Is there an "Uncanny Valley" for game mechanics?

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stantongrouse

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We all have our own level of uncanny valley threshold for graphics, some point where our brains reject attempted realism created by graphics. I feel this is more of a problem with movies using CGI than games, in fact a game with weird uncanny valley moments can be quite entertaining, if maybe not for the reasons it set out to do. But I think I have hit my first example of it for my brain in a set of game mechanics.

It happened in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey which I thought I'd try after watching a bit of the quick look. I enjoyed the start of the game, but then I continually found myself floundering with trying to find the next 'discovery' to help evolve my little ape folk. I realise that the game was designed to try and encourage the poking around, trial and error with tools with minimal HUD assistance and uses other cues to try and make the experience more realistic. But this 'realism' just brought me completely out of the immersion the game was trying to establish. I will try not to use too many specifics, I'm sure people will still be wanting to try the game, and as discovery is a key part I don't want to ruin it for people. One example was very specific uses for tools that would have been much more flexible to use realistically. Another was using subtle sound cues as a method of timing things that with all the other ambient jungle sounds just left me holding my head next to a speaker trying to pick out the 'ping'. Or a frankly maddening hand passing system that makes this seemingly natural styled game suddenly feel like a getting someone to play N64 Goldeneye if they have only ever played CoD on a PS4.

I really wanted to like the game, and there is a lot about it I do like but the mechanics just make me feel removed. By being in a strange middle space between being a realistic simulation and 'gamey' (for want of a better word) it feels very off.

I don't play a massive amount of these sort of plonk you in a world and survive games, and the ones I have were sci-fi/fantasy so the logic of the real world doesn't always apply. Am I being odd? Is this game just a bit poop on the mechanics side of thing? Is this the game example of that Polar Express feeling? I don't know. I wondered if anyone else has had a similar feeling from this, or any other game, the breaking of immersion because it's in a really unfortunate middle ground between realistic sim and anything goes game mechanics.

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Brackstone

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This is a big problem I had with Red Dead 2. They put in so many mechanics to make it more realistic, hunting, fishing, cleaning your horse, feeding your horse, chopping firewood for the camp, random greetings for everyone, hat mechanics, everything.

But then the actual combat just doesn't feel real at all. It's an awkward place where I don't want to say enemies take too much damage cause technically it doesn't take much to kill them, but the game was also designed around some truly awful lock on combat that can't just be completely trivial, so enemies take more bullets than you'd think considering you're usually working with 6 or so bullets before a lengthy reload. Then factor in the shear number of enemies you fight at once (some of these gangs you fight feel like they could rival the US military at the time) and it just completely lacked any kind of punch or visceral impact.

It's stuck between realism and spaghetti westerns, it wants big dumb western movie shootouts, but doesn't want one hit kills (with the pistols and carbines at least). But then, it doesn't have enemies react to being shot 3 times properly. Sure it's realistic for people to survive some gunshot wounds, but the way people regularly get back up and sprint to cover after taking 3 revolver rounds to the chest is just bizarre. The enemy reactions are lacking. Nothing about it feels like I'm in an old west shootout, the gameplay absolutely takes me out of the world the entire rest of the game works so hard to build.

Also, unlike Red Dead 1, getting the controls to feel good without autoaim is near impossible.

The Call of Juarez games, for instance, are more immersive simply because it never feels like I'm being taken out of the experience. Even Red Dead 1 was much better in this regard, probably because the controls felt better.

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stantongrouse

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@brackstone: Ahhh, I wondered if RDR 2 might fall into this sort of thing from the end of year discussions. It seemed like it really broke the immersion for some of them, not so much for others. I have played the first one and there are elements of it there - the dang horses drove me mad. Interesting. Also, I should go back to one of the Call of Juarez games, they were fun.

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The_Nubster

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@brackstone: Out of curiosity, how does it feel compared to RDR1's lock-on-centric gunplay? I remember being blown away by the enemy reactions in that game, especially with how they'd tumble and clasp where they got shot and then try to shoot at you from the ground before bleeding out. It wasn't very satisfying and you mowed through a wildly unbelievable amount of people in the gunfights, but it felt theatrical, almost.

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fisk0

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#5 fisk0  Moderator

I haven't played either Ancestors or RDR2, nor really seen enough of them to speak for those, but I could definitely see this problem in how a lot of games handle physics, especially after Half-life 2 (but I guess you could also call Jurassic Park: Trespasser's physics problems a pretty classic 'uncanny valley' issue - items had different weights and stuff, but they didn't have friction, so they just slid unnaturally around the ground).

VR games also often seems to have problems with this, especially with how many of them are focused on the player interacting with the environments - then, suddenly items being stuck to their surface or just not behaving properly can really take you out of the experience.

Another non-physics example that comes to mind is how many shooters handle scopes on guns. For me (I've realized that most don't seem to have an issue with it), it's incredibly uncomfortable whenever you have a magnifying scope on a gun, but the entire world outside of the scope is also zoomed when you look through it, even though most games try to hide it with vignetting and depth of field effects, I just can't help but notice how weird it looks when the scope itself isn't doing the magnification, and it's come to the point where I actively avoid using any kind of attachments with magnification games that don't handle it properly.

