PC Gamer Roundtable on Immersive Sims


#1

PC Gamer has posted a conversation with Warren Spector, Harvey Smith, Steve Gaynor, and others about what makes an “immersive sim.”

It’s everything you’d want from such a discussion with the people who’ve kept this kind of gameplay alive. In particular, I enjoyed the stories that Warren and the others told of their epiphanies at seeing the surprising system-interactions that make immersive sims so much fun. The stories had the feel of Zen kōans – I kept expecting someone to say, “And at that moment he was enlightened.”

I’m putting this note in the System Shock section partly because the original System Shock came up several times in the conversation, and because Warren let slip some extremely tiny tidbits of knowledge about System Shock 3. But I also wanted to close by quoting Steve Gaynor (Gone Home) and Warren on what System Shock, with its original design, has to offer gamers today:

[b]Steve Gaynor:[/b] I replayed System Shock 1, and it was sort of a surprise to me to realize there is no skill tree. There is no economy. This is about a place, and you as a character with a role in it. It has enemies in it, different ways you can address problems, but there's so much that we think of as being part of what an immersive sim is that is really just the version of it that we've arrived at.

Warren Spector: In some sense, actually, System Shock is actually the purest expression of what an immersive sim can and should be. All the character stats, upgradeable this and economy that, all that stuff you were talking about, it kind of turns things into a hybrid RPG-immersive sim thing that I love, I absolutely adore that kind of game, but in a sense if you’re talking about the absolute purest form of the genre, for me it’s going to be System Shock.


#2

Too much talk, not enough actual results. There’s not been a good LGS-style Immersive sim since 2002.

It's everything you'd want from such a discussion with the people [b]who've kept this kind of gameplay alive[/b].

If I want exceptional game design, intelligent writing and storytelling, well executed player and simulation-driven systems and all that classic goodness I don’t go to modern “Immersive Sims”, so no. These people in particular have been throttling this kind of gameplay. Keeping it alive, sure, but only so they can throttle it some more it seems and it’s gasping for air.

Fallout: New Vegas was the only good Immersive Sim in years, and it’s not even by a team with traditional Immersive Sim ties. Disgraceful, really. But again, I don’t blame the devs. The classics never sold well and that’s on everyone.


#3

Watching this now. I think the test of an immersive sim should be how well it plays without its weapon. If an equal amount of time is invested into non-combat AI, and there are non-combat routes through the game, the game world appears more realistically rounded - rather than leaning back on antiquated & outmoded first-person shooter mechanics.


#4

Lol no. Few Immersive Sims offer consistent non-combatant options. Underworld 1 & 2 didn’t. Shock 1 & 2 didn’t. And that’s perfectly fine.


#5

That’s an opinion. Not an argument. If you believe gameplay moved forward between the time of System Shock and Deus Ex, then certainly you can see how the genre can take a leap once more, and transcend outdated shooter mechanics. They are a crutch. And reduce gameplay to time spent aiming at pixels. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link - in this case, overreliance on antiquated and outdated gameplay.


#6

Eh, so Immersive Sims are not allowed to be shooters now? Or they can be, but only if they also provide non-combatant options? Put down the pipe and actually play the games. Shock 1 in particular was shooter-centric and offering non-shooting options doesn’t suddenly make it better. You’re on a highly hostile space station. It’s kill or be killed.

What about melee combat, that also a outdated crutch? Stealth?


#7

You do know that not every game needs to be a shooter in order to be an immersive sim?


#8

Dude, we’re on what was initially exclusively the Underworld Ascendant forum. Not a shooter. You’re the one that is placing restrictions on the concept: that it HAS to offer non-combatant options and this is what should be used to measure its worth as an Immersive Sim. Pure baloney, and I’m calling it out as such.


#9

Non-combat? I am suggesting other ways through levels. Deus Ex had this in spades. In actuality, the shooter elements were what felt most flat in both DX and SS2. If the only way to interact with people is shooting them in the face, that’s not much of a simulation, is it?

