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god games, what happened?

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firstly, I'm a programmer, not a designer, so if any opinion is slightly biased, you know why ;)


I was wondering why god games fail that much, especially financially. be it spore, viva pinata or black&white, somehow they all fail. I feel like it's a really awesome idea to simulate a world of thousand individual agents that all interact, From the gameplay point of view, it's probably not interesting to watch it (if you haven't programmed it), as there is not really a coupling of player to the crowd. if the crowd you simulate is too small, it lacks of the immersion that it's a living world, but if there are thousands of agents, how could you care about every individual one, how would you know what to change and who would be happy or sad, especially in the long or short term.


I feel like it's somehow missing a long time goal, and I don't mean something stupid like "90% of your ppl need to be happy to win" or "make them build a temple for you", that would be like an FPS where you say "kill 1000 enemies to win the game", it's maybe a nice time waste, but won't make it a game you'd want to play again.
look at minecraft, it's a block stacking game like severals before, yet it made the tech just a tool, you don't have to stack 100 gold to win, you have a tiny world with resources you can use to either survive or build something.
we could of course try to do something similar for the god game, survive the night or survive the winter, yet in minecraft, you make up your own plan, you know "_I_ will build a fort" and all the pieces of it.



I can imagin a god game where you simulate e.g. the British rail (or where you have even to build your own rail company and all tracks) and you need to make all the time tables, make back up plans in case something fails etc. but it's an optimization, you try to get the best out of some system, it's not a crowd simulation where you know you cannot make it perfect (there is always someone unhappy). and if you want to make it accessible, you end up with a simple rail road tycoon, which is rather casual (it's still fun!), not really a god game.
you need the individuality and chaos without streamlining it.

So far, I also feel like most of the games give you as a god just the obvious controls over phenomena (like weather). there should be more about it, some deeper impact nobody really notices. e.g. you might have to control 'luck', if you help some individual to not hit their head on the door frame, you might need to let someone stumble, if you make someone survive a lion attack, you might need to make 100ppl hit their heads on door frames etc.


I think with todays tablets, with touch input, it could be a really amazing experience to have such a game. I guess that's what B&W tried to simulate with the hand. you can just touch and move as you like, from your god view, you can draw where you want to have a rainy cloud, you can erase them, you can rise or lift terrain, you can "earthquake" the world as you shake your tablet, you can blow the wind (into the micro, some NDS games use the micro for input).


what's really missing, at least in my mind, is
- how to make it fun for anyone beside the programmer.
- what should you as a player be able to influence, how and in which way would you design it so everyone could realize long term impacts (e.g. if you make it always shine, you will run out of food in half a year).
- how would you start such a game, with one char you draw? with a tiny town? arleady with a massive count of agents so you won't care about every single one?
(- some side question: what perspective would you want? classical god-view?maybe being one of the humans? maybe swapping bodies?)

what are your ideas ? (comments are also very welcome)

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I think the main problem with god games is that you don't really have a human connection with the characters. They're these beings that you created and cannot connect with on an equal footing or in any kind of deep way.

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To me, God games are sandbox. Like a sandbox, you play until you uncover the mechanics, and then, there's really not much else to do. There may be objectives and whatnot, but as per wanting to be a God, its really about testing the limits of what you can and can't do and witness the consequences. Once that's achieved, meh.

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Human connection? I don't have that in Minecraft, tetris etc and these are still fun and successful games.


To me, God games are sandbox. Like a sandbox, you play until you uncover the mechanics, and then, there's really not much else to do. There may be objectives and whatnot, but as per wanting to be a God, its really about testing the limits of what you can and can't do and witness the consequences. Once that's achieved, meh.


Yeah, I think this is on the right track.

