Dying Light 2 - Funeral

Great dynamic events in video games can enrich the player’s connection to a game’s world. From coin beggars in Assassin’s Creed to random road construction in Saints Row to the campfire encounters in Dying Light 2: Stay Human, these events can go a long way towards furthering the artifice of their game worlds as living and breathing places instead of digital facsimiles of the real world.

In case you’re not clear on what I’m talking about here: dynamic events are events that occur in a game world seemingly at random (although the randomness can be an illusion — the event might be scripted to occur at a specific time or place or moment in the game) that the player usually has a limited time to interact with once it’s prompted. These events usually lead to an interaction of some kind that typically wraps up fairly quickly, allowing the player to continue along their merry way. Although in some cases, callbacks or continuations of dynamic events later in the game are certainly possible and can help flesh some of these events out further while adding extra layers of verisimilitude on top of the artifice created by the original event.

For my money, Rockstar Games is the king of dynamic events, most notably in its Red Dead Redemption series. In Rockstar’s cowboy simulators, the player can encounter a whole list of these events, such as the roadside NPCs who ask you to save a friend from being hanged or to help a stranded civilian get back to the nearest town (unless it’s really a trap to try to steal your horse). You might even stumble upon an old prospector panning for gold along a river bed, who has a chance of either striking it rich (and opening themselves up for a quick theft by the player) or walking away empty-handed.

Red Dead Online

Now, you can argue that even NPCs with simple looping animations can break the sense of immersion just as easily, and that’s true — like when you see the kid playing soccer in Watch Dogs 2, only to see that, like every similar NPC before, he is just programmed on a loop that is designed to obfuscate the starting and ending points while appearing seamless and continuous.

For me, the difference between that kid and a roadside NPC in Red Dead Redemption 2 is that the latter feels unique, almost as if it weren’t designed to occur but rather manifested itself organically to buck the game’s original programming — like some sort of glitch in the Matrix. Okay, so maybe it’s not that grandiose, but I think you get my meaning. A dynamic event should feel… well, dynamic. It should make you think there is more randomness to the world than perhaps originally expected.

The problem, however, is when these events present themselves in a way that suggests having a lasting impact on the otherwise static game world, only to reveal themselves to just be window dressing in the most jarring, glaringly obvious ways.

I recently stumbled upon an example of this in Dying Light 2: Stay Human. One event in particular gave me a soaring feeling that perhaps there was more to this game than I had realized. But then, that event was quickly undone by the static nature of the game world around it only minutes later. It was an incredible feeling followed by a crushing blow.

While I was bumbling around outside of one of the game’s in-world enclaves, the Bazaar, I came across a funeral taking place, seemingly dynamically. There were a couple of citizen NPCs and a priest who was performing the burial ceremony, all gathered around a grave that was actually represented by a mound of dirt, with a milk crate tombstone and a few miscellaneous trinkets. The priest went on and on, doing his thing, while some of the revelers made sad comments or weeping sounds. It was pretty well done, and it felt completely unique and natural. Sure, the grave had apparently been dug right in the middle of a concrete street, with a manhole cover almost literally right next to it, breaking some of that initial immersion, but heck, a few points docked from the execution didn’t affect the overall score. This was a decent attempt at simple world-building.

The demerits came when, a few minutes later, I circled back and came across that burial site again (it was in close proximity to the main entrance to the Bazaar). The people and the grave assets had since been scrubbed, and in their place was just a barren street as it had originally been (and would forever continue to be).

I can’t say I was surprised, but it was definitely a letdown, especially after all that hubbub about how in Dying Light 2, the player’s choices were supposed to greatly affect the world around them. Seeing that this simple attempt at environmental storytelling had fallen flat completely undermines the idea that anything has a lasting impact in this world.

Why even bother to program such an event if all it does is reduce the impact of the event itself once it has run its course? It also leads me to wonder how difficult it would’ve been to have this event take place in an area of the map that was better suited to digging, as opposed to smack in the middle of a street.

Dying Light 2 - No More Funeral

I’m no game developer, but I have to imagine that what I’m asking for is a technological feat. But it seems to me that it would have been a better allocation of resources to simply not do it all, as cool as it is, if it means having a detrimental effect on the player’s immersion factor.

This event in particular stood out to me for the reasons already discussed above, but also because Dying Light 2’s world is painfully cut-and-paste. All of the rooftop resource areas seem to come in two or three variations but are ultimately the same, the only differences being how many beehives or specific flowers one will find. And at least in the first section of Villedor, every square inch roughly looks identical, aside from the occasional landmark like a hardware or department store, or the Olympic-sized pool complex. All of the textures and buildings look roughly the same to me. So to have a dynamic event that suggests a flavorful change to an otherwise bland and unimpressive landscape, while also giving the impression that maybe there will be more of these events that sculpt and change the world? That isn’t something a developer should tease and then take away.

Dying Light 2

Hopefully we’ll see less of these immersion-breaking dynamic events as time goes on and technology improves, replaced by events that actually enhance the game world. I would love for developers to focus less on trying to craft bleeding-edge visuals (no matter how nice a game’s lighting is, if the characters look like cartoons, does the world around them really need to look photorealistic?) and more on dynamic scripting that can change the landscape of a game’s world in lasting ways, even if only in small doses.

But until we get there, hopefully more of the folks making games realize that execution can make or break any element of a game, that not being able to stick the landing might mean it’s better to just skip it altogether or refine it until it works.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x