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Wavinator

Beauty vs. Horror: Another Take on "Experience"

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Not sure if this sort of conceptualization belongs in a video game as it just may be too philosophically remote... but what are some ways that a character can be said to be 'changed' by different experiences? I've been looking for ways to add value to intangible 'experiences' in my abstract RPG's game world. Some examples
  • You encounter a terrifying force that shakes your idea of reality
  • You attend a strange ritual on an alien planet
  • You survive an internment camp after your colony is conquered
  • You're the first to make contact with a race of captivating, spiritual creatures
  • You attend a cathartic, moving performance
  • You watch intelligent animals rip each other to pieces for entertainment
What does this do to you and how should it affect you through the rest of the game? Is it too clumsy to have a Beauty <-> Horror continuum as a stat, or maybe more nuanced but similar categories, such as Affinity for Nature vs. Affinity for Mechanization, Affinity for Peace vs. Affinity for War, etc.? How these function in the game would be vital, of course, and I see interactions and options open to you being affected by these things. If I went with the Beauty <-> Horror continuum, for example, killing and bloodshed would move you toward Horror while exploring nature and helping others would move you the other. Maybe this would make you better at interactions and skill development that fell into each category. Using the affinity breakdown, maybe the path of being a diplomat is more difficult if you don't have enough Affinity for Peace, while becoming a machine is far easier if you have an Affinity for Mechanization. It can't be this straightforward, though. Surprises would have to break it up so that it's not predictable-- chances to defend the weak in a battlezone or sacrifice for an ally, or exploration of an ancient ruin triggering traps that turn it into an abattoir. As I think about this, though, my chief worry is that I'd be telling you the player that your character has been affected by an experience. But if it's too sterile (music, popup screens, flavor text, some graphics), it might divorce them you from your character. Thoughts?

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I think its a good direction to explore. This type of internal change to characters is one thing that I believe games haven't been able to do very well up until now, at least in an interactive way.

Have you thought of combining this with the internal monologue idea you were discussing a while back? Rather than telling the player how they are affected by the event, you would be asking them. It shouldn't be too difficult to only present suitable options but the player would still feel like they were in control as long as they had some choice.

I think the key would be to find a way to get the player to respond with what they actually feel, rather than what they think would be the best tactical choice. The obvious solution would be to make all choices tactically equal, the problem being that even if they are equal in terms of gameplay, if the player wants to see the character head in one direction then they will chose the appropriate options, even if that is not their real reaction.

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Original post by Tim Ingham-Dempster
Have you thought of combining this with the internal monologue idea you were discussing a while back? Rather than telling the player how they are affected by the event, you would be asking them. It shouldn't be too difficult to only present suitable options but the player would still feel like they were in control as long as they had some choice.


Yes I've been thinking about this, but I've been a bit stuck in terms of how the inner monologue is meant more to be a momentary guide in how you develop but a stat is more progressive and continuous. Let say, for example, that you go into a warzone again and again. The inner monologue could track whether you're coming to love war or whether it's taking away from who you are, but this can't be done battle after battle or it would become comically absurd as the number of battles rose. I could limit the battles, but I really don't want to do that-- grinding should be possible, that is.

One compromise is to arrange for critical events. Battle after battle might not bother you, but losing a good friend would.

Or it could be a matter of thresholds. At X% you get a choice as to how it's affecting you, then again at Y% or whatever. This feels mechanical, though, which I worry cheapens the very idea.

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I think the key would be to find a way to get the player to respond with what they actually feel, rather than what they think would be the best tactical choice. The obvious solution would be to make all choices tactically equal, the problem being that even if they are equal in terms of gameplay, if the player wants to see the character head in one direction then they will chose the appropriate options, even if that is not their real reaction.


Big problem, yes. I have yet to resolve whether I am trying to focus on saying the experience is happening to "you" or to "your character." Though it turned into something of a furball this point was what I was trying to resolve when I posted this thread about moral complexity and character identification awhile back.

