Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

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sasquatchii
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Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#1 Post by sasquatchii » Mon Jun 19, 2017 12:16 am

I recently worked on a UI in which our aim was to make the UI as subtle and minimalistic as possible so that players could have a more immersive experience:

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By removing buttons, decoration, and stripping it down to the bare minimum, we also wanted to avoid reminding players that they were playing a game, and let the art and story shine while trying to compliment those two things with design.

This got me thinking about other things that game developers could do to suck players in to the worlds and stories that they are creating and telling.

I feel like i have more questions now that I've started thinking about immersion & how to truly get people to care about the characters and story in your game.

Here are a few things I have been wondering about:
How would you define immersion in video games?
What are other strategies VN devs can use to try to create an immersive experience for players?
Do you think immersion is important to have in visual novels & video games? Why or why not?
What is the most immersive game that you have ever played? Why?
Would it be more productive to stop worrying about creating an immersive game, and focus on creating the best story I can instead?
Last edited by sasquatchii on Mon Jun 19, 2017 9:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#2 Post by parttimestorier » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:02 am

Two of the visual novels that I found most immersive were Hate Plus and Mystic Messenger, for similar reasons. One of the challenges of trying to make a player feel immersed in a VN is that no matter what you do, this is still a story they're interacting with through clicking a UI on their computer or other device. Both of these VNs embrace that instead of trying to overcome it, by telling a story in which the protagonist themselves is interacting with characters on a screen too—in Hate Plus you're talking to AI on a spaceship, and in Mystic Messenger you're chatting with people on a phone app. This makes it way easier to really feel like the protagonist could be you. They also both by default play out in real time—Hate Plus locks you out of loading your save for twelve hours once you've finished a day's events, and Mystic Messenger sends you regular notifications of conversations going on, which you'll miss the chance to participate in if another conversation has started by the time you check the app. In both cases there are ways to get around those restrictions if you don't like them, but I personally found them really enjoyable. Mystic Messenger in particular really captured the feeling of making new online friends, in my opinion.

That being said, to answer some of your other questions, I don't think every game or story has to be that immersive—it really depends on what you're going for. A blank slate protagonist, for instance, won't always be effective. And I can still feel emotionally involved in stories whether I can easily pretend it's happening to me or not, as well as appreciate stories that don't elicit much of an emotional response at all.
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#3 Post by TellerFarsight » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:09 am

It kind of depends on what you mean by immersive, right? You want players to forget they're playing a game, and that would mean what, exactly? Is it meant to feel like real life? I agree with parttimestorier there on Hate Plus and Mystic Messenger (which I just picked up yesterday) because there the UI is real life I guess.

The best least video-game-y style I know for VNs is where it just looks like an anime: the only bit of UI is meant to mimic subtitles, with no character nameboxes either, just context clues/lip flapping.

What I think of as immersive is almost the complete opposite. The UI matches the style of the story so well that it adds to the atmosphere. A UI is meant to become invisible after a while, so I think you shouldn't be worrying too much about it distracting from the story. Even the most complicated and absurd interface becomes in itself part of the story if it matches. Take Persona 5 for an example; that UI was so stylized it was almost hard to look at, but it was so goddamn cool and matches the tone of the story, that after a while it became part of the immersive experience, and never felt like it was reminding you that it was a video game.

Again taking the Mystic Messenger route, Persona also had that realism baked into its UI, with menus always looking like your protagonist was pulling out a cellphone.

Some VNs have all these knick knacks and flowery textboxes, bells and whistles like in Danganronpa, and all that, but I don't think you should fear it hurting the immersion. You have to make it *part* of the immersion.

The thing that, above all, removes immersion for me is when I can see through the code to what the writers and designers were doing. This might be particular to people on this forum, so don't worry about it too much, but if I start trying to figure out what transforms were used and what the xpos is for the dialogue, *that's* the real immersion killer.

TL;DR
Don't worry about trying to simplify your UI to make it invisible. If it's good and matched to a good story, it will actually make the immersion better.
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#4 Post by SinaAzad » Mon Jun 19, 2017 2:23 am

Well , I guess it is all based on your aims ... who do you want to play your game ? those who prefer games over Visual Novels ? those who want both or those who prefer Visual Novels.
For example the UI of Littlewitch Romanesque , is not minimalist , yet it feels great to play it and even people which prefer games over VN would like how it is . at the same time we got Steins;Gate it is not like the other game but it still has some elements which lets you interact with people and items the UI i well balanced and makes it one of the best visual novels out there.
Yet again we have got Quartett! which is my favorite Visual novel , and It is totally focusing on the story ,which totally makes it look like a manga with a UI as simple as it can get !
and I can say there are 3 more important elements to focus on.

