Hakon speaks

Many of the issues you raise, I agree would be questionable in a more “pure” implementation of a game like this. I suggest things like a fairly typical trade/crafting system, player classes, and artificial hierarchies with an eye to an early game of this sort, something that we could actually see in the next few years. Something that could even be in development now.

That’s why I talk about things like a war/no war switch. If the game is only as big as a city, the player may not want to deal with a foreign invasion unless he is a soldier and it’s part of his desired gameplay experience. The world’s probably not yet big enough for people to insulate themselves from a meaningful war going on in some part of it by living behind the front lines.

Now that I think about it, maybe soldiers are a bad player class for an early game like this. War is a pretty catastrophic event for societies, and it would screw everything up. Maybe there should just be NPC guards who deter bandits and so forth. Who says the game needs to offer combat as core gameplay? Avoiding that would allow the developers to focus on making farming and smithing and so forth fun (and you’re right, the stuff the player does in these roles needs to be engaging on its own – interesting choices, as Sid Meier says) without having to worry about the calamitous effects of a war screwing up everything. The vast majority of games focus on combat in some form or another, but that’s not all there is to either life or consumer interest in games. People play Harvest Moon, don’t they?

Not a bad idea. Perhaps symbolized by having you be a signatory to their will, or an exchange of some kind of keepsakes…

Well, profession is only one of the aspects of a player character. “You are not your job.” I do think that people will have a natural desire to succeed at their professions, though, and that people who are good at their professions should be rewarded in the same way that the real world (in theory) offers more opportunities to people who are meritorious and successful.

It’s a trade-off, especially since you won’t be the same character forever. Say you’re a guardsman, and you really bust your ass on your job, and you do a great deal of work personally, and you’re always working hard to make new contacts with people who can help you carry out your duties. But while you’re doing this, you have few personal friends, and you aren’t very close to your wife or your son, and by the time you die, you may be a terrifying legend that the town’s underclasses will frighten their children with for a hundred years to come, but your wife was having an affair with a man who would pay attention to her, and your son has left home and become a blacksmith’s apprentice, and may not allow you possession.

You have to wonder at a time like that, “Did I do the right thing by spending my life in pursuit of career goals? Weren’t there other important things I should have done?” And the career is not the only place where there should be interesting gameplay and potential advancement. Shouldn’t there be “advancement” in personal relationships, so that if you devote yourself to spending time with your family, your wife and son will love you?

This is not to say that the player will exist only to get his numbers higher. “Advancement” exists here not as a goal but as a natural aspect of representing the events of life. If it is the player’s goal, that’s the player’s choice – and he’ll also have to choose what kind of advancement he is looking for and how to get it. Plenty of people in real life are also preoccupied with their idea of what it means to be successful.

I did think that one aspect of character definition from traditional RPGs would be well suited to an early example of a game like this: stats. Not numbers a player can see – the numbers should be under the hood – but a reflection of how the character’s life has thus far indicated what he is good at. My “Isaac” example had the protagonist losing some of his physical capabilities whenever he was prosperous. He ate well, didn’t exercise much, and consequently got out of shape – which a player could see in his expanding waistline. However, he still rode horses frequently, so he was still a good rider. Visually, he’d probably be bow-legged and pudgy by the end of the game, but ride a horse very deftly.

Glazius… good god, man. We’re STILL not talking about a system where an NPC can get a lucky run through the off-camera simulation engine and suddenly kill the player/end the game. I’ve been playing Space Rangers for a while now, and I still haven’t seen a message box that says KELLER HAS WON. YOU ARE DEAD. GAME OVER. That is absolutely not what a system like this would do.

As for the idea that things only matter to the extent that you are concurrently aware of them, that’s a fallacy in real life and it’s a fallacy in any game of sufficient depth. When I’m playing Barbarian Invasion as the Persians, I have a very different gameplay experience depending on whether the steppe nomads are devouring the Byzantines’ Aegean possessions or not. I don’t need to see Constantinople fallen and occupied by Goths (“We are nihilists! We believe in nothing!” Sorry, couldn’t resist) to have it affect me.

