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Why Obama might lose

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Wed, October 24, 2012 23:35:42
With two weeks left until the US election, you would think that every possible angle of how voters think have been discussed, but there is one thing I haven't heard anyone talk about: Racism. You may think it has been discussed a lot, but only in terms of how racists won't vote for Obama, not why they would.

The US in may ways is a very segregated and racist country, yet if there is one thing no one wants to be called its a racist. You may call an American all kinds of names, but nothing hits home like being called a racist.

Many white people In the US spend considerable effort to work on not being perceived as racists, especially if they are. Like having the token friends to invite to your parties so that no one will create an awkward moment when they comment that everyone is white. Its especially important to behave correctly when there are black people around. Bringing up any discussion of race relations is a mine field no one wants to end up in. Dont mention the war. And if ever you find your self in a situation where you must talk about race be sure to come well prepared, with names of black friends, your favorite black entertainers and athletes and a story of how once I saw a Taylor Perry movie and liked it.

As most people fundamentally think that their vote doesn't affect the outcome in any meaningful way (and they are often right) who they vote for can become a statement of who they themselves want to be rather then who they really want to be in the white house. They may want McCain to be president, but they want to be the kind of guy who has no problem voting for the black guy.

Any white person could see the writing on the wall in 2008: If Obama would win it was going to be historical and everyone who didn't vote for him was going to look behind the times and racist, and If he lost there was going to be riots and talk about a racist conspiracy, and then you sure don't want to be the one who stood in the way of first black president. Being able to say "I voted for Obama" become a great replacement for "Many of my friends are black", not just to convince other but to convince yourself you a not a racist.

So why does this matter now? Well all the people who felt the need to prove to themselves and others that they aren't racists by voting for Obama, no longer have that to prove. In fact voting against him may even make their case stronger. By voting both for and against the same black guy you sort of prove that race has nothing to do with your choice. Its the ultimate I'm-not-a-racist defense. It also has some of the "you had your chance now, so stop whining" that racists likes to complain about along with affirmative action and black history month.

My guess is that Obama will loose a few percentage points in this election by no longer getting the I-need-to-prove-that-I-can-vote-for-the-black-guy vote. Will it be enough to loose him the election? Time will tell.

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Love Dev Update #2: Clarity

LovePosted by Eskil Mon, June 18, 2012 16:34:48
Have you ever been confused by Love? If so, lets consider some fundamental things in Love and how they impact your perception of the world:

-Like any First person game, a player can only see about a tenth of her surrounding at any one time. The quick mouse movements helps but it still remains a problem over say top-down games.

-In a large scale world, things frequently happens far away from the player. In love things can literally happen on the other side of the globe.

-Its a free roaming multiplayer game, so you cant simply trigger an event when all player are there to see it since the players are likely to be far away from each other. You can guarantee that some players will miss things.

-Players can log in and out at any time, so players need to be able to quickly understand the current situation, without having been there to experience the events that caused the situation.

-In a shared world without personal progression, players will be dropped in to the state the world is in, not one that may be appropriate for their level of experience.

If you come to the conclusion that the kind of game you are making, is incredibly difficult to make for these reasons, you have two options. Either painstakingly find solutions to these problems, or make a different game. I have decided to do both. I want to solve these issues, so I'm trying to work them out in Love, but at the same time I know that there are lots of things I cant do because I have these limitations, so in order to be able to go beyond that, I'm making another game that doesn't have these limitations, but more about that some other time.

The easy way to communicate with the player is to simply tell the player what they need to know. If players aren't there to see the bomb get planted, you just play a "the bomb has been planted" sound file to tell everyone its been planted. I think this is a bit of a cop out since it violates the "Show don't tell" rule, and its going outside the game world. Also if something happens that the player needs to know about, shouldn't the reason that the player needs to finds out that it happened, be that it actually influences the player? The expansion "Dark matter spreads over fair land" and my continiued work is all about creating large scale visual events that the playes can experience in the game.
Dark matter actually spreading over the land as it gets dominated

Let me give you an example. If you have played Love you may have experienced artillery strikes, and you may think of them as just another weapons. To me they are much more then that, they are "quests". What they do is that they provide the player with the motivation of a problem (Hell raining down on them) but also what they need to solve it. The artillery leaves clear trails in the sky to lead the players to the position of the artillery peace so that they can go deal with it. Most games would have a old man with a exclamation mark over his head, or a female voice in your ear, that precedes to give you some scripted spiel about how you need to go kill some goblins, Nazis or whatever to save the village, despite the fact that they have been killed by hundreds of thousands of players before you or that no matter how long you wait to kill them, the village will never be attacked. the artillery on the other hand does all that, but without using words, by being a real event.

Power beams are also used the same way. If item A is giving you a problem, and it is clearly getting the power it needs to operate from object B, no one needs to tell the player its good idea to go and disrupt B. Its an Implicit mission.

Just like artillery uses the sky to draw a directions for the player, many other items in Love uses the sky as a canvas to give players information, like the beams coming out of powerwells and occupation monoliths or the cloud of domination.

For all the major pivot points in the story, I have made sure that their effect is something near global. These are the events that all players should be aware of. In a large scale world you want events to have a global impact, because you don't want players to be able to ignore things just because the happen some place far away.

Blue:
Will trigger a rain storm a that will eventually flood the entire world, causing all power sources under watter to stop functioning.

Yellow:
The Planet will stop turning and half the planet will be in perpetual darkness, and the other half will be in eternal sunshine. The bright side will be ravaged by wild fires, while watter will freeze, trees will die and power wells will stop producing power on the dark side.

Green:
All cable relays will stop operating. (Yeah, I know it doesn't sound as epic, but its a big deal for any player trying to automate matter gathering)

Red:
The occupying tribe will get access to the massive artillery peace in the red settlement and will begin shelling players in its hemisphere.

Purple:
The occupying tribe will be given access to balloons so that they can attack the player from the air.

All these things should be noticeable even if you missed the event that caused them. I'm planning to strengthen the clarity of each of these and even give them some effects that can be to the players advantage.