If it looks like its actually not feasible to get you to identify with your character in morally complex situations then this problem likely goes away. You'll be guiding your character toward certain ends and that will be meta-gameplay in and of itself.

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First of all, sorry for my English, its not as perfect or complex as yours, so sorry if its not extremely clear


I would base your character's moral evolution on 2 related continuum axes: the beauty vs horror axis and sadness vs happiness axis.


The beauty vs horror wouldnt actually appear on screen as an inside monologue, but simply appear on the character's facial/body traits. Progressively, a character who keeps witnessing horrible war scenes will start having twitches, that will evolve into a cruel sadistic grin, etc.
This way, such as his character, the player will only understand after a while that his character has slowly become a sadistic unsensible being. when you become crazy, most of the time, you dont see it coming, but you only realize it once its too late. The player will feel that he is loosing control on his character/avatar, such as the character is loosing control of his mind.. This would also work with beauty, as the character would develop dreamy face traits, loosing his thoughts in love, etc...

This beauty vs horror axis would have a direct impact on the sadness vs happiness axis.
--> If your character has become a sadistic person, seeing the horrors of war wont affect his happiness axis very much. On the contrary, it could be possible to determine a point where if he gets too "horrorful" enough, he might actually get happier by seeing atrocities. Of course, if he sees nice beautiful people in love kissing, he will get very sad, and it will strongly affect his sadness vs happiness continuum.

Even if this does not appear as a monologue, it can also appear on his face/body traits (smile vs tears). Also, depending on how sad or happy the character is, it will directly affect all of his moral and physical characteristics. Indeed, a person is always much more productive if he is happy with his life ( but maybe if he gets too happy, he can get too excited and actually become unproductive).

One of the player's goal would then be to give his character what he is craving for: another war so he can see/commit atrocities, or a new girlfriend because he needs love,..
NOTE: The horror vs beauty continuum could also be affected by natural cravings for horrorful or beautiful things determined at the beginning of his "character life" (genetics ?)



Finally, for the "good friend who dies" part, in my game, I included a "friend points" system, where, for example, the friends with many points become best friends (kind of like the Sims). When a good friend dies, the loss could affect BOTH moral axes: the sadness vs happiness, and horror vs beauty (which would its self affect the happines/sadness axis, therefore doubling the moral effects of losing a close friend)


Voila, hope it can help. I like your ideas wavinator, even though I dont always fully understand what your saying. your game seems very abstract to me, I dont understand very well what the gameplay will look like.. But it still seems like a new cool game :)


Anyways, best of luck!

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Original post by Wavinator
Yes I've been thinking about this, but I've been a bit stuck in terms of how the inner monologue is meant more to be a momentary guide in how you develop but a stat is more progressive and continuous. Let say, for example, that you go into a warzone again and again. The inner monologue could track whether you're coming to love war or whether it's taking away from who you are, but this can't be done battle after battle or it would become comically absurd as the number of battles rose. I could limit the battles, but I really don't want to do that-- grinding should be possible, that is.

One compromise is to arrange for critical events. Battle after battle might not bother you, but losing a good friend would.

Or it could be a matter of thresholds. At X% you get a choice as to how it's affecting you, then again at Y% or whatever. This feels mechanical, though, which I worry cheapens the very idea.


I see what you mean, but I don't think its a fatal issue if handled properly. For example, the inner monologue could find the reaction to the first battle, and maybe if the player said they hated battles but then took part in a lot of them it could present a new set of options after the nth one and give options like:

"I hated battle, but had no choice"
"At first I hated battle, but gradually I came to enjoy it"

But if they said they loved thier first battle then it would not trigger.
Essentially it would be looking for inconsitancies between previous entries and current actions and then asking the player to explain them.

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Big problem, yes. I have yet to resolve whether I am trying to focus on saying the experience is happening to "you" or to "your character." Though it turned into something of a furball this point was what I was trying to resolve when I posted this thread about moral complexity and character identification awhile back.

