no longer sufficiently engaged in that gameplay.

TC Weidner
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Craig, I would gather that many people would equate engaged and immersed quite closely.

I would suggest if you are having dreams about a game, you have become immersed in that game.

Craig Jensen
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Hi TC, thanks for the comment!

I think you are largely correct, but the subtexts of the words are different in this context. Engaged means it is taking up your powers of concentration and holding your attention and you are actively using your mind. Immersed has a subtext of believing in the gameworld, at least as used in the article above.

So for example if you were playing a game of bridge, you might be engaged, but being immersed (as used in the above article) doesn't really make sense, as there is really no "alternate reality" you are being asked to believe in or take seriously.

I think the problem with the many of the game examples listed in the above article and the replies to the article is that there is no gameplay. In the article

quoted by this author the example is given of the extra overhead required when the room is being flooded and "The sidekick screams: “This way!”, and climbs up the ladder to the upper floor. " and the player does not follow them. So the gameplay consists of following someone out of a flooding room. Big f***ing whoop-de-do. That is lame-oh gameplay. You are giving me a die-or-do-not-die choice and making sure I know which is which. How is that mentally engaging (although of course it could be immersive)? It sounds like you have an interactive movie. And so of course a person playing the game gets bored of the nonexistent gameplay and so sticks around in the flooding room to see what happens. Sorry, maybe I am being overly harsh to some specific games...

Christian Philippe Guay
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We only have those issues, because we wrongly try to make our games feel like interactive films instead of embracing their unique structure that should be all about ''play''. And don't get me wrong, we can make great interactive movies, but it's just not what works best for a video game.

Basically during the game, the player shouldn't get an opportunity to become an observer, unless it's part of the gameplay (ex: to solve a puzzle). When gameplay becomes secondary, that's when there are issues.

David Navarro
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"Basically during the game, the player shouldn't get an opportunity to become an observer, unless it's part of the gameplay (ex: to solve a puzzle)."

I don't know if I'm not understanding what you mean clearly, or I just disagree 100%. Much of the enjoyment of a game like Skyrim or STALKER or even Elite comes from simply watching the world simulation do its thing without player input.

Christian Philippe Guay
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I'm glad that you actually asked. It's a good question, but there is a difference.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat is an open world game done right. When travelling, the player always has to be quick on his feet to avoid getting caught by the radioactive storms, but he also has to find food, bandages and might also want to avoid confrontations with creatures or bandits to save his ressources. Players are always driven to play and survive, because of the many incentives.

Dark Souls is another open world game done right. The world itself is the puzzle, players have to solve it and death can be used as a tool. That's all they can do; progress through the world.

Skyrim is a great open world game, but its design isn't as effective. Sure, the players can explore the world freely, but they aren't driven to do it as much as they would be in STALKER or Dark Souls. And when gameplay can become secondary, it's an opportunity for players to disconnect themselves from the experience. During the game, the focus of the player should be 100% on playing it. Players should never get the opportunity to focus on something that is not related to gameplay, the same way it wouldn't make sense for a multiplayer map to feature secret areas or super cool scripted events that would distract the players or work against the main purpose of the game.

Bart Stewart
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"Skyrim is a great open world game, but its design isn't as effective. Sure, the players can explore the world freely, but they aren't driven to do it as much as they would be in STALKER or Dark Souls."

Despite playing all three STALKERs more than once, I've logged nearly 500 hours in Skyrim alone. It's certainly been more effective at immersiveness for me. :) And I'm pretty sure it's not just me.

I like this comment thread a lot because it's doing a great job of exposing how all of us (me included) tend to minimize the value of other forms of play besides the kinds we personally prefer. I suspect the same people who are commenting here that real immersion comes only from mechanics -- excluding story, NPC behavior, graphics and world-dynamics -- are the same people who argued (or agreed) that "Proteus is not-a-game."

That perspective simply ignores the reality that there are plenty of gamers whose immersion comes less from following rules (mechanics) than from the gameworld being built to feel like a believable place. Looping dialogues do matter to these gamers -- even if it's irrelevant to other gamers -- because robotic behavior from "people" makes it harder to invest rationally and emotionally in a constructed gameworld as a plausible place.

Not every gamer is wired to feel this kind of pleasure. But there certainly are such people, and their idea of what's fun is worthy of games that they can enjoy, too.

