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Techniques of Immersion


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I was just checking out some online MIDI musics from various videogames. They had a very wide variety of N64 rips, and being me, I couldn't resist checking out the GoldenEye MIDIs. As I was listening to the Facility theme, I couldn't help but muse over the Immersion Factor of games. Not only FPS, obviously.

So, that got me thinking. Well, what is a major factor of Immersion in a game? I started to think about it and decided that sound is the most important factor in successful Immersion. Granted, control, plot, and graphics are significant, but if we have light Jazz where there should be strong rock, we're going to get displaced, right?

This then got me thinking about how music and sound can be better utilized in a game. Then it hit me:

Diagetic music.

In all my years of gaming, I've not once came across a game that featured Diagetic music. Diagetic music is music that is within the subject's environment. An example would be in Pulp Fiction, where Jules and Vincent are listening to the radio. That music is Diagetic. Similarly, in Apocalypse Now, with the dawn raid on Vin Drin Dop and Flight of the Valkyrie blaring out of the helicopter speakers.

Non-diagetic music is usually the movie soundtrack, stuff that was added in during post-production. Most James Bond music is non-diagetic.

Imagine, though, the cool factor of hearing some heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping Bond theme blaring, only to walk into the next room and find that someone left a TV on. And for a more enhanced Immersive effect over that, being able to turn the TV off.

So, anyone have any feelings about this? Any other techniques you can think of? Techniques that are being utilized today, techniques that aren't? Things you'd like to see that would improve the Immersive aspect of a game?
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Guest ScirosDarkblade
This is a really interesting topic...

Ok the music thing is totally right; that does a lot for immersion. And diagetic music (first time I've seen the term) is extremely rare, and I think there might have been some in the first level of Xenosaga but that's all I remember apart from some Rare games and Sly Cooper where they'll have people playing video games IN the game. But that's all that comes to mind.

I'm just trying to think of games that do well with immersion... well, Metroid Prime, as much as I dislike the game overall, did do a decent job with immersion (to a point). The fact that your visor would get affected by the environment was really cool, and did a lot to make you feel like you were really there. However, every time Samus turned into a ball that whole immersion feeling got killed, (but I'd have preferred constant 3rd person just because Samus looked really cool and the platform jumps wouldn't have been as stupid, etc.) and in general FPSs tend to screw up immersion because I get distracted thinking how there's no way I'd be holding out my right hand at some bizarro angle holding a gun while I'm walking around. Seriously. But that's just me.

But gameplay-wise, there's two things I'd do as a game designer to create immersion:

1. Introduce as much interactivity as possible. Like what you saw in Half Life 2. Extremely interactive, and the AI characters aren't as simple and predictable as usual. The more an impact you can make on everything in the world surrounding you, the more you can make it your own, and the more immersive the game feels.

2. Create extremely open-ended worlds. That's not to say that the quests or missions or whatever have to be open-ended. The plot can be as linear as you want. But if the player can go wherever he pleases (swim in the ocean, climb the mountain, go to any town or city, talk to all the people, etc.) then again, the sense of freedom lets the player consider the world his own. And example would be what Morrowind did (I think it was extremely immersive despite the often-inappropriate musical score).

Basically I think to create immersion the player has to feel like all his actions make an impact on the game world, and also that he has freedom. (This doesn't have to be actually true, it just has to seem that way.) Finally realistic graphics, surround sound, and very responsive and realistic physics (when it comes to object interaction) don't hurt. And, last but not least (this just popped into my head), I think it helps if the player thinks that the world he's in is perpetual. Even in a FPS, it has to seem like the area he is in has always been there and always will be. That's not always easy to do, but it means a lot.