If it looks like its actually not feasible to get you to identify with your character in morally complex situations then this problem likely goes away. You'll be guiding your character toward certain ends and that will be meta-gameplay in and of itself.


Thats true, it could basically go one of two ways. The first would be to reflect what the player is thinking and feeling and try to deepen the interaction with the character. The second would be as an element of the overall gameplay. Either is a valid choice and depends on the game you want, as they seem to be mutually exclusive. I had assumed you were looking at the first approach, sorry about that.

As a slight corollary to that though I don't think wether the experience is happening to "you" or "your character" matters for this aspect. Obviously it would change the actual wording of the reactions, but as long as the player can identify with the character either approach should work, if done properly.

I would imagine that making the player identify with the character is probably part of the solution to get the player to make an honest decision instead of a tactical one. You may have noticed a lot of conditionals in that last sentance, I've never seen this attempted in a game before so its hard to know how the player will react. It may be beneficial to make a small simple prototype and watch people play it.

There are a lot of tricks that can be used to make the audience identify with a character in linear forms of storytelling, but how well they can be adapted to interactive stories is still an open question.

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Original post by illison terry
I would base your character's moral evolution on 2 related continuum axes: the beauty vs horror axis and sadness vs happiness axis.


Yes I was thinking of something very similar which would function like the traditional Alignment idea found in Dungeons & Dragons. One axis would be Life/Compassion vs. Death/Suffering, and another would be Self vs. Society/Sacrifice. Happiness would be an independent variable, however.

When first creating a character you would pick a spot within these two axes and that would determine your moral bearing. Actions and responses consistent with what you selected would make your happiness rise, whereas the opposite would make it fall.

The Life/Death axis would be almost exactly like your suggestion for Beauty/Horror: Saving a life, for instance, if you are far on the Life side of moral bearing would raise your happiness. But if you were far on the Death side it would do nothing (or even, as you say, make you sad-- although I might want to reserve that for special states like psychopathy).

However the Self vs. Society/Sacrifice axis could come into play here even if a character were on the Death side of Life/Death. Saving an ally or countryman would qualify as upholding the ideals of Sacrifice/Society, but saving an enemy probably would not.

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The beauty vs horror wouldnt actually appear on screen as an inside monologue, but simply appear on the character's facial/body traits. Progressively, a character who keeps witnessing horrible war scenes will start having twitches, that will evolve into a cruel sadistic grin, etc.


I really like this approach but am not sure I would be able to implement it. My design already requires multiple characters and I've been thinking of ways to get away from having to physically depict several variations of any given character. It would work well in a game where there were one or a few characters, however.

One approach I've been thinking about would be similar to the game Flower in that the world gets more gritty and grey or bright and shiny as your internal state shifts. Flower does this in some spots by depicting life and by brightening the tones of a city you see outside.

Alternately (and most likely) I'll either have to rely on visually showing the moral bearing or trying to convey tones of it through writing, maybe even in an automatic journal format.

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The player will feel that he is loosing control on his character/avatar, such as the character is loosing control of his mind.. This would also work with beauty, as the character would develop dreamy face traits, loosing his thoughts in love, etc...


I think it's right to lose control of your perception of the world but not of your avatar. A character that's drifting toward the Death axis, for instance, should simply see be impacted less and less by what Life (in terms of interactions and events) has to offer. Same for Self vs. Society/Sacrifice.

I am trying to capture a dynamic of aging and becoming more set in who you are. In your formative years you should have more opportunities to change this. But as you age save for critical events you should have less and less of a chance to alter the path you've chosen earlier.

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Finally, for the "good friend who dies" part, in my game, I included a "friend points" system, where, for example, the friends with many points become best friends (kind of like the Sims). When a good friend dies, the loss could affect BOTH moral axes: the sadness vs happiness, and horror vs beauty (which would its self affect the happines/sadness axis, therefore doubling the moral effects of losing a close friend)


What if Happiness were separate (as mentioned above) and friends provided an adjustment to its base value? For instance, maybe Happiness ranges from 0 to 100. Acquaintances provide a +1 or +2, friends +5 or +6, close friends +10 or +12, a spouse +20 to +30 etc.

