"Realism" only possible in turn-based games?

Following on from the Neverwinter thread, I was thinking about what I like so much about the way Temple of Elemental Evil implemented virtually the whole of the D&D ruleset, with all its attempt at realism. But it’s turn-based. As an amateur of games, I’m wondering is there some kind of logical impasse between having games be real-time controlled and modelling realism? Is realism only possible with turn-based games where everything is statistical and there’s no option for real-time twitch abilities to be game-changers?

Again, wrt to realism in general, why aren’t there more fantasy sims - e.g. where all the rules are real-life rules, only time- and space-compressed? (And with magic and dragons of course :) ) Is it because a) people generally prefer real-time control, and b) if you have real-time control too much realism is a barrier to real-time game enjoyment?

Turn-based may offer meta-game opportunities (eg, considering your moves, etc) , but so many compromises need to be made in order to represent a finite amount of time as a discrete instance that I don’t see how the realism card can ever be played in this field. Turn-based and real-time each have to make compromises, but all other things being equal, ‘real-time’ seems more opportunity to be ‘realistic’ to me as it doesn’t have to fundamentally alter the passage of time. Caveat: I actually dislike most RTS-type games.

Real-time is more realistic per se, but the incredible control that turn-based systems allow makes for more realistic outcomes overall. Maybe. Personally, realism is pretty much at the bottom of the list of features I need.

Realism and the D&D ruleset in the same sentence! Bwahahahahaha. Anyway…

As someone who prefers turn-based games, I have to say you’re missing an important point - real time execution is an important part of realism. Life is not chopped up into nice turn-length segments of time. Concepts like Action Points are intended to help model the fine-grain time cost of actions, but they still give you highly artificial results. Sometimes that’s desirable, since the leapfrog tactics of the original XCom were largely an artifact of action points, they mostly disappeared when they tried a real-time model in Apocalypse. Arguably because they weren’t modeling the reason such tactics are effective in real life, having to do with the difficulties of aiming and attention focus when you’re running flat out to your next position.

Aside from issues like that, real time vs. turn based has virtually no impact on what else can be modeled. The most serious issue with a real time approach is that it’s very difficult to spread player attention across more than a few viewpoints with a real-time model, even if you allow unlimited pausing and orders while paused. Your eyes simply cannot be everywhere as your orders unfold. Turn-based games allow you to spread player attention across a great many viewpoints at relatively low cost. If multiple important events happen simultaneously, you can present then sequentially for the player.

So the question of real-time vs. turn-based isn’t about realism, it’s really about the scale of the game. Real-time is rarely a good choice for game with a large number of actors, unless a grand-strategic viewpoint works for the majority of the game, or you supply a lot of automation, or don’t really care what happens to the majority of the actors when they stand idle or do stupid things. It’s great if you have just a few, and often ideal for a single actor game, such as a FPS.

Flight simulators, tank simulators, heavy machinery simulatiors, car simulators all offer very realistic experiences and are real time - indeed many industries train staff on such software, where realism is paramount and trumps other features like graphical fidelity. But are these still games? I mean, this sure is, but what about these?

Can you put some further context around your query? Do you mean particular genres or styles of games?

The 3.5e D&D ruleset is one gigantic abstraction, compromised of smaller abstractions who live in an abstract village. These abstractions from abstraction village do things in particular sorts of ways, sometimes together, and in only the most abstract fashions.

The first rule of game design and realism is: game design and realism have nothing to do with each other.

Even the most old-school D&D DM is not going to make you sit in front of a hot oven for three weeks of real time to craft your imaginary masterwork sword, even though that’s what’s supposedly going on. Instead the DM is going to say something like, “You get a room at the inn, and find a local blacksmith willing to rent you his forge. Over the next few weeks, using great care and plenty of elbow grease, you forge a blade of extraordinary precision.” Then he’ll charge you for the inn and the materials, do a couple of rolls to see whether the orcs that are on your trail have caught up with you, and bam, you’re done in less than five minutes (assuming the orcs did not in fact catch up with you.)

In other words, the DM tips his hat to the fiction of what’s going on, but completely abstracts away the most important part – the time. Whether or not a particular player cares whether the DM tips his hat to these various details of the fiction is then not really a question of realism–since by definition any RPG is always abstract–but a question of flavor.

