Realism: Should it be in games or left in the real world?

This weekend I had a quick session on 2 new games; Dead Rising 2 and FIFA 11. While playing these games, I noticed how powerful a design tool realism can be and that if this tool isn’t used properly it can just ruin the experience.

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My weekend involved zombies and football, unfortunately not mixed.

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Dead Rising 2 is a wholly unrealistic game. It’s about zombies for a start. However, limiting factors that would effect us if we were really in a zombie apocalypse are imposed on us, despite it being a fictional and ridiculous setting. The main factor I noticed, initially while playing Dead Rising (the original) was a limited inventory space. Once you level up, you can still carry a stupid amount of items, but there is still a limit in place. You would think that a game should not purposely limit people, especially for something so unimportant as your inventory. For Dead Rising, inventory management is part of the game. Many survival horror games have similar mechanics. If you can only carry a limited amount of items, what do you carry? Do you walk around with a host of devastating weapons or do you stock up on food (for health) or powerups? When you run around the mall and see a nice shiny toy, you have to make a decision. Games are all about decisions. Do you drop your sledgehammer because this weapon is more useful? Do you drop your last piece of food because this item is really rare?

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Dead Rising 2: A great mix of reality-based mechanics and nonsense

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Halo was the first FPS game I recall to include these sort of choices. Only being able to carry 2 primary weapons really changed the landscape. But now everyone’s doing it, and I’m not a fan. Halo was innovative when it introduced ‘realistic’ inventory for FPS games. It was cool and unique at the time. Nowadays I’m getting tired with this mechanic. Unlike Dead Rising, it doesn’t really add much to the gameplay experience. Yet it detracts. It’s always going to be better if you can have a whole ton of weapons (as long as they’re well designed and useful of course!), because then you have more ways to kill people. When you’re restricted to 2 weapons, you end up having the wrong weapons at the wrong time or wishing that you could use weapon A in conjunction with weapon B (but you need to keep weapon C just in case). I don’t like it and I don’t like that pretty much every action game is going in this direction. Switching between multiple weapons is a much more varied gameplay experience, and involves much more frequent choices and tactical considerations. I’ve had a concept in my head for a while about a game which I’ll post about in the future. The concept goes in a completely different direction to the ‘2 primary + melee + pistol’ model of most action games.

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FIFA 11: The beautiful game at its most beautiful... minus John Terry.

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FIFA 11 is a worthy successor to FIFA 10, which is by far the best football game ever made. FIFA used to be a bit of a joke about 3-4 years ago. Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) by Konami was what everyone played. FIFA was slow and boring, PES was fast arcade action. PES even had fake team and player names, yet it was easily the first choice for any discerning football fans. However, FIFA changed things up. They sped up the gameplay and now it just flows… oh so smoothly. FIFA is a beautiful game to watch and play, it feels and looks like a real game of football. Going back to PES now is laughable, PES feels like the slow and boring game now.

One thing that makes FIFA #1 for me are the skill moves. By using pace control and flicking the right thumbstick in various directions, your player will pull off a variety of skillful moves. They’re not just for show, which is a great achievement on EA Sports’ part. Body feints, stepovers, flip-flaps… they all confuse opponents and often result in a burst of pace to help you beat a man. The inputs can get tough, especially in the middle of a fast paced match, so using them at the right time and burning some sucker is immensely satisfying. Unfortunately, from my first 4-5 games it seems like EA have changed the responsiveness of skill moves… they just don’t seem to come out as quickly anymore. There are also fewer players that can pull them off, my beloved Arsenal (usually full of skill moves) have been gutted. Now that’s realistic, Theo Walcott has some skills but you’d never see him pull off a hocus pocus or something ludicrous like that. But damn it sucks! Skill moves are fun, just exaggerate a bit and let a few more players do them. It’s annoying having to play as a team like Barcelona just because you want to have a few opportunities to use skill moves. It is another example of bad realism.

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Developers, put that blue pill away

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These days I’m hoping there becomes a backlash against realism in gaming. One reason people play games is to escape real life, to immerse themselves in a world that blows their mind. Limits based on realism can be used effectively, especially in survival horror style games, but in a lot of cases it’s like being plugged into The Matrix… the world is much more fun when you can dodge bullets.

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Sam

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