“The New Immersion Paradigm”

“Cliff Blezinski, bless his heart, has no idea what it means to run across a battlefield underneath machinegun fire.” This is very true.

Ubisoft’s Clint Hocking once again demonstrates the pulsating mega-brain that will hopefully soon result in a game that isn’t a weird Far Cry sequel, in this rather special Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab talk. It’s from last October, but seems no less relevant for it. Discussed: war movies, hockey fights, Gears of War, Duke Nukem breaking the fourth wall without breaking immersion, how online functionality can augment immersion, and blurring the line between real and fake.

Spotted via Steve Gaynor.


  1. Antlia says:

    Could be very interesting, but somehow there’s absolutely no sound for me.

    • Dhatz says:

      try different browser. buoy, i hate how this site had to F5 every time i try to write something.

  2. Dhatz says:

    Maybe now I get why everybody is switching to autoheal. Even in games where you carry quite the ammount of medikits(F.E.A.R. is best example) and are sure to find more than you need,you will always have tendency to conserve and think about the mechanics of the game.

  3. Tei says:

    I can’t comment the video (theres no subs). But I think the society has a problem, and videogames can choose to be a sympton, or the cure.

    The problem is the “go go go go” instasatinsfaction syndrome. Games like MW2 are purposelly designed to make people with that syndrome feel good about thenselves and his problem. This is a more broad problem than immersion. The shadow of this problem make the inversion moot point. What inmersion you have in MW2?, you kill and respawn in very fast succesion, and the screen floats with numbers and “ding!” sounds like how I imagine a casino in Las Vegas.

    Ignoring the problem with create niche games, or weak games. Choosing to feed the problem with make millionaries (MW2), choosing to fight it is the good fight, the hard one.

    • Tei says:

      aargh.. a few typo errors here :P
      s/the problem with create/the problem will create/

    • Pmeie says:

      i think i have that “go go go go go” syndrome… slower games like sc2 often bores me but SOMETIMES i really enjoy it, but most of the time i’m too impatient for it… how do i solve it? i feel so anhedonic and unsatisfied :<

    • Dhatz says:

      that’s a part of my philosophy: Game makers make gamers. I will apply this in future(I am certain to start making superior games in next decade)

    • Dhatz says:

      pmeie: the ammount of in the syndrome indicates the severity.

    • Dhatz says:

      fucking overlimited comments, it was supposed to show after “of”

    • Zogtee says:

      I bought StarCraft 2 last week and it really made me think about my immersion in the game. All the polish, characters, and little details gave me a solid sense of immersion and I really enjoyed it. Then I started to hit the timed missions, ie you must do this and that before the time runs out, and that completely shattered my sense of immersion. Suddenly it felt like I was playing a game where the developers were forcing me to play it in a pre-determined way, with no real way of coming up with ideas of my own. No ideas that actually mattered, anyway. There were only two options, you win or you lose, and losing is not really an option, because if you don’t do it the right way, you wont get anywhere.

      I’m not sure if it has killed the game for, but I played it every day after I bought it and now I haven’t had any interest in playing it for days.

  4. JackShandy says:

    Interesting stuff he’s saying about the immersion-shattering blueray commentary, comparing it to switching out an actor. I haven’t seen the entire thing yet, but I assume he’s going to compare it to the videogame HUD?

    Reminds me of doing Absurdist theatre back in high school, Bertolt Brecht and the rest. The whole idea of Absurdism, see, was to snap the audience out of the immersion as much as possible, keep reminding them that they’re in a theatre and that it’s just a play so that you can convey some sort of social message. Keeping the audience distanced from the characters and action, keeping them at an objective distance so that they’re considering their feelings, not the characters. The idea was that doing that would make them carry the message beyond the theatre- stop an audience from just saying “oh that’s horrible” and then doing nothing about it.

    I’m sure a game could do that just as well, constantly shattering immersion to give a message. Has anything like that been made? I think I heard Suda51’s stuff was like that…

  5. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Clint’s most important point here is that the kind of immersion that Generation X prefers (with the holodeck as its most perfect expression) is very different from the immersion that Generation Y prefers (which is more of a social, contextual immersion). This may be true or not, but the big success of big 3D movies like Avatar, seems to indicate that there’s still a very large interest in holodeck-type immersion among all generations.

