I’m a fan of the gritty, dirty, leans-towards-realistic art style when it comes to video games. If something looks like it’s coated in plastic, or is just too clean for it’s own good, I’ll probably pass on it. Initially at least. I like to be deeply immersed in my gaming experience, and the visual art style of a game can break that immediately for me. I don’t want to feel like an outsider pulling the strings of a muppet. I want to emulate and have it become an extension of my will. I like the sensation of having to be pulled out of the game when reality strikes.
It’s not that drastic, but those are the things that grabs my gaming itch and scratches it with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Real life is dirty. Adventuring, doubly so. Some people scoff at the thought of having realistic item decay. How many times do you think you can bash on armor with a sword before it loses all of it’s cutting power? There’s fantastical extensions made to the logic of that to make a game playable, but I still prefer items that break down over time and need to be repaired. Magic to increase the longevity of an item (i.e. enchanted items never go dull), is a poor cop-out.
There’s not a lot of good systems out there that embrace item decay. Bethesda tossed it out of Skyrim, although it had been present in the previous Elder Scrolls and Fallout, but apparently it was too much for the masses to comprehend. Minecraft (although not a gritty game) has item decay on pretty much everything and millions of people seem to be OK with it. When something breaks that can more or less readily create a new one. Strong materials last longer and are more effective. Crafting is your everything and the better stuff is harder to find. That’s value built into the system. Why do people spaz out when they find diamonds? Because it lasts nearly forever and chews through pretty much anything.
I also enjoy a bit of skill in my games that adds to the dirty feel. It’s one thing to lock onto a target and spam a few skill buttons with the limit to your test of skill being staying in range of your target. It’s another thing wholly where you’re aiming your shots, attempting to hit specific weak points, or nailing the timing perfectly to maximize an effect. When all I need to do is mash my keyboard because my target is guaranteed to be hit, my mind tends to wander. I’ve been know to tank in MMO’s while playing Angry Birds, because really, standing in place spamming taunt just isn’t that challenging. Hell, running around spamming AOE leaves me plenty of time to watch Hulu on the side. When focus and precision are brought into the mix, you become engaged on a whole other level. It ties into living out the character and being immersed in your role.
Am I talking about roleplaying? A bit. The problem is, I’m no fuzzy elf with a fancy dress and a french tickler. If I have to sit there and look at an invicible barbie doll that never takes a nick and cuts through enemies without a scratch on their blade, it ain’t right. Will there be blood? Not always, not early often enough, but if the enemy (and myself for that matter) at least looks like they’re getting their ass kicked, it’ll do. It’s hard to believe you’re sitting on the brink of death when your character appears to be fresh off the factory line. It breaks the barrier of believeablity and in my mind just looks sloppy and poorly done.
When I see an explosion, I expect some debris. When I see body taking a hit, I want some blood spray. At the end of a hearty battle, I expect to see my armor scratched to hell, a few new scars, and the entrails of my enemy preferably hanging off of my person somewhere. When I drive my machine gun-laden dunebuggy into a wall, I expect to see it crumple and twist before flinging my body through the windshield. Some would say I expect too much, but I’m only asking for things that are perfect common sense. Maybe it’s an additional animation here or there. Maybe they work a physics engine into the game. At the end of the day my character shouldn’t look and act like a cartoon. He should look and act like a big badass goddamn hero.