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Wavinator

What Creates A World?

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What do you think are the major gameplay elements that a game needs to provide in order to create the sense of a world?

I've played in many pretty environments, some with very expansive, realistic terrain and seen many games with extensive story and background-- but they don't give me the sense that the game environment is a world. It often feels like just another level. I think in order to create the sense of a world for a player you have to have gameplay that reinforces the milieu a player must contend with.

But what are these elements?

How important do you think it is to have the following:

  • Non-linear goals (you can make up your own objectives)?
  • Freedom of movement / free roaming ability?
  • Lots of different locations which act as points of challenge which can be approached in arbitrary order?
  • Limits / costs to travel (e.g., no "fast travel" because the "world" must not be experienced as a bunch of terrain pieces or it becomes a level)?
  • A sense of social structure which can be changed / impacted?
  • Actors / agents engaging in behaviors (fighting, plotting against each other, fleeing danger, etc.) the player can exploit / affect?
  • Gameplay that maps to social situations, such as the ability to steal, consequences for crimes, a reputation that can be improved or harmed, etc.?
  • The ability to affect the world in meaningful ways, such as removing a force or character from the game and seeing the results play out?
  • The ability to tackle challenges indirectly or through a combination of abilities (as opposed to having to kill your way through everything)


What other factors do you need to create a world?

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Thoughts

I think the sense of a world comes from having third parties that interacts with features that the player can observe.

Explanation:

Let W be a world.
Let P be the player
Let F be a features, object, location in W.

The more F interacts among itself regardless of the actions of P, the more P is going to feel that W is a world. In general, for P to feel that W is alive, F interact with itself more than P can affect.

(When the sun does not wait for the player.)


Evaluation

Now using this concept, I rate the potency of each point in creating the sense of a world.

Group 1:

o Non-linear goals (you can make up your own objectives)?
o Freedom of movement / free roaming ability?
o Lots of different locations which act as points of challenge which can be approached in arbitrary order?
o Limits / costs to travel (e.g., no "fast travel" because the "world" must not be experienced as a bunch of terrain pieces or it becomes a level)?
o The ability to tackle challenges indirectly or through a combination of abilities (as opposed to having to kill your way through everything)

Effect is low because it does not directly increase the interactivity of F. These increase the interactivity between P and F, but not among F itself.

Group 2:

o A sense of social structure which can be changed / impacted?
o Actors / agents engaging in behaviors (fighting, plotting against each other, fleeing danger, etc.) the player can exploit / affect?
o Gameplay that maps to social situations, such as the ability to steal, consequences for crimes, a reputation that can be improved or harmed, etc.?
o The ability to affect the world in meaningful ways, such as removing a force or character from the game and seeing the results play out?

Effect is moderate. These increase the interaction among F, but at the same time the interaction between P and F also increases, and with extraordinary effect.


Group 3:

o (Insert inertial systems here)

Effect is high because this increases the interaction among F, while the effect P has on F lags behind.


Concept

Increase the sense of a world by increasing the interaction among the entities in the world, without proportionally increasing the ability of the player to affect tose interactions.

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One important aspect, I think, of having a world rather than merely an expansive 'level' is that the world carries on without you. In a level, things go to sleep when you aren't looking at them. When you show up, whenever that is, is when things come to life, usually placed exactly where the level designer placed them.
Another related aspect is details that are there for no other reason than to be observed. Worlds have details that just are. Not every cave has a dragon, not every mountain has a castle.

Two good examples of games I felt had worlds were Ultima 7 and Arcanum.
Ultima 7 (with whom's debug mode I went nuts) had in-game time-of-day and the NPC's on a schedule. They got up, went to work, went to the pub, went back home, and went to sleep. I really felt like I was just a guy in their world, not the sole reason for its existence.
In Arcanum, you had a date, travel costs time, and events happened on certain dates. The in game newspaper, which you could pick up in towns, would note important events after they happened, which really helped to give the feeling that there was a lot going on.

From reading your post and mine, it seems that smarts NPCs play a critical role. Without them, the world seems designed and static, and becomes a level.

A counter-example is the old Fallout games (haven't played the new one, so I can't comment on it). They were expansive, free-roaming, non-linear, and IMHO not worlds. Don't get me wrong, I loved those games, but I was exploring challenges in a level, not details of a world.

I hope some of this rambling helps. I wish I could nail down exactly what makes a world to me a little bit better.

Edit: Dammit Wai, I wish you wouldn't upstage my vague ramblings by mathematically expressing what I failed to while I'm writing my post ;) You are, of course, entirely correct in your description.

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Hmm. I would have said pretty world with story background, actually. The primary things that make a game world feel real to me are the scripted scenes and NPCs. I can be pretty happy with a linear game with no combat, but a game with no narration or NPC dialogue makes me psychologically uncomfortable.

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Quote:
Original post by Wai
Increase the sense of a world by increasing the interaction among the entities in the world, without proportionally increasing the ability of the player to affect tose interactions.


Very intriguing, but won't the lack of interactivity make the player feel as if he/she is outside/apart from this world? That is, won't a player be predisposed to discount the interactions, to not be emotionally engaged and ultimately not be immersed because what they witness they cannot affect?

Another strong downside is that it would seem to call for lots of artificial contrivances in the form of barriers. Everything needs to happen behind unbreakable glass, in the distance or through an in-game camera (or just be indestructible / non-interactive) in order to limit the player's interference. This can yield hackneyed tropes involving the player anticipating some complex interaction with an NPC that is ultimately thwarted at the last moment (Bioshock and System Shock were notable for this, as was Half-Life).