Secondly, I advocate using the environment as a secondary measure against enemies. That means enabling the player to interact with it in more manners than a rail shooter would allow - using air ducts, stealth, hacking, etc. Anything which ghosts combat. If there’s only one way through levels - and that is hordes of enemies - then you’ve essentially made a shooter with simulation aspects, rather than a simulation with shooter aspects.

Also, I’ve also heard part of the reason SS2 didn’t include friendly NPCs was computational limitations of the day. I’d like to hear a mod’s opinion on that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLiZ82oP4CM

I think more variety in gameplay is a good idea. Shooting should be one system among many: not the main system, with all other systems performing secondary functions. Other systems could involve stealth, platforming, hacking doors, psi powers - any and all combat and noncombat approaches to obstacles that do not involve guns. What I am mainly suggesting is not eliminating guns, but relegating shooting to its place as one approach among a swiss army knife of different possibilities.

Then again, I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Edit: As an aside, I’d like to see the guns function as multitools also. Half-life’s Gravity Gun and Prey’s GLOO Gun are signature weapons. SS3 deserves one, also. Even the wrench might have more than one function.


#10

Dude…play the god damn game/s. there are no Immersive Sims that can be boiled down as such. Especially not Deus Ex.

Here, I’m doing you a favor: https://www.gog.com/game/deus_ex

One of the greatest games of all time.

Secondly, I advocate using the environment as a secondary measure against enemies. That means enabling the player to interact with it in more manners than a rail shooter would allow - using air ducts, stealth, hacking, etc. Anything which ghosts combat. If there's only one way through levels - and that is hordes of enemies - then you've essentially made a shooter with simulation aspects, rather than a simulation with shooter aspects.

That’s exactly what Shock is: predominantly a shooter with simulation elements. You can’t shout at the monsters. Trip them up with wire. Feed them with bait. Or anything a true simulation would provide. Still has relatively strong sim design but it’s still intended to be a simple-ish game. Immersive Sims are games first and foremost, and I’ve no idea how many have come to delude themselves to the fact. Sure they are sophisticated but beneath the illusory design they are games at their core. If they weren’t I wouldn’t be a fan.

Also, I've also heard part of the reason SS2 didn't include friendly NPCs was computational limitations of the day. I'd like to hear a mod's opinion on that: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLiZ82oP4CM]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLiZ82oP4CM[/url]

Mod as in moderator? None of those here really except the devs. Unless you mean modder, then I will merely recite the devs intentions: friendly NPCs were absolutely possible (see: Ultima Underworld), they were just excluded by design to strengthen the simulation/sense of immersion and isolation. Basically, if we can’t properly simulate NPCs don’t even bother trying (for Shock only) and the results should be effective. It’s not so much an issue of computational power but more the fact that true AI, or truly convincing life-like AI is incomprehensible to us and probably always will be, or if it is possible it’d take years upon years and billions of investment.
Ultimately, sim intentions or not, no interactive friendly NPCs was a very wise choice in the context of Shock for the sense of isolation alone.

I think more variety in gameplay is a good idea. Shooting should be one system among many: not the main system, with all other systems performing secondary functions. Other systems could involve stealth, platforming, hacking doors, psi powers - any and all combat and noncombat approaches to obstacles that do not involve guns. What I am mainly suggesting is not eliminating guns, but relegating shooting to its place as one approach among a swiss army knife of different possibilities.

That’s fine if that’s what you like, but it should in no way be a measurement of an Immersive Sim’s worth otherwise the original Immersive Sims that defined the concept to begin with are no longer top contenders, which would be stupid.

It’s probably the “Immersive Sim” naming conundrum causing confusion again. But they do very much deserve their own genre or sub-genre label. “Immersive Simulation Game” may help clear up confusion, despite the fact they are a part of this medium and not a tech giant that creates actual computer simulations independent from game design concepts.


