Discussion Topic 002

29th November 2015

A couple of weeks ago Scott Warner, Game Director for the Star Wars Project at Visceral posted a tweet and a image saying “Don’t do this in level design: prize behind counter is gated by locked door but counter could be scaled by anyone.”.

You can follow the thread if you click the link above but as with many Twitter threads it gets mixed up in other tweets.

Essentially, he said that it was an immersion issue and I disagreed.

I tried to organize a podcast with him about it but it never happened.

Yes, seeing this sort of thing is a little frustrating because it happens so often, but I don’t feel it’s an immersion problem from a player’s point of view, but it MIGHT be from a developer’s point of view. He sees things like this and automatically gets into the developer’s mind, where as a player I don’t.

Nothing in the image is impossible. Many doors get locked and counters left open. Yes, that a bit stupid but stupid is not impossible.

So, here is my first question What things spoil immersion for you?

Of course, it often comes down to believability. I can easily accept that a gravity gun can exist but the fact that as a player I can carry 10 weapons with no issues IS a problem for me. Playing Sci-Fi games mean we have to accept some things and question others.

For example, if I enter a room and a solid object is in that room that is too big to be in there – that spoils the immersion for me. If I can see or get out of the map – that spoils immersion for me. Shitty design choices don’t spoil immersion for me but the DO spoil my enjoyment.

One of the reason I replied to Scott’s original tweet is that I have been seeing a lot of “pronouncements” about level design and they drive me crazy. I wish I had recorded some of them but I haven’t. Too often, it seems to me, developer’s see things only from a developer’s perspective and forget that 90% of player have never seen behind the curtain.

Level design should question decisions made by other designers but I feel that making pronouncements about how design should be implemented doesn’t really help. I’m the same with any kind of saying or “rule”.

So, here is my second question, directed at modders When you play games and other mods are you constantly viewing things from a modder’s perspective?

As a livestreamer, I know that when I play a game or mod alone I feel differently from when I commentate on it during a stream. I think it’s inevitable that your background effects how you watch, play or interact with a medium.

It doesn’t me Scott is wrong and I am right, I just feel we need to accept that no matter what you do, for some groups of people you will always break immersion. The key is to remember who you are making something for: other creators or consumers. And then you have another question was this built for experienced players or newbies? because the immersion of those two groups is very different.



  1. I think Scott’s issue here is the more about the way the game controls / functions, rather than the level design itself.

    Fallout 4 has levels of locks from Novice through to Master. You can pick locks depending on your level. In this situation, there is something behind the counter that he wants, the door is locked (and I assume he is not the right level to get through it, but in a real world you could just vault over the counter. Fallout 4 does not offer this action however, so you HAVE to use the door, despite it seeming perfectly reasonable to be able to vault the counter.

    I think it just comes down to this. The designers want to tempt the player, but they need to be a certain level to access it. It is a way to make the player think “I should come back here later”

    Doesn’t break immersion for me at all, but I can see why it would frustrate a level designer. πŸ˜›

    1. I think, also, one could argue that it’s a limitation of their creaky old engine too. Fallout avoids breakable glass, for example. And mesh fences have wonky collision for bullets. And it’s not always clear that NPCs can actually see you through such things – typically they’ll path the long way around instead of trying to shoot through the fence. Given that this subway office can occur in places with combat, they might have sacrificed practicality for combat reliability.

      That said, New Vegas had several examples of cages around offices.

      But, I mean, you can bring a portable nuclear missile launcher into a room and not have it destroy the room when it explodes. The “realism” has to end somewhere. I’ve come across many subway stations like this and it never crossed my mind that I should be able to hop over the counter.

