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July 05, 2009

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Fantastic blog. I'm glad Ben has reached out to you and really grabbed your attention by bringing some of the deep, inner fantasies of Far Cry 2 out in the open.

And whilst you speak about emotion, and making the Buddy system that little more effective, comes something that has simply been on the tip of my tongue since I started reading. I was urged to post the comment, but I forced myself to read until the very end...

Interactivity! There, I said it.

Your Buddy System is great, but for me to feel so emotional at the death of a Buddy, I would rely on interactivity. I want to be connected with my Buddy.

I don't just want to just share this War with them, I want to be able to develop some form of friendship, that results in more advanced conversations.

But not only this, but the feature you've already embedded into Far Cry 2 can always be used more effectively to improve the Players relationship with fellow Buddy's in the Game.

In Far Cry 2, although you can always have a buddy there to get your back when you're in a bad place, you never feel that partnership in your battles.

A subverted Faction mission can only slightly partner you with your Buddies in battle. But often, the sense is that you're a little too late to the battle, and instead of fighting a War together, you're playing The Hero and finishing off the hard work, just to save your friend.


If you could fight alongside a Buddy in a mission, you would be connected. I mentioned advanced conversations, developing friendships, but in a game of War, there is no better connection than fighting alongside someone.

It was so emotional that Wade died because we, as viewers, had learnt to know him. His personality. And we were placed right in the thick of the War. We were IN that squadron! And he was our teammate!

And to see our friend die. Our familiar teammate. Who we'd learnt about, who we'd fought alongside. He was gone. No longer there to fight alongside us. No longer there to save our skin. His loss would be great, because it meant that your job was harder. Not only because you were "a man down"... But also because you had his death looming inside your mind.


So to fight alongside a Buddy, to learn about their personality. Why they're fighting this War. What motivates them. This develops a "friendship-in-War". And if you have to watch them die in your arms, you would become emotional. No longer could they have your back. No longer would they be able to fight in your War. And, depending on their reason to fight in this War, you'd be thinking of that reason. And whether they'd accomplished what they really set out to do.

And perhaps the saddest part of that Buddys death, would be that you were one of the few people in the World who knew them. And their memory would only live on in your heart, and your mind.

Also, although you mentioned the Buddy's not being a rarity, maybe it would be ideal to have them be such a rarity. If a Buddy dies, there seems to be almost 3 or 4 on the waiting list to help you out next.

If Buddies were such a useful weapon during the game, and fighting with them would be the difference in whether you prevail, or die as a lone wolf: then having so few of them would be more effective. It would also mean their death would be more heart-felt. It is a common experience to either have to save your Buddy, or watch them die in Far Cry 2.

If there were fewer Buddies, and you didn't have to watch so many of them die, then maybe it would be alot more effective.

In Far Cry 2, my first playthrough was my favourite. Not to mention, my buddy Warren Clyde was my first Buddy. I thought he was very cool. We fought battles together. We subverted missions. But one day, after taking one bullet too many, I tried to save him, and with my last syrette, I lost him...

I was actually very upset. He was cool, and I loved fighting with him. His loss was shortlived, because I had another friend thrown at me before I had the chance to mourn his passing. And better yet, I had nobody to tell my story to.

And then, after playing this game enough, and becoming (what I like to call myself) a Veteran, I eventually saw many MANY Buddies pass into the other world, and each experience grew more dull and heartless than the previous...

...Until eventually, I was putting Eagle bullets into their heads without regret, and selfishly saving my syrettes for myself once I'd taken some hits in combat.


If you have understood my message, then please consider the implementation of fighting alongside buddies, and further interactivity in your next project, assumably Far Cry 3.

Elliott.

"It's worth noting that even reading a detached description of the plot points of the film that detail what happened to Wade is more moving than having a buddy die in your arms in Far Cry 2, so we have a lot of room for improvement and maybe going down that path is a good idea."

I beg to differ on this point. Wade's death scene in Saving Private Ryan did not move me at all. I saw it for what it was--an overused cinematic device to massage my emotions (cue the swelling soundtrack). In most American dramas, any character (other than the protagonist) who is set up to be cute and likeable is going to die (e.g., the bunny in Fatal Attraction, the puppy in Single White Female, the cute daughter in the King and I, Brokeback Mountain, etc.). I'm sure you can think of better examples. It's as blatant as the red shirted crewmemmber in Star Trek.

