One of the biggest goals that any game can achieve is to make the player forget they are holding a controller in their hand. Hours can go by before the player snaps back to reality and realized they haven’t eaten all day. It takes incredibly immersive game design to achieve this feat.
As games evolve and become more sophisticated, game designers have been creating new and improved techniques for heightening player immersion. These immersive game design techniques are paramount when crafting a cinematic and emotionally resonant interactive story.
All aspiring game designers would do well to learn these methods and practice applying them whenever possible. Game designers from each specialized field must hone their ability to immerse the player. It takes immaculate sound, stunning visuals, believable acting, and a gripping narrative to immerse the player in the game world.
What Makes a Video Game Immersive?
A video game is truly immersive when a player is completely wrapped up in the virtual experience in front of them. The easiest way to achieve a strong level of immersion is to make the game world as believable as possible, in every conceivable way. If there are any glaring glitches or elements of the game world that seem fake, it will remind the player that they are simply enjoying a game. Here are some of the most common elements of game design that help fully immerse the user.
Sound effects and music are excellent tools for drawing a player into the game world. Realistic ambient sounds are perfect for selling a particular scene. In addition, every interaction with the game world must include a sound that the player is expecting. If the sound of shattering glass sounds like cardboard, users will instantly notice.
Music helps bring a player into the flow of the game. Whenever a player experiences flow, a game designer can rest assured that they have created an immersive game. The user’s focus is so intense that they aren’t distracted by anything else.
Graphical fidelity and a game’s art style play a huge role in immersive design. While a game doesn’t need to have photorealistic graphics to be immersive, it must be free of any noticeable visual glitches during gameplay. Errors such as two objects clipping into each other will instantly snap players back into reality as they gawk at the strange phenomenon.
An animated art style is just as immersive as long as there is strong attention to detail. In fact, games with unique art styles tend to be more immersive as graphics technology advances. Cel-shading and other animated styles hold up more than realistic art styles that quickly become outdated once the next major release hits store shelves. Until games achieve true photorealism, animated art styles will stand the test of time.
Much like a great book or a binge-able TV show, a game with a great story can be incredibly difficult to put down. It is quite easy to keep a player immersed for hours on end if they want to see what happens next in the narrative. Smart writing and cinematic camera angles can bring a game’s story to life. Strong characters that the player can latch onto go a long way as well.
The acting quality is another huge component of immersive game design. Voice actors need to speak their lines believably and confidently. If the actors sound bored, awkward, or disinterested while reading their lines, players will be too bored to focus on the narrative of the game.
In recent years, motion capture has taken immersion to the next level. Instead of painstakingly animating human motions by hand, a real actor can be brought in to capture the movements naturally. This significantly reduces the chance of an animation error leading to weird motions that take the player out of the game’s experience.
Immersion Across Different Game Genres
While the above elements represent general guidelines for most games, certain game genres have unique components that can be used to immerse the player. When there isn’t a narrative or voice keeping the player immersed, game designers can still absorb the player with some creative fine-tuning.
Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
RTS titles often have zoomed out cameras that don’t allow the player to admire the same level of graphical detail as a first-person shooter. These games may not have a strong narrative focus. So, how does a good RTS keep a player glued to their seats for hours on end? The key is to utilize complex mechanics and systems that all interconnect in some way.
For instance, the Civilization series is famous for having players look away from their screen just to realize hours have passed without them knowing. These games have many interlocking systems that keep the player engaged in thought. Since there is so much to keep track of, the player becomes immersed in the multiple layers of decision making that occur every few seconds. Each subsequent decision leads into the next and the cycle continues until the player finally looks away from the monitor.
Role Playing Games (RPG)
RPGs come in all shapes and sizes. However, there is one common thread amongst all the most immersive titles in the genre. A strong sense of character progression can make the player feel as though they are in the shoes of the avatar. The most addictive form of character progression is when each action the player takes improves an attribute in some way.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a perfect example of this progression style. Every jump makes the avatar more athletic and every sword strike that connects improves their ability with that weapon. This perfectly mimics how humans improve over time as they practice a skill. The player constantly feels accomplished and wants to keep pushing towards that next level up. These progression systems are so effective at immersing the player that many modern titles add RPG elements to their genre’s game.
Sometimes, a game designer will opt to create a whole new controller in an attempt to step a game’s immersion up. Since a standard gamepad is a universal tool, there is always a chance that specific game actions won’t translate very well to that control scheme. One of the most notable examples of a successful peripheral-based title is the Guitar Hero franchise.
Having a guitar for a controller allowed the game designer to capitalize on the common fantasy of being a rock star. Most people have played air guitar and pretended to have a concert in front of them. Having a plastic guitar in hand while a digital crowd cheers in tandem was the perfect way to manifest that fantasy in full.
Racing games strive to be immersive through realistic visuals and making the cars feel authentic. This can be taken even further by introducing a steering wheel and gas pedal. Having the player move just as they would while driving an actual car is the best way to immerse them completely during each race.
Applying Immersion to a Multiplayer Match
Multiplayer matches are inherently more difficult to make immersive. There are many additional factors at play with online games that a game designer can’t always account for. Still, a lobby filled with talkative players can breed a highly immersive experience if everything comes together just right. First and foremost, the network connection has to be excellent. If there is even a hint of lag, all players in the lobby will be pulled right out of the experience.
Next, a multiplier title needs to have a perfectly balanced competitive mode. When a game is balanced, it means that every character, weapon, or tactic is equally effective. If players have a setback due to an underpowered or overpowered technique, they will feel like the game failed to meet their expectations.
Finally, a multiplayer title must encourage players to work together to achieve victory. When a team with chemistry is dominating a match, everyone who is communicating on that team will be immersed in the experience. Although game designers can’t fully control who is playing, they can make it easier for like-minded players to connect beforehand. An easy to use friends list and party system can make all the difference in this regard.
Can a Mobile Game Be Immersive?
Much like multiplier titles, mobile games have additional hurdles to overcome to immerse the player. Phone and tablet games are often used as quick distractions when standing in line or commuting. These short play sessions make it harder to immerse the player fully. There is however a way to get players to keep thinking about the game even when their phone is in their pocket.
Many mobile games are full of RPG progression systems that keep the player addicted to the gameplay loop. In addition to RPG mechanics, cell phones have a unique advantage over a console or PC. A mobile app can use notifications to alert the player when the next milestone is about to be reached. Players are tempted to keep going back whenever their phone prompts them to.
Some games use real-world data about the player’s location or surroundings. Other titles use voice notifications to have a character talk directly to a player who is near their phone. This can add a whole new layer of immersion where the game begins to blend into their daily activities. However, games can easily become obnoxious or even creepy if too many of these elements are overused.
There are many ways to incorporate immersive game design into any given title. Modern development studios continue to find new ways to push the envelope and drive player engagement. As games become more complex and interesting, new methods for immersing players will surely be discovered. It is always worth taking the extra time to ensure digital worlds are perfect so players can fully immerse themselves in the video game.
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University of Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to offer a meaningful and valuable education for 21st century students. We believe in an education that directly correlates with the work you’ll be doing after you graduate. Interested in learning more? Contact Us today.