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<  Computer game genres & conventions  ~  Break-the-rules Brainstorm!

axcho
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 4:16 am Reply with quote
Joined: 11 Jun 2007 Posts: 66
There has been an interesting discussion in the comments of the interview with Maaike Lauwaert. Michael suggested that we try purposefully omitting aspects of games that seem essential, in order to learn more about what games are:
Quote:
As for concrete ideas, I think we should start by accepting that this is an entirely new medium. What is needed is not more answers but more questions: we need to research this technology, discover what it is capable of, see how far we can go with it. Step one would be to not do certain things, things that we’re used to.

Not implementing features that we expect in games has really helped us in our own design practice. I’m not sure why. Simply removing certain “normal” game elements opens up a world of possibilities, where the imagination can flourish. When you remove the puzzles from the game, you can suddenly start enjoying the soundscape. For instance. It’s funny how that works.

So if we want to find an alternative to the carrot/stick design approach, we should start by removing any carrot/stick-like structures. Then we will get a field of opportunities to exploit. Which is always better than a problem to solve.

I thought it would be fun to try brainstorming different game elements that one might remove or reverse. The point isn't necessarily to come up with games that are good - it certainly isn't easy to do the opposite of established game standards and come out with something that people will like, but what we're more interested in is finding out what works and what doesn't, or what's possible. And a good way to do that is to start by questioning our initial assumptions. (I'm paraphrasing what I understand Michael's argument to be)

So let's try to come up with lots of ideas of what rules to break! If you have an idea, post it here, even if you don't think it's that great. This is brainstorming, so the more the better. Smile
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Lemming
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 5:26 am Reply with quote
Joined: 03 Jun 2007 Posts: 25 Location: Somewhere near Sydney
Start with an interview of a successful conventional game creator. Ask what elements are essential, and what principles they adhere to... then do none of those things. Very Happy
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axcho
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 5:54 am Reply with quote
Joined: 11 Jun 2007 Posts: 66
I'll start with a few ideas.

As Michael suggested, how about a game that is only intended to be played only once for a short period of time (half hour to an hour?) and provide a satisfying experience. Basically, a game without any replayability, one that doesn't need replayability.

Some questions to consider about that idea:
Do puzzles fit this category? Is it more than just having puzzles with one solution, where once you know the answer, it isn't fun to play again? What about combining this lack of replay with the requirement that there be no puzzles? How about allowing or disallowing the player to restart (save/load) parts of the game? Is it possible to make a game where it is fun for the player to save and load multiple times, but is not fun or necessary to play the whole game through? Is this just a matter of building a game around throwaway content?

***

Another idea: a game without explicit reward structures, like unlocking new upgrades, or getting to another stage or level, or anything. The only rewards are those you create for yourself.

Questions:
Does this define the difference between toys and games? Games are goal-directed - can you have goals without reward structures? What about goals/rewards created socially (Line Rider) rather than individually motivated?

***

And how about a game without a decent tutorial? (hehe) I know that based on his discussions of Tomb Raider, Michael appreciates games which care for the quality of the player's path through the game. But what if we purposely omit this?

Will this accomplish anything other than confusing and driving away 99% of your potential players? How will it affect the 1% left over? Is it possible to design for the path that the player takes through learning the game and experiencing its content, without an explicit tutorial or level system? How does this relate to "authoring" a game?

***

About those last two, no reward structures and no tutorial, I'd like to talk about a game that I made. Actually it's the only Flash game I've released, and though I wouldn't call it finished, exactly, it's the only one I've finished. It has almost nothing in the way of external reward structures, and a horribly inadequate tutorial. So it provides an interesting case study.

As you may guess, it wasn't received well when I submitted an early version to Newgrounds. I concluded that there were three main reasons: First, the presentation was poor - the game didn't look impressive, or polished. This has been "fixed" somewhat with a newer release. Second, people couldn't figure out how to play the game - what they were supposed to do, what was going on, all that. This ties into the lack of a tutorial. And third, there was little external incentive to continue playing, as there was a scoring system, but it just counts up your wins and losses unobtrusively.

None of these are necessarily the result of admirable attitudes - emphasis on appearance and flashiness, an aversion to self-directed learning, the praise of "addictive" games. But they are the reality of web games at the moment. Sometimes it is tempting to try "engineering a hit" by pandering to these tastes, though I haven't tried it yet. (someone else has though)

I should probably let you try the game now. Razz Here it is:
Braids

The flashier version is here:
Braids NEON
Braids NEON (and here too)

Recent threads on it are on Stick Page Portal, and on Fun-Motion.