Bring clarity to a game like Love is a huge amount of work because its something that has to be added everywhere. Bullets has to travel slow enough for you to dodge them, character designs changes depending on a tribes state, Laser sights tells players where direct hit weapons are aiming, the map gives players the ability to foresee events, and so on. You cant add anything without thinking about how to make it clear to the player and that very often means you have to scale down your ambitions, and simplify things.
The map showing to location of the artifact and the spreading domination.

One thing to notice is that none of these involve characters. While characters may be the basic building block of most stories, they simply don't work well in this setting because they are so local, mobile and fragile. Instead I have made each settlement a "character". Having many tribe members in one place makes them easier to find, and it matters less if one or two of them gets "lost" and the players don't have to manage as many relationships as each tribe works as a hive mind having a shared opinion of you.

Adding clarity, is a constant battle between making things familiar and yet innovative, complex yet easy to understand, clear yet integrated in the fiction. All the things that make Love a challenging game to understand, like the large world, the shared progress, the multiplayer aspects, and the evolving world, are also the things that makes it great. The difficulty is to keep the good things while making it more inviting for people to come and experience it.

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Love Dev Update #1: Pacing

LovePosted by Eskil Sat, June 09, 2012 21:01:09
Since my last blog update, I have gotten a lot of feedback from people who wants to know more about the latest Love developments, So I have decided to start posting a series of updates that deal with different aspects of what I'm working on, for people who don't play very often and don't keep up with the minute details of the things I post on twitter.

A very clear goal when designing Love has been to create a world that is proactive. In many games, the player is required to actively move forward in order to engage the game. The enemies that are hellbent on killing you in the next room, will never bother to actually seek you out no matter how long you stand and wait on the other side of the door. In other games, mainly multiplayer games like Starcraft or counter-strike, there is a rush to engage the enemy, or the enemy will rush you. If Love was about making either of these, it would be easy to solve, the problem is I want both.

I want to give the players the time and opportunity to explore and build, activities that are largely self motivating, but I also want the world to force itself on to the players in multiple interesting ways, and compelling them to deal with events that the world initiates. I want the players to be in some, but not complete power over what their objectives are.

Back in the early days of Love the five tribes had very complex relations with each other, and while it was very cool from a simulation point of view it never made much sense to the players. After a few different versions I settled on a new structure that would be the back bone of the expansion "Dark matter moves over fair land". The idea is that there is a powerful object (The artifact) and who ever has it becomes "the evil empire". This tribe would then slowly dominate the world and occupy all other settlements. It is simple and straight forward. The thought was that in the beginning the domination would be fairly benign. but then for each settlement it occupied, some basic functionality of the world would change forcing the players to eventually deal with the domination.

The Omprelly Enclave has been occupied, casing rain to flood the planet.

Freeing a tribe from occupation would make them friends of the players. It made it very clear who was a friend and who was an enemy and why.

Two weeks before I was to release the expansion, it all turned out to be a disaster. The problem was that I had given the dominating tribe all the nice stuff that the players wanted, so as soon as a domination would start the players would rush over to it and raid it, before it had the chance to grow. Instead of being the heroes freeing the world from domination, the players became the dominating tribe, constantly killing any tribe that dared to challenge its domination. Even worse the players would bait tribes in to trying to dominate the world just to be able to kill them. The relentless slog to kill dominating settlements just turned out to be a disaster for pacing, and players just got tired of it.

Something had to be done and I decided to build a brand new tech tree, that the players could build up mostly independently from the dominating tribe. It was a mad dash for two week before GDC but it worked. By making the goal of the players to develop their own infrastructure, they would let a domination grow and they would only deal with it once it started making their life too difficult. Something I learned from this was that its very important to add "normalcy" for a world to seem real. To get epic and memorable battles, you cant have a constant battles. Battles and struggles should be about defending normalcy.

Even though this improved the pacing enormously, it still isn't good enough. The question becomes how fast should the domination spread, or in other words, how often should the players be forced to deal with it? If its too often the game becomes monotonous, and the players feel they never get the chance to advance in the game because they are constantly interrupted, If its too seldom players who don't have much self motivation will get bored because nothing happens.
I'm still tweaking these numbers, but I have come to the conclusion that while I can probably find a good average, its going to be different for different players. While all players want diversity, some people like to build settlements and infrastructure most of the times, while other like to explore and yet other players want mostly combat. Another problem is that if you only feel like playing for 15-20 minutes the kind of play you are looking for might not be available at the time. My new plan is to create the opportunities for elective mini skirmishes that the players can engage in to when ever they want.

Last week I added the two first ones. I made it so that the Condita Raiders controls all gas wells and will defend them if you try to harvest gas from them, I also made the matter melders in to objects found around the Kondosant Clans settlement that you would have to power for a few minutes to get, while constantly being attacked. I even generated some new terrain to make the battles more interesting.

A trapped melder by the Kondosant Clans settlement

So far this has worked very well. Now I'm looking fore more ideas, on how to add other activities for players to engage in. While the two I have take care of players who want combat, I would like to add some that lets players interact with the AI, explore the world, take strategic decisions, and collaborate. I also would like to tie these smaller events better in to the main "story". If you steal items from a tribe will they still help you fight the domination? Can you use the fact that a settlement is being occupied to steal stuff without any repercussions?

Right now I'm planing to add some sort of world switch, that favors either power or matter based activities, and I'm looking for an interesting way to bring back prisons, so that players can mount escapes, and rescues. What would you like to see?

E

If you would like to try Love for free, just download the client here and click on the demo button to play. Also join the teamspeak channel at teamspeak.quelsolaar.com to talk to other players.

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Testing, testing, is anyone out there?

LovePosted by Eskil Mon, June 04, 2012 22:53:15
Ed Catmull, my hero, and president of the Pixar animation studio (as well as the inventor of texture mapping, subdivision surfaces, and much more) once said that there is two ways you can find out that the movie you are making is bad, either the audience tells you its bad after you have released it, or you figure it out yourself while making the movie. The difference is that if you figure it out yourself before you release it, you can still do something about it. At Pixar the goal is always to try to find problems and fix them before the films are released. The last few years i have visited various studios, and a theme that runs threw all the really good ones is how humble and self critical they are. Its not something emotional, its about being methodical. They are constantly worried about missing something, and they seek everybody's opinion in order to make it better.

