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June 8th, 2007, 02:15
J.E. Sawyer has updated his blog at Obsidian with a piece called Clarity of purpose in system design:
There's this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_Thinking but that doesn't necessarily give anyone a good idea of how that is applied to game development. One thing we often ask applicants at Obsidian is what their favorite or least favorite games are and why. The "and why" is the most important part of the answer. Anyone can spit out a list of titles to show a wide range of tastes, but that doesn't give us any idea of what he or she found of value in those games. Understanding why — really why — you enjoy or dislike games helps you understand what other people may find appealing or distasteful in games.

Lately, I have been trying to take this further. I believe that it is a sign of truly elegant design when you are able to observe a game and determine the goals of the designer of any given system — and all systems together. Often, you are able to recognize these elements because the game's design leads the player how to figure out when the use of any given tool is appropriate.
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June 8th, 2007, 02:15
He's got a very valid point here, and though I've not played Pikman, I think it describes the essence of how games become addictive:

Often, there is only one "right" way to navigate to the goal, but the player does still have to figure it out. And because the solution can be deduced logically, players typically feel smart — not dumb — when they do so. Additionally, the game requires enough moment-to-moment skill in managing Pikmin that player talent is also very rewarding.
Life, parents, spouses and jobs often neglect to tell us how smart we are(sometimes, it's true, with good reason ), or reward us in a meaningful way for our skills. A good game can and does.

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June 8th, 2007, 13:34
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
He's got a very valid point here, and though I've not played Pikman, I think it describes the essence of how games become addictive:



Life, parents, spouses and jobs often neglect to tell us how smart we are(sometimes, it's true, with good reason ), or reward us in a meaningful way for our skills. A good game can and does.

A kind of entertainment makes us adict with the combination of game-play and ego-stroaking reward? His co-worker, Avellon also mentioned the importance of ego-stroaking. And somehow, I think he meant not only power-gamers.

I think critical thinking is more of common sence and feel bit patronized but I guess a part of his intention is to point out too many gamers mix up their tastes with game mechanics. He made a good point by mentioning ego-stroaking factor. Some gamers feel smarter only because they play games of their liking. Watch out how your favourite games play with your mind! But as a game-designer, isn't he responsible for it?

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June 8th, 2007, 13:42
Different people play games for different reasons though.

A well designed game (say at environment level) can still fail at many ways (i.e. in it's system, character interaction, performance, looks, dialogue). Similar to a book or a film it's a coherent whole that makes a really good game (that's imo ofc).
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June 8th, 2007, 13:51
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
He's got a very valid point here, and though I've not played Pikman, I think it describes the essence of how games become addictive:
The Pikmin games are sublime … the graphics, environments and sounds all come together to form this wonderful other-worldly feeling - and it gets young kids totally into managing a RTS-style of play very naturally …

— Mike
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June 8th, 2007, 14:38
Originally Posted by txa1265 View Post
The Pikmin games are sublime … the graphics, environments and sounds all come together to form this wonderful other-worldly feeling - and it gets young kids totally into managing a RTS-style of play very naturally …
And good for kill-time for their parents. With the success of Brain Age, Nintendo widen their market for three generations. They are good at making game adicts.

Pikmin is designed to be a game for families and they are making games which can be equally played by different generations. Now some grand parents play games to share their time with their grand children.

Indeed, people play games from different motivations.

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June 9th, 2007, 04:52
Originally Posted by Unre View Post
A kind of entertainment makes us adict with the combination of game-play and ego-stroaking reward? His co-worker, Avellon also mentioned the importance of ego-stroaking. And somehow, I think he meant not only power-gamers.

I think critical thinking is more of common sence and feel bit patronized but I guess a part of his intention is to point out too many gamers mix up their tastes with game mechanics. He made a good point by mentioning ego-stroaking factor. Some gamers feel smarter only because they play games of their liking. Watch out how your favourite games play with your mind! But as a game-designer, isn't he responsible for it?
Hope I'm understanding you, Unre. Please correct me if I'm not, but I don't know that I see being properly led by the developer through the game play to a correct conclusion as ego-stroking per se.