    • Dhatz says:

      big 3D movies have success because ppl want to try the advancements we made in 3D(there is still at least a decade before it gets any kind oflong term watchable). that’s why imax theatres tend to be popular and therefore expensive. movies themselves don’t move anywhere because almost every movie is worth deleting from humanity’s history and memory. same about games, only games have tremendously more aspects where they can be broken beyond usable for specific players. The higher the requirements for games are for a person and the more advanced games he wants to make(one day) the more games seem unappealing,obsolete or just broken to the person(for me it is all strategies, far cries, saints rows, crackdowns, halos, gearsOWs, godOWs, simses, wow, any jrpg and almost every other RPG or MMORPG). Also games are the most counsciously chosen form of culture, or at least should be taken and made this way. The way I judge all things and never stop thinking seems to be the apex effect for the Y generation I am part of(19 YO) and I want to continue developing culture around it.

  6. Delish says:

    This was an excellent if haphazard talk. I kinda like them like that, chasing several threads keeps me interested more than following a rope. I don’t think he’s quite there in understanding and expressing exactly where he wants to go with the idea yet, which is also nice to see from a designer. There are so many people who believe they have THE answer, rather than being aware that there are many answers and a tremendous amount of questions.

    Questions like: anyone else think he looks like Scott Foley from The Unit? ;)

  7. manveruppd says:

    Absolutely fascinating stuff, although slightly disjointed as a lecture, with too many references to other lectures whose relevance to his topic isn’t immediately clear – although when their relevance DOES become clear, it becomes an example of hyperrealism in itself, so explanation by demonstration, which is kind of neat! :) His definition of hyperrealism is the simplest and most eloquent I’ve ever heard though, had me nodding furiously in approval, because it’s one of those terms which I hear being thrown around all the time while it’s obvious the speaker/writer doesn’t really understand what it means (especially in academia, but also on internet blogs and such).

    One thing I wish he’d done is to have made the link to augmented reality more specific. Augmented reality is only a subset of hyperrealism. It’s not the only way in which you can make something “hyperrealistic”, but it’s especially relevant when talking about videogames because, in my opinion, it’s the form which is going to be most prevalent in gaming (I’m thinking phone-based augmented reality games using geolocation to present a game world superimposed over your real location to you). The very last example of hyperrealism he used in his speech (virtually-enhanced, GPS-aided, tours of Las Vegas) was basically augmented reality.

    The only thing I don’t agree with is his identification of this linking of different kinds of technology and visions of reality with different generations (baby boomers with jetpacks, GenXers with holodecks, Gen-Yers with hyperreality, etc.). I think that’s too simplistic, cause there’s just too many exceptions – William Gibson for instance is a baby boomer and he was writing about virtual reality back when I (a gen-Xer) was in kindergarten, and, more recently, he was writing about augmented reality when gen-Yers were still mostly in school or uni! But that’s a quibble tbh, mostly I found myself furiously nodding and thinking “yeah, the future’s gonna be cool” at everything he said :)

    • Dhatz says:

      there is evolution factor in culture, as seen with realId getting furiously refused, as ideas never get to the final stage the same as they were invented, there couldn’t be links to games airtagged everywhere, as you would be completely lost in attempt to try and identificate what are those million dots you can view with your phone around you, or even when filtered you would get spammed with redundant information and useless references to all 1000s of games using the same landmark. or seing useless amount of information about one game everywhere in the world, it would be even stupider and less pointed than the whole apes(that once used to be called people) logging into fauxbook every 2 seconds. if facebook doesn’t end(or severely transform itself, like htat’s ever gonna happen), our civilisation will end before we even get to such fail ideas like integrating google earth into the earth (and calling world google world).

  8. Muzman says:

    Interesting stuff. His generational take was intriguing. It’s been said elsewhere that Gen Y will basically leapfrog Gen X in depressing ways (for Gen X) or they’ll end up going head to head, broadly speaking. Which ought to be fun.