A few days a go I had a conversation with a few players who complained about the fog in Love, and said it should be reduced. I found this to be very peculiar because these players have played for years and never complained before, despite the fact that I just reduced to noise a few weeks ago. So I started tweaking the numbers and after twenty minutes I gave them a new executable to try. This one they liked much better, so problem was fixed. The thing was that in the new release, I had in fact increased the fogs brightness, not reduced it. What my player were complaining about was that the fog looked bad, so they wanted me to remove it. Once I make it look good, they no longer wanted me to remove it. This is a lesson that I have learned over and over again making this game, whatever your users say, should always be interpreted as "Look at this!". How you go about fixing the issue is the job of the designer, not the player. A player can never be wrong in their opinion, but they are very likely to be wrong when it comes to how to address it.

At this years GDC I went to a full-day tutorial on user testing, but I walked out after 20 minutes for the simple reason that the people giving the tutorial, believed in what the user testing would give them answers as to how to design a game. User testing is very much like economics. No economic theory can ever take in to account every factor that influences the economy, therefore it can never be accurate. It doesn't make economics useless, it just makes it very dangerous to think that it has the answer. Testing tells you how people react to what you are showing them, not why, and not how they will react if you show them anything else. Unless you are testing the final release, the tests you are doing will have very little bearing on how people may perceive the final product. Testing is essential, but the results of testing is often also weirdly useless.

Swedish state television used to have the saying "We want to show our audience what they didn't know they wanted to see". To me this is the essence of progress, to provides something different but also great. Therefor you you cant ask your audience what they want, you can only ask them what they think of what you have already created. In video games many of the things we imagine we would enjoy turns out to be not so much fun, and some very counter intuitive thing turn out to be great, and as designers, we must learn the difference. We need to learn how to read the players feedback without taking them at face value. The more we understand about how the systems we build work, the fewer iterations we need to find the right solutions.

All this makes testing a very precarious affair in general, and if there is one thing that has been a problem during my development of Love, it is getting feedback. The problem of testing a multi-player game you are developing alone, are obvious. Further, by design Love has a dynamic environment where players are free to do what they want, and takes place over along period of time, making useful data collection almost impossible. Another problem is that some systems in the game either have limits, or are very successful, and I therefore want to be very careful about not breaking them.

An example of that is the shared resources system that gives the game have a very collaborative atmosphere where players are cooperating very well and griefers are almost unheard of. In most team or cooperative games this is a huge problem. Obviously this is great, but it also means that a new player logging in may find them selves in a game of very advanced state that completely overwhelms them with its complexity. If i would separate their experience from the rest of the group, I may make it easier to learn the game, but i would also drive a wedge in to the social fabric of the world.

Early on new players often complained about details like spelling errors in my help texts, and my feeling has always been that if that is your strongest impression of the game, the game cant be very good. I haven't head that in along time, and that tell me the game is now better (The spelling is still terrible). For a long time I believed that "good" meant attention to detail, but I no longer believe that. I believe that "good" is a hump you have to get over, and once on the other side, nothing else much matters. We love Star wars because its so good that we are along for the ride, despite its shortcomings. All the little scruffy bits becomes part of the experience and we hate it when Lucas tries to fix it. Its like when you fall in love, the person you are in love with may have all kinds of annoying habits, but when you are in love they are all endearing. If you are complaining about the little things, its because the important things are not good enough for you to forget the little things. Since testing so often brings out nitpicks about the details, it becomes easy to not see the forest for all the trees.

Yes I'm working on a new project too, a very different kind of game, and while I this time plan to put in an impressive range of tools to measure and track player behavior, It will also have to be released in a very unfinished state. I know that making a game is a long journey of trial and error, but what is scary is that most players don't see it that way. They think that the slice they play today, is exactly how I want it to be, and how it always will be. Yet, without professional testers i have no other option but to make all my failures public.

I'm still adding stuff to Love, testing things, learning things and its getting better and better (and sometimes worse), but the truth is that in a way Love missed the boat. I found out what was wrong with what i was doing far after the game had been released. I still don't know everything i want to know about it. I relesed a new versions with some things i want to test just a few minutes ago. I don't have regrets because I don't think i could have done it any other way. I had to release it in the state it was in order to find out what state it was in. The world has moved on from Love, and now its something I share with a small group of players who hang out in our team speak server, and rarely do we get new players to join, (Although you are welcome to visit, and stay for as long as you want). The servers costs more to run then the game brings in. Yet I'm having so much fun in my own private petridish where I can test ideas and explore new gameplay, and wasn't that what the project was all about from the beginning?

E

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Sure, I can fix your broken Dinosaur!

LovePosted by Eskil Sat, April 07, 2012 22:05:45
Being big, is good up to a point. After that you just get heavy and slow. Some dinosaurs had wings but where too heavy to fly. Some had long neck, but would pass out from blood loss if they used them to reach for anything, and some predators where so heavy the couldn't run. When you listen to paleontologists argue about the limitations of dinosaurs, you get the feeling that dinosaurs were not designed very well. It doesn't sound like something evolution would do.

I think that Paleontologist are looking at it all wrong. Instead of trying to figure out how these animals coped with physics, evolution probably made them perfect, It was the physics that was different. My theory is that the effective gravity was lower 65 million years ago.

No, I don't believe that the laws of physics have changed, Earth probably had comparable mass, but earths rotation is slowing down. If we imagine a past version of earth spinning a few times faster, the centrifugal force starts to counteract gravity.

If gravity was substantially lower, the brontosaurus could walk on land and raise its head without passing out because of blood loss, a tyrannosaurs would be able to run and the massive birds would be able to fly. They would all make sense from an evolutionary point of view.