#11

I’ve played System Shock 2. And you’re still not grasping my points - how far would I be able to get into the game without a weapon? If I remove all weapons from the game, are the simulation aspects of the game strong enough that I can take another route? And I compared Deus Ex purposely, because I realize you can damn near ghost the game. I want to see that type of utility, that type of versatility, in options. As compared to just shooting stuff in the face.

And dare I say, it should take it even a step further, by defining itself away from the shooter market - and giving an equal amount of consideration to non-combat AI as to combat AI.

Like I said, if the key to all progress is to shoot everything you meet in the face, then you are creating a shooter with simulation elements, rather than a simulation with shooter elements.


#12
Like I said, if the key to all progress is to shoot everything you meet in the face, then you are creating a shooter with simulation elements, rather than a simulation with shooter elements.

While even Shock 1 demands more than that to progress (solving of puzzles, navigation skills etc), it is the most face-shootery-heavy.

It IS a shooter with simulation elements more than it is a simulation with shooter elements. An Immersive Sim, despite the name, isn’t supposed to be the opposite. It’s supposed to be heavily defined by game design concepts…like balancing, a pre-written plot, constantly throwing challenges at the player, story and gameplay pacing, a focus on providing entertainment, game rules, game goals and more. A actual simulation has none of these intentions. The day these games become more simulation than game you can count me out. The classic '90s formula is what makes them the game design masterclass. Entertainment at its finest, to me.


#13
And I compared Deus Ex purposely, because I realize you can damn near ghost the game. I want to see that type of utility, that type of versatility, in options. As compared to just shooting stuff in the face.

You mentioned Deus Ex and proceeded with the assumption that its character interaction is minimal. You couldn’t be more wrong.

nd you're still not grasping my points - how far would I be able to get into the game without a weapon? If I remove all weapons from the game, are the simulation aspects of the game strong enough that I can take another route?

No, I get your points, I just don’t think they’re worth a damn. In both Shock and Underworld you’ll be able to take another route (if there is one available), yes, but you won’t last long and nor should you. They are highly hostile environments and combat-centric games by design, and it has little to do with the simulation. Always seeking to support non-combatant options in such an environment by design is actually a very gamey thing. It is a design rule.
Go attempt to sneak, hack or socialize through a Lion’s den where there is no concept of balancing and fair challenges applied. Let me know if there are any non-combatant options except GTFO.


#14

Jesus, what type of porcupine curled up in your cereal bowl? Does it hurt your feelings that I want more flexibility, not less? What about being a simulation means you cannot have goals outside of combat? This is, again, your opinion. Not an argument.

Secondly, all you’ve done so far is made a bunch of highly exaggerated strawmen arguments to discredit my ideas. I suspect this is because, spoiler alert: You want to shoot things in the face.

Not everyone of us want the same type of gameplay. Shooting feels very flat. I bet System Shock 2 could learn a lot from its older brother, Deus Ex, and still find ways to differentiate itself.

As far as non-combat AI, if you hate the idea of combat being only one small part of the mix, you must hate Warren Spector’s recent podcasts. He talks non-combat AI heavily. Maybe SS3 is not the game for you?


#15
Does it hurt your feelings that I want more flexibility, not less?

You’re missing the point. It’s nothing to do with what I want, or you want. It’s about you being wrong, saying silly things, and misinterpreting what the genre/game design philosophy actually entails and intends.

More flexibility is generally a good thing (not in all contexts, but still, it’s usually good), but there’s far, far more that defines an Immersive Sim than the potential existence of consistent non-combatant options, and it should in no way be used to measure the worth of an Immersive Sim, and nor should every Im Sim game consistently offer them. That’s not an opinion, it was defined by the very first set of the games.

And check the article, by the way: Spector even states “System Shock is probably the Immersive Sim in its purest form”.

I bet System Shock 2 could learn a lot from its older brother, Deus Ex, and still find ways to differentiate itself.

Younger brother.

