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Sneftel

Trusting a game, and building trustworthy games

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EXHIBIT ONE: Character creation step four: Please pick two of the following five super special skills for your character. 1> Flying 2> Digesting food 3> Sharper-than-average elbows 4> Hands 5> Sneaking around PLAYER: Well, shit. I guess I need to eat. ...and then, several hours after having decided to nobly sacrifice your dream of having hands for the awesome power of flight (and that any food worth digesting may be taken through a straw), you come to understand that the petulant and unimaginative game designers, unwilling to allow you to pass by waves of enemies just because you can fly, make sure to stage all important plot points in caves, dungeons, and/or low-ceilinged closets. Meanwhile, every five minutes haughty NPCs walk by and mention in passing how much cool stuff they would have been willing to do for you if only your elbows weren't so blunt. EXHIBIT TWO: You pass by a raggedly dressed man sitting by the path, holding a begging bowl. BEGGAR: Please, sir! Just a coin or two, for me children! Your choices: 1> Sure, guy. Take fully 15% of my net worth, painstakingly acquired by collecting and selling skink spleens (all of whom nearly killed me). 2> Away from me, you smelly ruffian! I have better things to do with my money! We've all played at least one game in our lives, so I don't think it will come to a surprise to anyone that something good will happen to you if you give the guy some money. He'll mention a secret passage, or give you a mysteeerious amulet he was saving for just such an occasion, or be manifestly unhelpful to your nemeses several minutes of gametime later. So you sigh, break character (you had a really good "pompous" thing going there, too), and cough up the dough to be allowed to do things the easy way. The guy's not a beggar, he's a damn tollbooth attendant, letting you onto the expressway for a predetermined fare. EXHIBIT THREE: Wincing from your fresh wounds, you emerge from the wolf den, the lost child cradled in your arms. VILLAGER: Thank you! Oh thank you! I'm so glad she's okay! Looks like you failed to save her favorite doll, but hey, them's the breaks. I guess it would've taken a true hero to do that too. Well, here's 500 gold. Bye. PLAYER: Well, shit. *reloads* ...because you just know that if you had remembered to pick up the damn doll (after having killed the hapless wolves inexplicably tasked to guard it), you'd be rewarded with more than just 500 stupid gold. You would have gotten a Ring of Smiting, or a quiver full of Arrows of Pointiness, or something. Or maybe just a firm handshake. I guess you'll find out in about 30 additional minutes of play time. Alright, enough snarkiness. My questions: 1. Why can't we as players trust games? 2. Why can't we as game designers write games players are willing to trust? By "trusting a game", I refer to playing it without wondering if we're playing it the right way. I refer to choosing skills based on what sounds fun to you, rather than based on what IGN's strategy guide said was essential and what was worthless. I refer to being allowed to roleplay a jerk if you want your character to be a jerk, or a virtuous knight if you want him to be a virtuous knight, rather than constantly reorienting your moral compass to fit whatever seems to be the most gainful path through a conversation. Most of all, I refer to accepting less than 100% positive outcomes. Failure is a fact of life, and it is a fact of drama. But in a game, the only failure we allow the game to deal out to us comes during cutscenes. We say we want rich, branching, multilinear gameplay. Yet we manage the content of the games we play with all the heroism of a Workplace Safety Coordinator, carefully hoarding the game content doled out to us. Is this a necessary evil? Discuss.

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My, what a big can of worms you've opened!

I haven't fully formulated a coherent response, but I'll just tell you what your ideas make me think of.

Your Exhibit One reminds me of when I played Ultima 7 and found out I had killed a crucial character. In fact, it was impossible for me to continue with this character dead and I had no previous saves to fall back on. I never played the game again.

The idea of "breaking" a game so that you're unable to continue sometimes prohibits players from making fun or interesting choices.* Thankfully, I think most games nowadays are immune to this kind of severe breakage, due to an issue you describe as...

Exhibit Two. Here, you can make all these amazing choices (as long as you make the right choice). A situation that appears to offer freedom but really constrains your choice to the only acceptable, or "optimal" one. The optimal choice of course being the subject of...

Exhibit Three, where you do have a choice, but one is obviously better than the other and is the one preferred by the developers. Sure, you can kick chickens all day long, but if you do, you'll get attacked by a crazy mob of them.

I'm no game history scholar, but I believe the idea of power-gaming is fairly new*** (perhaps arriving around the time of Diablo) and the level of competitiveness has never been higher (with online multi-player games and such).

Back in my day (before IGN strategy guides), I never had an idea what a gimped character was, nor did I really care. I think the gamers of today are totally different.