Even today gravity is slightly lower at the equator, and earth is slightly flattened as the pols. It is a very slight, but if we look at the equation for centrifugal force we find that its velocity to the power of two divided by the radius. The power of two, means that the fairly insignificant centrifugal force quickly becomes very significant if we increase earths rotation.

The faster you spin the planet the further out the equator is pulled, and the further the distance between the center of earth and the equator, the stronger the centrifugal force becomes (the increased radius decreases the force, but the increased velocity makes up for it as a point on the surface has a longer distance to travel per revolution). If earth would spin at around 90 minutes per revolution, the centrifugal force would be so strong it would pull the planet apart. The equator would break lose from the surface and form the kind of rings we see around Saturn.

If we imagine that an earth day was only a few hours long in the Jurassic period, evolution would develop larger animals due to the lower effective gravity. If this theory holds up and earth rotation greatly influenced the effective gravity on earths surface, it would only do so close to the equator. Therefor you should only be able to find fossils of dinosaurs in areas that were reasonably close to the equator at the time.

I have never ever read anybody suggest this as a theory, and every time I read some article about how paleontologists argue about the limitations of dinosaurs, I think of this idea. I don't claim to be an expert, but I think its in the grand tradition of science to propose ideas, and then let others try to prove or disprove them. So please let me know how right or wrong you think I am.

While thinking of this I also discovered a new continent. Yes, I have found a continent, and I'm naming it "Eskil" (I mean, what the hell... if you don't like it i got there first). I do admit its a little like Democritus naming the Atom, or Higgs theorizing about his Boson, and then letting thousands of unnamed scientists spend years of research and millions of dollars trying to prove you right, but what can I say? I'm a busy guy, got places to go, people to meet and all that. So here we go:

Its commonly accepted that the tectonic palates once had all continents joined together to form a massive super continent commonly known as Pangaea. If we imagine that the weight of all continents where concentrated on one side of our planet, the center of gravity would shift towards that side. Yes, earth surface only makes up a tiny fraction of earths mass (most of earths heaviest metals has sunk to the core), but remember everything beneath the surface is fluid, therefore the core would move to be suspended in the center of the gravity of the surface. If the plants center of gravity would move towards this one continent, all liquid water would follow, an the sea level on the side of Pangaea would rise, and lower on the opposite side revealing a new land mass: Eskil.

I think its time to stop now, and go back to work.

E

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The Pivot model

LovePosted by Eskil Thu, January 05, 2012 12:28:05
Introduction

There are many kinds of "Fun" that can be had in games. There is the tactile fun of being in control, there is the addictive fun of collecting things, there is the aspirational fun of living out a fantasy. I'm interested in a particular type of fun: Drama. For a number of years I have been trying to figure out how to create games that accomplish this and my goal has been to build a dramaturgical model for interactive drama. I now believe that I have cracked it, and I'm here presenting my theory.

Before I start discussing how to achieve drama, I want to define it, since there seams to be a lot of confusion in this area. Drama as I define it, is dramatic events that form stories. This, in my definition, is very different from "Story telling" where the the audience is passively following the story rather then taking part in it. There are a range of theories and models that can guide you when telling linear stories such as a 3 act structure, but none of them are based around being interactive. If you try to follow linear story theories when making a interactive drama you will inevitably have to limit the interactivity, in order to get the player to conform with the rules, since the rules of story telling assumes you have control over the actions of the protagonist.

Many games have lots of "story", in the form of cut-scenes, recorded dialog, text and scripted environments and set peaces. While they can be very well done, and even effective, they are not natively part of the game medium because they are not interactive. Its like Inter cutting our medium with, film, books and other non interactive mediums because we have yet to figure out how to do it natively in our own medium. Some game developers, try to infuse these inherently non-interactive mediums with interactivity by creating branches, to give players multiple endings, dialog trees, and quick timing events. While they can become non-linear they are still bound by the limitations of the author. A choose your own adventure book has a very limited appeal, compared to a systemic game like chess that has near infinite possibilities that go far beyond what the creators of the game could ever author.

In these cases, the players often stop playing the story of the game and start playing the game developer. "I want to do X but i think the developer wants me to do Y in order to get where I want to be in the story, so I will do Y". A player that chooses to say "No" in a dialog tree may have a vastly different idea of why the she wants to say no then the developer had, causing the character to do something very different from what the player had in mind. A branching story will also be very punishing because there is no recourse if a branch leads in a direction the player doesn't agree with.

The drama I am trying to achieve can not come from the discovery of anything the developer of that game has created. We will therefor focus exclusively on building systems that, are enjoyed by players long after they have experienced all content and have a full grasp of the games rules.

A good example would be a sport like football. Football is a game that doesn't become any less fun once you have seen the entire playfield, or discovered all rules. A football game doesn't get less interesting to watch just because you have seen one before. The drama is not discovering the rules, but how the rules interact with the players in this particular instance of the game to create dramatic moments. By excluding any discovery, we can make sure that any drama experienced by the player comes out of the interaction between players and rules, and not from the game developer trying to impose story TELLING on the game.

In fact I find that many sports are much more effective at creating Drama then videogames, and you will find that my model fits much better on many sports then on the vast majority of videogames.

Given the audio/visual capabilities of video games, they can put on a veneer of being something different than their mechanics. A game that is really about making timed clicks on a surface, can be made to look like a knight swinging his sword at a dragon in a dungeon. This layer of surface can provide aspirational fun, and aesthetic enjoyment, and help the player absorb the mechanics faster. It is however not at all necessary to create drama. Again a football game is dramatic without us trying to pretend that the players are anything other then players, that the field is anything but a field, or that the ball is anything other then a ball. A chess player values the knight because of the strategic abilities it has, not because the the player is fond of houses.

While there is real value, in adding a "fantasy" to a game, it can not provide dynamic drama, and can easily distract you in the process of design.