Even more broadly, things may be happening that don’t have any direct impact on me yet – maybe the Romans are kicking the Saxons out of Europe, or maybe the Saxons are instead taking Rome’s Gallic territories. This may matter to me later if I go over there. It may matter to me later if I come into conflict with one of those powers. But it’ll matter to me anyway, because what’s going on there is connected to all the other things happening in the world. The events in Saxony are influenced by factors in the game, the same as mine. If the Goths decide to march along the same route the Vandals like to take, right through the Germanic tribes, then perhaps this will shatter Germanic resistance to the Roman advance. But meanwhile the absence of the Goths in their usual haunts may strengthen the Byzantines. Perhaps without Gothic assistance, the Sarmatians will seek their fortune elsewhere as well – conquering the other steppe nations, or maybe even going around the north of the Black Sea and then coming straight down into my Persian heartland.

The point is that the computer players operate by the same rules as the human player does, and the same sorts of decisions can be made and the same sorts of things can befall them. It is when this mechanic is ABSENT that you’re just fighting something no better than a random number generator (or a pre-determined spreadsheet).

One last thing, Brian – in the earliest game(s) of this type, I do think there should be at least some “glass ceiling” that prevents the player from being too powerful. I know it’s a bummer, but progression all the way to the top of the food chain is a huge design goal. If that shows up in a game like this, it’s probably something for a sequel or a gifted imitator or an expansion pack, once the core concepts have been proven and a dev house can have the time and money to focus on it and do it right.

So, the player can’t win the game, either, then?

Sounds like a boatload of fun.


We’re never going to see the kind of A.I. being bandied about here.

Actually, yes, we already have. It’s called a “good dungeon master/referee/gamemaster/etc.” Grab some books, some paper, and roll some dice. Problem solved.

The only way the mega-twisty, you-are-the-flapping-butterfly-that-generates-the-wind-that-changes-the-world, is if there is a person behind it all the time. Kinda like the book actors in Stephenson’s “Diamond Age”.

I want to begin this post by clarifying that this type of game has a Strategy base… that many of the conventions found in the Strategy genre are implemented here… the “even starting point” for NPCs and PCs… the competitive AI.

What makes it different even with respect to that is that strategy games, by and large, are very cold, very impersonal, and very single-goal driven. You move armies around, you oversee battles, you either take over the world or are totally defeated.

This is kind of like a Strategy game in that a player can create a goal for himself and work toward it (buy out X number of farms, gain the position of town leader, etc.), but its very much unlike a Strategy game in that there is no single goal that the game design enforces, and the game never ends until the player wants it to (or until the player runs out of possessable humans at which time he can enter “oversee” mode where he can observe the AI system play out… sort of like the final death called Heaven…).

I’m not seeing what you’re seeing there. I don’t see why what you propose would be enabled sooner.

The only really tough part about creating this type of game is getting the AI right with respect to creating exciting sustained gameplay. AI has been a major challenge for developers for a long time, but some recent games (like the Sims 2) have begun to crack the door open and give us a glimpse of what is possible for the future. Also, while I’m kind enough to say “major challenge”, in truth most developers haven’t given a crap about AI and have not exactly put much effort into it. Who knows what games we’d be playing today if a lot more focus had been placed on AI five or ten years ago…

Wait a second now.

The conception of this system is that it is closed. So a 3 city, 3 village, countryside game, for example… is the ENTIRE world. If the cities are warring against each other (like city-states) then that could be a “foreign invasion”, but that’s what it would take.

If you have two sections of the game, one with normal AI, where the player can travel, etc. and one outside the normal AI, where the player can’t travel, you’re creating arbitrary enemies, superimposed enemies, and are creating the traditional type of game that this game is not.

I’m not sure where you’re going with this… why would war even occur with three friendly cities?

If the world is a bit bigger in scope and they are “warring city-states” then I could see the farmers getting in the way perhaps, but I don’t think farmers would just stand there and get obliterated by an advancing army… they would pack up and move within the protection of the city walls…

And yes, if some player adores the farmer gameplay and wants to do nothing but farm, it will be annoying for him to have to pack up and start a kind of refugee city-life gameplay, but that kind of dynamism is what the game’s all about, rather than ensuring that the player gets to do nothing but the same gameplay over and over.

Lets talk about that a bit, since you are frequently using this theme of “war as calamitous effect”.

Lets take the “worst case example”, where two warring city-states really hate each other. An army from one besieges the other city, stopping all trade between the farmer and the city. Now the farmer might as well not farm, because the army will just take the crops and probably not pay, and that will just help them keep up the siege longer. So the farmer gameplay breaks down. The player wonders what to do.

