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problems worth solving?

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  • Brandon Van Every
    I had a minor epiphany about my tendency to play way too much Freeciv or Wesnoth, and not enough time coding or making the next wonder game. Historically, I
    Message 1 of 13 , Jun 27, 2009
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      I had a minor epiphany about my tendency to play way too much Freeciv
      or Wesnoth, and not enough time coding or making the next "wonder
      game." Historically, I was always obsessive about optimizing stuff,
      like assembly code or 3d graphics performance. The reason I play
      these TBS games is I'm trying to optimize the movement of all the
      units on their spatial grids, to do maximally efficient military
      damage. The problem is, I have played so much Freeciv and Wesnoth
      that they are not problems worth solving anymore. Instead I play them
      as almost a ritual. Any given game has sufficient optimization
      challenge to make my brain feel better, but really, it's like junk
      food or empty calories compared to what I could be doing in
      computerdom.

      Anyone else run into this question of why they're bothering to do
      such-and-such? What the point is? Did you come up with an answer, a
      way to go forwards again? Does anyone want to suggest some
      outstanding problems in game design that are actually worth solving?

      I often have a dilemma between game design and gratuitous complexity.
      I can invent lots of arbitrarily complicated games, like say, a
      realistic hand-to-hand combat game. But in such a case, I am the one
      who invented the complexity. Why try to solve a gratuitously hard
      problem?


      Cheers,
      Brandon Van Every
    • Brandon Van Every
      ... So far I ve thought of 2: - the tedious grinding RPG level-up problem - the unit pushing problem, when too many units are produced ... What I mean by that
      Message 2 of 13 , Jun 28, 2009
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        On Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 3:36 PM, Brandon Van Every<bvanevery@...> wrote:
        > Does anyone want to suggest some
        > outstanding problems in game design that are actually worth solving?

        So far I've thought of 2:
        - the tedious grinding RPG level-up problem
        - the unit pushing problem, when too many units are produced

        > Why try to solve a gratuitously hard problem?

        What I mean by that is, I'd rather solve a problem that occurs over
        and over again in many games, than simply invent a hard problem and
        declare myself a "savior" for finding a solution for it. That's just
        a solution in search of a problem.


        Cheers,
        Brandon Van Every
      • Joel Davis
        I wish I could remember the source, but I recall an essay on game design somewhere that addressed this, noting that some games fail by trying to revolutionize
        Message 3 of 13 , Jun 28, 2009
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          I wish I could remember the source, but I recall an essay on game design somewhere that addressed this, noting that some games fail by trying to revolutionize too much at once. Even, in cases, when their solutions catch on later and become standard. This can be just as bad as simply cloning a existing game with no changes.

          Games that tend to do well are ones that are a solid implementation of an existing genre, with one specific and focused innovation to set it apart -- not a clone or a complete reinvention.

          And, tangentially, I don't know if I'd call grinding a "problem" or a "core mechanic". It's certainly not what I like about RPGs but that's pretty much why some people play -- it's a positive feedback loop. The "solution" for grinding is simply to make leveling up easier, which requires more content. Fable strikes a pretty good balance here, and it got criticised for being too short.

          joel




          ________________________________
          From: Brandon Van Every <bvanevery@...>
          To: gamedesign-l <gamedesign-l@yahoogroups.com>
          Sent: Sunday, June 28, 2009 10:30:16 AM
          Subject: [gamedesign-l] Re: problems worth solving?





          On Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 3:36 PM, Brandon Van Every<bvanevery@gmail. com> wrote:
          > Does anyone want to suggest some
          > outstanding problems in game design that are actually worth solving?

          So far I've thought of 2:
          - the tedious grinding RPG level-up problem
          - the unit pushing problem, when too many units are produced

          > Why try to solve a gratuitously hard problem?

          What I mean by that is, I'd rather solve a problem that occurs over
          and over again in many games, than simply invent a hard problem and
          declare myself a "savior" for finding a solution for it. That's just
          a solution in search of a problem.

          Cheers,
          Brandon Van Every



          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Rainer Deyke
          ... Oh, come on. Don t want grinding? Don t put it in your game. Don t want unit pushing? Don t put it in your game. It s that simple. There are plenty of
          Message 4 of 13 , Jun 28, 2009
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            Brandon Van Every wrote:
            > On Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 3:36 PM, Brandon Van Every<bvanevery@...> wrote:
            >> Does anyone want to suggest some
            >> outstanding problems in game design that are actually worth solving?
            >
            > So far I've thought of 2:
            > - the tedious grinding RPG level-up problem
            > - the unit pushing problem, when too many units are produced

            Oh, come on. Don't want grinding? Don't put it in your game. Don't
            want unit pushing? Don't put it in your game. It's that simple.

            There are plenty of examples of rpgs without grinding, and plenty of
            examples of TBS games with little or no unit pushing. These aren't just
            solved problems, they're complete non-problems.

            Grinding exists in so many RPGs because it provides value to a
            significant portion of the audience, not because the designer couldn't
            find a way to remove it. Same with unit pushing.


            --
            Rainer Deyke - rainerd@...
          • Brandon Van Every
            ... I know many people who consider it negative feedback. A big problem. Unlike many gamers, we end up concluding that World of Warcraft sucks. I think it
            Message 5 of 13 , Jun 28, 2009
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              On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 5:10 PM, Joel Davis<joeld42@...> wrote:
              >
              > And, tangentially, I don't know if I'd call grinding a "problem" or a "core
              > mechanic". It's certainly not what I like about RPGs but that's pretty much
              > why some people play -- it's a positive feedback loop.

              I know many people who consider it negative feedback. A big problem.
              Unlike many gamers, we end up concluding that World of Warcraft sucks.
              I think it must be possible to make a RPG that meets the needs of
              people with this world view.