Story > Art(includes music)> UI and gameplay

what made Quartett! so much fun for me ? the story ! about musicians and how they struggle to live also nice romance , but at the same time the Art works by Oyari Ashito , damn it was great ... and at the end who wouldn't love the nice classical music played in background ? at the same time the UI was okay but really , I dont even remember the UI properly !
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#5 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Mon Jun 19, 2017 11:06 am

Making an 'invisible' interface is more trouble than it's worth, and everything that I've seen when someone attempts it in games is that it fails spectacularly or backfires. The creator and designer of the original Assassin's Creed wanted to do what you are attempting, and it just annoyed people. Because at the end of the day, players are still going to need to be able to save, to adjust their settings, to exit the game, to load saves, etc. Trying to create an invisible interface just makes all that stuff harder. It stresses players out, and can actually take them out of the immersive experience you are trying to create.
TellerFarsight wrote: What I think of as immersive is almost the complete opposite. The UI matches the style of the story so well that it adds to the atmosphere. A UI is meant to become invisible after a while, so I think you shouldn't be worrying too much about it distracting from the story. Even the most complicated and absurd interface becomes in itself part of the story if it matches. Take Persona 5 for an example; that UI was so stylized it was almost hard to look at, but it was so goddamn cool and matches the tone of the story, that after a while it became part of the immersive experience, and never felt like it was reminding you that it was a video game.
This - exactly. You want immersion? You don't make the interace disappear or be invisible - you make it an intergral part of the gameplay, with a style that compliments everything.
sasquatchii wrote: Would it be more productive to stop worrying about creating an immersive game, and focus on creating the best story I can instead?
Basically this. Your story and it's quality and pacing are what will ultimately immerse or not immerse players, not whether they can see a border around your text box.

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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#6 Post by ThisIsNoName » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:57 pm

I think one important thing to remember is that minimalism is a philosophy, not an aesthetic. Right now, you have all the standard elements a non-minimalist interface would have, but just de-emphasized them. That actually makes it less immersive because the player has to consciously look for information they expect to be obvious.

For example, the way you have it now, anytime a choice pops up, the reader needs to stop reading the text, move their eyes to the middle of the screen, read the highlighted choice, mouse over the other choices to read them, click a choice, and finally move their eyes to the bottom of the screen to resume reading. Now imagine doing that process every single time a choice pops up. It can be exhausting, especially if you aren't used to reading VNs.

This can work well in a non-minimalist VN because all of the visual elements are distinct from each other. In a minimalist VN, it can be hard to see where one visual element ends and the other begins.

One big thing I would suggest is moving your choices and text box as close to each other as possible, or simply have the choices replace the text box. This allows the player to smoothly transition from reading to making a choice and back again. If you want to give the choices context, you can always use a prompt like "Should I stay, or should I go?"

Another problem is that the text and the options menu compete for the same visual space. Moving the options to the opposite corner allows the player to assign the left corner to the primary gameplay like reading/making choices, and the right corner to secondary gameplay like skipping or saving/loading. If you want to make it even more streamlined, you can also group "Save/Load" together, and "Skip/Auto" together.

Essentially, the goal is to have the reader make as few eye/mouse movements as possible, and when they do, they should be as intentional as possible.

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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#7 Post by sasquatchii » Mon Jun 19, 2017 2:08 pm

parttimestorier wrote:One of the challenges of trying to make a player feel immersed in a VN is that no matter what you do, this is still a story they're interacting with through clicking a UI on their computer or other device. Both of these VNs embrace that instead of trying to overcome it, by telling a story in which the protagonist themselves is interacting with characters on a screen too
That is a really great point! I have played Analogue: A Hate Story and Digital: A Love Story and felt like those games were both very immersive for the same reasons as well. I have not heard of Hate Plus or Mystic Messenger, but I think I will probably purchase and try them out! They both look and sound like a lot of fun :)
TellerFarsight wrote:Some VNs have all these knick knacks and flowery textboxes, bells and whistles like in Danganronpa, and all that, but I don't think you should fear it hurting the immersion. You have to make it *part* of the immersion.
I think you're right. I have seen a lot of badly designed UI where the design did not compliment the rest of the game, and I think that makes me want to avoid going in that direction usually when I design UI for games. But I think the P5 UI design is awesome - my brother was watching me play and chuckled when I brought up the save menu (the one in which the main character leaps into frame and brings up the whole menu in one fell swoop). He said "Wow, it's kind of like you're a super hero, huh?" - and I think that's part of what the creators were going for - they want the player to feel empowered.

But I think the way that they designed everything was also intentional and well thought out - a huge contrast when you look at UI that attempt to do the same thing but aren't as well crafted.
SinaAzad wrote:Well , I guess it is all based on your aims ... who do you want to play your game ?
Good point here. I would go even farther and also ask when you are creating games, what do you want to achieve with this game? how do you want to make players to feel?

I also LOVED the Little Witch Academia UI! That game had some extra special gameplay with the learning spells & rolling die minigames bit - but the UI made navigating through all of that intuitive and a pleasure.
LateWhiteRabbit wrote:Trying to create an invisible interface just makes all that stuff harder. It stresses players out, and can actually take them out of the immersive experience you are trying to create.

