Friday, 16 August 2019
The same debate occurred long ago in movies and TV – although there it was “realism vs enjoyment”. Thankfully, the realists were beaten back into a tiny corner. Other than 12-hour Andy Warhol epics watching a flag flap on the side of the Empire State Building, visual narrative is free of realism. Arnie says, “Let’s go to Cairo,” and – alakazam! – there he is.
The guys at Pyro got it right when they talked about narrative games (like CRPGs) involving a contract with the player. It’s what happens all the time in movies when there’s a flashback. Sixty years ago, audiences needed a wash dissolve to believe it. Now you can play around with time using just an ordinary cut.
Why have realism at all? Well, take an example I used when designing my RTS Warrior Kings. Without any rules for supply in such a game, conquest works like infection. You can take a single worker behind enemy lines and build a massive base to attack from. That will lead to some pretty odd strategies if the game is set in the Trojan Wars.
But you don’t want real realism. Full-on true-to-life supply line rules can so easily lead to a player struggling against the game rather than against the other players. So you need to find a way that rewards the player if he does it right, but still allows him to ignore supply lines if he wants. One way to do that is to have injured characters automatically recover hit points if they’re in supply, for example, which is how I had it work in Warrior Kings. The player doesn't have to micromanage supplies, but they do get a bonus for not letting a force get cut off behind enemy lines.
Still, games aren’t movies. The whole point of a game is to give the player a hands-on experience. And sometimes that experience might be of inevitability. I played a wargame of the Cuban revolution. The government player couldn’t possibly win (Michael Corleone was right) but it was fun to see why they couldn't. Only games can do this. Which is why the debate will rage on. And there will always be a case to be made – even for shoe leather.