Press "Enter" to skip to content

Why Metro Exodus is so Immersive | Game Maker’s Toolkit

2019 has already seen the release of four post apocalyptic open world games – but 4A’s Metro Exodus is by far the most immersive. So what does that phrase actually mean, and what design decisions help create that feeling?

Support Game Maker’s Toolkit on Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/GameMakersToolkit

Support GMTK when you buy Metro Exodus
https://store.epicgames.com/gmtoolkit/metro-exodus

Have Mark talk at your studio, university, or event – https://gamemakerstoolkit.tumblr.com
Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance)

Metro Exodus (4A Games, 2019)
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog, 2016)
Alien: Isolation (The Creative Assembly, 2014)
Lone Echo (Ready at Dawn, 2017)
Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017)
Tetris Effect (Monstars Inc. / Resonair, 2018)
Subnautica (Unknown Worlds Entertainment, 2018)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (GSC Game World, 2007)
Event[0] (Ocelot Society, 2016)
Far Cry 2 (Ubisoft Montreal, 2008)
Metro 2033 (4A Games, 2010)
Metro Last Light (4A Games, 2013)
Rage 2 (Avalanche Studios / id Software, 2019)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar Studios, 2018)
Days Gone (SIE Bend Studio, 2019)
The Long Dark (Hinterland Studio, 2014)
The Sims 4 (Maxis, 2014)
Far Cry New Dawn (Ubisoft Montreal, 2019)
Rain World (Videocult, 2017)
Firewatch (Campo Santo, 2016)

Music used in this episode

Let’s Start at the Beginning – Lee Rosevere (https://leerosevere.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-podcasts)
Metro Exodus soundtrack – Alexey Omelchuk

Other credits

Tetris Effect YIN & YANG STAGE – TRAP MUSIC LEVEL – PS4 PRO 1080p | PS4 & Stuff

Video transcription:

