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Less Content, More Game

The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind from Bethesda is a prime example of a game that would have been better with less content

Last weekend, I had the enormous pleasure of gathering up all my old Xbox stuff and passing it on to a friend for his children to enjoy. Pulling my old games off the shelf, I encountered Morrowind and quite suddenly was struck by what an enormous waste the game represented. A fantastically detailed, living, breathing fantasy world over which you could walk or fly in its entirety, exploring to your hearts content. And yet, in spite of running several characters over many hours of play, I never finished it because the game was fundamentally flawed.

Some of those flaws are well documented. The character building system was fatally undermined by the ease with which you could build super-powerful characters, and by the way it sidelined mages. A senseless economic system that forced players to either beggar themselves or utilise built-in Easter Eggs. But those, surely, should be nothing more than a minor annoyances in a game that’s defined largely by its immense scope and story. As I stood there gazing down at the box it occurred to me that the game was in fact simply crushed under the weight of its own ambition.

Morrowind sold itself on creating a realistically immersive fantasy world, and invested immense time and effort to that end. Every square inch of the island was mapped, every inhabitant named and given a home, different people in different places had fates that would intertwine in unusual and evocative ways. I cannot begin to imagine how on earth all that detail was authored and programmed and managed before making it into the game. But the illusion which all that detail was supposed to maintain was constantly shattered at fundamental levels. When you talked to all those individually named people, they just repeated things from a tiny stock of phrases related to their location and allegiances. Many of them never left their homes, or never went in them. No-one ever went to bed. When you were on a quest, the quest giver would wait in perpetuity for you to complete the task. Worse, you could often completely undermine the quest and still complete it. Wherever you went, whatever you did, you were constantly reminded that you were just playing a game in a computer generated world, with all the limitations that implies.

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Skyrim made minor improvements in realism over its predecessors but still fell well short of the mark, as demonstrated by the bucket on head trick
Skyrim was supposed to change all that with its radiant story technology, but it largely failed to live up to its promises. What was supposed to happen was that characters in the game world would react to your actions and reputations in a more realistic manner. What actually happened is that the game engine tied itself in knots over trying to understand your intentions, exemplified by the lovely anecdote from one player about the time he accidentally stole a book, put it straight back on the shelves, and then spent several hours fighting off hired thugs that the bookstore owner kept sending after him to recover the book. And radiant stories could do nothing about the fundamental unrealities that still riddled your interactions with the game environment, such as the now infamous exploit where you could put a bucket over someone’s head and they would stand quietly while you looted their house or shop. Simply put, modern technology has never been, and is still not, anywhere close to the level where it can mimic a vaguely realistic web of human interactions on the level that Bethesda keep attempting and as a result the central conceit of the Elder Scroll series has always been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, false.

The same is true of the wealth of side quests in the game series. One of the key reasons I never progressed very far in Morrowind is that I spent inordinate amounts of time wandering off the beaten track and fulfilling tediously boilerplate side quests for petty rewards. The game sold itself on the number of these sorts of things on offer, but the reality was that they felt rushed, being badly scripted and badly balanced and usually adding nothing to the wider narrative of the game.

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The point I’m driving at here is that when it comes to game design, all too often less is actually more. Contrast the Elder Scroll series with, say the Fable games. The Fable designs failed in equally fundamental ways being generally too easy and having certain powers and abilities that were far more useful than others, resulting in stereotypical figher/wizard character builds but in their limited scope they succeeded far more than the Elder Scrolls games in creating believable, entertaining fantasy worlds. They were incredibly shallow worlds, of course, but in a curious way the fact that you were literally unable to poke them and find out they were only skin deep stops you from noticing or caring about that fact. By contrast, the attempt in the Elder Scrolls games to make them seem believable when computer technology is still so far short of that capability just leaves them looking ridiculous. If all the effort that had been put into radiant stories and side quests had simply been put into plot, imagination and characters instead, the result would have been a more believable, immersive and simply better game.

The Fable games are incredibly immersive and entertaining in spite of making no attempt at realism
This doesn’t undermine the validity of sandbox games though. It’s simply that there’s very little point in trying make a sandbox game realistic: instead the value is in making it as reactive and as explorable as possible, a lesson that Rockstar seems to have learned but Bethesda has not. The Grand Theft Auto games have always been fundamentally daft, and very little effort was made to make them seem otherwise. The result was that designers were able to leverage that stupidity to make their task easier, such as the closing off of central bridges for long periods of time in order to draw out the thrill of discovery, while the player was still largely free to explore and destroy things to his hearts’ content, which is basically the essence of a sandbox game.