So yeah, what do you think? (oh, and as a response to something Michael said, if you remove the sounds in Braids, you really notice the visual design a lot more) It's an interesting set of issues, certainly.
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Lemming
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 7:22 am Reply with quote
Joined: 03 Jun 2007 Posts: 25 Location: Somewhere near Sydney
For a tutorial free game that confuses, infuriates, and alienates a majority of players, look no further than Myst.

I'm staggering into it with the PSP port. Something to fall asleep playing. Wink
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:43 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
axcho wrote:
Is it more than just having puzzles with one solution, where once you know the answer, it isn't fun to play again?

There's no need to define the experience in negative terms. You could also say that the single experience was "sufficiently satisfactory". If it was, then surely we will want to do it again some day. But not instantly, not continuously, like traditional videogames tend to demand.
(I tend to think of things like this as short holidays exotic places.)

Another reason not to consider the lack of replay as negative is that replayability is not simple a feature of many contemporary computer games, it is a requirement! Without replayability, those games would not be fun. So in more positive terms, we could think about how to make a game enjoyable without the necessity to replay (parts of) it.
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:53 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
axcho wrote:
How about allowing or disallowing the player to restart (save/load) parts of the game?

I think players have become their own victims here. The continuous demand of flexible save-game systems has impacted game design and enjoyment severely. Older games, like the original Tomb Raider, have very inflexible save systems but that actually often makes the game more enjoyable. We may be frustrated by not being able to save after making a certain amount of progress. But it makes the experience more intense, I think -if well designed.

On the other hand, now that every game has quick-save, game designers are getting lazy. Saving games has become part of the design, completely ignoring the idea that you should try and maintain the suspension of disbelief. I don't think it is good design when a game expects you to do a certain jump over and over again (and die in between attempts) to get it right. You should be able to play a game all the way through without saving. But when is the last time you did that?

Interestingly, Jonathan Blow was apparently inspired by this excessive ability to save the game state, when he designed a game -Braid- in which you can go back in time whenever you want. This mechanic is even required for solving certain puzzles.
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:57 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
axcho wrote:
Does this define the difference between toys and games?

The lack of goal does not immediately turn a game into a toy. It's not as if an interactive application should be either a game or a toy. There's many more possibilities!

(a game without a goal could also be a poem, a painting, a software application, a data visualizer, a screensaver, a sculpture, a stage set, a landscape, a ride, a communication tool, an exploration tool, a musical instrument, a drawing application, a holiday trip, etcetera etcetera)
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 9:00 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
axcho wrote:
And how about a game without a decent tutorial?

What do you mean by tutorial? Do you mean an interactive way of explaining the controls? If so, there's many games that are like this. And I do think that that's the ideal, actually: to make learning the controls so easy and smooth that a tutorial is not necessary.
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 9:07 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Lemming wrote:
Something to fall asleep playing. Wink

I fell asleep on some of my favourite games. It's not a norm to judge a game's quality for me.
(and how about designing games with the purpose of having the player fall asleep? Smile )

I'm not going to defend Myst because I didn't play it because it doesn't appeal to me. But I think we may need to consider the notion that a game can be rewarding long after you've played it. That it perhaps doesn't necessarily need to "pay off" instantly, but that it might perhaps stay on your mind, leave you wondering and fantasizing, or just, perhaps, one day, come back, suddenly when something in real life reminds you of it.
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Lemming
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 11:34 am Reply with quote
Joined: 03 Jun 2007 Posts: 25 Location: Somewhere near Sydney
I haven't given up on Myst. Falling asleep wasn't me passing judgement. It's just a habit of mine to grab a handheld and rest it against another pillow so I can play it till I drop off.

I'm sure you won't be offended that I've dozed off in the Endless Forest... shortly after which, my deer did the same.
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Stehuaa
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:23 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 06 Mar 2007 Posts: 431 Location: Sticking my nose in after a long time away...and feeling old
One gaming convention that I enjoy seeing abolished is the infamous Leveling Up. The whole 'experience points' bit is tedious and annoying. The entire game comes to revolve around it. You gain only objective strength, based on numbers.