When people talk about Metro Exodus, they
often use the term “immersive”.But what do we actually mean when we use that
word?Because, this is a term that is not very well
defined.I’ve seen it used to describe games with
hyper realistic graphics. Survival horror games.VR titles. Immersive sims.And I’ve seen people call a game immersive
if it’s so captivating, you end up ignoringthe world around you.It’s just a super vague term, and it's more
often used as a marketing buzzword than serious gamedesign lingo.And yet, I totally get what people mean when
they say that Metro Exodus is immersive.Because this game achieves something I don’t
see very often in games – which is where Igenuinely feel a sense of existing in the
game’s world.In fact, i’ve only felt it a few times before,
in games like Subnautica, STALKER: Shadowof Chernobyl, Event[0], and Far Cry 2.And it’s not to the extent where I forget
that I’m sitting in front of a TV, and genuinelythink I’m wandering around Africa or post
apocalyptic Russia.I’m not a complete idiot.But it just sells me on the feeling of being
in a place – with much more effectivenessthan most other games.And in a year that is already jam-packed with
post-apocalyptic, open world shooters withcrafting systems and drivable vehicles – Metro
Exodus is the only one that really capturesthat feeling of being in a nuclear wasteland.And so, in this video, I want to bust apart
the buzzwords and look at some super specific,totally tangible design decisions that are
employed by developer 4A Games, to draw usinto the world of Metro Exodus.Now, for some background, the first two Metro
games – Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light, takeplace in the ruins of a Moscow that has been
ravaged by nuclear war.The surface is a deadly, irradiated hell-scape
that’s crawling with mutated creatures – butthe underground Metro tunnels are safe, warm,
and full of life.These games are primarily linear shooters.But Exodus is something quite different.In this one, hero Artyom and his pals decide
to leave the Metro behind, and travel acrosspost-war Russia to look for a safe place to
live, overground.They travel first on foot, and then later
by train.Along your journey, you’ll stop off at various
locations.Sometimes that’s for linear levels that
harken back to the original games.But at other-times you get dropped off in
miniature open world maps, like the icy banksof the Volga river, or a sparse sandy desert:
which is actually the dried out Caspian sea.And it’s in these tiny open worlds that
Metro Exodus is at its most immersive.So the first, and most obvious way that Metro
Exodus achieves immersion is the way the gamerarely takes you out of the in-game world.So your map is sellotaped to a leather binder,
and your quest marker is on a compass that’sstrapped to your wrist.And when you’re crafting something, you’ve
got to sling your backpack on the ground toget your materials out.Where other games would definitely make this
stuff into menu screens or HUD elements, Metromakes them physical and tangible parts of
the world, meaning the only time you disconnectfrom the world around you is when you pause
the game, or hit a rare loading screen.And there’s an interesting byproduct of
this decision – and thats how you are leftvulnerable when performing these actions.You don’t pause the game to craft things
in the safety of a menu screen, but you doit in real time, in the world.So if you quickly need to craft a medkit in
the middle of battle, you need to find a safeplace and hastily get your bag out and patch
together a box of Superdrug plasters.Of course, it’s possible to take this stuff
too far.A game like Red Dead Redemption 2 really focused
on tangible and physical interactions withthe world, with hyper detailed animations
and menus that made you look through an authenticcatalogue of cowboy hats.But, at times, it tipped the balance into
tedium, and it also very rarely led to actuallyinteresting gameplay consequences.But there’s more to Exodus’s grounded
design.Something we see in a lot of open world games
is upgrades.You grab currency as you play through the
game, and then open a menu to unlock new skills- from basic actions to superhero powers.Again, Exodus keeps things in the game world:
So the only upgrades you can make to yourcharacter are from things you can actually
find – whether that’s scopes and silencersthat you rip off discarded weapons, or handy
objects that you find on your travels.Metro Exodus actually feels like scavenging,while these other games are more akin to, well, shopping.Another key way that Metro Exodus achieves
immersion is by forcing you to be more awareof your surroundings and your status.It does this, in part, by asking you to constantly
fix stuff.So your gas mask needs its filter replaced
every few minutes.And any cracks and holes in the glass have
to be patched up.You’ve got a gas-powered rifle, and you
need to physically pump it by hand to keepusing it.Your guns have to be regularly cleaned, or
else they’ll jam in the heat of battle.Your electrical gear, like your headlamp and
night vision goggles, has to be charged byhand crank when the power runs low.And your health doesn’t regenerate, so you
need to patch yourself up with medkits.It’s this sort of regular personal maintenance
that means you must always be thinking aboutyour character and your needs.We generally see this sort of gameplay in
survival games, where you are constantly losingenergy and becoming more hungry – and by having
to always think where your next meal willcome from, you become more immersed in the
situation.I’d argue, however, that a lot of these
games do go too far.These meters bottom out so quickly that you
end up just fretting about running out ofenergy all the time.And now you’re no longer thinking about
the world as a real place, but a collectionof The Sims-style meters that always need
to be topped up.Exodus takes a much lighter touch: Artyom
never needs to eat a sandwich or go to the toilet, andthe only punishment for letting something
break is a momentary setback.But it’s enough of a concern to occupy some
space in your mind, and make you more awareof yourself.Same goes for the harsh resource scarcity.You are regularly running out of ammo in this
game, to the point where you count your bulletsbefore every engagement because you need to
be sure you have enough ammo to make it outalive.Maybe it’s better to just let the enemies
walk past.You can craft stuff, as I said, but there
are limitations here as well.This is not a game where you can sellotape
together a helicopter, after all.So, for one, Metro Exodus only has two crafting
