Sunday, July 24, 2011

Azuriel's comment

This is a wonderful comment by Azuriel.
I honestly don't get this "immersion" argument you are making. Having a backpack based on weight is less immersive than magic in the fantasy genre you love? You realize dragon's couldn't fly based on their weight and bone structure, right? It is almost as though you don't actually want to be playing a videogame at all - you want a simulation, not something designed to be entertaining and not cumbersome.

Maybe you should just take up hiking and camping IRL, eh?

In Fallout 3 and NV, even though it was not required, I got so into the narrative that I explored every single nook and cranny of every structure for usable items despite having more bullets/caps than I could ever actually use. Scavenging itself was fun, as was trying to steal everything in the house/shop without getting caught. It did not break immersion to me that I was lugging around 250 lbs of gear because of a little thing called "suspension of disbelief." If I could only carry maybe 2 gallons of water (16 lbs), two guns, a handful of ammo, etc, the literal gameplay would be boring and masochistic.

I mean, when was the last time you read a fantasy novel when they talked about the main character taking a shit? That presumably happens every 1-2 days in the story, but the author leaves it out. Immersion break, amirite? I just don't get how and why you draw lines when you do.

It is wonderful, because it so clearly shows the problem. When I read this comment my blood pressure raises by a few percent (maybe more) and I repeat this question in my head "How is it that he doesn't understand?".

But the first thing I have to accept is that Azuriel is actually serious. And he is not alone. During my MMORPG discussions I met hundreds of people 'like Azuriel'. It took me a long time before I accepted that they were not mocking me.

Of course, on this blog I explained a few dozen times already what I mean when I say immersion and credibility and consistency. But let's do it again.

First, I do not want a realistic game. Realistic games are boring. I already 'play' one in real life.
What I do want is a simulation of a fantasy world that employs good gameplay and occasionally compromises between gameplay, simulation and a few other things.

For example, shitting improves the simulation a tiny bit, adds nothing to gameplay and insults my good taste. I don't want it. Nor do I want 'realistic' death effects. They, too, would be good simulation, but I don't want to see enemies suffer while they bleed to death.

The most prominent fantasy world was designed by J. R. R. Tolkien. He spent many years of his life making sure that Middle Earth world was consistent. For example, some people could cast magic, but others couldn't. Teleporting wasn't possible.

Now, if you make a computer game in this fantasy world, I would like it to be as consistent as possible. I want magic to be in there, because that's part of Middle Earth. But I don't want teleports to be in there, because that's not consistent with the simulation.

Of course, you can decide to simulate a different fantasy world. In WoW lore there are lots of portals and, thus, teleporting via portal is ok from a simulation point of view. I think it's often wrong from a gameplay PoV, but that's off topic. What's not good is if I can teleport in WoW without actually using a portal. That's not even consistent with the World of Warcraft.

Now, sometimes there are good reasons why computer game simulations of a fantasy world cannot be consistent. For example, fire in middle earth is supposed to incinerate wood. But that's technically impossible to implement. Therefore, I don't complain about it. I sure wish that this technical limitation is some day overcome, but right now I just suspend disbelieve.

It's different when it comes to things like teleports or resilience or lots of other stuff that is not consistent with the simulation. Sometimes I agree that the gameplay is more important than the simulation - but sometimes I think that the potential gains in gameplay do not outweigh the loss of quality of the simulation. And quality of the simulation is what I need to immerse myself into the world.

And once again, because that is Psychochild's favourite argument :)
The fact that a simulation isn't perfect in the first place, is not a good argument to make it even worse.

At some level everybody values the simulation aspect, of course. Otherwise there would be no need for good graphics.


  1. I'd agree with a lot of what you said, but, for me, immersion-breaking comes down to this:

    If it makes me go "that really doesn't make sense," then it's immersion breaking.

