Today for Johnny Outlaw Studios’ ten part series on game design we seek to delve into the most elusive, and misunderstood quality of a game- immersion. Immersion is the component of a game through which the player becomes a part of the presented game world. A very simple idea, and, throughout all of my research, there is only one real guideline to creating an ‘immersive’ world. The game must uphold and reinforce the rules of the game’s world. This means it must be internally consistent and not beat you over the head with the fact that it is a mere computer program.
It is very simple to pinpoint things that break immersion. Anything that makes the player aware of the ‘game’ nature of the world ruins immersion. Bad controls ruin immersion; lag ruins immersion, as do frustrating mechanics. Breaking immersion is easy. Even the worst games manage to do it. So let us not dwell on such things.
Long ago, Johnny Outlaw added in a new feature called the tumbleweed, a decorative feature which served no purpose beyond creating an immersive world. Yet this tumbleweed was more valuable than any boss fight, any game mechanic, and any meager menu option. Through merciless calculations of tumbleweed mass distribution, we created a perfect demonstration of this, the most iconic of western flora. The tumbleweed was a reinforcement of immersion. It made the world alive. It made the world just a little something more than “complete x task”. It was a world that existed and persisted without tasks. That tumbleweed represented the higher truth, the Platonic ideal of the Johnny Outlaw universe.
Immersion is far easier to destroy than it is to create, but creating it is as simple as reinforcing what already exists. We revisited the tumbleweed. Even in its perfection, there was room for improvement. It dawned on me that the tumbleweed was only the first step. In all my calculations I had neglected one simple truth. Without wind, a tumbleweed is just a weed. The world of Johnny Outlaw naturally is presumed to have weather. After all, there is a harsh desert climate. There is water to make the cacti grow and also to quench Johnny’s thirst. The only thing this world needed for complete immersion was a dynamic system of algorithms to produce true weather patterns.
Through extensive weather mapping and study of the atmospheric sciences, I modeled the real flow of air currents, chemical content, pressure, static charge, and temperature feedback systems. And before you criticize, let me say that yes, we did remember to account for the curvature and rotation of the Earth, and the influence and frequency of sunspots. This took what was already presumed to exist, weather, and made it a real and living part of the world. Now Johnny Outlaw is truly immersive, and all it took was a true-to-life system of wind currents and precipitation levels. Of course the average player may not take much notice, as the desert climate does not appear dynamic to the unlearned mind. But the subconscious will take note. It will acknowledge that the clouds drift in varying speeds according to the wind, that the changes in elevation cause moisture to consolidate. It will appreciate that this world is as real as any you profess to live in.
As the tumbleweed blows past, off to destinations unknown, the wind at its back and fortune at its feet, it will be like seeing an old friend. Familiar, yet changed, with a history knowable only by the course it has set. This is the gift of fully realized immersion.