This is where the AI system is tested, because a player’s gameplay range is based on AI (since he’s interacting with the environmental AI of the world).

So in a weak AI system, as honestly we’ll probably be seeing in the near future, the farmer doesn’t have a lot of options. Certainly one option is to bypass the siege and break into the city, where he may be able to become a city merchant and start that gameplay line (albeit in a weak eroding economy such as is found in a besieged city). He may be killed trying to gain access to the town, and his only possessables may also be outside the besieged city… (D’oh!). He could try to find some bandits and get training to become a bandit, and live off raids, etc. That might be his best bet.

But yeah, I agree that war, especially war on a scale that dominates a player’s experience such as the one I outlined above, can and often will force major gameplay changes on the player.

Frankly, I see this as a good thing. I don’t necessarily see major war as a good thing, but given the emergence of major war from a game design I see REALISTIC EFFECT as a very good thing.

Take a look at current strategy games, where war is nothing because you, the player, are entirely removed from the experience except in a birds-eye all-controlling sense. Its purely abstract, purely strategic.

THIS game… an army is said to be on the move… the farmer looks at himself and his only child, his only possessable (or maybe his wife is also one)… he has to make a decision… stay or become a refugee to the city? Perhaps flee to the third city?

Its not just RPGs where the player is a false, artificial, superimposed god… STRATEGY games also present the player as a false, artificial, superimposed god… the controller of the chess pieces.

So maybe the farmer can’t always farm, maybe the player who loves farming won’t like to become a refugee. But having events out of your control occur is part of life, isn’t it?

I didn’t even know exactly what I meant several years ago when I said it was time to bring Humanity into the game. Maybe I’m starting to understand that now.

To answer your concern of whether the player should be able to change the state of the world between “friendly cities” and “warring city-states”, I would say, only as an INITIAL condition.

It sounds like a good idea for the player to be able to adjust some of the starting conditions of the game, but “warring city-states” can become friendly and “friendly cities” can become warring city-states based on AI actions and the player’s actions.

Between my “No More Killing - A New Philosophy in Gaming” and “Saving the World One Corpse at a Time”, its safe to say I’m well aware of the value of games which do not involve death.

The issue, however, is a lot more complex than we’ve discussed here. Case in Point: A Tale in the Desert. I loved the innovations. Unfortunately I didn’t love the game. There were a few reasons for that… one of the big ones was a lack of passion I had for my character or for any character in the game.

Then what I have to do is break down why I didn’t have passion for my character. One is that the gameplay had some innovations in its details but ultimately it was still a kind of level grind in the majority of its gameplay, the same boring stuff I was hoping to avoid.

Also, it was a rather boring level grind, far worse than the variety of offerings presented by WoW, for example.

But even on top of that, there was no impetus for me to do anything besides quicker level grinding. In WoW you base your gameplay in fights around the fact that you CAN die… if mobs couldn’t kill you the impetus to become that little bit better is mostly gone… even WoW limits the death penalty which hurts the impetus, but adds high-end loot and tough challenges at the end-game to sustain your desire to gain greater skill.

With A Tale in the Desert, it was like… why bother? What challenges were worth my time? You become a greater crafter… for what?

Basically, I couldn’t figure out, I couldn’t generate, I couldn’t discover, I couldn’t explore the world. I could only determine that the world wasn’t worth exploring. Its THAT determination that leads all of us to stop playing a game… that’s our on/off switch.

AI is the key (outside of the VSOG realm, which is a different beast to an extent) in generating worlds that ARE worth exploring. Depth is what will keep gamers coming back for more… the ability to do things in the game, the ability for the world to be intelligent and alive and responsive.

Death is an easy way to generate passion. Tragedy is a cheap thrill, but its still a thrill. Lets face facts here… computer game developers are not necessarily the most capable people. Its certainly possible to create great games that instill passion without death, but that’s like tying one hand behind your back in a boxing match. Why gimp yourself?

Humans still need war and murder and the like in traditional reality… why would they not need that in gaming?

“Imagine all the people…”

Well, duh… if you’re imagining it you’re not LIVING it. Lets not be under any misunderstandings here…

I doubt it. For this to be a realistic action taken by an AI agent, they would have to be programmed with the awareness of what’s going on. Possession would have to be something both sides understand… the PC and the NPC. By “understanding” I don’t mean real understanding in the case of the AI… just for the AI to be programmed AS IF it understands.

