Why Games are Terrible at Water

Why Games are Terrible at Water

Games are notoriously bad at water, relegating it to either a pretty texture or an annoying timed puzzle - how do we do better? What happens if we do better?

Read Full Article

I do think Hydrophobia was certainly a step in the right direction, but there's two big obstacles for such levels.

1) The kinds of things that would be on equal footing with the player would be floundering as much as them.

2) The kinds of things that would be native to the water would likely way outmaneuver the player easily.

In other words, underwater combat gets stuck between two extremes: either your opponents are easy pickings or you are...

All of this reminds of what Tomb Raider did way back when it first came to life. It allowed transition from a ground space to an underwater space seamlessly. Of course Lara had rather huge lungs back then (and now isn't even allowed to dip beneath the surface), and the whole gameplay was the whole "flying but slower" kind of simulation, but it always felt super stressful to know you'd have to dive underwater, maybe into a labyrinth of sort, or pull levers, or get sucked by some currrent. It gave going underwater this whole ominous feeling that one has in real life, and I miss it.

The Gentleman:
I do think Hydrophobia was certainly a step in the right direction, but there's two big obstacles for such levels.

1) The kinds of things that would be on equal footing with the player would be floundering as much as them.

2) The kinds of things that would be native to the water would likely way outmaneuver the player easily.

In other words, underwater combat gets stuck between two extremes: either your opponents are easy pickings or you are...

What about a game where you played as a sea animal, or at least someone much more at home in marine environments (I'm imagining something like a Zorah from Zelda) or using technology that would grant improved human maneuverability (some kind of fancy scuba suit with jet propulsion or something and a fancy harpoon of some kind.

Or to go the opposite way, survival horror game. You were a passenger on a ship and it sunk and got invaded by crazy deep sea monsters. The ship is slowly filling with water so you only have a limited time to get out before you run out of air. You have limited tools available that must be found around the ship, like flippers, goggles, flashlights, flares, glowsticks, and scuba gear and you have to navigate the infested ship hull to escape. If put in the right hands (Frictional games or the dev who made Outlast) I think that would be an extremely interesting, beautiful and deeply HORRIFYING experience. Use the fact that everything outclasses you as a reason why you need to avoid combat as much as possible, because chances are you'll lose.

Or you could create a game where you're a deep-sea explorer version of Thief. Raiding sunken ships for treasure while avoiding the dangerous predators who live there.

Sight Unseen:
What about a game where you played as a sea animal, or at least someone much more at home in marine environments (I'm imagining something like a Zorah from Zelda) or using technology that would grant improved human maneuverability (some kind of fancy scuba suit with jet propulsion or something and a fancy harpoon of some kind.

Doable, but I think it takes away from the desire to have accurate human interaction with the water.

Or to go the opposite way, survival horror game. You were a passenger on a ship and it sunk and got invaded by crazy deep sea monsters. The ship is slowly filling with water so you only have a limited time to get out before you run out of air. You have limited tools available that must be found around the ship, like flippers, goggles, flashlights, flares, glowsticks, and scuba gear and you have to navigate the infested ship hull to escape. If put in the right hands (Frictional games or the dev who made Outlast) I think that would be an extremely interesting, beautiful and deeply HORRIFYING experience. Use the fact that everything outclasses you as a reason why you need to avoid combat as much as possible, because chances are you'll lose.

Funny enough, I actually outlined a Metroidvania-style game with similar concepts a few years ago (never got around to finishing a design document). Instead of a cruise ship, it's a oil tanker repurposed as a massive top-of-the-line research vessel. Unlike every survival horror game, everybody follows proper procedures and there are no scheming humans. The creatures are deep-sea parasites that have a networked-intelligence (enabling a ramping up of intelligence and difficulty) and swarm, making them hard to kill. Ship is quarantined in open ocean, but the creatures eventually figure out how to activate the engines to reach the mainland. Protagonist is a member of a USAMRIID/WHO response team who are sent after the ship goes silent following an outbreak alarm, with a background of handling outbreaks in rural Africa (i.e. he knows how to jerryrig equipment). Team gets stranded after the parasites destroy their helicopter, killing most of the military personnel in the process and leaving them stranded without contact.

