Design Discussion: Realistic Fantasy

October 30th, 2016

Design Discussion: Realistic Fantasy

When it comes to designing a video game, it’s easy to think that a very wide brush can be used under the cry of creative license. But the reality of the situation varies greatly on the type of game that is being created. For a fantasy survival game like ToA: Exile, where player immersion is key to an engaging experience, we are choosing to use a very narrow brush.

Immersion is a tricky thing, we can plan for it in advance and discuss it among the team at meetings, only to find that the reality of the design doesn’t play out when it is finally programmed. This is what happened when we attempted to integrate human skill challenges. We were trying to do something different and original with skills, but it just didn’t feel right. So we changed it to something that felt natural, which was advancement through practice.

It comes down to finding a balance between the fantastical nature of an RPG and the realism necessary for the player to feel immersed. Whatever elements we add to the game reality need to make sense, we don’t want to have to rely on “magic” as an excuse for why something is the way it is in the universe of ToA: Exile (unless of course it really is magic, but even our magic system has a foundation in reality!)

It is fairly simple for the humans to feel immersive to us as players, because we all are familiar with how our bodies work and how reality works around us. We get hungry, so we eat and we aren’t hungry anymore. Fire is hot and it hurts to touch it. Chopping down a tree kills the tree. So on and so forth. But when it comes to the features that are based in fantasy instead of reality, we have to approach it as a puzzle to solve. This comes up most often when we are working with our dragons and raknar. Some of the basics carry over, such as hunger, thirst, and needing protection from the elements; these are all needs of every living creature. However, the features that make them unique require a great deal of thought.

For example, originally all bodies would sink to the bottom of a body of water when the character drowned. However this was changed for dragons because it didn’t make sense that they would have enough mass-to-surface-area to sink when they were supposed to be light enough to fly given their bulky shape. We take into account the laws of gravity for them as well, so that dragons require constant movement to maintain their flight and that slick or unstable conditions will prevent raknar from maintaining their grip on a vertical or inverted surface.

Our ultimate goal is to create a game that draws our players in and keeps them coming back for more, no matter how many times their character’s die in the process. By continuously seeking out the balance between fantasy and realism, I believe that we are accomplishing that in spades.

Share your thoughts over in our forums at