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Avi

Immersion in Gaming

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This is something of a constant frustration for me with many games. You see, I don't really like puzzles. I love thinking about complex problems, just not only for the sake of thinking about them. However by puzzles I don't just mean adventure game puzzles.

I think it's necessary to articulate the difference between task-based immersion and game-world immersion. People are easily immersed in tasks. You may not like vacuuming or doing the dishes, but most likely once you start to do them you stop looking at the clock. There's a task to get done, constant objectives to achieve in doing it, progress to be made, and a sense of having effectively beaten the task at the end. You might even feel better about it if you do a good job. In other words, I think much of modern gaming is the really entertaining equivalent of household chores.

Most quests are point A to point B errands. Fetch this, kill that, collect five of these. Even the single player games are like that. Sometimes they try to add some humanity to the quests, but then it just becomes fetch this because my precious daughter will die without that antidote. Lets be honest, you would have fetched it anyway. If you're anything like me, your first temptation is probably just let the daughter die. It's not because I have anything against the daughter. It's because I want the game to let me actually do something. It hasn't pulled the wool over my eyes by dressing up the chore quest in fancy emotional soap opera dialogue. It just makes it more frustrating.

My favorite rant concerning that is Dragon Age: Origins. There was no player choice in that game, at all. There are six different endings, and all of them are basically epilogues. You make decisions that only affect the game world after you've left it. No decision you make ever affects the gameplay. However my favorite is when you go to the keep which is being overrun by zombies. You can let the town die, kill the wife and kid, and at the end of it the duke (or whatever he was) will still just ask you to go kill the dragon for him. You are single-handedly responsible for the total destruction of everything he cares about. He is literally left with nothing but some empty buildings, and he's fine about it. He just wants to give you the next quest. I kind of wanted to punch the developer after that.

Now of course tasks are not the same as puzzles, and I understand that some people do love puzzles just for being puzzles and play some games for that reason. However I take issue with this. I think a puzzle game should be a puzzle game, and a game with a cohesive world and gameplay elements outside of puzzles should aim to immerse you in them.

We have e-readers now so I can easily illustrate this. Imagine you're reading your favorite novel on an e-reader (even if you won't touch them...because I won't either...but hypothetically). You get to the funny part or the suspenseful part or some other point of interest, and all of a sudden when you flip the page the e-reader pops up a screen that says solve this puzzle to continue. You'd probably throw it across the room. So why is this tolerable in games?

If you have created a truly immersive game world that is immersive because of the elements in the world then there is no way the puzzles would add to the immersion. If the puzzles are adding to the game then you've created a vehicle for puzzles not the other way around. I don't see any way you could create a truly compelling game world with equally compelling mechanics that were not task-based and really immersed you into that and then throw up a puzzle on the screen without it being incredibly disruptive.

If I have to solve a puzzle to continue the game, it frustrates me. If I'm stopped in my tracks in my FPS by a level that was obviously designed to be challenging or a monster in an open world obviously set there to be an obstacle then I just don't want to play anymore. I want to be immersed in the actual game not just some series of challenges. Warcraft 3 is the same thing over and over again. The tasks are amazingly entertaining, but it's exactly the same thing no matter what's going on. Then you occasionally stop to hear some dialogue. Many complex strategy games are just complex math problems in disguise. There's no effort to create a compelling game, just a challenging mechanic.

I think the idea that games and tasks are so frequently considered synonymous is really holding back design. It's as if designers think all of the players are really stupid and have to have it constantly handed to them what they should do now. RPGs have become all about journals that track quest goals. FPS are about beating levels or monsters or just getting a better gun. Fallout 3 didn't interest me after I got the option to blow up the town. There was just nothing else to interact with that was really immersive at all. Many games are just about getting to the end of a linear storyline. Strategy games are wars of which mechanic will beat this other mechanic. Adventure games are about the puzzles.

I know there are games that break this mold, but it's just frustrating. Where's the immersion? Where's the game that's really a game and not just a more entertaining chore? I know so many people who can spend a few hours playing some games and feel really bad after, like they've lost time they can't get back. They don't feel the same way watching films or reading novels. I think this is the reason for that. These games are finding ways to psychologically take, like tasks, mandatory disruptions, and carrot on stick withheld rewards, but they aren't finding ways to give back. How many game designers do you hear talking about what the player is going to get out of the game instead of what's going to keep them playing? That's what most writers and filmmakers talk about. They talk about what experience the audience will have and what they're trying to achieve with this story. The "what will draw in the audience" talk is considered the devil-speak of studio executives and publishing houses fueled by corporate greed, but for many game designers it seems to be an unquestioned commandment. The game designers don't seem to be fighting the publishers, and I think that's sad.

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If I have to solve a puzzle to continue the game, it frustrates me. If I'm stopped in my tracks in my FPS by a level that was obviously designed to be challenging or a monster in an open world obviously set there to be an obstacle then I just don't want to play anymore.

really? a level that was blatantly designed to be challenging? god forbid.

what games do you actually like then? you didnt mention the ones you thought got it right?

I agree games nowadays focus too much on tasks, as you say. and I agree that its a waste of time to go around a world collecting stuff for some reward. some people seem to like it, I dont have time for things like that any more, and it is mind-numbing. I think you have a point that some games could use the potential of "interactivity" without being bogged down in what "game" it is. but mechanics can still be fun when done right, thats what makes it a game.

and if youre talking about DFA it was pitched as a "classic" adventure game, so I expect and want puzzles.

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If you don't like puzzles at all then you will obviously find them distracting.

What your e-reader example illustrates is that it is frustrating when the various elements of a work don't blend well - books are not designed to work like that, games on the other hand are. So if the puzzles or 'entertaining chores' are well integrated with all the other elements of the game then the immersion should not be broken because of them.

After all people have been solving puzzles without a narrative context way before games came along - people enjoy solving puzzles. I understand that you are looking for something different, and I'm with you on that, but I don't really see it having anything to do with immersion, and since adventure games were always meant to offer an experience that combines puzzle solving and storytelling, it's not fair to request that they should just stop doing so

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I think it's necessary to articulate the difference between task-based immersion and game-world immersion. People are easily immersed in tasks. You may not like vacuuming or doing the dishes, but most likely once you start to do them you stop looking at the clock. There's a task to get done, constant objectives to achieve in doing it, progress to be made, and a sense of having effectively beaten the task at the end. You might even feel better about it if you do a good job. In other words, I think much of modern gaming is the really entertaining equivalent of household chores.

Is the concept of flow what you're thinking of?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

We have e-readers now so I can easily illustrate this. Imagine you're reading your favorite novel on an e-reader (even if you won't touch them...because I won't either...but hypothetically). You get to the funny part or the suspenseful part or some other point of interest, and all of a sudden when you flip the page the e-reader pops up a screen that says solve this puzzle to continue. You'd probably throw it across the room. So why is this tolerable in games?

Actually, I don't know that this is true. I think it would depend largely on how the book is advertised and how well the puzzles are integrated into the book's writing. Now that I think of it, I owned such a book. It was one of those gimmicky mystery choose your path style kid's novels with investigations that you carry out on their website at certain points in the story.

Regardless, I do get what you're trying to say. The example just doesn't quite work for me. You could say that a novel like the one you describe breaks immersion, but the very bold anger inducing e-reader flying through the air analogy doesn't work.

If you have created a truly immersive game world that is immersive because of the elements in the world then there is no way the puzzles would add to the immersion. If the puzzles are adding to the game then you've created a vehicle for puzzles not the other way around. I don't see any way you could create a truly compelling game world with equally compelling mechanics that were not task-based and really immersed you into that and then throw up a puzzle on the screen without it being incredibly disruptive.

I think this is up for discussion, but it's something I need to mull over. I'm going to go after the lower hanging fruit first.

If I have to solve a puzzle to continue the game, it frustrates me. If I'm stopped in my tracks in my FPS by a level that was obviously designed to be challenging or a monster in an open world obviously set there to be an obstacle then I just don't want to play anymore. I want to be immersed in the actual game not just some series of challenges. Warcraft 3 is the same thing over and over again. The tasks are amazingly entertaining, but it's exactly the same thing no matter what's going on. Then you occasionally stop to hear some dialogue. Many complex strategy games are just complex math problems in disguise. There's no effort to create a compelling game, just a challenging mechanic.

I think here we just have a failure of human language to communicate thoughts. There is clearly a great deal of effort to create compelling games. Farmville is compelling. I really think compelling just isn't the word you're looking for here, but we're not in disagreement regarding what you're actually trying to talk about.