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Re: Wavinator

I think there is a misunderstanding. Here is an explanation:

Illustration:

Suppose the world has 10 entities and the player plays 1 of them (P). To make the world more like a world, I suggest this:

o First, if the other 9 entities (F) only interact with the P, add interactions so that F interact among themsleves.

Now, initially, the world has only 9 interactive links, each of them is between F and P. (100% of the interactions in W requires P.) Let's call them X(P,i). By letting F interact among themselves, many more X(i,j) are formed (36 more). In this case, I don't change P's ability to interact with F. I added 36 more interactions, but added none for P. (Now, only 20% of the interactions in W requires P.)

If I added the same number of interactions for P, those interactions would be like this: X(P,X(i,j)). This is an interaction that allows P to interact directly with how F and F[j] interact.

This means that if F and F[j] are P's parents, not only can P talk to them, but P can directly choose how they talk to each other.

While this doesn't make sense in real life, it makes sense in a simulation or a game. In a simulation, the user can often change the properties of interactive entities at will. In a game, the player could have magical abilities that make two monsters instantly fight against each other.

If X(P,X(i,j)) does not exist, can P affect X(i,j)?
Yes, because P can affect F and F[j].




With this I can re-evaluate the list:


[Low effect]

o Non-linear goals (you can make up your own objectives)?
The assumption here is that everything else being equal, allow the player more options to the goals. This is like adding additional scoring modes to an existing gameplay. Now, non-linear stories are correlated with good sense of game world, but it is not the goals that make the world alive. It is the interactions in the world that supports the non-linear goals. If the set of interactions remains unchanged, adding non-linear goals has low effects.

o Freedom of movement / free roaming ability?
The assumption here is that the only difference between the original world and the improved world is the freedom of movement. This improvement is compared to other types of improvement assuming that all other improvements are also valid in this context. So the question I face is: which improvement is more potent? letting the player go to more places, or adding interactions between the entities in the world?

Suppose F and F[j] are two entities that should but do not interact in the original world W. By increasing freedom of movement, I allow the player to see that they don't interact. But if I allow F and F[j] to interact, although P can not see that interaction, P can see the effects by interacting with F and F[j]. Therefore, increasing Freedom of Movement makes W better only if F and F[j] are already interacting, which makes ensuring that F and F[j] are interacting the priority.


(And so on...)



Concept:

Make F and F[j] interact more than P can directly observe.
Make P observe more than what it can directly change.


Quote:
Another strong downside is that it would seem to call for lots of artificial contrivances in the form of barriers. Everything needs to happen behind unbreakable glass, in the distance or through an in-game camera (or just be indestructible / non-interactive) in order to limit the player's interference. This can yield hackneyed tropes involving the player anticipating some complex interaction with an NPC that is ultimately thwarted at the last moment (Bioshock and System Shock were notable for this, as was Half-Life).

I think this actually describes a violation of the concept. In this case, F and F[j] do not interact enough, but the designer wants to let P observe the interaction. Furthermore, since P is observing it in a situation where P could normally interfere. So, not only does the designer allows P to observe more than the interactive capability of the entities, the designer also allows P to change more than what the designer only wants P to observe.

This situation breaks immersion because P is too powerful and the design of the entities lag behind. The entities should lead.

There are more going on than what the player can see;
and the player can see more than what he can change.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Hmm. I would have said pretty world with story background, actually. The primary things that make a game world feel real to me are the scripted scenes and NPCs. I can be pretty happy with a linear game with no combat, but a game with no narration or NPC dialogue makes me psychologically uncomfortable.


I'm going with this because it's simple.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
What do you think are the major gameplay elements that a game needs to provide in order to create the sense of a world?
...

  • Freedom of movement / free roaming ability?
  • Lots of different locations which act as points of challenge which can be approached in arbitrary order?
  • A sense of social structure which can be changed / impacted?

The game Perfect World captivated my attention for some time with the way players could set up shops and then log off. In that game players could fast travel between a limited number of gates. What happened is that little towns of player shops formed, clustering around the fast-travel gates. It was like a mini-civilization forming at major ports of call.

It could be interesting to allow players to set up shops that resemble houses, so that a communal sim-city is being played as a side-effect game. A really extensive version might allow adjacent houses to merge into either larger complex housing/strip mall or multi-story housing, depending on what the last player to add to the structure wants. And it would collapse back as players resume running about for quests/grinding. Maybe players could be offered choices of artwork, such as tents, wagons, leat-tos, and cottages. Towns would naturally form at fast travel nodes, at major road intersections, near valuable resources and along well-travelled roads.

It could even be a neat place to do homey type game actions, such as mixing spell ingredients, napping/healing, research, reorganizing inventory, and so on.

[Edited by - AngleWyrm on July 7, 2010 10:29:43 PM]

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I agree with the idea that entities interacting with each other as much as with the player is one of the things you'd associate with a sense of immersion. I think to give the agents intentionality is important too. That is they're not just robotically interacting with some designated other, they're doing so in order to satisfy some goal they have and obviously the player can to an extent interfere or become involved with that goal. I think people like Braben are working on these possibilities (The Outsider for instance). But for me intentionality is the key.

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On a game i'm working on, i'm going to make beings (NPCs and players) have their own goals and try to do their goals by themselves or by asking other beings for help.

They also expand their town/community by making buildings and such as the need comes (e.g., were attacked previously and such).

Goals are defined by Technologies, where more Technologies can be discovered or researched. Technologies also define actions and buildings/items, so if a being learns a technology they also learn how to build and produce.

These are all basic concepts, but i figured i should share them since i think it is relevant to this thread.

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