Article re-posted from June 9, 2014
Of the many things people argue about regarding entertainment, one of the interesting ones for me revolves around a subconscious judgment regarding whether or not something is deemed ‘realistic’ or not when creating realistic/semi-realistic projects.
Even within game-world design/creation I’ve been in elaborate discussions with a variety of individuals regarding whether or not something was ‘right’, ranging from creature or mechanical designs to even environmental artwork.
One of the most common things you’ll hear as rebuttal from designers; ‘but this IS possible, it uses this-and-that engine chassis’ or ‘these types of mountains exist, you have them in Asia’, etc.
The reality is that it’s not necessarily as important whether or not something is really physically possible in order to be deemed ‘realistic’ by your target audience…
This might sound counter-intuitive, but the reality is that it’s not about what ‘is realistic according to the universe’ but what ‘looks realistic to your target audience’, and the more know-how your target-audience has, the tougher this gets. That said; there are many additional components to this problem, ranging from cultural, age-group, sex, interests, education and profession as know-how is extremely subjective.
For example, when I see this picture of an ocean, I vote ‘unrealistic as I can clearly see the texture-tiling’, while it’s a genuine ocean.
I expect to see this when confronted with an ocean:
You’re target audience could be wrong! :P
Now why does this matter? Isn’t this nitpicking? Yes and no… Depends on who you’re selling to: one of the most treasured elements of entertainment is immersion so even when in the end I’m wrong as a viewer/gamer, you lost my deep immersion.
Something that breaks the immersion of the viewer lessons the entertainment value, it’s like awakening from a sleep; if you are even able to fall back asleep at all, the quality of sleep is less.
The point here is that there isn’t ‘1 truth to rule them all’, as it is all relative; what breaks the immersion for one person can be perfectly fine for someone else even if you the creator are right!
So how do we solve this problem? It’s a tricky problem that can only be tackled subjectively for your target audience through careful analysis and frequent screening of your product.
When directing a product, make sure it maximizes immersion for your target audience, regardless of whether or not it’s completely accurate for others, unless that’s part of your pitch in the first place.
I hate it when movies pretend to be historically accurate (amplified (subconsciously) when stating ‘based on a true story’), yet toss out even basic accuracy in an attempt to enhance story-development and/or widen the potential market.
I’m not advocating making a ‘documentary’ as some cynics respond, but keep it at the level of what you are pitching: deliver what you promise… especially when creating a historic-piece aimed at amateur historic enthusiasts like me, get at least 80% of your stuff right.
Want your free hand at the protagonist and his/her entourage? To learn how that’s done, check out the TV-show ‘Vikings’, as its protagonist arguably never existed, yet the show is probably the most accurate representation of how Vikings lived and acted… at least to us amateur historic enthusiasts that is ;)
So how do I know what I’m promising? <- this question might seem silly, but all too often projects start out one way, and fail to meet up with the established expectations of the audience.
Why not start off with the promise it should make: ‘come and check out this epic masterpiece set in the Roman Era, see what life was like, see how a gladiator lived‘, or: ‘we’re going to blow up some stuff back in the Roman era, how cool would it be to just have fun with it’. Then follow that line and the rules you take from it
In order to try and improve this in recent years Hollywood has employed ‘advisers’ from the fields of science, military and engineering to ensure their movies remain ‘immersible’ as the general knowledge of people is increasing drastically, and so their ability to immerse is much more strict; who doesn’t complain these days when it seems as though an action-hero has unlimited ammunition?.
Of course the accuracy-level should be related to the product-pitch; no-one minds Arnold’s rampages, as it’s aiming for a different type of reality; one it creates itself.
There we subconsciously build up a new ‘reality’ and ‘immersion’ which might build on our judgement of how strong Arnold is relative to what happens to him.
For example we’ve just seen Arnold slice through 40 soldiers, imagine Arnold then getting knocked down in 1 blow by a guard who jumps out of a tree. This doesn’t fit with our new reality which we built around the logic we’ve been shown up until that point.
I had such a disconnect with Star War‘s Darth Vader after Episode 1, 2 and 3; all throughout my life and the early films, it was pitched that Darth Vader helped destroy the Jedi, and he was so strong and everyone was scared of him, yet he keeps getting his @#$ kicked by pretty much everyone…
In addition, the Emperor seemed to be so powerful in ‘Return of the Jedi‘ that he need not even use a light-saber (he mocks it!) or have fancy bouncy moves, he just lightning’s people down making a strong statement to Luke, same for Yoda. There was a hierarchy of power established: trainees and knights battled with swords, masters didn’t need them anymore.
Yet in Episode 1, 2 and 3 that myth is shattered and both him and Yoda bounce around the room flailing light-sabers around leaving our immersion and sense of ‘logic’ within that world shattered.
So even for ‘unrealistic entertainment’ rules apply; even though you are creating a new set of rules and logic, you need to be sensitive to how they are perceived/built up subconsciously in order to preserve an audience’s immersion and general belief of what he/she is shown.
This also accounts for games, as people have the tendency to create their own internal logic when playing; ‘o if the AK47 is stronger than the MP5, it must be stronger than the UMP too’; personally I had a problem with the vulnerability of tanks and helicopters in Battlefield 3 for that same reason. I understand the need to balance, but the second you need to provide an ‘explanation for questionable immersion’ you should know you could do better…
So even if you build out your new world-logic, keep in mind that your target audience will form logistical patterns wherever they go.
People are giant pattern-recognition machines; everything we process in life we form patterns and logic behind in order to enhance our understanding so we can ‘manipulate it’ to improve our chances of survival.
Entertainment is a true ‘mind trick’ for that part, understand that and work with it.
End of Monday-night rant ;)