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Game Idea: Xcom meets I am Legend (Long)

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  • 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 1 of 13 , Jul 2, 2009
      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 2 of 13 , Jul 2, 2009
        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 3 of 13 , Jul 2, 2009
          --- 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 4 of 13 , Jul 3, 2009
            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 5 of 13 , Jul 3, 2009
              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 6 of 13 , Jul 3, 2009
                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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