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Default Obsidian Entertainment - Realism vs What Designers Care About

August 28th, 2010, 01:49
Nathaniel Chapman uses his Obsidian blog for a rare entry, writing about Realism vs. What Designers Care About, Verisimilitude, and the Responsibility of Expectations. I'll have to bookmark this one for those forum arguments because this does come up quite a bit; here's the intro:
Something that seems to frequently come up when discussing the design of a game system is whether or not some aspect of that system adheres to reality. Or, more precisely, whether the outcomes of that system accurately simulate the results that the person making the argument expects, based on their particular interpretation of reality.

Generally, these arguments come from players, or from non-designers, or less experienced designers, and will take the form of, "But XXXX isn't realistic!" or "Realistically, YYYY should happen instead". And, frequently, experienced game designers will turn around and say "Who cares?" and merrily go on their way designing an "unrealistic" system.

I wanted to give a quick explanation of why this is, explain what role I see realism as having in game design, and then provide a bit of a defense of "realism" as it relates to something I call the "responsibility of expectations" that is placed on any game design.
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August 28th, 2010, 01:49
…because players come into the game with expectations and preconceived notions, and it's generally a bad idea to violate them (unless you're trying to make a point in violating them, which is maybe a bit too post-modern for a video game).
Oh come on, violate my preconceived notions! You know you want to!

Seriously, though, I think developers are starting to heed that too much. Players expect to have regenerating health, so you have to do that. Players expect that, if they aim a shot right at an enemy's head, that shot will hit the enemy square in the noggin, so you can't have the character develop accuracy if you have a crosshair. (Might be affecting having to arch bowshots, too.) Players expect that, if they have the latest hardware, they will be able to play your game at max settings, so you can't future-proof your game by adding settings you know will work in next year's computers. (CryTek learned that the hard way.)
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August 28th, 2010, 07:06
Just on player accuracy vs character accuracy, the problem I see can be outlined as follows:

Say the player forms an intention to shoot an enemy in the head, in a standard 3rd person cover-shooter, whether the character succeeds or not is a function of the player's accuracy and the intent - if the player is able to press the trigger while pointing the weapon at the character head, they succeed. If the game has RPG style gun skills, then whether the character hits is a function of the player's accuracy and the character accuracy, reducing the overall likelihood of success.

So the experience can be lessened for the player, because guns feel too much like they just spray everywhere. Whether or not it is realistic, it's frustrating. So if you want character accuracy, you need either a VATS-style system or a turn-based system - or something to take player accuracy out of the equation.

I think Fallout 3 does well in this regard - you can play in realtime and have player accuracy determine the outcome, or play in VATS and then character skill determines the outcome. I just wish there was an option to turn off the stupid slow-mo thing. That gets tiresome quickly, and actually that affect the way I played the game. I used VATS only in situations that I found particularly hard in real-time mode. That actually worked quite well, because it meant my character skills came into play in non-trivial fights, while I just blasted through the trivial fights without having to stop the game. I found that irritating in Fallout 1/2, having to go into this turn-based mode to kill one radscorpion. That's just tedious.
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August 28th, 2010, 10:29
You will bve happy to hear that Fallout 3 has a few VATS camera options, one of them switching off the slo-mo.
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August 28th, 2010, 10:54
I think I understand this concern. There is a natural wish to pursue "realism" in games, but in a simulation you can never capture reality 100% which means that you add a mechanic which in gameplay is enforced to simulate "reality", but miss out the hundreds of ways to solve the issue "in reality".

For instance, let's say you make it necessary to drink water. This is realistic, you must. But will you consider that health/mana potions contain water? That you can realistically drink from a river or a sea? That you can drink out of a fountain? Will you implement the vast amount of water containers you could realistically have?

Let's say you make an encumberence system. This is realistic, you cannot carry an unlimited amount of loot. But do you consider that a character can realistically set up camp and drop/hide loot in a convenient place to be picked up later?

Most of the "realism" mechanics tend to be unrealistic since the designer can rarely implement every possible angle to solve the issue like in "real-life". Once you get past this fallacious rationale you begin to realize that "is it fun" and "is it convenient" are more important questions for a game designer than "is it real".

I see this all the time when we play RPG's. One player have demanded a really detailed hit-table that you can roll on to see where you hit an opponent. Realistically you can hit a target in different ways, however, the hit table assumes the target stands upright holding it's arms out like spiked on a cross. Too many times you hit an opponents leg in a melee battle, or their right arm when you strike with the right arm. The result is often more unrealistic than simply skipping it.

A similar issue is with the curse of skillbased systems that demands 1 experience point = +1% in a skill. The problem with skills is that they can "realistically" be divided an unlimited amount of times. So you want to play a doctor? You can have one skill called "treat injury" or you can divide it into "pharmaceuticals, first aid, surgery & diagnosis" and suddenly the same character costs x4 more to create. You can have one skill called "attack", you can divide into "melee" and "firearm". You can divide it into "pistols, rifles, assault rifles, heavy weapons, artillery" and suddenly the same character costs x6 more to make and cannot hit a building with a pistol but can bullseye a foe 500m away with a rifle.

"Realism" thus, is usually what newbie developers try to implement and ultimately ruin their game.

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