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  1. #1
    Network Hub spoken_starfish's Avatar
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    Immersive sims and the future of games

    So Ive been playing Prey and its got me thinking about immersive sims. I mostly enjoyed it - great visuals, level design, less great combat. But a lot of it is awfully familiar if you know games such as System Shock, Deus Ex and Bioshock. Heres your audiologs and emails, heres your vents and turrets to hack. It feels fresh enough because of the new stories/settings and a few new powers thrown into the mix, but its nothing nearly as innovative as Thief or Deus Ex were when they came out. What was once the cutting edge of game design has become something of a template.


    A few years ago Otherside kickstarted a Ultima Underworld sequel decrying that games havent made all that much progress on the design side since Ultima. They promised to move the state of the craft forward and experiment like we did at Looking Glass. Im excited to see what they come up with but Im not letting myself get completely carried away. How much innovation can we expect from a sequel to a game that is 25 years old? I think it will end up being something cool worth playing, but I have no idea how far they get with their lofty aims.


    Immersive sims are typically identified by their design principles (player agency, systemic design etc) but as Randy Smith said in this interview they have tended to come with a bunch of other features: a sci-fi or fantasy setting, an action-adventure with a rich story, you use powers to defeat or sneak past enemies, etc. Could immersive sims as traditionally envisioned be edging towards diminishing returns?


    I feel kinda weird to be asking these questions because I really love these games and think we should celebrate the achievements of Arkane and the like working within this niche. But Im curious to hear how you feel about immersive sims in 2017. Do we love these games because our heads are still in the 90s? (A lovely place to be mind you.) Or is it because they point to a future not yet realised? How do you think they need to evolve?

  2. #2
    Network Hub icemann's Avatar
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    There's been a conversation going on over at the TTLG Forums on this topic (5 pages long as of this post) for a while now. I'd recommend having a read as much has been said.

    But if the new thing to see much of these days is immersive sims, then that's nothing to complain about. Immersive sims are excellent generally and I love em to death.

    One thing I'll note is that there is not that many that have the same level of "immersive sim" as System Shock 1 & 2, with it's respawning over time enemy ecologies, and where no area is ever truly safe. Most of the games these days just respawn a few/many enemies at set points in a map (eg when you kill a boss, activate a switch etc etc), where as in the good ones it happens regardless.

    I've yet to play Prey yet, but Alien Isolation had that aspect in spades.

  3. #3
    Lesser Hivemind Node TechnoJellyfish's Avatar
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    Who came up with that awful term, BTW?

    "Sim" as in "simulator" is commonly used to describe games that are "generally designed to closely simulate real world activities" (Wikipedia); "immersive" is a quality that, well, any game in any genre can possess and is to a large degree part of a subjective assessment.

    It's so non-descriptive that I'm not even sure what it's referring to half of the time.

  4. #4
    Network Hub icemann's Avatar
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    I have a immersive, I have a sim.

    Oh

    Immersive sim

    Or for those too lazy to go look it up:

    An immersive sim (simulation) is a video game genre with games that are typically played from a first person perspective, and include a number of different elements borrowing from computer role-playing games, stealth games, and platform games. These elements are combined along with a compelling environmental setting as to give the player a stronger feeling of control within the game (the sense of immersion), and to encourage emergent gameplay, where the player has the ability to complete game objectives through a variety of options. These games generally feature open-ended gameplay, allowing the player to progress in any order, often by pursue side missions alongside various main story missions. Immersive sims are generally compared to the first titles in the game series Thief, System Shock, and Deus Ex, known as the earliest and critically acclaimed titles in the genre.

  5. #5
    Network Hub spoken_starfish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TechnoJellyfish View Post
    Who came up with that awful term, BTW?
    Warren Spector in a Deus Ex retrospective, I believe.

    I was hoping that this wouldn't turn into a debate over the term. :/

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by icemann View Post
    One thing I'll note is that there is not that many that have the same level of "immersive sim" as System Shock 1 & 2, with it's respawning over time enemy ecologies, and where no area is ever truly safe.
    I'm only a few hours into Prey, but I left an area and my two turrets which I put back to back somehow one got destroyed and the second one badly bruised...

    Hmm why are there two identical bins nearby? :P

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Mediums and Genres frequently have stupid names, Novels are not Novel (anymore) Comics don't need to be comic, most Horror is just funny, Black Comedy refers to morbidity rather than a colour, Thrillers don't thrill, nearly all Fantasy's show a complete failure of imagination, First person Shooters don't let you shoot the first person, Role playing games rarely let you play a role.

    Immersive Sim however is special, because it says nothing it's like saying something is Water Flavoured or something "Sounded like a noise".
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  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus zanchito's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by icemann View Post
    I have a immersive, I have a sim.

    Oh

    Immersive sim
    I bow to thee. Incidentally, the original song is literally an explanation on the commutative and associative properties of algebra. Realizing this, it only makes it better!
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  9. #9
    Moderator Anthile's Avatar
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    The core design philosophy of immersive sims is "if you can think it, you can do it". You haven't really played Prey until you use the blast power, turn yourself into a coffee mug, launch yourself into the air, turn back and stomp an unsuspecting phantom, with the right chipset equipped.

  10. #10
    Lesser Hivemind Node TechnoJellyfish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spoken_starfish View Post
    Warren Spector in a Deus Ex retrospective, I believe.

