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AngleWyrm

Procedural Rhetoric in Game Design

31 posts in this topic

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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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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...looting every garbage pail and back alley in search of a tiny little bit of collectible thingy? That's a little...odd, isn't it?

 

I'd almost think you're one of TotalBiscuit's handles right now lol. I was watching his "WTF is... Tomb Raider" video on Youtube, where he addressed the exact same thing as you do now. I have to agree, it looks really odd when you're called upon to do a bunch of completely unrelated tasks that will do nothing but reward you with a completely useless item.

 

At least they could have the decency to make the items useful in some sense or another. I remember back in GTA San Andreas, there were essentially 4 different collectibles you could get. If you managed to get them all, some in-game permanent bonus would occur. The collectibles included spraying turf tags, collecting horseshoes and oysters, and taking photos of Photo Ops. The tags and photo ops made sense with regards to the plot of Los Santos and the city style of San Fierro, respectively. As for the oysters and horseshoes, they didn't make the same sense but, in order to collect them, the player needed to be smart and take advantage of various game mechanics such as the Jetpack flying and other things.

Edited by Malabyte
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Just a quick note to those disgruntled by my use of the terms Free Will and Freedom of Choice: Consider this: If a movie makes you laugh or cry, does it offend you that someone else made you feel that way? If you play a game of hop-scotch, is it a problem that someone else invented the rules?

I'm a scientist; and my outlook on those matters is eloquently detailed by Sam Harris in this video

 

 

If disasters happen, I'm accountable for the damages caused, and so it's in my best interest to minimize those damages by invest my fat stacks of insurance premiums into countermeasures, so that the event won't break the bank.  It would encourage me, as a player, to build safeguards into my design.

Exactly, and a well designed behavior!

 

 

 

...looting every garbage pail and back alley in search of a tiny little bit of collectible thingy? That's a little...odd, isn't it?

 

I was watching [totalBiscuit's] "WTF is... Tomb Raider" video on Youtube, where he addressed the exact same thing as you do now.

And it goes even deeper than at first it might seem. I've seen walkthrough videos where the player is fully aware of the proper and best course to take, and automatically chooses to select every possible incorrect path first, "just in case." It can come across like some variant of gambler's disease.

 

In my previous post, I gave several examples of systems of interaction that discourage planning. 4x games imposing a gamble mechanic on the destination of ships. FPS games hand-holding the player with free supplies that might as well not be in the game at all. RPGs presenting systems of itemization that can be characterized as bigger is better, with no specific opponent in mind.

 
So I'de like to present some more positive possibilities.
 
For the 4x genre, Imagine being able to see the whole star map. Like in Star Control 2, or Masters Of Orion 1. Then add to this a star color mechanic that determines the type of planet(s) orbiting that star with a likelihood of at least 4/5. The player can then say with reasonable certainty what kind of planet will be orbiting it. Variation in destination type still exists with the layout of the stars. The conception of discovery could then be promoted to planetary contents, a sort of space game loot drop that might entail alien races, special resources and the like.
 
For the FPS genre, imagine a requirement to earn ammunition. For example, ammunition as a form of payment for accomplishing a mission for an NPC. Then assuming a mission-based game, the player could choose which mission to perform next based on their current stock and what a mission will pay vs the risk and how much it might use up.
 
For the RPG genre, imagine itemization that creates tools geared for specific types of threat, rather than just a generic +10 dps. Maybe there's a type of flocking mob and a high rate of fire bow would be good to take them out. Or an exploding mushroom that a long range precision bow shot would be best for.
Edited by AngleWyrm
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Haha, boy can I recognize myself in that. rolleyes.gif It's not gambler's disease, it's just the feeling of completion that a lot of people have.

My roommate plays like that - he will backtrack down every path, to break every vase in the entire game world. Whether or not there is any actual reward to doing so.

As a person who games solely for the story/progression, I find it incredibly painful to watch.
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I've seen walkthrough videos where the player is fully aware of the proper and best course to take, and automatically chooses to select every possible incorrect path first, "just in case." It can come across like some variant of gambler's disease.

 Haha, boy can I recognize myself in that. rolleyes.gif It's not gambler's disease, it's just the feeling of completion that a lot of people have. The consequence of wanting to complete an overall objective can result in excessive gaming and, potentially, gambler's addiction.