I'm really curious to see just how immersive Doom 3 will be...
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[QUOTE=Petey]In all my years of gaming, I've not once came across a game that featured Diagetic music. Diagetic music is music that is within the subject's environment. An example would be in Pulp Fiction, where Jules and Vincent are listening to the radio. That music is Diagetic. Similarly, in Apocalypse Now, with the dawn raid on Vin Drin Dop and Flight of the Valkyrie blaring out of the helicopter speakers.
[/QUOTE]I don't have the time to go in-depth at the moment--but, the Grand Theft Auto games have Diagetic music. Broken Helix for the PSOne even had it in the form of elevator music. Even Max Payne has it in various situations (i.e., an idle radio or television set). So, it's there; it's just not something people notice, I guess.
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[color=#707875]I think that the suspension of disbelief is what makes a game immersive.

And normally, this would lead one to conclude that "realistic" games like Grand Theft Auto are, by default, more immersive than less realistic games like The Wind Waker.

But this reminds me of something that Shigeru Miyamoto said a while ago. I'm very roughly paraphrasing, but basically, he said that in a game world you might render and incredibly realistic hand. That hand may have bumpy skin and wrinkles and beautiful textures. And then that hand might catch a glass bottle. The glass bottle might be incredibly realistic, with beautiful lighting and reflections.

But what happens if, when the hand catches the bottle, the bottle floats through the hand a little (ie: clipping)? No matter how photo-realistic a game [i]looks[/i], it still won't be believeable, because of these issues.

This is why, in many ways, Wind Waker is more "realistic" than a game like GTA. The game doesn't need photo-realistic graphics to actually immerse the player into a believeable world. Instead, there should be a consistency with the art design as well as a realistic/consistent approach to elements like physics and play control.

In Turok Evolution, the stick sensitivity is awful. I will turn my character around and I'll expect an on-screen movement that corresponds to my controller input. Instead, my character will move sluggishly at first...and then they'll whip around at high speed. There's nothing predictable or intuitive about that.

On the other hand, when I'm making Link run around, I'm dealing with a very intuitive design. Link does what I expect him to; his weighting feels right and his behavior accurately reflects my own controller inputs.

I think the end result is that you almost forget you're holding a controller; you [i]become [/i]Link, because there is no delay or interruption between your input and the on-screen result. Not only is there no delay, but there's a sense of fluidity and appropriately weighted motion.

So I think this plays the most important role in a game world. The art in a game, or the sound in a game is important, but not as important as they are in movies. This is because the audience isn't interacting with the movie as such. But in a game world, movement and interaction are the most important things. If you experience frustration with movement, nothing else matters -- look at those who don't play Resident Evil due to the controls. RE may have a great story, or pretty visuals, or moody and appropriate music. But that doesn't matter if the player is constantly being frustrated with the controller input.

A game that suspends disbelief well is a game that satisfies the end user's desire for control -- for player control, for camera control and so on. Games that cater to the selfish desire of the gamer effectively are the ones that are going to be the most enjoyable to play. Obviously, games that may look gorgeous or have amazing music may still be awful titles, because they simply don't [i]play [/i]well. An example of this might be Star Fox Adventures. Nobody disputed that it looked good, or had appropriate music. But it played pretty poorly and as a result, it ceased to be as much fun as various other titles out there.[/color]
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I've played quite a few games with what would seem to be diagnetic music or even just sounds. There's been games for well over a decade that have sounds coming from rooms that get louder as you approach, only to peak when you make it into the room itself. Most games nowadays seemingly just refer to this concept as "3D audio" for whatever reason.

In terms of immersion, I don't really know. I can get immersed in a game that looks and sounds awful by today's standards. I'm not saying that graphics and sound do not play a huge role in immersion, but at the same time, I have to wonder how important they are compared to things like gameplay. On the other hand, there's games like Silent Hill and The Suffering that try very hard to immerse you graphically and aurally. I think those two games are very successful in that respect. However, they also control well (once you get used to them, anyway) and are interesting from a basic plot standpoint (not getting into the details, even) and I think that's really what keeps them immersive. I could look at pretty graphics for awhile, but if the gameplay was vapid, I doubt I'd stick around much... which would obviously kill the immersive quality.

