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Procedural Rhetoric in Game Design

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Hurricane Katrina was a disaster that killed over a thousand people, and after-action reports described the response to it as a failure to prepare on many levels.


Several video games present procedural rhetoric that dis-incentivises preparedness. It comes across as a prank played upon the player, that the player either cannot or should not plan ahead, that the future is a fog of undiscovered country, essentially revelling in jump scare mechanics.


It seems to me that a better way would be to specifically reward the player for actively engaging in foresight and planning for the future. So that the moment of arrival can be a great reward for the player who did engage in such activity.

Edited by AngleWyrm

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Note: For I'm not saying a player "just winging it" is a play-style that should be discouraged or that it's a playstyle that's less deserving than other playstyles. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm assuming the game design of a specific game is trying to promote foresightedness or skillful improvisation as part of that game's gameplay-experience.

Is it actually useful to try and force the player into a play-style they do not favour?

My general train of thought is that you actually want to reward the spray-and-pray gamer with more resources, because he needs them more than a careful planner, and restricting them doesn't increase his enjoyment of the game...

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I'd much rather face and prepare for a set of plausible contingencies, than respond to events beyond my control or anticipation.


Oh my god this. That was really insightful, what was said earlier about keeping you guessing by doing the ridiculously improbable. I think what you're describing is a good antithesis to that. 


It's what I really like about games like Dishonoured where you know that there are two or three "styles" of play, and the mechanics cater to you adhering to those styles.


The only problem with this is that the player is railroaded onto one of a few paths, as opposed to having actual mechanical freedom.


It's a tricky issue. On the one hand you can enhance the experiences you know that most people are going to have, or spend the time fleshing out a system that allows for more outcomes, but fewer tools.


More directly to OP's point, The Witcher has always rewarded if not required planning. It also does a really good job of not allowing you to predict encounters based on metagame elements, i.e. they're giving me lots of loot, so there's probably a tough fight coming up.

I think you could put it simply like this: I'd rather be given the capacity to prepare myself, than be prepared by the game. 

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"Prepared-ness" is a weakly descriptive term, which makes it hard for me to parse out exactly what you mean. I'm going to interpret it as "anticipating future events and taking specific actions the player would not otherwise take so that he or she can meet those challenges".


I think that the big issue with preparation in games is that it requires operational knowledge of what will happen, which is trivially easy to gain by failing and then reloading, at which point any possible preparations have been revealed and will be undertaken as a matter of course (as opposed to contingency planning). With the complete knowledge already gathered, prep becomes indistinguishable from the thing for which you are preparing.


Giving this information in advance is tricky. If the danger is clearly and conspicuously presented, then prep is more or less a simple chore, not a choice. If the dangers are too vague, then prep is impossible. If I have to happen across some character or sign to know of the danger, or the danger is cryptically hinted at, then I have to take arbitrary actions just to have the opportunity to prepare.


Procedurally generating situations for which players can prepare sounds difficult to me. How does the game analyze what the player is "trying" to accomplish, if anything, by taking a given action? How many possibilities can the game throw at the player, and how clearly can patterns be discerned? How bad are the consequences for the player wrongly anticipating the future? Going with the bullet-scarcity example above, a panicky bullet-sprayer will find more spare ammo to replace what is used and never need to prepare. A bullet conserver, on the other hand, will have an inventory generally more filled with ammo and so will lose out on other items they can't carry as well as the plentiful bullets there would be if not for their own caution.


For me, the best mix of factors to model preparation in a game might be:


-Some degree of choice in what dangers I'll face


     +I can go to Thief Hideout Mountain or Zombie Canyon


-Clear information, complete or otherwise, on what I might encounter


     +I'm headed to Zombie Canyon, suggesting there might be zombies in my near future


-Successful preparation requires some thought on my part about what might work


     +I have to draw a connection between some item, ability, or other game feature and the danger I expect so that I can plan what I think will be effective


     +Preparation does not involve having everything laid out. To prepare for Zombie Canyon, I should not be required to speak with Zeke the Zombie Slayer and suffer through his associate's course on zombie-killing to prepare, learn how to prepare, or be able to prepare


-Preparatory steps which are used for more than just facing one obstacle and/or are only partially effective against that obstacle


     +A healing potion can restore HP for my character or hurt zombies (an item like "Zombie Repellent" is too obvious and too specific to feel like a choice I can make)


     +OR a healing potion can help against zombies in a way other than just hurting them (such as, slowing them down or making their attacks weaker)


-Forced choices between competing dangers and their preparatory steps


     +Some constraint prevents me from prepping for all or a wide variety of events at once, meaning I must always make an explicit choice to be ready for one danger or another


-Significant, but not extreme, outcomes whether I've prepared well or not


     +I miss out on something cool, or have a much more difficult time, if I have not prepared for Zombie Canyon before going there. The game should not end, nor become unwinnable, because I prepared badly


     +Preparing well provides something cool, or makes clearing an area easier, but does not provide such an incredible benefit that it becomes de facto mandatory to prep


-A variety of well-defined situations (or combinations of situations) for which I can prepare

Edited by Khaiy

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There's been a couple misconceptions I'de like to clear up. Procedural rhetoric refers to the procedures that a player performs within the game, and the things that the developer conveys with them about how reality operates or should operate.


Such as learning that stealing everything that isn't nailed down is a customary and normal behavior in most RPGs. Or going from place to place killing anything that moves. Or that your boss will betray you and turn out to be a villain.


The other misconception is about what is being designed. Several arguments have been put forth that living a purely reactionary life, merely responding to the immediate environment, is a personal choice or preference. The perception that this behavior is chosen or preferred is entirely because of experience. And guess where that experience comes from? It comes from games designed to promote that behavior. Game design is at it's core about designing human behavior and interactions.


I've been asked to give more specific examples, so let's look at the 4x space game genre. Most of them will let you design a ship, but none of them will let you choose a sane destination. For example, Endless Space only gives you a limited set of destinations, and your research on what type of planet to colonize will be started before arriving, without knowing what to choose. Some suggestion as to star color is given, but the probabilities don't reflect enough knowledge to make it actionable.


Or let's look at the FPS genre. Stumbling across supplies just randomly scattered about. Don't fret, you'll get all you need for free when you need it, with no significant effort on your part. Rather a strange behavior to ingrain into people, wouldn't you agree? Or how about the business of turning players into scavengers, looting every garbage pail and back alley in search of a tiny little bit of supplies and collectible shiny,. That's a little...odd, isn't it?


Or let's look at the RPG genre. A is generically better than B is better than C. It lacks the very basics of what constitutes a 2-player game: Taking into account the disposition of the opponant.

Edited by AngleWyrm

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