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Article - 'Immersion' by Guest

An item about Graphics/Audio posted on Jan 28, 2005

Blurb

Discusses immersing the player in your game with the use of visuals and sounds.

Body

Well this is my first article, for well, anything! Anyways, I've decided to talk about a non-existent topic on gaming world. Its called Immersion. For the purposes of this article, there are two types of games, those with stories, and those without. I will be focusing on games with stories here.

Games are a very unique form of media, because they involve the player while at the same time telling a story. All other forms of media are pretty much passive. However, many games are lacking in the ability of telling a story. The story might be great, even brilliant, but that does not matter if the player is so bored by the presentation that they don't even play the rest of the game. This is a fact that Directors have learned, since the first films. They learned about how to immerse their audience in the story they were telling, to make the experience more powerful. There are several major elements to immersing the audience, or in this case the player, in the story.

Our two most important senses are sight and hearing, so therefore most of the information that is relevant in a story is related to those two. Think about the scariest movies you have ever watched. They created a creepy mood and atmosphere which pervaded almost every scene in the movie. The same goes for games. In games you to choose your visuals carefully, because here is almost no better way to create mood and atmosphere in a story. Take the Silent Hill series. Everything is shrouded in shadows, and most everything looks like it will fall apart at any moment. Think about the psychological effect of this imagery. If you can't see into the corners, then what might be hiding there? This is very effective, because the stories of the series are all about scaring the heck out of you. They achieved exactly what they wanted, via the mood.

However, if you have a part of the story taking place in, say, a game form of Atlantis, where everything is very modern and sophisticated, then obviously, different visuals are needed. If you wanted to convey the feeling of peace and calm, then a good choice would be to have everything be in neutral tones: IE blue. You have to choose the visuals properly for the tone of the area.

Another reason for good visuals, in terms of Immersion, is that the better the visuals, the more belief the player is willing to suspend. Even if the visuals are all 2D, like in RM2K, if they do not remind the player that they are playing a game, then the player might forget that they are playing a game. If at any moment, the visuals falter, like they become choppy, or they skip, (like in my demo of Rome: Total War. The units when you zoomed, in disappeared, bringing me back to the fact that I was just playing a game, instead of being a supreme general like I had been pretending to be just moments before.) So the conclusion here is, not only is wise choices important to immersion, but so is consistency.

Our other most important sense is hearing. Most scary movies get us into the mood, not just by the visuals, but by the music. The music tenses us up, even initiates the fight-or-flight response that these movies want us to have. In fact I would go so far as to say that when designing the map for an area, you should already have the music done! A game with probably the best and most relevant music that I have played, would be Deus Ex: the invisible War. It was both unusual and fit the area perfectly, sometimes so well that I was able to play exactly in tune with the music! Choose the music well, even get it custom made. The best advice for developers is to basically have a closer relationship with you sound techs than with you do with your programmers. They will know best what will work and what doesn't than I do.

This is just the first part of the article. In my second part I will explain in further detail how to choose proper graphics and music to immerse the player in the story.