Emerging Issues in Game Design Ernest W. Adams
Disclaimers • Most of my speaking and writing is about emerging issues in game design in one way or another. • This lecture is a compendium of snippets from others delivered over the last several years. • Some of you will have heard some of it already. • This lecture will slowly move from the practical and immediate to the esoteric and theoretical.
New Ways of Seeing • Jason Rubin observed (GDC-Europe, 2003): • Graphical improvement is slowing down. • It is no longer a steeply rising curve. • The consumer is less aware of differences. • We have passed a threshold and they are no longer a primary selling point for games. • Graphics are still important. But they are no longer our best sales tool. • The Matrix has used too many special effects; people are bored with them.
New Ways of Seeing • The quest for graphic quality will go on, but... • We must find new ways of attracting customers. • Visual design innovations • Non-photorealism, new art styles • Game design innovations • New kinds of games, new ways to play. • We need groundbreaking innovators in all areas. • Impressionism was a new way of seeing that changed painting forever. • We need a new way of playing that may change gaming forever. Where are our Impressionists?
Serious Games • Games for purposes other than recreation. • These can include: • Education & training • Study and research • Military uses • Advertising • Politics and activism • Community-building • Medicine & psychotherapy • Charity and relief work • To traditional designers, these are a challenge • They can’t be judged merely on “fun.” • There are interesting ethical issues here. • All simulations are abstractions of reality… • … so all reflect the biases of their designers.
Online Gaming • We need new forms of online entertainment. • Not everybody wants to compete. • We need more options in between the chat room and the MMORPG. They’re too “gamer”-y for many people. • A Tale In The Desert • Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates • Habbo Hotel • Broadband will enable: • Richer, deeper experiences • More personal experiences • Support for niche gaming markets • Microsoft is researching this for Xbox Live.
The Dangers of Blurring the Magic Circle • Soon MMOGs will need to establish a bright line between in-game and out-of-game play. • People may operate criminal conspiracies under the cover story that it’s all “just a game.” • If virtual characters & virtual gold are worth real money, are MMOGs a form of gambling? • Your character is what you stake. • Is an RPG a game of chance or of skill? • Is a PvP mugging a real mugging? • The legal issues are becoming complex. • The State of Play conferences, run by the NY Law School, are a useful resource.
Emerging Issues with Modding • Give ’em the razor, sell ’em the blades. • Which is the razor and which the blades? • 1989: engines were expensive, content was cheap. • Today: engines much cheaper than content • Sell the engine and some content • Let them make their own content • This increases demand for the engine. • But is it safe? • How do you defend your intellectual property? • How do you prevent the creation of offensive mods? • GTA: San Andreas showed we need a bright line here too.
Artificial Intelligence • Game AI’s role is to put up a good fight and then lose. • Areas for research: • Intelligent opponents (of course) • Intelligent teammates & units (the stupid wingman problem) • Voice recognition • Must accept all sorts of people, without any training. • Computer-generated speech • Must not only handle inflections but also create a sense of the character and personality of the speaker. • Recorded snippets can only go so far. • Natural language comprehension and generation • Artificial characters • Automated storytelling (the AI dungeon master) • AI is incredibly resistant to hardware improvements. • However, an AI chip for pathfinding is in development.
Sex in Games • Hilary Clinton or not, it’s going to happen. • Adults want it; adult stories need it. • So long as it remains juvenile: • It will be badly done (Hot Coffee content) • Even its own audience won’t respect it (BMX XXX) • We will all get flak we don’t deserve • Three major design issues: • Seduction • Explicit sex • Dramatic significance • (I’ll talk about single-player; multi-player is different.)
Seduction • “You sound like a ham-fisted drunk trying to pinch the hostess at a cocktail party.”– review of Man Enough • Seduction is difficult to simulate because the real thing takes place at the pheromone level. • It’s difficult to make seduction a “goal” without simply looking sleazy.
Explicit Sex • Current graphics are inadequate. • Video snippets from porn movies? Why bother? • 3D models: plastic people having plastic sex. • Animé as a solution? (less suspension of disbelief) • The controller-mapping problem • Handheld controllers map to human bodies badly. • Fighting games and football games illustrate the problem. • Sex is an all-body process involving minute analog movements. • Marionette sex is not very erotic. • Indirect control, e.g. The Sims, will be more successful.
Dramatic Significance • Sex has a disproportionate influence on history. • Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra • King John and Isabelle of Angoulême • Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky • As a social force, it destabilizes, not organizes. • We can write this into embedded stories, but… • …can we credibly create emergent stories about it? • Can we build drama engines that understand sex? • (Chris Crawford ran into this with his Erasmatron.) • Sex is a key component of soap operas. • Perhaps we should study them for behavioral scripts. • (Or just stick with violence, it’s easier!)
A Litmus Test Devised by Yours Truly “Art with a capital ‘A’ serves to illuminate the human condition in all its manifold circumstances, and that includes sexuality. Many art forms (painting, sculpture, literature) are easily capable of this; others (flower arranging, macramé) not so much so, or at least not very accessibly to most observers. Until interactive entertainment is capable of saying something meaningful about sex—not just showing it, but commenting on it, inspiring thoughts and feelings about it—we're still down there with macramé.” — The Designer’s Notebook, 11/21/2000
NARRATIVE INTERACTIVITY Interactive Narratives • I disagree with John that they are oxymoronic. • But I have long argued (CGDC 1995) that there is an unavoidable inverse ratio. • Narrative: • Is about what the author has to say • You go where she takes you, you have no choice • Interactivity: • Is about what the player wants to do • Its purpose is to fulfill the player’s fantasy • We have to find the rightbalance for a given game.
