Level Design: Concept, Theory, Practice Part 3 – Immersion

The ability of human’s to suspend their disbelief and become immersed in a non real situation can be used within the arts to create an emotionally effecting piece. The audience, in their participation in the art piece, give permission to the artist to manipulate them,  in a benign way.

Audiences will better accept a games rules when they are immeresed in the world and belive what is going on. Players should want to belive in a game’s world, and want to spend time in it. This can be done in both a postiive and negitive way, by providing a beautiful environment or a nightmarish landscape.


The idea of flow comes from Mihaly Csikzentmihali’s studies on happiness. The state of flow is what Csikzentmihali calls optimal experiences. When in a flow state, 8 elements of enjoyment come into play. These are:
The activity is challenging and requires skill, it requires full concentration, it provides clear goals, the person is removed from the worries of everyday life, it provides a sence of control, the idea of being separate from the world is lost and time is transformed (hours feel like minutes ect.)

“Concentration is so intense that there is no attension left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness dissapears and the sense of time becomes distorted.” – from Flow: The Psycology of Optimal Experience.
Find a meditation similar quote on this.

Flow state supposedly comes from an optimal in between challenge and skill, however I’ve been in a flow state with games that have no challenge at all.

An immersed player is a happy player, and one who will be more receptive to what the game has to offer. The best way to engage a player at the start of a game is figure out what they want from the game, and provide that. This is why many games have you start the game overpowered, but then lose that power.

Temporal Grounding

A good way to anchor players into an experience is though use of temporal grounding. This is when an area appears natural because it possesses older architecture, wear and tear of natural foliage. References to the past or personal histories also make good temporal grounding. A good example of this is found in the original star wars trilogy – it is a “used future”, where the future has a past becuase props are smudged and preused. This is an important concept int vfx for film, as it helps integrate the CGI into the real film.

Game Logic

When crafting this immersion, the designer has to be aware that the game must follow logic and be consistent to keep player’s belief. This doesn’t have to be real world logic, as long as the game has its own internal logic. An example is the belief in magic and elves in Tolkien’s world, which would seem ridiculous in real life, just as Gandalf pulling out a handgun would seem ridiculous in Tolkien’s world.

Some of the easiest mistakes to make with game logic consistency are things like invisible walls, cheating AI and deus ex machina events. Personally, one thing I find is that you gun down loads of nameless baddies, but when a main character dies, its all drama. Death and Perma death are different.

Ambiance and Atmospherics

Immeriveness should be considered at the start when designing a level, and ambience and atmostphics are part of this. Ambience is a mood generator, that is linked heavily to an envrionment. The audio and visuals of rain are a good example of this. In a game, sound, lighting, particles, props and foliage can all be part of this.

To induce ambiance, lighting must come from believable sources and reflect the time of day and space.

“An easy way to add to the natural ambiance of an environments is by logical and consistent use of particle effects” The best use of particles goes beyond decoration and is used to suggests things about the environment, like in Bioshock. They can also cement the reality of props – a train that emits steam, smoke and sparks is more believable than one without.

Props can be used  for strategy, ambience, interactivity or symbolism. The player will feel something is off if there are no props – props exist to make a world seem populated, real, used. What someone keeps in their office for example, says a lot about them.

Including flora and fauna can add a naural feel that suggests a whole ecosystem at work. Adding elements that appear to not take notice of the player establishes the level as part of a real world, that the player is not the center of. Maybe this is why Proteus works so well.

Atmosphere is slightly different from ambiance. Though it is used for the same reason, it is often in addition to natural elements. Soundtrack style music is a very good example of this. Narration and cutscenes can also add atmosphere.

Atmospheric lighting is a very effective technique. It differs from ambient lighting, in that it seeks to provide drama or emotion rather than heighten the believeability of a scene. This is found a lot in theater.


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