resources: metal and chemical.And because everything comes from the same
source, you’re constantly having to makedecisions about where to spend your scrap.Do you make health packs? Or ammo? Or filters? Or grenades? You can’t have everything.And, also, Metro limits the things you can
craft based on your location.Because while you can piece together bullets
when you’re at a crafting workbench, theonly ammo you can make when out and about
is ball bearings for your pneumatic gun.So you have to think ahead about what you’ll
need to carry with you.The main way that Exodus makes you more aware
of your surroundings, is by not doing whatmost open world games do – which is filling
your map with icons and question marks andtiny points of interest.No. In Exodus, your map is empty (outside of your
mission marker) and it’s up to you to fillit up.You can do this by getting somewhere high,
pulling out your binoculars, and focusingthe lens on curious locations.When you actually reach that location, though, Exodus
is – again – very different to your usualopen world game.So, the third way that Exodus lures you into
its world, is by never giving you full informationabout what’s going on.You see, when you play something like Rage
2, it will tell you exactly what each areaon the map is as soon as you get within 100
metres.In this case, it’s a bandit camp.And so, just like the 20-or-so other bandit
camps in the world, you know that this locationhas a number of bad guys that you need to
kill.It even tells you what resources you can find
there, because who doesn’t like checklists?But Metro Exodus gains a great deal by not
telling you this information about its world.So, here, I came across a wrecked airplane
hangar.Outside, I found and killed a flying gargoyle
mutant.Then I went inside, and found a bunch of monsters
– only to suddenly hear a bunch of banditspull up outside and start shouting at me.I then fought them off, until one gave up
and surrended.I didn’t know exactly what was happening and I didn’t know what to expect.And I didn’t know if I would be rewarded
for my efforts.I just had to become fully immersed in the experience
at hand.Because when developers have systems in their
game, it’s really up to them how much theyreveal to the player.Games like Rage 2 and Far Cry New Dawn are
extremely open – but more immersive gamescan withhold that information, and keep you
from ever being able to predict what willhappen next.Like, when enemies surrender, you’re left
asking… what happens if you leave them?Will they sneak up behind your back? Or run away?What happens if you kill them? You just don’t know.Here’s another story.There was a time in the Caspian area where
I got ambushed by roving bandits in a truck,and was plunged into a frantic, dusty firefight.And then a short while later I slept in a
safe house, only to be woken up by enemiessurrounding me outside.I genuinely still have no idea whether these
were scripted events, or systemic momentsdriven by the AI.But it doesn’t matter because the effect
was the same: they were surprising, unpredictable,and anxiety-inducing moments.Compare that to something like a scavenger
in Far Cry New Dawn.They’ve got an icon over their head, and
a tool tip in the corner of the screen, andit’s immediately obvious that this is a
distinct, authored chunk of content that willbe repeated over and over again.It feels gamey and inauthentic.As always, there’s a balance to strike.some games end up being so withholding about
their systems that they are completely impenetrable.And players need a certain amount of information
and predicability to make effective plansand play with intentionality.So it’s not just about being completely
random – it’s about stopping players fromever finding the edges of the simulation.The final element, is player reactivity.I think the most believable and immersive
game worlds, are the ones that most effectivelyreact to your presence and decisions.Metro Exodus certainly has a bunch of this.You can holster your gun as you approach people,
and they’ll realise that – and some willappreciate it.And choosing to save characters, like slaves
and captured prisoners, can have consequenceslater on.In one section in the Volga I saved some people,
and got given a key.And then, later, I used that key to unlock
a door in some flooded train station to finda pair of night vision goggles.That felt amazing, and the goggles became
a powerful reminder of one of my wasteland stories.Exodus also has characters who ask you to
find stuff for them, like a guitar or a lostteddy bear.This doesn’t turn into a checklist in your
quest log, and there’s rarely a tangiblereward for your actions.But the way the game reacts to your kindness
with heartfelt character moments makes ittotally worth going out of your way.This all plays into the morality system, which
is one of the weaker elements of Metro Exodus.It’s one of those systems where it weighs
up your quote unquote good and bad actions,and then plays a good or bad ending cutscene
depending.And the bad ending will probably get canonically
binned by the next game in the series.And so there are games that do player reactivity
better than Metro, and I’ll come to themin the future.But it’s an important part of immersion,
and definitely worth talking about.So Metro Exodus shows four key ways to make
a game feel immersive.It keeps things grounded by having all of
your interactions be physical, tactile, andin-world.It asks you to be hyper aware of your existence
in the world, by asking you to maintain yourequipment, and scout ahead with your binoculars.It withholds information about the game’s
underlying systems, so feel like you neverquite know what will be around the next corner.And it reacts to you, by commenting on, rewarding,
and remembering your actions.The immersive thrills of Metro are about more
than just the realistic graphics, the crackingsound design, or the fact that you can play
with Russian voice acting turned on.ANNA: *Speaking Russian*And there’s more to it than the simple fact
that the game is first person, and the maincharacter doesn’t speak.Those are all important, but it’s these
design decisions that – together – mean MetroExodus feels like more than a game.It’s a harrowing, unknowable, uncharted
place that you travel to.Hey, thanks for watching!Remember that the GMTK Game Jam begins in
August – and full details will be coming next month.GMTK is paid for by fans who support the show
on Patreon.com, and I massively appreciateeveryone who supports the show – no matter
how much, or how long they give for!

Tags:

game design

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *