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Argument for more "Naturalism" games

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The concept which I am about to present is often described as "realism" (at least I feel this is the case, I certainly am guilty). However, "realism" is not an accurate description of what I believe needs to be given more credit when designing games. Games can be made more "natural" by making them a closer model to what people are already accustomed to and expect from life. A more natural game has the potential to reduce the player's learning curve without reducing the complexity of the game (although I admit that this goal may be difficult to achieve given the inherent unnaturalness of controlers and TV screens). More importantly by making a game more "natural" the player's experience can be enhanced with more intense/involving/immersive gameplay. Before I continue a certain distinction must be made to counter the most popular of counter arguments to this line of reasoning. Many people believe in the following equation (or should I say inequality): realism < fun While this is understandable given the dissappointments which real life may bring us, it misses one important detail that separates video games from interactive movies. In a video game, losing is possible, in fact in any highly involving game losing is an incredibly easy thing to do. Interactive movies cannot be lost, and they do not challenge the user. Interactive movies can be played and they allow the player to choose the outcome based on their descisions. Video games do more than that, they challenge a player to achieve a goal (or goals) which have been decided for them. The "right" ending for the most part has been predetermined in a game while in an interactive movie it has not. This is important because a key ingredient in all video games is stress. Stress is what makes a game demanding of its players. By making demands of the players they are brought futher into the world created by the game. They have to be, for if they are not they would have no chance of winning. To win at a game you must go by the rules of the game and overcome the challenges that it presents. Challenge is what makes the game a game and not a mere interactive movie. However, some challenges within games go so far from what is natural and understood by the player that only those who have read a thick manual or played for many hours will have a clue as to how to approach them. While this is not a bad thing, many falsely hold the belief that this is the only avenue to creating "fun" challenges within a game. So, what makes a challenge "fun?" I believe that the equation for fun should go more like this: stress + loss + reward + a reasonable possibility for repeatable success = fun If any of these elements are removed the "fun" either turns into despair, or the game turns into a mere interactive movie. There is a concept at work in this equation called "game economics." You can have inflation where everything is easy and all rewards come in an overabundance, or deflation where nothing is possible. In a well designed game these forces balance. In a natural game I suspect that these forces are more likely to already be balanced. Nature is balance, a proper application of it to game design should result in balance. Naturalism in games is possible by modeling games more towards the way things work in nature, and then tuning them to accomidate the limitations of the gaming platform (input devices, display, forcefeedback, etc). This is already a popular practice with graphics, and it is throughly applied to eye candy producing physics (such as with the animation and particle effects), and AI. We constanlty push graphics to become more and more natural. However, there are few efforts to extend this to game play or game dynamics. Few if anyone looks to parrallels in nature when they're drafting the design concepts for their game. Games today are increasingly becoming rehases of old ideas while nature continues to hold a vast array of untapped potential.

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Hey, I definitely agree with most of your points. Raph Koster makes the argument in A Theory of Fun for Game Design that fun in video games can be attributed in a large part to the learning experience, and thus a game is 'fun' when it challenges the player.

I think the hard part is that, although natural design is more intuitive, it's also more complicated. The problem is that although a design may generate natural behaviour at the lower levels, as a player gains more skill and progresses in the game, he/she may surpass the level of challenge that was presented before. So, the real problem is how do you use simplistic design to generate behaviour on both the beginner AND advanced levels of playing?

Definitely agree with your argument for 'naturalism' though. I think it's pretty straightforward. I think some gamers are into technicality, and that's fine, but I feel they don't have a lot of choice in that anyways.

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you are overlooking and possably takeing for granted the key gameplay componet...a focus on player restrictioned actions and decisions.

In the GTA games the player cannot settle down, get married, start a family, raise kids, attend thier baseball games, grow old, retire, open a bakery, build thier own house, or any of the millions of other natural actions and decisions one can take in real life...and honestly the GTA games would be worse if they allowed this.

Afterall it is a game. And despote all the advances in graphical naturalisam, the most playied PC game is still Solitare.

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You're missing one important point I think. It's not about winning or losing - realism (or naturalism, or whatever you fancy to call it :) ) is boring. Walking for five hours up a virtual mountain to meet the virtual hermit is boring. Spending two hours in a virtual kitchen to bake virtual bread is boring. If I wanted to do any of these, I'd do them in real life. Why should I do them in a game?

