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April 01, 2006

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I read your doc, I think the difference you're getting at is similar to Roger Callois' "Ludus" and "Paidia" or Nicole Lazzaro's "Hard fun/ Serious Fun" and "Easy Fun/People Fun".

It seems like in a well designed interaction environment, such as System Shock 2, there is well paced cycle between open, unstructured paidic play and focused, goal-oriented strategic gaming. For instance, you were focused on the goal of escaping the ship, but the scripted seqyuence with the lovers (a well-written take on a classic archetype) spun you out of your strategic mind-set, and let you pause to enjoy an in-character moment.

Awesome stuff, Clint. I very much enjoy talks on Emergence, Intent, and Strategy because they often bring out a lot of passion among developers.

I've read numerous discussions about Emergent gameplay and I think it's a really messy topic that sometimes results in name-calling.

Either way, I imagine that it must be quite fun and rewarding to read player forums for Chaos Theory and hear about other ridiculous/memorable moments that players have encountered entirely by accident.

Keep it up.

Well, thanks a lot for that distilling presentation! It's really good that you were able to build on Smith and Smith's presentation, and I hope someone else builds on what you've said later.

However!

Here's my concern as a gamer. I've played SC:CT demo, HL2 demo, GTA3, GTA:SA and both Deus Ex games, and I find it almost impossible to come up with such creative solutions to problems. Partly this is the difficulty of thinking of these things as you're playing, but also partly because I'm concerned about the safety of experimenting - I don't want to die repeatedly to finish a situation a cool way. I also don't want to waste all the possibilites that these games offer.

Understanding all the game's objects and systems is one thing, but having the creativity to extract something from them is pretty damn hard. HL2 has been the easiest so far, but also the most mundane. It's just not satisfying coming up with simple things like feeding the ceiling monsters explosive barrels. Whereas creating complex traps, such as the SC:CT example, is awesome. And what makes the emergent strategies (? whatever) in DX so good is that you can find usefulness in otherwise useless resources (eg Spiderbots, and depending on your style of play), given that the game is so dependant on your various resources.

Anyway, I don't know where this is going, but I just wanted to give you some feedback from a gamer whose very interested in this expressive type of play. Maybe it can help, maybe I wasted 8mins writing this and you 2mins reading it.

If so, sorry ;).

Jeremy:

Not a waste at all. It's a very valid point. I think that one of the things we need to remain cognizant of is that players aren't all hyper-creative people, and a lot them just don't care to play in these ways. I think an important objective for us is to consider that we are 'training' players to play in these ways. By designing compelling sorts of play that are increasingly easily acheivable for anyone, we invite players to become more 'free-form' and possibly more expressive in their play.

It's certainly true that SC games will punish the hell out of you for failed experimentation, but it's less so in DX, less so in GTA, etc.

HL2 is a great example because simple 'high yield' set-ups like the explosive barrels and the tentacle monsters reach a huge number of players, and this becomes training for them to start thinking in more systemic ways instead of just thinking about that primary input channel 'right trigger'.

I did an 'informal poll' of the audience in response to a question after my presentation and asked 'how many used the explosive barrels in this fashion against the tentacle monsters?'. It was roughly 80%. I then asked how many used the cart as a sniper sheild and it was less than 10%. I think, though, that without the 'training' offered by the barrels... had the game been a totally generic shooter with some irrelevant physics tacked on that was not core to the main gameplay, I would not have bothered to look for that 10% sniper solution. So in a sense, the game tought me to keep my eye open for those sorts of approaches.

One of the points I'm trying to make is that as we introduce 'messy' systems, and as future games (I think inevitably) come to rely more and more on them, much of the enjoyment of a game is going to come from 'coming up with crazy plans and having them work'. HL2 is doing a great job of preparing us for this future, and I think designers in general need to keep it in mind and make preparations along these lines as well.

Good stuff. This training of players, as you say, is something that us pen-and-paper game writers worry with a great deal. More and more often I find that even tabletop RPG players want to be given a select handful of things to do with their game rather the scary, dampening infinity that comes with too much freedom to play. There's a point at which a wide-open landscape of potential fun becomes, instead, a search for that fun.

It's not enough to have a court and a ball. More fun comes when you add in the hoop and some recognition that a three-pointer is more prestigious, advantageous or praiseworthy than a lay-up. It's not enough, I guess, to allow room and toys that make fun possible. It also has to be clear and easy.

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