    Authors not writing about people taking a shit does not make me go "wtf?" because it does not NEED to be stated. Some of the best writing is when you let people fill the gaps but give them a great outline, not explain every little thing.

    What does break my immersion is when you state specifically to the players that "X does Y" i.e. brown orcs turn green due to the presence of demonic magic, and then ALL of the brown orcs stay brown, despite Garrosh wearing the BONES of a high-ranking *demon* lord. Sutff like that bothers me a lot.

  2. It is funny that you mention the Lord of Rings, considering one of the most egregious simulation-breaking moments is the lack of use of eagles to fly the ring to Mount Doom, or at least bringing up the possibility. I suppose this could be a sacrifice at the altar of narrative (the books would have been considerably shorter), but IMO it highlights what I believe are unreasonable expectations on your part.

    For example, you mention there are no teleports without portals in the Warcraft universe. Did you play Warcraft 3? If so, what did you think about the Scrolls of Town Portal? No literal portal appeared - it creates the exact spell effect you sometimes glimpse when you hearth or a mage casts Teleport: SW (etc).

    I guess the issue I have is that you seem to be playing games the wrong way. I understand the whole delicate balance between simulation and gameplay, but how is it that you would set the simulation up higher than the gameplay of a, you know, game? It just boggles my mind how things like backpacks and Hit Points can become such deal-breakers in an RPG. I do not like chairs in front of doors stopping my character (whom can cast magical equivalents of nuclear explosions) from searching the room behind said door, but I accept it and move on because searching 1000s of useless rooms is unappealing. I accept Revive spells working in combat but NPCs dying permanently in cut-scenes because you wouldn't really be able to create a working narrative if everyone was immortal all the time.

    This will probably be "the best color is blue!" "No, it's red!" type of situation, but I am genuinely interested in what games you actually enjoy when it seems everything about actual games is a turn-off.

  3. I think for me the bottom line is I want a credible experience. Credibility is the difference between whether I'm immersed or left feeling like I'm wasting my time. I don't play games to waste time, just like I wouldn't read a book to waste time, or see a play to waste time.

    If I ever do something primarily to waste time then it probably indicates that I'm doing so out of desperation. I believe that games should really have higher sights than to act as an artificial way to temporarily cure boredom. Feel free to disagree here, but I believe that that mentality, the "they're *just games* mentality", reduces the perception and translates in my mind as "they're just shallow toys used for wasting the time of desperately bored nobodies". I sincerely hope people see games as more than that, and I really do think this perception is what is holding the industry back in a greater sense.

    If what I'm doing in the game doesn't feel credible due to lack of consistency, trivial rules, a lack of world logic, an absence of struggle, too much linearity and the feeling that the game is practically playing itself while I press buttons, then I don't want any part of it. In my opinion games (and pretty much all entertainment) should seek to avoid feeling contrived. I want a genuine experience, not a toy.

  4. because that is Psychochild's favourite argument


    My point has been that what you consider immersion-breaking depends on the person. "Immersion" is a rather fuzzy term in the first place, so it's not like there's some universal definition that game developers can work from. As I've said before, the things you find immersion breaking seem silly to me when there are a lot more fundamental problems with a lot of games, in my opinion.

    Ultimately, I think it's a question of what you're willing to put up with. If you're having a lot of fun with the game, you'll simply be willing to suspend your disbelief more. You'll make up more excuses about why it's necessary for gameplay or why it fits with the lore.

    I just think it's not terribly useful in terms of game design to blame "immersion" as the problem. In most cases it's a more fundamental problem with the game not keeping your attention and letting your mind dwell on the inconsistencies you find.

  5. @Azuriel:

    For me, it's not an either/or choice between game mechanics and immersion -- it's a must-have-both.

    A game, with excellent game mechanics but without a cohesive and consistent theme/genre/setting would be a lesser game. Another game, with great a narrative support etc but lousy mechanics would also be a lesser game.