Or you could create a game where you're a deep-sea explorer version of Thief. Raiding sunken ships for treasure while avoiding the dangerous predators who live there.

That could work.

I just want games to stop killing me if I get in the water. Even people who can't swim don't die the second they touch the water (Red Dead Redemption).

Of course this has gotten a lot better in recent years. But it's baby steps. It wasn't that long ago that we didn't even have physics engines in above world games. What was it, a decade or so that they really got those kinds of systems working well enough to implement properly?

I think the water stuff will get there. Maybe no this gen, but eventually. I'll be looking forward to it. As someone who used tobacco for over 20 years, I'll never be able to scuba dive. Even though I've quit smoking at this point, I still find that I'm no longer a strong swimmer like I was in my youth. So it'd be nice to have a game that let me relive a small part of that. My teenage years were all about the pool, the lake, etc.

The Gentleman:

Sight Unseen:
What about a game where you played as a sea animal, or at least someone much more at home in marine environments (I'm imagining something like a Zorah from Zelda) or using technology that would grant improved human maneuverability (some kind of fancy scuba suit with jet propulsion or something and a fancy harpoon of some kind.

Doable, but I think it takes away from the desire to have accurate human interaction with the water.

Or to go the opposite way, survival horror game. You were a passenger on a ship and it sunk and got invaded by crazy deep sea monsters. The ship is slowly filling with water so you only have a limited time to get out before you run out of air. You have limited tools available that must be found around the ship, like flippers, goggles, flashlights, flares, glowsticks, and scuba gear and you have to navigate the infested ship hull to escape. If put in the right hands (Frictional games or the dev who made Outlast) I think that would be an extremely interesting, beautiful and deeply HORRIFYING experience. Use the fact that everything outclasses you as a reason why you need to avoid combat as much as possible, because chances are you'll lose.

Funny enough, I actually outlined a Metroidvania-style game with similar concepts a few years ago (never got around to finishing a design document). Instead of a cruise ship, it's a oil tanker repurposed as a massive top-of-the-line research vessel. Unlike every survival horror game, everybody follows proper procedures and there are no scheming humans. The creatures are deep-sea parasites that have a networked-intelligence (enabling a ramping up of intelligence and difficulty) and swarm, making them hard to kill. Ship is quarantined in open ocean, but the creatures eventually figure out how to activate the engines to reach the mainland. Protagonist is a member of a USAMRIID/WHO response team who are sent after the ship goes silent following an outbreak alarm, with a background of handling outbreaks in rural Africa (i.e. he knows how to jerryrig equipment). Team gets stranded after the parasites destroy their helicopter, killing most of the military personnel in the process and leaving them stranded without contact.

Or you could create a game where you're a deep-sea explorer version of Thief. Raiding sunken ships for treasure while avoiding the dangerous predators who live there.

That could work.

I wish I could create games on my own :P

I feel like I'm good at coming up with decent ideas for interesting games that aren't really being made currently without even really having to think too hard about them, but I don't have the time or technical background to prototype them to see if they'd actually work or would just be terribad.

In another life I feel like I could have gone into game development since I'm decent at what programming I've learned, but I'm trained now in chemical engineering and biotechnology :P

I know one game that handled it quite well. It's called "Sacrifice Girl". The premise is that you are a human sacrifice who was meant to be fodder for the demonic snakes. But you managed to escape your coffin, and have now have to navigate the underwater caves. Air is a valuable resource, and the enemies are threatening as ever. I have to say, it made me quite genuinely frightened and disturbed. One of the better "water games" despite it essentially being an "Annoying time puzzle" . Here's a play-through of it for all the people interested.

well here is the thing: better art over high res can be cost effective, but throwing budget into cpu intensive operations such as simulations and multiple things on one screen WILL cost a lot. If water isn't a big deal in my game, I don't really care if its nice looking or not, its usually just a visual show off anyways.

Sight Unseen:

The Gentleman:
I do think Hydrophobia was certainly a step in the right direction, but there's two big obstacles for such levels.