A different kind of story

Last week, I was visiting my parents, and in their town this small cinema was showing Starwars, so I borrowed my dads Chevy and went to see it. The cinema was only a few blocks away from my parents house but unfortunately on my way back I took a wrong turn, and before I knew it, I was heading up a ramp and ended up on the free way. My parents house was only two blocks away from the on-ramp, yet the next exit on the free way was 8 miles away. So finally I get off the free way, an now I have to try to find the on-ramp to get back on to the freeway, but this time in the opposite direction. After dodging numerous one way streets I finally get back on the Freeway, and at this point I'm so eager to get back that i head out in to the fast lane. When i finally get to my off ramp, this huge truck keeps blocking me, so i ended up missing my off-ramp. This leads to another 5 miles of freeway. After i finally get off, i give up on the freeway completely and just take the streets. After 20 minutes of trafficlights, I finally get to the Back to my parent house.

Why would anyone tell this story? You just went to see the most awesome film ever with a deathstar, a captured princess, a magic force, an evil empire and a galaxy at war, and you choose to talk about the journey from the theater? Why? If you went to Hollywood and pitched this story they would tell you its not a very good story, yet we humans tell each other stories like this one, about when we missed the bus, when we tried to get the copy machine to cooperate or how we got miss treated by phone support, all the time. They are important to us because they happened to us. An interactive story, doesn't need to be perfectly paced, and well told to pull us in, it already has us in it! This is why I believe that this type of interactive story is far more emotionally powerful, then any scripted story can be. The proof of that can be seen in the emotional outbursts found in a football stadium, or players of a multiplayer game that you would never see in a movie theater or a reading library.

Reality has a way of creating stories that are "better then anyone could write". They defy rules of story telling, but they still work. One reason they work is that since they don't conform to the rules of story telling they become more unpredictable. The greatest football match wouldn't be as great if you didn't know that many football matches end in disappointment. We must therefor think about interactive drama very differently. Its OK, if the outcomes are extreme, or even boring. Its OK if the end boss dies by accidentally tripping on the door step and breaking his neck. just as long as its a rare freak accident.

While interactive stories are emotionally powerful, they very rarely have meaning. A game of football can give you different emotions, but it wont be an allegory of the Spanish Inquisition, the way a play or film can be. In this theory this received shortcoming doesn't concern me. My work has focused on understanding the drama rather then adding meaning, and I believe that only once we have harnessed the ability to create drama should we consider how to direct it. If your goal is to have stories with meaning, you are very likely to end-up with story telling rather then emergent drama unless you are very careful.

The Pivot model

Drama in any medium is about tension and release. Tension starts with some kind of problem or conflict that builds over time, and then we reach a turning point and the issue is resolved, and then the cycle repeats. To make a well connected story its preferable if the next cycles problem is related to the previous problems resolution.

My theory is that for a game to be effective at creating drama it needs three different elements "Mechanics" "Acceptable failure", and a "Pivot state". Each of these can be implemented in a range of ways, but they should all conform to the requirements of the elements, to provide the basic building blocks to create a dramatic game. Most games don't have all three elements, and those who do, often don't conform all that well with the requirements for the elements. Some games only have a single element represented making them very limited.

Mechanics

The Mechanical element is the part of the game that most people recognize as a game. It is the systems of rules and goal that give the player strategic options of how to play. Chess is a game where almost the entire game is based on Mechanics. In dramatic terms it defines the possibilities of the world, and its limitations. If we for instance imagine a play about two men trying to marry the same girl, drama wont emerge unless we establish or we at least assume they aren't all open to polygamy. Drama does not emerge until the mechanics are known to the player so that they can make meaningful decisions. (This is one of the problems of branching games, players can never really understand the choices they make without spoiling the story.)

The behavior of the mechanics also has to have a level of predictability so that player can foresee the consequences of their actions. Many game developers imagine that the ultimate game would be a game where everything is one big simulation. Simulations, while very interesting from a technical perspective, and while providing a persistent rule system, easily devolve in to very chaotic systems caused by the butterfly effect. The problem with the butterfly effect is that while a butterfly may cause a hurricane by flapping its wings, the butterfly is unable to predict when or where it creates a hurricane (if it could, butterflies would rule the planet). Also, No one who encounters a hurricane is ever able to backtrack to find the butterfly that caused the event (if we could we would have extinct butterflies from this planet). If a player plays an RPG for 50 hours killing bears, boars and scorpions, to complete quests to finally reach the end boss only to find him already dead, because the player inadvertently upset the worlds eco system by killing a scorpion 49 hours ago, they will most likely be disappointed. It doesn't matter that the player actually did kill the end boss, since they didn't know they did at the time. All Mechanical choices therefor must have an impact that is limited by what future ramifications the player can imagine. While the impact of a decision may last longer then a players plans, it must become increasingly irrelevant, compared to the power of the players new decisions.

In our example story from above, the mechanics would be the possibilities and limitations of navigating a city with a car. Any time you need to go somewhere you need to solve the mechanical path finding puzzle of how to get there, and that puzzle in it self constitutes a game. Therefor you can build a game using only mechanics. Examples of games only using mechanics would be Souduku and a Crossword Puzzle. However, if you compute to your job everyday, the navigation puzzle will cease to be a game because you will solve it once then just follow the same solution everyday. To make it more interesting we need to add another element.

Acceptable failure

Lets imagine a device, lets call it the "Get-lost-a-tron 3000". Its a device you put on your cars dashboard, and every time you get to an intersection, it will half of the time tell you to go in the direction you want, and half of the time it will pick a random direction for you to go in. This device will turn the mechanics of road navigation in to a more dramatic game because now every journey will become an adventure since the get-lost-a-tron 3000 will force you to deal with unpredictable events. The device provides what I call "Acceptable failure".

Acceptable failure not only create uncertainty, it can make fairly simple mechanics deeper. A smart driver using the get-lost-a-tron 3000 will not only consider the optimal path, but also how to avoid any severe ramifications of decisions made by the device. She may want to avoid driving close to an on ramp to avoid have to deal with accidentally ending up on it. Chess is a game that exemplifies how some rather simple mechanics can be turned near infinitely complex by adding an element of unknown (the other player). If you play against a deterministic chess computer, and find a way to win you could play the game an infinite number of times and win every time, by repeating the same moves. Chess would then devolve in to a game without an acceptable failure element, and would become pointless.