    Teleporting in WoW can involve portals, but there are other means too. The most common one would be the hearth stone, but there are also various objects that teleport you to places: Kirin Tor Ring (teleports to Northrend), Ruby Slippers (teleports to Shattrath), Potion of Deepholm (teleports you to Deepholm).

    All these are however "teleport to a specific place" though.

    Perhaps you were thinking more of the free-ranging concept of "teleport to anywhere". The closest WoW has is the Mage's blink ... which hardly qualifies, I'm sure.

  6. Drilski, Gilded, I agree.

    Azuriel, Garuumo, I was thinking about the LFD or BG teleport, which bothers me a lot. I didn't want to list all ways in WoW lore to teleport ;)

    In the end it does come down to a subjective feeling. I am sure that most people would complain if you could run through 10% of the walls for gameplay purposes. No matter how good the gameplay would be due to that.

    On the other hand, I don't want to die to enemy surprise attacks, because that's bad gameplay; even though it might be great simulation. Here needs to be a compromise.

    Psychochild, sorry for mentioning you specifically ;). Your comment however, proves what I said ;).

    You say, "the things you find immersion breaking seem silly to me when there are a lot more fundamental problems with a lot of games, in my opinion."

    Now, you are entitled to your opinion, just like everybody else. But I fundamentally disagree with this.

    Ultimately, I think it's a question of what you're willing to put up with. If you're having a lot of fun with the game, you'll simply be willing to suspend your disbelief more. You'll make up more excuses about why it's necessary for gameplay or why it fits with the lore.

    This is true the same way I will enjoy listening to a great song in bad quality, as long as the quality is still good enough.

    My point to you is this: Every break in consistency and credibility of a MMORPG reduces its quality. Often this is the reasonable thing to do as designer, because you gain much better gameplay or because there are technical limitations, or because the brown orcs turning green is not worth it from a time investment point of view. But that doesn't change the game from being worse due to this.

    Different people care differently about these reductions in quality. Some couldn't care less. Some really care about the brown orcs staying brown, or the house you can rob empty while the owner is watching you. (And although the stealing-mechanic is in the game !).

    Just like too much noise in the song can make you not buy the best song, too little consistency / credibility can make me not play a game, no matter how good the gameplay is. The immersion that depends (in part) on the consistency / credibility is especially easy to destroy by giving a shit about credibility /consistency even though it would have been easy.

    The Fallout:New Vegas there is a stealing-mechanic. It would have been extremely easy to make taking the items in the doctor's house 'stealing'. The reason they didn't do it was probably for tutorial purposes. Anyway, I hate it. I hate it much more than if there was no stealing mechanic in the first place.

    Well, and I hate it because it creates bad gameplay. Since I can get serious advantages from taking all these items, playing in-character, I am forced me to take them. And that is very boring. Now, I could make artificial rules for me, like treating these items as stealing although the game does not.

    But I wrote before in the Fun Fallacy: I payed money for good rules. It is not my responsibility to change the rules of the game, so that it is more fun to me. Inventing rules breaks immersion.

    And as much as I try to convince myself that taking the items would be stealing, I know that in the game it is not. This is a conflict in my brain that kills a major amount of fun.

    Now, just for the notes: I think that the Elder Scrolls, as well as Fallout games are among the best games ever. They do slide towards the more "gamey" direction in recent years, but they are still very good.

  7. @Nils:

    Every break in consistency and credibility of a MMORPG reduces its quality.

    Worse than that, they undermine the basic promise of a game: that the basic rules of the game won't be arbitrarily changed just to f*ck you over.

  8. This really is an old argument, simulation vs. gameplay. It goes back to the days of tabletop RPG, where some people wanted a "realistic" simulation of an environment (which often meant lots of detailed charts to look stuff up), and others caring more about issues like story or interesting gameplay mechanics.