I think this rings true. In one of my games, I made the mistake of completely removing any sort of menu or interface within the game - it actually was invisible besides the text that told the story. You can bring up the entire menu by right clicking - and can scroll back to reread text by using your mouse wheel and players can do any of the other default Ren'Py functions by pressing the hotkeys. I did this because I assumed that the only people who were going to play my game would be people who were intimately familiar with Ren'Py & the way visual novels worked.

However, this was so not the case! A few people that played the game made Let's Play Videos of it, and I was horrified when I was watching a guy play and he was so confused by the interface, he wanted to turn the music volume down while keeping the voice acting volume up, but couldn't figure out how to bring up the menu :(

I will try hard not to make that mistake again.
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#8 Post by parttimestorier » Mon Jun 19, 2017 2:13 pm

That is a really great point! I have played Analogue: A Hate Story and Digital: A Love Story and felt like those games were both very immersive for the same reasons as well. I have not heard of Hate Plus or Mystic Messenger, but I think I will probably purchase and try them out! They both look and sound like a lot of fun
Oh you should definitely play Hate Plus if you liked Analogue and Digital! Hate Plus is the sequel to Analogue, and the only reason I didn't bring up Analogue as well in my post was that Hate Plus used the same strategies but went even further with them.
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#9 Post by Zelan » Mon Jun 19, 2017 6:47 pm

LateWhiteRabbit wrote:
sasquatchii wrote: Would it be more productive to stop worrying about creating an immersive game, and focus on creating the best story I can instead?
Basically this. Your story and it's quality and pacing are what will ultimately immerse or not immerse players, not whether they can see a border around your text box.
Taking this a little further: When I read a book, I know that I'm immersed when I'm not checking the page numbers. I tend to be something of a voracious reader, so it's not at all often that I'll start a book without finishing it. However, there are definitely some that I find myself enjoying less than others, and this is pretty clear to me when I start with, "What page am I on...? How many pages in the book... so 326 minus 237 is-"

You know it's bad when you put your book down to do math.

For VNs, the equivalent of checking page numbers would probably be when I take the time to put the game in windowed mode so I can check the time. Not too long ago I was playing a VN which fell into that slice-of-life trap where every scene just dragged on and on (I know that this can happen in any writing, but it's particularly noted in SoL VNs) and I was checking the time between every scene change. On the other hand, there have been plenty of times where I've been playing a VN for a while and then I look up and wonder, "Wait, when did it get dark in here?" That's when I know I've been immersed.

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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#10 Post by Kokoro Hane » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:23 pm

What makes a game more immersive I feel can be a bit subjective. For example, I really love voicework and feel whether it is full or partial can make all the difference (however, if the voicework happens to be, for lack of a better word, horrid--this could also make a novel not immersive). But ultimately, such as Zelan and LateWhiteRabbit have stated, it really comes down to how well written your story is. For me, I know I'm immersed when I forget that I'm reading and feel as if I'm watching an anime (or movie). One such VN that did this for me, and this was a Kinetic mind you (so no interaction), was called One Thousand Lies. This is the rare Kinetic I am actually playing over again, I loved it that much. I was laughing so hard, just the way everything was presented--the inner narrative (our faceless protagonist actually had a personality and I enjoyed every minute inside his head), the character interaction, etc etc.! It was just so much fun, I couldn't believe something without voicework could feel so animated!

But yeah, what immerses one may not immerse another. Even a well written story might not strike someone's fancy because it is simply not their thing.
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Re: Designing a more immersive experience for players ?

#11 Post by Zelan » Tue Jun 20, 2017 10:18 pm

Kokoro Hane wrote:What makes a game more immersive I feel can be a bit subjective. For example, I really love voicework and feel whether it is full or partial can make all the difference (however, if the voicework happens to be, for lack of a better word, horrid--this could also make a novel not immersive). But ultimately, such as Zelan and LateWhiteRabbit have stated, it really comes down to how well written your story is. For me, I know I'm immersed when I forget that I'm reading and feel as if I'm watching an anime (or movie). One such VN that did this for me, and this was a Kinetic mind you (so no interaction), was called One Thousand Lies. This is the rare Kinetic I am actually playing over again, I loved it that much. I was laughing so hard, just the way everything was presented--the inner narrative (our faceless protagonist actually had a personality and I enjoyed every minute inside his head), the character interaction, etc etc.! It was just so much fun, I couldn't believe something without voicework could feel so animated!

But yeah, what immerses one may not immerse another. Even a well written story might not strike someone's fancy because it is simply not their thing.
Definitely agree on the point about full vs. partial voice acting. Cute Demon Crashers! has partial voice acting, and while I think that the voice actors did a good job and I appreciate the effort that went into implementing it, I had to turn it off after too long. It was too jarring for me to have the characters read out only parts of their sentence, or say something different from what was written, or having to stop and listen to a vocal cue before reading the line, etc. Michaela Laws' games, on the other hand, pretty much always have full voice acting. Although I prefer reading to myself over being read to, her voice actors always do a good job and the game sounds better - and every line is read out completely. (With the exception of the protagonist, sometimes, which irks me, but that's a whole other can of worms.)

tl;dr It's really a personal opinion, but my thought is that voice acting should be all or nothing

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