I know there are games that break this mold, but it's just frustrating.

I am very interested in hearing which games you personally feel break the mold.

Where's the immersion? Where's the game that's really a game and not just a more entertaining chore?

Again, I suppose this is just an issue of me disagreeing with your choice of language. A game that is just an entertaining chore is no less of a game than something immersive. I feel like you're creating an alternate definition of game that means something more when you write something like this. Sorry for being so nitpicky. Again, I don't think we need to dwell on this.

How many game designers do you hear talking about what the player is going to get out of the game instead of what's going to keep them playing?

This is one of those parts I read and the response just popped into my head that I felt needed saying. This is exactly what Jonathan Blow is all about, and it's why we love him. That guy's just great.

Jenova Chen does a bit of this too, but I would argue to a lesser extent. Jonathan Blow really cares about what he's giving back to the players, and considers Farmville and World of Warcraft to be evil.

This has been a pretty shallow quick response at the things I immediately wanted to reply to. All the low hanging fruit. I wanna mull over the main idea you're presenting here and come back with a more interesting response later.

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Mats: If you like a level blatantly designed to be challenging, why do you like it? I just don't think some gameplay is worth it as a challenge. I'd rather take on a real life challenge than an in-game one. I frankly don't see the value in mastering some fighting combos or the best time to throw a grenade. Your sarcasm would seem to indicate that you're taking my statement to mean I don't like a challenge. The correct interpretation would be I don't like a challenge I see as pointless. I don't see any reason to spend hours learning to jump on enemies properly in mario or learn the best way to approach an attack in call of duty. Why are these desirable skills? They may be challenging, but I don't see how they're good challenges. I know that will probably offend a lot of people, but I'm not saying anything about the people. I'm saying I don't see the value in the challenge. That's why I dislike a level obviously designed to be challenging. Why would I want to spend 3 hours learning to beat that instead of playing piano or learning music theory which provide far greater and more diverse challenges.

Honestly, I haven't played a game that I think has gotten it right. Note that I'm NOT saying no game has ever gotten it right because there are a TON of games I haven't played. Among games that I haven't played that based on recommendation I think may have gotten it right are Fallout 2 and Planescape. Both are on my must play when I get a chance list. I think the closest to a game getting it right for me is Morrowind. Of course there's still a lot wrong. There was a lot of atmosphere to the game though. The weather effects, as frustrating as they could be, I felt added something. I liked the fact that you could screw up the game by killing the wrong person. I liked the fact that the guild's quests conflicted with each other to get you kicked out of another guild you might be apart of. I liked that enemy levels didn't scale with you so I could slide down a mountain into a den of level 10 thieves at level 5 and be completely demolished.

I also liked the sense of mystery to a lot of the world. I liked not knowing what was going on with various things and that I could track down more information if I wanted to. I liked the game not being entirely based on a linear storyline but still having storylines of its own. I liked all the ways I could get involved in the affairs of different people and that a lot of the world just seemed to exist without me.

I didn't like that still not much changed as a result of my actions. I didn't like that there were still a lot of task quests. I didn't like the wooden repetitive dialogue and the people who obviously depended on me to serve a function. So it had its failings, but I think it did get a lot of things right.

Also since I mentioned Fallout 3 and the point at which I didn't like it, I think the opening to Fallout 3 nailed it. The seamless sequence of determining your character through these vignette experiences where your choices completely affect the outcomes I thought was excellent. I was very disappointed to see that sort of thing not continue through the rest of the game.

Where I disagree with you is that mechanics make a game. Mechanics are just a facet of a game. They're sort of like paints. An artist does a thumbnail sketch of an image they want to create and then selects the right paints to achieve the effect they want. I think game mechanics are the same way. They should be in service of the game, not be the game. They are the game as much as paints are the painting. From a materialist level it's almost entirely. From an artistic level it's not much.

Also no, I'm not taking about DFA. I really couldn't care less whether DFA has puzzles or not. It's not a concern for me. I'm just curious to see what they do with it.

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If puzzles were greatly reduced or outright removed from adventure games, they'd be little more than interactive stories. Traditional adventure games with puzzles can certainly be immersive, as long as the puzzles seem to have real purpose to them and fit within the narrative. For me, immersion-breakers in adventure games are puzzles that are obviously just busywork to lengthen the game. Puzzles that seem to serve no real purpose within the story and just act as roadblocks. Tower of Hanoi-esque puzzles and others like that are obvious examples. On the other hand, I love well-designed puzzles that make sense in context and seem like natural obstacles within the game's storyline.

You gave plenty of examples of games you don't find immersive, but what games successfully immersed you? Why do you think those games managed to immerse you when others failed?

Edit: Bah, you posted while I was writing my post. Nevermind about that last bit, then.

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Also no, I'm not taking about DFA. I really couldn't care less whether DFA has puzzles or not. It's not a concern for me. I'm just curious to see what they do with it.

That's the problem. You're in a DFA forum. I am personally very interested in participating in this discussion, and I am writing that good proper response I mentioned as I write this. Well, not right now as I write this, but I was writing it moments ago. So I don't think this thread really belongs in this forum, but at the same time I surely would not have seen this thread if it had not been in this forum. That's the problem with frequenting a favourite forum with a specific topic. Sometimes you want to talk about other topics among the people in that forum.

Sorry, that's just been bugging me. Now back to writing that response.

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Hi Ritchie,

Yes, to some extent flow fits the bill.

I actually completely agree with you about the terminology. It frustrated me too that I know I don't have the right words. Immersion does not express what I'm trying to say. Compelling is completely the wrong word because it actually expresses being compelled by something like a task more than it expresses what I'm talking about. I also do think I'm more or less referring to an entirely different kind of game that would require a different word. I just haven't worked enough of this out to get the words right. It's still too hazy on what exactly differentiates certain things.

You're right in that there are certain gimmicky books that have done that.

Let me try to illustrate a little more what I'm talking about.

There's a sort of ebb and flow to the elements of every creative medium.

In novels plot and character are often at odds with each other. This creates some misrepresentations where people think character fiction doesn't have plots or plot-heavy works can't have great characters, but that's not what it means at all. It means you have to spend time on something when you write, and what you spend time on affects the work.

Plot is heavily based on pacing. The amount of description, dialogue, and action must all be heavily controlled to create pacing that generates suspense, mystery, and other plot drives.

Character, on the other hand, is based mostly on description. If you really want to illustrate a character to the highest degree, you're going to have to spend a lot of time in their head.

Thus we get the works of Dickens and Dostoevsky seemingly versus the works of Crichton and Rowling. I don't this is just an issue of contemporary versus classic but rather an issue of character-heavy readers shunning plot-heavy books. I happen to prefer plot at the expense of character. I just don't enjoy all that description and interior monologue, and I love good pacing.

So games are the same way, and I think what we end up with is mechanics vs world. My terms are still terribly inadequate here. In the one set of games, there's emphasis on player skill development, designed challenges, puzzles, strategies, and well-designed levels. In the other set of games the emphasis is on creating a world, populating it with characters, and putting the player into situations to take actions.

What I'm saying here is, much like plot and character, these two emphases in games are at odds with each other.

Puzzle games, certain kinds of FPS, certain kinds of strategy games, and so on obviously belong to the first category. However the design of the first category is still dominating the second category. Games that should be about the world, characters, and situations are instead populated with puzzles to solve, tasks to complete, and skills that need to be mastered in order to progress. It makes those games quite frankly suck compared to what I think they should be achieving.

Putting a puzzle into an FPS or RPG that's meant to draw you into the world, even a cleverly integrated fully in-game one, pushes you out of the world. That's what I mean by immersion. I want to be immersed in a world, get to know characters, be involved in situations, and have to make choices that affect my gameplay and the game world. Having to deal with deliberately inserted tasks or challenges or all of these devices used in the first set of games just destroys any sense of immersion or potential for a real in-game experience.

Unfortunately the two kinds of games aren't really differentiated. For some reason it's assumed that RPGs are the second category and every other kind of game is the first, but RPGs still don't have it right either. Like I said, they emphasize journals now and more and more task-based gameplay. Furthermore an FPS could just as easily do that as an RPG. A strategy game could as well. The only games that couldn't are the ones that are just blatantly first category games.

Anyway that's a little bit more detail on what I'm talking about. I still don't have the terms right or have it fully fleshed out, but it's a topic I've been thinking about for a while (after many many experiences with games that looked intriguing that I found to be ultimately unsatisfying).

