How Much Realism Is Needed?

Modern games provide tons of realism. If you think for example physics: while not perfect in games, you can still experience good-enough physics and think that “this is realistic”. Sure, they might miss a neutron or two when it comes to physics in games, but gameplaywise that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that it’s realistic enough.

NHL ’11 – which I mentioned earlier – promotes how they have redone the game by adding a totally new physics system. I’ve tested the demo and can say that doing a successful hip tackle is most rewarding with the new physics system. Sure… players don’t get tackled realistically (they stop weirdly and then go bit oddly)… but it’s done well – and it’s fun.

Meaning, it’s more than better for the gameplay.

In my zombie game Dead Wake the zombies could punch away barrels and stuff. I don’t know how realistic it was (well, in real life it’s bit tricky to figure out how strong some walking undead dudes would be) but I think I got the barrel throwing just right so that it looked realistic from certain camera perspective. And that – what I believe – is what really matters.

In fact, when players think something is realistic, then game developers have done a good job.

What you think. Which games have succeeded in being realistic? Which ones have failed miserable?

Have you created games which are very realistic or feel like such? What made you decided on doing such projects?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. “When games become “more realistic” they seem to lose that escapism that makes them such great fun in the first place.”

    Sort of reminds me about robots. I read (some) article in (some) magazine where (some) researchers had reach the conclusion on what the robots needed to look like.

    1) if robot was humanoid shape, but has non-human appearance (for example metal or something that makes it clear that “this is not a human, this is a robot”), then it the robot was accepted by the test group.

    2) if on the other hand, robot was mimicking human also in appearance (now robot had human skin, human eyes, etc.) – when robot looked as much as human as possible – then it was rejected. Test group felt that there was something disturbing in the robot, and preferred robot type #1 (without human-like skin etc.)

    Maybe games need to be realistic… but not *too* realistic.

  2. Great topic. I am completely turned off by the realism in today’s games.

    For me, I like to play games that take me to a world or place that is beyond what can be had in the “real world”. When games become “more realistic” they seem to lose that escapism that makes them such great fun in the first place.

    I received Madden ’11 game with a PS3 I recently purchased and technically it’s an amazing achievement. But there is something about the ‘realness’ that turns me off. Give me the X’s and O’s and a track ball any day over that… Or at least Techmo Bowl :)

    Perhaps the ‘escapism’ part of gaming is what draws me more to sci-fi type themes. I do appreciate the “realism” a bit more when it’s not trying to imitate activities present in our day-day lives.

  3. “It’s all about making the player imagine the right dream in their head.”
    Well said.

  4. How much realism is needed?

    Enough to support suspension of disbelief for your chosen genre, but not so much that it drives you up the wall.

    Remember all games, even the “realistic” ones are fantasy. Flying a fighter plane or being in a firefight is nothing like sitting in your comfy chair while wiggling the mouse.

    It’s all about making the player imagine the right dream in their head.

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