Thus, the NPC understands he’s not Equal To the PC… the PC is alive and he is a construct of a creature similar to what is behind the PC.

This doesn’t mean the NPC is servile to the PC, and just allows possession because its a “superior being!”, but it means that the AI knows that this is a one-way street… the PC can possess the NPC but the NPC cannot possess the PC (yet).

But… it already will without the need for a rank system.

Success in the economy leads to more money which allows more farms, or more houses in town, or whatever.

Success in politics leads to becoming town leader, or whatever…

Success in romance leads to marriage, children, affairs, etc.

THOSE are the rewards… rather than a title next to your farmer’s name that says Good. “I am now a Good Farmer… I know this because the game tells me!”

In terms of development of gameplay… such that success in one gameplay types unlocks new gameplay, again the natural development of a player (if he is successful), will allow that.

Buying multiple farms for example, and the farmer has to hire more farmhands, manage them, etc. He becomes more of a Landowner and less of a Farmer, but there is no screen that pops up and says “CONGRATULATIONS: You are now a Landowner!”… the player can tell he’s a landowner for himself, thank you very much.

Or maybe he hires someone to be a merchant (perhaps after angering the merchants and causing them to go on strike against him, not buying his goods), and has a management interface screen for interacting with the merchant.

I don’t think there’s a big concern with someone in the base Farmer class of gameplay having the same gameplay over and over, at least if his actions lead to new gameplay (maybe all he wants to do is have his one farm, and builds a fortune but never spends or invests it (except in farm defense perhaps) because he wants to retain the same gameplay).

Sure. One of the other guardsmen may allow possession, which would work for someone who loved the guardsmen identity and gameplay, but absolutely this game is very open-ended in terms of how each player wants to treat his character’s life. Its basically a world that says “Player, Here you go… you can do anything at all within the gameplay and AI confines of the game and your own identity, that we would like to be no confinement at all but technological, developmental, and design limitations…”

This type of game design is very very open-ended… as AI improves world size grows and gameplay expands. Its a type of game with a very bright future.

Yep. Bear in mind though that with developmental limitations in gameplay, sacrifices will have to be made somewhere. It would be nice to have a relationship system at least as good as the Sims 2 with a realistic economic model and other things, but we’re not trying to mimic the development time of Duke Nukem Forever either.

With respect to the family, the game has to be at least as good as a basic relationship status (and AI good enough to create a realistic relationship status) with your wife and children… anything more than that is very nice if the development allows for it. That can be what expansions are for…

Its exciting to think that one day humans will be able to play games and learn from them, apply that learning to improve their traditional lives. That already happens, but rarely and almost by accident with today’s game designs.

I don’t really think so. I look at it more like a Strategy game, where gameplay changes emerge from the flow of the game… so if you take over an enemy nation you have more land to build, more land to defend, etc. There aren’t any stats in this type of game because the whole game is INSIDE the gameplay… the whole game is the status of the world that you are responding to in your own gameplay.

When you’re playing a Strategy game you don’t think in terms of statistical numerical accomplishments, you think in terms of what action(s) I can take to achieve X goal. When you play Chess your goal is to win the game, not take 4 pawns and sit back to congratulate yourself.

So in this game you might think… my wife seems unhappy, maybe I should talk to her about her concerns.

Of course, numbers will always be under the hood, whether its an RPG or a Strategy game, but with a levelling RPG like WoW the numbers ARE the point while in a Strategy game the numbers merely SERVE the point of achieving your objective. So if your objective is “become town leader” you’ll be interested in getting there, rather then crunching some abstract numbers.

I think that’s a good point. Its what Strategy games have had for so long and RPGs have been lacking… a truly honest world.

The developers have to understand how easy or difficult their game is, and make changes accordingly. I don’t see any need for a “glass ceiling”… a better solution may be to make sure the NPCs know that a PC is in their midst, and have them “keep an eye on” the PC. If the PC behaves badly, he can always get the smackdown.

A key here is that since the NPCs are realistic, they want the best world for themselves. If the PC exploits or abuses them on “his way to the top of the food chain”, they are going to be none too happy about it… just as they wouldn’t if an NPC abuses them.

But just as in strategy games, developers through testing will have to scale the degree of difficulty of the game to make it challenging but still have it be quite possible to succeed within a variety of player goals.

