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.

The Centrenauts: The Choices We Make

As our group progresses with our videogame and I continue working on our narrative and story, it is becoming more and more clear how important choices are in history. History isn’t simply a collection of names, dates, and places; rather, it is a series or a process that involves the subjective decisions of a human being. For example, Alexander the Great didn’t conquer Persia simply because he conquered Persia—instead, he conquered the empire because he made a series of choices within the context of the period that would lead to success in that specific conquest. The choices that this specific conqueror made were made without the knowledge of what exactly would come next; his choices were subjective to him.

This subjectivity is extremely important when thinking history, and it is especially important to our group as we craft the decision-making process within our game. As Jordan mentioned in his last blog post, our videogame will contain player choices that will change the outcome of the videogame: a series of poor choices will result in a Nazi victory during D-Day and a series of good choices will result in an Allied victory during D-Day. It is up to the player to make these decisions based on the context that they are given. Rather than letting a player make decisions based on prior knowledge of what will happen, we would rather have the player immerse themselves properly in the game and make subjective decisions.

The best example of this so far in the narrative of our game is the series choices that a player makes regarding sending stolen German information back to the Allies. For this situation, a player must take into consideration the weather, volume of ingoing and outgoing mail, and the busyness of radio channels. There is no clear answer in this prompted choice. It is up to the player to weigh their options and think ahead of what might happen if they make a certain choice, as there is no specific historical precedent for them to rely on during this encounter. The player must immerse themselves, recognize established patterns, and make a choice based entirely on context.

These subjective choices are how we plan to keep the game immersive and replayable, but it is also important for the historical authenticity of our game. We’d like the choices that players make during gameplay to matter in the course of the game’s history, so we aim to add weight to nearly everything the player does. When a player makes a choice, it will alter history (even if it’s only the history within the game) in the way that any choice in an RPG should.

As we ourselves continue to make choices during the production of our videogame, we will keep you updated and informed! For now, we are focusing on research, narrative, and map building. By the end of this week, we hope to have our plotline drafted and our game on its way to being properly produced!

Drafts of Choices