So thank you for not going down this cliched path. As one commenter pointed out, the way to build a stronger emotional connection to the NPC's is to allow the player to interact more with them on missions. I felt a bond with Josip, my first rescuse buddy, simply because he saved my ass several times. I know the bond would have been stronger if he had fought some battles with me, or at the very least, shot through guard posts with me by manning the pinto machine gun on the assualt truck while I drove.

Much cooler than typical Speilberg nonsense, don't you think?

Khoa

I *personally* agree with you that the loss of a close Buddy in FC2 felt more powerful *to me* than the death of Wade in SPR. But it seems to be that the broader audience still needs a good deal more convincing.

In any case, I am not rejecting the idea that a better implementation of more simulationy, better realized and more interactive Buddy Characters would lead to players having more powerful feeling when they confront situations like those in FC2.

What I am rejecting is the very notion that we should be focusing our efforts so heavily on concepts of inevitability and irreversibility that I see as being fundamentally derived from narrative structure.

Can I feel something equally powerful in *different* ways that are more ludic than narrative. Can I feel powerful, moving loss when my game pieces are *not* dressed up as human characters where death is literal instead of metaphorical?

Surely, for chess afficionados, the intense event of the capture of a queen in a landmark game between two grandmasters is a powerful and deeply moving event that is both a part of the game and becomes elevated into a part of the historical canon of chess-playing. And this is only a metaphor for death... it is even possible for the Queen to come 'back to life' in chess. Not only is this not absurd, it can be as powerfullly and deeply moving as the initial capture... or even moreso.

Having Josip 'come back to life' in FC2 would not break the ludic structure of the game - but it would break the narrative structure... and thus would fail to be moving. Note that some players are not aware of what it 'means' in FC2 when they see their buddies going down at Mike's place (this was a realization failure on our part) - but these buddies are NOT dead. When they reappear at the end of the game - some players do find this absurd... instead of finding it deeply moving like the ressurection of a Queen in chess.

The question I am challenging is whether (and how) we can make typical players experience the very different and very powerful emotions that chess afficiondos feel when they witness (or play) a spectacular sequence of chess play.

Now, I am not saying we need necessarily to reject the characters and worlds etc, in favor of abstraction. What I am saying is that I think that rather than pushing to make our characters and worlds become *even more* narrative like, why do we not examine instead some more ludic concepts.

Instead of asking 'how do we make Josip's death *more permanent* to generate the same sorts of emotions we already get in other media?'

I am asking 'how do we make Josip's death *less permanent* to generate different sorts of emotions that other media cannot deliver at all?'

The very notion of death as being something that even *could be* 'more or less permanent' is already playful and imaginative and fun and in many beautiful ways more interesting than the binary 'dead/alive' toggle of traditional linear narrative.

The problem seems to be you're fighting with over a thousand years of inertia when it comes to linear concepts of death, and the concept of meaningful emotional responses.

I think a lot of people would find it difficult to equate the sensation of capturing a Queen to the death of a fictional chracter. The emotional engagement required to feel something when a piece is captured is one I don't think people in general are used to having without a fictional construct of some kind.

Games are generally pretty bad at evoking the type of meaningful emotional responses people are familiar with, from traditional linear media. So it's going to be a challenge to convince the wider audience to care about , or take interest in, games potential to evoke different but equally power emotions. It'll seem like we're only doing that because we can't do it the "normal" other way.

For my own part I don't see a distinct seperation between gameplay and narrative, so the entire concept of their being a need to focus on ludic or narrative elements is a difficult one for me to handle.

Clint: As you're undoubtedly aware, Josip does come back to life in Far Cry 2 in the ludic structure of the game. He comes back as Warren Clyde... (Or in my most recent game, Warren came back as Josip - but the point is the same).