    One aspect strikes me as odd though, and this ties in to my impression of the trajectory games have had or should have had (which I think now is wrong, but Hocking seems broadly to agree with). We had basically the Looking Glass games (System Shocks, Thiefs, and on to Deus Ex etc) blazing the trail to where things would go for immersive, expressive worlds and emergent gameplay. I was fairly sure FPSs at least would have to pick up on that for some reason. But then Half Life 2 finally came out, then CoD and Halo, and Stalker kinda took too long thanks to biting off more than it could chew. Everybody went to consoles and it all seems to have gone by the by (even though Clint here seems to be trying to bring it back, thankfully).

    Hocking identifies this as a generational thing; Gen X dominance in the industry, more or less. This is something I as a late period X-er find very odd indeed since the LG tradition was, as far as I was concerned, by X-ers for X-ers. People who had grown up with adventure games and RPGs trying to bring all the possibilities there into computer rendering And that was partly why it failed. More astutely mercenary minds would be out to make the more boiled down experience because they saw that there was something more accessable and salable that could be made from this tech than arsing about with stats and story. It’s easier to make in a lot of respects and they were going to sell this stuff to Gen Y kids by the truck load. Which they did.

    I realise identifying generational trends is always a fairly fuzzy exercise so it’s not fair to get too picky. But the notion that these locked down, cinematic-immersion style games are Gen Xs legacy strikes me as odd since in my humble experience they’re a style of immersion factory built to play to Gen Y and that’s who bought them (though no doubt a good slab of Gen X played them as well). Gen X would have prefered something else as often as not, but it was just too weird and niche to really hold in the new console market (or at least had to take time out for a while before the spirit started worming its way back in).
    I could have the complete wrong end of the stick on this of course, but that’s been my impression. These mushy, flashy, low difficulty six hr shoot fests ain’t my games. No sir. That’s kid stuff

    Although the generational point about Bioshock v SS2 is …something. I’m not sure what. Bioshock’s open upgrade system didn’t damage immersion? Well it did actually. It rendered the whole exercise almost meaningless to have no consequence for choice there, unlike System Shock 2. I’m fairly certain I think this for reasons better than being an old stick in the mud. But maybe not. Hmmm.
    Ok, when I was having fun playing it, which wasn’t nearly often enough, it didn’t matter that the skill system was meaningless to the game, story or world. That much is true. So technically it didn’t undermine that sort of immersion when it occured. But it should be aiming for a loftier synergy, I would have thought. That was why SS2 was great: it actually achieved this. It’s not perfect, but I really don’t think SS2 would be anywhere near as effective if you just let people do whatever. And I’m crazy enough to think that would still hold true today, even if most gamers (still) wouldn’t want to play it because it was too restrictive. Is that because I’m an old stick in the mud? Hmmm…
    In one way it seems like if fixing skills in SS2 is so old school and clunky, why can’t you load yourself out like a Doom marine in Far Cry 2? Surely they’re both meaningful restrictions. But, again, perhaps I’m missing the point.

  9. Justin Keverne says:

    How come huge generalisations about Generation X and Generation Y are accepted but if I did the same about all women I’d be justifiably called out for being absurd?

    I think there’s a danger is the connection of “immersion” to the concept of the fourth wall. Even when “immersed” nobody is unaware of the presence of the fourth wall, if we ever were we’d never play anything, we’d be too terrified. Without an explicit barrier between reality and fiction the first time a Splicer appeared we’d likely curl up into a foetal position.

    There’s some brilliant analysis going on by Clint, but it’s a scattershot talk as he’s trying to define something that doesn’t yet really exist and that may never exist. After all self awareness and postmodernism are arguable already on the decline, once your culture is commodified and sold on T-Shirts it’s already past its peak; though that itself might be a facet of the culture of self awareness of the culture itself.