Different folks prefer different flavor combinations, and there’s a lot that can be argued for different recipes pro or con. But realism doesn’t enter in.

(And of course every genre has its own unrealistic abstractions which its fans ignore while arguing about whether minor details are realistic. See, for example, shooter fans arguing about how different real-world weapons are held in games … while ignoring the fact that characters are constantly running around at speeds no human could possibly sustain.)

Yeah I did mention that time and space would have to be compressed (although I’m sure there would still be some die-hard folks who don’t want even that - e.g. 1-1 time mods in Skyrim - in fact one of the most thriving modding areas in all the Bethesda games have been “realism mods”), but with regard to the rules of the game, surely the fact that we already know the rules of the game of life is the main plus point about realism in a game? We already know the rules, we just want to be a bit better and a bit more heroic (with the possibility of becoming much, much better and much, much more heroic) than we are in real life.

I just wonder if this hard divorce between game design rules and realism rules isn’t just an artefact of the way lower tech in the past forced a higher degree of abstraction (thereby leading to a received wisdom that realism doesn’t cut it), and if there isn’t a non-negligible market out there for more sim-like games (thinking of fantasy and s-f rpgs mostly).

I mean, people are laughing at the thought of D&D and realism in the same breath, but the rules surely are the most realistic yet implemented (given the context)? They are very well thought-through to model all sorts of aspects of the world and how human beings interact, both in and out of combat.

No. Not even close. D&D is near the bottom of the pile when it comes to realism, it’s just popular. For example, there are plenty of rule sets that do away with the concept of hit points rising to stratospheric levels with experience, which is the most obvious weird thing about D&D. It’s common in CRPGs to use the inflating hit point model because the rising power curve is rather fun, but no one would mistake it for realistic, and there have been games which avoid it.

The other major weirdness of D&D is the rigid class system. Most games that are not trying to slavishly follow D&D have stepped away from that, usually to skill systems. The Fallout / Elder Scrolls games being a highly popular example.

D&D has models for a lot of things - in the context of a boardgame.

“realism” in the sense of encapsulating enough aspects to realise a complex world with it’s own time and space has been possible for a long time. The Arma games simulate a battle field through modelling various vehicles, environments and human motion as it relates to carrying and using firearms. Even the first Metal Gear Solid has a sense of realism in that the entire game is based within a single building complex. In the game, you don’t get teleported from an army base to an aircraft carrier, then to a neighbourhood in Paris within the span of ten minutes.
If you want a complex model of various activities check out Minecraft.

If anything, it’s possible to add much more complexity in a real-time 3d game than it is in a D&D rules pen and paper game. You won’t find it in games because most commercial games are theme park rides.

We already know the rules, we just want to be a bit better and a bit more heroic (with the possibility of becoming much, much better and much, much more heroic) than we are in real life

No, we don’t. We don’t want to spend six game time months in hospital after we get hit once with a sword.

that doesn’t sound like much fun. Would be cool if a hero’s story arc included a struggle to come back to form after a serious injury though. Frankly, I’m getting tired of the “amnesia” story line.

Of course not, as I said you want some compression of space and time, and (in a single player game at least) to be able to skip through “boring bits” if rl demands it. I just think there’s a lot more scope than is being explored, for realism. Given the amounts of arguments you get about it, the number of realism mods in games, the way people new to games expect realistic rules, etc., I just think it’s a bit of an untapped market really. I mean look at how much spoogeing went on about the degree of realism in Chris Roberts’ space game.

Some non-negligible amount of people want it, but I think it’s just not part of the habit of game-designers because of the older technology demanding more abstraction. But even if you go back to old games, they’re all attempting some degree of realism, some sort of simulacrum of real world rules.

And look at the drive towards photorealistic graphics and realtime physics - why would there be that demand if people didn’t want their games to have more and more realism?

I guess it’s just that there has to be a balance between realism and the gamey-game side of things. I just can’t help thinking that there’s more and more of an option to skew over to the realism side that designers aren’t taking, but might be surprisingly rewarded if they did.