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One possible solution to this problem is simply to limit the scope of the sandbox. Limiting the scope means less to model, which in turn means less to go off the rails and end up looking ludicrous. This seems such an obvious fix that I’m amazed it hasn’t been tried more often. One game that does fit this model is Dead Rising, which I’ve never played but when I read about it, I was struck forcibly by how limiting the action to closed shopping mall filled with mindless zombies and only a very limited human cast inherently overcame many of the problems with realism in a sandbox world. It sounds as though the failings in the game had very little to do with its environment and I’d be interested to know if there are any other extant or planned examples of this approach. And again, it’s worth repeating that it’s yet another example in which a game is actually made better by putting less content in it and tightening the focus on what matters.

I can’t resist closing this column by contrasting the problems that video games have in creating a believable setting and atmosphere with board games. Oddly this is because board games are a less immersive and immediate environment. A video game occupies all your attention and makes you feel like you’re right there in the world that it’s creating, so even small anomalies can destroy the suspension of disbelief. In a board game most of the work in terms of setting and narrative is done by the imagination of the players and as long as you’re engaged with the game and enjoying it, that imagination will fill in all the blanks for you as you go along. Perhaps that is ultimately the reason why less is more when it comes to content in video games too. If so, then it’d do everyone good to avoid games like Skyrim in favour of more crudely drawn, but ultimately more thrilling fare.

Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded FortressAT.com and writes there and at NoHighScores.com

45 thoughts to “Less Content, More Game”

  1. What a steaming pile of horse manure this “story” is. I cannot believe you are shagging a game because it lets you do too much and that Bethesda gives you too much rope. And by doing so, you can make the game, which can’t cover every single possibility, get into weird states. And then you can shag on it because you can. So you’d rather they put in special code that says “don’t allow the player to put a bucket on an NPC’s head”, rather than create a generalized world that lets you do this sort of stuff and then let the consequences sort themselves out? Just like the twerps that exploit small holes in FPS maps and get mad when you ask them not to.

    “Ooo, there are too many things to do and my little brain hurts when I stray from the main story line. Please Mr. Game Designer, don’t do that to me. Make sure the trees are really solid walls. Have generic faces and names so my cramped brain doesn’t explode when there each “unique” character doesn’t have a War&Peace like backstory. It ruins it for me.”

    Now I’m no Bethesda fan boy. I really didn’t like the self-leveling enemies of Oblivion and haven’t even tried Skyrim yet. But as an ex-game programmer who worked very hard at creating as immersive experience as possible, at the expense of possibly some exploits that you don’t have to use, I think this is a ridiculous complaint. Even as an application designer, I prefer to give the user as much power as possible, rather than arbitrarily limiting them. If they try to send video that’s too much for their paltry pipe size, inform them of the problems and let them decide. They’ll be better at it.

    1. Did you actually read the article? In particular the bit close to the beginning where I state “A fantastically detailed, living, breathing fantasy world over which you could walk or fly in its entirety, exploring to your hearts content” and “running several characters over many hours of play”? I find this praise difficult to square with your perception that I’m “shagging” the Elder Scrolls games.

      The point of the piece is simply that sometimes, less is more. Games that offer players a tighter world, a tighter story can, perversely, often be a lot more engaging and immersive than open-world games. That is categorically not the same thing as saying that open world games are bad.

      1. In that case, I’m not sure what the point of the article was then. Are the Bethesda games good or bad? I read it that you feel they are “bad” because somehow limiting the player in even more arbitrary ways is “more engaging and immersive” than giving the player all the rope they want to hang themselves if they so choose. If you play the games in a fun, spirited way, you almost never come up against a forest you can’t go through or a reasonably accurate reaction. But because you can push the engine over the limit, this is somehow worse than just throwing up an arbitrary design wall. If I read this correctly, I get the feeling your next article will be complaining about arbitrary designs that are too “limited”.

        I think Bethesda does the right thing – make it as flexible and immersive as possible and if the edge cases get a little weird, too bad. That’s far more involving than just having a set number of NPC responses, forests you can move through, mountains you can’t climb or an rigorous and limited set of actions the player can do.