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Mats: If you like a level blatantly designed to be challenging, why do you like it? I just don't think some gameplay is worth it as a challenge. I'd rather take on a real life challenge than an in-game one. I frankly don't see the value in mastering some fighting combos or the best time to throw a grenade. Your sarcasm would seem to indicate that you're taking my statement to mean I don't like a challenge. The correct interpretation would be I don't like a challenge I see as pointless. I don't see any reason to spend hours learning to jump on enemies properly in mario or learn the best way to approach an attack in call of duty. Why are these desirable skills? They may be challenging, but I don't see how they're good challenges. I know that will probably offend a lot of people, but I'm not saying anything about the people. I'm saying I don't see the value in the challenge. That's why I dislike a level obviously designed to be challenging. Why would I want to spend 3 hours learning to beat that instead of playing piano or learning music theory which provide far greater and more diverse challenges.

Honestly, I haven't played a game that I think has gotten it right.

yeah sorry for being sarcastic. I didnt mean it in an mean or aggressive way. but mate, its not that I "got it wrong". it sounds like you just need to face the fact that you dont actually like games - you said it yourself. and some people do.

why would I want a challenge? why would I want an FPS or a platformer that I can just walk through? for the amazing textures? whats the point in playing football? its just kicking a ball back and forth? you think its fun or you dont. (well in the case of sport its also good exercise but you get the point). not all games are fun, or for everyone. thats why you dont have to buy or play them.

you should get into game development yourself and make some arty interactive worlds, or games that actually teach you some higher skill like music or math. I think thats a great idea, that certainly should be explored more. but you cant complain about games across the board for generally having mechanics or challenges.

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Mats: Haha yes, you're right in that I don't like that type of game, but I think my real frustration is that I do see so much potential in the medium.

It's sort of like if you like a certain kind of books, you're mostly ok with just not liking other kinds of books and other people liking them because there's still authors who write books you like and other people who like those books too.

The challenge in this instance, as you well demonstrated, is that people almost entirely define games by this current model, but they shouldn't be. The reality is it's not that I don't like games any more than me preferring plot-driven fiction means I don't like books. Your comparison to sports is also correct, and, probably predictably, I don't like sports much either.

I like a class of game that hasn't even really been explored yet. I know I need to get into game development. That's becoming more and more evident to me these days. The fact that games combine philosophy, logic, self, perception, reality, psychology, storytelling, art, visual design, sound, music, and all of my other interests alone was an indication. However the larger indication seems to be that it doesn't frustrate me as much in any other medium not being able to find the kind of thing I want as it does in games, and I know exactly how I want it done.

So you are right in that I just don't like the whole challenge-based FPS and platformer type of game. Of course I don't think for a second that means it doesn't have value to anyone else, and I don't think you'd want one you could just walk through. :-P I'm just really tired of that largely being the only kind of game there is, and even the games that move away from that to some degree still just use that sort of gameplay to do it. They really don't have to.

I also certainly don't think the challenge-oriented type of game will be replaced by the world-oriented kind. It's not like sports were replaced by theater. I just think it will become far more evident what the range of possibility for the medium is.

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Imagine you're reading your favorite novel on an e-reader (even if you won't touch them...because I won't either...but hypothetically). You get to the funny part or the suspenseful part or some other point of interest, and all of a sudden when you flip the page the e-reader pops up a screen that says solve this puzzle to continue. You'd probably throw it across the room.

I was thinking about this a little and I think I found a way to illustrate why puzzle solving has a place in gaming and why it helps immersion.

(I didn't read the rest of the thread as I've been away and I decided to just type this up while I still had it fresh in my mind, so apologies if it overlaps with things already said)

Books may not be refusing to let you read them unless you solve a puzzle, however some books include puzzles or are puzzles themselves. The most obvious example of that is detective fiction.

Think of a novel by Agatha Christie, she presents you with a mystery and she offers all the clues you need to solve it. It's a puzzle, isn't it? In the last chapters the great detective will come along to reveal the solution and explain how all the pieces fit together.

An example more fitting to the subject: think of Sherlock Holmes' story The Adventure of the Dancing Men. This story includes an actual, solvable, adventure game type, puzzle. When I first read it a decade or so ago, the adventure gamer inside me demanded that I'd stop and grab a piece of paper and a pen so I could solve the puzzle by myself before reading any more. I didn't manage to do it because it can't be really solved until a while later and the book is not designed to let you do so, if you don't do it at the right moment you are just going to watch Holmes being smarter you. In the end I was little disappointed that I didn't do it, I knew what I had to do but I still let Holmes take all the glory. How great would it be if I could outsmart him for once?

But then you can get a game. Suddenly the rules change, this medium is interactive, it allows you to solve the puzzles. You are not merely supposed to watch Holmes work his magic while being forced to identify with Watson. You can step into Holmes' shoes and do some mystery solving yourself while dumb Watson stands back and admires your brilliant deductive powers.

Would there be a point in making a Sherlock Holmes (or any mystery in general) game and not allow the user to solve it? What would you do instead? Guide the detective through a series of moral dilemmas? Moral dilemmas in games are great and I'm all for making something like that, it has its place, but in this case it's just not appropriate. Sherlock Holmes is not about moral dilemmas, he might occasionally let someone escape justice if he thinks it's right to do so, but his stories are not about that, his choices are carefully calculated and their consequences are predictable (to him), there's no dilemma, there's a puzzle and a solution. What these stories excel at is mystery solving, and that's one thing that adventure games can also do very well, taking it out of them altogether will be as constructive as taking detective mysteries out of literature.

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Alright, I've got a lot to say about this. I haven't got it all worked out yet, but I'll do that as I go and then I'll make some attempt to revise and shorten.

Jonathan Blow made a similar point in a 2008 MIGS talk about the conflict between gameplay and story. I love Jonathan Blow. He's such a visionary. I suspect he'd hate me for loving him and thinking he's a visionary, but I hope not. It's probably the aspect of star worship and use of a strong word like love that he'd hate, not the fact that I appreciate his work in game design.

He basically says story elements in a game prevent the player from making more gamplay progress. That's the opposite of what you say, but it presents that same basic conflict between story and gameplay, immersion and challenge.

It's best if I acknowledge the similarity but also difference before I confuse the 2 ideas. You're talking about immersion in a game world, contrasted with challenges presented by the gameplay, whereas Jonathan Blow was talking about desire to proceed in the gameplay being slowed down by story elements.

I think there are 2 directions to take this discussion.

Are we talking about an inherent problem in the nature of games where challenge impedes progress and immersion? Or are we just talking about games with flawed execution which present challenges that are poorly integrated and exist clearly as just challenges for the same of gameplay? You say you liked the beginning of Fallout 3, so I believe you are talking about execution, but I will discuss both.

In that inherent problem case, we suggest that any time a player is presented with any sort of challenge it impedes the player's progress and reduces immersion. But is it possible to integrate challenge into the world and narrative well enough such that no immersion is lost when such challenge is presented? Does attempting to get past this challenge teach the player more about the world, or just the gameplay mechanics? Does the player's struggles with the challenge say something meaningful? Or maybe is it only at that moment when the player overcomes the challenge that the meaning of it all becomes clear.

I think the highly praised Jason Rohrer's Passage is a good game to look at. To give a brief summary, it is a game where temporal progress through life is represented as a journey through a passge, and a key point in the game involves meeting a spouse (there's more to it). Every aspect of the gameplay is a metaphor for the message that he is trying to communicate to the player. Whether the player gets a good or bad score, there is meaning and something to be said.

I think it's a very interesting example of how games might provide meaning, but that it's an experimental push into new territory that also doesn't work in a lot of ways. Once I have played the game and deciphered the metaphor, I do not feel that playing the game more teaches me anything new other than about the game mechanics. I can always translate what happens in the game mechanics to some meaningful statement using the metaphor, but I can do that just as effectively without the game. Furthermore, I do not find the game itself particularly fun other than the meaningful aspect of it. So I think it's flawed in a lot of ways, but at the same time it's excellent and explores some interesting ideas about what we can do with games.

Again, it's a bit different from our discussion. That's about trying to make a meaningful game, not an immersive game. But it's a similar idea. Can we create a game where immersion with the world is deeply intertwined with the gameplay mechanics and the challenge so that every aspect of playing the game even including any challenge and puzzles only helps that immersion?

I think that it is possible, but I can't think of a game off the top of my head that I would say achieves this and I do not know that one presently exists. How immersive something is is also a very personal matter that varies from person to person, so it's hard to say whether something breaks immersion.

