Tell That to the Hall of Presidents

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Great article over at Wonderland documenting some of the ranting portions of the GDC sessions (thanks, boingboing). I think my favorite line is the one about statues not being better because they move. If you have ever been to Disneyland, as alluded to in the title, you can plainly see this is not true. If, on the other hand, you have ever gone to Chuck E. Cheese it is, equally, plainly true.

There are some good points made about pointless freedom. I've always thought that the true 3-D version of Myst that was done a few years ago was the dumbest thing I ever heard of. The locations in Myst were all carefully designed for set, static views in which everything you would ever need to look at was in frame. Adding true, realtime 3-D with a user controlled point of view simply made it possible to look at a lot of locations that had no content. Stupid. Game developers have to carefully control where the user can go, because there is nothing more boring than having a game with "infinite freedom to go where you want" and nothing going on to hold the player's interest except in a few fleshed out locations.

With face to face gaming this could be somewhat compensated for by having a game master who was able to improvise when the players went off and did something unplanned. With computer game design you have to make it harder to go off the rails, or have a system in place the generate interest and complexity in the areas that have not been fully fleshed out by the designers. Unfortunately, this usually leads to either very tight control of the player, or worse, tossing extra combat opportunities into the empty areas. In all honesty, I have never been as bored playing a game as I was when I tried GTA: Vice City...lot's of freedom to go where you want, and do what you want, but none of it really had any impact on anything, and it was repetitive as hell. If there was an overall faction or reputation system on the other hand, then even random encounters throughout the game could have had an impact on the larger story arcs.

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4 Comments

the wonderland article was great, and you bring up some great points and counterpoints...

while i was reading your comments, it hit me. the reason the real world is captivating is because none of its locations are empty or "with no content."

why is this? because every thing, animal, person, community, etc., can act creatively and authentically (with relative degrees of sentience) in every square mile, square foot, and square inch of the world. anywhere and everywhere you go there is something happening.

the problem with most "created" video-game worlds is that they are read-only. this is a problem that has only begun to be solved through such media as online rpgs and their ilk. the true breakthroughs will come as a function of AI that more closely apes creativity or genuinely real-seeming "existence" of some sort. the problem with randomization is that we can "feel" how fake it is.

the "actors" (insects, plants, animals, wind, weather, sound, people, whatever) in the created world don't have to obey the rules of the "real" world, but they do have to do something that is genuinely interesting to us, and (this is the key) EVERYTHING done by ANY of the actors has to have persistent and permanent consequences on the game as a whole. only then will it seem worth our while to play around with the minutiae of a fabricated existence. but what will happen to the real world while our attention is diverted?

Thanks Andrew. I think that when addressing the issue of creating interesting, interactive, and fully explorable worlds the key thing is not to focus on the complexity of the individual items that fill up the world, but to create a system where a lot of non-complex items interact according to simple rules, resulting in emerging complexity.

For example, in World of Warcraft, doe the monsters, wolfs, etc. ever attack the non-dangerous animals like deer or rabbits? I have never seen it happen, so I assume they don't. Wouldn't adding that one little bit of complexity (if a wolf comes within x distance of a rabbit, wolf eats rabbit) make the world WAY more interesting and "real". I'm pretty sure that you would even do it without straining te servers. Assign the wolf's AI to a machine running the client software - if the client drops, reassign the wolf AI, and start again, probably losing whatever persistant data you had on the lost client for the wolf. So the wolf forgets what he was doing in a small number of cases, bug deal. Generally the wolf is going to be a more interesting inhabitant for alll of the players in the area, including the one hosting his A.I.

I like the idea of applying this sort of thinking to multiplayer games because I don't know of nyone doing it right now, and there is a HUGE amount of unused processor time just lying around while people play these games.

Even in a single player game, if you look at somethign like Ultima VII (that's the black gate one, right?) the environment had things going on like I mention above even when the player was just sitting still. It was actually interesting to just watch what was going on around you.

I think that the idea of simple objects, with simple properties operating under simple rules is going to be somethign that we see more and more of as time goes by.

As to what happens to te real world, well, we won't care after we have uploaded, will we?

Minor point: the wolves will actually attack rabbits and deer when they get close in World of Warcraft. That doesn't excuse them from aimlessly wandering around in their set grid co-ordinates, however. In general, though, you don't want the client telling the server what to do in MMOs. The client is never to be trusted, because it is in the hands of the enemy. (An illustration: take that wolf AI code. Assume that someone's hacked it so that it will instead rush up and attack another player.)

Simple objects with simple rules interacting in complex ways is actually already an industry buzzword - that's what 'emergent' means.

Now you see how much attention I pay when playing WOW - so they do interact a little on their own. That's good, though I agree that they can do more than wandering around.

I understand about the client isues, but it seems to me that if we can handle financial transactions over the internet, we should be able to figure out some way to offload some "world processing" to game clients. Even if it's just visually interesting, but gameplay insignificant stuff. There are probably some things that could be done with signing and checksumming the data to and from the client to determine that it has not been fiddled with. You are absolutely right though in pointing out that there are huge issues with moving AI onto the client.

I know that emergent behavior has been a buzzword for some time in the industry, I would just like to see someone other than Will Wright applying it. Online games are a great laboratory for this, and I don't think a lot is being done with it. Something needs to be done to make me feel like it's something other than a waste of time to constantly run back and forth between towns to complete a quest (choosing a female avatar just doesn't cut it...).

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This page contains a single entry by edgore published on March 24, 2006 8:13 AM.

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