On this line of thought I can more or less see why spore "failed" (it could have been better). A good sandbox has a very fundamental set of rules that can never be compromised. It's hard to express this, but let's take minecraft as an example. There are blocks, you destroy them and you make them, with other things to keep you distracted and provide some challenge. It's simple but provides infinite possibilities. If there were, say, only specific places where you could dig and the caves were prefabs combined together to give some variation, it would definitely lose value as a sandbox.

Considering what Spore tried to achieve, following the evolution of a species from bacteria to macroscopic size that dominates the galaxy with their intelligence, it is very complicated to keep all that under one set of rules. In the end, the game is a sequence of minigames, some of them were fun and some weren't, and they felt disconnected.

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Human connection? I don't have that in Minecraft, tetris etc and these are still fun and successful games.


But those are games without any characters. So there is no expectation of an emotional connection.
In god games there are populations or even beings, and without a connection to them, the experience is remote and... by definition... disconnected.

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Agent behavior fails to be entertaining when it fails to be simultaneously surprising and meaningful. "Meaningful" is really hard to design AI for.

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[font=georgia,serif][font=times new roman,times,serif]I abosolutely LOVED Populous[/font] II[/font].[font=times new roman,times,serif] I am tempted to try and find a download for it.[/font] I tried to ensure the safety of my people, but sometimes I just wanted to flood/burn the cities.

[font=times new roman,times,serif]I also enjoyed Lords of Magic, not a god game no, but a game where you ruled a kingdom. Fantasy setting that could be close to being a god.[/font] Edited by Caldenfor

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somehow they all fail


Are we forgetting The Sims? Arguably the exact definition of a 'god game' and also one of the biggest, best-selling series of games ever.

But to answer you, I think god games don't have lasting appeal, I always find myself getting board in Sim City and just destroying everything.

I think these games need an ending, The Sims doesn't actually end but each life does so it feels like you have a time limit. Without an end in sight, it's easy to lose focus on the game.

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The way I see it, it's like this:
"Ok, so now I've spent all this time painstakingly making this epic thing, now what?" and then the game is over because what you just created has no real practical use. It was fun to reach the goal, but the goal itself isn't useful. Once you fill up the entire map in Simcity 2000 with endgame city superscrapers, there's no challenge left to defeat.

I think a lot of God games suffer from this. They're great for players who like the submission of working towards a goal and then get some bragging rights. But I think most players want to reach that goal because it opens up something else. You can't do much interesting with a Minecraft fortress, but maybe Minecraft's success is because it sure is fun to build those things and it can take a lot of time doing it. But if you get bored, you just go on a Zombie safari and you're having a ball. Plus, you're still vulnerable. Edited by DrMadolite

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The way I see it, it's like this:
"Ok, so now I've spent all this time painstakingly making this epic thing, now what?" and then the game is over because what you just created has no real practical use. It was fun to reach the goal, but the goal itself isn't useful. Once you fill up the entire map in Simcity 2000 with endgame city superscrapers, there's no challenge left to defeat.


So? I played a lot of Zeus, really, a lot, and I don't think it it any way "failed as a game" just because eventually I ran out of content to explore. Games aren't supposed to have an infinite shelf life, unless you're paying money for their indefinite development. Zeus is one of the few games I own that retired gracefully, without me snapping the CD in half totally irritated with the game.

There's nothing wrong with God Games as a genre. It's worth talking about what specific people do and don't like about specific god games. For instance I do think B&W was a failure. I think they polished the heck out of the first 2.5 levels that all the reviewers looked at. Got a huge hype about it, then the rest of the game afterwards was an incredibly boring poorly done RTS. The reviewers didn't really play the whole game, because they're lazy / pressed for schedule / delivering summary reviews as a product. The first 2 levels of B&W at least were really really good. If the whole game had been like that, it would have been a great game.

Spore, as has been commented, aimed high but ended up with character animation technology + a bunch of minigames. Ho hum. Game mechanically, nothing new brought to the table. Haven't played it myself, heard that review from too many sources to be motivated to try it. At least people weren't as easily taken in as the days of B&W!

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