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Article - 'Pro's & Con's of Realism' by Angroth

An item about Game Design posted on Feb 10, 2004

Blurb

Good things and bad things about realism in your games.

Body

As a public request I’m going to show a few main points of realism which can be good whether its realism factor is high or even if its so unreal its silly, next I’ll show some stuff that will make your game bad if its too realistic or unrealistic.

Firstly whether your game is like the Matrix, Final Fantasy or Street Fighter, being able to physically sustain more damage than a normal human is capable of is worth doing in your game for many reasons. The whole point of playing a game or watching a movie is not to see something you would normally see, some kid in a street and a family that don’t get up to much for a couple of months on end. We like to play these things because we wish we could do these things. Deep down inside we all want to be Neo or Ryu at some point, thus meaning we are appreciative and attracted to these such over the top things.
On the other hand you get the few hit kills and much more realistic stuff from the likes of Bushido Blade and a lot of the historical movies. What makes this opposite also good is that being nearly invincible is so common in games that when we get one that’s just like real life its unexpected, unusual and hard. What attracts people to this, is the down to earth realistic streak in someone, you can’t deny reality. Also its very appealing to fans of non high explosive energy ball games.

Secondly storylines can be impressive in either direction, whether ultra unrealistic or something factual. Personally I think the latter isn’t as good because people would rather be absorbed into a realm where anything can happen to a boring mundane earth. But then again saying that some people like WWII which is why all the Medal of Honor games are liked and others like older Japanese history in games like Kessen. Maybe it seems obvious I don’t know but the only successful games of factual basis are anything with wars, nothing about normal life except for The Sims, but for now, you should forget that. Eg. Farm Games don’t go down too well, the only people that buy them are little children or people who don’t have much imagination.

Weaponry and equipment also looks good whether highly realistic or not. Getting flame swords and light sabres is cool just as can realistic things can be. If there’s ever been a game with a large amount of guns and details about them from real life (not made up like BFG2000) I’m always impressed and glad someone’s done their homework. As with ancient armour types, none of this copper armour (which isn’t durable enough to with stand even one blow). Yet undeniably plasma rifles, photon grenades and planet busters are very satisfying to cause some havoc, much more so than normal guns. And if you’re playing a shooting game then the chances are you want to wreak some havoc. So as you can see, it works both ways.

Now, all the above means is that you can’t fail in your game creation by being too realistic or too fictional in these aspects (which is good news) and another good thing is that whether one or two of the above are realistic and the other isn’t, it doesn’t make a single bit of difference. The game overall will still stand strong. But now I’ll tell you how a completely realistic or completely unrealistic game inevitably has its flaws.

If your game is too real, it probably won’t be much fun. After all, here are some things it would suffer from:
As people don’t travel the world gaining power (and with close to one hit / few hit kills) the game will be hard and people might lose interest.
A realistic game wouldn’t end up with a hero gathering a party, it’s a very fictional game thing, so the game would be even more mundane (like Vagrant Story).
If you were striving for true realism, unless you were doing a historical remake the story is going to be really bland and not very enjoyable. Also, take note that in a historical remake the hero is liable to die in a battle or random fight somewhere along the line…

Well, enough stabbing at realism, what does a really unrealistic game have wrong with it?
It would have to be something like Easy Quest 4 where almost anything is possible, things happen incoherently and for little reason.
Everyone speaks the same language and such making the world very unworldly.
Generally anything that makes it a bit silly and over the top.

Personally I feel that if a game were completely unrealistic its likely to be more fun than a completely realistic game. Who wants to play what happens in real life when you can be doing things that isn’t possible in our world?