Another approach to this all is to just eliminate challenge, and make it more of an exploratory sandbox full of possibilities and a world to discover. I think this is closer to what you describe and what you get out of Fallout 3. While there clearly is challenge in that game, I suppose for the beginning you speak of it is not the most important aspect of the gameplay, and perhaps the challenge is shallow enough that it does not become annoying.

Reduced to its simplest, I'd say that's something like Dear Esther, and I want to bring it up quickly because people argue about whether it counts as a game, and some people get angry and think it clearly deserves to be called a game. I think it just depends on how game is defined. Some definitions of game require challenge or a goal. Some definitions just require that it is an activity for amusement. I don't think saying that it's not a game does it a disservice unless there's an implication that not being a game under a specific definition of game somehow makes it inferior. I think we can at least agree that it is a work of interactive medium.

For the most part it looks like we're not talking about Dear Esther where there's not much interaction at all. We want an interactive world where things happen and the player can explore and become immersed, but the player is not presented with challenges which must be overcome before further exploration and immersion can take place. I think that's a very viable type of game, and it's something I've considered myself and am interested in creating one day.

However, I state again that I think it is possible to create such a game which both challenges and immerses the player, presenting challenges that are deeply intertwined with the game world. Jonathan Blow believes challenge is something valuable that is unique to games as a medium, and it is something that creators should not squander and ignore.

But I think it would be difficult as a creator. Perhaps as our collective knowledge of game design grows, designers will develop the game design tools needed to create such games more easily and such games will become more common. On the other hand, maybe games simply can't be immersive in the way you describe and challenging at the same time, and it is just a limitation of the medium that must be accepted. I don't think that's true.

For now, I think games which avoid the challenging tasks which impede the player's progress and immersion would be worth making. I think they would be valuable and demonstrate another direction in which games can go, and I am very interested in both playing and making such games. I think that's basically what you are saying as well, and you lament at the lack of such games.

So those are my thoughts on this subject.

And I've read all the posts in this thread, Avi. I've been refreshing. Here's the last thing I read written by you. "I also certainly don’t think the challenge-oriented type of game will be replaced by the world-oriented kind. It’s not like sports were replaced by theater. I just think it will become far more evident what the range of possibility for the medium is."

Hmm. Avi, would you be interested in collaboration with me on a game? Hehe, I'm actually going to private message you about that. It just sounds so much more dramatically appropriate at the end of this big long rant.

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@Avi hehe ok, yeah thats exactly what I thought you were saying. It just sounded more like you were complaining about action games rather than suggesting that there should be this other kind of interactive experience (too bad "interactive art" seems taken already for interactive installations) type games. ok. well thats perfectly understandable and I hope you do get around to making your own games at some point. people dissatisfied with the current state are who bring about changes for the better of course. (dear esther, today I die, small worlds among others should be for you then right? I mean genre-wise. you obviously want a fully fledged world and story.)

its also one thing that I like about adventure games (which is why I suspected that you meant you wanted away with puzzles for DFA) that you can just walk around the world and interact with it sort of like you would if you yourself was in that world. you can take your time and enjoy the scenery and find out stuff about it. so I do think its one genre thats fairly close to what youre talking about. but I do think the puzzles add to the whole thing as long as they feel natural. you need some sort of interactive mechanic to further and pace the story anyways. but I wouldnt mind playing adventure games without (complex) puzzles either.

one thing I dont agree with is that it seemed that something you thought is necessary to make a good game is ability to influence the outcome and have your decisions affect the world (as in the RPGs you mentioned). I think thats cool where it can be implemented but I dont mind a linear story at all (you dont have any problems with linearity in books do you?) if its a good one. depends on what it is. since its so much harder to write and implement a dynamic, malleable storyline theres also a risk that something will be weird or unnatural along the way. its often not clear exactly how something is affected or what decisions are important for example.

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First I'd question why immersion is so vital in the first place. For example, books: some I'll read to get lost in their worlds, others I'll read just because they're funny or awesome in some other way. Similarly I don't play Tetris or Super Meat Boy to become immersed, except in that sweet spot of attention that some people call 'flow'. (EDIT: somehow I missed you talking about this when I scanned the discussion so far, but I guess what I'd add is that there's more than one way to skin/immerse a cat and part of what works is I think just a matter of taste.)

Next, I'd question why you think puzzles have to break immersion. For example, in a recent game, Fez, I felt -most- connected to the world of the game when I was diving in deep and figuring out its deeper puzzles. That game stayed with me long after I turned it off. In a game like Portal, it's unclear to me what you'd be doing if you weren't solving puzzles - the very nature of the central mechanic is suggestive of puzzles, and yet I don't think this kills immersion in the game.

Even nextlier, I do agree with the general sentiment as you put it that 'I think the idea that games and tasks are so frequently considered synonymous is really holding back design.' I agree with it in the sense that as game design theory has grown up people have become more stuck in their ways about how certain things are done, and the industry has certain assumptions about what a game 'needs to have' which could do with being challenged - and I think indies are doing a pretty good job of helping that process.

But something sticks in my head that a fellow indie designer said on Twitter once, which I think is the best summation of the direction games are going, to my mind. It was a response to someone saying 'games have to be more x': "games don't have to be anything, except everything."

I want the medium to grow in all directions. Games should be more immersive - in all the different senses of immersive. Games should also be less immersive - what would a game deliberately designed with distancing itself from the player feel like? Games should be easier, because not focusing on difficulty can lead to interesting styles of games. Games should also be designed for challenge, because we're still learning about presenting players with challenge all the time. Games should be full of tasks and rigid structure like some RPGs, they should also be loose and exploratory and not particularly goal-oriented, like say Minecraft.

They probably shouldn't try to be all of these things at once (natch), but there's room for games to be all these things and more.

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Obscure: That is an interesting example. If the game is a puzzle, that would be interesting. I did have a lot of respect for Myst on that level. It wasn't my type of game, but I really appreciated that the puzzles weren't just puzzles. They were really apart of exploring the world. It was more that you had to figure out the world than that you had to solve a puzzle.

I also definitely agree that I wouldn't want the point of games to become moral dilemmas. That would be severely limiting for the medium. I really appreciate games that take a lot of time to flesh out what they want the game to be. I like AI War for that reason. The developer took so much time to figure out what would make a really incredible strategy game. In the end, I'm just not sure I want to spend that much time developing strategies. So I agree that these kinds of games have a lot on their own, and it's interesting that you draw the Sherlock Holmes analogy to adventure games. I suppose that's probably fairly accurate. I'm not sure that there's another type of game that would be better suited to a Holmes-type mystery.

Mats: I do think "games" is ok as a title for the medium. It reminds me of people thinking movies was an inadequate term and trying to replace it with film. Now they just mean the same thing except to some rather stuck up art snobs. I just think the definition of the term has to change and broaden.

I'm actually very interested to see adventure games develop as a medium. There seems to be a lot of potential here, and I'm glad DF decided to prove that with the kickstarter campaign. I just hope new designers pick up the ball and start creating new kinds of adventure games and really experimenting with the genre. It won't be me in that instance because my interests lie in other areas, but I hope to see a lot of innovation in every kind of game whether it's my game of choice or not.

I don't think affective player choice is necessary to make a good game, but I don't think it's that hard. It takes some time to flesh out, but to some degree it's easier than a linear storyline. I think the problem is that many designers are trying to make affective linear stories. They're trying to blend player choice with linear storytelling, and I think that's extremely difficult to do well. To some degree, I think games would benefit from deciding to be one or the other.

I think some amazing things could arguably be done with linear storytelling in games by the right designer. Gameplay that changes with what's going on in the storyline could be used to great potential effect. Even a linear story that really utilizes the gameplay without changing it could have a lot of potential. I think the issue comes with adding a fairly insignificant player choice here and there (made insignificant by a lack of repercussions in the game) and claiming that's player choice. It's really not.

Player choice has to be a world that is dynamic and interactive to a large degree. That actually doesn't mean the world has to be huge. A small world (a town, city, or even a single building) could all utilize dynamic interactivity. It has to be an entirely different model of storytelling though. In that instance it has to be based on what has story potential rather than what's a good overall story.

I think the death of dynamic interactivity is that it's still referred to as storytelling. You're not really telling a story anymore. You get a lot of games where there's an effort to add interactivity, but there's an equal effort to still have turning points and climaxes in every little story. I think that shoots itself in the foot. The foundation of dynamic interactivity for me is in having a number of strong potentials and multiple ways in which those potentials can play out depending on what the player does. It can't be linear for that to work. That can only work in an open-world model.

