Creating a truly immersive gameworld is a difficult task that few game developers accomplish. The likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s levels are detailed and on a technical level is impressive, but what makes the likes of Bioshock’s Rapture or Red Dead Redemption’s portrayal of the Wild West stand out and suck gamers in?
Many arguments have been made, some people cite freedom as a cause which certainly applies to games such as the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Red Dead Redemption, but it means more linear games such as Bioshock must have something different that attracts gamers.
So let us take a journey through some of favorite game worlds and see if we can unearth what captures the imagination about these worlds. Let’s go back in time and start with a classic game; Oblivion.
The core of Oblivion is freedom, its huge, expansive game-world is filled with dungeons, castles, towns and other places to explore and exists totally in the realm of fantasy. The world is brightly colored with snow-capped peaks, huge cities and green forests.
Straight away there is something that catches the attention about this world. Perhaps it’s because as humans we can easily have out attention captured by something that is both like our world and yet so utterly different. Oblivion’s world is filled with tree’s and wildlife that seems familiar to us, yet also contains exotic animals and peculiar people. The more mundane concepts of this world give us something to relate to, after all we all know what a wolf is or what a tree is, but then introduces something we can’t relate to into the world. For me it was the sheer freedom of the game that kept me playing, simply venturing from one town to another was a joy and I always had the urge to climb the next hill and discover the wonders on the other side. Living the life, that’s what Oblivion did well, you could rise to power by becoming a Master Mage or become an infamous Thief. Or perhaps you wanted respect by becoming head of a group of Assassins?
Simply put, its freedom and size that makes Oblivion’s game-world what it is, it stands as a testament to what a RPG can be.
Many will state Bioshock as king of the immersive gameworlds, and indeed it would be hard to argue. Once again Bioshock creates a world that has strong grounding in our reality and then mixing it with the unfamiliar to create the exotic underwater world of Rapture.
In many respects it’s the introduction to Rapture that truly captures gamers, slowly descending to the watery world gives you a glimpse of the size of the place, huge towers and bridges spanning them to create something that you could almost picture in our world.
Undeniably the first person view used help immerse you straight away and Bioshock had a way of using this very wekk to recreate the thinking that you’re actually there. From being thrown across the room to stabbing that first syringe into your arm the first person view helps keep you immersed in the world of Bioshock.
Lighting plays a supreme role as it gently lights a room or cuts out entirely in a corridor as you hear the patter of feet running across the floor. Combined with the level of detail and background information that has gone into the game and you realise why it’s easy to get sucked into the game. Audio diaries scattered around clue you in to the lives that the people had before Rapture crumbed and became the hell it is today.
Ultimately Bioshock once again has a key feature: freedom. It doesn’t have sprawling levels but still creates the sense of freedom to approach a problem how you see fit as opposed to what the developers demand. Its level of detail and use of ambient effects and lighting have created something truly special and Bioshock stands as one of the greatest game-worlds created.
Red Dead Redemption is one of few western games for the modern times and shares two key features with Bioshock and Oblivion: Freedom and detail.
The Wild West portrayed in Rockstars epic game is a huge and barren land where horses roam and bandits have free-reign. Once again the game is firmly grounded in reality, more so than the previous two games mentioned, giving it a point for us to connect easily to.
As opposed to Oblivion’s jam-packed world, Red Dead’s massive wasteland is bleak and barren. Sun-bleached bones lye on the ground as Vultures circle over head. And yet this gives the game its unique atmosphere, the world may be bleak but it’s well detailed and contains it’ts own ecological system. As you ride through this wasteland on your trusty steed you’ll often see a pack of Wolves hunting deer, or a bear ambling along the riverside.And these animals interact perfectly with one another, behaving how you would expect. Combined with the random events that occur in the world it gives everything a sense of believability. You can easily imagine this was what the Wild West was back in the day, and venturing into a town further enforces that idea. Saloons are grimy with seedy looking characters playing the piano and towns are often no more than a few buildings with a dirt track through the middle.
Though it contains less to do that Oblivion, it nails the feeling of isolation so well that you don’t need the clutter. Climbing a hill just in time to witness a sunset is something you need to see, it’s a stunning view.
Ultimately though it’s the characters within Red Dead Redemption that truly makes the world a wonderful place. John Marston himself is so well written and acted and his interactions with the characters so real that it creates the illusion of a living, breathing world.
For the final game, it had to be Mass Effect 2. Here Bioware have created the definitive sci-fi galaxy inhabited by aliens of many kinds. Bioware have crafted the perfect blend of sci-fi based architecture that has just enough resemblance to our own to create once again that all important believability. Star of the show is the seedier take on Mass Effect’s galaxy, a darkened bar/club where loud techno-style music pounds away in the background, it’s a world that captures the sci-fi feeling perfectly and creates truly alien beings yet manages to give them enough humanity to allow us to relate to them.
For Mass Effect 2 it’s truly the detail that counts. Every species and character you encounter has a back-story giving an in-depth feeling to the world that Bioware have created.
Again, like the games we have covered before Mass Effect 2 has freedom as a large component in the machine. You’re left to your own devices for a large part of the time, simply allowed to roam the galaxy and do what you wish whether that may be simply shopping for the latest gear or partaking of side-quests. It’s this depth and freedom that gives Mass Effect 2 it’s utter charm and utter addictive qualities.
Of course we cannot speak of Mass Effect 2 without mentioning the original Mass Effect which paved the way for the galaxy of which Mass Effect 2 relies upon. It shares many of the same qualities and is in many ways more expansive than its sequel, but it never used darker or dirtier locations to help contrast its sleek sci-fi designs
So, we’ve covered four different games, each with unique gameplay and idea’s on how to craft that perfect gameworld. And now we must attempt to ascertain a quality that links them together, the hidden formula which can be used to create a truly immersive world ever time.
Most have freedom, the ability to craft your own path is an important factor when playing these games. Oblivion’s huge world allows freedom of choice that few games whether old or modern can match while Bioshock relies on the use of itss first person view to help immerse the player, a feature that Oblivion also shares.
Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption relies on attention to detail and characters to impress.
But on further inspection we can come to a conclusion, it’s the game as a package than immerses the player within its lands. A mixture of factors all contribute toward the perfect world from freedom of choice to simply making a detailed and believable backstory for the realm.
There is no magical formula that will drag you in, there is no single element that can be lightly tossed into the game to immerse a player and there is no basis for what creates the magic. No, there is instead developers out there who have the magical touch needed to create a truly believable, immersive and ultimately fun world in which to house the gameplay. The games I have covered are just some of the many out there. The likes of Fable III offer charm and a witty world while the incredible beauty of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow attempts to drag players into its grasp using stunning art-design.
Anyone who views games as an art, or who has a passion for a well realized world should take the time to venture into these realms of beauty and get lost within their walls. Whether you prefer to trudge through the barren lands or fight through fantasy forests there is a game for you to become lost in, and that’s what a well created game world is all about.
Now if you excuse me, I’m away to go adventuring in Fable III.