Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Devstream: two types of simulation

From the transcript of the Devstream:

I'm actually in the middle of developing a design for a mobile football game and so I've had to deal
with some of these issues. I'm dealing with them right now and it's a difficult question, because on the one hand, simulation for process tends to allow a more open solution. What simulation for process is, you set up a series of rules to simulate the events, so in the case of a sports game you set up the various rules for how the players are gonna play, you set up the various rules for what the different variables are going to be and how they're going to interact with each other, and then you just step back and you let it run.

Believe it or not, this is actually in some ways an easier approach, because you know you're not responsible, you know you're not trying to dictate any one result. Yeah, you just put in the ingredients, you mix them up and what happens happens. Now that's the way that you would have seen the old statistics in the Madden football games, for example. You know when you do that, when you use simulation for process, you almost always have a situation where the results are not going to be realistic. The process is complicated and it is intrinsically inaccurate. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about an AI attempt to replicate human intelligence, whether you're talking about an attempt to replicate an infantry firefight, or whether you're dealing with something like a football or soccer game, in all of those cases you're dealing with multiple layers of abstraction, and every abstraction, every assigned variable is going to be different than the real world

Even if you build a very complicated model using very accurate statistics, the small errors, the small
differences, are going to multiply so that by the time that you get to the end result, you're not going to end up with very realistic numbers.

Q&A: r/K and design

RM wonders if games are becoming more targeted to the r/selected:
Would it be correct to say videogames from the last 10+ years are generally targeted at an r-selected audience?

The first time I noticed a change in videogame mechanic and map design was when I went from playing the multiplayer mode for Modern Warfare 1 (released in 2007) to playing the multiplayer mode for Modern Warfare 2 (released in 2009).

In Modern Warfare 1, the generally larger maps meant more open spaces and sections of the map off the beaten path. The maps were large enough to sneak past the enemy team or attempt flanking maneuvers, even with two teams of 24 players. This map design discouraged running around like a headless chicken, because the snipers on the other team would take you out in seconds if you played that way, and it wasn't fun to spend all your game time doing the same 30 second run from your team's spawn. The game encouraged more investment in each life and a longer time preference. The maps in Modern Warfare 1 encouraged cooperation and thoughtfulness.

In Modern Warfare 2, the generally smaller maps had fewer open spaces and sections of the map off the beaten path. Most maps were crowded with two teams of 9 players, and the maps had pretty direct routes that funneled the teams toward each other. This map design encouraged running around like a headless chicken, because most of the battles were fought inside the 10-yard range. If you used your explosives and took a spray-and-pray approach, you'd probably take somebody out before you died yourself. When you did die, you'd respawn with a full loadout, usually close to the action. Modern Warfare 2's maps discouraged cooperation and thoughtfulness.

I'm interested to know if you think r/K selection applies to videogame design and the games' intended players.
Yes, this is almost certainly true in the broader sense. It is probably not a conscious design decision made by someone conversant with selection theory, it's probably just an attempt to make things more "accessible" and "appealing to the casual player" that reflects the larger cultural shift towards the r/selected population. But the essential effect is the same; one could even build a mathematical model demonstrating this by comparing the average number of player-lives lost in a similar time period in one game versus the other.

In the game that appeals to the r/selected, the number of lives would be higher, the average in-game lifespan would be shorter, and there would be less benefit to being patient and exhibiting longer time preferences.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Devstream: the Fortnite surrender

From the transcript of the Devstream.

Our idea was that you were going to be interacting with artificial intelligence, so you had your squad which could be AI soldiers, which could be enemy soldiers, NPCs, etc. Yeah we really went  overboard because we were bringing in synthetic speech, we were bringing in speech recognition, so there was a surprisingly sophisticated interaction with the artificial intelligences. We actually wanted to try to make it that you couldn't tell if you were interacting with a human or an artificial intelligence you know, so kind of like what you see with the bots these days, but but even more sophisticated. And remember this is back in 1996 and 1997, and the reason that the stuff sounds so advanced is because the industry went in a less sophisticated direction.