To me that's more like the constant adulation of NPC's for completing minor quests ("Oh thank you great hero for killing all the nasty rats and taking my sister in the next village our father's flute! Only one with the bloodline of the Gods could have done that!!") and the tired cliche's of the Chosen One,etc that permeate the RPG mythos.

I think the moment a game starts to truly interest you beyond just passing time is the moment when it connects with your ability to reason things out, when you realize you get it and you can beat it if you apply your brain to it. Making this happen— beating the game with a sufficient amount of mental investment— is where the "reward" part comes in; if it's too easy, then it becomes meaningless and if it's too hard it becomes frustrating.

And if it's 'just right', i.e., challenging and difficult enough, it becomes addictive, or something you enjoy repeating anyway because you are rewarded with success for figuring it out. IMHO, that is .

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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June 9th, 2007, 09:17
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Hope I'm understanding you, Unre. Please correct me if I'm not, but I don't know that I see being properly led by the developer through the game play to a correct conclusion as ego-stroking per se.

To me that's more like the constant adulation of NPC's for completing minor quests ("Oh thank you great hero for killing all the nasty rats and taking my sister in the next village our father's flute! Only one with the bloodline of the Gods could have done that!!") and the tired cliche's of the Chosen One,etc that permeate the RPG mythos.
And may I ask, is Avellone known for such dialogues? I may be being sarcastic but there are two kinds of ego-stroking - primitive and more sophisticated ones.

Sawyer lead IWD:Heart of Winter with Heart of Fury mode to satisfy the needs of power-gamers. HoF showed mecontradiction in tactical pleasure and stats-increasing game mechanism. There are devision between know-nots and knows, have-nots and haves. The system can be exploited easily. This is not fun of pure tactical pleasure but for more primitive ego-stroking. Sawyer may see purerer tactical fun in Pikmin rather than the games he is known for and is designing for "the addicted". IMO, one of the reasons why Sawyer is popular among BIS fans are he is honest to his game-loving heart even if harsh at times. Many of us think RPG still has its potential but at least a part of its "decline" may have come from RPG fanboism or inflated-ego through our past game experience, to some extent.

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June 9th, 2007, 10:46
Originally Posted by Unre View Post
And may I ask, is Avellone known for such dialogues? I may be being sarcastic but there are two kinds of ego-stroking - primitive and more sophisticated ones.
Do you mean Avellone is known along with Urquehart and others for games like FO and PS:Torment, whose dialogue and npc interaction were quite a bit more complex? (I have to admit I was parodying Dungeon Seige 2 in my earlier post.)
I think it was viable if already somewhat over-worked to use the concept of a Chosen One in Fallout(2) back in 1998-99; almost ten years and a thousand derivative rpgs later it's just mindless.

Sawyer lead IWD:Heart of Winter with Heart of Fury mode to satisfy the needs of power-gamers. HoF showed me contradiction in tactical pleasure and stats-increasing game mechanism. There are devision between know-nots and knows, have-nots and haves. The system can be exploited easily. This is not fun of pure tactical pleasure but for more primitive ego-stroking.
Okay, I think I follow you here. I agree that just providing exploits in the game mechanism as leveling fodder can be classed as ego-stroking, since you are basically making the process of becoming uber look harder than it really is. Heart of Fury was hard, but not all that much harder than normal, and you got like what, triple experience?

So according to this premise, you are led deeper into the game solely because your ego is flattered by how powerful you become, rather than through story elements or a genuine challenge that requires more than a ramped-up rote response.

I don't know that that's what Sawyer was discussing above, but it may be what I seemed to be saying I suppose. But I really was trying to make the point that a game is only fun—that's what games are for, correct? —when it hits the right balance between making you work for your rewards, then fairly rewarding you.