      Now the companion AI on the other hand… you want to talk about breaking immersion? I tell the NPC to go do something, and it just fidgets around and walks in circles, never accomplishing its task. And runs toward me as I try to run out the doorway. And steals my cover location (or butts me out of my cover location). And when you have to follow them, they walk slower than you walk and faster than you crouch-walk, which means you’re constantly hitting W W W W W. Because the AI doesn’t yield to the player at all, it’s some of the worst companion AI I’ve ever seen. Ironic considering that it wasn’t that bad in NV. Now, it’s worse than the rebels in HL2.

      Oh yeah. I went there. πŸ™‚

      1. Now, it’s worse than the rebels in HL2.

        Impossible Sir!

        1. I know. I didn’t think it was possible either!

  2. Funny to some.
    Confusing to some.
    Annoying to many.
    and overlooked by most.

    To be honest though this is hardly a failure of level design, more of a failure of the environment artist who overlooked this detail. If the counters had full metal cages over them or had been a glass window with a small gap at the bottom like in banks and pawn shops, there’d be no issue here and this entire argument would never occurred.

    Regarding stuff that breaks my immersion, I can overlook a silly design flaw like the image in that sparked this whole thing.
    But its other people break my immersion, its why I get multilayer burn out so easily, trying to play something like heroes and generals for example can really get you into the world as I paratroop into a town and absorb the view, just to die and have the message ‘you was killed by Cpt. Swaggertits with ‘MyPenis’ ‘ is a easy immersion kill.
    Other immersion breakers are overly large HUDs in games, overuse of a game’s soundtrack and bugs.

    When playing mods I have the perception of a player and only think about the player in my first run, only then do I try to think like the modder in the second run as I study the mod and what made it good enough for me to take a second look.

  3. Wesp5

    I completely agree with Scott. Something like this annoys me in any game! As stated there could have been a grate above the counter or something similar, so it’s just bad level design. Even worse are invisible walls that we still find much too often in maps here, and the worst of all are games, most often of the horror survival walking simulator kind, where you can’t jumb or climb at all so moving in the world always feels like moving inside a game with stupid rules instead of a realistic environment!

  4. I’ve been playing Fallout 4 for a while. It is full of situations, physics and devices that are unrealistic, but it’s impossible to avoid this. Examples are gathering items, interacting with objects in the crafting environment and of course, conversations. I agree that where possible it should strive for natural and realistic game-play, but it really doesn’t bother me much.

    I would prefer more weaving of elements to develop the story. More mysteries for instance. Secrets that are uncovered by reading things on computer logs, etc – requiring recovery of certain items which develop the quest. I know this has been done to death, but I feel disappointed sometimes that all the little stories of people’s lives that you discover, often on computer terminals, have no bearing on anything. So there is not a lot of emotional depth in FO4.

    I’m focusing now on settlement building. I prefer combat being a smaller part of the game and building to be a bigger part, so the complexity in this respect is very good. I have to keep assessing the balance of weight to carry and items needed to build at any particular settlement. It involves juggling fast travel with endlessly gathering bits of junk, etc.

    1. Yes, my feelings on Fallout 4 are complicated. But the thing I keep coming back to as I play is “I’m sure glad that the combat is fun, because there ain’t much beyond it.” It’s more shallow than both FO3 and NV in pretty much every respect. For example, I’m sure there are some real zingers out there, but I’ve been to 3 Vaults beyond my own and each one was a total narrative letdown. Yeah, you get some bits of creepy story on the terminals, but none of that is reflected in the level itself. It’s rare that you can talk your way out of trouble too.

      As far as settlement building, I don’t care for it. I build my own levels. I have no desire to build Bethesda’s towns for them. πŸ™‚ But I’ve also been putting it off until I can get the top level of the Strong Back perk, where you can Fast Travel while over-encumbered. At least then, it would be easier to move inventory from one settlement to another. Although, imo, it’s dumb that you don’t have a shared inventory between them in the first place. “Aw man, I need one more screw. Better head back to Sanctuary and grab one!” And why are screws a rare commodity anyway? Any one of these burned out Corvegas on the road should have thousands of them! πŸ˜€

  5. Zekiran

    I will give them the ‘I can’t climb’ issue, but I’m not ever going to harp on it that it ‘ruins’ my immersion. It might make me notice a bit but it’s never something I will be worried too hard about. This applies to any game, not just Fallout or HL.

