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Discussion: Games without end

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/2708995.stm Introduction of article: "Keen gamers can rejoice as US scientists are working on ways to make computer games that never end. The researchers are adapting AI techniques used for robot navigation to manage game worlds that constantly present fresh challenges to players. " The article is about non-linear and even non-ending games. I think it''s quite uneducated (Not too bad for a news site), covering aspects we''re already well into in the industry. Games that don''t end- MMORPG''s, right? Non-linear games - I could mention various examples, though I''m struggling to think up a list. We had Elite back in the day for a start. Deus Ex isn''t exactly, but at least gives you the freedom in getting from A to B however you like (Rather than you decide to go to C instead). What do you think about the article, and ''never-ending games''? Discuss!

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We already have never ending games, just you don''t play them constantly. They are played in stages, and called competitive multiplayer games: warcraft 3, counter-strike, etc. =-)
And I agree that MMORPG are already unending.

The difference is that the article talks about it being automated so the story writers get to work a lot less after releasing an MMORPG, etc.

Sounds fun, but the games with adaptive stories should be multiplayer. Would be cool to be able to evolve a story with friends just by playing a video game. They should add an engine to turn a recorded game into a book-type story, so you could read about other people''s adventures in the game just like it was a novel. =-)

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crAzy

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Any "endless" game will have to be a world created by the player as there is a finite amount of material the designers can include. Even in the most open-ended sandbox, there is a finite set of possible actions.

The only "endless" game wothwile playing extensivly is one where the players have control over the rules. Even an evolving AI will reach a plateau of ability since, ignoring fluke emergent behaviour, an AI that deliberately creates AI will logically always create inferior AI, or at best a superior accident.

Games with colsole inputs and the like often have some reprogramability potential (Quake 3 let you write software "shaders" for eg animating textures). A good neverending game would have an ultra-optimised scripting language which had a Forrest-Gump lowest level which could be extended at the whim of the player ie they create their own language from scratch if they want to.

Such an environment might generate entirely new programming models!

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MMORPGS are not unending .

There is a certain point where you can no longer attain anything higher than what you have, nor kill anything you haven''t killed. Usually, game companies release expansions or a sequal before that happens

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Since I favor story-based games...what many would consider linear based games, I''m actually not in favor of it. To me ALL things must come to an end, and most especially stories.

Neil Gaiman who is a very well received writer of novels and comic books (he wrote the Sandman awhile back) was once asked what he felt was a requirement of a good story. He simply answered, "A beginning, a middle, and an end". Since he started in comic books, comics are the only art medium I can think of that stretches a storyline on and on and on and on with no end in sight. It therefore lacks a sense of direction and purpose.

Even if you don''t agree that games are stories, that they are rules that model a situation to create victory....if a game never ends, how do define victory? You can then argue that "endless" games aren''t really "games", but "toys" or "sandboxes". I personally believe that the game medium is in serious need of precisely defined jargon so that the semantics of the industry terms aren''t misconstrued by various parties. If something is endless, it can''t have a victory, and if it can''t have a victory, it can''t be a game (at least by many people''s definition of a game). If it''s just a toy or a sandbox (ala the Sims, or MMORPG''s) then aren''t the purposes of RPG''s to have a story element to them? If it''s just a toy, by the very psychological laws of Diminishing Returns, something that is endless will eventually grow boring (unless you can so adapt it that it doesn''t resemble what you previously played with before).

So really, I''m not too interested in the concept of endless. All good things must come to end for several reasons.

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I think the terminology we have has been making communicating ideas really difficult. When I say Narrative, the D&D crowd assumes I mean a quest with a purpose, and when I say Character Development, they point at an EXP graph. And dare you even try to refer to some literary aspects, you get yelled at and told "STORY HAS NO PLACE IN GAMES."

From an software engineering standpoint, I think its great that their looking into algorythms that''ll generate quests and NPC dialouge for MMORPGs and the like. These stories could probably even get quite advanced given enough time and resources. The problem is that what we have here is the thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters scenario. Whether you accept the philosophy of it or not, you have to understand that the works of shakespere will be among an infinite amount of other stuff generated, most where UHG is spelt wrong and SPLFDARGAVIK is a commonly used word. Sure with software this can be filtered out, but how many times do I have to play a story through to get fight club or momento?

What I''m getting at is that centuries of proven literary tactics are going to be randomly selected and thrown together, names will be generated, and we''ll get stuff that is unique in that its particularities haven''t been used before, but on the whole there will be nothing new. We''ll have no characters facing immense internal and external conflict with merciless antagonism, we''ll get a hack and slash that manages to fake it pretty well. Hell, britney speares can fake it pretty well, but that doesn''t make her an amazing evolution in Music History.

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Let''s not make the mistake of thinking of a video game as a story. A video game can be a story, certainly, but it''s not required. If you make a game the provides a world, just as a serial comic book series creates a world, then it can be filled with beginnings, middles, and ends, and they can overlap and recall one another in strange combinations and interactions. This is the basic premise of an MMORPG, but it''s seen elsewhere.

Games in which you finish all your objectives, and conquer the universe, and then just sort of cruise around in the universe you conquered, aren''t really at an ultimate end, but have simply run out of beginnings. If there was a way to install an expansion, or have the software generate a beginning, then a new story could take place in the world that the player has helped shape.