    As I said, it's a question of what's called "willing suspension of disbelief". Every story has, flaws, as Azuriel points out before with LotR and the flying eagles. But, for most people, a really good story/game is worth ignoring these little flaws in order to enjoy them. And, what bothers one person doesn't necessarily bother another.

    So, I guess the issue here is, "yes, stuff breaks you out of immersion... so what?" It's not like designers put these things in to annoy you personally. Designers (usually) don't change things on whim, but rather because they think it will improve the game. And, if a huge game company like Blizzard lets little errors slip in, what chance does anyone else have? Ultimately, game designers have to hope the game is good enough for you to forgive the flaws, and be willing to suspend disbelief enough.

  9. Psychochild, of course it is an old argument, most things in life are. It probably goes back much further than tabletop RPGs ;)

    But actually, I think we are talking past each other. You say that a good gameplay element is worth the trouble of a slightly worse simulation. I agree and agreed before.

    Just like a good song is worth lots of noise and bad quality recording. That doesn't mean that the noise is somehow irrelevant.

    You say "Designers (usually) don't change things on whim, but rather because they think it will improve the game."

    I wish that were true. I'll give you an old example:
    In many games you can drink potions to regain health. I think we agree that the process of drinking the potion is ridiculous during a fight - especially if you wield a shield and a sword. That didn't stop the designers from implementing chain-drinking potions.

    My question is Why?
    They could easily have introduced runes on the sword that are invoked during the fight and fulfill the exact same gameplay purpose, but are better simulation.

    My explanation: They did this, because they didn't care. And that is what I dislike the most: Designers who don't care about the simulation.

    If you make a hard choice to go for better gameplay at the cost of worse simulation, then that is ok with me. But if you just ignore the simulation we have a problem. It's like a good song recorded badly.
    It's like you, the designer, were sloppy in the execution of your work.

  10. Game Design (like so many things) requires a budgeting of time and effort. The (willing) suspension of disbelief works and is a very good tool that enables game designers to focus on stuff that matters. It also often allows them to make decisions in favour of gameplay instead of "simulation" as with the old inventory argument.

    Let's take your example of healing potions: Not only would designers have to spend time coming up with a credible system of "sword runes" to replace healing potions and a whole lot of lore around it (Can you find runes in a chest? Can a merchant sell them? What if I'm fighting with throwing knives instead? Why are there no other runes? How am I fitting 200 runes on my one sword? How do I un-inscribe them when I switch weapons?...), they would also have to convey this new concept to the players. Players get healing potions, they are established and used pretty much universally. Players are used to simply accepting the "immersion break" involved with drinking a potion during combat and don't care. It is absolutely not worth switching to a different system for immersion reasons.

    The whole argument reminds me a bit of people nitpicking movies for plot holes. I simply hate it when I've just watched a perfectly enjoyable movie and whoever I watched it with starts talking about how they should just have taken the eagles to Mordor...

    This is not to say that I don't value immersion and that there aren't immersion-breaking parts of games I really dislike (usually involving being forbidden from doing something that I should really be able to do in the lore, q.v. the ending of Fallout 3.)

    It is wrong to say though that the game is generally getting worse due to such concessions. Many times the game is simply getting better because the gameplay gains far outweigh the potential loss of immersion.

  11. The (willing) suspension of disbelief works and is a very good tool that enables game designers to focus on stuff that matters.

    But so is the willing acceptance of worse gameplay for the good of the simulation.

    It boils down to different people weighting game vs. simulation differently.

    You can see this with Dwarf Fortress, just read the NYT article on it. People are different. If a game is supposed to attract as many people as possible it must have good gameplay AND good simulation.

  12. I am sure that most people would complain if you could run through 10% of the walls for gameplay purposes.

    I doubt I would complain, because almost nothing breaks immersion for me.

    I think this is because I tend to view the virtual world as the truth (as opposed to the lore, or the intention of the developers, or anything else). Viewed that way, literally nothing inside the virtual world can be inconsistent with the virtual world.