    What does, however, are things like:

    * There are places where the z-flicker is incredibly obvious, where two or more textures are competing for space. That knocks me straight out of player mode and into ‘why did you not just remove one of those textures’ mode.

    * Places in some underground location where QA missed the huge gap between the ceiling and the top of the wall – and you can see straight into the Void of No Skybox beyond it.

    * Times when you’re reading text in a monitor or note and there’s an obvious, glaring error – the dates for instance, on at least one set of messages are 200 years off and it was purely a ‘didn’t search and replace’ issue. Text errors that aren’t part of the flavor of the game (I mention this in another mod’s review) that exist entirely because the developer or the QA department didn’t catch them. The grammar nerd in me starts screaming whenever I see the wrong ‘your’.

    When I’m playing a ridiculous game like Fallout though, I expect there to be things that don’t make any real-world sense (such as the above comment including the Fat Man explosion not ruining a building) but I also keep in mind the engine’s limitations and can’t fault them for doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Breakable glass in a game with the scope of Fallout would be akin to ‘making me buy a new computer’, because there’s just no way that it could maintain its video card use at a level I’d be able to do.

    I mean, the fact that there are intact buildings at all in the game’s world breaks the realism completely – 200 years would see any modern buildings entirely overtaken by damage and decay. There’s a good discussion about that somewhere on the Steam forum in the Portal 2 section, because of ‘how long between P1 and P2’.

    If you accept that there are ‘mini-nukes intended for hand to hand combat’, that’s a pretty steep suspension of disbelief – accepting that some glass just cannot be broken, and that you’re way too heavy to just lift your sorry ass above the hip-level counter, that’s much less of an issue.

    1. The Z-fighting is a side effect of the way their levels are built. Although they’ve done a good job of hiding it this time around, levels are constructed from cookie cutter chunks, which are heavily propped and accessorized to hide the fact that it’s literally the same hallway piece as the one next to it. Sometimes, they didn’t snap these props correctly and they overlap or leave gaps. Outdoors are similar, with the buildings as giant props. It’s a great technique for being able to quickly construct lots of gameplay space, but it comes at the expense of flexibility. So sometimes, rather than create one-off fillers, they just leave it ugly.

      Here’s an example from New Vegas’ editor: http://geck.bethsoft.com/index.php?title=File:Overall_Layout01.jpg

  6. Mr.Walrus

    For me, immersion in games effectively amounts to being convinced that I’m actually not playing a game, I’m experiencing something ‘real’. Being unable to do things in a game that would be easy to do in real life does break immersion for me- it reminds me that I’m playing a game which is bounded by rules different than reality. Certain limitations aren’t very disruptive- like for instance, the fact that I can’t make Gordon Freeman pick up a newspaper in Half Life 2 and make origami with it doesn’t annoy me, because that would be an absurd expectation and has nothing to do with the game. However, if I ran into an invisible wall in the middle of a level, that would break immersion- it’s a painfully clear reminder that the world is a designed construct, not a real place. On Scott’s post, Phillip stated:

    I don’t see how this breaks immersion. Finding ways around locked doors is a standard gameplay mechanic

    and that’s precisely why I think it is a break in immersion- you realize it’s a standard gameplay mechanic, a set of rules imposed upon a fictional environment, reminding you that it is not the real world. You could jump over that counter in real life, but you cannot do so in the game, reminding you again that it is a game rather than reality.

