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4 Things That Destroy Immersion
If video games have one indisputable leg up on other types of media, it’s the depth of immersion they can provide. Sure you can engage in a movie or fall into a book, but the heavily interactive nature of video games provides a less-than-subtle attachment to the world, and can be a powerful thing.
Until something comes in and completely ruins it.
Few feelings are as exhilarating as getting completely caught up in a game, or as jarring as when you are ripped out of it by one of the following:
I was a huge 2D fan. I understand that we as an industry couldn’t stay children forever, and eventually we would have to move into 3D. At first though, we had to deal with a litany of camera and gameplay problems arising from this new gameplay dimension. It was tough. A lot of these early issues have been mostly ground away at this point, but that almost makes it worse when a camera problem does rear its ugly head. I imagine managing the camera isn’t easy for developers. It’s so incredibly vital to the whole structure of the product, but at the same time it’s such a “gamey” thing that it can kind of fly under the radar. Few games get lauded for their camera work (although notables like God of War 3 and Uncharted 2 have been appropriately praised), but heaven forbid it gets in your way. We as gamers almost feel it’s a right to have a good camera, and in a way I suppose it is, so we get angry when the camera explicitly results in our failure to complete said game.
I’m all for difficult games. I always try to beat my favorites on the hardest difficulty (working on a Halo 4 solo Legendary run right now), and I put forth valiant efforts at Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls. That’s fine, especially if the difficulty is something your proud of. However, randomly spiking the difficulty up can be a drastic blow to the goodwill a game can generate. Wiegraf from Final Fantasy Tactics is the one that most clearly resonates in my mind, fighting that guy was a sobering experience. As a kid, I literally thought it was impossible, and it very nearly ruined the game for me. Luckily, I had a GameShark. More recent games like Trials HD, The Witcher 2 and Mortal Kombat all stopped me in my tracks cold at one point. Obviosuly these are still great games, but nothing kills the immersion like fighting Lethos for the eighth time in a row.
So you’re making your way through Horn Devil Pass in the snowy mountains of Skyrim, when you spy a hidden alcove up and to the right. “Surely there must be treasure there”, you say, so naturally you start jumping like a maniac to get up there. Just one hop away and….you somehow get stuck in a boulder that you can’t escape from. That’s of course the moment you realize you’ve just been wandering the continent for a while, and haven’t saved in two levels. Yep, we’ve all been there, and it just sucks. Assassin’s Creed III, to a much larger extent, Aliens: Colonial Marines both learned how bugs could destroy an otherwise good experience. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about Colonial Marines. That game is just awful. Regardless, bugs are another thing that can absolutely take you out of the experience, and that is never a positive.
This can encompass a lot of things. Maybe it’s just me, but it takes some of the realism out of Gears of War and Mass Effect when every time I get in a fight I look around and see conveniently placed half-cover scattered around everywhere. Or when I have to pick up a random coffee thermos in the woods in Alan Wake, or the branches of every tree are placed just so. Obviously these things are necessary for gameplay reasons, but I imagine a world where all these aspects blend seamlessly…The two best past and modern examples of good level design I can think of are Super Mario Bros. and BioShock respectively. Those are examples of level design done right. There is any number of examples of level design gone wrong, so I won’t bore you here with them, and although what exactly makes bad level design is hard to pinpoint, its one of those you know when you see it.