Your question: 1. Why can't we as players trust games?
My answer: Because I've broken games before and thus been unable to complete them. It's a rare game such as San Andreas that effectively encourages the player to take risks and experiment by lowering the penalties for failure. Also, I'm not really all about the idea of powergaming, but I understand the idea of a "gimped" character being frustrating to some players. Also, too many games seem to offer choices with really offering them.

Your question: 2. Why can't we as game designers write games players are willing to trust?
My answer: Not sure. It's probably very difficult to account for every choice a player might make.

* - Of course some games are based on this premise, like arcade games. If you're not good enough you can't continue.

*** Disclaimer - I believe I did "max-out" my characters in The Bard's Tale (the original) to see if it could be done / what would happen

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Original post by Sneftel
EXHIBIT ONE:

Character creation step four: Please pick two of the following five super special skills for your character.
1> Flying
2> Digesting food
3> Sharper-than-average elbows
4> Hands
5> Sneaking around

PLAYER: Well, shit. I guess I need to eat.


This one really is simply the fault of the desingers. If they wanted to include somewhat useless skills so that players could say, "Look, ma, no hands!", then they should've given enough information at character creation to tell the player that this was the equivalent of selecting the "hard" difficulty setting. Otherwise, they should've balanced the skills.

I think the cause of this is mostly poor balancing due to lack of resources.

Quote:

EXHIBIT TWO:

You pass by a raggedly dressed man sitting by the path, holding a begging bowl.

BEGGAR: Please, sir! Just a coin or two, for me children!

Your choices:
1> Sure, guy. Take fully 15% of my net worth, painstakingly acquired by collecting and selling skink spleens (all of whom nearly killed me).
2> Away from me, you smelly ruffian! I have better things to do with my money!


Well, you could've maintained your pompous attitude, but you weighed the in game rewards with being pompous and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs to your dignity as a role player.

I don't know, would the problem seem as bad if it were a choice between killing Aeris yourself for an easier path or letting Sephiroth off her and you deal with the inconvenience? I think players would be more willing, in this case, to maintain their character even given the trouble it'll cause them.

Later you talked about reorienting your moral compass. I say you have the choice of maintainin the integrity of your character or gaming the system. Or, you could play a character who is gaming the system, and there are certainly people like that in real life. Now you can stay in character worry free, reap the benefits of every situation, and it's realistic.

In this case, I think the blame is more on the player expecting all pathes to be equal in all but superficial appearances. It seems people want these choices to be reduced to what the choice between training in the sword or training in the axe has become: change the model for the weapon and the animation, but otherwise leave things the same. Maybe the axe is slower but more powerful, but you'll still get the same damage/minute either way. Sometimes being pompous gets you stuff, sometimes it doesn't. Deal with it.

I'll lay some blame on the developer if the "good" choice is always beneficial and the "evil" choice is always detrimental (or vice versa). This is similar to people complaining how petty taking the evil path can be (I sympathize because I prefer the good side but often find the reasons my character uses to justify the good side to be off), and often feels preachy.

Quote:

EXHIBIT THREE:

Wincing from your fresh wounds, you emerge from the wolf den, the lost child cradled in your arms.

VILLAGER: Thank you! Oh thank you! I'm so glad she's okay! Looks like you failed to save her favorite doll, but hey, them's the breaks. I guess it would've taken a true hero to do that too. Well, here's 500 gold. Bye.

PLAYER: Well, shit. *reloads*


One problem here is poor design. You weren't given enough information to know there was another (secondary) objective. This may be because the designer knows the game too well and didn't realize you were never told to save the doll.

They may also have meant for it to have been a secret. This could be to give hardcore players something to brag about (What? You didn't randomly check every corner of the cave? And you call yourself a gamer...). It could also be that players expect better rewards for going above and beyond. Not just better rewards, but better game play rewards. If players would be satisfied with completing the objectives being enough and merely getting a sticker for doing more (e.g. a note in your quest log saying what a good hero you've been or simply a change of the girl's sprite to being one holding a doll and a change of her text from "I miss Suzie" to "You're Suzie's knight in shining armor"), then this idiom could die.

It also sells strategy guides.