Regards your main point that the process of manipulating the game structure is as or more significant than playing the game, I'm again reminded of David Sirlin's tournament preparation recommendations. He points out that as a part of playing to win, there is significant preparation time spent playing with the game in the sense that your implying. Creative or unusual character match ups, trying out different combinations of attacks, limiting the total rule space to see if there are any exploits that no one else is aware of. In this sense, manipulating the game is important R&D, but still subordinate to tournament play. Ultimately, this R&D effort resolves one of two ways: either an exploit is found which completely unbalances tournament play, or play moves to a higher level, where any uncovered exploits contribute to more sophisticated play. So I'd argue that manipulating the game is the process of determining whether a game is worth playing, but distinct from the actual process of playing the game.

I personally think you were more successful at creating a great ludic experience for the gamer in FC2 than you give yourself credit for. I’m talking about the weapon system, especially the IED. I had blast with IED’s because I used them in ways which were narratively nonsensical, but pushed but game’s limitations. For instance, I created carbombs with the IED’s and used them for the Pala assassination missions. I loaded up one of the Datsuns with EID’s, drove it into town using one of the alleyways, parked it next to the target, walked a safe distance away to the edge of town to another waiting vehicle, blew up my target remotely using the carbomb, drove out of town without a single scratch.

I’m not sure if you intended for players to use carbombs this way (my guess is no because it was almost impossible to get the car through the alleyway). As a player, I felt immense satisfaction at being able to exploit a hole in the game’s rule sets. For instance, I knew that (1) the NPC’s would shoot at me if I used the IED in their presence; (2) I was not supposed to be able to drive into the center of Pala because of the manned barricades; (3) if I hit one of the NPC’s with the car, everyone will start shooting at me; (4) the IED may be activated remotely and does not require line of sight; and (5) the IED had a large enough blast radius that the target didn’t have to be standing next to the carbomb to be killed. I exploited all these rules by (a) placing the IED’s on the car outside the view of the NPC’s; (b) discovering a small alleyway in which I could just barely squeeze the Datsun, and only the Datsun, through; (c) avoiding the NPC‘s with the car while in the center of Pala; and (d) setting off the carbomb far from the target yet within the range of the remote detonator so that I may escape unscathed.

This type of tactic makes no narrative sense because the target would have run from a car with three IED’s sticking on it. At the very least, the NPC’s should have started shooting at me when they saw the IED’s even if they hadn’t seen me plant them. Nonetheless, it was pretty fucking cool to be able to bend the game’s rules and execute a tactic which may not have been intended by the designers, and which was not part of the narrative. In this sense, the game created an emotional response that is not based on any cliché storytelling device, but rather, on rewarding the player for his ingenuity and creativity. I can give you other examples of crazy kills I had using the mortar, flare gun, and the RPG. Suffice to say that the variety of the weapon systems, and the particular rules for the use of each weapon, created a fantastic ludic experience for me. This is actually one of the non-narrative aspects upon which FC3 could be expanded. (I have a wish list for FC3 if you ever want to hear it).

I felt the same way playing Bioshock. I thought the game was a boring conventional rail shooter until I discovered the different ways in which explosives and plasmids may be combined. At that point, it became a “what kind of other crazy shit can I pull off” kind of game, and I started to enjoy it a lot more. FC2 took it to another dimension with all the different toys it offered, and the freedom of movement the world allowed. This is one of the reasons (along with the idea of agency) video games such as FC2 can deliver a superior entertainment experience than other types of games. Do you think that I give a shit about the story after playing through it three times? No, I’m playing FC2 yet again because I want experiment with new ways of achieving the mission objectives. For instance, I have a “one shot” rule now for assassination missions. Sneak in the base, and kill my target with only one shot fired by me and none by the NPC’s. It’s not easy because I’m playing on infamous level. Because the game’s rules make it so damned hard, the emotional payoff for achieving it is huge.

My only reservation with relying on a purely ludic approach is that it takes a great deal of time and effort to learn the game’s rule sets. Some players just want to blow shit up (or race through the narrative), rather than doing it with the most style, creativity, and panache. There’s a reason why chess, even though it is an incredibly deep game, is not embraced by the masses.

If you want me to grieve - I mean *really* grieve - you have to make me love first. Grief is the loss of something that is loved, not of something that is valued, or of something that looks/behaves like a human.