SG: I agree with you. One of my favorite authors is Douglas Adams, and I don't think I know anyone who reads him to get lost in the world.

I think the kind of puzzles I'm really referring to is the kind that show in a game that isn't based on the puzzles. Like the old Jedi Knight games or some of the Prince of Persia series. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, there's a puzzle. It's pretty obviously just there to take up your time or provide a new challenge, but as I've said I don't like challenge for the sake of challenge. Now if I was picking up a game like Portal where that sort of challenge is obviously the point of the game then I think that's fine (not that it would necessarily be my kind of game but I don't take issue with that). However if I'm picking up an RPG, FPS, or even an adventure game with a great premise that inserts puzzles into the game for no reason that directly compliments the premise then I just think that's annoying.

I think my initial description of FPS games was lacking because there are certain FPS games that I think do well with this. The Far Cry series is pretty good with just being a really solid FPS based on how you strategize your way through the obstacles. What I was referring to with something like Call of Duty is that you have this war story. Capturing the war is arguably a strong goal of the game, but then you get these FPS games that can't seem to make up their mind what they're about. The goal is to capture the feeling of war or of being a hitman, but then these obvious sorts of challenges are added just to make the game difficult or longer. That seems lazy to me. It's like they couldn't figure out how to create a series of mechanics that would reflect what they wanted to capture about war so they add some harder levels that just rely on traditional FPS mechanics to make the game work. I find that annoying when I pick up a game for an exploration of an interesting premise or idea and find out that the game barely managed to do anything with the idea it set out with. You can set an FPS in World War 2 or a strategy game in a fantasy world, but if you don't really do anything with that then it's still just a very traditional FPS or strategy game.

I also agree with you in that I'd like to see the medium grow in every direction as well. My current frustration is that I see a lot of formula, repetition, and not nearly as much challenge to convention as I'd like. Many of the different genre's top games are strikingly similar in their mechanics, and I really don't like that. It's not that I think one game style should be dropped in favor of another. I just think the state of games right now is rather similar to going to the bookstore and finding that most of the fiction section is spy thrillers and romance novels. I'd like to see a diversity of gameplay and game mechanics in FPS, RPG, action adventure, adventure, puzzles, RTS, turn-based strategy, and so on. I don't like that I can browse through the games section at a store or online and pretty easily predict what the gameplay will be like for most games on the shelf.

Ritchie: next post

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I also agree with you in that I'd like to see the medium grow in every direction as well. My current frustration is that I see a lot of formula, repetition, and not nearly as much challenge to convention as I'd like. Many of the different genre's top games are strikingly similar in their mechanics, and I really don't like that. It's not that I think one game style should be dropped in favor of another. I just think the state of games right now is rather similar to going to the bookstore and finding that most of the fiction section is spy thrillers and romance novels. I'd like to see a diversity of gameplay and game mechanics in FPS, RPG, action adventure, adventure, puzzles, RTS, turn-based strategy, and so on. I don't like that I can browse through the games section at a store or online and pretty easily predict what the gameplay will be like for most games on the shelf.

Nonetheless it's kinda hard to argue with the fact that in terms of experimenting with mechanics and gameplay, we've never been in better shape except possibly for the 80s and early 90s when genre conventions were still coming into focus. Perhaps the problem is that you're looking on shelves, when there is a thriving and increasingly extremely competent indie scene that grows more ambitious in its experiments (in all directions) by the moment. I think that's where the excitement is right now, and I also think we'll increasingly start to see that influence mainstream stuff, which will necessarily usually be 'safer'

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Alright Ritchie, time to address the other person who writes as much as I do.

I actually see Jonathan's point, but I think it's based on the inadequate formulation of story in games. Many games you could take all of the story out of and still have exactly the same game, and I think that's what he's referring to. Again, I think the need there is to look at story in games as potential story rather than kinetic story if the light physics reference makes sense. In other words, the story in games could be based on potentials rather than an actively unfolding story. I think the difficulty comes in trying to insert complex linear stories of the kind found in novels into games. It results in lots of cut scenes, unwieldy dialogue, and so on. Note that I'm not saying that linear games can't be complex, just that it needs to be handled with elements different from those used in the other mediums, and I think that's ultimately Jonathan's point.

We're definitely talking about a flawed execution rather than an inherent problem. If you compared the timeline of games with the timeline of film, we might be just hitting the movie musical. A few great movies have been made with some filmmakers who will go down in film history, but many of the great innovators are just coming up. We'd actually literally be right around the time of Citizen Kane. Of course I'm not saying the timelines are actually related, but I'm just pointing out how young the medium is.

I agree with you that we can create a game where the mechanics or challenges are also immersive. Like I said, I think mechanics are like paints. They're the natural facet of the medium. You pick the mechanics appropriate to what you want to achieve. Actually when I mentioned the opening of Fallout 3, I'm referring to the actual opening when you're still in the vault which is definitely not a sandbox. Once it went into sandbox mode I thought it resorted to a lot of the same old cliched mechanics excluding the one bit with nuking the town which still didn't really have repercussions.

As for collaborating on a game, what did you have in mind? You can PM me the answer to that too if you don't want to discuss it here.

SG: I do agree that experimentation is clearly increasing, and we're seeing a strong in-flux of new developers with new ideas as well as even long-term gamers demanding more from the medium they love. Some old developers with ideas they never got to explore are also seeing the opportunity to try and explore them.

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Lots of good points made in this thread, although it seems to be more of a criticism of western RPGs than adventure games. I fully agree that there are often out-of-place puzzles in many games, that there's not enough innovation coming from big publishers and that the illusion of choice is almost always too obvious to be effective.

I however have a problem about having true choices in games in a way that deeply affects the story during gameplay. As of now, technology does not allow more than basic AI for NPCs, so emergent stories are pretty much a no-go for them. The only possible way to achieve non-linear storytelling in this case is by adding branches to the story. However, each additional branch doubles the work starting from that node, quickly creating a huge exponential tree of choices that simply cannot be implemented or even designed.

Let's take Deus Ex as an example. They used several tricks to avoid this problem, including allowing the player to complete a single objective in multiple ways, allowing story-critical events to occur before their required time without breaking continuity, having player choices potentially have an effect much later in the game, and being allowed to do the complete opposite of many sidequests and still get rewarded. Still, the result was a fairly linear RPG, because while your gameplay experience may greatly vary from another player, none of your actions affects the story in any significant way.

Still. I don't think that even a truly non-linear experience would make any game any more immersive; it would only add replay value. For me, the immersive part of video games is living the experience, not shaping it through my will, and that holds for any genre of games. The raft scene in Illusion of Gaia is a perfect example of that.

Of course, if your personal motivations goes completely against what's going on in the game, the immersion will break, but that's a different problem entirely.

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Maybe even framing the problem in terms of story is misleading. Or it at least brings with it certain assumptions. I prefer to use the term 'world building'.

What does the game do to tell you about the world of the game? To me that's part of what makes the world one which one might be tempted to immerse themselves in. Some games pay very little attention to this and that's okay - it might not be their focus (not sure Pac Man is big on world-building), but the disconnect comes when there's a game that clearly has a story, but doesn't seem to make any effort to build the world.

What do I mean by world building? Well, here's one example:

At the start of Grim Fandango, you can talk to Eva, and one of the things you can ask is what she did to get stuck in this job. She replies:

"What I did back in the fat days is none of your business. You know the rules." (Yeah, I've ranted about this somewhere before, but what the hell it's a good example) ;)

It's a small line but it does a lot, most notably:

It's a plot framing device, it quickly tells the player: this story is just about this world. Don't worry about the other stuff.

But crucially there's the actual wording. 'The fat days.' It introduces, in a natural way, a little bit of world-specific slang which makes the world feel more real, makes the dialogue more plausible, makes the world seem like it didn't spring into existence spontaneously when you started the game, and only exists to react to your behaviour.

That's the key to world building, to make it seem like this is an actual place and not just a platform with which to you to perform gameplay.

My hypothesis is that you can't have a good story without good world building. But you CAN have good world building without a good (or indeed any) story to speak of. And, to bring it back to the topic, I'd guess that the games that are MOST immersive in the sense you are talking about, are the ones which are best at world-building.

