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Wavinator

Ways To Represent How Something Works

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Without forcing the player to watch in detail, how would you visually convey this sort of process: Traders bring food to the city, which is given first to the rich, with the poor getting whatever's left; but the food supply is cut off and people are starting to riot, which is weakening the power of the local king. I'm looking for some way of presenting knowledge a character would have which would be different from place to place. The information would tell a player how to get something done (such as where to buy illegal arms), who's in charge and where they get their power from, and how to break something up or change it (like representing that people are oppressed by a dictator or addicted to a drug). I was thinking of representing things visually with icons in a manner similar to those old diagrams of the water cycle that show moisture turning into rain. Bubbles would connect icons of items to characters, and different styles of arrows would link them with more abstract concepts like "morale" or "fear." Bubbles would get filled in as you talk to people or use character skills with a result being that sandbox style goals would be visible at any time (because you could see "how the world worked.") If I could come up with some sort of proper representation I'm thinking that I can visually represent an abstraction of different problems, situations or even cultures in game world I'm working on. Any thoughts?

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If you wanted something perhaps a little less abstract, you could look at having some kind of news channel.

In this way you could have news stories for the important points that you wanted to convey, with ongoing updates for evolving info or knowledge that you want to feed the player over time.

I'm not sure if it fits your setting or not, but it wouldn't be too hard to fit something like this into a science fiction setting I think.

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Original post by Warshade
If you wanted something perhaps a little less abstract, you could look at having some kind of news channel.

I'm not sure if it fits your setting or not, but it wouldn't be too hard to fit something like this into a science fiction setting I think.
Even in other settings it could work. In a mediaeval setting, you would have a town crier presenting the 'official' version of the news, and a gossip at the local tavern presenting the 'unofficial' version of the news - with the benefit that the player has to read between the lines of both to figure out the real truth.

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Have you thought using a dynamic variation of an entity relationship diagram?

Here are a few example images:

http://infolab.stanford.edu/~ullman/fcdb/ito/er.gif
http://www.fmc-modeling.org/images/quick-intro/TravelAgency.ERD.gif
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3601/3600883265_90a5972298.jpg

You could jazz it up with different icons and colours with different meanings. Add some animation perhaps to show changing factors or points of interest.

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Original post by Warshade
If you wanted something perhaps a little less abstract, you could look at having some kind of news channel.


This works for very straightforward stuff and is what normally fills the pages of a in-game journal. But if you had a lot of instances of situations you wanted to keep straight it would either necessitate watching a lot of news or rereading a lot of journal pages.

But picture a setting where there are dozens upon dozens of locations, each of which have their own situations. How do you keep it all straight? Even worse, what if you take a break from the game and come back, forgetting what the news or journals said?


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Original post by TechnoGoth
Have you thought using a dynamic variation of an entity relationship diagram?


These are really dry but as you said they might benefit well from flashy icons and animation. I was also thinking each node could be clicked on in order to get more detail about it and that maybe it could be filled in by what NPCs in the game world tell you.

Another complication: An entity map would represent an absolute rendering of how things work. Do you think they could be used to represent information that's fuzzy/hazy? Maybe use a flowchart concept where things that are unknown appear differently than things that are known.

And do you think it would undermine the concept if links could be wrong?

(I don't, btw, know exactly how to present this to the player-- something on their character sheet, maybe, but that just seems so WEIRD!)


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Original post by Wavinator
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Original post by TechnoGoth
Have you thought using a dynamic variation of an entity relationship diagram?


These are really dry but as you said they might benefit well from flashy icons and animation. I was also thinking each node could be clicked on in order to get more detail about it and that maybe it could be filled in by what NPCs in the game world tell you.

There's a reason why technical manuals and textbooks are dry... The information you're presenting to the player is itself dry. If the knowledge that the player will have difficulty playing without this information isn't enough to motivate him to read it, then your game probably just isn't the player's cup of tea.

Quote:
Another complication: An entity map would represent an absolute rendering of how things work. Do you think they could be used to represent information that's fuzzy/hazy? Maybe use a flowchart concept where things that are unknown appear differently than things that are known.