              > The "solution" for
              > grinding is simply to make leveling up easier, which requires more content.

              But what is meant by "content?" WoW has more "content"... new
              monsters with new animations that are just another step up in the
              stats vector. The abstractly inclined player notices that they're
              going through exactly the same drill as the last N level monsters they
              fought.

              > Fable strikes a pretty good balance here, and it got criticised for being
              > too short.

              Haven't played it.


              Cheers,
              Brandon Van Every
            • Brandon Van Every
              ... Ok, name one? We might be arguing definitions. ... Because they have few units. Which limits what they can simulate. You may consider this an advantage,
              Message 6 of 13 , Jun 28, 2009
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                On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 10:38 PM, Rainer Deyke<rainerd@...> wrote:
                >
                > There are plenty of examples of rpgs without grinding,

                Ok, name one? We might be arguing definitions.

                > and plenty of
                > examples of TBS games with little or no unit pushing.

                Because they have few units. Which limits what they can simulate.
                You may consider this an advantage, but many gamers do not. They want
                MOAR!


                Cheers,
                Brandon Van Every
              • Brandon Van Every
                ... My current thoughts about the problem : - People stay engaged to a game, and reach a flow state, because they are performing a mental task. - It can be an
                Message 7 of 13 , Jun 29, 2009
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                  On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 11:16 PM, Brandon Van Every<bvanevery@...> wrote:
                  > On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 5:10 PM, Joel Davis<joeld42@...> wrote:
                  >>
                  >> And, tangentially, I don't know if I'd call grinding a "problem" or a "core
                  >> mechanic". It's certainly not what I like about RPGs but that's pretty much
                  >> why some people play -- it's a positive feedback loop.
                  >
                  > I know many people who consider it negative feedback.  A big problem.
                  > Unlike many gamers, we end up concluding that World of Warcraft sucks.
                  >  I think it must be possible to make a RPG that meets the needs of
                  > people with this world view.

                  My current thoughts about the "problem":

                  - People stay engaged to a game, and reach a flow state, because they
                  are performing a mental task.
                  - It can be an analytical task (cerebrum) or a hand-eye coordination
                  task (cerebellum).
                  - The task needs to either be amusing, or challenging yet solveable,
                  or some other compulsion to keep the player engaged.
                  - If the task is rote, some types of people will become bored, lose
                  engagement, and quit playing the game.
                  - People will also lose engagement if they are fatigued, i.e. if
                  they've had to do the task too long without a break.
                  - Some people will see a task as rote, if they've had to do it in the
                  same game over and over again.
                  - Some very experienced gamers, will see a task as rote, if they've
                  done exactly the same thing in *many other* games.

                  Therefore, the SOLUTION to the tedious RPG level-up "problem" is:

                  - the tasks must be engaging
                  - as the game progresses, the tasks must change
                  - to appeal to experienced gamers, most of the tasks must not occur in
                  most games

                  The latter point puts quite a burden of imagination upon the game
                  designer. I haven't got an armload of examples right now, but I'll
                  post some when I think of them.

                  First thing that occurred to me is, I've never set up a boulder
                  deadfall in a game before. There were boulder traps in Dungeon
                  Keeper, but I wasn't actually responsible for the engineering of the
                  trap itself. Just its placement. I think it would be engaging to
                  construct a complicated deadfall, just as I've found it engaging to
                  build a complicated bridge in Bridge It.
                  http://www.chroniclogic.com/index.htm?bridgeit.htm To be honest most
                  of my bridges were deadfalls. :-) The point, for me, is to build a
                  bridge that is stable until a car drives over it, then watch the
                  hapless driver plunge into the river.

                  It might be engaging to swing around a "rubber sword." That is, it
                  gets about 20 feet longer as force is maximally applied to it, and has
                  other odd behavior. It remains to be seen if this is terribly
                  different from wielding "a really big sword," which has been done a
                  lot.


                  Cheers,
                  Brandon Van Every
                • LingMac
                  I ve been thinking a lot about designing such a game lately (and I m an INTP, so I ll probably just forget about it before taking any actual action, but anyway
                  Message 8 of 13 , Jul 2, 2009
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                    I've been thinking a lot about designing such a game lately (and I'm
                    an INTP, so I'll probably just forget about it before taking any
                    actual action, but anyway :) ), but I reckon it would probably be
                    impossible to do the way I envision it. The basic idea is that you
                    control a single survivor in a procedurally generated city ravaged by
                    some cataclysmic incident, which happens to include dangerous life
                    forms prowling about. Civilization has been destroyed, so no help is
                    forthcoming. The interface would be similar to the original X-coms and
                    your immediate goal is to survive as long as possible. Long term goals
                    would be pretty open ended, and might include rallying the remaining
                    humans and establishing a safe haven, finding a mate and forming a
                    family unit, eradicating the menace altogether or simply finding out
                    what the hell happened (generations have gone by and no one really
                    knows).

                    * Emphasis would be placed on immersion, so you'd always only control
                    your own character, though of course you can influence others to an
                    extent. Depending on their personality, circumstances and their
                    opinion of you, they could betray and even kill you. The player is
                    never meant to feel completely safe (as that's boring).

                    * Two things tend to destroy the value of decision making in games
                    nowadays:

                    1 - You can always decide one way, see what the consequences are,
                    reload and decide the other way.

                    2 - Decision time menus! Do you
                    A - Go fight the acid spitting, 30-headed, ten story tall Hydra to
                    recover the little girl's doll or
                    B - Rape the little girl, devour her entrails and offer her heart at
                    Baal's altar to summon a cosmic evil unto the world?