Acceptable failure can be accomplished in many ways, like chance (a die roll), giving the players too many tasks to be able to accomplice them all perfectly, twitch, or a human or AI opponent operating in a non deterministic fashion. However it needs to be "Acceptable" to the player. If the ramifications of a single failure is big, the player needs to be able to see the danger in advance and do something about it, or the player will find the game unfair. If the failure happens too often, like if get-lost-a-tron 3000 would only let you decide where to go in one out of a hundred intersections, the player will find any strategy pointless. Similarly if the failure rate is too low, the player will stop planing for the eventuality that everything wont go their way, making the game less deep, and when the failure finally occur the player will think of it as a unacceptable anomaly.

Symmetric multiplayer games, often have acceptable failure built-in because the players accepts, that any failure, brought on by another player is fair since you have the same opportunity to do the same to your opponent. This is why balance is such a important part of multiplayer games, and why it almost always needs to be tilted in to the players favor in a single player game.

The addition of acceptable failure, makes a game repayable and far more dynamic, and turns the strategic mechanics in to a game of optimizing your chance of winning, rather then wining outright.

Pivot state

The pivot state a very small, but important state, that radically changes the game, for the player to try to change. The player first makes a plan for how they want to change the state in to their favor, then tension builds as they try to use the mechanics of the game to do so. You get the element of suspense not knowing if the acceptable failure will either prevent the player from changing the state, or change it in a way that is a disadvantage to the player. When finally the state changes or "pivots" the tension is released and the cycle begins again.

You may notice that the example story above has almost no reference to the mechanics of navigating a city (although they are implicit), it references 2 acceptable failures (making the wrong turn and missing an off ramp) and alluding to more (trying to find the on ramp to get back on the free way). The majority of the story revolves around getting on and off the freeway. In our example story whether or not the protagonist is on the freeway constitutes the pivot state. The player uses the mechanics to try to set the pivot state, and the acceptable failure either makes it harder to do so, or lets the player inadvertently change the state.

A pivot state does not necessarily have to be aligned with the goal of the game and have a "bad" and a "good" state, just as long as the states influence the strategy of the game. In our story the freeway pivot state is neither good or bad (At two point the protagonist wants off the free way, but there is also a point when he wants to get on), but it drastically changes the how the mechanics of driving and navigating is applied.

The Pivot state in a football match is the score, or rather the delta of the score. It changes dynamics of the game, makes players either play offensively of defensively.

The pivot state should if possible be interactive so that players have opportunities to influence it, but it doesn't have to be. In Formula 1, rain could be considered a non-interactive pivot state (No driver can control the weather). Rain doesn't affect the standing of the race, but it changes the conditions so drastically that enables some racers to gain positions while other are likely to spin off. A race where it starts and stops raining is far more exciting then a race with uniform weather. Even the prospect of a weather change increases the drama of the race.

When designing a pivot state, its very important to make sure that its impact is profound. It is therefore important no to dilute it by having too many different pivot states with too many options. When ever the pivot state changes players must be made aware of the change as soon as possibly and understand its impact on the mechanics, although maybe not on the over all strategy of the game. In larger scale open world games this becomes a problem since the player may not be anywhere near the point where the change was initiated.

The simplest Pivot state is a simple on/off state, but you can also consider a multi-option state. One way of creating more options is to use what i call "latent state". A latent state is a pivot state that is not accessible unless other pivot state is in a specific state. That makes it possible to have more possible states while having a very limited possible state at any one time. A good example of latent state would be a soap opera. The Pivot state of a soap opera might be who are dating and who are enemies. In any one episode the only a few combinations to this state would be feasible, but over years of episodes any combination of characters can be lovers or enemies.

One model for pivot state that I'm considering is a "gear box" state. A manual gear box has a number of states, but usually only the gear above and below the one current used is considered, all other gears are latent state. A gear box state also has the advantage that its a state the driver controls alone. If a driver is in second gear, its because she set it to second gear, not because an other player, AI or game mechanic is fighting her to set the gear in a adversary way. Therefor the current state even if bad will be acceptable to the player. When the driver switches to third gear its because the third gear is now more advantageous then the second, because of changing conditions, not because setting it in second gear was a mistake in the first place. The longer the driver waits to change the gear the more disadvantageous the current gear becomes.

Its an easy trap to try to make a too complex top state in the name of creating diverse drama. Lets take this story: "The evil empire has built a death star, and a small group of rebels have to destroy it in order to save the galaxy". This is the story of Starwars, but it is also the story of "Return of the Jedi". If diversity came form the high level plot alone, "Return of the Jedi" would have been a huge flop given that it was a repeat of Starwars. In the Starwars trilogy the existence of a death star constitutes the pivot state, and you can tell many different stories by creating a diverse set of mechanics that the player can use to change the Pivot state. A football match that ends with a score 2-1 doesn't make it a carbon copy of every other match that ends 2-1.

Its important to make sure that all players know how to switch the pivot state, and that the challenge lies in using the mechanics to gain assess to the switch rather then figuring out what the switch does or how to operate it. Remember both death stars, where destroyed the same way (go Photontorpedos), the struggle and diversity comes from how you get in to the position to be able to do it.

Application

To give you some examples of how this works in practice, I will here analyze and then modify some well known games to better conform with this model. I do not claim that any of these rule changes are balanced and properly play tested, but i think they do a good job of illustration how the model can be applied to different game systems.

Monopoly

Monopoly is a fairly broken game, because the mechanics are so limited, and the acceptable failure rate to too high. (The dice control the game). One way to re-balance this a bit would be to let players roll the dice twice and then select one of the two outcomes. The game lacks a pivot state, so lets add a bear/bull market state. In a bull market the normal Monopoly rules apply, but then we add the ability for players to somehow initiate a crash, that turns the game in to a Bear market lasting for a set number of rounds. In a bear market if you land on someones street they have to pay you, instead of the other way around. This completely upsets the normal strategy of "buy everything" and lets the game twist and turn making it far more dramatic, and players try to switch the market in to their advantage.