I don't even really know when and how I actually get sucked into a game. Some do it, some don't. I find that I block a lot of other things out entirely, to the point that I don't even notice that I'm watching the game on a TV. It's as if my room and the TV casing disappear and all I see are the images being sent out by whatever I'm playing at the time. That's not to say I'm oblivious of things around me entirely (I know people who don't even hear you when they're watching TV or playing games lol), but there's a definite "zoning out" quality to it. I realize after this that I was really immersed by a game, but I never seem to realize it when I'm playing. I guess that's what immersion is all about though lol. I find that games are really the only form of entertainment that give that effect for me on a regular basis.
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First off, to even have any hopes of being immersed in a game, the gameplay has to be up to snuff. As has already been said, even if a game has great graphics, sound, etc. if the gameplay isn't up to par, then the production values bascially amount to jack ****. Gameplay is what keeps people playing the game.

When it comes to making a game more immersive, I agree with what Sciros said about interactivity. When you're immersed in a game, you feel like you're [i]in[/i] the game, that you're making a difference somehow in the game's world. Interactive elements really, really help make it seem that [i]you're[/i] contributing to whatever is happening in the game and not just whatever character you happen to be playing as.

But, again, gameplay is what makes a game immersive in the first place. I liked the example that James used with Wind Waker. The game is not totally immersive because of its amazing graphics and sound (though, they add heavily to the immersion factor), it is because of the finely tuned gameplay and controls that one can become totally immersed in Wind Waker with hardly any effort at all.

[quote name='Semjaza Azazel'](I know people who don't even hear you when they're watching TV or playing games lol)[/quote]

That's me right there lol. Sometimes I just get so into a game that I ignore everything that's happening around me. I would be screwed if a natural disaster happened while I was playing a really immersive game :p
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Hmm.. from the way I play games, the sound doesn't have that much to do with my immersion factor. Sure, it helps but for me, the thing that pulls me into the "state of gamer's enlightenment" is the combination of story and gameplay intensity. For example, anyone who has to have their focus constantly on a game like Super Mario (yes it's a bit outdated, but feel free to insert any other similar game), where you can't look away to watch TV, because if you do there goes that power up and you're small mario, or dead knows that feeling where you are "attuned" to the game. When in that state of mind, you can play that level in record time, without touching any enemies and beat the boss like he's a wuss. In other games, like Chrono Cross or a Final Fantasy title, I can get so immersed in the story and battles that I'm drawn in. Hours go by and I don't notice, untill someone shakes my shoulder and tells me to leave. For a game like Zelda, you have to pay attention to all the small details to open that door or defeat that enemy, and can also have the same effect. Is that what you are referring to Petey?
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[font=gothic][color=darkslategray]Personally, it's all about storyline and characters for me. However, I play rpgs/adventures almost exclusively, quite often with music on the background. I also read a hell of a lot. So I'm not too concerned by what the physical reality is; the sound or graphics or whatever, it's how well the game fits inside my head, how much I can relate to it. It's the mental conception of the game that matters, especially when you're playing for long hours. You can only hear the same effect or piece of music so many times, and graphics do tend to be less impressive after time. In my opinion, a well constructed storyline tends to outweight those things.

Secondly, characters. Even if it's something like NWN or Icewind Dale, something with very minimal character development, it's still important, because the character is basically an extension, a creation. As James mentioned, you can fit yourself into that character. Sure, there aren't a lot of games that go past the idea of "levelling up" when it comes to character to development, but those that do tend to be very good ones.

But hey, I'm an introverted nutcase who has reads more than he talks. Don't take me on faith.[/font][/color]
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The Max Payne series has an amazing amount of diagnetic music/sounds (especially Max Payne 2). Right from the start of MP1, Max hears [SPOILER]the begging of his wife from another room during a flashback, and then after a small amount of progress hears her scream as the sound of bullets hitting flesh indicate the quietening of her screams for help.[/SPOILER] Absolutely amazing, and very important to the overall package of Max Payne and Max's story. The game wouldn't be the same without it.