Interactive Narratives • We’ve been struggling with this for 25 years. • We do it very well right now in a limited domain, action-adventures and Half-Life. • We’re good at interactive Schwartzenegger movies (all action, no character or emotion). • But can we make them in other contexts? • Can we make an interactive romantic comedy? • Soap opera? • Political thriller? • We have to abandon the “game” metaphor. • Story-like experiences are not all about challenges and achievement.
Fully Exploiting the Medium • John Sutherland* divided media thus: • Novels are best at handling internal tension. • Plays are best at handling interpersonal tension. • Movies are best at handling external tension. • He argued that games should be like movies. • I claim that games should try for all three! • Interactive fiction exploits the power of the word. • Interactive drama exploits the power of dialog. • Interactive film exploits the power of the camera. • Why limit ourselves to one approach? • We can do all of these things and more. * “What Every Game Developer Needs to Know About Story,” Gamasutra webzine, July 27, 2005.
Embedded vs. Emergent Narratives • We’ve been saying “The game is the story.” • But what did it really mean? • We were also writing non-interactive story-material. • Marc LeBlanc* proposed that: • Embedded: story is told from pre-written blocks. • Emergent: story arises as a property of the game system, its core mechanics. • Many weaknesses of interactive narratives arise from the embedded nature of the stories. • (Game won’t let the player do something unexpected;plot feels mechanical; protagonist has amnesia) * “Emergent Complexity, Emergent Narrative,” GDC 2000
Can We Make Good Emergent Narratives? • LeBlanc observed that: • They don’t give the player much guidance. • Players need to know where they’re going and why. • Emergent properties don’t always support the fantasy you want to create as a designer. • Sometimes you get absurd fantasies • (The Sims is emergent but ittells poor stories.) • Because emergent narratives are based on mathe-matical models, you get some familiar problems: • Degenerate strategies, unintended feedback loops. • I further observe that: • They require a redefinition of the idea of authorship. • Traditionally-trained writers will have big problems with this.
Procedural Content Generation • Traditional content dev. costs continue to climb • Traditional development time continues to rise • Pre-rendered PCG • Allows artists to hand-edit the results after generation • On-the-fly PCG • Requires a lot of CPU power • Use the graphics hardware, not the main CPU • Requires heuristics to avoid generating nonsense • Must use pseudo-random sequences so a given object looks the same every time it is generated • Good for unimportant objects that fit a pattern, e.g trees • How do we learn to design PCG worlds?
Gaining Recognition • We need the following: • An aesthetic for judging and a vocabulary for discussing interactive artworks • Serious criticism by well-educated people • (Not just “game reviews” by teenagers.) • Academic study of the medium • Highly-publicized, well-respected awards • A cult of personality à la film directors • Art requires an artist – someone for people to admire • And before we do any of that, we need to make creative works that deserve this level of energy, attention, and brainpower.
Replacing Tired Conventions • Gaming has evolved many conventions. • Some of them are turn-offs to new gamers: • “Logic and common sense are not important.” • “If you can blow it up, you should blow it up.” • “Levels end with a boss who’s very hard to kill.” • “Your soldiers are expendable cannon fodder.” • “Players prefer destroying to building.” • “All women have big breasts and few clothes.” • We must replace these to reach new markets.
A Few Popular Fantasies • The all-over VR body suit • Only as a very high-end option for fanatics • Equivalent to ThunderSeats for flight sim fans • Too much time, trouble, and cleaning! • Jacks into your brain • Only nerds think this is cool; others think it’s sick. • Why jacks? Wireless! Wireless! • Artificial people • This one we can do… in limited domains. • Real people aren’t all that bright anyway! • The Turing Test would disqualify a lot of them…
N91 N90 N70 9500 9300 9210i 8800 7710 7610 7280 7270 European Nokia Phones Available Now 7260 6822 6820 6810 6681 6680 6670 6630 6610i 6600 6310i 6280 6270 6260 6230i 6230 6170 6111 6101 6100 6090 6060 6030 6021 6020 5140i 5140 5100 3660 3330 3300 3250 3230 3220 3120 3100 2652 2650 2600 2300 2100 1600 1110 1101 1100 810 770 D211 9500 Communicator TETRA Terminals N-Gage™ game deck N-Gage™ QD game deck Doesn’t even include:- non-European models- legacy phones- other manufacturers
Consumers are Beginning to Rebel • Total customization is good (buying a PC) • Broad categories are good (buying a pencil) • Millions of very similar models are not good • They make the consumer feel stupid • They contribute to “buyer’s remorse” • “Did I choose the best one for me? Did I find the best deal?” • Don’t overwhelm the player with options! • Games are abstractions… so abstract things! • Creeping featurism is a nerd’s disease. • It takes a long time to decide on all your options • The casual gamer wants fun without work or hard decisions. • Is the easy entry why World of Warcraft is so succesful?
The Biggest Emerging Issue of All The casual game market is growing rapidly. The industry is beginning to mature. The long-hoped-for “mass market” is here. This requires a fundamental transition from designing for ourselves to designing for others. The era of self-indulgent game design is over. It’s time for player-centric game design.
A One-Slide Manifesto • Player-centric game design is an approach in which the designer envisions a representative player for whom the game is created. • The designer accepts two duties to this person: • The duty to entertain. • Entertainment is the primary function of the game. • All its features, gameplay, and content must serve this goal. • The duty to empathize. • The designer must learn to think like the player even if that player is very different from himself. • The designer must ask at all times how the player will react. • Unlike market-driven design, it demands that the designer think about an individual player.
Emerging Issues in Game Design Ernest W. Adams