Take GTA3, for example. Even after you''ve finished all the missions, unlocked all the secrets, and set all the records, the game doesn''t end. You just tool around in the city, getting shot at by your enemies and shooting back. The game stagnates at that point, since there''s nothing left to do, really, but you can still have fun. If there was a way to interact with the people and places on a more complex level without actually following scripted missions, then that could be a terrific new wrinkle in video games.

Say you combine the artificial life systems of The Sims with the gameplay, factions and characters of GTA3. That would be a never-ending game that would ALWAYS be fun. I guess that''s the vision I''m seeing here. A simulated world that never runs out of scenarios. I''m not entirely sure how it would be done, but it''s a very neat idea.

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Iron Chef
Video games need not be stories, but I feel that if you do take a story-based approach to your game, it''s not enough to "serialize" them. Look at comics...yes, there are self-contained story arcs within them, but after awhile they just start repeating the same things over and over and over ad nauseum. There is a difference between making something episodic, and actually making something truly end.

Take Babylon 5 for example. You didn''t have to watch all 5 seasons to enjoy one show, but if you did watch all 5 seasons the enjoyment was much greater. And more to the point, the single most important reason for Babylon 5''s popularity was that the series was developed with a beginning a middle and an end. J. Michael Straczynski knew how the series would eveolve and knew what the ending was going to be like. The overall arching storyline didn''t meander from episode to episode without a firm direction in mind.

It''s the unending continuity of comic books that makes me no longer enjoy them. I much prefer the Japanese style of manga writing in which stories eventually end. Even popular series you don''t see them come out with ongoing Akira''s, Appleseed''s, or even Robotech''s. Japanese storytelling, unlike American storytelling has an end in mind. I remember reading Daredevil a few years back and it reached what I considered to be a final epiphany for Matt Murdock (and if you''re not familiar with DD, I''m sure quite a few people...girls especially...will watch Ben Afflick''s Daredevil movie). It would have been the perfect spot to end the series, as a 4 issue story arc resolved many of DD''s issues and finally brought peace to the troubled vigilante''s mind.

But for the sake of profits, of course it was deemed that new stories should go on. While I''m not exactly sure how the design process works in commericial studios, I often get the feeling that storylines are "design by committee". In no other art form can I see this. A single composer writes music, a single author writes screenplays, a single director directs movies, etc. While it''s true that editors can often influence a direction or storytelling, I have a feeling that game stories and backgrounds are arrived at by consensus rather than having one visionary truly shape and mold the world.

Having this "visionary" guide the process along is I think important to the flow of a game. Having unending algorithms doesn''t provide seamless direction because it requires human intuition and recognition to understand them. Quests just for quests sake isn''t as fun as tying the quests together for a purpose. Human beings inherently look for purpose and direction. It is one of the most important facets of our human nature and existence. We don''t like randomness, because randomness implies chaos. We inherently look for and create order in our lives. And going with that, we also seek closure. We are finite creatures that live in an ongoing whole...so we try to make sense of it.

Now, remember, this is just for story-based gaming. If you are playing goals-based gaming, then continuity, closure and direction aren''t important. What''s important in this type of entertainment is just the opposite really...making sure that aren''t sure what''s going to happen, that you do not make the direction too obvious. It is the challenge of facing the unknown changing victory conditions (is my opponent better this year?).

As for sandbox-style gaming, it is a little more similar to story gaming. You want to create order and mold the world into your fashion. But eventually, you have to reach the pinnacle of your creation...your "utopia". This is the ultimate goal really of world building type games. Now the other kind of sandbox gaming...ala virtual worlds, is just virtual voyeurism and proxy living. I think people enjoy this type of gaming because not only do they control people''s "lives", but they get to mold them and live through their experiences. This type is endless because there is always something new to explore, so exploration is key to this game types replayability fun factor. There are some people however who don''t want to experience new things, but just want to control virtual lives, in which case this is the same as world-building games.

Me personally, I derive my greatest satisfaction from finite story-based gaming. I believe that only when something is finite do we learn not to take it for granted, and to me that''s the most important thing of all.

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That article really misses the boat on that technology and what it''s trying to do. It has nothing to do (directly) with mmorpgs, and nothing to do with a game that can go on forever. The idea behind it, from what I can gather, is to make an engine where designers can build a story that will WORK with a very interactive world. Most games that try to do this (deus ex, and others) are basically a giant if else tree. All the places where the player can interact and break the story have to be set up and defined in the games logic by the developer.

With this technology, they are trying to come up with some sort of gamemaster ai - it knows where the story is supposed to go and what''s supposed to happen. When the player interacts with the world in a way that will break the story, this ai tries to make something happen that is a believable reason WHY that interaction couldn''t occur. Some great ideas.

Also, while it''s applicable to games, I think they are trying to do something different from games. They are trying to make interactive stories, that let "players" experience a story as if they were part of it. I don''t think they are going for the traditional puzzle-solving/action(dont die/lose)/beating-the-game thing that most games follow. I''m not sure, but it doesnt sound like there is a way tolose, and the onlly "winning" that can happen is getting to the end of the story, which should happen anyway (because the ai WANTS the story to get to the end).

Just wanted to clarify things.

I did download the unreal mod they had, but it didn''t have good demos of the technology so I dont know how much smoke is involved in the creators claims.

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