                    I'm not sure about how to circumvent 1. Spelunky does that very well
                    by not allowing saving, but it's a short game.

                    2 is easier to work around. Silent Hill 2 did it brilliantly by doing
                    away with intruding, awkward menus that give away the player is being
                    evaluated on that one thing. Instead, it is silently (heh) and
                    unobtrusively watching everything you do; whether your fighting style
                    is reckless or conservative, if you are inquisitive about your
                    surroundings and what seems to attract your attention most, etc.

                    Similarly, in my idea the other characters are always forming and
                    shaping their opinion of you (and of other characters) based on
                    everything they see you doing or hear from other parties. Their
                    expectations vary in accordance with their personalities as well. The
                    player has no direct means (affection meter, how lame is that?) of
                    knowing what other characters think of them, but he can have an idea
                    based on what they do and say (and yet characters with sociopathic
                    tendencies can be excellent liars)

                    *I'd want to make it as simulationist as possible and here's where the
                    main problem lies. As the player walks about, he's meant to experience
                    a living world, where everything affects everything. He's meant to be
                    able to see subtle patterns, theorize, and use that knowledge to
                    enhance his chances of survival (for instance, he could survey the
                    fields around an enemy Hive, realize they're depleted of food and
                    accurately conclude the Hive must have migrated somewhere else or
                    starved to death).
                    It is, however, impossible to simulate a world with thousands of
                    living entities - each with a complex AI - going about their business.

                    Well, any thoughts, tangential or otherwise?
                  • Brandon Van Every
                    ... Gagh I hate that word! It never explains why so-called immersion occurs. Some people coo about graphics. Others coo about audio. They never explain why
                    Message 9 of 13 , Jul 2, 2009
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                      On Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 5:32 AM, LingMac<lingmac@...> wrote:
                      >
                      > * Emphasis would be placed on immersion,

                      Gagh I hate that word! It never explains why so-called immersion
                      occurs. Some people coo about graphics. Others coo about audio.
                      They never explain why these things are supposed to be immersive.
                      Step out your front door, it's 100% realistic. But is it exciting?
                      No, for most people it isn't.

                      I have come to prefer the term "engagement." And I have an
                      explanation for it: in a game we are given a mental task to perform.
                      Whether an analytical (cerebrum) task or a hand-eye coordination
                      (cerebellum) task. The game is "engaging" if the player is willing to
                      keep performing the mental task. It has little to do with the
                      graphics or audio, except insofar as they're part of the mental task.
                      Thus, Pong can be engaging, for people who are not tired of it yet.

                      Another thing I like about the term "engaging" is it lets me do away
                      with the "fun" requirement. Games don't have to be fun, they have to
                      be engaging. Amusement is only one form of engagement. Anger can be
                      strongly engaging. Or obsession... was I really having fun when
                      playing Civ games over and over again? Or was I obsessed about the
                      optimal movement of units and so forth? "Engagement" allows for a
                      broader spectrum of game drivers. Lots of things could work as long
                      as they don't get boring. Boredom is the opposite of engagement.

                      > so you'd always only control your own character,

                      Given my preference for "engagement" rather than "immersion," I see no
                      necessity in always controlling your own character, or always being in
                      1st person perspective. If you want the player to become deeply
                      wrapped up in the game, then you just need to provide content that
                      actually causes that to happen. The TV show "Lost" jumps around
                      between different character perspectives, and I think that could work
                      just fine for an adventure type game. One of the King's Quest games
                      did that, you shuffled back and forth between 2 main characters. It
                      was a bit disruptive at first, but the content for both characters was
                      equally amusing, so it worked.

                      > though of course you can influence others to an
                      > extent. Depending on their personality, circumstances and their
                      > opinion of you, they could betray and even kill you. The player is
                      > never meant to feel completely safe (as that's boring).

                      Continuous stress can be boring also though. There should be times
                      when the player does in fact feel safe. Just as movies have their
                      moments of relief before the gloom and doom begins again. I think one
                      of the keys to sustaining engagement, is the mental task has to be
                      varied.

                      > * Two things tend to destroy the value of decision making in games
                      > nowadays:
                      >
                      > 1 - You can always decide one way, see what the consequences are,
                      > reload and decide the other way.

                      This is not a disadvantage if it keeps the player engaged. I do it in
                      The Battle for Wesnoth all the time. Often I have to, because 3rd
                      party campaigns are unbalanced and my guys get killed for no good
                      reason. Also the amount of luck in the game is too large IMO, and
                      other people's opinion as well. Wesnoth is a hex wargame, so the
                      mental task is analyzing spatial relationships between units. Lotsa
                      spatial relationships to analyze, so quite possibly a lot of
                      backtracking. I wish Wesnoth saved games would load instantly, or
                      that the game had a continuous Undo feature, in the manner of some
                      Chess programs.

                      If I couldn't reload, then I would have quit many of those unbalanced
                      3rd party campaigns out of frustration. Gratuitous abuse is not
                      engaging! In fact, the more abusive the campaign, the harder I cheat,
                      because the campaign "deserves it." If I were quitting campaigns all
                      the time, it wouldn't be long before I quit playing Wesnoth entirely.
                      As it stands I'm still playing.

                      > 2 - Decision time menus! Do you
                      > A - Go fight the acid spitting, 30-headed, ten story tall Hydra to
                      > recover the little girl's doll or
                      > B - Rape the little girl, devour her entrails and offer her heart at
                      > Baal's altar to summon a cosmic evil unto the world?