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Original post by Sneftel

By "trusting a game", I refer to playing it without wondering if we're playing it the right way. I refer to choosing skills based on what sounds fun to you, rather than based on what IGN's strategy guide said was essential and what was worthless.


its for this reason alone i prefer classes or prebuilt charactres
anytime a menu gives you more than 6 option, (skills or ability points) they are invariably unbalanced and fall into the following categories

1: absolutely necessary to get anywhere in the game
2: completely useless
3: would be useful except another option make it completely redundant by serving the same purpose better
4: skill that does nothing except i don't get to play half the game unless i dump points into it
coff//** lockpick **//coff

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Original post by Way Walker
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Original post by Sneftel
EXHIBIT ONE:

This one really is simply the fault of the desingers. If they wanted to include somewhat useless skills so that players could say, "Look, ma, no hands!", then they should've given enough information at character creation to tell the player that this was the equivalent of selecting the "hard" difficulty setting. Otherwise, they should've balanced the skills.

Yes, I agree. This is probably the situation with the clearest remedy. Balancing a large number of skills, however, is apparently a very difficult process, given the low success rate.

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EXHIBIT TWO:

Well, you could've maintained your pompous attitude, but you weighed the in game rewards with being pompous and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs to your dignity as a role player....I say you have the choice of maintainin the integrity of your character or gaming the system. Or, you could play a character who is gaming the system, and there are certainly people like that in real life. Now you can stay in character worry free, reap the benefits of every situation, and it's realistic.

But that's merely equivocating. I the player of the jerk have no way of knowing that the beggar's gonna reward me. In Real LifeTM, the decision to give the beggar money or not would have been purely based on philanthropy. In the game, it's a tacit bargain whose terms are not clear.

Quote:
I'll lay some blame on the developer if the "good" choice is always beneficial and the "evil" choice is always detrimental (or vice versa). This is similar to people complaining how petty taking the evil path can be (I sympathize because I prefer the good side but often find the reasons my character uses to justify the good side to be off), and often feels preachy.
I agree here. But without setting up the game to be fun enough without 100% success, that just favors frequent reloading to check out the eventualities. It's still a far cry from alleviating this tradeoff between immersion and success.

Quote:

One problem here is poor design. You weren't given enough information to know there was another (secondary) objective. This may be because the designer knows the game too well and didn't realize you were never told to save the doll.

What if you were? What if "also save the doll" was an explicit part of the situation? In movies and books, accepting a lesser victory is a frequently employed trope. So why do games make us feel like losers for it?

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I would perhaps argue that it is a necessary evil. If the choice of giving a beggar money didn't have some tacit bargain associated with it, it would be a meaningless choice; a waste of time.

an aside: yes, yes, it adds to the 'atmosphere'. I'm not one to favor such things at all. They are not gameplay. If you have a melee weapon which does 20 damage a shot it doesn't really matter if it's a broadsword, a lightsaber, or a giant tuna (all other rules being equal). It's merely polish; useless in the face of a bad game.

As much as I hate to suggest such things... The best way to 'trust' a game is to place much of the plot, ambiance, communiation, character interaction into the hands of the players (and mediators/wizards/gods). Make the rules of the game very explicit and well known. Those can then be trusted as constants (until the next patch).

Inter-character action then is with people. People can always be trusted to be, well... people. Some are nice, some are mean, and almost all of them will follow nice base desires. Especially when in a scenario with limited freedom (a game/simulation's ruleset).

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Original post by Telastyn
an aside: yes, yes, it adds to the 'atmosphere'. I'm not one to favor such things at all. They are not gameplay. If you have a melee weapon which does 20 damage a shot it doesn't really matter if it's a broadsword, a lightsaber, or a giant tuna (all other rules being equal). It's merely polish; useless in the face of a bad game.

Alright. But suppose it isn't a bad game. Would you still consider it a useless waste of time? If it doesn't matter whether the thing's a sword or a tuna, why do we see so few tuna fighting games?
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As much as I hate to suggest such things... The best way to 'trust' a game is to place much of the plot, ambiance, communiation, character interaction into the hands of the players (and mediators/wizards/gods). Make the rules of the game very explicit and well known. Those can then be trusted as constants (until the next patch).

Inter-character action then is with people. People can always be trusted to be, well... people. Some are nice, some are mean, and almost all of them will follow nice base desires. Especially when in a scenario with limited freedom (a game/simulation's ruleset).
I hear this a lot--that multiplayer games are the only way to bring true interpersonal gameplay into games--and I just see no reason for it to be true. I'll bet they said the same thing about plays and movies a century ago.

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I would perhaps argue that it is a necessary evil. If the choice of giving a beggar money didn't have some tacit bargain associated with it, it would be a meaningless choice; a waste of time.
Not if there are deeper consequences for this action, besides you losing some amount of money. As a drastic example, it wouldn't be worthless if the bum uses the money you give to him to find a job and increase the quality of his life (which becomes visible to you in some way later on).