Risk

Risk is another game that like monopoly lacks a Pivot state, but assuming you are playing under the secret mission rules, where each player has a mission card, we can easily modify the rules to create one. Lets say each player gets a mission card but instead of keeping them secret we make them visible to all players. Now we have a static pivot state. To make it dynamic we make a new rule that any if any 2 players agree to sacrifice a total sum of 20 troupes, they can get rid of any players mission card and replace it with a randomly selected one. This gives loosing players an opportunity to pull out the rug from any player close to completing her mission, and the game will become much more dynamic and dramatic.

Chess

Chess is very well constructed game to be a purely cerebral game, and for the people who enjoy the very deterministic mechanics of chess it should remain the same (In other words, it is very successful in an different type of fun then drama). Since this is an exercise purely about making dramatic games I will suggest some changes. Chess very much has the butterfly effect problem that early decisions will have ramifications that normal players cant be expected to predict. Adding a random element where say a player might use a die roll to collect points to return fallen peaces to the board, would make the game less deterministic and players would play more in the "now" then always taking a long term view. You could argue that what pieces each player has available constitutes the pivot state, and that pivot state should be able to go both ways. A clearer pivot state would be to add a mechanic that would let a player lock or unlock all pawns. Once locked all pawns become static and can neither move or be taken. This would give the board "terrain" and the players could now use this static environment either as protection, or to more easily lock an opponent in to a checkmate. A player with an advantage in one state, may be exposed in the other making the switching of this state very pivotal for the game.

Starcraft (one or two)

Starcraft, is a game with strong mechanics, and micro management providing acceptable failure, But it suffers from a too big Pivot state. The pivot state in Starcraft could be considered each players position in the tech tree and how many mining nodes they are harvesting. With so much Pivot state each change in the state becomes less important and that reduces the tension over the switches. If all players to a greater degree fought over the same state we could reduce the amount of state and make it more impact full. This would most likely greatly unbalance the game since any switch in the state would result in one player getting such a huge advantage they would be assured to win. Therefor it might be good to changes states so that they are less about giving an advantage, and more about changing the tactical options available to players. The single player campaign has a mission where parts of the level get flooded with lava occasionally. A pivot state like this where both players fight over the switch that turns the lava on and off, would provide a good neutral pivot state.

Counter strike (Bomb mode)

Conterstrike might be one of the best games to conform to this model. Acceptable failure is provided by twitch and random bullet spread and damage that guarantees that each round is different. It also has a Pivot state: the planting of the bomb. Once the bomb is planted the strategy for both teams how to win the game changes. The only problem with this state is that it can not be reverted. If the bomb could be planted, then disarmed and then replanted the game would get more twists and turns. An other Pivot state could also be added by making it possible for a lone surviving team member to re-spawn all player back in to the game to shift the state of the game. The small maps limit the strategic options, so to make the mechanics more robust, the game could add static shields or the ability to weld doors shut, to give teams more high level strategic options.

Summary

Here is a short list of rules to try to obey for your game elements.

Mechanics:
-Defines the possibilities of the world.
-Must be predictable.
-Must give multiple viable options.

Acceptable failure:
-A failure Impacts the strategy of the mechanics.
-Happens enough to make player consider it.
-Don't happen so often the player feels its pointless to have a plan.
-Should make the mechanics deeper, by forcing the player to consider failures.
-Players must feel that failure is a fair element of the game.

Pivot state:
-Has to be small, but with huge impact.
-The pivot state must be known to all players.
-Preferably one state is not always better then an other.
-The switch affecting the pivot state must be known.
-The players need to use mechanics to access the switch.

Complications

These rules are fairly simple to understand in the abstract, but when you try to implement it in a modern game things easily become more complicated. One major problem is how to communicate events to the player. The Pivot state must always be known to all players, and in a large scale multi-player games where people can drop in and out at any time, and are separated by great distance this becomes much harder to incorporate in a nice way without breaking immersion (Bomb has been planted).

Another problem is that if you are making a perpetual game, that doesn't have rounds that naturally reset the game, Acceptable failure may not be enough avoid devolving the game. Games that require this form of "Catastrophic failure", are very hard to make acceptable to players. My current thinking is that suicide is the only way to provide Acceptable Catastrophic failure. A good example of this is RPGs where players them selves decide to forgo their powerful characters and start a new character, in order to experience the adventure again, although in a different way.

No one has ever lived an action film. Why? Because the chance you will end up in a car chase, a shoot out, a bar fight, fall out of an airplane and find the love of your life, all within two hours is just about zero. To make an interesting game you need to tilt the odds of interesting stuff happening way beyond what reality can provide. I have found that the best way is to build AI director systems that constantly look for opportunities to reinforce to pivot state. If the pivot state is that the town is run over by gangsters, then the player shouldn't be able to pass a bank without stumbling on to a in progress robbery. Make every character in the world bemoan the state its in and find every excuse to show its impact. This lets you flesh out the world while not side tracking it from the pivot state.

A well designed pivot state should act as catalyst for player agency, but you can never count on players going along with it. If your player just wants to hang out in a desert, then send him some droids with a secret message, and if that doesn't work send a old man telling him he has a destiny, and if that doesn't work burn down his farm and kill his family and make sure the ship he happens to hire will take him straight to the evil lair where the antagonist is holding the princess locked up.

Phew

E

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Love is unraveling

LovePosted by Eskil Sun, October 30, 2011 16:11:07
For years I have tried to figure out how to make Dramatic games, games that don't tell stories, but that have stories emerge from them. Love from the very beginning has always been a big experiment trying to build a game that could do that. In some ways it has worked, but in many ways it hasn't worked, So earlier this year I went back to the drawing board to try to figure out the fundamental problem of drama in games, not for just Love but for all games. Some people think that all Love needs is to be more polished, and have better documentation, but I don't think that matters, because I don't think the fundamentals have clicked yet. There are plenty of games with crappy documentation that people love to play anyways. During the summer I finally started formulating a "grand unified theory of drama in games" that has started to answer the questions I have had. Ive since refined and understood this formula better and better, and I'm currently working on writing it all down.