This would apply provided the state of the relationship was positive. If the state were negative, the value would be negative. So if a close friend of +15 dies, Happiness would suffer a constant modifier of -15.

Loss could still affect the moral bearing, but it is probably better to allow a player to determine how. If a friend dies in a war, maybe the inner monologue presents a range of views, from ideas about how "it's every man for himself" to "he died died defending this great nation." There would perhaps be 8 directions representing the possibilities for both axes (9 if you allow for a morally neutral center)

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Voila, hope it can help. I like your ideas wavinator, even though I dont always fully understand what your saying. your game seems very abstract to me, I dont understand very well what the gameplay will look like.. But it still seems like a new cool game :)


Thank you for the help and encouragement! I apologize that much is so abstract, I am leaning on the help of GameDev at the moment to help form what is proving to be a very elusive idea.

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Anyways, best of luck!


To you, too!

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Original post by Tim Ingham-Dempster
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Original post by Wavinator
Yes I've been thinking about this, but I've been a bit stuck in terms of how the inner monologue is meant more to be a momentary guide in how you develop but a stat is more progressive and continuous. Let say, for example, that you go into a warzone again and again. The inner monologue could track whether you're coming to love war or whether it's taking away from who you are, but this can't be done battle after battle or it would become comically absurd as the number of battles rose. I could limit the battles, but I really don't want to do that-- grinding should be possible, that is.

One compromise is to arrange for critical events. Battle after battle might not bother you, but losing a good friend would.

Or it could be a matter of thresholds. At X% you get a choice as to how it's affecting you, then again at Y% or whatever. This feels mechanical, though, which I worry cheapens the very idea.


I see what you mean, but I don't think its a fatal issue if handled properly. For example, the inner monologue could find the reaction to the first battle, and maybe if the player said they hated battles but then took part in a lot of them it could present a new set of options after the nth one and give options like:
...


Yes this could work. And maybe I shouldn't look at it so narrowly.

What if inner monologue were just one tool for the game to communicate to the player (and vice versa) how they were advancing? NPC interaction could be another, as could the context that I could create in mission choices. Maybe the player is presented with different views from different characters/factions and not only has to pick a factional side, but an internal moral side as well.

I think it could be very interesting if the factional/political ideals could sometimes clash with their character's moral ideals. But I have to be sure that you know that you're evolving yourself one way or another.

Your point about tracking consistency is a good one, though. Certain choices should not appear if you've responded positively to the events that are happening in a given situation. (Side thought-- I have to think about codifying moral situations: Are you in a war? Is it a just war? Are you a peacenik? etc.)

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Thats true, it could basically go one of two ways. The first would be to reflect what the player is thinking and feeling and try to deepen the interaction with the character. The second would be as an element of the overall gameplay. Either is a valid choice and depends on the game you want, as they seem to be mutually exclusive. I had assumed you were looking at the first approach, sorry about that.


No this is more of a problem with how I'm presenting things. Forgive me if it's scattered because I'm not really sure what will work here. I had actually assumed that I could do a bit of both, though I may not have considered this deeply enough. Exposing the stats would, as you say, make this an element of gameplay while trying to convey the experiences less mechanically would better serve character identification.

What I thought I might be able to do is short dashes of description that detail what's going on and hint at your internal state. Then you'd be able to either look at your stats or view them through in-game mechanisms that were appropriate to the world (erm, a PDA Freud that measures blood chemicals???? It is the future, after all.)

I don't think visual changes and writing will be strong enough to carry this idea entirely assuming very limited resources, so I may have to see whether both approaches are exclusive.

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What I thought I might be able to do is short dashes of description that detail what's going on and hint at your internal state. Then you'd be able to either look at your stats or view them through in-game mechanisms that were appropriate to the world (erm, a PDA Freud that measures blood chemicals???? It is the future, after all.)


Random unthought out idea that's probably more complex than desired.

