Tomb Raider creator Toby Gard believes that developers, not just artists, should put more effort into creating games with a more immersive experience for the player.
Stating this belief in part-two of his three-part series on level design in action adventure games, Gard writes on Gamasutra that “gathering and studying reference is critical” to the immersion process.
“I would argue that the power to immerse the player, to absorb his attention completely, is the common attribute of the greatest and most successful games,” wrote Gard. “Gathering and studying reference is critical to creating immersion for the player.
“It is something that the entire team should do, not just the artists.
“When we are creating worlds in games, immersion is only possible for the player if we can convince the players that the space is authentic whether stylized or not. If the critical features on screen don’t match up with the critical features of the player’s schemata [the perception of stimuli - ed.], then he or she will not be fooled by it.
“So as game makers we must have really precise schemata to convince the widest selection of players.
“American dumpsters sitting in the back streets of Paris or French road signs on the streets of Chicago might seem acceptable to the developers because they do not mismatch with their very simple schemata of those distant locations, but these contextually inappropriate placements will be laughably inaccurate to people really familiar with those places.
“Given that games are released worldwide, it is difficult to overestimate the damage to audience immersion and perception done by poorly researched levels for a large percentage of your audience. Remember, it’s your worldwide reputation on the line”.
Gard goes on to provide examples of how to design levels using his idea of immersion, and also how to design from life.
He also chats a bit about the “arbitrary spaces” trap that designers can fall prey to, how to start development from “an architecturally sound floor plan”, and why you should always make sure you “define the back story through design”.
It’s a rather good read, especially if you are interesting in delving into the mind of the man who created Lara Croft.