Games, how they work, and how they should work

Immersion Part Deux

Welcome back! To be honest, I’m glad. On reflection, that last blog post of mine was terribly written. I apologise, but I’m a lazy so-and-so and thus won’t be re-writing it for a while. To make sure this never happens again, I have enlisted aid from gamer and aspiring writer, Mish Kisbee. Say hi, Mish! <insert Mish waving here> This is all a learning process for me though, so if something slips through, forgive me please. I also noticed that I didn’t exactly stick to one of two mentioned forms of immersion. Never the less, I will continue, and bring you part two of my break-down of immersion.

 

HOW DO I CROUCH AGAIN?

We’ve all played games that didn’t have great controls. This didn’t use to be a problem, but now with games trying harder to be “realistic” and “immersive”, dodgy controls just will not do.

If you look back to the previously mentioned games for a moment, the reason that this is a problem is obvious. Manuals are for losers, so are generally not read, so that vital info that you have to hold A, B, RT, and LB to melee isn’t going to be read either. This leads to players panicking and (usually) flailing around the room shouting “howdoiknifehowdoiknifehowdoiknife-Oh come on! Dead?” With company it can be hilarious, but on your own it can just be really distracting or even de-motivating. If the controls are really bad, this scenario can play out several times in any one session, and ultimately lead to the game being traded in.

Solution? Simple. Convention. To be able to pick up a game and play like a pro right away requires you to know the controls, and the best way to know them is if you’ve used them before. The great games of the past don’t all have the same or similar controls because of some strange conspiracy. They do it because they work. Game developers aren’t being “clever” or “inventive” when they mess with the conventional layout; they just have the wrong idea of revolution or are just plain blind to how well the convention works. Of course, new control systems are inevitable, but they should be thoroughly tested. Far too often developers ignore QA feedback from players new to the game, when those are the people they should be listening to the most.

 

WHERE IS THE SAVE MENU?

Setting this aside, there is another common immersion-wrecking malpractice that must be addressed. A brilliant game can become frustrating if the menu systems are not navigable. Though it seems like a simple problem, designing a great and intuitive menu system can be a challenge, even for a AAA studio. As before, the importance is in testing the system frequently and thoroughly with new players.

There are a couple of general rules though that tends to work. Keep the main/pause menu simple. I mean really simple. Fortunately, this usually fixes itself; there’s not much you can add to new game, load game, multiplayer and options. Next, keep sub-menus easy to follow, which is a hazier criterion. Some will naturally match a linear system where each step happens one after another (e.g. starting/loading a game), but some will need more sub-menus or options. This is where testing counts, as little things like menu titles, button location and general navigability are very specific and require fine-tuning.

 

Now, that was better wasn’t it? I’m always looking for feedback from anywhere, good or bad (bad is better when it’s constructive, don’t just be a troll please).

Until next week, farewell!

 

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