Sawyer may see purerer tactical fun in Pikmin rather than the games he is known for and is designing for "the addicted". IMO, one of the reasons why Sawyer is popular among BIS fans are he is honest to his game-loving heart even if harsh at times. Many of us think RPG still has its potential but at least a part of its "decline" may have come from RPG fanboism or inflated-ego through our past game experience, to some extent.
I couldn't agree more. If you're saying that rpgs have been dumbed down to a formula catering to the 'instant gratification' mode.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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June 9th, 2007, 10:54
[quote=magerette;31202]Do you mean Avellone is known along with Urquehart and others for games like FO and PS:Torment, whose dialogue and npc interaction were quite a bit more complex? (I have to admit I was parodying Dungeon Seige 2 in my earlier post.)
I think it was viable if already somewhat over-worked to use the concept of a Chosen One in Fallout(2) back in 1998-99; almost ten years and a thousand derivative rpgs later it's just mindless.

That's what I enjoyed the most in the Bards Tale remake a couple of years ago, the total send up (complete with songs) of the 'Chosen One'!! Pity the rest of the game wasn't always up to that standard!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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June 9th, 2007, 13:00
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Do you mean Avellone is known along with Urquehart and others for games like FO and PS:Torment, whose dialogue and npc interaction were quite a bit more complex? (I have to admit I was parodying Dungeon Seige 2 in my earlier post.)
I think it was viable if already somewhat over-worked to use the concept of a Chosen One in Fallout(2) back in 1998-99; almost ten years and a thousand derivative rpgs later it's just mindless.



Okay, I think I follow you here. I agree that just providing exploits in the game mechanism as leveling fodder can be classed as ego-stroking, since you are basically making the process of becoming uber look harder than it really is. Heart of Fury was hard, but not all that much harder than normal, and you got like what, triple experience?

So according to this premise, you are led deeper into the game solely because your ego is flattered by how powerful you become, rather than through story elements or a genuine challenge that requires more than a ramped-up rote response.

I don't know that that's what Sawyer was discussing above, but it may be what I seemed to be saying I suppose. But I really was trying to make the point that a game is only fun—that's what games are for, correct? —when it hits the right balance between making you work for your rewards, then fairly rewarding you.



I couldn't agree more. If you're saying that rpgs have been dumbed down to a formula catering to the 'instant gratification' mode.
Well, I guess my cynical mentality makes what I am saying appear to be complex than it really is.


Even Sawyer admits that Pikmin rewards him by letting him feel smart and thus his ego stroked.


As a writer, Avellone is conscious of ego-stroking. PS:T contains some moments which make the players feel smarter in the same way detective stories do. Also, companion NPCs have their own reasons to consider the PC important. These are more sophisticated than the Chosen One trick and yet ego-stroking.


Here, as you (hopefully) see, as well as fun factor, reward essence, too, subjective. And like you, I need more than simplistic "rewards" than tripled-experience points and the Chosen One NPC "interactions".

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June 9th, 2007, 21:25
Well, Unre, I have to admit I read a lot of detective stories and am pretty happy when anything makes me feel smart It's a diversion and escape for me. I just want it done with some originality and finesse. It's in the context, I guess.

When I play a strategy game, I want it to be as hard as possible, but in a rational way, and not just in battling overwhelming odds due to a cheating AI that gets advantages the player can't even dream of.

And like you, in an rpg I want to stretch my brain a bit and not just re-enact the same formula in another incarnation. Hopefully as the crpg ages it will continue to evolve and we'll see more intelligent gameplay models.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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June 10th, 2007, 12:34
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Well, Unre, I have to admit I read a lot of detective stories and am pretty happy when anything makes me feel smart It's a diversion and escape for me. I just want it done with some originality and finesse. It's in the context, I guess.
When I play a strategy game, I want it to be as hard as possible, but in a rational way, and not just in battling overwhelming odds due to a cheating AI that gets advantages the player can't even dream of.

And like you, in an rpg I want to stretch my brain a bit and not just re-enact the same formula in another incarnation. Hopefully as the crpg ages it will continue to evolve and we'll see more intelligent gameplay models.
Agreed. Also, what you wrote let me think of how VtM:Bloodlines (ex-Troika, Mitsoda is working on Sega project at Obsidian). failed me. The ending is not logically deducted outside of vague guesses. I know if it were, it wouldn't produce the effect the designers seem to have intended. However, I felt outsmarted by an obnoxious kid.
At least, that was far from "how dare didn't I notice it" type of satisfaction when I failed to see what's going on in cleverly written detective stories. Definitely I shouldn't feel smart by this but I know the author played "fair", which gives me a strange satisfaction.