Again not a criticism. That was the right thing to do. People have sold literally billions of dollars of games that are based on the pseudo railroad.  I mean it's not actually a rail shooter - a true rail shooter would be something like the original Rebel Assault where you're literally on a rail and you can sort of swing back and forth a little bit, but from a design perspective, it's still the same function, it's still the same thing, in order to experience the story, in order to experience the the gameplay, you have to go through in a general order generally the same way.

It was interesting to see how effective that was in the early Call of Duty games before Call of Duty turned into being primarily a multiplayer game. The original missions did a very good job of giving you a pseudo-military experience, but of course it was all heavily scripted. You had to do things in exactly the right order, you knew exactly what was coming at you eventually; in some ways it was very similar to the old arcade games. In that MMOs have opened things up, you know, the FPS MMO; no one has really truly managed to design the proper one, the ultimate one, but there have been numerous attempts. Even Richard Garriot was unable to deliver on on that idea with Tabula Rasa.

But the interesting thing to me about Fortnite, and the reason why I consider Fortnite to be essentially the game designers more or less giving up, is because what we have been doing as FPS designers from the very beginning is attempting to provide meaning and structure and story and experience to the action, and unfortunately we've been fighting the tendency of a certain group of
players - who I am not at all convinced are the majority of players, but there are a lot of them - and they have a tendency to simply run around like chickens with their heads cut off. If you've played any online game starting back in the days of Doom and Heretic - yeah when we were playing with 4-player and 8-player networks - what you would see is some people would play strategically, some people would camp, other people would would team up and move cooperatively, but you always had the people who just run around like crazy, blasting away like crazy, and basically behaving in a way
that you can't even possibly consider anything that is remotely approaching anything credible or realistic.

And so, with Fortnite, and I have played it, and it's a very good example of what it is the Battle Royale genre and so forth, but ultimately there is no purpose, there is no story, the action is the experience. Now that's ok, that's fine if that's if that's what you want, but you see, for years designers have been trying to hide that, they've been trying to keep that under control, and what Fortnite represents - and it's obviously not the first Battle Royale game, it's not the only one, but it is the most successful, the most symbolic of the concept - it's basically the designers throwing up their hands and saying, "you know what, you guys just want to run around like chickens with your heads cut off slaughtering each other, here you go!" And to their credit, they give you the means to do that, so that's what's different between that and Call of Duty and Battlefield and all these other FPS games. Almost all the other games were trying to limit that, they're trying to limit it through the level designs they're trying to limit it through the ammo drops, and all that sort of thing.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Alt★Hero RPG playtest

The Alt-Hero RPG had its second playtest. The core mechanics are working smoothly. The logarithmic system is as elegant as I'd hoped and it is working well when conjoined with mechanics that can take advantage of it, such as making multiple attacks, attacking in teams, and so on.

All sorts of wonderful emergent properties became evident in this playtest. For instance, combat against large groups of enemies can be easily resolved by using the logarithmic scaling. One attacker with Agility 3 and a pistol is not scary. 16 attackers with pistols (+4 multi-attacker modifier) is Agility 7 and suddenly a threat.  We also learned that Teleport 15 is sufficient to move an enemy into near-orbit above the Earth; the quick use of the logarithmic math (Time = Distance - Speed) let us determine how many rounds the heroes had to finish off the rest of the combat before he fell to earth.

In this playtest we introduced a set of "legwork" mechanics that can be used for crime scene investigation, forensic study of evidence, interviewing crime victims, and other Detective Comics type game play. The legwork mechanics assign"clues" a logarithmic score based on their obscurity; investigators then find clues based on their Acuity stat added to the time (in logarithmic score) spent doing legwork. For instance, if "bullet casing made of strange alloy used only by Dr. Dread" has an Obscurity of 20, it will take The Brick (Acuity 4) a long time to find the clue - 20-4 = 16 units of time, or about two-and-a-half days. If Dr. Quantum (Acuity 12) is on the job, however, he will find the clue in (20 - 12) 8 units of time, or about 15 minutes.

To use the legwork mechanics in play, the Mastermind (GM) should structure multiple different locations with information, along with some sort of time pressure from either the villain's plans or natural events or both. In yesterday's session, for instance, the heroes knew that a powerful superhuman was about to manifest his powers for the first time, and it was a race against time to get the information needed to stop him.

It's still very much a work-in-progress but the framework of a great game is being put into place.