        1. Is that really all it comes down to “Company X’s games are good/bad?”

          I think the point Mr. Thrower is trying to make is that the Morrowind games could have been better by having less content (which some might think is counterintuitive) because that would free up development resources to make sure they actually had well designed content. And by extension, to point out the delicate balance that sand box games must reconcile of having enough content versus having well designed content.

          1. Well, you’re right – it comes down to Matt saying that the ES games would be better if they were more limited, or had a harder limit. And I still call baloney on that claim. Just because you can push the edge and make it behave weird doesn’t, IMO, make it a worse game than if you had made a hard, arbitrary decision that, for instance, “buckets can’t go on people’s heads”. So what if it behaves weird in the case? I guarantee you the engine that allows that edge case allows some wonderful gameplay as well, that would evaporate if you gave it less content and less freedom.

            And the whole 3rd paragraph in this story just galls me. If the point of this story is that less content equals more, then why in the name of Tamriel, does this paragraph complain about all the parts that are constrained because they *have* limited content, like conversation trees, quests, and NPC movement? He would limit these even more to make this a better game?

    2. I agree with Jonathan, and saying Rockstar has learned and Bethesda has not? Wow. Rockstar’s sandbox designs are shit.

      I agree that games can benefit from a more focused design, but the Elder Scrolls games scratch a particular itch with *millions* of gamers. ANd Morrowind was actually my favorite of the entire series.

      Shrug, different strokes I suppose.

    3. I did not take Matt’s point to be that the ES games give players too many activities, but that the quality is spread too thinly across them. It’s the Bully Stance you often hear from lapsed Rockstar fans who feel the studio’s prep school simulator was a high point because of its detailed focus on a relatively limited environment.

      What if Morrowind had half the land mass but twice the unique features? Half the NPCs but twice as many of them had something to say? Half the quests but twice the story? “Smaller” games do not mean shorter or more restrictive experiences when the things you eliminate are hollow sprawl.

      Leonard Nimoy once said said that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Actually I feel like he won’t shut up about it, though that could be my Civilization IV addiction talking. Either way, I hardly think that a reasonable examination of how “more” diverges from “better” qualifies as a “steaming pile of horse manure.”

      If you can’t listen to British Leonard Nimoy, who can you listen to?

      1. Being compared to Leonard Nimoy is one of the finest compliments I’ve ever been paid. Thanks

    4. Whoa dude. Actually, I think Matt is pretty spot on, and your response doesn’t read as a critique of his article so much as a soap box reaction.

      The fact of the matter is that ES games break all the time, and it’s something that sucks you out of the world – and that immersive, living world is the main pitch of the game! So, yes, there is such a thing as giving the player too much to do if the option they have before them are broken or break the game and its design intent thereby robbing the player of the driving motivation behind playing. The minute a design decision makes a player stop playing a game you have problems.

      Pointing out the flaws in something doesn’t suddenly render that thing terrible. It just means it has flaws and your mileage because of those flaws may vary (I would argue that part of the huge sales behind Skyrim are due to incredibly deft marketing trumping actual critical examination, but that’s MY soapbox ).

    5. “I cannot believe you are shagging a game because it lets you do too much and that Bethesda gives you too much rope.”

      Believe it.

      I killed the guy in the main hub town in Skyrim, the priest guy, by reverse-pickpocketing a paralysis/damage potion into his pants. He died board-stiff, so I stripped off his clothes and threw him into the castle’s reflection pond, where he was basically a huge bobber.

      Not a single person raised the hue and cry, while the guy who OBVIOUSLY MURDERED a guy posed his corpse, because I had passed my Pickpocket check, and apparently dragging naked dead men around isn’t suspicious.

      Here’s what’s up. I played the main story of Red Dead Redemption as a good guy, and I loved it. But Mike Barnes’s critique is absolutely valid: you can be a complete assclown through everything but the main quest, and no one stops you.

      Why is EVERY DAMNED open world RPG a psychopathy simulator? Why is putting kids into a game, and *not letting you kill them*, somehow reducing player agency? If I was a game designer, I would tell people who wanted a child murder simulator to go kill themselves. I don’t care if you just wanted to see what would happen – and I just admitted that I killed a guy and posed him just to see what would happen.

      In order for your argument to be “superior” to Matt’s, you would have to prove to me that adding limits to a game *always* makes a game worse. At which point, I would point to a dozen games that prove that thesis wrong.

