Game Philosopher

The philosophy of games and gaming

Archive for the ‘Great Games’ Category

Gaming Principles: Immersion

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 29, 2006

I was thinking the other day about a game I have played and beaten several times called Dream Web. One of the things that attracts me to this game is the immersion that it creates. What’s even more interesting is that the game isn’t very complex or graphically spectacular, so I wonder why it is that I am reminded of it constantly and feel so drawn to play it again.

I can see already that this article is going to spawn off a few tangential articles…

One of the things that I remember vividly about the game is that, while the graphics were not very great even at release, the environments had enough detail that you spent a good amount of time looking around and absorbing what the scene was offering. I found myself feeling like I was really there because I could relate to the scene.

On a side note, comparing the game to Oblivion, you realize that every house in Oblivion looks largely the same, despite differences in layout. With Dream Web, you can only actually get into 2 or 3 houses, so the feel of immersion that being in a home would bring doesn’t get stale.

I think what I’m discovering is that to get immersion, you don’t actually NEED complexity. I don’t have to be able to interact with every little gadget in the room, but it does need to be destinct and original. Perhaps it’s like those people who inherit a lot of money and buy a big house but don’t have enough money to furnish it — if you make the game-world big, you have to be prepared to fill it with interesting, realistic things and not just variations on a theme.

Moving on, one of the things that I still remember to this day is the sound of the rain storms. The game definately paid attention to what the player was hearing and how it complimented the game. Many games these days have weather effects, but they’re random, so they never intentionally match with the game’s plot. *slight spoiler* In Dream Web, after you’ve killed your first person, you wake up in a dirty alley in the pouring rain.  It just feels right – that it should be thindering and raining and dirty and slightly saddening. You’ve just gone from a guy with bad dreams, to a guy with bad dreams who’s killing people. There are other sounds that I remember from that game. The ambient music in the game has a real airy sort of feel to it – almost like someone exhaling. I found it to be a really immersive touch once I related the music to breathing.

In my opinion, sound is very undervalued in games. There are some very immersive things you can do with sound, and very little is actually done. Probably because people tend to focus on graphics as being the most important part of a video game, and it’s much easier to show a customer how great a game looks rather than how great it sounds.

Thinking of another very immersive game, System Shock, I remember there were actually times in both the original and its sequel where I actually got scared. I would say that you’d have to be pretty immersed in a game in order for it to scare you.

But why does System Shock scare me but Painkiller or some other horror game doesn’t? I think the System Shock series had a different way of scaring you which was a little more immersive – first, it was a little more realistic to think of yourself as a weak, confused hacker lost on a spaceship that has been taken over by a rogue AI than a motorcycle man blasting flying demons with an incendiary shotgun, like in Painkiller.

Part of immersion is the player’s ability to relate to the player-character’s situation. If you make the circumstances incredibly outlandish, the player doesn’t have the ability to think as if they would if they were actually in the situation. Too many “leaps of faith” break immersion.

OPEN FOR COMMENTS: What kind of things break immersion? If the immersion-breaker is necessary for the plot, how can the situation be designed so it has less of a negative impact?

=Linkage to Mobygames for further reading: Dream Web, System Shock 1, System Shock 2=


Posted in Great Games, Principles, websites | 2 Comments »

Games that weren’t

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 13, 2006

I’d like to kick off this article with a mention of a website i found recently, its called PC Games that Weren’t, which is a site about games that were in some stage of development and then cancelled. Articles, while a little thin right now, tell of the story behind the game and the reasons surrounding its cancellation. Very interesting reading.

I had a segment planned to talk about games that never made it, and conveniently, i have a supporting link now too! So check that site out after you read mine 🙂

Imagine a game, a roleplaying game, where your reputation is affected by the quality and type of clothes that you wear, or the way you interact with people you encounter, from beggars, to arena champions to guards. Imagine a game with not only great music, but lyrics that went along with them. Imagine various guilds that could teach you spells but would only allow you in depending on if your stats matched their requirements to join. It has taverns, inns, healers, banks, and even places to work. It had several songs, including a theme song, complete with words that displayed on the screen so you could sing along. It used sounds to clue you in on if the NPC you were encountering was good or evil, and even to let you know you were walking near a secret passage. (you would hear wind blowing) It had a full day and night cycle and you could watch the sun rise and set — it would even make things pinkish at dusk, like in real life.
Sounds like a game from Troika, Bethesda or Bioware, doesn’t it?

Well it’s not. Its a game called Alternate Realty The City, originally created by Paradise Programming in 1985. It was picked up by Datasoft and released on the Atari 8Bit and later ported to the Atari ST, Amiga, PC, Apple II and C64.

The orignal idea was to make a game with a City and a sewer underneath. The city would be where you bought weapons and healed yourself up for the dangers that would be presented in the sewer. Unfortunately, Datasoft got nervous that the product wasn’t going to make it out for the holiday season, so they made the developer split the game into two parts, the City and now, the Dungeon.

Now the City is released as a stand-alone product, but without the sewers below the city, THE GAME HAS NO PLOT. It’s like making Final Fantasy 1 with all the towns and Final Fantasy 2 with all the wilderness and dungeons.

Fortunately, they released The Dungeon for the Atari 2 years later and you could import your character from the City to the Dungeon.

Datasoft, like any publisher, wanted to capitalize on the project, so they hired programmers to port The City to several other platforms. Back in the 80’s differring computer systems were like apples and oranges, so we ended up with several very different versions of The City. The Amiga version had 16 bit colors, but the PC version had 16 colors total. Both the Amiga and PC versions had new features that the original Apple version didnt have. Oh yeah, and the PC version had about 25% of the music/sound, which is a crucial part of the game.

The Dungeon was only released for the Atari, C64 and Apple, leaving the rest of The City ports to hang out in the wind with no follow-up. I had the PC version. I remember getting it way back when at Egghead Software. My sister got Boulder Dash. It was a pretty good day for gaming. We both unknowlingly bought classics. 🙂

The City, with its sewers was originally going to be part of 6 games that were released as expansions that were to be added to the main game to create a larger game. These subsequent games were gonig to unfold the plot and give you new places to explore and new things to do. These installments never made it, but have hints of their presence are in the city in the form of a Casino, Arena, Palace and House of Ill Repute that are all permanently closed.

I love The City and I still play it. I love the game for the game it could have been, and I often wonder what the next few installments were going to be like. We’ll never know, because Phillip Price, the guy who made the games is not around very much anymore. He does own the rights to the games, however, and has put them in the public domain, so you can download them for free. I love this game because it was so far ahead of its time compared to anything out there at the time. (I remember Kings Quest 4 boasting its day/night cycle in the late 80s.)

Go to Eobet’s website or the Wikipedia article and download this gem. I’m putting this one on my desert island games too 🙂

Posted in Desert Island Games, Great Games | 1 Comment »