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On Immersion

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What makes immersion? The million dollar question, especially for tactical games.

We have all experienced this- getting so engrossed in a game (or other things like reading a good book) that is just feels like you are there. You become lost in it, and for gamers this can bring out the best moments in gaming. But for tactical shooters, what makes that awesome immersion? 

Immersion takes a few general elements. Atmosphere, controls, and interaction/reaction within the world. 

Atmosphere involves the world created and overall authenticity to that world. The world needs to follow the rules set by the time and place of the game. If the game is set in the not-too-distant future the world must match with not-too-distant technology. If in the past, you may have to exclude some more modern advancements. Authenticity is essentially being true to the world and the goals of the game, whatever it is. Various events that could reasonably happen in the world should happen. Atmosphere also includes music, character writing etc.

Controls are vital in any game, since it is how we interact. Controls need to be relatively easy to support the atmosphere in the world. Doing anything in game should be a nearly subconscious experience. This is where more complex games can get into trouble. When controls become too complicated, players may struggle to remember what controls what. While this can usually be corrected simply by playing, it makes much harder for immersion to take place. This is especially true during firefights and other high tension events which are core elements in tactical games.

Player interaction is how the player uses the world around them, and authentic world reaction to those actions. As stated before, if something can happen in the scope of the created world the option should be available for the player to use or experience if it does not adversely effect controls. Using light switches, driving or disabling vehicles, weather patterns etc. Reaction in games is vital as well. Enemy response should match their level of training if they spotted the player first etc. Civilians should respond much differently considering their general helplessness in most situations.

When properly balanced, all of these factors greatly increase the player's potential for that ever elusive feeling of immersion.

Sidenote: The more I've thought about it, the more I realized that graphics and extreme levels of realism don't directly lead to more immersion on their own, and that atmosphere and controls are the most important in my opinion. Games like Ghost Recon (2001) or Conflict Desert Storm are not photo realistic, and they don't boast vehicles or accurate ballistics, but they have been immersive to me though nostalgia plays more of a role with time. Meanwhile games like Arma have their moments, but it often gets in it's own way, especially in combat. Also, open world games have an interesting hurdle to cross when it comes to immersion. The worlds are massive, meaning that lots of small details have to be omitted or are repeated everywhere. Excessively repeated dialogue and empty/cloned buildings come to mind. In realistic games we pick up in these inconsistencies (or over-consistencies I guess) and the world becomes a bit less real. However with more closed off games, tiny and unique details can be placed everywhere. Place a nice backdrop where the playable area ends and in our mind's eye it becomes more realistic since our real experiences and expectations of what should happen there fill in the gap. This is much harder to achieve in a world where you can go absolutely anywhere. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great example of this though it isn't really a tactical shooter. In between missions, the game lets you explore a chunk of the city you are in. It provides open world style freedom without losing atmosphere.



Thanks for reading!

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