 


I do that - it's not always an addiction-like behavior.
I do it for two reasons:

  • Older games rewarded that behavior, by hiding good items that were actually useful in off-the-path and hidden areas. I actually like this.
  • I love exploring. Even when I know there's no rewards, I sometimes explore every nook and cranny of towns or areas just to find cool places to be. I am especially delighted when I think there isn't any reward, and I find a really cool spot nestled somewhere, and there is a reward. Double awesomeness. But even without the reward, it's enjoyable to do.

I don't obsessively 100% games though, and I don't feel forced to see and do everything. But depending on the nature of the game, I might decide to just go exploring for awhile, searching for cool areas - usually ones that give a nice vantage point to see the surrounding land. Rooftops or cliff-tops are a frequent goal.

 

Note: I don't like doing this in areas where every wall is colored exactly the same, so you're in a maze. I don't like mazes, I like areas. Exploring a maze = annoying. Exploring an area = enjoyable. Hiding items in mazes is torture, because then you don't have any idea whether you got them all, because everything looks the same. I only like exploring areas where you can get a decent bearing for your location.

Quest 64 rewarded you for collecting instant-gratification +1 'wisps' to either your fire, water, wind, or earth magic level (you'd get a new spell about every 4-5 levels on average). These wisps weren't always hidden very well, but they were often down dead-ends. I didn't mind that - infact, I wish they hid a second layer of objects that are even better hidden.
Quest 64 was the first RPG I played, and still a favorite.

There was just one area in a dungeon in Quest 64 that did the 'maze-like' annoyance: There was a really large cavern with a low view distance because everything was dark, and you'd walk on these pathways over water (you couldn't fall in), and you'll see glimmers of +1 magic levels in the distance, and not know how to get to them, and have to navigate the maze to find them. I've seen worse in games, but it was kinda annoying. That entire dungeon was identically-colored in the walls, but it was fairly linear, and each branching path had a sign pointing you in the right direction (with items down the dead ends), so it wasn't actually a maze.

King's Field (possibly my absolutely favorite game), rewards you for sliding along walls and interacting with every segment of the wall, hoping there was a hidden panel with an item in it. I didn't particularly like that (it was somewhat tedious), but they did reward you with good items frequently enough to make you keep doing it. I would rather secret areas be hidden behind paintings or bookcases or activated by secret switches, rather than randomly clicking on walls.

King's Field 2 held with that tradition of rewarding you for that, but added in spike traps that instakill you, effectively rewarding you OR punishing you, depending on that specific panel of wall. This makes it more of a lottery - random item or death. I didn't like KF2 that much...

Edited by Servant of the Lord
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In their defence, however, I think they're just trying to promote the sense of exploration. Somewhat ignorantly and I agree that it doesn't feel right. I think one reason is that you can't go back once you've moved on. Like on Dead Space 3, I've missed a lot of the progression because of this. If I wanna correct that, I'll need to restart the game (afaik). Now I'm not going to, but others might and I know I would a year ago.

Another possible reason that such systems continue to exist in games today might relate to the artists who do the work of level design. They spend a bunch of time and energy crafting every nook and cranny of a game world, and there could be an impulse to give the player reason to visit their work.

 

 

King's Field (possibly my absolutely favorite game), rewards you for sliding along walls and interacting with every segment of the wall, hoping there was a hidden panel with an item in it. I didn't particularly like that (it was somewhat tedious), but they did reward you with good items frequently enough to make you keep doing it. I would rather secret areas be hidden behind paintings or bookcases or activated by secret switches, rather than randomly clicking on walls.

 

The addictive gambling element might come from the history of video games as coin operated arcades, where the main goal was to get the player to continue inserting coins. So research into behavior and gambling resulted in the discovery that people are more likely to continue pressing the button if they feel there is a chance of reward with each press. Whereas if they are rewarded at specific intervals, such as the way most level-up progressions work, players are much less likely to continue pressing the button after being rewarded, because they know the next reward is much farther down the line. Another way to put it is that it's not as much fun to continue playing immediately after receiving a major level-up.

 

The online browser rpg Tynon handles this by providing the player with a myriad of different ways to level up your avatar, so that there's almost always something to shoot for that's just a few minutes down the road.

