Tuesday’s Top Ten: Acceptable Breaks from Immersion

Today is Tuesday, friends, which of course means that it’s time for another Tuesday’s Top Ten!  We’ve discussed before the notion of video games that try to immerse us in their worlds breaking that immersion to make the game more fun.  We accept such a break and even look forward to it, because it does indeed make the game more fun.  Today, we’re going to go through the top ten breaks that work well at promoting fun even while they laugh in the face of physics.

There are quite a few breaks from immersion, some more acceptable than others.  The general idea is that it’s not always good to adhere as close to realism—or even the fantastical world presented in the game—if it gets in the way of fun.

There are also quite a few acceptable breaks, so it wasn’t really easy narrowing down the list to just ten.  Making video games isn’t easy, and trying to craft a good balance between immersion and fun is just one of the hurdles developers have to deal with.

With all of that in mind, let’s get things started with…

10. Arcade Physics in “Sim” Games
You can pretty much pick a vehicle-based “sim” game at random and find arcade physics in there somewhere.  Take driving-based games for example; even titles that deal with more realistic handling fudge things.  If you skid around corners, you’d be wearing out the tires.  Do much more than a few corners and you’re going to have a blow-out.  Can you imagine what fun that would be, having to pull over to the side of the road and watch your avatar change a tire?

Or an aerial vehicle-based game.  Most give you far more ammunition than could ever fit in the aircraft, even if you stripped it down to its bare shell—but that’s a good thing, too.  Can you imagine only having two to four missiles?  We’re used to having a few dozen, even in titles where you do have to refill on ammunition in some fashion or another, and we’re used to it because developers have long since realized that realistic ammunition storage limitations would drive the fun out of the game at Mach-Three.

09. Difficulty Levels
Lamentably we don’t have such a thing in real life.  Imagine trying to take an exam at college that you didn’t study for, so you pause life and knock the difficulty level down a few notches.  You go from trying to derive the square root of the area of a quadrangle to adding two plus six.  We’d never really learn anything, which is probably why such a thing doesn’t really exist.

For video games, we aren’t really trying to learn anything, nor should we, necessarily.  Video games are fun; playing them, talking about them, reading about them, and so on makes for a hobby, not for a life.  In real life, things are as difficult as they are; we can’t wave a magic wand to make things easier so we can get through them or harder so we have more of a challenge.  In our hobby, having just that magic wand makes it more fun, it makes it so we want to play to the game more than once or just allows us to beat it in the first place.

08. Reset Traps and Puzzles
Your party works its way through the cave/castle/giant stomach/whatever to get to the Magic MacGuffin of Awesome before Team Enemy People and on the way you avoid traps, whether by carefully setting them off so no one gets hurt, using a “sacrificial lamb”, or whatever else.  You get to the end—only to find a Team Enemy People already there and waiting for you.  You scratch your head, wondering how in the heck they got through there without setting off the traps since there’s only one way in or out.  Did they reset them for you or what?

Puzzles are only interesting if you’re the one figuring them out and traps are only dangerous if they haven’t been sprung.  Coming across a pre-solved puzzle or a pre-sprung trap would be boring.  It’s far more fun to have this break from story and game play cohesion.

07. Authority Equaling Butt-Kicking
This is when the higher in rank someone is—preferably an enemy, but it often affects other non-protagonist characters—the better they are at bringing the pain.  The higher up you go, the more skilled a combatant they are, until you get to the top and the person or people can kick everyone’s butt and look good doing it.

Why would we want it to be any different?  It gives us a sense of progression, and continuously provides a new challenge to overcome.  Anything else, no matter how realistic, simply wouldn’t be as fun.

06. Competitive Balance
When you have different avatars to choose from in a competitive game, you’re almost guaranteed to run into this.  The small car/fighter/boat/whatever—it’s fast as heck and can nearly tap-dance around light-waves, but can’t take a hit for crap; then you have the polar opposite of the tank—it takes for-freaking-ever to get from point A to point B, but when it does it will unleash enough pain to make your dog feel it from across the house.

This is an attempt to appeal to issues of balancing game play as well as appealing to different player abilities, skills, and styles.  There’s really nothing realistic about it in the slightest, but we wouldn’t want this to be any different, either.

05. Floating Platforms
Really, even if a gamer has played nothing but first-person shooters for his or her entire gaming life and has never even seen footage of other games, they know this one.  It’s such a widespread concept that it’s difficult to imagine anyone not being able to imagine such a thing, much less be able to rattle off examples at the drop of a hat.

While some games attempt to offer a rationalization, the meat of the matter is that it’s easier on processing power to only display platforms (instead of platforms connected to a complex network of struts, beams, and cables), and the easier an element is to process, the more that power can be used for other things.

04. Horizontal Invulnerability
Found in most genres, from fighting games to stealth games and everything in the middle, this is where when an opponent or group of opponents knock you down, then congenially wait for you to get back to your feet before continuing to wail on you.

It’s not the most ubiquitous concept, but it’s definitely one of the better breaks from immersion.  When it’s missing, even a good player can be sweep-kicked to death by artificial intelligence coding that can only be accurately described with a heavy amount of profanity.  That sort of unbalanced game play sucks the fun out of the game quite rapidly.  Sure, enemies stopping attacking you isn’t realistic, but it means we have fun, which is the important part.

03. Hitscan Weapons
We’ve discussed hitscan weapons before and in detail.  This, too, saves on processing power since it’s easier to decide if an attack hits or misses and how much damage it does before the attack is technically made than to try and calculate the result based on the reactions of the player.

This is another case where easing up on the processing means that power can be put to other uses.  You can get larger level, deeper mechanics and more, thanks in part to hitscan weapon coding.  It’s also not usually too noticeable, making it all the better a break.

02. One-Size-Fits-All Clothing and Armor
Your party consists of the stick-thin child, the lean adult, the curvy side-kick, and the five-by-five walking tank.  You buy one chain mail vest and have each character try it on to see how it looks or how it affects their stats.  They can all wear it without any physical restriction, and the item in question will magically look like a perfect fit even if you just took it off the sidekick and put it on the tank.

Seriously, though, could you imagine how annoying it would be to have to know your characters’ measurements in order to not waste money on items they couldn’t wear?  We have enough problems relating to purchasing clothing in real life, so imagine all of those plus having to worry about protection and mana points and what-not.  I can’t imagine any gamer would want such a headache.

01. Easy Health Regeneration
Easily number one by a country mile, this one.  Healing up in the real world is a pain in the tuchus.  You, say, step out of your car wrong and you sprain your ankle, which means you have to have it at least taped up, and you’re walking funny for a few weeks.  Stairs become a nearly-insurmountable challenge, and you won’t even want to think about walking down the block.

In video games, you eat a piece of food or pick up a med-kit, and you’re fine.  You might even get an animation of your avatar fiddling with the item in some fashion, but as likely as not you just pick it up and it works instantly.  It’s a fantastic break, since it lets us stay right in the game.  Even games with protagonists who are one-hit-point-wonders are great; you can live through a surprising amount of trauma, but you won’t like it.  Being a one-hit-kill means that you avoid all that and get right back to your next attempt at the level/boss/whatever.


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