TGC '10: Immersion Means More than Just Graphics

TGC '10: Immersion Means More than Just Graphics

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Games don't need the best of the best graphics to be immersive - they just need to approach things differently.

Neogence CEO Robert Rice is best known as an advocate of augmented reality - as previously covered here on The Escapist - but that doesn't mean thinks more traditional games can't deliver an immersive experience. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

"Immersion turns a diversion into a full-blown experience," said Rice at his "Immersion X" panel at Triangle Game Conference 2010. A diversion can be something fun and entertaining like Tetris or Bejeweled, but an experience has an effect on you, and becomes something you remember years later.

And really, graphics don't have anything to do with it. Rice related a moment he still remembered from ancient text-based MUD Gemstone years after the fact: He knew that there was a secret organization in a given area, and was searching a single room in a little house, absolutely sure that it was the key to their hideout. He discovered an ivory bowl, placed his Obsidian Sword in it, and pulled a lever - and the sword disappeared.

But it wasn't any sort of secret entranceway or price to pay for entry. He later learned he'd flushed his favorite sword down a toilet.

Setting and atmosphere are two of the most crucial elements to properly immersing a player and getting them to leave the real world behind, said Rice, and sometimes it can be more effective to pull a Hitchcock and not tell the player what's going on. He used Portal as an example: The player wakes up in a laboratory and immediately has to ask themselves, "Who am I? Where am I? Why is this computer trying to kill me?" Those questions immediately give the game an exploratory nature as the player unravels the mystery.

It was crucial for games to have good openings, argued Rice, because that was the defining moment that would determine whether the player became hooked or not. Early PS2 adventure game ICO had another incredibly affecting opening - you don't know who the boy is, you don't know why he's abandoned in the castle. You're exploring, you hear echoing bird squawks and the dripping of water, and then you meet a mysterious girl - and all the while, there's no dialogue.

"It draws you in as a user - the movement of the characters and how they express themselves without words. I want to protect this girl. I want to save her, I want to get her out of her and rescue myself, too."

Great openers are emotionally engaging and establish a setting and atmosphere, said Rice, reading some classic opening lines from literature like Neuromancer, Poe's The Raven, and Tolkien's The Hobbit. "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - you've already got a culture and people and planets beginning to unfold in your mind. It's the same with 'Once Upon a Time.' What does that mean? What's coming next?"

"You can't just do immersion with pretty trees." But that doesn't mean that technology can't help, said Rice, with things like Project Natal and the thought-reading Emotive system. "It turns the interface into an experience - it changes the interaction between you and the game. You are the main character, now."

But technology aside, one of the most effective tools any developer could do was give the player questions: "Let the brain fill in the blanks, and you make more of an experience and give the player something to remember. [Games] transcend any type of media - they're unique in that they let you interact with them and share an experience with us."

"We're the guys who can weave dreams."

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I remember some great games from when I was younger, and, even now who have such great immersion, despite graphic faiures. Some of the flash games I played from around have really great ways of making you think, and pulling you in, wanting to find out more.

Ico is a great example of it though, I loved that game so much, despite never hearing our heroes voices

Morrowind is VERY immersive. Even in third person. From the hand in your face in ash storms, to the sound of the rain...

never a truer word has been said, i long for the end of the graphical horsepower race between consoles, i dont care what game is shinier, i want immersiveness. thats why i cant play FFXIII!

I think Natal will make things LESS immersive, not more more, based on what's been shown and reported.

DarkSaber:
I think Natal will make things LESS immersive, not more more, based on what's been shown and reported.

From what I understand, he's not talking about the tech as-exists, but the potential of technology LIKE Natal.

Natal itself might not make things immersive, but what happens if you take the principles and give it 10 years more development?

Well spoken. Ask any long time gamer what is the most immersive game of all time and I doubt they'll name one released on a year starting with 2. Some of those old RPGs are so full of stuff you get dragged into their little worlds much more effectively than just looking through the eyes of a rugged marine and a beautifully rendered destroyed wasteland - even because immersing yourself into those worlds was the best way to succeed at them.

I've never played Gemstone, but that's quite the kind of thing I've come to expect from text adventures. Cheeky bastards...