First thing that came to my mind was a brain scan of some sort. Then I thought, maybe if you had a 'map' of the character's brain and different areas represented the diferent personality traits you want and actions a character could take. When it comes time for the character to make a decision, maybe do a pathfinding thing from trait to action and the top 5 present themselves as choices. When events occur, alter areas of the brain map. For example, the more violent actions the character does, make the area near the violence attribute have a lower movement cost. If a traumatic event occurs, cut a swath of high movement cost through some area of the map making it tougher to make the same choices the character used to.

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I like the idea about taking feedback from the factions that the player aligns themselves with. As you noted it would lead to some interesting situations when you can sacrifice your morals to further your career, shifting your morals in the process. I think your right that there are many ways that you can collect the player's stance and the internal monologue should only be one of them.

As to using it for gameplay or character being mutually exclusive, if one option is good and one is bad from a gameplay point of view then it will always be a gameplay issue, if all options are balanced it isn't a gameplay issue. You could have some decisions gameplay affecting and some character affecting, but you would have to be very careful to make sure the player knows which is which. It would be very easy to have some players think that all decisions were tactical and miss out on the character side of the game and other players think that all decisions were character based and make poor game choices without understanding why.

I'm not convinced that a player doing things that go against their alignment on the internal state axes should make them less happy and vice versa. If a pacifist gets caught in a war then it would reduce their happiness, but if they chose to go to war then isnt it more likely that they changed how they feel about the issue? An alternative way to make the player get more set in their ways as they get older could be to assign values for the internal axes to every action a player can take (you would have to do this anyway to determin how happy or sad to make them based on that action). When presenting the player with options you would only show ones which are within a certain spread of the player's position on these axes. As the player ages the spread would get narrower. I don't know how well that fits with what you have planned for the rest of the game, but its an idea.

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I know one thing that allows me to identify with my character well, is a good character creation set. I think the customization of a character is vital for creating a deeper bond with ones character.
Another thought though, what if during the character creation process, it were to ask you a series of questions about their personality.
Their personality would effect dialogue options and/how one was effected after certain events.
Like if your character was made to be an extremely happy, innocent type and they experienced something horrific, their options would be say:
"I was emotionally scarred, i'll never be the same again."
"It hurt me to see so many people die."
"I feel numb."
--I dunno, something like that.
I don't know if its a complete, or even a good idea.
just throwing it out there.

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Original post by kseh
First thing that came to my mind was a brain scan of some sort. Then I thought, maybe if you had a 'map' of the character's brain and different areas represented the diferent personality traits you want and actions a character could take. When it comes time for the character to make a decision, maybe do a pathfinding thing from trait to action and the top 5 present themselves as choices. When events occur, alter areas of the brain map. For example, the more violent actions the character does, make the area near the violence attribute have a lower movement cost. If a traumatic event occurs, cut a swath of high movement cost through some area of the map making it tougher to make the same choices the character used to.


This is a very intriguing approach, although pathfinding might be a little like using a drag racer to go to the corner store for milk. Weighting for actions based on decisions might work just as well.

Strangely enough, though, I get the strong feeling that I need to handle this whole idea with a lot of care. If I make it a really stark calculation of numbers, what I'm in a sense saying to the player is that they are nothing but a machine. That would be bad because it would be exactly the kind of mechanistic portrayal of things I'm trying to avoid (heck if I didn't mind that I could just make a combat game and be done with it).

The brain map idea is still very cool, though. But even though it flies in the face of player control and immediate, clear feedback I don't think you should just be able to tweak some region of the brain and get a certain effect. Maybe a CHANCE of an effect, but just like magic in games I think there should be some mystery.

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Original post by Tim Ingham-Dempster
As to using it for gameplay or character being mutually exclusive, if one option is good and one is bad from a gameplay point of view then it will always be a gameplay issue, if all options are balanced it isn't a gameplay issue. You could have some decisions gameplay affecting and some character affecting, but you would have to be very careful to make sure the player knows which is which. It would be very easy to have some players think that all decisions were tactical and miss out on the character side of the game and other players think that all decisions were character based and make poor game choices without understanding why.


