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Fear and The Thing's failure at emotional modeling

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I had a chance to play The Thing not too long ago and while I appreciate what the designer was trying to do it really serves as an example of how difficult the task of modeling human emotions really is. For those who haven't played it, it's basically a squad-based survival horror game with a few interesting twists: Your allies, for example, supposedly never know if you're the flesh-infiltrating monster or not, and so certain actions like giving them weaponry or taking it away affects their loyalty to you. Another example is their proximity to horrific sights, such as a flame-broiled mutated corpse, which can cause them to go into shock. The major failure, aside from a linear plot*, was in not dealing with repetition, which is common factor in games but quickly kills drama. For instance, you can walk a squad mate over to the previously mentioned corpse and he'll go into this teeth chattering, wigged out fear animation. If you lead him away, he'll normalize. But if, while you're running around trying to solve a puzzle, you lead him back over to the corpse, he'll start wigging out again. This can lead to some unintentionally funny (and drama destroying) player behavior where you step back and forth, back and forth watching the guy wig out, then be okay, then wig out, then be okay. The ultimate result is that you lose suspension of disbelief. I wonder if the concept of emotional attenuation would have helped here. Basically, the idea is that you can't have an emotion at a given level forever, it either increases or decreases with time. For fear, the way this might work is that with repeated exposure the squad mate's level of fear versus a specific type of thing / monster would go up or down each time. This would lead to more and more extreme behaviors over time and a greater and greater or smaller and smaller range of aversion. In the dead corpse example, there would be a range at which the fear steadily ramped up to some max. That max would determine the worst thing the squaddie would do (like throw down their gun and run away screaming). At first, ordering them to touch the corpse would trigger the absolute worst response. Later, just making them go in the same room would trigger it. As fear ramped up the range would increase. The squaddie would start out needing to go to the other side of the room to be okay; then finally needing to get out of the building. It might take them longer to calm down after each contact, and it also might lead to more and more extreme behavior, such as paranoia or loss of combat effectiveness in general. If, OTOH, the fear became weaker, the squaddie would progress to closer and closer contact and bolder and bolder behavior (like maybe kicking the corpse or making wise cracks about a barbeque dinner). Future contacts would lead to less and less aversion. Of course, I'm thinking of you having more flexible options to deal with this, as is more typical in RPGs: Maybe giving them more powerful weapons, or pairing them with buddies they like, or even choosing the right dialog options would help ramp down the fear. Thoughts? * = The best thing about the John Carpenter movie this game was based on, btw, is that you never knew where or WHO The Thing was. With a linear plot on replay (after dying, for instance) you always know where the monster will be. For instance, I gave a guy a flamethrower because I wanted him to trust me; but when the script determined he was a monster every time, I said screw it and took the weapon back to save ammo...

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I loved the movie. Have yet to play the game, though.. Is it still pretty good? It would be a shame if the game tanked..

but as to your post. In this scenario, perhaps after the second time or so, its likely the character wouldn't even notice at all, depending on the initial reaction. If anything, you should be able to just fry the thing into oblivion, or bury it, or something.

It is interesting, a person could really lean either way, either being repulsed by the corpse or just taking it in stride. I've seen more people become resolute in the face of a crisis, than freak out. In such a game, if i knew someone was freaking out, I would give him a shotgun, and barricade him in a room until the whole mess was over. I don't need a shaky trigger finger on my team.

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A lot of this post is kinda rambling, but my last paragraph is fairly concise. Feel free to skip down.

How about having aversion be a gradually increased stamina-type thing. I'm thinking here of the stamina in GTA: San Andreas. You can sprint for a while, and then you get tired and can't do it anymore, but if you keep sprinting and resting, you can go longer and longer.

Applying that here, we'll use the squaddie/toasted corpse example you used. When a totally green FNG is the first guy to discover the flamer, he'll get stressed. So, his "Wig-o-Meter" will spike to 80%, he'll puke, turn and run like hell for the out-of-doors. Given some cool-down time, a few friendly faces and maybe a gruffly reassuring comment from the Sargeant, he'll be down to 20%, and once again a functional member of the team, although he won't really want to go back in there.

If he goes back in the toasty will gradually build his stress back up. At 50% he'll complain, at 60% he'll fidget, at 70% he'll start ignoring orders and go sit out in the hall, and if he gets to 80% he's out of there. At 90% he totally loses his mind and starts behaving erratically or becomes catatonic, and at 100% his heart stops.

But if he goes in and sees the corpse again, his knowledge that it's there will reduce the surprise and the spike will not be as bad. It might take a few seconds for him to get up to that 50% level. Then you let him sit out, and when he comes back he'll never get above 70% from that particular corpse. More time spent, say securing the area, and he'll be making jokes and offering "Private Crispin" a cigarette ("Got a light? Haw, haw, haw!")