    • Dhatz says:

      because women and men are everexistent terms and are absolutely clear to anyone, while you have to be informed to speak about gen X/Y/Z. for me i get the X as he tells about it, and Y is the gen that uses internet for everything X couldn’t/wouldn’t(want to) use it for. Z isthe one impacted by our bad shit we making now(and therefore cannot be accurately defined), We must consider urbandictionary.com the common default source of definitions for it’s immediacy in the gen Y.

  10. Radiant says:

    The talk is an hour and a half.
    – very few jokes.
    – no explosions.

    It’s very similar to his games: full of wonderful sketched ideas.
    He really should think about taking just 2 or 3 of those ideas so he can really do them any justice.

  11. stahlwerk says:

    There was this one point in his talk where he said something like “Generation X-ers making games for mostly themselves” and while I think he may be right about the designer’s intention, the audience still encompasses a whole lot of generation-Y kids and teens. Which leads to the question of how “gaming made Gen X/Y” with them being told the stories of their respective last generation.

    Certainly the Baby-boomeresque-as-fuck graphical adventures of the late 80s played a huge influence on wee-lad-me, and while Al Lowe, Ken and Roberta Williams may have written games the way that they enjoyed them (evil minded readers might interprete the sierra game mechanic of Query-Failure-Reload as manifestation of sadistic-masochistic tendencies), I went on to develop a totally different set of enjoyment triggers; full blown escapism a la Mirrors Edge – are these my feet? – which is arguably very much gen X. But still I like me some exposition and even non-interactivity in my games, for example I can’t play half life 2 for more than one hour at a time because being there and being chased non-stop to me is quite exhausting.

    So, generations of game designers create games that manifest their respective value systems, but these values can and will be enjoyed, adapted and transformed by the following generations of gamers, too.

    • Dhatz says:

      IF I hadn’t tried to play far cry 2 I wouldn’t get why it didn’t succeed. The guys in the vid already shown understanding for why people didn’t enjoy this game, but to me always priority no.1 in development process is counting with the competition. Never could I imagine making a game that is same or inferior to other games, it is way too easy being better in all kinds of stuff(not talking about gfx) than the usual games that just try to cope with the standards. one of such “coper” games is Dragon Age, it was made purely of outdated principles that are annoing to death for anybody intensely caring about games for longer than 10 years(and not one genre addict).

  12. Alexander Norris says:

    I really want to know why there were stock sci-fi laser sounds in Paths of Glory.

  13. disperse says:

    I love the question/comment at the end, the gist of which was: “Do you think, uh, FarCry 2 would have been better if, um, it was more like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?”

  14. rebb says:

    Its only having sound on the left stereo channel, the headphone horror :(.

    • rebb says:

      Seriously, how do you get around this ? It’s amazingly irritating.
      How can someone encode this and not notice ?

      Is there an easy way to “smudge” the left stereo channel onto both ? Setting my audio output to mono did not help for some reason.

  15. BeamSplashX says:

    What a wonderfully long, thoughtful presentation. I really enjoyed it, both as a gamer and a film student. It’s interesting that he discusses the limited nature of games like Assassin’s Creed, despite the game being “open” in a very basic sense of the word.

    Now that I think of it, AC is open in a similar way to Turrican; you don’t get truly meaningful long-term benefits out of exploring, but you can explore and there’s something to see when you get there. Granted, you could usually find sweet weapons in Turrican, but I never found one in a secret area that I couldn’t find elsewhere.

  16. Antlerbot says:

    Love the moment at the end when, as he is talking about use of in-game systems to change what would normally be “menu” options, and to change the player’s idea of what is “in-game” and “out”, someone’s phone rings with the com sound from metal gear solid. Sublime and strange.

  17. MartinNr5 says:

    I really wanted to watch and like this but stopped after 30 minutes. Up until then there were quite a few interesting tidbits but on the whole it was to jumbled and disoriented.

    Clint is a horrible speaker as well. I know his job isn’t as a professional speaker but it’s not that hard to get rid of your worst habits (saying “like” every other sentence, saying “ummm” when you’re thinking, waving your hands about like a madman and using air quotes when they make absolutely no sense).

    His blog seems like a much better place to get a glimpse inside his mind.