Realism in a Game

Often times whenever people are playing games, one question would often come in mind–how close is it to reality?

Coming from reality to games, people oftentimes would bring their own experiences to the game, and form their own particular behaviors and reactions towards the game world.

A very old post from Obsidian studio caught my eyes on talking about this subject, which is a pretty solid view on how game designers and level designers view game balances for realism and fun.

Realism vs. What Designers Care About, Verisimilitude, and the Responsibility of Expectations

In establishing both what choices players can take, as well as the rules effects of those choices, designers are generally attempting to create a system which a) avoids “dominance” b) provides opportunities for players to differentiate their strategies based on the decisions they take, and c) give players opportunities to make “good plays” in response to opponents (be they computer or human controlled).

Most of the time, when players encounter situations without guide in a game, their first instinct is to go to their own life experiences to find references. This provokes the player to compare real life to the game. A good game design would be not robbing off the “realism” but the same time maintain fun for the game.

A game with realism alone would be immensely boring, a game is for things we can not excel in real life. A game with only game mechanism alone would be stretching too far from players’ expectations, also a bad sign for a game.

As game designers, to balance these problems is how you handle the game mechanically fun and meticulously true to life.

As the article pointed out, Power Armors in Fallout are supposed to be “awesome” and omnipotent. Because their visuals give way to this kind of impression to players. You don’t want to water down its mechanism so that it can perfectly fit into the game’s mechanic world, you want this one to “break the rules”.

But if every armor in Fallout is supposed to be realistic, the game would be unplayable. Imagine how you can only have two armors on you and enemies can kill you with one single bullet even though you are wearing a heavy armor, but you don’t have a head protection.

In Fallout: New Vegas, to substantially magnify this “realism” element, Obsidian introduced the Hardcore mode, where you would have some realistic elements in the game. For example, humidity has become a permanent status, you need to keep yourself hydrated; hunger and starvation; sleep deprivation. These elements give you “a taste from reality”, not fully enclose you into the reality. Otherwise you will need to constantly find water and food while you’re wandering the Mojave desert.


Note that these aren’t really mechanics that work as I described above. It is a strongly dominant option to have water, and to drink it when you get thirsty. It’s not really a valid playstyle to be “the guy that never drinks water”. But, in this case, it is a small enough part of the system and has enough of a positive effect on verisimilitude that it’s worth having the system, IMO.

Finally, when players approach a game, they come both with their own personal baggage/knowledge, and they form opinions on things in your game before they ever interact with the actual gameplay of those things.

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