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I think the death of dynamic interactivity is that it's still referred to as storytelling. You're not really telling a story anymore. You get a lot of games where there's an effort to add interactivity, but there's an equal effort to still have turning points and climaxes in every little story. I think that shoots itself in the foot. The foundation of dynamic interactivity for me is in having a number of strong potentials and multiple ways in which those potentials can play out depending on what the player does. It can't be linear for that to work. That can only work in an open-world model.

hmmm. I very strongly doubt that a completely open world with the possibility and potential for stories as you say means that you would actually experience something satisfying - more likely the opposite. but maybe Im not understanding what youre talking about still...can you give some example of what a small game like that would entail (say, in a room or house)?

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I recognize Avis point and it explains why I got really depressed after having played Chaos and Order for hours (a WoW ripp off by EA) only to find out that what I was doing in there was an EXTREMELY bored down version of real life. The Sims is another good example. What a Waste. Of. Time.

But I love multiplayer games where you gain a lot if you get to know your opponent and his/her playing style. Galcon for iPhone to me is one of the noblest games ever in terms of how much depth there is in terms of guessing your opponents decisionmaking, while the game technically stays so short and simple.

What makes me like good point-and-click adventures like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, is that in those games there also is an opponent you want to get to know in order to win the game - namely the man/team who created it (yes, Tim Schafer basically). You want to creep into the minds of the people who made up the story and the world where it takes place, in order to solve it.

That's why I also like the Myst series, even though it's a lot more mechanical and cooler in atmosphere - and less witty.

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Hahaha Anemone.

SmashManiac, I disagree entirely. This stems from the idea that when players want choices they want realistic choices. I actually don't think that having far better AI would add much to games at all. These are GAMES. What you're talking about is an issue with creating virtual reality, and that's an entirely different problem.

The problem here stems from one major issue. Player choice in linear progression is not really possible. The choice will be obviously fake because the linear progression will still have to continue. Deus Ex was a clever attempt to inject choice into a linear progression, but you said yourself that it still ends up being linear.

The simple solution to this problem is to drop linear progression from games where you want a large degree of player choice, which goes back to my point about designers making a choice between linear and open. Player choices shouldn't be realistic or have a strong effect on perfectly realistic AI. Then we would be very clever designers of alternate realities, but we wouldn't be game designers anymore. Andrew Stanton addressed this in directing Finding Nemo. In the early days, they figured out they could simulate ocean water so well that few would be able to tell the difference (even many of the tech people at Pixar couldn't). Then they had to figure out how to create the fictional believable environment they actually wanted. Reality is not the goal.

So there are three things that I think are absolutely necessary to a game with this sort of design. The first is that it must be open world. Again, that doesn't mean the world even has to be large. It just has to be open. You can't require a linear progression from it, or you are going to hit exactly the same problem as before. It's worth noting that it wouldn't be impossible to create a linear progression of open worlds which could have some interesting effects if there was something worth doing there.

The second thing is that you have to have multiple dynamic linear storylines. These stories don't have to be complex. They just have to be there. You could probably range between having 1 to 5 flexible variables in each story with between 2 and 15 possible outcomes. The crucial part is just tying it together. The world does a lot of the tying, however also pivotal is that certain options in each of the stories conflict with certain options in other stories. So if you make x decision in story 1, you are simultaneously making y decision in story 2, and vice versa.

From my post in another thread:

Lets say we rewrite some of HL2. What if there wasn’t a linear narrative? What if you could still die and kill monsters, but you couldn’t win? At that point you have a huge potential for exactly the same environment, characters, monsters, and mechanics to be something entirely different than power. Obviously it can’t just be a run-down city being invaded by zombies. That’s a great early setting, but there has to be more than that.

Add the mayor of the city hiding in his basement. Add the police force banded together having turned the police station into an ad-hoc barracks and base of operations. Add scared citizens of various stripes. Add the husband whose wife was at the town hall and is out on the streets looking for her at great personal danger. Add the schoolhouse which has been locked down with the kids still inside it, but the school doesn’t have the resources for any kind of real defense. They’ve just latched the doors and windows and pushed around some furniture. The police station is on the other side of the city.

Then add a simple reality to what’s happening. Lets even make it a bit of a science fiction cliche. The zombies were caused by a rogue virus. The virus is spreading. The zombies that have arrived (which is a decent amount) are only the initial wave. There’s no way for you to be the hero. Everyone left in the city dies at the end of the night when the rest of the zombies get there and the virus hits an exponential infection point. What do you do? All sorts of elements and characters can be added to that environment and premise. Things can play out over time affected to some degree by the choices you make.

If you save the school children, the police station will be overrun. If you help the police, the school will be overrun. Not saving the police station will have further consequences later in automatically causing the outcomes of a few smaller stories you might have otherwise had options on, not providing back-up around the city when you later need it, and also defaulting some smaller options in a few of the other slightly larger stories.

(to be continued...)

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(...continued from previous post)

This really isn't that difficult. Certainly it takes time, but only as much time as designing a linear storyline for a game does. It's the idea of player choice in a single linear story which results in exponentially infinite variables because then every choice leads into five more choices. In this instance you have multiple stories with a few choices each (some smaller or larger than others), and the choices you make in some of those stories have impacts on some of the other stories.

Now we're not talking about dealing with any kind of reality with realistic AI or a realistic amount of choices. We're talking about creatively designed fiction again. I don't want to be dropped into a fantasy world that's just completely open where I can basically just live some alternate version of real life that has fantasy stuff in it. I want the developer to provide me with what most fiction is which is a heightened and stylized version of reality suited to their purposes. The world they choose to create, the stories and choices they choose to populate that world with, the characters that are involved (many of which would have their own small stories or be involved in the larger stories), and the way the mechanics and gameplay functions will create an experience for me that is interesting for what the game is, not as a reality simulation.

This isn't particularly difficult, or rather it's not any harder than current game design. It's just a different kind of design. Morrowind actually started to do this. That's why I liked that the monsters didn't scale level. The guild quests conflicted with each other. There was a main quest, but it wasn't tied inextricably to any of the other quests so it was really just another story in the game. There were lots of different stories all over the game world ranging from very small to very large. Many of them didn't have options, but even some of the smaller ones had interesting options. Those options could be a simple action you could take, and then a couple of additional dialogue options. It doesn't need complex AI and physics. They could already do this ten years ago, and it could have been done even before that.

Now, I only addressed two things, and there is one more which is that you can't create a primary thread that pulls together all of the different storylines. The primary thread just has to be the world and what's going on in it. If you try to take all of those interconnected stories in this open world and tie them together in one larger linear story, it will all break apart again. That doesn't mean you can't have the illusion of a larger story. For instance the circumstances of what's going on in the world and how it happened can be a story in itself, probably one of the larger ones. The key word is "tied." There can't be one primary thread tying everything together, or you're back to the problem of linearity and choice.

Also worth noting here is that none of this means there can't be an end to the game with seemingly definitive results. At the end of the night you've saved a certain amount of people, and the rest of the city gets overrun by zombies and dies. Within that are the people who you chose to help enough in their stories to allow them to escape. The final outcome of the game might be that the school children died, the governor was killed by an angry citizen, the police managed to form a strong militant force, and a good portion of the population was rescued. The town hall got overrun which means the husband who survived lost his wife. You probably met him earlier on the street, and that was another option you were faced with. Alternatively, the school children were saved, the police were overwhelmed without help and only a few were left firing out the windows of the station, the governor called in back-up and escaped with a few choice people, the husband found his wife but both died in the streets, and most ended up dying in the city anyway including the school children who you had saved in the immediate present but provided no future way out for anyone (which is what the police provide when you help them). None of this is the result of this immense list of choices. It's the result of some dynamic storylines in an open world with solid circumstances that are dependent on each other in ways where the results of one storyline affects another. You could play through the game once just to see if there's any set of options you could take that would actually save the husband and wife.

So it's entirely possible. It doesn't require complex AI. It could be done with the AI from ten years ago so the AI now is just a bonus. Most of it can actually be done through dialogue options and actions taken (or not taken). The real improvement in AI is things like pathfinding and combat. You can still have an end to the game where you have had a definite effect. Each of the many storylines can be interesting in themselves. Certain outcomes to some of the larger stories could even change the gameplay to some degree. Outcomes to various stories will definitely change the world (the absence of a police force on the streets for instance, but much larger ways are definitely possible). It's all there. Just drop the emphasis on reality, and find a way to create a fictional heightened version of reality that exemplifies what you want.

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I think the above posts also addressed the comments of SG and Mats.