I'll leave interface issues aside; designing a good interface for a sim is problematic.

A game is an overly simplified model. Anything that involves a large amount of "realism" is more of a simulation. Simulations can be fun if not taken to extremes (battlecruiser -> boring; sim city -> fun).

Stress - there is no stress in a completely authentic realistic simulation - only hour/day/month long downtimes with no action.

Also, I'm sorry to say that I don't exactly see any new concepts here. Designers already know that a good gameplay should have a balanced amount of positive and negative feedback systems. A game as a story has rising tension and drama and such, so these systems are adjusted as a function of play time to provide a sense of challenge and urgency.

You can't blame publishers for wanting to rehash - a concept that has already proven to be sellable will be reused. However, I think we are seeing an emergence of new concepts lately with games such as Black&White and Spore. Hopefully these are the forerunners of a new era.

Quote:

Few if anyone looks to parrallels in nature when they're drafting the design concepts for their game.

I think the contrary is the case. Can you provide any statistics?

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Quote:
Original post by MSW
you are overlooking and possably takeing for granted the key gameplay componet...a focus on player restrictioned actions and decisions.

In the GTA games the player cannot settle down, get married, start a family, raise kids, attend thier baseball games, grow old, retire, open a bakery, build thier own house, or any of the millions of other natural actions and decisions one can take in real life...and honestly the GTA games would be worse if they allowed this.

Afterall it is a game. And despote all the advances in graphical naturalisam, the most playied PC game is still Solitare.

That would not be "natural" that would be more realistic. GTA runs the theme of mob style crime, stelling down and growing old is not "natural" to that theme. The game's scope need not be all encompassing for it to more closely mimic nature.
Quote:
Original post by lightbringer
You're missing one important point I think. It's not about winning or losing - realism (or naturalism, or whatever you fancy to call it :) ) is boring. Walking for five hours up a virtual mountain to meet the virtual hermit is boring. Spending two hours in a virtual kitchen to bake virtual bread is boring. If I wanted to do any of these, I'd do them in real life. Why should I do them in a game?

Again the same missed point, walking for 5 hours would not necessarily be natural to theme of the game. Having a hermit that is lonely and insecure and not fully willing to give the player everything they need to accomplish the next quest, would be natural. The hermit may have an attitude, he may be irratible, maybe he is tired of people climbing his mountain and disturbing him. Futhermore, if he does give you clues why must everything he say's be 100% true and 100% relevant to the next challenge? It would be more natural for him to make mistakes, and not know all of the answers, but still have enough to help the player.
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Original post by lightbringer
Quote:

Few if anyone looks to parrallels in nature when they're drafting the design concepts for their game.

I think the contrary is the case. Can you provide any statistics?

Anyone one who does that is making an attempt at making their game more natural, however I feel that more go for adding flash and acardish ability to games than naturalism. The acadish stuff can be fun, but there are far more creative paths left untapped while they dangle before us in the natural world.

Nature is far more complex, involving, and intricate than nieve, overly played, arcadish, game play.

Naturalism must still be taken within the context of the game's themes and direction. What would be natural in a fighting game is not the same as for a racing game or a role playing game. All of those would have very different themes that have a different natural flow. Example:

If the game is about fighting, then inconsistency in when a player can and cannot be hurt will break the natural effect of the game. Being beaten near death and still having full fighting strength is not natural. Fighting at this continued level of full strength and then falling dead due to a kick in the calf is not natural. Being caught by the same move 10 times in a row because the animation is deceptive is also not very natural.

If the game is about racing, maybe running out of gas is natural, maybe wearing down the tires is natural, maybe overheating the engine is natural. Or maybe those go beyond the scope of the game. However, the narrower that scope is the less natural the game will be and the more it remain like an arcadish rehash.

If the game is an RPG, then characters that give a clear cut definition of who is bad and who is good, who knows everything and who knows nothing, is not very natural. An RPG that gives players power without struggle, victory without sweat, and game balance breaking items from cheap trade, also break naturalism. A game that present concepts and abilities that can be thought through and even predicted is more natural than one that does not allow that.

