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Member Since 26 Jun 2000
Offline Last Active Oct 20 2016 09:20 PM

Posts I've Made

In Topic: The Value of Procedural Generation

03 October 2016 - 02:17 AM

I think, by the way, that roguelikes work because the fail state hovers over everything. Choices become exceedingly significant when any one choice can be your last. The ever-present possibility of imminent discontinuity acts to hold back meaninglessness because survival-- one more step, one more room, one more encounter-- is a never ending fight that seems to embody meaning itself.

In Topic: The Value of Procedural Generation

03 October 2016 - 02:08 AM

Absolute favorite game dev topic in the world! [WARNING: EXCESSIVE PONTIFICATION INCOMING]


Procgen is incredible not only for the potential multiplying power it gives to developers and the way that it allows offering previously impossible to convey experiences but for the way it makes us think about games. Even after a lot of study, game design is still an art, a bit like fine cooking, filled with recipes that work but for not quite clear reasons and which resist methodical systematization. But the act of decomposing design into code, getting formulas to replicate the designer's voodoo, DEMANDS that systematization. You have to pierce the veil, so to speak, of what makes a game good.


I think the core you have to understand is this: What are the governing systems, what are their interrelations, and what ultimate meaning do they all create for the player? For systems, like defense/damage or risk/compensation, a key question is how they function independently and in conjunction with one another. How can they break, as happens say when defense (like hit points) vastly outstrips damage or rewards pale to risks required? How do they vary (linear & predictable, chaotic, punctuated , exponential?) What expectations does the system create (should players ALWAYS be getting stronger, and if so, by how much?)


The interrelation of these systems is even trickier to get right: Does the defense/damage system negatively impact the risk/compensation system, such that one system runs the other down and causes risk averse play (seen in systems for example where defense is easily depleted and reward too low to reasonably offset the depletion)? Or maybe the opposite, where one system artificially inflates the other and causes careless play that borders on meaninglessness (players constantly spamming their most powerful abilities, for example)?


Meaning versus meaningless itself is I think one of the key non-technical challenges procgen exposes game developers to. The act of providing variety itself reduces the utility of any given thing in the game. It's not simply about how much of what, but how much SIGNIFICANT what the game can depict. Algorithms can easily produce sequences and patterns, but it is a delicate balancing act to generate sequences/progressions which are both useful, anticipated AND unexpected. A simple progression of +1, +2, +3... +999 sword is easy, but finding the +X sword that's just what you need at the right time, right when you need it and which defies previous experiences of getting swords yet is reassuringly (I would argue comfortingly) expected is not just an art but maybe an arcane, mysterious black art!


I think one of the most seductive aspects of procgen is sheer scope/scale. Space games, which have as their subject matter the immeasurable heavens, can very easily fall prey to this. Why 18 billion worlds? Why (as in the original Elite) 8 galaxies each with billions of locations? Because that's what's there and the SF geek knows it, same as the fantasy geek knows that gorgeous, medieval worlds have lush forests filled with countless rocks and bushes and trees. (Anyone remember the days when we couldn't afford forests? Or how Daggerfall's sprite trees gave way to Solstheim's CPU crushing, spartan forests to what we have today? It was quite a struggle for games to catch up to the breathtaking vistas we saw in Lord of the Rings).


Of course as others have pointed out the scope/scale doesn't matter if the core gameplay loop isn't right. Too often scope is seen as a marketing bullet point, a glorified ">" Brand X signifier pushed by folks that don't seem to understand that the "more" has to be meaningful more. Sure the Guinness Book of World Records may laud you for having 17.75 million guns but so what if players really only care about the golden ones? Sure they may praise you for having 5,560 square miles of terrain to drive on, but who cares if its locked behind boring challenges and achievement walls?


All of this gets to the ultimate meaning of the entire experience itself. Who am I supposed to be? Where am I supposed to be going within this sea of content? Why is it all here? What is the ultimate goal, and how do the intermediary goals serve that goal? Scratch the surface of procedural deep enough and you expose the core of what we expect to get out of any given game / genre entirely. Is it supposed to be an asymptotic curve of rising progression? Training for a penultimate fight? A skinner box playing on endless surprise and expectation? An exploration of variation itself, meant only to be witnessed and catalogued? 


You might not expect game development to run smack dab into philosophy but allow me to make what at a glance might seem an absurd connection but in reality may be the heart of the matter: Procedural generation, which you could argue is the mathematical simulation of seemingly infinite abundance, in its full expression (not just as a tool to cut costs in a curated experience) confronts players with existential meaninglessness. It exposes them to the semblance of infinity. The sheer totality of the world procgen can introduce players to can be one which cannot be experienced in a single lifetime. There is no conquering it all. There is no inhabiting it all-- as in owning the map or running the entire board.