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June 10th, 2007, 12:59
Tired as it is, the Amnesiac Chosen One mechanic is kinda logical. Single-player games *are* about you — an entire world lovingly crafted for your personal enjoyment. At the start of the game, you know nothing, or next to nothing, about the world, and a big part of the game is discovering that world and (usually) affecting it in some momentuous way.

In other words, like it or not, and couch it however you like, you *are* the Amnesiac Chosen One.

What are the alternatives?

(1) Lengthy exposition. Like, make the buggers read a novel before diving into the game. Or watch a film.

(2) Base the game on a really, really well-known IP (LotR, Star Wars, Alien) and give your player a role they already know and understand. That way you won't be amnesiac, you'd be a scoundrel/princess/star pilot/Dúnedain/space marine/Jedi and already know what your place in the world is.

(3) A motivation that's vital to your character but really pretty damn incidental to the world. This would require [gasp!] actual *writing!* Psychology! Characterization! And, of course, it would almost certainly put some pretty strict constraints on your starting character.

There aren't many games that pull this off well. PS:T is an obvious example, although it didn't avoid the amnesiac cliché, and VtM:B does it sorta OK although there is a rather a lot of exposition somewhat clunkily delivered.

However, IMO the game that does this best is Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. You play as a full-blown character with a history, personality, and what have you, and your motivation is simple, straightforward, logical, and "human-scale:" escape from, um, Butcher Bay. The exposition was delivered as a really cool, well-directed cutscene and tutorial that was only sliiiightly cheesy for being a dream sequence, and the game just got better from there on out.
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June 10th, 2007, 13:57
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Tired as it is, the Amnesiac Chosen One mechanic is kinda logical. Single-player games *are* about you — an entire world lovingly crafted for your personal enjoyment. At the start of the game, you know nothing, or next to nothing, about the world, and a big part of the game is discovering that world and (usually) affecting it in some momentuous way.

In other words, like it or not, and couch it however you like, you *are* the Amnesiac Chosen One.

What are the alternatives?

(1) Lengthy exposition. Like, make the buggers read a novel before diving into the game. Or watch a film.

(2) Base the game on a really, really well-known IP (LotR, Star Wars, Alien) and give your player a role they already know and understand. That way you won't be amnesiac, you'd be a scoundrel/princess/star pilot/D?nedain/space marine/Jedi and already know what your place in the world is.

(3) A motivation that's vital to your character but really pretty damn incidental to the world. This would require [gasp!] actual *writing!* Psychology! Characterization! And, of course, it would almost certainly put some pretty strict constraints on your starting character.

There aren't many games that pull this off well. PS:T is an obvious example, although it didn't avoid the amnesiac clich?, and VtM:B does it sorta OK although there is a rather a lot of exposition somewhat clunkily delivered.

However, IMO the game that does this best is Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. You play as a full-blown character with a history, personality, and what have you, and your motivation is simple, straightforward, logical, and "human-scale:" escape from, um, Butcher Bay. The exposition was delivered as a really cool, well-directed cutscene and tutorial that was only sliiiightly cheesy for being a dream sequence, and the game just got better from there on out.
In PS:T, the protagnist is not incidental to the world any more and his motivation is personal. In some interviews, this aspect is compared with coming NWN2 expansion, making contrast against the "epic" OC.

I haven't played Butcher Bay. Does it allow the players choices?

Also, I see no problem with cliches if only they are needed to produce interesting enough effects. In fact, it is impossible to come across a novel without any single cliche, which is natural considering the history of literature.

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June 10th, 2007, 15:08
Re PS: totally, that's why I quoted it as a (rare) example of managing to avoid this Chosen One cliché (even if they didn't manage to avoid the amnesiac clich&#233.