John Funk:

DarkSaber:
I think Natal will make things LESS immersive, not more more, based on what's been shown and reported.

From what I understand, he's not talking about the tech as-exists, but the potential of technology LIKE Natal.

Natal itself might not make things immersive, but what happens if you take the principles and give it 10 years more development?

Quite simply, they will have been replaced by some new gimmick.

John Funk:

DarkSaber:
I think Natal will make things LESS immersive, not more more, based on what's been shown and reported.

From what I understand, he's not talking about the tech as-exists, but the potential of technology LIKE Natal.

Natal itself might not make things immersive, but what happens if you take the principles and give it 10 years more development?

I see what he's getting at, and i think i understand. Things like the Wiimote, Project Natal, and Augmented Reality don't really add up to the sense of immersion. They're more...inclusive? Instead of the game sucking you in, it expands out and surrounds you. At least that's how i see it. When you have to physically move, you are aware of your own body, and aware of your surroundings, and this, i believe, detracts a bit from the sense of immersion per se. It's not a game design aspect, that could actually benefit from such novelties, but a simple material aspect.

Personally, i still find playing in silence, in the dark, sitting still, with a mouse and keyboard, and headphones, and eyes glued very close to the screen, to be perfect enhancers to immersion. :)

This said, everything else i can agree to, and enjoyed reading this. Hell, even Ray Muzyka quoted in a certain interview that he was highly impressed and influenced by Ico. Nice read.

The one big thing that a lot of people have forgotten as they're writing their stories is that the characters inside the games are expected to have some prior knowledge of the inner workings of the particular universe they're in. Unless of course they have a convenient case of amnesia.

There's also the tendency of lazy tutorials to start giving people exact controller map outs delivered by a support character (PRESS X TO JUMP, SNAKE!), which will tend to set off a game experience in entirely the wrong way.

To be fair, one of the big problems also comes from past experiences with games. How many times in games do you use a fire extinguisher to actually /put out a fire/, as opposed to a bludgeoning weapon, or an impromptu wall mounted IED (Here's looking at you, Duke)? Well, Dead Rising... ... ...yeah.

Regardless, back to initial point. Many games have taken shortcuts for the sake of making the 'game' part more accessible, without paying attention to the story part. When you explain in exhaustive detail to the player character what a 'Strogg' is, despite humanity having dealt with the 'Strogg' for many years prior, and the character ostensibly being trained how to survive, fight, and kill 'Strogg,' well, that's more hand holding than immersion.

HL2 phoned it in a little, when it came to explaining the Combine, but even then it was done in an understandable manner. Gordon Freeman has been sitting in a nice comfy little pocket of time space on an Interdimensional Party Train for the past few years, and /somebody/ gotta bring the guy up to speed to save humanity. And even then, they don't rub your nose in every single thing the Combine did over the intervening years -- nope, you have to look at newspaper clippings meticulously saved by important NPCs to get a hint.

"You remember my wife, Azian? That picture and Alex were the only two things I saved from Black Mesa."

I actually don't like Natal or Emotiv very much, as they are. My point was that new technologies, like these two, have the potential to give designers new tools or ways to engage players and create different types (or depths) of immersion.

Its the same with augmented reality...the technology (or rather the potential of it in the near future) will open up a lot of opportunities for new games and experiences, but ultimately it is up to the game designers, developers, artists, etc. to create content and immersion that takes advantage of it.

You know you are doing it right when the user isn't thinking about the technology, regardless of what it is, and they are engaged in the game.

Thanks for the great article John.

Robert Rice

I'm beginning to think I could give a news worthy talk at TGC. If this is actually new information to developers then I'm going to cry.

AC10:
I'm beginning to think I could give a news worthy talk at TGC. If this is actually new information to developers then I'm going to cry.

Heh, I know how you feel. Sure, you could say that people listen to these guys because they are professionals with lots of industry cred, but that almost makes it worse when they state the obvious like this. =)

I would like to see this implimented by todays standard before deciding that graphics aren't important.

Why couldn't this have been out when I was writing a paper on Immersion in terms of geographical imagination?

Ok its not a credible source but our lecturer seeded the point that there aren't many of those so that anything which was written professionally would count.
It would have been damned useful for defining Immersion.

 

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