A more realistic example is seeing him get up, and run towards the nearest bar just to get wasted (possibly creating for an entertaining situation to observe, or a much needed distraction so you can sneak behind the staff-only doors while the guards kick him out).

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Original post by Sneftel
Alright. But suppose it isn't a bad game. Would you still consider it a useless waste of time? If it doesn't matter whether the thing's a sword or a tuna, why do we see so few tuna fighting games?


It depends on the atmosphere. Bums in the streets begging for change might be good for about 2 seconds to say 'yes, this area is run down', but chat messages, encounters, even ambient sound would get pretty annoying, useless, and worst of all invasive pretty quick.

In something like Puzzle Pirates, the pirate-ification of everything is a little annoying, useless, but not terribly invasive. Here the cutesy pirate atmosphere helps to temper the community into a less bloodthirsty one while not imposing itself upon the player.

Personally, I'm a little odd. I'd rather a game have less bugs, better gameplay, or more/better content than some of that polish or ambiance even in role playing games. Time well spent and all that.

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I hear this a lot--that multiplayer games are the only way to bring true interpersonal gameplay into games--and I just see no reason for it to be true. I'll bet they said the same thing about plays and movies a century ago.


Eh, I don't think that multiplayer games are the only way. I am just skeptical about the feasibility in making a game design where choices are balanced so well that morality rather than gameplay benefit drives decisions. Or making an AI so sophisticated that it could vary those gameplay benefits to be... fuzzy.

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Not if there are deeper consequences for this action, besides you losing some amount of money. As a drastic example, it wouldn't be worthless if the bum uses the money you give to him to find a job and increase the quality of his life (which becomes visible to you in some way later on).


Forgive me for saying so, but that's still worthless to me.

1> spend $x gold, see cutscene #1 (or some model in some other place).
2> spend 0 gold, see cutscene #2.

Not exactly a meaningful decision.

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EXHIBIT TWO:

Well, you could've maintained your pompous attitude, but you weighed the in game rewards with being pompous and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs to your dignity as a role player....I say you have the choice of maintainin the integrity of your character or gaming the system. Or, you could play a character who is gaming the system, and there are certainly people like that in real life. Now you can stay in character worry free, reap the benefits of every situation, and it's realistic.

But that's merely equivocating. I the player of the jerk have no way of knowing that the beggar's gonna reward me. In Real LifeTM, the decision to give the beggar money or not would have been purely based on philanthropy. In the game, it's a tacit bargain whose terms are not clear.


What I'm saying is that that's how it works in real life. Let's say you step outside for a smoke. Someone asks if they can bum a smoke off you. Sometimes they give something to you (e.g. I once knew a guy who happened to give a cigarette to the manager of a club and got in free because of it), you may get an interesting conversation out of the deal, or you may get nothing but the warm fuzzy of sharing. I don't think I'm equivocating, I'm saying it's realistic and you're the one who's torn between playing the game and playing the role.

In Deus Ex there's a bum that I usually give money even though there's no in game effect (other than being out 5 cred) because I figure someone with the plague could use it. That's the J.C. Denton I usually choose to play. Then again, that's a game where being a philanthropist (like Nitchze) usually gets you something. Part of the reason I play a generous character is because it's beneficial in that game, but I stay in character and give the bum some change even though, from a gameplay point of view, it's not a good idea (not a very bad one, since it's only 5 cred, but still not good).

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I'll lay some blame on the developer if the "good" choice is always beneficial and the "evil" choice is always detrimental (or vice versa). This is similar to people complaining how petty taking the evil path can be (I sympathize because I prefer the good side but often find the reasons my character uses to justify the good side to be off), and often feels preachy.
I agree here. But without setting up the game to be fun enough without 100% success, that just favors frequent reloading to check out the eventualities. It's still a far cry from alleviating this tradeoff between immersion and success.


I agree. Even more, I would say that less than 100% success should be just as fun as 100% aside from the "Hey, you got 100%!" sticker. I think this would fix a lot of problems (e.g. save points).

And, like I said, immersion and success are necessarily correlated in real life. I'm the last to say that realism is a requirement for a fun game (and can certainly be detrimental) but I'm not sure there's a reason to expect a particular unrealistic behavior, especially one that people disagree on how it affects game play (better or worse).

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One problem here is poor design. You weren't given enough information to know there was another (secondary) objective. This may be because the designer knows the game too well and didn't realize you were never told to save the doll.

What if you were? What if "also save the doll" was an explicit part of the situation? In movies and books, accepting a lesser victory is a frequently employed trope. So why do games make us feel like losers for it?


Actually, I often say, "screw it, it's too hard to get a perfect" and move on.

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