I think one of the ongoing tensions in this type of game though is that maintaining the integrity of the AI is fundamentally at odds with making sure the player can possibly succeed in his goals. Its an artificial design element to say “Ok, there is X, Y, and Z player goal… now lets design our game to allow them.” This goes against the “PC is just another NPC” philosophy, and just caters to the gamer. Certainly an interesting problem to examine…

The “hardcore” version of this type of game doesn’t cater to the gamer at all, and treats the PC completely like an NPC, except with respect to giving him an interface and gameplay.

What exactly would “winning” be in a game like this? Can you “win” The Sims?

Yeah, a p&p game has a lot of advantages or at least potential advantages in terms of npc interaction and a dynamic world that changes with the course of events. But there are some advantages to a computer game as well. A DM and a gaming group aren’t always available on demand. A DM/gaming group won’t have infinite patience and may not want to do the same things you do. A p&p game is generally not the multimedia experience that a computer game is. And perhaps above all, there’s the meta issue – there are players standing above all the characters and a DM standing above all the NPCs. When there’s a food shortage in a p&p game, it’s been evaluated by the DM and included in the game subsequent to that evaluation – maybe it’s a plot point, maybe it’s thematic, whatever. In a computer game, god’s not watching – if there’s a food shortage, it’s probably because of a straight-out shortage of food. Maybe a farmer dropped a torch in a wheatfield and started a crop fire that burned half the acreage around the city. But any cause that in-game events have is derived from other in-game events and conditions.

Yes, and strategy has also been the principal genre to cover nonmilitary professions and mercantile activity. It’s kind of funny how few RPGs are about people who DON’T use their swords every day.

An observe mode sounds neat.

I think developers, and of course also publishers, are hesitant to put much emphasis on this stuff. There aren’t just technical problems to overcome – there’s also the perception that a game like this isn’t worth it. (For whatever reason – maybe the developer doesn’t think they can ante up with good gameplay in such an environment or hesitates to commit to having to debug something so expansive and complex; maybe the publisher thinks that such a game won’t sell very well or be difficult to market – “is it an RTS or an FPS?”) I think the evolution of games in this direction is going to have to be gradual, slowly pushing these perceptions back. Though there might be a giant leap forward from some Eastern European studio nobody’s ever heard of.

Yeah, that’s one of the compromise I think an early game in this vein may have to make – if combat gameplay is desired, can a one-city world sustain it? It would probably be better not to have large-scale combat in such a small setting, but if it does happen, are even three cities a big enough playground that balkanizing it and ravaging it with war won’t seriously diminish the game?

The enemies would, in fact, be arbitrary and superimposed if they cane from “outside the world.” But in a city-sized world – or (perhaps more likely) a village-sized world – looking for enemies “inside the world” is going to depelete the world very quickly. Besides, how much peaceful, direct contact do societies normally have with the powers that might invade them? When Greece was invaded by Persia, how many Greeks had spent time in Persia? There’s no question it’s a kludge, but it might still be for the best in the right circumstances. It might also open up possibilities for an expansion.

You’re right. I take it back – if there’s war, players shouldn’t be allowed to disable it – at least not without modding or something. The consequences of war for non-soldiers have the opportunity to be realistic, immersive, and interesting for the player. The Spartans march an army through Attica besieging Athens and tearing up the crops. My prosperous gentleman farmer character must flee inside the walls. And once there, then what? I’m a man of peace, but without an end to the war, my family will be threatened with starvation and the plague, and my fields will lie fallow. My status as a wealthy landowner gives me some options: do I flee, and maybe try to start a new life in some other city? Do I try to betray my city to the Spartans? Do I get a suit of armor and join the army? Do I underwrite a new campaign? Do I offer the city’s authorities my services as a commander?

The trouble with roleplaying in those is that people in them generally don’t have much of a sense of character – only as much as they take in there with them, and even that will get relentlessly worn down by interaction with people who don’t share it. AI NPCs don’t have that problem, because they ARE characters. Things like subscribing to the game, reading the message boards, and having trouble connecting to the server won’t dominate their actions and reactions as individuals in their world.

I do hesitate to rule out war entirely as a possible facet of a game like this, but if the other professions really kick ass… I guess basically what I’m saying is that the precise lineup of professions and aspects of the world that the game deals with should be based on what can be implemented as good gameplay – questions that can only be answered when somebody tries to develop it. So maybe war, maybe no war, but it’s absolutely a possibility.