But when that squaddie encounters his first dead kid, or sees a team mate go down, he'll benefit little from his experience.

I think remedies should be effective at certain levels. At 50% or lower, a simple "Stay frosty, soldier," would be enough to counterract a little carnage or a spooky noise, but if he's at 60% already, the benefit will be reduced. Sitting on the other side of a wall is good up to about 70%, and smoking a cigarette is even better, but at 85%, he needs to get the heck out of the building, or be surrounded by at least six friendly, calm people.

Basically, I propose an economy of mitigators and exascerbators, regulated by the intestinal fortitude of the individual. Further sophistication could include types of stress (death, tragedy, pain, fear etc.) and specialized resistances to them. The alien-bashing hero might flip out when his partner dies, or be unable to stand the sight of a dead woman.

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Quick since it's off topic
Quote:
Original post by Chokki
I loved the movie. Have yet to play the game, though.. Is it still pretty good? It would be a shame if the game tanked..

It tanks, and it is a shame. The whole gameplay is built around uncertainty, and then they put a fixed script on top of that, thus negating uncertainty. The outcome is a game that builds up and quickly lets down. You start planning your actions around the knowledge of who's gonna change and when. No tension. No fear. Boring.

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I personally perfer The Unknown, Starcraft map. Which basically dumps 5-6 players together with one of them being "the thing", really adds to tension since you really never do know who it is. :D

I have watched a friend play The Thing, and it doesn't seem to connect all that well with the movie (other than the premise). He seemed to be running and gunning alot more than even remotely caring which one of his guys was an alien, which kind of negated the entire atmosphere of the game. The whole essence of The Thing being uncertainty and distrust towards your fellow survivors, one of which generally WAS the monster, rather than having hundreds of filler fodder to shoot at. Is Johnson hot for your brains? Is it that quiet guy in the corner who's rocking back and forth whimpering to himself? Or is he the only one who ISN'T an alien? You just don't know.. ;)

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You could try to model it this way:

Everyone has a "Fear Factor" (FF), say a number between 0 (scared s***less) to 100 (eating a bar-ba-que next to a burned corpse).

Every time the person comes into contact with the scarry situation roll a random number and:
- if you roll under your FF you can stand the situation and your FF will increase by a specified amount.
- if you roll over your FF you can't stand the situation and your FF will decrease by a specified amount.

Your level of FF will determine what you can or can't do if you fail or make your roll.
i.e.
at 90 - 100 failed roll will cause him to slow down, successful roll will allow him to act normally or possibly some bonuses for being immune.
80 - 90 failed roll will cause him to slow down and take a skill penalty, successful roll will allow him to act normally.
.
.
.
20 - 30 failed roll will cause freeze for a set amount of time, successful roll will cause him to move away from what terrified him.
10 - 20 failed roll will cause him to freeze for a longer amount of time, a successful roll will still cause him to freeze but for less amount of time.
0 - 10 failed roll will cause him to fall unconscious, a successful roll will cause him to flee in terror.
or as a variant of the above, the amount by which you make/fail your roll indicates what you can do, i.e. failing by a little bit could cause your character to slow down while succeeding by a lot should have some sort of bonus.

possible modifiers:
character is carrying a large weapon +10
character is in a large group of people +20
character was warned about the situation +5
character is alone and just herd something -30

The above would have the effect of a wimpy character say with a FF of 20:
- if alone and just he just heard a noise would most likely fall uncontious.
- if he was in a group and he was carrying a large weapon would have a 50/50 chance of being at least mildly useful and his FF would go up for the next encounter. He may even eventually become very brave.

A brave character with a FF of 80:
- if alone would have a 50/50 chance of being mildly stunned but his FF would go down so eventually the stress would get to him.
- in a group of people with a big gun he would be Rambo.

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A possible short variation on fear:

There are two kinds of fear:

First, there is suprise fear, such as stumbling along a body or an alien suddenly jumping out of the shadows. This would cause the fear to instantly go to a high level, and then (when not in a situation that causes fear) the person's stress would slowly decrease.

After every encounter, however, the level the fear goes to becomes lower and lower, until it only causes a mild suprise. ("This is the 52346th corpse I've seen so far. Ho Hum").

On the other hand, there is overall creepiness (unnerving) fear, such as knowing that somebody could be infected, moving through areas with with many shadows, etc. This causes the fear level to slowly rise, although it takes a long time to lower.
Sometimes, the person's actions will be influenced by this even if he/she doesn't notice it. ("No, I'm not afraid! Er, excuse me while I huddle in the corner. Just to see why people do it, not because I am afraid or anything..."). In addition, this is more common and (possibly) is harder to adapt to.