Drgeert, I think that's a good example of what we've been talking about with a game providing something you want to get out of it. I think this would again be benefited further by many designers really focusing their games in terms of what the game and overall experience is about. Myst is quite good with really knowing what kind of game they wanted to make and crafting the entire experience around that. I'm also going to be making another thread concerning time and games because I think it's an issue in itself.

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Wow, I didn't expect such a long reply to my comment.

First, I just wanted to clarify my position on AI because I only briefly mentioned it and you refer to it a lot. All I wanted to point out was that AI was not a good replacement for a human in terms of emergent storytelling, not storytelling in general. That's all.

Now, about your arguments. If I summarize your points about the type of game design you're seeking:

1 - Open world

2 - Multiple dynamic linear storylines

3 - No primary thread that pulls together all of the different storylines

Here are my criticisms:

1 - The open world factor doesn't help at all in immersion beyond accessing the different events out of order, or not accessing them at all. This can be both a positive and a negative, so I'll leave it at that.

2 - First, you mentioned potentially having 15 possible outcomes. Assuming you're talking about widely different outcomes, it's achievable, but it may require a lot of development time, even with only a few number of variables in play. But most importantly, having multiple storylines will most likely mean that only a few of them will be fleshed out enough to be actually interesting, if not none at all. Who cares if some guy dies or not if I don't even know him? Who cares about moral choices if they don't have any impact in real life? If I can't win, why do I even bother helping NPCs? Pretty much nothing besides a potential reward or punishment, and decisions based on this factor alone don't add anything to the immersion.

3 - The problem with this type of design is that the game is then never about yourself, but rather about the game world and their characters. You mentioned The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and personally it's a game for which I cannot be immersed with at all because all of the characters care about in this game is their own agenda. Your interaction with them is completely one-sided. Sure, I'm going to influence their stories, but again they can't influence mine beyond making it easier or harder to achieve other goals in the game. The result is just a bunch of distracting sidequests or an exercise in playing god. I guess the latter can be interesting, but in the end you're still the hostage of the game designer's decision about what should happen, so it doesn't work in that context either.

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@Avi I dont know mate, I still dont see how that would at a basic level differ from what they did in fallout (only played 1 and 2) or baldurs gate, except that it seems to bother you that theres ultimately something you are supposed to do. and you added the fact that "quests"/events should exclude each other in realtime (which fallout didnt do, sure, although they did influence each other)

I still dont get what is new here or how any of this would apply to FPS or action platformers that you criticized? I dont think Id like a HL without an objective or a story, sounds like what youre talking about would just mean you run around for hours without achieving anything, generally having a lot of dead time.

but I guess youre talking about essentially what sid meiers pirates was, in a way. only in different genres and with full events and different stories. but the game is open? something like that?

have you talked to ritchie thai yet about making a game? what genre would it be?

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@Avi I dont know mate, I still dont see how that would at a basic level differ from what they did in fallout (only played 1 and 2) or baldurs gate, except that it seems to bother you that theres ultimately something you are supposed to do. and you added the fact that "quests"/events should exclude each other in realtime (which fallout didnt do, sure, although they did influence each other)

I still dont get what is new here or how any of this would apply to FPS or action platformers that you criticized? I dont think Id like a HL without an objective or a story, sounds like what youre talking about would just mean you run around for hours without achieving anything, generally having a lot of dead time.

but I guess youre talking about essentially what sid meiers pirates was, in a way. only in different genres and with full events and different stories. but the game is open? something like that?

have you talked to ritchie thai yet about making a game? what genre would it be?

Hehe. I said I would private message him, and I have yet to do that. He doesn't have any idea what I have in mind; no more than you do. He hasn't even agreed to anything yet.

I figured it's kind of a private matter that would just be derailing to include here. I wouldn't want to start a thread about it either because this is the DFA forum after all, not the discuss your own projects forum. I'd also feel like a show off making a discussion that doesn't involve anyone else public, and at the same time if somebody does get interested and replies it might distract from the conversation between Avi and myself.

Now that you've actually asked and shown interest though, I'm comfortable at least making a bit of a post here.

I think Avi shares a lot of the same ideas as myself about a type of game we would like to see exist. I don't know how similar our visions are, which is part of what I'd like to discuss. Some of what Avi writes makes me thing we have the same vision, and other things make me think we have wildly different ideas. Whatever Avi has in mind though, I suspect I would find it interesting.

Some of what Avi has written makes me think his ideas are idealistic and not grounded in the reality of the effort required to make something of that scale, or the effort required to actually make something fun or engaging. But that's a good thing too, because it means he has a lot of passion and vision. If we pursue a lofty goal that I don't think is attainable, we would at least end up with something that falls short but is nevertheless interesting and maybe achieves some of those goals. I do realize that pursing a goal that's too lofty could also just result in giving up and failure, and if this happens, I intend for it to be something on a reasonable scale.

Avi also said he's interested in getting into game development, so I figure he might have an interest in doing this. I don't know what sort of skills he has or what knowledge of game development he has. I'm no expert on the matter either, but I have certain skills I can offer. If Avi knows less than me, perhaps he could learn some things from me too. If it's the other way around, maybe I could learn from him. Or maybe we could learn from each other.

I personally know how to program, draw, do basic 2D Flash animation, write music, and I've made some small games before (none that I'm super proud of). I have some professional experience in software development, it's what I'm currently studying, and it's my intended career. Game development is something I'm pursing more as a hobby than a career, but maybe one day I'll be one of those guys who becomes a full time indie developer. This part was a little show offy, by the way.

As for what I'm interested in getting from Avi. I've already mentioned that I'm interested in his passion and vision. The tolerance of my long posts is also good (or at least I hope he tolerates it if he's going to make long posts himself). I'm also just generally interested in having a partner to work on a game with, someone I can discuss ideas with and who will motivate me to work whereas. I've gotten feedback on games I've made that seemed like it would be obvious had I told just one other person my ideas. I've also started a lot of games and never finished them because I became disillusioned with the idea or got bored of it or something, so having someone I could disappoint by giving up or someone else passionate about the project could be useful. There's also simply having a second person to split up the work with, though that'll depend a lot of what skills Avi has.

I still need to actually tell Avi what my vision for a game is, and learn more about Avi's vision, and figure out how we would even communicate and share resources, and I don't even know whether Avi is interested yet.

Well, I may as well say something about the vision here. Maybe it's relevant to the discussion. It's also basically something I wrote about in an earlier post.

I'm interested in creating a game where the goal is just exploration of the world and taking in the sights and sounds and aspects of the world. That doesn't just mean looking at a world that you can walk around in; there would be elements you could interact with or people you can talk to. But the point of the game isn't to complete some sort of quest or to solve a lot of puzzles; it's just to explore the world and enjoy that.

But then there might also be short sequences of things that could be done within that world, something like mini quests. Ideally though, none of these would be there just so that there's something to do; they should be meaningful and tell the player important new things about the world. I guess there's a quest in Planescape: Torment that somewhat demonstrates what I'm thinking. There's a girl running frantically in the streets who seems to be crazy, and upon speaking to her the player learns that she is from another world. She accidentally stepped through a portal and ended up in some horrific world full of fire or something. Now that she's here, she's scared to walk through a door frame or through branches leaning against each other or anything because in the Planescape lore those could all be portals. I felt emotionally invested in that quest, and thought it told me a lot about the game's lore. Mechanically though, completing it just meant talking to a certain other character. It was basically a fetch quest.

That might be a point of disagreement, seeing how Avi doesn't like all the task based gameplay. At the same time, Avi mentions creating a game where you can save school children or help the police, so it has suddenly become unclear to me what Avi considers a task, and what aspect of tasks Avi dislikes exactly.

Avi mentioned having lots of player choice and all the quests influencing each other, which is something I wanted to avoid in my vision. I've written before about not liking player choice that much anyway as a player, and as a developer it also adds a lot of work. Avi claims it's not actually that much work, so that's one of those things I'd want to discuss.

In what I wanted to do, I did consider and had some interest in having a bit of choice, and having different parts of the world influence each other, but again I also wanted to avoid making development too difficult. I wanted to just get a game finished at least. I was more interested in trying to relate the quests to each other through story but not mechanically. When I played the first Kingdom Hearts, I felt that even though each of the worlds could be mostly approached independently, they all seemed to somehow add to the main story in a non trivial way. I didn't get that feeling so much from the sequel, but maybe it's just because my expectations were too high or because it wasn't new anymore or something. In the game I'm discussion, there wouldn't necessarily be a main story so it would be a bit different.