I can't handle this.
I can't handle this.

This is how I need it to work.
This is how I need it to work.

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Brackstone

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#6  Edited By Brackstone

@the_nubster: I'm a weirdo that plays both games without lock on because I really don't like lock on shooting. The first game I remember feeling better if only because the controls were better. Without lock on it still felt like a pretty decent third person shooter. I played around with settings for hours in Red Dead 2 and never found something that made the game feel even a little acceptable without lock on. More importantly, the first one felt a little more spaghetti, big dumb firefights somehow felt more fitting, especially since the rest of the game wasn't this deep simulation. Theatrical is a good way to put it.

Red Dead 1, you shoot someone, something happens, they stumble, fall, something, usually they don't take more than a few bullets. Red Dead 2 has this moment burned in my mind where I shoot someone 3 times with a revolver, only by the third bullet do they react at all, they fall to the ground, and then I have to shoot them twice more as they're getting up to kill them off. That's 5 of the 6 bullets you get in a revolver before reloading, on one of the thirty enemies guarding a small shack in the woods.

I guess the biggest thing is that the game has 100% accurate lock on targeting as it's normal shooting, and then gives to the deadeye stuff on top of it and it just makes it feel like the gunplay, the biggest part of the gameplay, doesn't matter. It's like having perfect lock on targeting in Max Payne. In Red Dead 1 it was fine because it still played well without the lock on, but Red Dead 2 plays like ass without lock on.

EDIT: Like 30 seconds after posting this I saw that apparently a recent patch adjusted the free aim and it supposedly feels better, so that might be what finally gets me back to finish it.

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Efesell

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@fisk0: You know, I wouldn't have thought of the scope thing but now I'll never be able to ignore it again.

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fisk0

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#8 fisk0  Moderator

@efesell said:

@fisk0: You know, I wouldn't have thought of the scope thing but now I'll never be able to ignore it again.

After Battlezone '98 did it correctly 20 years ago, I haven't been able to handle games doing it differently. :(

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cikame

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@fisk0: Unfortunately that form of scope rendering is pretty resource intensive. Shout out to Red Orchestra for possibly being the first? Correct me if i'm wrong.

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fisk0

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#10 fisk0  Moderator

@cikame: Battlezone '98 and the Delta Force games did it in the late 90s (though Delta Force didn't try to render the scope on the gun, it just popped up an overlay with what you'd see in the scope, but that worked well enough for me.

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Onemanarmyy

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#11  Edited By Onemanarmyy

Apart from the resources necessarily to make the scope work properly, i bet there are also balancing reasons for making it zoom in the entire screen. Without that, you would need to have the scope on the target to see movement. When the whole screen gets zoomed in, you still see movement if your scope is not on the target. Drawback is that you can't see your immediate surroundings as well. I suspect that people generally feel it's friendlier to the player if they get to see what's happening around their scope so they can make adjustments for the kill.

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Casepb

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Like fisk0 said for VR games. There are some games that let you pick up every little thing and throw it with realistic physics. Then there are games that only let you pick up key items, and that just throws you out of the immersion so hard.

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fisk0

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#13 fisk0  Moderator

Apart from the resources necessarily to make the scope work properly, i bet there are also balancing reasons for making it zoom in the entire screen. Without that, you would need to have the scope on the target to see movement. When the whole screen gets zoomed in, you still see movement if your scope is not on the target. Drawback is that you can't see your immediate surroundings as well. I suspect that people generally feel it's friendlier to the player if they get to see what's happening around their scope so they can make adjustments for the kill.

Yeah, I understand that there are resource demands for essentially rendering the screen twice, but enough games have done it for the last 22 years that it certainly doesn't seem insurmountable. Balance reasons make some sense too, but it's a bummer for me if that's the case because I'm physically uncomfortable looking that the screen zoomed in that way, making me just opt for different weapons and playstyles entirely in games doing it, if I can play the game at all.

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stantongrouse

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@fisk0: the zoom the whole screen, not just the sight is a great example, one I'd not thought of. Also one I'll now fastidiously notice more now.

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TheRealTurk

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#15  Edited By TheRealTurk

For me, this is basically the entire motion control and VR category. I remember playing Twilight Princess on the Wii and being extremely off-put by how the sword controls worked. The tiniest of jiggles you need on the remote to swing your sword doesn't match the huge animation that takes place in game. I quickly found myself wanting to use simple button presses instead.

It's a big part of the reason I can't do VR. My mind can visually accept that I'm moving through a given space, but then there's not haptic feedback of any kind, which kind of wrecks the entire experience. For example, I can see a book I'm supposed to be interacting with, my mind tells me it's right there, but I can't physically flip through the pages and it causes the entire experience to be deeply uncomfortable.