About two months a go I began trying to figure out how to apply this theory to Love. While Love was designed to solve this problem, many of my assumptions made years ago turns out to have been wrong. That in it self is not a failure, that is what research is, to try to find out what you don't know, to learn things beyond your assumptions. The tricky thing is how to fix the issues without starting over from scratch. Sometimes making it hard for yourself, makes you solve the hard problems rather then just bypass them so its not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes things hard. However I now do have a plan that will in some fundamental ways change how Love is played, that i think will move Love in the direction i want. I don't know if it will work but Its time to try.

With this revamp few new thing will be added, but many things will be rewired. It could be compared to implementing a new play mode, like going from Capture the flag, to king of the hill. Same environments, same tools, same players, just different rules. The 5 super tokens will be replaced by a single artifact, that will be very powerful, but that will corrupt who ever has it, and it will be the players job to make sure that no tribe, will use it to dominate the planet.

I will have to try a bunch of new things, and i will introduce new bugs, and make help dialogs become out of sync. This is why I will, in 24 hours, shut down the ability for new players to enter Love. After that only existing players will get to be part of the reshaping of Love. Once the rework is done, I will open it back up to new players. All active accounts will be frozen during this time. If you don't have a currently active account and want to be a part of the Alpha/beta team during this transformation, you have 24h to sign up, but you have been warned; It will be shaky for a while.

I know a lot more about how to make the game I want to make, then I ever did before. Will that be enough to make a game that lives up to what I want? That I don't know. So lets find out.

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Dear John Carmack.

LovePosted by Eskil Sat, October 15, 2011 00:48:00
I'm currently playing Rage and I must say I'm really enjoying it, but please John, don't ever make a game like Rage again.

Long before I was ever a programmer I was a big fan of you. Doom2 and Quake are among my favorite games ever. Even today I play through them every other year or so. They are fluid, fast and not bogged down with cut scenes or story. I don't even feel the need to save my progress when I play because I know rather just replay it next time.

From a technical point of view, the great thing about the id games from the 90s was that every other year a new game would come out it would be full of new ideas, and interesting solutions, that while not always pointing to a mainstream future made them unique and worth exploring.

With Doom3 something happened. It took 4 years. I don't blame you, I blame arist's. Artists don't want 40 characters on screen, they want 10,000 polys per character. Artists don't want you to run fast, they want you to enjoy the scenery. Artists don't want slow projectiles you can dodge, they want realism. The thing with artists is that they so easily can become perfectionists and just like programmers can lose themselves in the whirlpool trying to write the optimal code long after any reasonable performance optimization is left to be made, they get stuck refining every texture pixel by pixel. The truth is that single line drawn by Picasso can (and most often is) more aesthetically pleasing then the meat-head character someone spent six months sculpting in Z-brush. By creating Mega Texture (Really cool by the way) you gave in to your artists desires. There is a Swedish saying that goes something like "Give the bear honey, and it will take you entire arm off". It feels applicable.

I think everyone who makes something is battling this problem: should I sink all time and resources in to one big thing, or should I try many smaller things? God knows I am. If I do something big maybe I will spend all my time on the wrong thing, and if I do something small maybe it will be too small for anyone to take notice. The big decisions always come at the beginning so the longer you work on something the more trivial your impact on it becomes.

Many games designers think its their job to tell stories, but games isn't a story medium, they should go write books or make films. Many artists think that games are about attention to graphical details and in extension to proving how ambitious they are. They should go make art. No, games are about mechanics, they are about feedback, and that is something that programmers provide. Games are not a contest where the developer who spends the most money and time wins either. The greatest legacy of id, is inventing the first person shooter, and things like mouse look. The greatest stories created by id, was not something written, but something that emerges in gameplay. You did that.

If it was all about implementing megatextures, and not about your artists spending years using it, you could have made a game in 18 months not 6 years, so it could be argued that your artists stole 3 Carmack games from us, by demanding perfection.

Some time ago a stumbled on a video interview, where you said that rockets are too complicated to simulate, and that is why Armadillo aerospace builds at least one new rocket every 6 months. Real artist ship. That's what I would like you to do. Get a team of no more then ten people, purposefully don't have more then 2 artists and maybe one level designer on that team and make something in 12-18 months, and dont make it perfect, make it different. Build an engine based on Raytracing, Voxels, particles, Signed Distance fields, vorenoi patterns, or something else we haven't seen. Make something that requires 16 cores, or what ever, just push the envelope in some way. Don't tell a story, don't make a world, make a Descent or a Conterstrike something that doesn't live on content. With a fourth of the time and a tenth of the staff, ill bet you it will be a better investment then Rage.

The thing is you don't have to make something big to get noticed, you are John freakin' Carmack.

Edit:

I find it interesting how people read things on the Internet. Sometimes I think they don't read it at all, they just scan to try to find out as quickly as possible if something is a Flame or Praise, so that they can go ahead and either Flame or Praise it in turn. The world is less binary then that.

Trying to clarify things for people who read the Internet like that may be a lost cause, but hey, here I go:

The story most of you are talking about is story telling being told in text, cut scenes, voiceover, and machinima. None of that is a game, its other media squeezed in between what is a game. Games have emergent stories, or what I prefer to call drama. That's the thing that happens when you are the last counter terrorist trying to defuse the bomb in counterstrike. Quake, and Doom had drama, modern AAA games have Story telling.

I think that each studio, should make the kind of game that fits them best. I hate the idea that all games that comes from a major studio has to be the same. (currently a realistic, or semi-realistic scripted FPS with cut-scenes). Why cant we let X-Com be a turn based game? Why cant we let Syndicate be a top down RTT game? The problem with Rage is that its trying to be a "modern game" instead of being the kind of game that fits John Carmack. Only one studio in the world can have John Carmack as its lead engineer, so why cant that studio make games based on tech rather then art and design? I'm fine with them being tech demos, as tech demos go, Doom and Quake where pretty great. If it takes Carmack a year and a half to make an engine and then he has to wait 4 and a half years for the art department to finish the game, then clearly id isn't utilizing their greatest asset by the type of games they make.

E

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