What makes a great game? It’s more than just smooth visuals, a tight handle and more features than the player know what to do with. Says Tomb Raider creator Toby Gard, “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.”
When talking to Gamasutra, Gard discussed how critical it is for game designers to research the environments that their projects take place in. “When designers or artists rely on their standard schemata to judge their own creations, they are mistakenly assuming that others will judge their work using similar standards as they do,” he says. “This can be particularly egregious when people from one country try to reproduce locations from another.”
Relying on schemata means using simplified representations of reality to create what you think a location should look like instead of what it really looks like. This sort of error can lead to things like American dumpsters in a European alley or French street signs in the middle of Chicago. Thanks to worldwide releases, these careless mistakes only become more noticeable. “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,” says Gard. “Remember, it’s your worldwide reputation on the line.”
The topic of immersion is interesting because it has only seemed to become more of an issue in modern, more realistic games. I don’t think Miyamoto had to worry too much about how true-to-life the Mushroom Kingdom was in Super Mario Bros. Still, even in environments that are based in fantasy, it’s still really important to make sure the player believes that he or she is in a real world, even if it doesn’t exist in this universe. By that measure, immersion has been important since videogames have been around.