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Quote:
Original post by Dakar
A possible short variation on fear:

There are two kinds of fear:

First, there is suprise fear, such as stumbling along a body or an alien suddenly jumping out of the shadows. This would cause the fear to instantly go to a high level, and then (when not in a situation that causes fear) the person's stress would slowly decrease.

After every encounter, however, the level the fear goes to becomes lower and lower, until it only causes a mild suprise. ("This is the 52346th corpse I've seen so far. Ho Hum").

On the other hand, there is overall creepiness (unnerving) fear, such as knowing that somebody could be infected, moving through areas with with many shadows, etc.


Actually it could be only one, but the source would be different.
If you're afraid because a place is too dark, and you go to a lit place, are you still afraid? it goes down just as fast.
The difference is that while you're there, it stays high.

So you could model this by having 'spike' sources for surprise. Found a corpse? WOOOPS add 100 fear points. Found a corpse for the 52346th time? bleh, add, like 2 fear points. Walking trough a creepy place? add 2 fear points per second.
Important is to note that as you get used to a particular surprise, you could also get used to a creepy place (same hallway for the 10th time isn't as creepy as the first time) so you'd have to lower the rate. If the source rate is higher than the (fixed)decay rate, fear builds up and eventually you (the NPC) snap. If the source rate is lower than the decay rate, its not noticeable. If they're the same there's a constant fear. Note that since the source rate varies, things get interesting.
Decay should be fixed so you can tweak source fear rates and their variations properly.

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You guys are talking about the difference between Fear and Anxiety. Fear is when you're afraid of something and you know what it is --- a monster jumps out and scares the crap out of you. Anxiety is when you're afraid but you don't know why --- there could be anything in that darkness ahead. When you're anxious, it's the anticipation that rattles your nerves.

Wavinator: You know as well as I do from all the previous discussions we've had in this forum over the last four years or so that the only reliable way to emulate human emotion is to script it, and of course this detracts from a game's replayability. (As I recall, this has been the consensual grievance since day-one.) The Thing (the game, not the movie) is an incredibly poor example of how a designer failed in this endeavor, because not only are the behaviors scripted, but they're repeated within a single context. This could have been avoided with a simple flag determining whether an NPC has seen a dead body. The fact that it wasn't is largely inexcusable. I feel your pain.

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Original post by Tom
Wavinator: You know as well as I do from all the previous discussions we've had in this forum over the last four years or so that the only reliable way to emulate human emotion is to script it, and of course this detracts from a game's replayability.



If creating a Complex NPC was easy, then it would be reliable, too.
The more people talk about ways to make NPCs without scripts, the easier it could get to do so.

Wavinator, Im new here, so i dont know about your psychological modelling system. It sounds interesting tho. What is it?

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
A lot of this post is kinda rambling, but my last paragraph is fairly concise. Feel free to skip down.

How about having aversion be a gradually increased stamina-type thing. I'm thinking here of the stamina in GTA: San Andreas. You can sprint for a while, and then you get tired and can't do it anymore, but if you keep sprinting and resting, you can go longer and longer.

Applying that here, we'll use the squaddie/toasted corpse example you used. When a totally green FNG is the first guy to discover the flamer, he'll get stressed. So, his "Wig-o-Meter" will spike to 80%, he'll puke, turn and run like hell for the out-of-doors. Given some cool-down time, a few friendly faces and maybe a gruffly reassuring comment from the Sargeant, he'll be down to 20%, and once again a functional member of the team, although he won't really want to go back in there.

If he goes back in the toasty will gradually build his stress back up. At 50% he'll complain, at 60% he'll fidget, at 70% he'll start ignoring orders and go sit out in the hall, and if he gets to 80% he's out of there. At 90% he totally loses his mind and starts behaving erratically or becomes catatonic, and at 100% his heart stops.

But if he goes in and sees the corpse again, his knowledge that it's there will reduce the surprise and the spike will not be as bad. It might take a few seconds for him to get up to that 50% level. Then you let him sit out, and when he comes back he'll never get above 70% from that particular corpse. More time spent, say securing the area, and he'll be making jokes and offering "Private Crispin" a cigarette ("Got a light? Haw, haw, haw!")

But when that squaddie encounters his first dead kid, or sees a team mate go down, he'll benefit little from his experience.

I think remedies should be effective at certain levels. At 50% or lower, a simple "Stay frosty, soldier," would be enough to counterract a little carnage or a spooky noise, but if he's at 60% already, the benefit will be reduced. Sitting on the other side of a wall is good up to about 70%, and smoking a cigarette is even better, but at 85%, he needs to get the heck out of the building, or be surrounded by at least six friendly, calm people.

Basically, I propose an economy of mitigators and exascerbators, regulated by the intestinal fortitude of the individual. Further sophistication could include types of stress (death, tragedy, pain, fear etc.) and specialized resistances to them. The alien-bashing hero might flip out when his partner dies, or be unable to stand the sight of a dead woman.