    Its like when scientists in the "real world" saw that light had properties of both particles and waves. They didn't throw up their hands and complain to God that she was breaking immersion in the real world, they adjusted their theories of how light worked and moved on.

    So, pretend there are no writers, no developers, no pre-existing lore, nothing other than the actual implementation of the world as you experience it and then immersion is much easy to maintain.

  13. I'll throw my name in as another person who is sometimes baffled by the things you find immersion breaking. The size of backpack issue reminds me of the size of bullets in movies. Sure, Dirty Harry famously made incredible use of the fact that a gun only holds so many bullets, but in most movies the point is not to mentally count the gun shots to check whether it matches the clip size of the weapons.

    And of course this is very much in line with what you are saying: sometimes the simulation wins and sometimes the gameplay (or story) wins. A good story or a good game is one that does not leave us shaking our heads at the implausibility of the outcome, but it is also one that doesn't leave us bored or frustrated with the outcome.

    But I think the immersion (or suspension of disbelief) breaking moments are extremely subjective and you are far, far more sensitive to them (particularly ones involving the placement of things in the physical world) than the majority of people. The horrible simulation of everything is less a function of people not making good simulations and more a function of you not thinking simulations are good.

    I *think* that this was the point of Azuriel's post. In his/her words: "I just don't get how and why you draw lines when you do."

    I think each of us has our own fundamentals that we can't accept altering. I get really peeved when I think that characters in the game suddenly start acting for out of their establish character, but someone carrying 20 tons of gear in a hip sack and drinking 15 potions a second while using both of their hands to rob an unconcerned villager blind has no impact on my immersion.

    The main issue is that I don't think that a reasonable inventory system would make a game objectively better. It would make it subjectively better to you, and subjectively worse to others. When you talk about your idea for a game, I think a rational limit to what can be carried sounds like a great idea. But in games where you are a fantasy hero - instead of a fantasy *person* - the topic of weight limits for carrying is totally absent from all source material I have ever encountered.

  14. I know I'm late on this one, but I agree. In fact, when I played Fallout: New Vegas, I took on the hardcore mode challenge so that I couldn't carry a billion pounds of garbage plus as much ammo and water as I wanted. I think things are moving in the right direction, but it's slow, and as long as there are powerhouses out there (like WoW) that aren't making much of an effort, the incentive is to do the same for a similar result (lots of business).

  15. Nils wrote:
    Just like a good song is worth lots of noise and bad quality recording.

    This is a flawed metaphor because there's almost no situation where it's worth adding noise to improve the song. Unlike reducing the simulation to increase gameplay.

    My explanation: They did this, because they didn't care.

    Here's my explanation. The origin of most fantasy game tropes is D&D ad in older versions a combat round was 1 minute. That means you could have the possibility to hit and damage an opponent with a weapon once every minute. This was because of simulation, actually.

    In fact, the 2nd edition Player's Handbook actually talks about drinking a healing potion. A long quote here, but I want you to see how much some designers really do care about simulation.

    Imagine the simple act of imbibing a healing potion. First, a character decides to drink the potion before retiring for the night. All he has to do is get it out of his backpack, uncork it, and drink the contents. No problem.

    Now imagine the same thing in the middle of a fight. The potion is safely stowed in the character's backpack. First, he takes stock of the situation to see if anyone else can get the potion out for him, but, not surprisingly, everyone is rather busy. So, sword in one hand, he shrugs one strap of the pack off his shoulder. Then, just as two orcs leap toward him, the other strap threatens to slip down, entangling his sword arm. Already the loose strap keeps him from fully using his shield.

    Holding the shield as best as possible in front of him, he scrambles backward to avoid the monsters' first wild swings. He gets pushed back a few more feet when a companion shoulders past to block their advance. His companion bought him a little time, so he kneels, lays down his sword, and slips the backpack all the way off. Hearing a wild cry, he instinctively swings his shield up just in time to ward off a glancing blow.