                      I'm not sure what you're saying here. Are you saying that most people
                      won't choose B? I will certainly choose B, if I am in the mood to
                      play an evil villain. Not everyone feels they can act, or pretend.
                      Some people have a very strong sense of right and wrong and aren't
                      willing to "bend rules." It's part of their psychological archetype.
                      It isn't part of mine! This would be a case of "know thy audience."
                      Also in knowing what it means to be a "mature medium." It means you
                      can expresss things other than the socially obvious and safe. Go down
                      the video store aisle, how many horror flicks do you see? Some people
                      still kick up a storm that these are horrible, despicable films, but
                      they have long since lost that free speech battle. Meanwhile the game
                      industry is quite squeamish, timid and "immature" about the materials
                      it'll deal with.

                      > 2 is easier to work around. Silent Hill 2 did it brilliantly by doing
                      > away with intruding, awkward menus that give away the player is being
                      > evaluated on that one thing.

                      What's wrong with being evaluated on "one thing," or knowing that
                      you're being so evaluated? Seems to me, the problem is what happens
                      once you are evaluated. Is all the game content on the "goody two
                      shoes" branch and a simple you-have-lost message on the "evil despot"
                      branch? Well then as a game designer you have made your bed. Do we
                      present choices in order to fail the player, or to give her new
                      options to explore? Perhaps the choice isn't meant to be
                      all-or-nothing, but fits into a system of cumulative consequences. In
                      that case, is the accumulation of consequences analytically
                      interesting? Is it balanced? Is there really only one way to
                      successfully navigate the system, despite all the variables and
                      inputs?

                      > Instead, it is silently (heh) and
                      > unobtrusively watching everything you do; whether your fighting style
                      > is reckless or conservative, if you are inquisitive about your
                      > surroundings and what seems to attract your attention most, etc.

                      Can I tell that these things matter to the game? If a player doesn't
                      know why something is occurring, it will seem like a random intrusion
                      to him. Alfred Hitchcock said, "Shock is a bomb going off. Suspense
                      is a bomb ticking under the table."

                      > The
                      > player has no direct means (affection meter, how lame is that?) of
                      > knowing what other characters think of them, but he can have an idea
                      > based on what they do and say (and yet characters with sociopathic
                      > tendencies can be excellent liars)

                      Again note the difference between shock and suspense. If one of your
                      allies is shockingly unmasked as a lying sociopath, it should make
                      sense in hindsight. There should have been some clues along the way,
                      although they could have been extremely subtle. Part of the
                      engagement of the murder mystery genre is trying to figure out
                      whodunnit before being explicitly told.

                      > *I'd want to make it as simulationist as possible and here's where the
                      > main problem lies. As the player walks about, he's meant to experience
                      > a living world, where everything affects everything. He's meant to be
                      > able to see subtle patterns, theorize, and use that knowledge to
                      > enhance his chances of survival (for instance, he could survey the
                      > fields around an enemy Hive, realize they're depleted of food and
                      > accurately conclude the Hive must have migrated somewhere else or
                      > starved to death).
                      > It is, however, impossible to simulate a world with thousands of
                      > living entities - each with a complex AI - going about their business.

                      Simulation is not a good end goal for game design. You should
                      struggle to achieve Engagement. Simulation can be a tool for that,
                      but you have to remember: open-ended, unconstrained simulations
                      generate a lot of random, frustrating noise for players to navigate.
                      Too much frustration and engagement ceases. The player quits the
                      game.


                      Cheers,
                      Brandon Van Every
                    • Todd Zircher
                      ... If the source code for Dwarf Fortress is available, that might be a good starting point. -- TAZ
                      Message 10 of 13 , Jul 2, 2009
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                        --- In gamedesign-l@yahoogroups.com, LingMac <lingmac@...> wrote:
                        >
                        > I've been thinking a lot about designing such a game lately (and I'm
                        > an INTP, so I'll probably just forget about it before taking any
                        > actual action, but anyway :) ), but I reckon it would probably be
                        > impossible to do the way I envision it. The basic idea is that you
                        > control a single survivor in a procedurally generated city ravaged by
                        > some cataclysmic incident, which happens to include dangerous life
                        > forms prowling about.

                        If the source code for Dwarf Fortress is available, that might be a good starting point.
                        --
                        TAZ
                      • LingMac
                        ... Indeed. And it s seeing how that game tends to lag with just a hundred dorfs and small playing area that makes me think my idea isn t viable.
                        Message 11 of 13 , Jul 3, 2009
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                          Todd Zircher wrote:
                          > --- In gamedesign-l@yahoogroups.com, LingMac <lingmac@...> wrote:
                          >> I've been thinking a lot about designing such a game lately (and I'm
                          >> an INTP, so I'll probably just forget about it before taking any
                          >> actual action, but anyway :) ), but I reckon it would probably be
                          >> impossible to do the way I envision it. The basic idea is that you
                          >> control a single survivor in a procedurally generated city ravaged by
                          >> some cataclysmic incident, which happens to include dangerous life
                          >> forms prowling about.
                          >
                          > If the source code for Dwarf Fortress is available, that might be a good starting point.


                          Indeed. And it's seeing how that game tends to lag with just a hundred
                          "dorfs" and small playing area that makes me think my idea isn't viable.
                        • LingMac
                          ... Immersion as I understand it refers to a game s ability to make you feel you re really a character `immersed` in its fictional universe. Why being given
                          Message 12 of 13 , Jul 3, 2009
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                            Brandon Van Every wrote:
                            > On Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 5:32 AM, LingMac<lingmac@...> wrote:
                            >> * Emphasis would be placed on immersion,
                            >
                            > Gagh I hate that word! It never explains why so-called immersion
                            > occurs. Some people coo about graphics. Others coo about audio.
                            > They never explain why these things are supposed to be immersive.
                            > Step out your front door, it's 100% realistic. But is it exciting?
                            > No, for most people it isn't.


