Hello, I’m dayrinni and Adam has invited me to write some articles for Space Sector. I believe in his site and would like to contribute so I have decided to write a few articles about game design. I hope to write 1 or 2 articles per month on the topic (maybe more depending on how much of a roll I get on).
I’m a long time gamer like the rest of you. I like many types of games: RPGs, FPS, strategy and 4X. I also like to make games (I have a small game company). My desire to make games and bring people together started when I was in high school. It was then that I created some paper and pencil games with my best friend. Also, I had some message board games. As I started college, I started to program games. I programmed a few MUDs (text-based RPGs), a 2D graphical game and I am now working on my secret 4X game.
One thing I can say is that making a game is not easy and is really a labor of love. It is not something that a programmer can wave their hands at and suddenly, the game appears. It really is a classic case of “easier said than done.”. Software development is a very intensive and lengthy process.
Regardless of the type, there are a few key points that make a good game. Two of them are immersion and progression. I would like to talk about them in my first few posts. There are other aspects of good games, but I want to touch on these two points first.
Immersion is essentially making the player believe they are where (or what) the game says they are. In RPGs, it is what makes the player feel as if they are their character (a powerful mage for example). That they are really saving the world or slaying the dragon. In FPS’s, it is that the in-game character holding the gun is really the player. In 4X games, the player is really the Supreme Ruler of their Empire (or whatever role the story line says they should be).
Immersion suspends reality and time for the player. It is how the person loses track of the time they play. They are so engrossed in the game that they don’t even know what time it is. It is the moments where when you finally look at the clock and 5 (or more) hours have gone by. Immersion is something that game developers want to achieve because it draws people in and keeps them captivated.
It can be difficult to create immersion because as developers, we are swamped with non-immersive activities. You have to attend that meeting at 2 PM. You have to come up with a mathematical model to simulate trade across an empire. You have to program that GUI Window for the Diplomacy screen. You have to modify this, or that. You have a code review. These tasks don’t really deal with anything about the soul of the game. These non-soul aspects make it hard to concentrate on the soul and what really will go into the game.
Even for writers on a project distractions come easy. There are still deadlines, discussions and a manner of other issues to deal with. There is a never ending stream of tasks and hurdles to jump over. Reviewing and editing work is an intensive process. Change is hard and difficult. Writing 50 pages and then having to re-writing it is no easy task. Generally, time is at a luxury and oftentimes, impossible to get more of.
All of these factors contribute to the challenges of making a game immersive (and a game in general!!).
As a personal example, when I wrote my networking code for my 2D game, I spent weeks on it. I got so deep into the code, which became so abstract, that I sort of lost where I was in my own project. I had to take a break after wards and get my bearings.
With all of the above aside, let’s ask a simple question: How do you achieve immersion? I cannot say for sure. I don’t think any one really can give a precise and concrete answer. But like everyone else, I have some ideas and thoughts on how to create it. I will use examples from the Master of Orion series.
How to achieve immersion
The first point is, the setting and story has to be believable. Things have to make sense. Not so much as 100% logical sense, but it has to all fit in with everything else. Random or out of place things will kill the immersion. The pieces of the game must fit together to provide a finished puzzle that equals the vision of the game. The lore and setting in MoO universe fit well together. It was coherent and easy to determine what and why things happened. The guardian ship concept was a great tie in as well. The guardian ship bridged the gap from the history to the game. This concrete connection made the game seem more believable.
The second point is, the UI has to have a theme that fits into the game and be easy to use. Imagine playing a CIV game with an outer space themed UI. The artistic side of the UI has to be correct. Then, the functionality within must be easy and simple to use. If a user gets burdened down by trying to use the UI then immersion will be not be achieved. A classic case is the MoO3 UI. It was very cumbersome and difficult to use. It is hard to get involved in a game when it is difficult to use.
In addition, the presentation of the contents in the UI need to be in the theme. The contents can use elements from the setting and story. If getting a report on battle losses is presented, some flavor text could be used to make it more believable. If it was a disastrous loss for the player, that can be indicated in a way that makes sense too. In other words, the player shouldn’t think that they are looking at a spreadsheet, they should think they are looking a real battle loss report. These small aspects can tie the UI into the setting of story of the game. Sounds can be useful in achieving this. The research discovery screen is a good example of having good presentation. A scientist from your empire with a graphical display of what was successfully researched is present in the screen.
A third point is, streamlined game play. If things are annoying to the player for the wrong reasons (time sinks, etc), then that will kill immersion. If a player has to grind out 10 grueling levels before they reach a point where they feel useful, then that really isn’t streamlined game play. If playing the game is just plain difficult to do in a gameplay aspect (not UI related), then it will be hard to achieve immersion. Sometimes, a UI can hide non-streamlined game (or even streamlined game play), but it should not be relied on to do so.
There are three points that could assist in creating immersion. The game and display should not detract from the player’s ability to believe they are in the game. Often times it is hard to do because software development and game design is very challenging. It is easy to get caught up with the technical aspects. Stop and think every so often. Watch the grass grow and look at what was done. Were they the right choices?
Finally, I want to give an example of how I achieved some of these in my MUD (text-based RPG), A Tempest Season. Usually in MUDs, combat automatically happens and gives a very generic description. This isn’t really immersive. You are sitting there watching the text go by. Instead, I created a system that had different attacks (slash, jab, thrust, etc). With each attack I had long descriptions that explained in detail what the attack did. The system was very nicely done and received a lot of complements on it. Even though the player had to type commands, they still fit as if they were actually in the battle due to the choice they had and the descriptions received from combat.
Well, I hope that you have enjoyed my first post. My second post, on Progression, will be coming up soon. I know that we have different opinions on what makes a good game. With that said, I’d like to hear what makes a good game for you. Feel free to reply to this post with your thoughts.
dayrinni has been a Space Sector contributor since October 2011. This is his first foray into writing articles for any review site. He is an avid gamer in the genres of 4X, Strategy, MMO’s and RPGs. Finally, he has been the implementor of several MUDs and is currently working on a 4X space game that offers large scope and complexity. See all dayrinni’s posts here.Subscribe RSS
- What Makes A Good Game – Story
- What Makes A Good Game – Progression
- What Makes A Good Game – Challenge
- What Makes A Good Game – User Interface
- Making a Space 4X Game: Setting the Stage