      This is the same dumb-assed thinking that leads come cats to believe that, in a universe with infinite time, imagination and resources, absolutely every game would be better if it had single and multi-player modes.

      No. More is not always better. https://penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/03/19

      1. And I just want to add (briefly): it’s not just the psychopathy simulator, it’s that the options for psychopathy are always *robust*, and meanwhile, story-driven character interaction in every(? someone prove me wrong?) open world RPG is anemic horseshit. Wanna be the grizzled anti-hero with a heart of gold? Hope you’re good at make believe, because it’s nowhere in any designer’s f*ckin’ script. Shit – it’s barely in Mass Effect. Which oh yeah, has multiplayer now, because more distractions are always better.
        /endrant

    6. As much as Morrowind is amazing. It does has it’s fair share of flaws. He’s saying the scope is too big to keep the game equally balanced. Rampant stat boosting through enchanted weapons for example, and even the game world being far too open. The Witcher does a great job at keeping an open world that’s highly detailed but it doesn’t keep you off the main series of quests. If anything what the TES games should do is not make the PC the primary hero of the series, that just forces the player on the path.

  2. There is something to be said about a more focused design and I think that all of the ES games would benefit from that. Open doesn’t need to be aimless, whicxh at times tyhe ES games can certainly be

    That said, the ES games are about exploration more than they are a central quest. After playing Morrowind to death (and that werewolf expansion Bloodmoon which is brilliant — the best thing they have ever done in an ES game imo) I was spent on the design. So Oblivion and Skyrim did very little for me, but comparing Rockstar games to the ES games really isn’t fair as they approach the open world design from totally different viewpoints.

    Oh, and Fable sucks.

    1. How do you rate the Tribunal expansion?

      Bloodmoon was great, reminded me of the expansion for NWN where you had to build the castle to go along with the story line.

  3. The truth is there is no right answer and using you’re own words

    “as long as you’re engaged with the game and enjoying it, that imagination will fill in all the blanks for you as you go along”

    you can apply this not just to board games but to all games, including Morrowind and Skyrim.

  4. I think the point was the less content the less likely it is to be gamey. Fable’s world felt legitimate people did things and acted like normal people, kinda. At night people slept for example. Where as with ES games they attempted to create this huge world and at every turn you are reminded how gamey it actually it is, breaking your engagement with the world.

    Which is completely right at least in my opinion.

    Now the part about boardgames maybe I don’t have imagination but I simply get into the setting. I play for the mechanics though I have learned and the theme is secondary. Even in games with sweet themes like Merchant and Maurders or Chaos in The Old World. I just see pieces and don’t get a sense of atmosphere.

  5. This is such an interesting subject. The ES games were always billed as immersion games of which they certainly are not. Most, if any, immersion was created by the modding community. The modding community is also why it is so hard to write in any way regarding the ES games because the game you played is nothing like the game I played.

    I’m still amazed that the ES games have done so well on console since the only thing that really makes them worth playing is how much you can change the game. ES has always been about making the game fit you, not you fitting into the game which is the exact opposite of immersion.

  6. Mr. Thrower’s thesis is exactly why I’d have been tickled if the new CD Projeckt game (referenced in another NoHS article) were called “Monday.” I’d imagine it to be a 24 hour experience – midnight to midnight, with all the constraints that implies. Can I actually level up in 24 hours? How far can I travel? Decisions to compress time become interesting, and not merely a crutch that lets a designer work in a healing mechanic tied to sleeping. Will I see NPCs establish patterns? Probably not, the whole game is a single Monday. Will I be able to play 80 hours? Not with a single playthrough. Does anyone give me a chance to play one like this today?

    1. Yep. Analogue: a Hate Story is a text adventure that has no “time limit”, but does trigger events once you have passed key milestones, closing down alternate paths and channeling you towards endings.

      It’s very odd subject matter, but I played it for a weekend and was surprised by how much structure it had. The premise is that your computer desk is a spaceship, and you are remotely accessing the AI core of a derelict “generation ship” in deep space. The only interface the player has is answering binary questions from NPCs, reading journals, and typing commands into root directories.

      It’s not for everyone (it’s a a dating sim about fundamentalist Confucian sexism, in space), but people are doing this stuff. And it *does* work.

    1. This comment has singlehandedly pushed me to the edge of losing interest in this site’s comment sections.

      1. It’s OK Rocklin. We’re a equal opportunity platform group.

        I used to be a PC snob myself, and then I met Brandon.