                            Immersion as I understand it refers to a game's ability to make you
                            feel you're really a character `immersed` in its fictional universe.
                            Why being given control of one and only character throughout helps
                            this is pretty obvious. Believable sounds and graphics also enhance
                            that. Night falls and you can hear the crickets singing, the eventual
                            wolf howling in the distance; you look above and see a believable
                            night sky, and as you approach home, "your" wife greets you with
                            convincing facial animation and dialogue. You're immersed.

                            Of course, by itself immersion CAN be pretty boring, but when we do
                            introduce that axe murderer twenty minutes into the plot, it'll
                            amplify the emotional effect on the player tenfold.

                            Suppose you wished to break immersion for whatever reason, what would
                            you do then? Implement an over the top combo system, complete with on
                            screen pop up words such as "5 HITS, WONDERFUL!", "10 HITS, BRUTAL!",
                            "15 HITS, GENOCIDAL!". If you want to go the extra mile, you can
                            actually add an obnoxious narrator to speak these aloud. :)

                            Idiosyncratic, gamist rules can also have that effect. When the game
                            allows "your" ten year old daughter to equip a Halberd twice her size,
                            you're suddenly reminded that "you're just playing a game". And that's
                            what ultimately kills it.


                            > I have come to prefer the term "engagement." And I have an
                            > explanation for it: in a game we are given a mental task to perform.
                            > Whether an analytical (cerebrum) task or a hand-eye coordination
                            > (cerebellum) task. The game is "engaging" if the player is willing to
                            > keep performing the mental task. It has little to do with the
                            > graphics or audio, except insofar as they're part of the mental task.
                            > Thus, Pong can be engaging, for people who are not tired of it yet.
                            >
                            > Another thing I like about the term "engaging" is it lets me do away
                            > with the "fun" requirement. Games don't have to be fun, they have to
                            > be engaging. Amusement is only one form of engagement. Anger can be
                            > strongly engaging. Or obsession... was I really having fun when
                            > playing Civ games over and over again? Or was I obsessed about the
                            > optimal movement of units and so forth? "Engagement" allows for a
                            > broader spectrum of game drivers. Lots of things could work as long
                            > as they don't get boring. Boredom is the opposite of engagement.


                            So, if a player is engaged, he's entertained, one way or another.
                            There are various ways to create that entertainment, one of which is
                            through immersion.


                            >> though of course you can influence others to an
                            >> extent. Depending on their personality, circumstances and their
                            >> opinion of you, they could betray and even kill you. The player is
                            >> never meant to feel completely safe (as that's boring).
                            >
                            > Continuous stress can be boring also though. There should be times
                            > when the player does in fact feel safe.

                            Well, if you've just stumbled upon a remote stronghold with plenty of
                            food, no bugs or humans other than your wife and kid in sight, you'll
                            be granted a reprieve... for now. :)


                            > Just as movies have their
                            > moments of relief before the gloom and doom begins again. I think one
                            > of the keys to sustaining engagement, is the mental task has to be
                            > varied.


                            Fighting bugs, fighting thugs, negotiating the hierarchical web of
                            your group (if you decided to stick with one), finding supplies and
                            defensible shelter, studying bug behavior, uncovering the lore of the
                            land, scheming to take over the leadership either as a charismatic
                            leader or as an iron-fisted dictator, watching your kid grow and learn
                            new things... I'd guess there would be something for everyone and
                            plenty for all. :)


                            >> * Two things tend to destroy the value of decision making in games
                            >> nowadays:
                            >>
                            >> 1 - You can always decide one way, see what the consequences are,
                            >> reload and decide the other way.
                            >
                            > This is not a disadvantage if it keeps the player engaged. I do it in
                            > The Battle for Wesnoth all the time. Often I have to, because 3rd
                            > party campaigns are unbalanced and my guys get killed for no good
                            > reason. Also the amount of luck in the game is too large IMO, and
                            > other people's opinion as well. Wesnoth is a hex wargame, so the
                            > mental task is analyzing spatial relationships between units. Lotsa
                            > spatial relationships to analyze, so quite possibly a lot of
                            > backtracking. I wish Wesnoth saved games would load instantly, or
                            > that the game had a continuous Undo feature, in the manner of some
                            > Chess programs.


                            I recommend you play Spelunky sometime (it's a terrific game anyway).
                            Spelunky illustrates how the ability to save and reload can be a bad,
                            bad, bad thing. If it had that, you'd finish the game in two hours and
                            it would have been a thoroughly unremarkable experience. But it
                            doesn't. You die, you start over. In a procedurally generated world,
                            with new challenges and opportunities not even the game designer
                            himself may have imagined. You see, normally you'd be exploring these
                            caves, stumble upon a giant spider and be like "meh". Spider kills
                            you, you reload until you kill it and go about your way yawning once
                            or twice. But since there's no save..... "OH GOD FUCK GOD NO" *runs
                            like a madman, spider in pursuit, is cornered into a dead end, throws
                            a bomb at spider, gets the timing wrong, so the bomb bounces off of it
                            and explodes in a corner instead. The explosion does open a tiny
                            escape route, so as the spider pounces to end your life, you dash
                            towards it and make it to safety in the nick of time.*

                            Really, you have to PLAY this game to understand how EPIC that is. :)


                            >> 2 - Decision time menus! Do you
                            >> A - Go fight the acid spitting, 30-headed, ten story tall Hydra to
                            >> recover the little girl's doll or
                            >> B - Rape the little girl, devour her entrails and offer her heart at
                            >> Baal's altar to summon a cosmic evil unto the world?
                            >
                            > I'm not sure what you're saying here. Are you saying that most people
                            > won't choose B? I will certainly choose B, if I am in the mood to
                            > play an evil villain.