My argument here is not for one fixed conclusion, it is only for an attempt to push the envelope in the direction of nature. Apply a little more of real life to a games design and am certain that you find fun ideas that have never been tried before. Naturalism will make games more complex, however it will make them more complex on a front that is largely ingored. It will make game play more complex.

Now imagine if they spent half the budget put into graphics on game play. Could such a product still sell? Of course, advertising done right can push any product as long as it holds some truth and has enough appeal. Games that engage and challege the player in unique ways, will most certainly have appeal.

Gran Tourismo, Project Gotham Racing, The Sims, all produce appeal by emulating nature. There are other games that do well on that front as well. Naturalism need not only be done through physics, psychology and sociology can be tapped as well.

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The long walk example may be a bit overboard, but I still think it's the perfect extremity example of this "naturalism" concept as ilustrated by you. You said: "Naturalism in games is possible by modeling games more towards the way things work in nature".

More importantly:

fighting diminished when hurt - this is a positive feedback loop that rewards the dominant party. Yes, this is how it works in real life but... As someone who does not excel at hand-eye coordination, I would have to boycott such a game :D

rpg - you should play Fallout, and Planescape: Torment. Characters there routinely lie and cheat and have a hidden agenda, they hide how much they know, and hide that they don't know something, there is no clear-cut good or bad.


I'm not disagreeing with you, more gameplay depth is usually a good thing - just stating that
a) some of this has been done, and done successfully. hopefully more to come.
b) too much of it is counterproductive to fun (the original inequality you described then kicks in)
c) games are not all-encompassing simulations, there's only so much realism they can take before the interface is all cluttered or we run out of processing power or the player is overburdened
d) for complete naturalism, nothing beats real life :D

Since you're thinking about these topics, check out this page if you haven't yet, especially the linked MDA paper. It's a bit abstract but it offers some generalized insight into what "fun" is in the context of video games. The presentation on feedback structures may also be interesting to you since it concerns gameplay and balancing.

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I give it a try(to diverge a bit or clarify, depending on the observer's opinion)
first, i guess it is all about the feeling(and about how to generate it)
whether it is primary generated by the sensors(cute graphics, great soundtrack or other direct treats of immersion) or by challenges to the mind(think chess or a quick shoot em up-oops- or a longer adenture style).
Actually you can arise to these conclusions by observing what part of our persons gets most out of the game and by which means
generally the answer is the brain(we usually don't get much satisfaction by our position during gaming on pc or any xbox i guess) and the means are the sensor organs (eye,ear or in extreme cases touch) and even the brain as a solving factor in a conflict situation(yes he is the by medium which we get the answers to our short puzzles solved see above).
So we either want more sensory satisfaction(be it by simulating an all natural or all unnatural world, that is entirely depending on our tastes but the satisfaction linked to our sensory organs), or mental satisfaction(when solving a puzzle or combining possible moves in a mortal combat game to get the opponent down or any other challenging situation. The way we get to the solution to our puzzle-solving may not involve high logical demonstrations(just try a bit this,combine with that and create a reflex as in a neural-network approach, except our brain is being trained, the stimuli are fed by the game-we are not aesthetical pleased ,not totally at least- but we are feeling the satisfaction of seeing ourselves winning a challenge like beating the opponent, using a small-or big- part of our brain)
So all reduces to this
-we want sensory satisfaction-like establishing a relation between what we are accustomised with(our world) and the sensory we get from the game and not only that but all that involves aesthetical pleasures

-or we want mind satisfaction-like solving puzzles, fighting a reflex game, or combining efficient moves

Here the first link to naturalism would be the immersion(senses)aesthetics in the article.The second would be the logic(mechanics in the article) behind the laws that govern the game(may involve both sensory immersion and mind challenges in exploitation those inside laws but may involve some kind of game-evolution later driving us to the above).
The last would be linked to the external laws of manoever(?) like in the methods we interact with our game(external)(dynamics),which are definitely linked to the mind challenge, leaving aside the interface aesthetical pleasures.

Well could you be more specific?(no sarcasm)

I've read the article a bit after I wrote my answer(actually I haven't done reading it yet)


[Edited by - vallentin on June 17, 2006 10:13:44 AM]

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Fighting games are GAMES!