Give a person wealth beyond measure and nothing to spend it on and see what happens. Maybe they live to acquire more in blind, ritualistic fashion. Maybe they satisfy every possible appetite and wait to die. Either way, existential meaningless haunts the infinite abundance. You can hear it in the question when players ask, "What's the point to all this? What's it all for?"


The underlying ontological representation of procgen can render the player's actions an ink drop in an ocean. What choices REALLY matter? What can possibly matter when any change is swamped by the immensity of it all? How can any tree or patch of ground or even NPC's life matter when there is just so much? Players can only be saved by the almighty designer's validation in the form of some end condition that reassures them that they have 'won.' And even still, that may not be enough. How many have gotten to the center of No Man's Sky? What does it mean to gain the Amulet of Yendor and become immortal in an endless world?


Pushed into more speculative territory, I can imagine procgen 10 or 20 years from now if trends hold. More devs with access to jaw droppingly powerful tools creating more worlds in ever more weirder derivations and variations. All of it creating more corners of unexplored space no human eye will ever see. Universes upon universes visible only to the system itself. The "lost in VR" tropes popular in SF decades ago, simulations filled with a dizzying array of mathematical variation saturating the amygdala over and over maybe don't seem so far fetched now.

In Topic: Slavery, Include Or Not?

03 September 2016 - 10:38 PM

I think it is a deep mistake for players and designers to expect a 1:1 correspondence between gameplay mechanics and real life. In all our time gaming (tabletop / board game or electronic) how many innocent lives have we players all taken collectively? How much have we stolen? How many have we wronged?


If we are talking about fictional entities the answer can only be zero. These things do not exist. They are not real. Therefore no living thing can be harmed, and what kind of creatures are we if we are obsessed with the morality of deeds against non-living, non-existent things? At best we can be accused only of committing crimes of the imagination.


I agree with the point others have made that some will see your work as taking a position, and I feel we currently live in a time where being seen to be moral is perhaps more important than actually BEING moral. If position is a concern, I'd simply make it clear in the manual that this was historical fact and its inclusion is neither meant to condone nor glorify and leave it at that. Some people will nonetheless be deeply offended. It is their right to be so, and it is your right to ignore them. Let them create works that promote their own values. Maybe your work can serve as a springboard for a game about abolition or a deeper simulator whose mechanics plumb the depths of the psychology of objectification.


As an aside let me also note that a rising interest in injecting modern morality into gaming isn't in and of itself a bad thing. There are wide open frontiers to explore in that direction. But a game is not somehow immoral because it incorporates distasteful and even downright evil subject matter. With gaming we must resist the mechanism in our brain that correlates thinking about something as doing it. Thinking is thinking. Doing is doing.

In Topic: USC Canceled Video Game Panel For Too Many Men

04 June 2016 - 12:12 AM

Examples like that are why everyone should be aware of gender issues (as opposed to putting their fingers in their ears and yelling "woman got the vote, we're all equal now!" - yes, caricature, not specific :P)

Agreed, but we should also be aware of the countervailing tendency, popular in some camps who have loudly declared themselves to be the only parties "on the right side of history," (caricature as well but just as apt) of drawing broad conclusions from limited datasets which agree with their overall world view. We should, as much as humanly possible, explore the problem space with the best data available wherever it leads us.

History being the funny thing that it is, there may be no right or wrong side, rather only a human side.

Another is that women are more likely to feel the "imposter syndrome" and not at all likely to apply for jobs where they don't meet every criteria (whereas men tend to apply if they meet just half the criteria).

Having felt this first hand working in games, I have to ask if this is actually gendered or is it an ingroup / outgroup thing. (Apparently I'm not alone, minorities also experience it: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-impostor-syndrome/)

Most entry-level games jobs that I see, ask for:
* 3 shipped titles or 3 years industry experience,
* a 4 year degree
* lots of languages / tools experience.

It was only later in life (too late, I think) that I learned that a game was being played with requirements. The light for me went off interviewing with someone I'd worked with who had fewer qualifications than I had. His wisdom for me was, "I just apply for everything, the worst they can do is reject me."

Is is possible that members of an outgroup do not take as many risks because they are less likely to understand the consequences of those risks?

So being comfortable enough to discuss and act on gender issues, while not jumping to black and white conclusions, makes good business sense as well as being socially progressive.

I would like to see us more comfortable discussing, rather than weaponizing, our differences. I am greatly concerned that there is far more zeal and righteous glee in the latter. Good business sense should always derive from good information, and where the data shows clear, inexcusable differences (as with Salesforce recently) these need to be corrected swiftly.