                            I'm saying four separate things:

                            1 - In and of themselves, those menus are intrusive. They come with a
                            giant, implicit signpost saying "Careful! Your decision here, unlike
                            all the other implicit decisions you've been making all the time, may
                            affect how the story branches/ends. Feel free to be a jerk in the rest
                            of the game, hog all the medipacks, send your allies first as
                            cannon-fodder, cast area of effect spells that burn them along with
                            the baddies, but if you want the Good (TM) ending, choose to go kill
                            the hydra and retrieve the girl's doll now!"

                            2 - To make matters worse, only extremes are usually presented. How
                            about ignoring the girl? How about explaining to her how dangerous the
                            Hydra is, and how you'll buy her another doll instead?

                            3 - Decision menus don't allow the player to feel ingenious or
                            inventive. You could place an option there saying "Cut a piece out of
                            your spare blanket, which happens to be of the same color and fabric
                            as the girl's doll, then ask your friend who happens to be a veteran
                            toy maker to make another." The player reads that, thinks "Whoa, I'd
                            never have thought of anything contrived like that, but whatever."
                            Or you could just present a little girl who's sad because she lost her
                            doll. As casually as possible, like it's just flavor and not some
                            "quest"(TM). Observant player notes similarity between blanket and
                            doll, and remembers the protagonist is friends with a toy maker. He
                            goes there, presents the blanket to the toy maker, doll is made.
                            Little girl remarks enthusiastically how it looks just like her old
                            one (I.E. the engine acknowledges the player's ingenuity). Which
                            option do you think would be more rewarding for the player?

                            4 - Combined with a save and reload feature, decisions lose emotional
                            value and create apathy. "Oh sure, I'll go fight the hydra. If I die,
                            I'll just reload until I kill it. Fun."
                            No, that won't do. The player should be torn over what to decide. When
                            he does decide, that decision should carry weight to it. He's making a
                            sacrifice, he's taking a risk, that is supposed to mean something.
                            Again, play Spelunky and you'll understand. :)

                            In short, decision time menus suck ass. Fact. :D


                            > Not everyone feels they can act, or pretend.
                            > Some people have a very strong sense of right and wrong and aren't
                            > willing to "bend rules." It's part of their psychological archetype.
                            > It isn't part of mine! This would be a case of "know thy audience."
                            > Also in knowing what it means to be a "mature medium." It means you
                            > can expresss things other than the socially obvious and safe. Go down
                            > the video store aisle, how many horror flicks do you see? Some people
                            > still kick up a storm that these are horrible, despicable films, but
                            > they have long since lost that free speech battle. Meanwhile the game
                            > industry is quite squeamish, timid and "immature" about the materials
                            > it'll deal with.


                            Another problem is that many game designers think that making their
                            games "mature" means adding a lot of forced, wanton cursing, women who
                            seem to be allergic to fabric and lots of over the top violence with
                            buckets of blood. That has precisely the opposite effect that they
                            intended.
                            A mature game is simply a game whose themes will appeal to an adult
                            audience.


                            > What's wrong with being evaluated on "one thing," or knowing that
                            > you're being so evaluated?


                            Again, immersion. :)
                            "I can hog all the medi-packs and send my men on suicidal missions,
                            they'll still love me (those that survive, that is) for as long as I
                            select the cute options in the decision time menus."
                            Well, that reminds me that I'm just playing a game, that I'm not a
                            character in that fictional world and that those are not real people.


                            > Seems to me, the problem is what happens
                            > once you are evaluated. Is all the game content on the "goody two
                            > shoes" branch and a simple you-have-lost message on the "evil despot"
                            > branch? Well then as a game designer you have made your bed. Do we
                            > present choices in order to fail the player, or to give her new
                            > options to explore? Perhaps the choice isn't meant to be
                            > all-or-nothing, but fits into a system of cumulative consequences. In
                            > that case, is the accumulation of consequences analytically
                            > interesting? Is it balanced? Is there really only one way to
                            > successfully navigate the system, despite all the variables and
                            > inputs?


                            That's another problem with the industry, heavy-handedness.


                            >> Instead, it is silently (heh) and
                            >> unobtrusively watching everything you do; whether your fighting style
                            >> is reckless or conservative, if you are inquisitive about your
                            >> surroundings and what seems to attract your attention most, etc.
                            >
                            > Can I tell that these things matter to the game?


                            Not at first, but in retrospect it'll make perfect sense. Then you'll
                            love the hell out of the Silent Hill series and become a lifelong fan. ;)


                            > Simulation is not a good end goal for game design. You should
                            > struggle to achieve Engagement. Simulation can be a tool for that,
                            > but you have to remember: open-ended, unconstrained simulations
                            > generate a lot of random, frustrating noise for players to navigate.
                            > Too much frustration and engagement ceases. The player quits the
                            > game.