They are not a recreation of real street/bar brawls, nor are they intended to be. Unlike real natural life, the fighters in such games are BALANCED with player exploiting the characters individual strengthes and weakness against thier opponet...in real life Joe average has little hope in beating a seasoned boxer in the ring...and sports like boxing, kickboxing, wrestleing, and even the theatrics of movie brawling are the underlying inspiration for fighting games NOT real life.

But you seemed to miss my point anyway...despite all the advances in graphics and realisam...people STILL play simplistic games like Solitare ;)

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Your examples don't seem to be so much about "realism" or "naturalism", they seem more like "complexity vs simplicity". Like your racing game, which instead of focusing on driving fast by holding down the accelerate button, would instead also involve filling up the gas, tires blowing out, your carburator exploding, the muffler falling off, etc. There are car games that go into tons of detail like that, but they only appeal to a particular audience - the people who are really into cars in real life. The majority of the players mostly like the part about driving fast by holding down the accelerator, and sometimes cool explosions when they hit a tree. With the fighter, instead of a simple energy bar, you could have concussions, broken bones, torn ligaments, blindness, paralysis, accidental manslaughter, and chronic bladder problems due to continual punches to the kidney... but again, this would only appeal to med school students and perhaps professional kickboxers; most people play fighting games to perform cool looking moves and occasionally see animated boobs bounce around. Complexity simply for complexity's sake isn't necessarily bad, but it generally only appeals to a specific audience.

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Quote:
Original post by MSW
Fighting games are GAMES!
...people STILL play simplistic games like Solitare ;)

Overly simplistic thinking about what a game can be is the very reason for the current lack of creativity in game design. That attitude is the reason why there remains very little "new under the sun." Solitare is a good game, but that doesn't mean that all games should be Solitare.
Quote:
Original post by makeshiftwings
Complexity...it generally only appeals to a specific audience.

Complexity is not naturalism, D&D is full of complexity and it still isn't very natural. D&D players can only get good at it by having a ton of experience with it. A more natural game would be intuitive because it borrows from things which the player is already used to wether or not they are a hardcore follower of the genre.

Furthermore, naturalism need not be overt and disruptive to the games flow. As I already pointed out in my prior post, that would break the natural flow for the particular game theme. The theme and scope of the game must be taken into account before what is "natural" to its domain can be determined. From there, further complexity can be weaved in without destroying the balance of the game. Complexity done right can make a game more dynamic without making it tedious or excessively difficult.

There is no reason why applying the concepts of nature to the design of a game should have to reduce it's appeal. SIM City applies the nature of human interaction and behavior to create a complex game that has a fairly broad appeal. Few games have had the success that game has. Naturalism does not narrow the game.

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Original post by T1Oracle
Overly simplistic thinking about what a game can be is the very reason for the current lack of creativity in game design. That attitude is the reason why there remains very little "new under the sun." Solitare is a good game, but that doesn't mean that all games should be Solitare.


At NO point did I say all games should be Solitare. At NO point did I say all games should be simplistic.

What I ment to point out is despite all the uber complexity and naturalistic sophistication of games like GTA, Half-Life, or even the SIMs; people are still playing overly abstract simplistic games like Solitare.

Despite the realisam inspired sword play in Bushido Blade, people are still playing arcadey fighting games like Tekken. Despite the naturalisam in the Metal of Honor games, people are still playing Serious Sam.

Naturalisam, Realisam, Complexity in design are but spices Designers can use to pepper thier games. They are but flavors in the game industrys cake, only able to come into and out of public favor...they wont and cant replace the tried and true simplistic abstract games and design principals. Those will be with us forever.

And PLEASE, simplicity has NEVER limited game design creativity.


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I think part of the allure of Solitaire is the low involvement. Perfect for the casual gamer's lunch break. Yoda Stories is probably one of the best casual games I've ever played, and it was really simplistic. That didn't limit it from being fun though. Much more fun than 688i hunter/killer :D (Although arguably there is little that is natural about commanding a submarine)

Innovation in casual games probably won't benefit much from T1O's "naturalism" theory though. There aren't all that many non-artificial puzzle games around.