Grief does not require irreversibility (the soldier's wife mistakenly told her husband has been killed), but does require *perceived* irreversibility in the moment. Grief is loss.

Ben is using a conscious constraint to bypass the meta-awareness that gamers have that loss is not real. He is constantly and consciously reminding himself that loss _is_ real in this case.

I don't believe that chess grandmasters grieve over their captured queens. They may feel regret at losing a critical piece, awe at participating in a game of surpassing quality and elegance, admiration for the skill of the opponent. But grief? I don't think so, because I don't believe a grandmaster loves his queen. Perhaps I'm wrong about that.

Shifting gears a little bit, Ben's experiment reminds me of one of the most memorable gaming experiences in my life. In the early 90's a buddy and I were obsessed with an Amiga game called "Cannon Fodder":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon_Fodder

One day we decided to try and finish the game without letting any of our "cannon fodder" die. We were determined to have Jools and Jops make it all the way through to the end of the game. Unlike Ben, we permitted ourselves to reload and retry. Even so, we became incredibly attached to Jools and Jops, and while I wouldn't say we felt real grief when they died, it was certainly a much more emotional experience than playing without the "Jools and Jops must live" constraint.

Hmm, that makes me think:

As "love" is to "grief", "like" is to... ?

Because I *liked* Jools and Jops, but I didn't love them!

Two more thoughts on this topic:

1) I definitely think we can make a player fall in love in an interactive context. In fact I think ultimately it'll turn out to be both easier and deeper in an interactive medium vs. a linear medium. Because the player can only have half a relationship with a character in a film or novel - your love is inevitably unrequited. But a character in a game can react and change in response to you...

2) Perhaps real irreversible loss can be engineered into a game by having entities that grow - like a seedling at the start of the game that grows into a unique tree over many hours. If the player understood that this entity was literally unique in the universe, and there was no way (even reloading from a save game) to recreate it exactly the same, perhaps that loss would be felt more keenly? I guess this is akin to the creature in Black and White... but I didn't really like that game and don't remember how it worked =]

The notion of playing through Far Cry 2 such that if you die the game ends is intriguing, but I would find it brutal to play 10 hours into the game and die, knowing that I'd have to replay a ton of content over again if I hoped to see more of the full game. I have to believe this also impedes player experimentation, because trying an off-the-wall tactic could backfire and get you killed.

As an alternative, it might be really interesting if when you died, you continued on in the role of one of the other mercenaries. Not unlocking other mercenaries would still present an end-of-game-death scenario, but would be more manageable for the player. I don't know how well this character switching would work dramatically - Call of Duty 4 does it but not in any way that would change the nature of the characters you inhabit. What I mean by that is the mercenaries have different personalities but once you take over one your personality becomes his. Still, I think it would be an interesting experiment.

This also brings up the division between playing as the game character vs. playing as yourself. When I play as myself I often come into conflict with what the game expects of me. I don't slide well into Kratos' shoes (er, sandals) when environmental puzzles force me to sacrifice human NPCs to progress on my adventure. Nor do I fit in well as a Mercenary in Far Cry 2 when all of the missions available to me involve me killing people based on the word of the NPC offering me a reward. I'm not sure where I fall on this issue - I like the idea of role-playing as someone unlike myself, but I don't enjoy feeling boxed in when I want to apply my own values and see what happens.

It was interesting to learn what arises when a buddy goes down for the third time. I haven't played deep enough into the game for this to happen yet so for me this poses an interesting dilemma concerning the "virtual morality" of the game experience. The only way to save the buddy is to abandon him so, in an odd way, this is the most compassionate thing to do. Of course, if he attacks you later do you rescind your compassion by killing him to defend yourself? I also have to believe that some players may leave the buddy thinking they can get more syrettes and save him, only to return to find their buddy gone, and now an unintended enemy (although there is some solid dramatic potential in that outcome).

Overall I embrace the notion of living with the consequences of my actions/failures, but we have a lot to learn about how to provide this with satisfying results.

I think a large part of the appeal of these playthroughs for those not participating is that those involved, Ben in particular, are presenting their experiences as a narrative.

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