1) The kinds of things that would be on equal footing with the player would be floundering as much as them.

2) The kinds of things that would be native to the water would likely way outmaneuver the player easily.

In other words, underwater combat gets stuck between two extremes: either your opponents are easy pickings or you are...

What about a game where you played as a sea animal, or at least someone much more at home in marine environments (I'm imagining something like a Zorah from Zelda) or using technology that would grant improved human maneuverability (some kind of fancy scuba suit with jet propulsion or something and a fancy harpoon of some kind.

Or to go the opposite way, survival horror game. You were a passenger on a ship and it sunk and got invaded by crazy deep sea monsters. The ship is slowly filling with water so you only have a limited time to get out before you run out of air. You have limited tools available that must be found around the ship, like flippers, goggles, flashlights, flares, glowsticks, and scuba gear and you have to navigate the infested ship hull to escape. If put in the right hands (Frictional games or the dev who made Outlast) I think that would be an extremely interesting, beautiful and deeply HORRIFYING experience. Use the fact that everything outclasses you as a reason why you need to avoid combat as much as possible, because chances are you'll lose.

Or you could create a game where you're a deep-sea explorer version of Thief. Raiding sunken ships for treasure while avoiding the dangerous predators who live there.

Survival horror under the sea by the guys at Frictional >>> SOMA

Your wishes are already being answered. I don't know about all the gear, but the setting is there.

shiajun:

Sight Unseen:

The Gentleman:
I do think Hydrophobia was certainly a step in the right direction, but there's two big obstacles for such levels.

1) The kinds of things that would be on equal footing with the player would be floundering as much as them.

2) The kinds of things that would be native to the water would likely way outmaneuver the player easily.

In other words, underwater combat gets stuck between two extremes: either your opponents are easy pickings or you are...

What about a game where you played as a sea animal, or at least someone much more at home in marine environments (I'm imagining something like a Zorah from Zelda) or using technology that would grant improved human maneuverability (some kind of fancy scuba suit with jet propulsion or something and a fancy harpoon of some kind.

Or to go the opposite way, survival horror game. You were a passenger on a ship and it sunk and got invaded by crazy deep sea monsters. The ship is slowly filling with water so you only have a limited time to get out before you run out of air. You have limited tools available that must be found around the ship, like flippers, goggles, flashlights, flares, glowsticks, and scuba gear and you have to navigate the infested ship hull to escape. If put in the right hands (Frictional games or the dev who made Outlast) I think that would be an extremely interesting, beautiful and deeply HORRIFYING experience. Use the fact that everything outclasses you as a reason why you need to avoid combat as much as possible, because chances are you'll lose.

Or you could create a game where you're a deep-sea explorer version of Thief. Raiding sunken ships for treasure while avoiding the dangerous predators who live there.

Survival horror under the sea by the guys at Frictional >>> SOMA

Your wishes are already being answered. I don't know about all the gear, but the setting is there.

That's true isn't it... I haven't paid much attention to Soma and for some reason I was thinking it was a sci fi space game, but now that I think about it I remember that :P.

SCUBA instructor chiming in here.

Robert Rath:
They plunge down like Olympians, and don't seem naturally buoyant like real human bodies.

That's not universal actually. Some people sink, specifically very muscled, low fat people(which certainly fit a lot of game characters), as well as some young children.

Fat is buoyant, and we all have lungs that give us buoyancy, but bones and muscle are both negatively buoyant. Most people will float if they have air in their lungs and sink if they breathe out. However big bodybuilder types just straight up sink unless they propell themselves with those muscles.

There's also the little detail about how much heavy gear most game characters are lugging around. In many cases they should sink like anchors, especially if they're wearing metal armor... Elder Scrolls characters for example should be walking on the bottom rather than swimming, for the mostpart.

