From Sea to Shining Sea Squad: Player immersion and trust

A few weeks ago, I was beginning my play through of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. I had just been playing through the game’s introductory area when I came to an interesting conflict. I was tasked with traveling to a shrine marked on my map, and the clearest path was a road going up a mountain I had not visited before. As I began traveling up the path, I began taking damage from the reduced temperature due to the altitude, rendering my initial path impossible. I had to reassess my plan. I’m extremely prone to getting lost in videogames, and the fear that I would wind up spending way to much time on a useless endeavor started to set in. I pulled up the game map, and figured I would try and circle around the mountain to the far edge and try to climb up. When I circled around, it was clear from a distance that there was a path to climb up directly to the shrine. This path ended up working out, but it also introduced me to a side quest along the way, which taught me other core game mechanics like hunting, cooking, and how to penetrate into colder climates.

 

The important thing about this instance is that my experience was not entirely based on luck. The game had to teach me how to hunt and cook, but it didn’t force me towards the quest that taught me those things. I was presented with a problem, and in how the developer predicted I would solve it they placed both the side quest and the solution. What this essentially does is create a bit of trust between the player and the developer. I then knew that I could trust the game to handle some degree of creative problem solving. My choice to rotate around the mountain wasn’t even all that adventurous, but the effect was real. I felt like I had discovered my own path but also understood that the developer had predicted this, and he had then used that path to teach other tools in the game. This kept me deeply immersed in the world I was exploring, which made the entire experience much more enjoyable.

 

While the player can always do unexpected things, a good developer can communicate to the player through the layout of the world or the environment and dramatically improve the immersion of the game. The YouTube channel hbomberguy has a very impressive review of the game Bloodborne, and in it he gives a good example of this. In the opening of the first game in the series, Dark souls, the player encounters a monster and is meant to die. The second time approaching this monster, the player can look around and find a shield hidden near by. Using the shield, the player can much more easily defeat the monster. The game is communicating very clearly, without ever breaking the immersion of the game (dying is actually a pretty key part of the immersion in these games) what the player is supposed to try. The more a developer is able to allow the player some creativity, they increase the trust that the player has in the developer and they become more immersed and creative.

 

The dynamic that develops between the player and its designer has an effect on the enjoyment and memorability of that game to the player. The more the player is consciously trying to understand what the designer meant for them to do, the higher the risk that they become drawn out of the experience becomes. This is not to say that the player should never face difficulty. Without difficulty, the satisfaction of having found a creative solution to a problem would be lost. Instead there is a sweet spot where the level of frustration makes sense given the situation presented in the game and the player can experience difficulty without it taking the player out of the experience entirely.

 

While these are concepts that I’ve thought about in my personal experience with games, it’s entirely different to think about while creating a game. Constructing an environment where the player will feel immersed, even in an engine as predictable as Twine, has proven to be a challenge. How do you make the player forget they’re playing a game? How do you make them feel like their path is their own? These are the questions our team is facing now.

From Sea to Shining Sea Squad: Some Core Concepts We’re Working With

Greetings all,

 

The From Sea to Shining Sea Squad had our second brainstorming session today, and we’ve made significant progress in having a solid idea for our game. We’ve settled on the outbreak of nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the peak of the Cold War as the setting that our game will explore, but we want to take a look at the personal experience of a U.S. citizen made to fight in the conflict following the nuclear exchange.

 

During our brainstorming, we discussed the lore of the Terran from the StarCraft series. A key feature of the Terran Dominion’s army is that they use their convicted criminals as soldiers. We were specifically interested in the personal experiences that would be produced by such a criminal justice system, but the nature of StarCraft as a an RTS game is not very conducive to conveying that personal experience. Our game could explore how a government might justify this system, and how this dystopian system could come about in the U.S. during the Cold War. It could be presented as a more moral alternative to capital punishment, as the rest of society might benefit from their fighting, and could hinge on the 13th amendment of the U.S. constitution.

 

Our team also discussed how we would create an authentic experience appropriate to the time period. We plan to research what other games in this period have done to successfully create a believable and detailed playing experience. The nature of Twine as our development platform gives us the opportunity to make a believable setting in the mind of the player, but this will require careful attention to the details of the period in order to create an enjoyable, interesting, and accurate atmosphere.

 

The team is now researching into what points of contingency may need to be changed in order to make the breakout of armed conflict during the Cold War possible and historically sound. We are thinking of making The Cuban Missile Crisis the spark that ignites the war, but we want to find more reasons for why the two powers may have been just a bit more belligerent to tip this instance over the edge and into actual military conflict.

 

At the end of our brainstorming, we started to hone in on what areas each member would focus on, and how we are going to spend our group time working. Some members of the team will specialize in creating a believable atmosphere within the game purely through the writing and details of the world, while others may focus more on finding the historical contingency points that may need to be altered in order to make the alternative history of our game make sense. These roles are still very flexible though.

 

A challenge we are anticipating is creating a real sense of agency and freedom in a game where we have a specific experience we want the player to have. We are going to work to give the player choices that may have effects in the short term, but overall the story will remain unchanged. Hopefully this, in tandem with experiencing the world through the perspective of our protagonist, will be enough to create that sense of immersion we seek.