Strangely, this really makes me think of an attack / damage system with the stimuli being different types of assault (erm, for whatever that's worth). You get a strategy that evolves from knowing the personality of NPCs and which "zones" they can withstand and for how long. It emphasizes positioning (inside / outside rooms or line of site), pairing with other NPCs and object use (give him a cigarette to calm him down, for example).

Not surprisingly, I like it for those possibilities. Expanding a bit on your idea, I can imagine one way of doing this would be to have nodes that radiate fear, which are either imbedded in locations, monsters or objects like corpses. To emulate the various stimuli, the nodes have unique codes by type (corpse, dead child, dead buddy, etc.) The fear node tries to add fear to the NPC, but the NPC first checks his defense against that type of stimuli, reducing the fear by a certain amount. Whatever gets added ultimately updates a total amount of fear the NPC has.

Positive stimuli (big guns, allies, training, an escape hatch). How fast the NPC sheds fear naturally would be a measure of his/her/its fortitude.

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Original post by Tom
Wavinator: You know as well as I do from all the previous discussions we've had in this forum over the last four years or so that the only reliable way to emulate human emotion is to script it, and of course this detracts from a game's replayability.


It's a nasty challenge, agreed. Not only do you have the problem of repetition, you have to create some sort of interface for the player to manage what's happening under the hood.

What's a bit heartening is the fact that you don't have to get it perfect. It just has to be playable enough so that when you see a guy do something you know why it happened. Theory-wise, you have to know enough intrinsicly about the game system to be able to respond to it and strategize, but not so much that you think more about the strategy than about being immersed in the drama.


A question about anxiety versus fear: Is the distinction all that useful? If you see a monster, you know what you're afraid of. If you then fight it off it runs away to lurk somewhere in the building, do you still feel fear or do you now feel anxiety?

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage

Wavinator, how's your psychological modelling system coming? Could this sort of thing be worked into it?


Thanks for asking ICC. The more I work on this stuff the more I see the wisdom of your advice to simplify, given some time ago. [wink] I've been doing more biz development and networking than design (trying to get money for this #*$@! thing!), so dev progress has been VERY slow. But I posted hoping for exactly the kind of insight I've gotten so far.

I don't remember if I talked about it or not, but one major change has been in shifting the perspective so that you're more preoccupied by your own character than by your crew, in general. This has shifted your play focus away from directly manipulating them to giving more abstract orders and delegating. Hopefully, this will ultimately streamline the learning curve.


Quote:
Original post by Garmichael
Wavinator, Im new here, so i dont know about your psychological modelling system. It sounds interesting tho. What is it?


Hey, thanks for the interest, Garmichael. Toward the end of last year I began posting a bunch of stuff about modeling loyalty, morale and personality types for a sci-fi RPG (think Star Trek meets The Sims). The basic system deals with things (equipment, facilites, allies) that radiate effects or attract NPCs, as well as (still major work to be done here) events like death or losing a fight that directly impact the NPC's behavior. The aim is to create a strategy for managing the crew aboard your ship or base, with NPCs having a personality that confers bonuses and has drawbacks, all of which affect what you're trying to do.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
A question about anxiety versus fear: Is the distinction all that useful? If you see a monster, you know what you're afraid of. If you then fight it off it runs away to lurk somewhere in the building, do you still feel fear or do you now feel anxiety?

Well, the general idea is that if you can see it in your mind, it's probably fear. The distinction between fear and anxiety is not as vague as you'd think, but it's extremely difficult to put into words. It's one of those situations where you just know it, but you can't really describe it. I have a theory that all fear and anxiety ultimately boils down to an unconscious fear of mortality, and I've written an essay that's supports this (not for a degree, just a personal thing), but my thoughts are not entirely clear on the matter.

Regarding my comments on scripted behavior. . . I'd like to take back what I said, after reading something interesting. I should have thought of this before because I've played the Sims 1 & 2, games that attempt to emulate human behavior in a distilled, soap opera setting using a rules-based (non-scripted) system. Actually, you can read this article at Gamespot about the spiritual successor to System Shock 2 --- one of my all-time favorite games, by the way --- and how Irrational is attempting to emulate life using rules-based behavior.

http://www.gamespot.com/pc/action/bioshock/preview_6110044.html

Human behavior is difficult to emulate because humans respond to a wide variety of stimuli, including other humans, none of whom are even remotely predictable. This creates an extraordinarily complex web of responses that psychologists have been trying to justify for centuries. (I don't think a game developer is going to do it in two years, so we have to wing it.) I believe emergent behavior, which is the trademark of rules-based systems, may be the link toward making convincing NPC's. Sounds like your own design uses some of this.

Anyway, I just wanted to throw that out.

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