    2. The Xbox version for Morrowind is actually really really really good. It is the go to vanilla experience. And I actually prefer the menu setup on the Xbox version over the PC one (It was totally Zelda and awesome).

    3. Come on now. Playing Morrowind on the original Xbox or playing it on a PC. Hmmmm tough choices there. 😛 Not to mention that consoles have pushed the Elder Scrolls games in to a more, how can I say this, generic design.

      1. I’m resurrecting this thread to ask you to look at what you just did.

        You made your first post. I ignored you, because even though you’re throwing out a tired cliche (PC is always better always) that doesn’t even respond to the actual point of the thread (i.e., more to do is not always better to do), you’re voicing an opinion that many people have. And I’ll even say that PC does a few things “better enough” than console that it’s valid to prefer that platform.

        Then, Rocklin just said he was thinking about leaving this site, which is badass awesome, and Bill nicely asked him to stay without getting in your face about it. And your response was to double down.

        It’s okay to throw a few elbows here when you comment, but please please please try to back it up every once in a while. If I wanted random flame wars, I’d be commenting at Kotaku.

        1. Well, yeah I double down when I know I’m right. I know it was not the point of the post but as soon as he said Morrowind (one of the premier games at the time and in gaming history) on Xbox(!), well, it was on. If I wanted to be an ass I would have pointed out the specifications of an Xbox and point out how far behind a PC it was at the time. I refrained from making any typical “kotaku” commentary though.

          Rockling said, “This comment has singlehandedly pushed me to the edge of losing interest in this site’s comment sections.” So he did not threaten to stop visiting, just to stop reading the comments. Which is an excellent idea by the way. I don’t go to any web site just for the sterling commentaries. Comments are usually subjective personal opinion, not objective facts, and not worth the seconds it takes to read them.

          I will throw a bone out here though and acknowledge how much I enjoyed Heavy Rain on PS3, a *gasp* console. Plus my PS3 is my primary Blu-Ray player. And I still intend to someday get a 360 just to play the exclusive games like Halo and GoW. So yeah, consoles have a valid multipurpose role now. I am not a blind hater after all. 😛

          1. Thanks for punching back.

            I would disagree on the objective value of comments = 0. They are what you make them. The conversation here is proof of that, to me.

          2. Hey, a spirited discourse without degrading into name calling is always fun! 😀 And yeah re-reading my post I see I probably misstated my opinion on comments. There can be great factual points brought up in the comments section, but I see comments as being like wikipedia ie. a great start but have to research things before I am swayed either way.

  7. Don’t lose faith! Increased popularity means the site will stick around, even if it means that we have to put up with the occasional poorly thought out comment that jumped ship from Kotaku. I still read quarter to three despite its recent increase Ina burnish comments. It’s actually pretty fun to shake my head at them and watch Mr. Chick respond in his typical fake clueless yet intelligent and snarky manner.

    Besides, it’s fun to watch the lads who run this show occasionally lay the smack down. So stick around, it’s the best game-centric content around.

    1. Yeah dont let a bad comment stop you from being part of this community. I read a lot of game sites but I never post anywhere but here. The articles here are great but the fact that the people writing the articles take the time to interact makes this place awesome.

      I love quarter to three but that forum is intimidating. Too many people with their cool kid hat on for my taste.

      1. …Annnd I’m an idiot. I stopped scrolling down to say something to Cartras, only to read further in and see that y’all handled this stuff two days ago.

        To ping off Bob, I have trouble listening to the Qt3 podcast because you can *hear* the Cool Kid Hats.

  8. I fully understand the main point being made in the article.

    it was the reason I preferred Arkham Asylum to Arkham City.

    1. Arkham city had immersion breaking wierdness? Huh. I dont think I ran across anything. What did it for you?

      1. I was talking about the metroid-style tight level design of the first game, it really did it for me.

        Second game was more sandboxy, bigger and better with all the bells and whistles and didn’t captivate me in the same way.

        The immersion breaking strangeness didn’t apply but something was lost on me when I was let loose in the giant sandbox. Odd yes I know!

        Did Arkham City benefit from expanding the scope and diluting the direction?

        1. Y’know, I actually see that. I really enjoyed AC, but it is not in fact as tight as Asylum was.

          I would say that when I stop *feeling* like Batman, that would be the bridge too far. And the wandering packs of mobs took the edge off of picking off a room full of guards and watching them freak out.

