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December 14th, 2006, 05:19
I can't respond to your editorial directly, because we disagree on two assumptions that underpin it: that a fantasy simulation has few rules, and that such a simulation requires you to roleplay as yourself. I agree with a great deal else, and I'll make most of my points with your words.

A computer simulation is a set of rules acting on data. The finer the granularity of the simulation, the more rules it has. With its RAI and advanced physics, Oblivion has many rules. You just don't see them. I think Matt has failed to articulate his real objection to the game, and that he actually resents NWN2 for exposing its rules to him and requiring him to learn how they interact. (Although he may believe that the combat system has too many.) He just wants to interact with NWN2's world and rules without playing the numbers game of DRs and SRs. Anyway, enough of him.

I like your intimidation example. A host of factors influence your real-life ability to intimidate someone: your clothing, cosmetic accessories like prison tattoos, your physical size, your gait and stance, your mannerisms, your voice, your words, as well as the other person's estimation of himself and his knowledge of you and your actions. Some of these factors result from in-the-moment decisions, some are fixed in the short term but still reversible like your appearance, and some are permanent facts, like your height and your past. NWN2 abstracts all of these factors into a single number. Oblivion ignores them. A fine-grained simulation could conceivably model them all.

In a game with such a high level of player control, you could imagine your character as a swaggering brute, you could play him as one, and the other characters would recognise and respond to him as one. You would be roleplaying with the game, not with yourself -- not play-acting a ranger at your desk. The game would be managing a metric fuckton of rules, but you wouldn't need to know any more about them than "pirate hats are scary". And you would make plenty of big, permanent choices, but the game would write them into the memories of the NPCs, rather than your character sheet. Or both. As you say, one doesn't preclude the other.

Fable took the first, faltering step towards this ideal. Even if it fell flat on its face, since Molyneux didn't know what the hell he was doing, you could still see glimpses of a vision behind his raving nonsense. I think we'll make more progress toward it once the potential for improvements in graphics reaches its inevitable dead end, and advances in processing power outstrip our ability to spend it. Once everything is as shiny and articulated and deformable as it can possibly be, that only leaves AI.

Nice edit. Thanks for the read.
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