Wow. Okay, thanks for explaining this even further. I should have seen this but wasn't really connecting the dots.

This is like the choice to be evil in a game like Fable, where you get some great material reward (a cool sword), or to be good, which changes story (your sister's life is spared). It's clear to me now that the choice can't be a mix of one or the other, as it's awfully tempting to act out of character just to make gameplay easier/more fun.

I think I'm biased toward gameplay changes with what probably amounts to flavor text that describe how your character is evolving.

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I'm not convinced that a player doing things that go against their alignment on the internal state axes should make them less happy and vice versa. If a pacifist gets caught in a war then it would reduce their happiness, but if they chose to go to war then isnt it more likely that they changed how they feel about the issue? An alternative way to make the player get more set in their ways as they get older could be to assign values for the internal axes to every action a player can take (you would have to do this anyway to determin how happy or sad to make them based on that action). When presenting the player with options you would only show ones which are within a certain spread of the player's position on these axes. As the player ages the spread would get narrower. I don't know how well that fits with what you have planned for the rest of the game, but its an idea.


This might work for what I'm trying to get across. Certainly if the pacifist chooses to go to war they're choosing to change their philosophy, at least on a certain issue. That amounts to a personality shift of sorts.

So it may be best to ditch happiness as you're suggesting because the best place to locate the "soul" of the character would naturally be with the player. I'd thought that happiness would be a positive incentive, but the negatives are starting to worry me.

Thinking about this further if you chose a starting role and then decide to abandon this because of gameplay reasons the game shouldn't punish you, and your idea starts sounding better and better when I factor in the possibility of making the play environment fluid. If, for instance, the player has a home that's threatened with extermination, being a pacifist may no longer be a viable gameplay path.

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Original post by RedFawks
Another thought though, what if during the character creation process, it were to ask you a series of questions about their personality.


Actually this would be a cool way of setting up your character. One of the old Ultima games (Ultima 4?) did this, and I think Morrowind offered this sort of thing as a character creation option. One thing I'd be worried about is in matching the answers to the type of character the player wanted to play and getting in the way of them being able to tailor their character to the ideal they hold coming into the game.

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Warning: personal philosophy regarding how games should be designed follow. You may have a different approach, which is cool. (And, based on the thread content so far, I believe it highly likely that you do.)

See, I think you're approaching this in a fundamentally wrong way. In a game, the player and their agent are one and the same entity. The agent is really just that-- a virtual hand with which the governing intelligence carries out their will. In practice, there is only one entity in the expression, not two.

And there's where it gets interesting.

Since there is only the player, you can't really adjust the player's (physical, as it were) "evil bar" and be done with it. For starters, there's no such thing. (though if you do become aware of one please let me/the behavioral psychology community know ;) ) I think it's also very telling that all those sliding scale morality systems you see in many RPGs invariably fall on their ass halfway through. They feel tacked on because, no matter how many branching dialog trees with alignment checks or whatnot that you throw in, that's all they are. Some arbitrary game mechanic/stat to be minmaxed in order for the player to make the plot play out the way they want it to/the PC to act consistently with the desires of their controller. There is no meaning, and never will be, no matter how many levels of Good/Evil Bar(tm) gradation or branching whatever that occur as a result.

That doesn't mean that the game is somehow incapable of affecting the player in any way or indeed that the game cannot react to said affectations. It's also very telling that the one morality system I'm aware of that eschews a lot of the minmaxing bullshit (the Paragon/Renegade system from Mass Effect) has been met with universal acclaim and works exceedingly well in practice. On the surface, the difference seems extremely superficial, (even contradictory, considering that you can max both attributes out at the same time) but if you really look at what happens as a result the whole thing has been turned on its head. The game no longer tells the player what their stance is on some issue, *the player tells the game what's going on.*