    Rummaging through the pack, he finally finds the potion, pulls it out, and, huddling behind his shield, works the cork free. Just then there is a flash of flame all around him--a fireball! He grits his teeth against the heat, shock, and pain and tries to remember not to crush or spill the potion vial. Biting back the pain of the flames, he is relieved to see the potion is still intact.

    Quickly, he gulps it down, reclaims his sword, kicks his backpack out of the way, and runs back up to the front line. In game terms, the character withdrew, was missed by one attacker, made a successful saving throw vs. spell (from the fireball), drank a potion, and was ready for combat the next round.

    So, it makes sense for characters to gulp down potions in combat in that situation. But, now consider how things changed for MMOs. One attack per minute? Ha! We need to speed up the pace. Turn-based? Nope, modern games need to be real-time. Unequip a weapon to free up a hand to drink a potion? That way only macro writers will be able to drink potions in combat. (Which I had to do as a tanking Druid back before they allowed bears to drink potions because of [IMHO misguided] efforts at simulation.)

    So, it's not that the designers didn't care, it's that they stole from an older source and made trade-offs to weaken simulation and increase gameplay. Unless you want to to back to 1 minute rounds and turn-based gameplay in order to drink potions in a manner that makes sense to you. :) I doubt many people would agree.

    Now, yes, you could try to come up with another system. But, as scrusi points out, there's going to be potential pitfalls for any design. And, ultimately, design time is still a limited resource, so time spent figurig out how healing runes work on throwing knives is time not spent writing quests, and a lack of content is going to kill a game much faster than the mechanics of drinking options (which is pretty much like every other game out there) not making sense in terms of our physical reality.

  16. Thanks for the quote, Psychochild. I shows how much thought some of the authors of tabletop RPGs spent on the simulation. I loved to read those rulebooks - often more than to play the actual game ;). In D&D you'd probably get an attack of opportunity, too, if your opponent starts drinking potions.
    I never said that no designer cares, btw.

    All I exspect is the same effort from todays MMO designers. But apparently thinking of magic cubes in your trouser's pouch that can be activated by thought and are really small, is too much work for a modern RPG designers. So he decided to just don't care and add potions.

    There are hundreds of ways to replace healing potions by something that makes more sense and is the same gameplay-wise. And even if that fails, you can still just skip the potions. Find a way to make gameplay fun without ruining immersion (for some players).

    Again: some designers might still care, but you will be hard pressed to even find an attempt of a similar explanation in any MMO "manual"/skill description.

    The design-time explanation is a bad excuse, in my opinion. It just shows how little priority the simulation takes.

    How do you think your boss would look at you, if you told him that you need to add an explanations, similar to the one you just quoted, to some skills?
    The priority has shifted to the gameplay. And not everybody likes that.

    I agree that the noise in a song is not a perfect analogue, by the way. All I want you to understand is that makeing tradeoffs with immersion are real tradeoffs. You win something, but you also lose something!

  17. I see I'm late to the party too, but I also (mostly) agree with Nils. In particular, I don't think that gameplay and immersion are fundamentally at odds; it's often possible to find "win-win" approaches that provide good gameplay while not straining suspension of disbelief.

    To use the potion example, NWN2 uses a compromise approach involving "attacks of opportunity." When a character drinks a potion, every adjacent enemy gets to take a free swing at him. That to me is (a) more believable than allowing characters to drink potions at will, and (b) better gameplay, because it turns potion-quaffing into an interesting tactical choice.

    So in the long run, I'd like developers to think about ways gameplay and immersion can work in harmony with one another, rather than using anti-simulationist approaches just because that's how things have always been done.

  18. I 100% agree, Tolthir. In the heat of the game vs. simulation debates, this point is often forgotten:

    Often there are ways to implement a feature in a way that it adds to the simulation AND the gameplay. I think I wrote about that quite often on this blog.

    Last time here and here.