Butcher Bay is an FPS with a quest mechanic tacked on; there's no meaningful role-playing, choice, or character development to speak of. There are a few situations in which you have multiple solutions to a problem, and side quests that you can choose to do or not to do, but that's about it.

I only brought it up because it manages to avoid this particular pair of gaming clichés extremely well.

But unlike the vast majority of games out there, including many RPG's, Riddick himself is a fully fleshed-out character, with a past, a personality, a motivation, and what have you. And (and this is important), so is everybody else in the game (OK, other than the generic guards you get to kill or avoid in the action sequences), even if they only show up for a couple of lines. They're sketched out with a few lines of dialog backed up by character design and voice acting, and it's enough for you to "get" who they are and even get an idea of their backgrounds.

Incidentally, it also goes to show how much good writing can do to a game, even an FPS — the dialog is short, sweet, and to the point, there isn't even very much of it, but it feels like every character you talk to, even if it's just a few lines, is a real person instead of a quest-o-mat. It carries the story without the clunky "hello, how nice to meet you, I grew up as an orphan in a little town by a river where a kindly old woodcutter rescued me from the reeds, and now let me explain how I feel about my foster mother" thing you always find in Bioware games.

Also incidentally, the voice acting is a big part of it. I normally hate voiceovers; they're too long and sound uninspired. But in Riddick, the dialog was short enough and the voice actors chosen and directed well enough that they really brought the characters to life. Riddick's "You're in my cell" or "I work alone" or "I don't do favors" or (probably his longest line in the game) "I play with the cards I'm dealt, and then I cheat" communicate more about his character than lines ten times wordier in most other games.

What I'm getting at, I guess, is that there's really precious little role-playing in most RPG's; often what passes for it is building up a spreadsheet or trial-and-erroring your way through a B-tree. And, conversely, there are a few non-RPG's where you end up identifying with the character you're playing and making choices (even if they're illusionary and limited) based on your interpretation of who s/he is.

I would much rather play a game in any genre that does the latter well, than a flawlessly balanced "RPG" with great game mechanics and a sprawling world with all the choices you can imagine that leaves your character a mindless collection of stats and optimizations.

Most of all I'd like to see one that does both.

Oh well, perhaps I can get Fallout to run on Vista. [sigh]
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June 10th, 2007, 16:44
PJ, I wonder if I understand you properly but I think you are saying Riddick is a good combination of a game and cinematic effects. If so, there is an interview at NG about how to combine literal context with cinematic ones, which is getting demanding in modern games.
I agree with you: If we should be able to feel in the shoes of our alter-ego, it would be more of role-playing than micro-management of spread-sheets. Also, I think Sawyer, too, wrote something similar to what you wrote in an older entry of his blog. However, at the sametime, I fear over-simplifications of context.

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June 10th, 2007, 18:11
Not exactly: I'm saying that Riddick is a good example of writing in a computer game. The cinematic sequences are fine, too, but there are few games in which the story is almost exclusively carried by in-game dialog *and* the in-game dialog flows completely naturally.
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June 10th, 2007, 18:25
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Not exactly: I'm saying that Riddick is a good example of writing in a computer game. The cinematic sequences are fine, too, but there are few games in which the story is almost exclusively carried by in-game dialog *and* the in-game dialog flows completely naturally.
The problem here is I haven't played the game. From what you wrote, I am guessing that the designers employed good writers with some experiences in screen-plays, which is why I introduced the article.

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June 11th, 2007, 11:26
They certainly must have employed a good writer who knows how to write dialog; however, it's unusual to see even well-written dialog that blends into the game so well. It very often feels a bit tacked-on; unnecessarily wordy. Gaming is an interactive, dynamic medium, so big stretches of wordy dialog feel as unnatural to it as twenty-minute cut-scenes. Riddick did both dialog and cut-scenes in such a way that they don't interrupt the flow of the game — gameplay is first, everything else is subordinate to it and supports it. Yet the story manages to get told.

I'm not saying it's the end-all be-all of gaming (there are plenty of things it doesn't do well, or at all) but in this particular respect it has few peers.
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