So, to bring this full circle, the question really becomes one of interpreting the player's choices by way of examining what he/she does with their agent. Could the trait things work? Certainly. In fact, I think you could really make something interesting by constructing a comprehensive set of personality trait continuums and tossing them into a L4D-esque AI director. I don't think that simple underlying mechanics are the problem so much as the blatantly obvious presentation (i.e. YOU DO NOT HAVE A HIGH ENOUGH GOOD SCORE(tm) TO REMOVE THIS PUPPY FROM THE PATH OF THE TRUCK AT NO PERSONAL RISK) you tend to see in a lot of games, *especially* those that stress 'choices and consequences.' Really, the tricky part would be coming up with a good set of indicators/scales and a 'director' capable of producing scenarios that aren't half-assed mission Mad Libs. (save X from Y with plot twist Z) Certainly no mean feat, but they are fundamentally approachable problems.

EDIT: And looking back it appears I tl;dr'd a bit somehow (though I could swear I read everything :X) and some similar suggestions were made. I like to think I have a more concrete idea of how such a system would work, though, so I'll keep the post content up. Trait discussion would certainly be welcome, though, as this is something I'm wrestling with on a personal project.

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Original post by InvalidPointer
Warning: personal philosophy regarding how games should be designed follow. You may have a different approach, which is cool. (And, based on the thread content so far, I believe it highly likely that you do.)


No worries or need for a warning, I really appreciate this. It's often better to get criticisms than "hey, that might work, go for it and see what happens." At least with a critical reply I've got the chance to test whether I have conviction in the idea or whether I need to evaluate it further.

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In a game, the player and their agent are one and the same entity. The agent is really just that-- a virtual hand with which the governing intelligence carries out their will. In practice, there is only one entity in the expression, not two.


In most cases I'd agree with you, especially where you're asked to identify strongly with a single avatar (FPS or RPG, for example). But there are quite a number of exceptions, and sim-games, especially the sim-life genre, are probably among the biggest (grand 4x strategy or RTS might be another).

A sim game breaks the direct control expectation by casting the player as a director / manager. They know they don't control the avatar directly, only by proxy, and they do this through the the internal states they must manage. The fact that the internal states are visible and even exist, and often model esoteric or undesirable states (like unhappiness or loneliness), are the biggest clue in terms of convention that the player is NOT directly the will of the avatar. ("After all," the thought goes, "I'm not sad or lonely." The Sims further breaks this convention by giving the player avatars they can potentially lose control over, as with Sims that become too depressed).

But your point is valid in the sense that I'm looking to fuse RPG and sim-life game. How critical the convention is will depend on how far implementation falls on the RPG side of things.

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Since there is only the player, you can't really adjust the player's (physical, as it were) "evil bar" and be done with it. For starters, there's no such thing. (though if you do become aware of one please let me/the behavioral psychology community know ;) ) I think it's also very telling that all those sliding scale morality systems you see in many RPGs invariably fall on their ass halfway through. They feel tacked on because, no matter how many branching dialog trees with alignment checks or whatnot that you throw in, that's all they are. Some arbitrary game mechanic/stat to be minmaxed in order for the player to make the plot play out the way they want it to/the PC to act consistently with the desires of their controller. There is no meaning, and never will be, no matter how many levels of Good/Evil Bar(tm) gradation or branching whatever that occur as a result.


Isn't this partly due to the heavy investment these sorts of games make in trying to immerse you in the role, story and environment? In a game that pins user experience on immersion the more you see arbitrary, quantitative values tracking nebulous, qualitative traits the more discontinuity I think you experience.

But I've abandoned immersion because it's just simply unfeasible. So by convention when you play what I have in mind there's no question about you seeing internal states simply modeled. Stat bars are simply part of how you would play the game.

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So, to bring this full circle, the question really becomes one of interpreting the player's choices by way of examining what he/she does with their agent. Could the trait things work? Certainly. In fact, I think you could really make something interesting by constructing a comprehensive set of personality trait continuums and tossing them into a L4D-esque AI director. I don't think that simple underlying mechanics are the problem so much as the blatantly obvious presentation (i.e. YOU DO NOT HAVE A HIGH ENOUGH GOOD SCORE(tm) TO REMOVE THIS PUPPY FROM THE PATH OF THE TRUCK AT NO PERSONAL RISK) you tend to see in a lot of games, *especially* those that stress 'choices and consequences.'


