Saturday, June 10, 2006

Street Fighter 3: Context is King!

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Anonymous Rafael Van Daele-Hunt said...


you say "Instead of being a one way road to transport content from the author to the reciepient, games have a second channel where something comes back from the reciepient."

This isn't true, at least not in the way you stated it: when you play a computer game, you aren't sending information back to the authour; you'd need to write a fan letter to do that! What I think you mean is that the player can affect the game state more than a viewer can affect the movie state. But this is not new; the kind of interactivity that Street Fighter offers is the same as that of chess or football. The ability to marry interactivity to content, on the other hand, *is* new, so perhaps content-focused video game designers are simply trying to explore the possibilities that make their medium unique. In fact, if done well, I think interactive narrative could approach the "second channel" you describe that goes from the gamer to the authour.

I agree that "sports-like interactivity" is also a good approach for game design, and acknowledge that there are many game possibilities in this space that could not be realized well in nonelectronic media (e.g. Pac Man, Street Fighter). Also, I see that interactive narrative is hard and may be impossible -- I just don't think we should give up too soon.
I also agree that adding a half-assed "story" to a game like SF is dumb. OTOH it's hard to draw the line: SF would be a lesser game if the same gameplay were mapped onto completely abstract graphics, I think.

10 July, 2006 10:14  
Anonymous Rafael Van Daele-Hunt said...

P.S. pen & paper RPGs are actually much better at marrying content and interactivity than video games, but it's hard to find a good group and they require a lot of effort.

10 July, 2006 10:19  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Thank for straighting this detail out: yes, of course. The communication happens here between the game and the player, not between the author/designer and the player, you are right.

However, the medium is always something like a "stand in" for the author in a chain of comminication between the author and the audience. The author can't adress the audience personally so he creates a book or a movie or whatever to comminicate by proxy. So far, this communication was one-way. Games are different. Games deliver their message but then, they recieve something back. Of course, they can't forward that user feedback all the way to the author again so they have to be prepared by the author to deal themselves with the resulting interaction. The author must try to anticipate what might happen and design the game accordingly. It's a bit like programming a robot to explore a distant planet. You can't remote control the robot so you have to teach the robot what you would do if you were on the planet.

My point is that we aren't used to that. Game Designers tend to think like conventional authors. They foucus on what the game delivers because this is what we are used to. If you take the metaphor of exploring plantets: they only think about how to shoot stuff in rockets to distant planets. They don't think about what to do when you have landed.

Sports and Chess are good examples of games that did exist for some time. Please note that up until computer games became popular, the postion of a "game designer" was a very rare one. Accordingly, although sports and games like chess are of great cultural importance, very little is known about who "designed" them and what his thoughts and intentions were. So yes, games and communication trough the "second channel" are nothing new. However, the task of a Game Designer is something quite new, so there is little expierience how to design communication trough that "second channel".

Thanks for pointing out Pen & paper RPGs. They are quite an exeption since this is the situation where the author adresses his audience personally and directly by being the "game master" and developing the narrative on the fly. In pen & paper RPGs, there is no medium, no proxy, so you don't have all the problems. It's like flying an astronaut to a distant planet instead of a robot.
I must admit I don't share your enthusiasm about narrative. The perfect interative narrative would be an intelligent robot equipped with an A.I. that is developed enough to simulate a "game master". Even if one day, we will have this artificial "game master", he will face the same problems you already mentioned: "It's hard to find a good group and they require a lot of effort". Players tend to reject given roles in narratives and expierience the limits of the game world. Artificial "game masters" will have the same problmes as "game masters" of flesh and blood.
On the other hand, why do we need a narrative?

25 July, 2006 15:47  
Anonymous Rafael Van Daele-Hunt said...

"Please note that up until computer games became popular, the postion of a "game designer" was a very rare one."

I contend that the position of a "game designer" will continue to be rare if games eschew narrative. Why? Because of something else you said:

"It delivers very little so it fits everywhere but what it delivers is so pure and masterfully designed that you can spend a lifetime playing it."

You're right: great games, traditionally, have been those that you can spend a lifetime playing. The trouble is that the world can't support many such games! The existing of profession designers depends upon a continual demand for new games, which there won't be if everyone is happy playing chess, football, and Street Fighter. Worse: the reason that you can spend a lifetime playing these games is that they have deep gameplay -- people can invest as much time as they like in training the game and just keep getting better. But that's only fun if you can find adequate competition, and that only happens if many people play the same game. This encouragement to band together further decreases the number of successful games, and is one reason why there are only a handful of major sports in the world today.

Thus, if you design a deep, content-centred game, it will either be tried briefly and then shelved, or it will be loved, propagated, and evolved, and you will never sell another game. :-)

23 August, 2006 09:23  
Anonymous Rafael Van Daele-Hunt said...

Should be "deep, context-centred game".

30 August, 2006 11:46  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

I disagree that it is the gameplay's fault that Game Designers are less known. I think it has more to do with the time those game were invented in and that most of the primitive sport games could be "distibuted" verbally without the need of artefacts or genuine documentation from the game designer itself.

It is true that most of the games take too much time but this is a difficult topic and indeed it would be worthy to adress it in a few post.

However, I don't see narratives as solution to that problem. In fact, the contrary is the case. A narrative takes time to unfold. Without narrative, game designers are much more flexible to create shorter game. It is true that it takes a lifetime to master Street Fighter, but a single game takes only 1 Minute. Narrative-heavy RPGs however may take over 20 hours. On top, in most cases you can't just play for a few minutes and then quit, you have to prepare yourself for long sessions because you break the dramaturgy otherwise.

Of course, you are right. A narrative sometimes can make a game shorter by simply suggesting to the player that he should stop playing the game and buy a new one. But you don't need narrative for that.

I think Brain Age is an excellent example of a game, which adresses the time problem. It is no accident that this game has no narrative.

04 September, 2006 22:32  
Blogger Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel said...

yeah, i think this whole "gameplay vs. book" topic is something a good gamedesigner should allways have in his head.

take all those 80ths games, designed by few people (often only one or two) without any storyline, storyplot nor setting. they all had immediate appeal. one could invite friends and play them together (even those singleplayer games, just sit by and watch). today - who want's to watch a 40h + rpg storyline played in the middle? most of the time is spend with storyline, dialogues, shopping, equipping, and so on.

what i think most interesting of, is that today fantasy setting seems to be nearly impossible without narrative content.

krystian, showed me this classic gem "chaos - battle of mages", created in 1984 by julian gollop (ufo / x-com series in the 90th). two or up to 8 (multiplayer, hot seat!) mages battle in a fantasy setting each other. the game lacks so many elements of todays videogames, that everyone would say "funny, it is like a board game". but truly, it isn't - it is just the way it is, a very great video game. arcade, speed, depth. easy to learn, hard to master - and very deep fantasy - all without story.

take a look:

18 February, 2007 12:48  

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