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Original post by MSW
Solitare. Tekken. Serious Sam.

I do not know about Serious Sam, but Solitare is free (or cheap if not on the pc), no one pays much for Pacman and Tetris, and Tekken is anything but simple. Tekken makes an attempt at naturalism in the movement of the characters, and their appearance. It still can use more, but it has enough that people will pony up the cash for it. Once a resonably superior product is out in the same genre Tekken fans will fade away.

Also, I only find myself playing Solitare when I am incredibly bored and cannot find anything better to occupy my time. Solitare is on every windows machine, it's ubiquitous freeware. Most who play it are not serious fans.

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Original post by T1Oracle
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Original post by MSW
Solitare. Tekken. Serious Sam.

I do not know about Serious Sam, but Solitare is free (or cheap if not on the pc), no one pays much for Pacman and Tetris, and Tekken is anything but simple. Tekken makes an attempt at naturalism in the movement of the characters, and their appearance. It still can use more, but it has enough that people will pony up the cash for it. Once a resonably superior product is out in the same genre Tekken fans will fade away.

Also, I only find myself playing Solitare when I am incredibly bored and cannot find anything better to occupy my time. Solitare is on every windows machine, it's ubiquitous freeware. Most who play it are not serious fans.


A popular game!=a good game.
Virtua fighter is a lot more realsitic and generally better then tekkan but it is not as popular. Probabbly because its more complex and requires more training to master.
I always use this example, a lot of people listen and enjoy britney spears music, does this make her music good?

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You can't really use the popularity of casual games like solitaire, bejeweled, etc. in your argument because they are a whole different type of game. The idea for them is that there is very little commitment (free or inexpensive), you're not expected to put much time into them in one sitting, and the games are pretty much designed for just replay value. People who buy casual games are, generally, not the people who would buy $50 video games. And honestly, solitaire's popularity is based on it being the best game that comes on every windows computer.

In any case, I believe Naturalism, as you define it, can work well in certain games. Things like RPGs can be enhanced by realistic character psychology, for example. However, I do believe that there are many games in which the "arcadish" feel is the way to go. Competitive games, I think, would be hurt by having too much naturalism. I really don't think I could have much fun in a fighting game where I lose power as I take damage. Realism/naturalism adds gameplay elements that can be completely different from the rest of the game, like a racing game where you have to refuel after a certain amount of driving. I'm just not sure this is necissarily good.

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Quote:
Original post by Kriuq
"arcadish" feel is the way to go. Competitive games, I think, would be hurt by having too much naturalism. I really don't think I could have much fun in a fighting game where I lose power as I take damage.

It could be part of the fighting strategy to actually injure a part of the body to the point where it's performance is diminished. Who says that every kick to the shin slows a fighter down by a certain percent? One of my friends who I have sparred with can take quite a beating to the leg before he'll move any slower (I unfortunately did not have that talent :(... We're still best friends though :) ).

Regardless, naturalism can also be applied in far more ways than damage taken. There are plenty elements of fighting that are not well represented in current games, ie:

focus - that will vary and it does affect performance
exhaustion - acrobatic, fast, or even aggressive moves will wear you out
balance - if you want to sweep someone's legs you usually have to have them stumbling already, futhermore an oppenent knocked off balance will produce less power and have more difficulty blocking, evading, and countering. However, this is exactly why arts such as Aikido teach break falls and rolls. When you lose your balance you can regain it by sacrificing a little bit of ground.

- Also, an injury doesn't mean the match is over, it only means that you must adapt.

While all of the about can be applied badly, that does not mean that they cannot enhance gameplay when applied correctly.

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I want a completely-3d game that extensively simulates sword combat ^_^ Hopefully Elveon will adress that. Interesting game btw, check out their trailer - it probably uses your theory to some extent.

The one thing we need to get away from the most is the Ad&D style of combat resolution...

Balance on the other hand might be tricky. Probably more important to fake the effect. Maybe sway the camera when the player is off-balance - am I inviting motion-sickness? Usually I see something similar done in games as an interruption of the attack cycle. For instance, you are attacking, someone smacks you from the side, you make a wide miss or pull back.

[Edited by - lightbringer on June 19, 2006 9:55:39 AM]

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