And do you think it would undermine the concept if links could be wrong?

a square --IS--> a rectangle
a rectangle --CAN BE--> a square

^ In my diagram above, do you think the relationship from rectangle to square undermines the relationship from square to rectangle? (Hopefully) most people will understand , and if you agree that "dumbing down" a game at the expense of the hardcore audience is short-sighted, then don't worry about the rest.

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(I don't, btw, know exactly how to present this to the player-- something on their character sheet, maybe, but that just seems so WEIRD!)

It's just an arbitrary collection of interrelated information. I would handle it the same as the character sheet - on its own screen, linked to from the HUD.

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Finally a use for a character's intelligence (your ability to learn new information) and wisdom (your ability to interpret the learned information).

I wonder if this is a bit of a chicken-or-egg dilemma in that you may have to first decide how to properly code these relations and then develop a way to visualize it.

Have you played the Wolverine: Origins? Though I'm sure it's not the only game to use a "help" feature like this, it has a "feral senses" mode where the screen goes to black-and-white but the path to be followed or the item to be manipulated jumps out in color. (I also think it highlights weak spots on enemies.) Selecting this help mode would reveal the known information to the players.

Help mode -> desired items

This would reveal what your character knows about the nearby characters in regard to the items they desire (based on your intelligence score). With a high enough wisdom score, nearby characters that own the desired items would be revealed. Perhaps the path from demand to supply would be revealed.

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Original post by Wavinator
Without forcing the player to watch in detail, how would you visually convey this sort of process: Traders bring food to the city, which is given first to the rich, with the poor getting whatever's left; but the food supply is cut off and people are starting to riot, which is weakening the power of the local king.

I'd make a mission for the player among poor people, and among rich people, and also among the traders, and have those different people tell the player about their view of things. The missions could be performed in any order to get the entire picture.
Assuming you have a game with characters who can talk to the player (either in text or in voice), that is.

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Original post by Dathgale
There's a reason why technical manuals and textbooks are dry... The information you're presenting to the player is itself dry. If the knowledge that the player will have difficulty playing without this information isn't enough to motivate him to read it, then your game probably just isn't the player's cup of tea.


Yeah you have a point. Since I haven't seen this done elsewhere I won't really have a basis to judge it until I actually get some code working.

I had thought of it in terms of a player thinking something like, "Who's in charge here?" or "Why is the Undercity so poor?" I wanted this to motivate them to think, "If I changed this thing (say, crime) that's causing this other thing (say, demoralized populace) then I can get this effect (say, increased status or production of some good)."


Quote:

a square --IS--> a rectangle
a rectangle --CAN BE--> a square


Hmm... okay I'm trying to fit this into what I'm thinking. Let's say I'm trying to represent a chain of potential causes that relates to people getting lung damage on a new colony. I need to show that it's maybe the air filters in a new factory, maybe something in the soil or maybe saboteurs releasing toxins.

I could have facts, such as "some factories can cause disease" versus "this factory is causing a disease." Or I can have facts like "some anarchists want to bring down the colony" versus "this specific person is an anarchist."

If something is known to be the cause of something without a doubt, it can be a certain shape, or have a certain type of line associated with it. If it's more indeterminate, maybe the shape is less solid (more "fuzzy") or the line is less direct (or more transparent).

Lies, prejudices and plain ignorance can be mapped as solid lines that are simply wrong or shapes that are rigidly defined when they should not be. It could almost work like placing a confidence value, though at the moment I have no idea how it would look or how difficult it would be to pack together and arrange.


Quote:

It's just an arbitrary collection of interrelated information. I would handle it the same as the character sheet - on its own screen, linked to from the HUD.


Though I don't want it to be so limited, this could very well work under a VR/cyberpunk motif, sort of like a depiction of "infospace."


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Original post by Silvermyst
This would reveal what your character knows about the nearby characters in regard to the items they desire (based on your intelligence score). With a high enough wisdom score, nearby characters that own the desired items would be revealed. Perhaps the path from demand to supply would be revealed.


I had not thought of this as a kind of help mode but that could work just as well, especially blended with character skill.