Also, Max Payne 2 has the same deal, yet taken even further. In a nightmare, Max [SPOILER]runs through a jail, hearing different versions of himself representing different emotions like fear, hate, insanity, and remorse speaking about what they feel and what they fear (you do see them as you go up the corridor, but you hear them before you see them).[/SPOILER] Walking up that corridor is one of the deepest and creepiest moments in gaming I have ever experienced. Developers need to realise that diagnetic music/sound is just as important as any other element of a game.
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[color=indigo]I have to agree with James on this one; the most important thing for me is perfect play control. I'm actually replaying Zelda: The Wind Waker right now, and I've really realized just how good the control is in that game. I'll be in these battles with anywhere from three to ten enemies all coming at me at once, and I'll be jumping, dodging, backflipping, Spin Attacking, jump attacking, counter attacking, and before I know it I'll have cleared the room while only taking a couple hearts worth of damage. The combat controls are so perfect, except for one issue with the L Targeting -- it's sometimes hard to target things in the air when there are things also on the ground at the same time -- that I don't even really think about what I'm doing with the controller at all.

I think "Spin Attack," and I just automatically rotate the control stick and hit B without even thinking about it. I think "dodge and jump attack," and I find myself pushing left/right on the control stick and hitting the A button, then centering the stick and hitting the A button for the jump attack. And all the while, I'm almost constantly changing which enemy I'm targeting/attacking, to keep any one from being able to come from behind. It gets to the point where I don't even really feel the controller in my hand. Heck, there've been times where someone would ask me what the controls for a game were and I wouldn't be able to tell them for sure, yet I could play the game fluently.

So good play control is definitely the main factor for how into a game I get, and Super Smash Bros., the original on the N64, would have to be the king of immersive games for me. Sometimes I'd be playing versus mode against three level 9 CPU, and I'd just go into this almost trance-like state. I'd be totally relaxed, not really even aware of anything outside of the game (which is very rare with me), my eyes loosely focused on the screen and nothing but the screen . . . and I'd be kicking major butt. My best record was scoring 22 or 23 points on Pikachu in a five minute match on Saffron City, getting KOed only once or twice throughout the whole match. (Without the use of Hammers or Home Run Bats, I should mention). Normally I'd be hard pressed to even get up to 20 points, but when I was "in the zone," the CPU characters could hardly touch me.

Music is probably second in line for me. A good sound track goes a long way with me, but it's mainly background music that matters, I've found. When I'm in the middle of a huge battle I hardly notice the music because I'm concentrating on the fighting. (I still remember thinking "[i]This[/i] is the music that was playing?" when I first listening to the Gohdan fight music on the Wind Waker sound track). I remember the fight, not the music. But when I'm just walking around and exploring, I tend to notice and remember the music a lot more since I'm not having to focus so much on other things.

Metroid Prime did an excellent job with this, as I've mentioned before in other threads. All the music fits perfectly with the environments, and for me, that really helps me to feel like I'm actually in the game. As Sciros mentioned, the visor effects also help with this, but not nearly as much as the music I think. At least, they're a lot more subtle; sometimes I won't even realize some of the visor effects are there for a long time, until I'll finally be doing something and I'll notice that things don't seem quite the same as usual. The music, however, I tend to notice a lot more.

As for graphics, I think if I can be more immersed in the original Super Smash Bros. than any other game, they don't matter too much for me. Blocky characters and evironments with flat, 2D backgrounds compared to the awesome piece of art that is Metroid Prime? No, they can't matter that much. As long as the graphics aren't horrible they doesn't really distract me. Certainly, good graphics like in Metroid Prime can help, but I don't think it would've made a whole lot of difference for me if Metroid Prime had had N64 quality graphics. . . . If it had been on the N64, anyway. A GameCube game couldn't get away with that, heh.[/color]
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