Regardless of how we might look at games differently this I think is the cool part.

You want to tell the player that previous choices mattered, and since the subject is morality / being I think you want to make the previous choices constrain or impact future choices. So how to do this?

"Not enough points to rescue the puppy" (funny) is hamfisted, I agree. But what the game is trying to convey is that "you're a cold blooded SOB and you've made choices that make you unfeeling."

There's no way to capture a lifetime of choices in a few hours of play and moreover I think this concept brushes up against some philosophical constraints, chief among them whether or not your past experiences really do, in a sense, fossilize your perspectives/beliefs and subsequent freedom to make WHATEVER choice you please. I think the issue of agency gets really strained at this point-- a player may find themselves thinking, "I would/would not" do this or that, but what if their capacity is rightly diminished (as with old age, impairment or even addiction)?


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Trait discussion would certainly be welcome, though, as this is something I'm wrestling with on a personal project.


I'd offer some possibilities but I think they'd probably suck due to how we may be viewing agency. An immersive game which does not model the self (at least not the psychological self--hit points always seem okay) is probably going to have to offload indication of traits into the environment. In a surrealistic sense you'd have Flower, changing the perception / color / gloom of the environment, but in a more concrete world it would probably have to come from the characters or really graphically intensive stuff like being able to see your own haggard face in the mirror.

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This actually flows into a broader idea I toyed with. Think Tarantino or good cinematic noir.

One of the passages in The Red Badge of Courage describes how this man plagued by his inner cowardice is enveloped in this crisp clarity in the midst of a desperate fire-fight.

The grass is distinct and vivid, the bloom of a bullet wound on a soldiers chest reminds him of a scarlet flower...

If you ever written a screen play you know the challenge is to show the story not to tell it. Consider this approach with your idea.

So in the midst of battle the gunfire becomes rhythmic, the flames of a burning corpse appear warm and comforting, a pile of corpses doubles as a short flight of stairs. This defines the scene for a battle-hardened veteran whose comfortable in the midst of horror.

The same scene for someone that leans towards the Beauty side will appear(and thus render) differently. The gunfire shakes the ground and the screen and cracks like thunder, making it hard to keep your bearings. The flames of a burning corpse are like a firey devil, it lashes out when you draw near and almost swells your eyes shut with thick smoke, the piles of corpses are a slick mass of meat and a testament to your impending doom.

In a pacific setting the one that leans towards beauty will interpret actions more clearly. A handshake is a gesture of friendship, where for the one steeped in horror it may appear to be a menacing fist. A friendly offer of drink is one experience for the beauty and a possible assassination attempt for the horror character.

If you've ever seen the movie Soldier it was a somewhat corny story of a group of super soldiers; orphans trained from birth to be blood-thirsty killing machines.
There are several scenes where the protagonist (Kurt Russell) misinterprets everyday physical exchange with potential life threatening actions.

They achieve this by subtly altering the facial expressions of the actors as they make the move and altering the camera angle to make the move appear menancing. When they combine this with a low siren sound it becomes a very effective technique to let the audience see a simple offer of a handshake or a hug through the eyes of a professional paranoid that doesn't understand common physical exchanges.

So the larger question I'd pose before you attempt to imagine the perfect abstraction for the game mechanic is to ask yourself how much you can encapsulate through clever rendering quirks and sound effects.

A horror player may get an upbeat tempo "slaying soundtrack" in the middle of battle while a beauty player may get a horror track that has them spinning in every direction for the next abomination to befall them.

A horror player may be deaf to the sounds of the dying but a beauty player will hear every screech in the night.

See how far you can take the mechanic by presenting it in a rich format, and then abstract whatevers left over, if anything.

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