    I was hoping that this wouldn't turn into a debate over the term. :/
    It wasn't some lame attempt to derail the thread, if it appeared as such. I was actually stumbling over the term twice last week and even when entering this thread, my mind was expecting "sims" until my memory kicked in.

    Thanks for the genuine answers, as it has been a genuine question!

  11. #11
    I opened the thread expecting it to be about how to simulation games can become more immersive in the futures, so yeah I had no idea it was a genre too.

  12. #12
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    Having moved past the name, I hope, let's talk about the future of games again! (And yes it is a dumb name but so are half of them!)

    I think it is true to say that Immersive Sims are very likely the future of fantasy and sci-fi gaming (and possibly other genres too).

    Why do I think that? Because I know a lot of people who aren't gamers, or are at most quasi-gamers, in that they might play a few games, very occasionally, who absolutely love games that meet these criteria. Often they are literally the only games they play. These people are a big part of why a game like Skyrim sells 30m copies, when a game that is arguably better in every regard (yes, even combat and arguably exploration to some degree!), like TW3, sells 10m (actually I believe Skyrim had "only" sold 23-25m copies over the same time it had been out but still). They're part of why GTA V (which was already a non-first-person Immersive Sim to a significant extent) added a first-person mode, I'd suggest.

    They're accessible on level that other games aren't, because they're almost something different to games (hence the "sim" is perhaps not entirely a misnomer), at least to a certain mindset.

    VR, if it takes off, will also mesh very well with them.

    So anyway, yeah, I don't think this is a "our heads are in the '90s", issue. On the contrary, I feel fairly confident that, say, twenty years from now, there will be "games" which things you play on your mobile or Nintendo or whatever, and have cutesy or abstracted graphics, and tend to be puzzle or strategy or whatever, and whatever-this-ends-up-being-called, which you'll play on either your AR/VR headset, or you post-TV-TV device (probably using some sort of motion controls even if VR headsets never take off).

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Matt_W's Avatar
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    I confess I'd never heard the term before this thread either, and I've played all of those games. (It's a terrible term because it has a useless acronym.) What distinguishes, for instance, Gone Home from these games? I actually think that's the future of this kind of game. Imagine Gone Home, but with more player agency, i.e. more things that the player can do. (Aside: Let's not pretend that players have that much more agency in Bioshock than in Call of Duty. There may be more tools that can be used in more combinations, but there are still a limited number of tasks that the player is asked to perform (steal, kill, protect, infiltrate, escape), and the tools are limited in that they can only be applied to those ends.) I suspect that what we'll see with immersive sims is an expansion of narrative genre--the kinds of stories these games try to tell will be different, not just sci-fi and fantasy settings: a richly detailed dating sim that takes place inside a group of single-occupancy condos, a teenager navigating the social pitfalls of a day in high school, a doctor racing to find a cure for a virulent disease, etc.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt_W View Post
    :a richly detailed dating sim that takes place inside a group of single-occupancy condos, a teenager navigating the social pitfalls of a day in high school, a doctor racing to find a cure for a virulent disease, etc.
    Mix all three together and you have a new Trauma Centre game for Nintendo Switch.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by spoken_starfish View Post
    Warren Spector in a Deus Ex retrospective, I believe.

    I was hoping that this wouldn't turn into a debate over the term. :/

    or in deus ex' post mortem?

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Fine, let's look forward.

    Systemic open worlders are mostly Ubi games these days, seemingly the new Zelda has some good systems driven stuff, Pathologic is getting remade properly and looks properly exciting.

    What else? No idea, I keep as far away from pre release games writing as possible.
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  17. #17
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    I think the main problem is down to actual game play. Personally, I'd like to see the medium as a whole move away from direct violence, or at least make it the exception rather than the rule, because albeit I don't mind it I dislike that 'combat' is the front end to problem solving in most of these sorts of games, because it sets a frame to narrative.

  18. #18
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    Wasn't part of the attraction of the original ISs that combat wasn't the only option?

  19. #19
    Moderator Grizzly's Avatar
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    IIRC the original thief, when played on the highest difficulty, disallowed you from killing humans outright. You're a thief, not a murderer. Dishonored discourages you from using violence to achieve your objectives even whilst tempting you with many options to do so, and the best way to non-lethal a level is to stealth your way out of it. It's very much a selling point for these games.

    Except Bioshock but Bioshock was always the weakest imo. Even the Metro series, which is fundementally still a shooter, to me feels more varied simply by virtue of having a thief-like stealth system as a means to progress trough most of the levels.
    Last edited by Grizzly; 24-05-2017 at 10:39 PM.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt_W View Post
    (Aside: Let's not pretend that players have that much more agency in Bioshock than in Call of Duty. There may be more tools that can be used in more combinations, but there are still a limited number of tasks that the player is asked to perform (steal, kill, protect, infiltrate, escape), and the tools are limited in that they can only be applied to those ends.).
    Bioshock is a totally shit example, though, so let's note that it's not typical of the genre - and indeed went backwards from earlier games in that regard. You absolutely undeniably have much more agency in Skyrim, or Prey, or even Alien: Isolation, than in Call of Duty, and denying that is pretty bizarre. The "well there are limits even if they're vastly wider!" logic you're applying is not at all a helpful way to understand things, I would suggest. It almost looks like intentionally trying not to understand things.

    I haven't played Gone Home, but it looks to be a related genre at the very least, if not an unusual specimen of the same genre, just with a very very limited play-area.

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