I was interested in creating a game like this with a friend of mine who I know in person too, and he suggested that having a main story to actually tie it all together would help players get invested and immersed. I personally wasn't opposed to it, and I'm not convinced that things wouldn't work with a main story, but I wouldn't mind leaving out a main story either. It might also just be a difference of how we personally define main story. At some point I tried contacting my friend and didn't get a reply so I just kind of forgot about the project, and eventually I wasn't confident in the concept anymore (which I haven't described in this post) and then my friend told me later he was still interested so maybe we'll do that someday.

But this is all very abstract stuff. I still haven't described anything like the setting of the game or characters or plot, if it could even be called a plot if we're going with the whole no main story thing. And I'm not going to do that here. I don't really have a single solid idea I want to use in terms of the setting and characters and whatnot. It's Avi's ideas about this more abstract higher level stuff that interests me in the first place. I guess I'll tell him about the idea I told my other friend, and I'll tell him another idea I had for a game, and maybe I'll just throw some other new suggests I come up with. And there's that Half Life apocalypse example he came up with, or was it zombies or both?

But Avi, tell me whether you're interested in collaborating just based on what I've written here. Or tell me if you need to hear more about those setting character plot etc ideas I had before you can decide.

I've got things to do too, and I'm sure Avi too, so we both be interested and work together well end up too busy. We'll see.

Last thing. Your game editing thread. I almost completely disagree. A lot. I'll need to respond some time.

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Ritchie, color me intrigued. I bet we'll find common ground on the game editing thread. It's not explained anywhere near well enough. It goes off on too many unrelated tangents because I can't figure out how to fully articulate the main point. Here's the crux of it. In a film, every character moment is intended to add to the understanding of the character. Every scene or line of dialogue adds something to the story of the film. Every camera angle and set piece is evaluated. These are the visuals. The designs and the color schemes are all there. Film is a visceral medium and each visual is arguably hand-picked to advance and enhance the overall story and film. That goes, of course, for the sound and music as well. In games, the GAMEPLAY is the primary element of the medium of games. It's this amazing opportunity to do something that can only be done with games, and I think most of the time it's being squandered. What develops the story or overall game is often a cut scene or a block of dialogue that you don't have any participation in, and the gameplay is just left to be the same over and over again. Written fiction utilizes the text to develop its vision. Film uses visuals and sounds to develop its vision. Yet so many games just create gameplay that's fun to play, fit a story in with dialogue and cut scenes, and then leave it at that. This goes back to what Jonathan Blow was saying because Braid is a great example of this being done really well (I'm just not personally fond of platformers).

Anyway totally off-topic. So you've got the technical skills. That's good because I'm not a programmer. I suppose I get to be show-offy now. I work for a start-up company dealing with innovations in the way business is handled today with eventual goals of interdisciplinary collaboration between the sciences, mathematics, and other fields for a wide range of research and developing viable business solutions to real world problems. I've been on computers since I was 3 and know enough to have built my own. I don't program though, beyond a basic knowledge of how it works. I took a couple of years of engineering in high school. I've studied every aspect of animation. I spent three terms at AnimationMentor studying character animation under Pixar, Disney, and Valve animators. I've been acting for six years and am getting around to writing a book on the foundation of acting theory and a problem that puzzled me for a long time which is why Stanislavski's theories cannot be fully reconciled with the work of Michel Saint-Denis. I've performed in some minor professional productions (not broadway or anything like that). I've studied writing and narrative theory fairly extensively though I want to go a lot further into it than I have. I also study philosophy with emphasis on theories of self, reality, ethics, and logic. I'm also interested in the ways that different people think and the capacity of language as well as individuality in learning and expression. For instance, I think dance and painting are both just as much languages as English is. I also think it's terribly arrogant to exclude them as lesser languages from much of philosophy and academia simply because we can't capture them in words (which should be a given). I've also studied film and directing. I play piano and compose music though I would be hesitant to share at this point. My interest is mostly in film music and musicals as well as some rock. My highest strengths are in philosophy, storytelling, writing, directing, acting, and composing. When I was 9 I actually did want to be a game designer. In my early teens I moved to film and primarily animation. There are a number of things that frustrate me about a lot of games (as is probably obvious), and I want to see if I can start putting faces to names and figuring out some solutions. Perhaps, as you say, it will be an utter failure and collapse on itself. Perhaps it will achieve a few things and not others. Perhaps I'll find out I'm really not suited for game design at all, but at this point I find the mechanics of interaction fascinating as a medium and want to explore them.

Also, I agree with you about a collaborator. Part of the reason I've spent so much time in film, theater, and games is that collaboration is really part of the point for me. I don't like sitting around trying to bounce my ideas off my computer screen. I love sitting down with a creative group of people to work on a project. I also find I have more of a vision for games than I do for a lot of other mediums. Camera angles and location scouting have never really been my thing even though I love the visual aspect especially in animation and the creation of the world (which, incidentally, is what I always said I loved about animation). So games may be the ideal marriage of a few different abilities. It's not like I ever get that much of a chance to use in-depth psychology and logic in other mediums, but they're naturally there in interactive mechanics.

So do PM me whatever idea(s) you feel like sending, and perhaps I'll send you back this rather crazy idea that I've been kicking around for a few days which I think is kind of awesome but definitely don't want to talk about here. I also may send you another concept I was working on with that. I agree with you about developing worlds, but I think it's pivotal to add interactivity to them as well as ways that the gameplay changes (in small ways) based on what you do. I really think that stuff is easy. For instance how hard is it to add a small choice to that Planescape quest where you can either entrap the girl for money, send her back to her own world, or possibly even use her soul to empower yourself. Nothing really has to be added to do that except a few extra dialogue options and maybe one extra character or effect, but I think it adds so much to the game. More on that sort of thing in later discussions.

Also, this weird sort of proxy third person posting style you've created is interesting.

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Mats, I mentioned earlier that I really didn't intend to say no game has ever done any of these things. I also mentioned somewhere that Fallout 2 is among the games that I haven't played yet which based on what I've heard may actually do a number of these things. Fallout 3 was completely redesigned from the model of the earlier Fallouts though. I've heard from a number of people who loved 1 and 2 that they didn't like 3. I also only had limited experience with Baldur's Gate when I was younger and need to go back and play it again. So I'm definitely not saying these subjects have never been dealt with, but I also think that within those games (like Morrowind) I'll find some elements that worked really well and some elements that I don't like. I remember getting fed up with some of the combat areas in Baldur's Gate 2, but I really need to go back and play it. There's a lot that I'm drawing upon here which I don't have sorted out yet.

The FPS issue really applies to the evolution of the combat in an FPS. Adding a rocket launcher is cool, but it doesn't really do that much to provide a new challenge. I also did find HL2 enjoyable for what it was, but I also had no desire to play through it a second time. As I mentioned, this is an arena I think the Far Cry series has been more successful on (though I have yet to play through all of the games). They seem to really focus in those games on being dedicated to it being an FPS and providing new and innovative scenarios within the scope of the game. What I meant earlier about not liking an FPS just being hard is that adding a few big guys in Fallout 3 is just a cheat to me. To simply say that one area is easier because there's less guys and one area is harder because there's more seems like my gameplay experience has been cheated. That's really all I get? More guys in one place and less in another? Then there are games with levels that are made slightly more complicated than the last one, but it's still just really not changing anything. Instead of just adding a tank to make it harder or adding that annoying guy who throws grenades, how about providing some new and interesting scenarios that are unique to the game world created? How many FPS games even really utilize the premise? It just feels really anti-innovative to me, and I find it boring. I'd like to start a shooter with an interesting world and premise and play through a level and find it really cool and interesting and then get to the next level and say, "Wow! No way! They're doing that now!" It just seems like I get to the next level of most shooters and find the same thing I did in the last level re-dressed a little bit. The same thing with stepping around the corner of a hallway. Doom 3, anyone?

I will explain this more and much better later as it keeps developing. Not really like Sid Meiers Pirates, but there's a core issue here (or a few of them) that I haven't managed to hit upon yet. I may try to write it into a paper or an essay at some point just because the demands of the format may force me to flesh out what I'm thinking with this a little more. However, more than that, these discussions help to flesh out a lot of things, and also thinking about the design of some actual games helps as well. I'll probably post more about what you asked tomorrow and try to create some more solid examples for RPG, FPS, RTS, etc. The thing that I know is that the editing thread is entirely correlated with what I'm talking about in this thread. I just haven't figured out how it all pulls together yet.

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