All this talk about water and fluid and NO mention of "Vessel"? it didn't go for super realistic effects, given the game was a steampunk-ish side scrolling puzzle platformer, but the entire mechanic of the game involved controlling fluids of various functions in your travels to figure out why your fluid based golems were going nuts. just because we won't see a game annnnyyyy time soon that has realistically functionable water, doesn't mean we can't make great games involving fluid and water in interesting ways. if you want a puzzle game with interesting fluid based mechanics that makes you think, give it a shot =) but its a lost cause hoping the "Next-Gen" bandwagon is going to turn out realistic water for a while.......systems still aren't powerful enough and programming still isn't advanced enough =/

I'm very forgiving with games and water, because not many attempt it. So when a games includes a water section/level I go a little easy on it, usually my mind turns off and I have fun. However, Resident Evil Revelations had this one really annoying thing. Water did not affect doors at all. It bothered me that Jill in either waist deep water, or fully submerged can go up to a door, and can swing a submerged door inward with very little effort, because it's just the same motion as without water, but water is supposed to bring resistance damn it.

I'm most looking foward to Subnautica in terms of underwater games. Abzu looks cool as well, but I won't be able to get it due to PS4 exclusive.

Accurate physics aren't really what I'm most concerned about though. The first priority should obviously be to make it a compelling experience. If the physics help that along then make them accurate, if they don't, well too bad.

In an underwater game I'm mostly interested in the idea of exploration, of discovering what lies in a realm where you can't normally thread as a human being and of course the dangers involved with that. So that's what I sort of want to see in a game.

Wave physics and all would be nice for a surfing simulator, but are kind of unneeded otherwise. Though I would still like to see some developer making them, I'm sure they'd find other uses for it besides water.

Robert Rath:

Games are notoriously bad at water, relegating it to either a pretty texture or an annoying timed puzzle - how do we do better? What happens if we do better?

Well, gee, let me think. You could just do what all those other video games did when they did water better-than-average. Half-Life, Wave Race, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Hydrophobia, etc.

Of course, it helps if you're actually writing GPU code and crafting an original experience and not just cranking out cutscenes and monetization strategies 24/7.

The problem has been SOLVED, therefore it is solvable. It just takes extra work and you have to actually hire a programmer based on coding ability instead of just throwing Fullsail graduates into the wood-chipper until you have a minimal shippable product.

Stop trying to give next-gen AAA devs a free pass. They're the ones pushing their alleged 'realism' as the be-all end-all of game design. If they can't even live up to standards set in the 90s, it's their own fault. Not the fault of consumers.

ChristopherT:
I'm very forgiving with games and water, because not many attempt it. So when a games includes a water section/level I go a little easy on it, usually my mind turns off and I have fun. However, Resident Evil Revelations had this one really annoying thing. Water did not affect doors at all. It bothered me that Jill in either waist deep water, or fully submerged can go up to a door, and can swing a submerged door inward with very little effort, because it's just the same motion as without water, but water is supposed to bring resistance damn it.

I don't the the specifics of the doors in RE, however, if there is equal pressure from water on both sides of the door, and it is completely submerged, the door will open just fine, if a little slower than in air.

It's when there is an imbalance in pressure, for instance only one side of the door being fully submerged, or the door only being part submerged, that there will be extreme resistance, or extreme force (depending which way the door opens and which side has more pressure against it).

The only game where I have seen fluid dynamics applied in a meaningful way was From Dust, which most people forgot as soon as it came out. It was a fun game with some cool tech, unfortunately the gameplay itself was kind of shallow. The entire point of the game was either an escort quest or a "keep NPC alive" quest, which led to me putting aside the main campaign quickly. The challenge mode however was fun as hell and had you utilizing the fluid mechanics of the game to the fullest extent, solving crazy challenges that I never thought I could actually beat. It was a fun game and I wich there were more like it.

Happiness Assassin:
From Dust stuff

Exactly the game I was thinking. And not only was the campaign shallow, it was suuuper short. I had more fun in doing the optional "spread vegetation" than I did escorting dumb NPC's. I feel like they cheated a bit though in their dynamic water and had it just a unique series of timers and what i'm going to call 'water bricks' in making them bigger.

Though position based water/fluids isn't too far off. NVidia did something like this last year(Though it required a dedicated GPU to run render/simulate it in real time) It's really actually quite interesting, it may not seem too amazing, but that's over a thousand little things being computed, well. The Source Engine(Hl2, TF2, CSS) would die trying to do that.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here