Edited by AngleWyrm
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There’s nothing that simulates “being prepared” like the consequence of death. In game play language, this means “save game”. If you remove the multi-save system and replace it with a single save game (preferably not on the player’s PC), then the player MUST be prepared at all times or risk having to start over. There are a few games out there that have this, but only a few…..
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There’s nothing that simulates “being prepared” like the consequence of death. In game play language, this means “save game”. If you remove the multi-save system and replace it with a single save game (preferably not on the player’s PC), then the player MUST be prepared at all times or risk having to start over. There are a few games out there that have this, but only a few…..

 

Well, the problem in a lot of games is that players get very immersed into the experience, which means that they easily forget about metagame concerns such as saving the game. But if they're gonna have to worry about saving all the time, then this is going to affect their sense of immersion. It would be cool to see some in-game interactions with regards to saving though. Some advisor telling you that it's time to "go back to your ship" or "Recuperate at a Health Station", like an indirect hint that you should go and save. It could even be an item upgrade.

 

The autosave function and, to some extent, quicksave, is very good IMO. Save points is another way of handling it, but developers are moving away from this method (because it's just very unintuitive and clumsy, especially if the player ever feel like he didn't deserve that death, because it was too random and unpredictable).

 

What I just said depends on the game, of course. But as a rule of thumb, you generally don't want the penalty of death and poor decisions to be a major loss of progress. In the Diablo series, your gear and quest progress is saved and it doesn't take too long to get back into the fray. In most MMOs, you end up at some resurrector and pay some money and/or get a debuff. But if you keep dying, you'll also get additional repair costs on gear. Progress itself, however, is still retained and unchanged. It was you wasting your time dying, not the game wasting your time penalizing you excessively.

 

If a game is to have loss of progress as a death penalty, then the devs should IMO also remember to follow certain preconditional rules:

 

1. Death is rarely, if ever, random. Players need to feel that the death is somewhat deserved and reasonable.

2. Loss of progress must not reduce overall experience. E.g. players often accept a loss of up to 10 or even 15 minutes worth of play, but not 1-2 hours.

3. The penalty of poor decisions is only death if the player has first gotten some preceding non-death penalty and then ignored them.

 

These are just things I thought about right now, I'm sure others can flesh these things out better than me. But IMO, I feel like "Save Game" is just scratching the surface of what a game designer can implement with regards to death penalties.

Edited by Malabyte
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I think that planning in general is here to produce a recipe that decreases the difficulty of  executioning  action.

 

Sometimes the execution is no challenge in all the cases and lies only in planning, for example chess- it is not challenging to pick a figurine and move. But to have a plan (recipe)...

 

Oposite this lets take spear throwing competition is it bad plan to throw 1 meter farther then the others? The challenge is in execution. But this is extremity that also dont have too that much to do with combat as we can only influence only ours training.

 

Lets move to the Ganryu Islad beach 13th April 1612. Being Musashi what recipe can we produce to ease the ultimate goal? Place is defined and even choice could not help us probably. What is Kojiro known for? Proudness, long reach of his sword,  accuracy etc. What if we know how the certain emotion(pique from delay) affects behaviour (execution)? Maybe all we need than is to have a longer reach (that is not apparent(wow place can help us with that -water to waist), and being tiny bit slower than Kojiro with slice but thanks to different timing coming from different reach that should be enough.

 

To me it would be motivating to use planing to be less wounded and to able to go wider corridor that those who don´t plan. Players should be somehow warned before entering their relative death ground (how about pet pulling them back, having a vision or voice warning). 

 

Regarding planing players should be able to get voluntarily information about their enemy or their goals. For example in Witcher book Geralt paid lots of money to guys that were searching information for him.

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The point of my earlier post is that if the player knows that decisions are permanent and could result in at least a loss of time, then they will not be so eager to see if they can survive a 30ft drop off a cliff. Most games allow the player to save at any point in the game. This gives the player SOME invincibility, giving them the "go ahead" to do things a normal person would say is stupid. Even something as simple as trying to steal something without getting caught. Come on EVERYONE has saved the game just before stealing a cool sword just in case someone notices. This means that if you are caught, just reload and try it again when you think it's safe. This gives the player an "out" to the realism. If you take that away from them, then you can make the reward for the risk even more significant. I mean, when I played Oblivion, the first thing I would do is steal everything not nailed down. If I got caught, I would reload and try again. Eventually I had stolen enough stuff to get anything I wanted..... Kind of made it boring after a while.

Edited by Hawkblood
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Eventually I had stolen enough stuff to get anything I wanted..... Kind of made it boring after a while.

Have you played Fallout-3?

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