                            The parameters of the simulation must be tweaked to make things
                            interesting. On the other hand, I've lost count of how many times I've
                            been frustrated at games that present themselves as simulations, but
                            are in fact pseudo-simulations (New Horizons - Uncharted Waters,
                            Romance of the Three Kingdoms, X-Com Apocalypse, etc). Usually it goes
                            along these lines:

                            You have to hide a stockpile of food from enemy hives. You often spot
                            enemy drones scouting for food on the field and study their search
                            patterns. You sometimes also spot convoys of drones carrying food back
                            to their hives. With these patterns in mind, you hide your food
                            somewhere the scouting drones would never think of looking (assuming
                            you got their behavior right). You also know the only path between
                            your food and all hives in the area must go through a narrow canyon,
                            so you set a sentinel there just in case. No way it's gonna miss a
                            large convoy coming to lift your food away. You then receive a
                            nonchalant pop-up message informing you all your food has been stolen
                            by Hive raiders. Why? Because the game is a pseudo-simulation. It
                            didn't actually compute the drones finding your food and lifting it
                            away, it just rolled a probability die and decided that it did happen.
                            Player feels thoroughly cheated. Why keep the pretense, with
                            "scouting" drones on the field and stuff if it's not actually going to
                            carry through with it?
                          • Brandon Van Every
                            ... Obvious is not one of my favorite words either. What s so obvious about it? Does your character have an arc, does it change at all? Otherwise being 1
                            Message 13 of 13 , Jul 3, 2009
                            • 0 Attachment
                              On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 7:20 AM, LingMac<lingmac@...> wrote:
                              >
                              > Immersion as I understand it refers to a game's ability to make you
                              > feel you're really a character `immersed` in its fictional universe.
                              > Why being given control of one and only character throughout helps
                              > this is pretty obvious.

                              "Obvious" is not one of my favorite words either. What's so obvious
                              about it? Does your character have an arc, does it change at all?
                              Otherwise being 1 character can get awfully boring.

                              > Believable sounds and graphics also enhance
                              > that. Night falls and you can hear the crickets singing, the eventual
                              > wolf howling in the distance; you look above and see a believable
                              > night sky, and as you approach home, "your" wife greets you with
                              > convincing facial animation and dialogue. You're immersed.

                              I think you just completely blew off the entire "mental task" sales
                              pitch I just gave you. Oh well, I will endeavor to make a stronger
                              sales pitch somehow, as a lot of people believe like you do that it's
                              all in the art assets. To that I say, go watch a boring film that has
                              lush visuals and wonderful audio. Cinematographers falling in love
                              with their precious scenes is common enough.

                              > Of course, by itself immersion CAN be pretty boring,

                              How can you possibly call it "immersion" if you're bored out of your mind?

                              > Suppose you wished to break immersion for whatever reason, what would
                              > you do then? Implement an over the top combo system, complete with on
                              > screen pop up words such as "5 HITS, WONDERFUL!", "10 HITS, BRUTAL!",
                              > "15 HITS, GENOCIDAL!". If you want to go the extra mile, you can
                              > actually add an obnoxious narrator to speak these aloud. :)

                              Hm, you seem to be talking about a different idea, the "suspension of
                              disbelief." You've got your player believing he's in a particular
                              time and place, and now you've gone and ruined it by spouting bad
                              dialogue and statistical drivel. On the other hand, if the game was
                              statistical drivel from the very beginning, nothing would have changed
                              and the player would still be believing the drivel. If it was
                              *engaging* drivel.

                              > Idiosyncratic, gamist rules can also have that effect. When the game
                              > allows "your" ten year old daughter to equip a Halberd twice her size,
                              > you're suddenly reminded that "you're just playing a game". And that's
                              > what ultimately kills it.

                              That depends on how it is narrated. Oversized weapons are very common
                              in anime. It is genre, it is part of the rules of their universe,
                              that weapons can be this way. It is possible for such things to be
                              believed, if they are explained or presented in a certain way. It is
                              no different than explaining or presenting a magic carpet that can
                              fly. If you can get people to accept the rules of the fantasy
                              universe, then there is no problem. On the other hand, just putting a
                              gigantic weapon in some teeny weeny girl's inventory without any
                              exposition may raise some eyebrows. On the 3rd alien hand, the
                              players might be somewhat gamist in their orientation and simply not
                              notice or care. Do you think hard about a Diablo II style "inventory
                              doll," or have you long since accepted the genre convention in all the
                              RPG games you play? Once the convention is established, it disappears
                              from the player's mind.

                              > So, if a player is engaged, he's entertained, one way or another.

                              No, he might be pissed off and trying to seek vengeance, on either an
                              unfair piece of software or a human opponent that has seriously
                              taunted him. He might be depressed, but feel a need to seek a
                              catharsis, an answer, or some kind of closure to the materials that
                              are making him depressed. What he is not, is bored.

                              >> Just as movies have their
                              >> moments of relief before the gloom and doom begins again. I think one
                              >> of the keys to sustaining engagement, is the mental task has to be
                              >> varied.
                              >
                              > Fighting bugs, fighting thugs, negotiating the hierarchical web of
                              > your group (if you decided to stick with one), finding supplies and
                              > defensible shelter, studying bug behavior, uncovering the lore of the
                              > land, scheming to take over the leadership either as a charismatic
                              > leader or as an iron-fisted dictator, watching your kid grow and learn
                              > new things... I'd guess there would be something for everyone and
                              > plenty for all. :)

                              As long as it isn't exactly the same schtick as in all the other games
                              out there. This drives experienced players nuts.

                              > I recommend you play Spelunky sometime (it's a terrific game anyway).
                              > Spelunky illustrates how the ability to save and reload can be a bad,
                              > bad, bad thing.

                              I will try it.

                              > But since there's no save..... "OH GOD FUCK GOD NO" *runs
                              > like a madman, spider in pursuit, is cornered into a dead end, throws
                              > a bomb at spider, gets the timing wrong, so the bomb bounces off of it
                              > and explodes in a corner instead. The explosion does open a tiny
                              > escape route, so as the spider pounces to end your life, you dash
                              > towards it and make it to safety in the nick of time.*

                              Or this gets old the 4th time around, you get pissed off at getting
                              killed the same way each time, and you quit playing the game. We'll
                              see.