In Topic: USC Canceled Video Game Panel For Too Many Men

03 June 2016 - 11:54 PM

Damn! This cannot be for real!
Female bias even extends to people's own children:  Pocket money: Boys get 13% more than girls, survey finds
Is this a female hating world or people witch-hunting the male dominance myth are seeing what they want to see?
Ah! , No... none of the above, Apparently its because boys moan, complain and asks for more!!! :( 

It is vital to adopt a skeptical attitude when faced with studies and extremely important to understand the inherent flaws in sociological research. This is especially true when science is being weaponized, as it often is in controversies such as gender relations, where a host of social biases and special interests can cloud the picture.

There exists at least two possibilities: The study is an accurate reflection of reality, and as such lends weight to the demand that society must reorder itself in order to live up to the ideals of an egalitarian and just society; or the study is not an accurate reflection of reality, due to flaws, the difficult and variable nature of what is being studied or other issues such as not accounting for mitigating factors.


In 1987, the Gallup Youth Poll found ... Teenage boys received, on average, smaller allowances (total cash transfers) than did girls, $8.39 and $11.71 per week, respectively, probably reflecting differences in time spent performing household chores. Boys were more likely than girls to do chores involving outdoor duties, such as mowing the lawn, and less likely to do indoor tasks, such as cooking, laundry, and babysitting. These indoor tasks tended to be greater in number and collectively required greater time input than outdoor tasks [Gagner, Cooney, and Call 1998]

In 1992, boys aged twelve to eighteen received average monthly allowances of $39.53, 13 percent more than what girls received; but boys were paid 19 percent less than girls for extra chores performed around the house (chores not required for receipt of an allowance)

According to Sabrina Pabilonia [1999], the median weekly allowance for twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys was $4.80, and the median weekly allowance for sixteen-year-old boys was $7.70. The only gender difference in the median allowance received was for sixteen-year-olds, with boys receiving approximately $1 less than girls.

SOURCE: Boyhood in America: A - K., Volume 1

What might have changed these numbers? Were there any issues with these studies? Do they track with results nationally? Do they vary across similar countries, and if so by how much?

In the vast majority of homes, the allowance is given ... as a reward for certain behavior.

Just as parents are docked for days missed at work, so are children punished for failing to live up to parental expectations.

Boys are asked to do more chores for their allowance than girls are. And parents who only have boys in their households are more likely to withhold allowance when dissatisfied than are parents who only have girls. Also, a significantly higher percentage of girls-only parents regard their girls as more responsible money mangers than do boys-only parents

SOURCE: Working Mother, 1986

Interesting. What to make of this? To what degree is allowance used as compensation for work performed versus behavioral control? Hypothesis: Do we assume boys on average have worse behavior than girls, and if so are boys being paid a higher rate to incentivize their behavior, or a lower rate as punishment for behavior? Or do girls behave worse than boys, or if better is a lower rate commensurate with less of a need to incentivize behavior?

Alternate theory: Is the work boys do considered more difficult (lawnmowing versus dishwashing)? Or is the work girls do considered more valuable (babysitting versus garbage)? How gendered is the work now versus in the past (are more girls taking out trash than in previous decades? Are more boys babysitting?)

According to a survey reported in Pediatrics for Parents newsletter, the average 8 and 9 year old's allowance is $3.75 per week. For 10 and 11 year olds, the average is $4.25, for 12 and 13 year olds $6.66, and for 14 year olds $9.45. Of the 1,000 children in the survey, only half received an allowance.

There is no gender gap in allowances - boys and girls in each group received the same amount per week. Girls were generally happier with the amount of their allowance while most boys thought they should receive more.

Chores - And Who Does Them

Girls Boys Chore
36% 60% Taking out the trash and recyclables
10% 40% Mowing the law and yard work
49% 33% Washing Dishes
36% 26% Caring for Siblings
36% 25% Helping to Prepare meals
29% 16% Cleaning the bathroom
27% 16% Dusting


Bonus: On spinning science, 2014 gender gap reports failed to note the nature of the study, claiming a gap for what was, in fact, a study aimed at college savings (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/allowance-gap-thinkprogress-is-pushing-is-fake/article/2547708)

The link Covert provided goes to a press release about the study from the Allstate Foundation, which co-sponsored the study with Junior Achievement USA. Covert completely ignores the headline of the press release, which is that there is a gender gap among teens planning to attend college.
Why would Covert ignore the main finding of the study? Maybe it’s because that particular gender gap favors girls.

(Washington Examiner is noted to be Right-leaning, FWIW)

If anything, be very wary of how science is translated into mass media, particularly if there is significant sanction for going against a widely adopted narrative or if one political faction favors only certain research. In modern culture is it easy to see one gender as good and another as bad? Is it easy to see one gender as more deserving of help and another as not? This will color perception.

Obviously, with a wealth of contradictory studies, we should be loathe to draw a straight line between allowances and greater social ills.