    The closest parallel I can think of is immersion in books- a fiction book which is original and well-written convinces you that what’s happening in the text is in some sense real. Even though the author is staging and inventing the whole thing, it’s subtle enough that you don’t realize it, and you buy into the world. If the author is clumsy and keeps dragging you out of the narrative with bad/hamfisted writing, or if the story is just a series of cliches that’s characteristic of all other books, I’m made aware over and over again that I’m not seeing actual events, I’m looking at scribbles on a page. I think a parallel can be drawn between poor writing in a book and an invisible wall in a game, or an abundance of obvious cliches in books to overly-clear gameplay mechanics in games.

    1. True.

      But in real life, you can’t absorb a dozen shotgun blasts and magically cure all damage with a Stimpack either. It’s kind of funny how immersion breaking things only matter when they don’t benefit the player in some way, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

      1. Wesp5

        I think it’s not about the game world being completely realistic, which something like HL or FO couldn’t do anyway, but it being consistent regarding to the rules that are valid inside of it. So if you can jump or climb some stuff, it breaks immersion big time for me if you can’t jump or climb similar stuff elsewhere, because the mapper didn’t think about it or just wanted you to lockpick a door! That said, I expect some basic options like crouching or jumping in any modern game. If they are not available at all, I suspect lazy mappers that want to limit your movements even more by not including jump!

  7. Maki, yes – I was blasting a raider (with a red skull badge) in the head using the minigun from about 50 cm away, and he took a couple of hundred rounds before his head exploded. That seems a bit silly. And sleeping heals you – I wish.

    1. Zekiran

      In the 5+ days I’ve spent playing (that’s ‘in hours’) my Moraga has subsisted upon stimpacks, rad x, radaway, and sleep. Nothing else. I think I had him eat some things very early on, but after a while it’s just… nah, let’s just trudge around the countryside without bothering.

      I’m not on survival mode, and probably won’t ever. I don’t like micromanaging.

      1. Zekiran – you’re not interested in settlement building? I think it’s fun. I’ve dabbled with SimTower and similar but this has a first person perspective and character interaction, so it’s much more interesting – I’m wondering how far I can go growing these settlements. I will get bored eventually, but for now, I’m just trying to go with it.

        1. Zekiran

          Oh no, I love making settlements. I just don’t like to worry about what specific things I’m dragging around the countryside with me, and I’d rather have the option to choose from a zillion guns and armor pieces, using carryweight 10000, than worry about whether i’ve got the right gun for an enemy.

          Gonna be using some get/setav commands on my settlements so I can make something… um, large. Thinking about covering Sanctuary or the Castle. Covering it. >_> like with a dome. πŸ™‚

          1. The other day, I ended up getting the highest Strong Back perk which lets me Fast Travel while over-encumbered. My theory was that I could just load everything onto myself and truck over to another settlement that needed to have things built.

            That doesn’t really work though. There’s no way you can “Take All” of a category, like “Take All” Junk. Take All literally means Take All, regardless of which category you have selected.

            Really daft. I mean, inventory is a disaster as it is, with no way to really search through it. I horde all my stuff in one Workshop for my convenience and that list takes a minute of mouse wheel scrolling to get through. How hard could it have been to have the letter R take you to the R section of the Inventory anyway?

            1. Zekiran

              I have definitely found myself thinking on that. Searchability is quite important, and honestly why not? Hell, we usually have all the freaking ‘folders’ we can stomach, they’re not even useful as cloth, what?! So maybe I will write out my inventory list on them and make a database. πŸ˜€

      2. Same boat. Stimpacks, Rad elimination when necessary, and occasional sleep. And this is on Normal difficulty too. I’m Lvl. 30 now. I prefer to see doctors to eliminate Rads, but that one guy in Diamond City is never around. That’s another dumb thing they brought back from FO3 – the whole “shops close at night” thing. NV had the sense to have the shopkeepers sleep in their shops, so if you needed something in the dead of night, you could wake them up.

        Some enemies have high defense against certain damage types, but without that one perk, you wouldn’t necessarily know this just from looking at them. It falls into the same trap that Borderlands does where if you’re shooting an exposed body part, you’d think it would do a ton of damage, and yet it doesn’t.