                              > Really, you have to PLAY this game to understand how EPIC that is. :)
                              >
                              >>> 2 - Decision time menus! Do you
                              >>> A - Go fight the acid spitting, 30-headed, ten story tall Hydra to
                              >>> recover the little girl's doll or
                              >>> B - Rape the little girl, devour her entrails and offer her heart at
                              >>> Baal's altar to summon a cosmic evil unto the world?
                              >>
                              >> I'm not sure what you're saying here. Are you saying that most people
                              >> won't choose B? I will certainly choose B, if I am in the mood to
                              >> play an evil villain.
                              >
                              > I'm saying four separate things:
                              >
                              > 1 - In and of themselves, those menus are intrusive.

                              Hm, film has a maxim, "show, don't tell." I've wondered if games
                              should have a maxim, "play, don't show." Although in this case it
                              sounds like "play, don't tell."

                              > 2 - To make matters worse, only extremes are usually presented. How
                              > about ignoring the girl? How about explaining to her how dangerous the
                              > Hydra is, and how you'll buy her another doll instead?

                              That would be the Interactive Fiction Branching Problem. It's
                              resource intensive to cover all possibilities. The Art would be in
                              getting the player to accept and like the limited choices presented to
                              him. This requires filmic notions like securing character buy-in,
                              having some sympathetic characters, not having a passive lead
                              character, setting up scenes to pay them off, etc.

                              > 3 - Decision menus don't allow the player to feel ingenious or
                              > inventive.

                              This is a prerogative unique to interactive entertainment, I think.
                              The idea that you're supposed to be allowed to be a research
                              scientist. I think game designers and programmers are far more likely
                              to feel this impulse than most of the people who buy games. That
                              doesn't invalidate the attempt, but it does say something about where
                              the impulse is coming from. The danger of unconstrained simulations
                              is they contain a lot of frustrating phenomena, a lot of serious
                              banging one's head against the wall for no result. That's the actual
                              nature of research science, as opposed to the fantasy that the
                              analytical types think they want out of a game. Another school of
                              thought about the game desinger's job, is there is no emergent
                              behavior, the game designer devises everything you're going to
                              experience. Abstract and seemingly open ended experiences are just
                              vectoral cages created by the game designer, to make you think you
                              have more room to maneuver. Such illusions are important as people
                              don't like to feel their possibilities have been cut off.

                              > Observant player notes similarity between blanket and
                              > doll, and remembers the protagonist is friends with a toy maker.

                              That's the "Guess The Adventure Author's Mind" problem. Not always
                              easy to know what the hell the author had in mind. It's why adventure
                              games aren't mass market, why the genre all but died. In the early
                              days of the PC, the computers were just as hard to use as the
                              adventure games. Early adopters had above average intellect and
                              patience for dealing with the crap. Such a temperament is exactly
                              what you need for guessing the mind of the author of adventure games.

                              > 4 - Combined with a save and reload feature, decisions lose emotional
                              > value and create apathy.

                              True that narrative continuity is disrupted, same as hitting the
                              "pause" button on a DVD player would be. On the other hand, people
                              pick up and put down books all the time, so there's a way to get away
                              with it.

                              > "Oh sure, I'll go fight the hydra. If I die,
                              > I'll just reload until I kill it. Fun."
                              > No, that won't do. The player should be torn over what to decide. When
                              > he does decide, that decision should carry weight to it. He's making a
                              > sacrifice, he's taking a risk, that is supposed to mean something.
                              > Again, play Spelunky and you'll understand. :)

                              Hold that thought.

                              > A mature game is simply a game whose themes will appeal to an adult
                              > audience.

                              Agreed.

                              >> What's wrong with being evaluated on "one thing," or knowing that
                              >> you're being so evaluated?
                              >
                              > Again, immersion. :)

                              Possibly. I think I prefer "suspension of disbelief." If games are
                              mental tasks, then it is indeed problematic to provide a UI that isn't
                              mechanical and clunky.

                              >>> Instead, it is silently (heh) and
                              >>> unobtrusively watching everything you do; whether your fighting style
                              >>> is reckless or conservative, if you are inquisitive about your
                              >>> surroundings and what seems to attract your attention most, etc.
                              >>
                              >> Can I tell that these things matter to the game?
                              >
                              > Not at first, but in retrospect it'll make perfect sense. Then you'll
                              > love the hell out of the Silent Hill series and become a lifelong fan. ;)

                              Hm, I guess historically it was only available for consoles, but I see
                              there's a PC version now. Maybe I'll try it sometime.

                              > You then receive a
                              > nonchalant pop-up message informing you all your food has been stolen
                              > by Hive raiders. Why? Because the game is a pseudo-simulation. It
                              > didn't actually compute the drones finding your food and lifting it
                              > away, it just rolled a probability die and decided that it did happen.

                              I wrestle with this a lot, how deep or shallow the simulation should
                              be. Should I make a game about Roman legions where every footstep,
                              shield wall, and sword cut is simulated? Or should I just
                              statistically decide that one guy "won the fight" for no particularly
                              good reason? My current plan is to start with the stats only
                              resolution and evolve a simulation of greater depth. Simulation
                              elements don't have as much value if the player is not directly
                              controlling them with the UI. At some point, there will be so many
                              simulation elements that they'll just be perceived as noise.

                              > Player feels thoroughly cheated. Why keep the pretense, with
                              > "scouting" drones on the field and stuff if it's not actually going to
                              > carry through with it?

                              Grand Theft Auto III was an extremely popular, totally bogus
                              simulation. All phenomena merely occurred in a "ghost pattern" around
                              your position. It didn't matter where you went in the game, the same
                              phenomena occurred. You could pierce the veil of the illusion by
                              pulling up your sniper scope. You would not see the same things
                              inside and outside the scope. There was no persistence.


                              Cheers,
                              Brandon Van Every
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