Plus, it's much more satisfying to beat a game when you end it just as "strong" as you were in the beginning, despite the fact that the challenges you faced became more difficult. Call this subjective strength, based on experience and skill.

There are many games out there that avoid levels completely, but still have a kind of analog in item-finding. You become more objectively powerful with every item you find. There is opportunity for subjective strength here, though, in that the item may simply be used in a new manner but does not grant superhuman powers or some other silliness. (I'm not demeaning superhuman powers. There's a time and place for those, and they can be quite fun! Wink )

Basically, having the player grow and learn is more fun than adding up numbers.

(Wow. It took me three paragraphs to come to that simple conclusion. I feel smert! Very Happy )
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axcho
Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:53 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 11 Jun 2007 Posts: 66
Thanks Michael for those interesting responses.

I think you're right that it's better to think about "play once" games in positive terms rather than as "no replayability" games. It opens up more possibilities, whereas thinking in terms of "no replayability" was a sort of dead end for my thoughts.

I agree that the save/load system is definitely an example of a common game element that is incorporated without much debate. About Braid, for the JIG "replay"-themed game contest, I came up with a concept that is similar in its taking save/load to an extreme. (I'm not actually entering the contest though) Now that I mention it, maybe a parallel experiment could be taking these standard elements to an extreme rather than omitting them. Could be interesting.

Some people (like Chris Crawford) do divide interactive entertainment into toys versus games simply by whether or not they are goal-oriented, but I guess that is very limiting, and unnecessarily. Which of these types lack explicit reward structures, other than toys?

The difficulty in trying to define "tutorial" is that it is more of a continuum between giving the player a lot of guidance and leaving them to figure out the rules and develop skills on their own. But maybe that's not the element we're interested in. You might instead think about a game that lacks an explicit, linear tutorial like a set of levels and instructions, guiding the player's path more subtly and indirectly, but still ensuring that the player flows along without getting too confused or frustrated. (again, the game flOw is a good example of this)

Stehuaa, that's another good idea of something to omit. Increasing player power as the game progresses is somewhat related to reward structures (earning higher effectiveness is a reward) but it is a separate issue that can be experimented with. As with most of these, there are some good reasons why game developers use them, but we want to see if games can't be better without them! (or at least what sort of thing you get when you take them out)

I do like the sort of games where you, the player, get more powerful in the game by learning in real life rather than having your character have some stats bumped up while you keep mindlessly clicking away. I wonder though if maybe we can abstract it and apply it further. Oftentimes, like in Cave Story, getting new items (beyond bumping up stats) is sort of an aspect of exploration, like instead of seeing what's beyond the next hill, seeing what the next weapon can do. And new items can require learning new skills and strategies, just like exploring new places might. So this seems linked to a broader issue of content progression. Is this more than what you were thinking of with stats? Still, it's another direction to look in. Is it possible to avoid content progression completely?
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Michael
Posted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:31 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
axcho wrote:
Some people (like Chris Crawford) do divide interactive entertainment into toys versus games simply by whether or not they are goal-oriented

Perhaps he does. But I'm sure he doesn't put his own recent work on Storytron in either category while he would still call it interactive entertainment. He would even call it more interactive than games. Wink

axcho wrote:
Which of these types lack explicit reward structures, other than toys?

Only games have explicit reward structures... It's part of their (strict) definition...
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Michael
Posted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:35 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Stehuaa wrote:
Plus, it's much more satisfying to beat a game when you end it just as "strong" as you were in the beginning, despite the fact that the challenges you faced became more difficult. Call this subjective strength, based on experience and skill.

I agree. Thank you for pointing out the difference between objective and subjective strength. It's a very good point.

I also think we can do away with games getting progressively more difficult. Perhaps in favour of just offering new things, that are not necessarily more difficult to do. The challenge could be more about understanding the content than beating some boss monster. If you think you need a challenge.
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Stehuaa
Posted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 5:55 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 06 Mar 2007 Posts: 431 Location: Sticking my nose in after a long time away...and feeling old
Michael wrote:
I also think we can do away with games getting progressively more difficult. Perhaps in favour of just offering new things, that are not necessarily more difficult to do. The challenge could be more about understanding the content than beating some boss monster. If you think you need a challenge.


Agreement.

Laughing I'm still kind of a slave to conformity when it comes to gaming. I've played so long, its had to forget the current conventions (challenges, etc). Brainwashed, I am!
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