        I also detest how speech checks are back to being probability-based. Makes no sense to me. If lockpicking and hacking aren’t, why is speech? It’s the game randomly deciding “Nope, you can’t resolve the situation that way” and there’s nothing you could do better, except reload.

  8. I can really only answer the first question properly, since I’m not a modder, so I’ll stick to that. I also haven’t played Fallout 4 so I can’t really join the parallel conversation, sadly.

    Immersion is a tricky thing in games, right? They’re such an interactive experience that it’s easy to break the illusion of being within the world or story, whereas a movie can add CGI ad nausem and, if the effects are good enough and make enough sense, people will easily suspend disbelief. To me, immersion isn’t a really big factor for a game to be good, but when it’s done well, it also really stands out positively.

    The default answer here for me is that, the more ‘gamey’ a game is – i.e., how much focus is put on gameplay over building a cohesive world -, the less immersive it is. That’s why something like what Fallout 4 did sticks like a sore thumb, because, realistically, you could reach the prize easily, but the gameplay won’t allow it for game reasons. At the same time, invisible walls or noticeably linear games tend to be less immersive (at least to me), whereas open-world games can more easily become immersive as you get lost in exploring it at your will.

    That said, there’re other factors that, to me personally, make a huge difference. I think the main one, perhaps weirdly, is HUDs. Even though essentially every game has them, and for good reason, it’s still a big factor in blocking my immersion. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s really hard to get past floating numbers and minimaps and be immersed in a game, particularly if the HUD stands out a lot. Some games have gone to great lengths to raise immersion by giving them an in-game reason or logic, notably Dead Space and Metroid Prime. Another game that achieved an amazing level of immersion for me, despite not having a logical in-world reason for a HUD, was The Last of Us, but mainly because the HUD wasn’t omnipresent and was kept very clean and minimalistic.
    (Also, I will forever resent the Half-Life series for having a perfectly good in-story justification for a HUD – the H.E.V. Suit helmet – and scrapping it altogether, ruining my immersion permanently)

    The other factors are stuff that help make the game more realistic or at least coherent, like animations and A.I., but I guess that falls in the purview of games being more or less “gamey”. Still, I’d like to point out that I don’t think immersion should be a high priority in making games, and even less in building gameplay-oriented mods.

    As for mods being immersive or not, for me personally, you guys have an extra chore in that regard as for building immersion, because you’ve got a whole series of high-quality games from which you’re building a mod. That means that, for example, any time that a ‘default’ animation (i.e. one from the base game) is used when a custom one would make more sense, it’s likely that people will be thrown off and immersion will be broken. Same thing with voice acting – e.g., Avenue Odessa is by far one of my favorite HL2 singleplayer mods and I have a hard time finding faults in it from a player’s perspective, but the voice acting, even though it’s genuinely great, breaks my immersion completely because that’s not how Odessa Cubbage sounds. But, again, it’s hardly a deal breaker, and I wouldn’t expect the original V.A. being dragged into a free mod, so it’s all relative. The rule of thumb there for non-main characters is usually: if the voice-acting isn’t dreadful and sounds realistic, it’s fine for immersion.

    Likewise, if something doesn’t fit with the ‘head-canon’ of the player (and mine is pretty strict, although I suppose that’s just me), it’ll make immersion difficult too. Generally since mods are a more gameplay- and environment-based affair it’s not a huge deal, although there’s always the question of how and why Gordon Freeman is the playable character, and if he isn’t, the fact that usually it’s still his H.E.V.-suited arms being controlled becomes jarring. That said, if the environments don’t look realistically-assembled, you’re painfully aware you’re just playing a game, of course.

    I’ve gone on a bit long enough, as usual (there should be a word count limit for blokes like me), but hopefully I’ve made some good points here. TL;DR: immersion is hard in games for various reasons, but not vital for a good gameplay experience or story, either.

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