And no, extensive non-combatant options don’t really fit Shock 2’s setting, plot and overarching design. Viable, always available stealth at most, and even that is pushing it.


#16

I agree with this. A player should be able to approach situations in enough ways to not become stale, and combat-only choices are able to achieve this. In most games this is done with a combination of other mechanics. In SS1, the Sensearound unit and Target Identifier are options.

Non-combat options are great too, but it’s really up to the developer’s philosophy. Both approaches make for great games, A combination allows for more options but it’s difficult to put so much detail in both and at the same time end up with a system that isn’t boring overall. Requires too much time and money. That’s why Deus Ex’s gameplay mostly relied on combat, and not non-combat. A choice was made, and non-combat options suffered from it. It’s still there, but wasn’t as prevalent.

I think this is related more to lack of restrictions than lack of options. You could use every weapon and hard-/software in SS1 from the get-go.


#17

Younger brother. And I think you and I are disagreeing on what an immersive sim entails, CyberP. Even if SS3 does lean back on the shooter mechanics, that is still the most vanilla element of the mix. It will have to differentiate itself from the hordes of shooters on the market in more than just variety, but in depth of the shooting & handling of weapons as well.


#18

I’m aware of the context in which it was stated (in relation to RPG Systems or lack thereof). Not entirely sure it invalidates my point though.

Even if SS3 does lean back on the shooter mechanics, that is still the most vanilla element of the mix. It will have to differentiate itself from the hordes of shooters on the market in more than just variety, but in depth of the shooting & handling of weapons as well.

I partially disagree with that because there’s a truckload of difference between something like Shock 2 and any other shooter or game on the market in general. Although many have ripped select ideas from the classics in recent years, i.e Dead Space, hence partial disagreement.
The general rule is if you want to notably succeed on the market, throttle the gameplay. Don’t make something like Shock 2 even more unique, intelligent, bar-raising and uncompromising, god heavens no.

Given that it is Spector I seriously doubt we will get a combat-centric game. Each of the old masters each had their own desires. Spector surely leaned most in favor of player agency and playstyle choice, to the point that even a third person camera perspective was considered for Deus Ex. Good thing that never became a thing.

I don’t mind either way: combat-centric or multi-style. All that matters to me is it can be boiled down to a utterly disappointing sellout Immersive Sim or a masterclass Immersive Sim. There hasn’t really been an in-between from the ex-LGS crew. Maybe.


#19

You and I agree on that. Shock stands alone. I’m wondering how much SS3 will lean on its predecessors, and how much DNA it will absorb from like-minded competitors like Bioshock. Given the autoassigned skill points in UA, it’s a crapshoot how much character customization we’ll see. I hope they retain at least an inventory in this game, unlike Bioshock. My main concern with these guys is not a concern at all, but I’ll say it - don’t water down the gameplay. Doubly so for the emergent elements.

I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but SS3 deserves a signature weapon like HL2s gravity gun, or Prey’s glue cannon. I’d be interested to see guns used as multitools for problem solving. Give me a Swiss army knife, then let me figure the rest out alone. I love options. Problems, not puzzles.


#20

I thought about my point a little bit here, and it is not the combat elements that bother me, it is that the shooting is very generic, and typical of any first-person shooter. It is like a shooter trapped within a sim. And it is the weakest link in gameplay, as it is typical of any other shooter. I would like Shock 3 to focus on diversifying its combat somewhat, so it’s not just a run-and-gun experience. Obviously, original weapons would help somewhat. Limited ammo is great, because you have to resort to melee, getting up close and personal with hybrids. EMP grenades that short technology (like those explosive servbots) would be a welcome addition. Also, more verticality in areas, and the ability to navigate the environment fully (climbing, jumping, wall-running). I hate to draw comparisons to Metroidvania games, but I think SuperBunnyhop has it right - there is more than one Metroidvania element to gameplay, and the only thing that felt flat about gameplay was the shooting. It just needs to take it up a notch, and innovate on the standard shooter elements enough to be distinctive.