  9. I didn’t like Morrowind, but I loved Oblivion and am currently enjoying Skyrim (I run anywhere from six months to several years behind “current” games).

    Growing up, I watched a lot of M*A*S*H, which I realize is a bit of a punchline itself now, but they did some interesting things. One episode they did was shot entirely from the perspective of a wounded soldier whose injury left him incapable of speech. It was an interesting idea, but I thought it was an absolute catastrophe in execution. The mounted camera was fundamentally incapable of mimicking human head motion in a believable way, the unseen patient couldn’t shrug or raise an eyebrow or anything, and the central conceit got tired after about five minutes, with all the cast members talking to themselves while looking at the camera.

    But even though I thought the thing absolutely failed to work, I thought it was fantastic that they had at least tried. Certainly they could afford to waste an episode here and there on a failed experiment — and some of them succeeded quite well, too.

    And I think that’s what I admire about the Elder Scrolls — more than almost anyone else (that I’m aware of, I admit to a limited range of experience), they are trying to get this fully-interactive fantasy world thing right. The much-vaunted Radiant AI system in Oblivion was… uh… disappointing, to me at least, but it seemed as though they’d scaled the original design back a good way to accommodate CPU limits. And I’ve encountered my fair share of people contradicting themselves, saying things counter to their otherwise-established characters, and otherwise making no damn sense in Skyrim, even without trying to break the game by putting buckets on people’s heads. One time I killed a chicken with fire and the chicken turned out to be the only witness to the crime… but I still wound up with a bounty. But it’s better, the game is more balanced, the world is more interactive, the NPCs move around more and are more believable, there are more things I can do, they are closer to the end goal of a cool fantasy world where I can go shoot fire at people from my fingertips in between listening to songs from the bards at the tavern. Or, you know, something less cliche than that if you prefer.

    If every few years I give Bethesda Softworks between $20 and $40 for them to improve on their last experiment in this space, I am honestly 100% okay with that.

    1. +1 to this. When you hold up ES as a series, the improvement is marked and obvious.

      I play the crap out of Elder Scrolls games, but I do it for the exploration. When I run out of new stuff, I stop. Even if that were all ES was trying to be, that IS a valid reason to play a game. I piled on to Jonathan’s comment because his tone implied that Matt was wrong for daring to think about design as more than just bolting on features until you run out of room.

      If sandbox has a few trends I could use a lot less of, that’s not solely Bethesda’s fault.

      1. Right, and there is something to be said for just making the best game you can with the tech you have, and observing the rules that limits can bring freedom and less is more. Not everyone should be trying to do what Bethesda is doing.

  10. I’ve been mulling this over the weekend, and I think I know the answer.

    The uncanny valley.

    We are all aware of the uncanny valley for graphics. I feel there is a second one at work here, that being one of simulation. A game with no pretensions of simulating a world won’t make us blink when crazy things happen.

    Compare any of the 3d Zelda games to the ES series. Hit some random NPC with your sword and not much happens. Why is this less likely to bother me than the quirks of ES? Because in Zelda I’m not expecting a functional world. The world presented is obviously designed based on game principles and so I’ve bought into the gameiness of the world. In the ES games they go way further to try and present a world. In consequence they fall into the valley where any odd deviation breaks the illusion.

    How this applies to the ES games is simply that they need to get out of the valley. They need to cut content, or simulation back to get them back into a less realistic state so those quirks don’t break the immersion, OR the more expensive route of adding even more until they break through the other side with a fully functional world.

    1. This is…awesomeness.

      Ultimately, though, I already side with the “stylization” camp when it comes to graphics. Give me cel-shaded animal people over perfectly rendered soulless zombies shooting each other any day.

      The design question here is: what would a properly stylized “immersive” game world look like? What principles does it use?

      I bet you could lay out some ground rules, but maybe not a “formula”. For instance:

      *Unless I’m filling empty flasks in a sink, there is never any reason to make a toilet in a video game functional.
      *A reputation system is better tracked with dialogue changes than with a meter, even if you’re using numbers in the background. Filling up an NPC’s “Affinity Meter” so you can ask them out is creepy as hell.
      *If you have to choose, give your characters more dialogue, and make passersby silent.
      *Don’t make a gritty “slaughter of the innocents” level in a Manshoot game if you never otherwise force them to separate friend from foe.

      Anybody else got a few?

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