Development:Realism vs Believability

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There have been a number of discussions in the forum about the place of Realism in Vega Strike. This page has been added to summarize related topics and clear up some terms.

Much of the content of this article was inspired by a post by pincushionman (thanks go to him).

There are more topics in the forum about realism which have likely not been searched for. If you stumble over them please add them in the "See also" section for reference.

The Developers' Perspectives

The short version:

Realism is not now, nor does it seem likely to ever be a primary goal of the Vega Strike project. Immersion is a primary goal. Immersion requires consistency, coherence, and from those, the ability to accept one's surroundings as a sufficiently believable universe. FACT: Reality is the most consistent, coherent and believable universe we know of (no matter what your friends in altered states may tell you). Reality, therefore, even if there is no goal to simulate it in accurate and robust detail, is a vital resource for two reasons: 1) anything that can be left as it is tends to not require additional effort to make it consistent with the rest of the universe, and 2) we already naturally expect many consequences of reality - via hardwiring and experience, we're driven to expect certain things to operate in particular fashions, it requires some fair amount of re-training to attain comfort with any other possible causal relations, and comfort is vital to immersiveness.


Many people have confused the concept of realism with that of believability (or credibility). They are not the same thing. Those people who keep saying "I don't want realism because it isn't fun.", while making a striking generalization of dubious accuracy, do, oddly enough, actually have an accurate idea which term means what.


Realism is bringing real-world concepts and processes into the world being created (in this case the game world, but it could also refer to a movie environment or a book). There is one big reason why realism is difficult to pull off, especially in games. We are immersed in reality all the time, and we know what is realistic, because we see it every day. You can tell a bad magician or a poorly-photoshopped image immediately because it just doesn't look right. In games it's even more difficult because we're still short on computing power needed to properly simulate a realistic environment. However, there is, of course, one enormous upsides to a realism based approach, if done well - the universe is guaranteed to be self-consistent.


Believability is much more forgiving, and thus often allows for the construction of universes which are more fun to inhabit or visit. Concepts of realism can be incorporated into a believable environment, and often need to be, but only to the extent that they add to the immersion (most of us aren't up to spending too many hours in a shifting surrealist landscape - we're not biologically wired for it). Whenever reality intrudes on goals, plot, mechanism, or fancy, the particular stumbling blocks are ejected from the universe and new rules are written. This tends to make simulating a believable environment a much easier task, but at the expense of making the design of such an environment much more difficult to pull off properly - people tending to notice the places where new rules and reality have been stitched together, the gaps in the creator's reasoning, and other artifacts of the construction of the universe which have been insufficiently hidden or smoothed so as to not jar the observer.


If a person is shot in an action movie, the realistic result is he drops to the floor. But that's not fun to watch, so instead the bullet knocks them off into the water. To enhance the believability, that happens every time someone gets shot (consistency).

In space sims, we often need to get to a planet far away. Realism would say we need anywhere from decades to millenia, a fuel tank anywhere up to the size of the moon, and the cost could well bankrupt much of human civilization, but that's not any fun. So we make up a magic super-fast-and-efficient travel system, and use it all the time. And we make up fictional documentation to back up our absurd creation.


We still know it's not realistic, but we believe it anyway. Why? Because we want to, and, if the universe is well constructed, not only can we can believe it "exactly the same" every time (consistency) but the other causal consequences of this aberration will be plausible in context (coherence) - if one keeps having to add additional *magic* to explain a given necessary magical exception to reality, one might wish to reconsider the mechanics of the initial necessary magic. The real secret to making a believeable environment is to take advantage of just enough of what reality does give us to help our immersion, then make up stuff to keep people interested, and use that made-up stuff in a way that is consistent throughout the entire game experience, offer "believable" (again NOT realistic) explanations in case people DO question it, and use this made-up material in such a way that the people playing WANT TO BELEIVE IT.

It's called willing suspension of disbelief, people. That's the secret. NOT realism (at least per se).

End note

There's another big strike against excessive realism and games -- real life is (most of the time) boring! People play games to get away from the dull regions of reality, not to become more immersed in them. Games must therefore have a "higher density" of non-dull than reality.

See also