Christian Philippe Guay
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I did not claim that Stalker was more fun than Skyrim. There are many things that hold back Stalker from being super fun, but I can see the potential in the game. Its open world design isn't perfect, but its years ahead of Skyrim.

That said, I'm connvinced that a Stalker game produced with the same budget as Skyrim and by a talented team could be more fun to play.

David Navarro
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" During the game, the focus of the player should be 100% on playing it. Players should never get the opportunity to focus on something that is not related to gameplay"

Right, I get you. In that case, I guess it's just 100% disagreement, then. :)

Christian Philippe Guay
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If the experience isn't about play, then how could that still be a game rather than just an interactive experience or simulation?

David Navarro
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Formalist bellyaching over what is supposed to be "a game" or not is a waste of time. I know that I enjoy perching on a rock above the Whiterun plains in Skyrim and seeing a giant herd some mammoths, or a dragon attack a group of bandits in the distance, and I most definitely don't want some phantom designer over my shoulder going PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY.

And before the retort that, fairly or unfairly, I think you may be about to make, no, the experience of watching those events in-game is entirely different from watching the same events in a youtube video.

Hakim Boukellif
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I don't think this contract is enforceable from either side, except maybe for specific types of games. On one hand, to use your example with the kids playing soccer and enemies appearing before the end of the animation, this can be implemented in a couple of ways:
1) You're only able to see the kids play soccer in situations that will inevitably lead to an enemy encounter. This, however, can only be done in particularly linear (sections of) games.
2) The very act of looking at the kids for a certain length of time will cause enemies to spawn. Unfortunately, once players figure this out (and they will), it will be more damaging to suspension of disbelief than any sort of animation loop.
3) Remaining in the same place for a certain length of time causes enemies to spawn. This again limits your game design to specific types and you'll have to think up some nonsense reason for why that is.

On the other hand, depending on what kind of person it is, many players will treat the game as a pokable system no matter how well the developers tried to hide its nature.

Speaking of which, when reading a book or comic or watching a movie or TV show, I'm able to be engaged in the story/characters/world while at the same time objectively analysing the writing, visuals, acting, sound etc. Similarly, I can do the same with games and still treat it as a pokable system at the same time. I think that if a player simply likes a game well enough, his perception of it won't be easily shaken just because a few things expose its true nature.

Emmanuel Henne
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Great thread. I dunno which game it was, but npcs went like "What are You staring at ?" When i was staring (!).
My feeling is, games try so hard to be movies, while they could be an experience like no other.
You cant try to imitate a noninteractive medium by allowing invisible walls, lifeless characters etc.
And You cant yet afford a procedural, ever new world. Its a journey.

Dave Hoskins
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"I dunno which game it was, but npcs went like "What are You staring at ?" When i was staring (!)."

I think that was 'Bothers In Arms'

Dave Hoskins
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I've just been playing Metro Last Light, and the animations are the longest I've seen in ANY game, so to even mention it here is slightly unfair. It completely blows away the likes of Bioshock and anything else I've seen recently.
Later on there's a whole bunker full of people in 5 minute simultaneous conversations, the highlight of which is a guy making shadows animals for a bunch of kids. Plus a stage show that I left during the third act! It started with dancing girls, then a comedic lion(ok, weird creature) tamer, and then an accordion player. I left the crowd and sat and had drinks in the bar area... :)

Eric Geer
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I think this has to do more with lingering gamers than bad immersion. I think maybe a "closer" on looped animations might be nice, but the awkwardness of a lingering gamer could be easily shutdown by an NPC that tells them that.

I played through Metro: Last Light...and I'm not one to think to much on all of this--I remember passing the guys conversing...listened...moved on...watching the guy clean his gun...moved on..etc etc. I had better places to be than watching some dude polish his gun...There was so much adventure ahead!

Dave Hoskins
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"...moved on..etc etc. I had better places to be than watching some dude polish his gun...There was so much adventure ahead!"
Exactly it sets the scene, and you get a little bored and move on. Bioshock Infinite on the other hand was automaton city... .. .

Edmo Freitas
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Don't you think that it's more the player's choice than a designer's duty? If the player wants to be a crazy weirdo all the time just to see how the world reacts, he is expecting for weird stuff to happen and would be frustrated if it doesn't. On the other hand, there is the role player that wants to believe and wants to naturally be part of the game world, so he acts naturally and consequently do not get to see weird reactions. The problem only comes when this role player faces situations that, in the normal flux of the game, takes him from the immersion.
Otherwise both players are getting what they came for, and that's fine.