I've been planning on presenting levels somewhat abstractly, say as a city map or ship schematic. Maybe a kind of overlay would work on top of this, where the level goes a bit out of focus and things like states within different parts of the level arise with connections displayed. Lots of gang violence in the nothern end of a city, for instance, might show up as red gun icons. If you know that a specific person is behind it, but not who, the gun icons link to a shadowy face. If you know who they link to, but not where he/she is, their face floats over the area. Finally, if you know who and where, there's a specific, clickable link that lets you go to their location and interact with them.

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Original post by Tom Sloper
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Original post by Wavinator
Without forcing the player to watch in detail, how would you visually convey this sort of process: Traders bring food to the city, which is given first to the rich, with the poor getting whatever's left; but the food supply is cut off and people are starting to riot, which is weakening the power of the local king.

I'd make a mission for the player among poor people, and among rich people, and also among the traders, and have those different people tell the player about their view of things. The missions could be performed in any order to get the entire picture.
Assuming you have a game with characters who can talk to the player (either in text or in voice), that is.


This would work for actually filling in what you know but not so much for representing it. I could do away with the need to represent by simplifying and using the standard RPG dialog tree/quest log/state trigger approach. But the game universe is procedurally generated and we're talking dozens and dozens of worlds with their own situations. A visual system would preserve the player's sanity because you could travel from place to place and maybe click the map and get the gist of things at a glance.

(Starting to think this almost needs to be a kind of "traveler's advisory" system, the kind that shows hotspots and dangers, only more animated).

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So what you are looking for is visualization of processes and (abstract) relationships?

On visualization of statistical data, Edward Tufte's books are excellent. I for one would be very interested in similar literature that covers the stuff you are looking for.

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Looking at this from purely informational transaction, the most dense form of information people can interpret is a combination of visual motion, color and auditory cues combined with personal voice overlay explaining the system. Basically a well put together informerical. Using all their "tricks", bright color cues, charasimatic character, retrospective narrative, sound fx, etc.. forces the users engagement into the presentation resulting in higher information retention.

If your looking for charts and graphs, alot of work has been done in that field, but they are too mathematical for most people and require too great a focus and attention span without using those above techniques (ie no personal presentation, sound fx, narrative, cues etc..)

Even a truncated form of this scheme using the NPC avatars, dynamic voice technology and scripted graphics might work. ie.

scene 1 : shows a 2d graphic of trader bringing food to city (just icons), NPC avatar voice over "food arrives from traders from far off lands",

scene 1: NPC saids "but it is not shared equally", graphic of food going to king (alot) then nobles (less but still alot) them pesants (not much at all).

etc..

That is something the user will remember, I think.

Good Luck!

-ddn

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The infomercial approach sounds really good. I don't know about speech but icons and sound fx blended with character dialog might work. The key would probably be, as you said, to present it (at least initially) as a step by step process, which would be much easier to absorb than getting a big, complex diagram all at once.

If I used a VR motif this *might* fit side by side with character dialog when necessary. It would sort of be like a company spokesman telling you about his organization and beaming you an org chart at the same time.

Weird, but it might work.

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Just a brief thought: the first thing that sprang to mind when I read what you described was something like you'd see in a police procedural - places, names, objects, ideas, common themes, pictures, connected together in a sort of web. Less certain things can be indicated quite simply with question marks. Having this in an interactive format - for example, the ability to zoom on a particular link in a chain to get more information about it - would make navigating and interpreting this web of information much easier than it would be for a static board on an office wall.

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Frankly, I would do something similar to Codexes in Mass Effect, and pop up an icon and a message when information the player may need is added to the Codex. It allows experienced players to ignore information that they already know from previous playthrough, which is very valuable to me personally.

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Original post by Wavinator
Without forcing the player to watch in detail, how would you visually convey this sort of process: Traders bring food to the city, which is given first to the rich, with the poor getting whatever's left; but the food supply is cut off and people are starting to riot, which is weakening the power of the local king.

Similar to icon/bubbles, there could be food carts and cattle/pigs/chickens in the local marketplace. As food supply dries up, the pictorial representation contains less cows/pigs/food carts. For the experienced player, it might be that each visible cow represents ten meals or some such.

And guys with pitchforks and signs, pacing in front of the gate, is surely a sign of discontent.

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Actually, I seem to remember Caesar III by Sierra did this pretty well. It's the only game in the series that I've played, so some of the others might have done an even better job.

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