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Pooch516

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@fisk0 said:
@onemanarmyy said:

Apart from the resources necessarily to make the scope work properly, i bet there are also balancing reasons for making it zoom in the entire screen. Without that, you would need to have the scope on the target to see movement. When the whole screen gets zoomed in, you still see movement if your scope is not on the target. Drawback is that you can't see your immediate surroundings as well. I suspect that people generally feel it's friendlier to the player if they get to see what's happening around their scope so they can make adjustments for the kill.

Yeah, I understand that there are resource demands for essentially rendering the screen twice, but enough games have done it for the last 22 years that it certainly doesn't seem insurmountable. Balance reasons make some sense too, but it's a bummer for me if that's the case because I'm physically uncomfortable looking that the screen zoomed in that way, making me just opt for different weapons and playstyles entirely in games doing it, if I can play the game at all.

I wonder how it would feel f they just moved the scope to take up the whole screen (maybe blur out or darken around the perimeter of the scope). I mean, they're trying to mimic what it would be like to close one eye and put the scope next to the open eye there, right? So it would make sense that you would ONLY see what's in the scope if you were aiming down it.

I think the Halo games kind of do that (but I think in-universe it's the armor's visor that's zooming in), so it makes sense that it would scope in like that. IIRC The sniper and battle rifles in that game have the scope zoomed even when not looking down it.

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MonkeyKing1969

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@fisk0: See for me I would rather have all the view from outside teh scope be grayed out, so no peripheral vision. Second I would make ist so that sniper rifles can ot do "no scope" shots. You can fire from the hip which will have the same "chance" of hitting from the hip as an assault rife, but if you scope in you have a 5% chance of hitting the broad side of a barn until you are FULLY in scope view.

Understand, it not like I get 'no scoped' all the time and rage about it...it is just that they whole concept is not realistic - uncanny valley. I understand that if the "in-scope" were a tiny patch of the scope and accuracy was worthless until you aimed it would make "sniper rifles" the least used weapons in any game - they will never do that. [Yet, it is a little funny how some people, are SO PROUD of their no-scope shots when it like admitting you need training wheels, a pillow strapped to your butt, and someone to hold your hand when you ride a tricycle.]

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soimadeanaccount

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#18  Edited By soimadeanaccount

Does stealth mechanic falls under this? Or are they always too gamey to begin with so they don't even make it down the valley? :p

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TobbRobb

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I think this issue is the primary reason why I personally find the strive for realism to be misguided. You can evoke the feeling you try to create with realism, by using less realism. We aren't as actuely aware of minor things being less realistic when it fits the image you want to see, but we are VERY MUCH aware of when something tries to be very realistic but fails. This stuff happens all the time.

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devise22

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Add me to the list who says Red Dead 2. Like, it would be one thing if it was just the shooting, because you could still be free to roleplay as realistic as so many of the games mechanics are clearly asking you to play. But the actual open world structure and format is just as jarring, at times. It's so easy to get swept up in the immersion of how sim that game wants you to play, and then bump up against various mechanical and just in general immersion breaking issues that make all that hard work making everything seem so realistic just crash and burn.

Generally that can happen from the random npc/world system, where it's open, but not really. It's not like you can go in every house or every single person you interact with actually is doing anything even as robust as Skyrim. Half the time they are just people to window dress greetings at you and the moment you attempt to explore so much of that world especially it's people and cities any deeper and it isn't a cutscene or story thing you may as well just bang your head on a wall. You won't find anything there that does anything but break immersion. Hell I couldn't even follow a guy home who beat me at Poker despite waiting ages. His pathing would just go to a bench, he'd sit there all day then play poker once or twice. Why would I ever, as a gunslinger in the wild west, want to chase down and wait on the guy who took my money in poker and y'know, do wild west shit?

That game just screams uncanny valley with it's mechanics. Very much a case of one half of the games design doc being 3 years in the future while so much of the rest of is 5 years in the past. Rubs against each other horribly imo.

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stantongrouse

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@soimadeanaccount: I think stealth is a good example of this. I'd much rather see a big cone on the enemy's face and watch a looping patrol than have to guess where they might be looking or just be randomly surprised when they just turn up behind me. After the popularity of the MGS games I remember a few games trying to sell themselves on realistic stealth systems but ended up with a mechanic that was an arse to play.

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stantongrouse

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@tobbrobb: My thoughts exactly. Give me a game ass game any day of the week. As you say, good, well implemented systems create a better realism or immersion than a fumbled attempt at realistic mechanics.

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notnert427

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@fisk0 said:

I can't handle this.
I can't handle this.
This is how I need it to work.
This is how I need it to work.

Neither of these are really accurate to what looking through a scope is like. Everything outside of the scope is basically irrelevant because short of an extreme monovision LASIK situation, you can't simultaneously focus one eye through the lens and have your other eye just focusing normally on another non-magnified distance like in the second photo. The bottom version is closer to the real thing, except everything outside the scope is way fuzzier because the eye not looking down the scope is still at the focus of the scoped eye except without the magnification, which simply doesn't work because it's the wrong focus for the non-magnified distance. This is why people generally close their non-scoped eye, because it really only serves as a distraction.

From a video game standpoint, I get why games allow you to have the ability to see shit outside the scoped area, but really, the scope should take up the entire screen.