I’m not sure why the AI would have to regard the possession in the terms on which it actually takes place. If an NPC has what it considers to be a close personal relationship with your PC, and inasmuch as it’s possible “loves” him, doesn’t that fulfill a good potential requirement for possession? Possession could in theory be limited by anything, but the closeness factor seems like the way to go to me. And I don’t see why some kind of AI appreciation of the inherent difference between PCs and NPCs is necessary for that. Hell, perhaps NPCs can make similar arrangements amongst themselves.

That brings me to this: I don’t see why an NPC couldn’t possess a PC. I mean, why can’t the player exit his character and have an NPC move into it? The AI takes over the former PC and runs it according to its rudimentary personality (which I’m guessing wouldn’t be much more complex than a string of variables indicating how much the NPC enjoys the various possible activities of the world, a simple summary of its past experiences, a list of its present bonds and circumstances, and a very basic outline of a personality – patience: 6/10, violence: 4/10, empathy: 7/10, or something like that; these numbers could weight the equations that result in behavior…). That might be a cool way to go into observer mode. Wonder what would happen if a prince switched places with a pauper? Go out and find a one, 'cause it’s brain transfer time. Now that I think about it, that’s actually really exciting. As simple as such a primitive “personality” might be, it would still be cool as all hell to see th psyche of a short-tempered and sociopathic outlaw who relies on violence and the alleigance of his bandit brothers suddenly thrust into the role of a physically weak merchant whose assets are more monetary. And vice versa.

Ideally there would be some kind of in-game explanation for this functionality, as well as the original body transfer idea. (Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light deals with the future of a human colony on an unimaginably distant planet, where the first colonists use their technology to set themselves up as gods over their descendants. The most important thing in their arsenal is the secret of consciousness transfer. They pattern themselves after the Hindu pantheon and use machines to actualize reincarnation – not only do they make themselves immortal in a succession of bodies, but they offer reincarnation to their worshippers, who make pilgrimages to the temples when their bodies’ time grows short, where their brains are scanned for piety and they are accordingly transferred to an appropriate body – perhaps a leper, perhaps a beautiful woman, perhaps a dog… Zelazny is pretty much my favorite author, and this is one of his better books.)

I’m definitely not suggesting this. There shouldn’t be a screen where you’re told that you have a 768 in romance, plus a 25 point bonus for marriage and double score for perfect round, please enter your initials. I mentioned “ranks” in conjunction with the military career because all real militaries have had ranks. If we suppose that if you do well as a merchant, you can buy out your competitors and expand the scope of your business, then why not also suppose that if you do well as a soldier, you can likewise broaden your horizons in that profession? And if your scope expands as a soldier, are you going to be given more pay and more responsibilities without some kind of promotion? Maybe simple seniority and not too many infractions (You spent the night in the pub? What about your guard duty?) can make you a sergeant, responsible for training, looked up to by the recruits, relied on by the officers, and perhaps with a classy decoration for your uniform. Likewise, if you want to command, maybe taking charge when your commander dies in the heat of battle and getting good results can get you a lieutenancy, or perhaps conspicuous bravery. (NPCs are going to have to have some idea of how dangerous certain actions are, so that they can behave in a “rational” manner, and they can apply these same standards to the PC – “God damn,” thinks the captain, “he waded right into that enemy pillbox! There’s no way I would have had the balls to do that. He’s got just the kind of élan we want to see in this army!”) And as a lieutenant, you’ll probably have a slick new uniform, authority of command over several men, and a different kind of relationship with your colleagues. This isn’t for the high score board or the GTA-style stats screen – this is an attempt to add a realistic wrinkle to military service.

This brings up something I’ve been meaning to talk about: how does the player interact with NPCs? I’ve been thinking about this and I’m leaning towards an icon-based conversation system supplemented by the ability to make transfers of items. Perhaps the icons themselves could indicate the topic, and they could have colors that indicate their general drift – I’m sitting around the fire at bandit camp with my buddies and I say a red coin icon – coin meaning money, and red meaning anger/lack/frustration. “I’m fucking broke!” They all nod – we’re in the same boat here. The next day I go out and accost a merchant on the road, and I tell him green coin dagger – green for give me/I want, and dagger for threat/violence/force. “Give me your cash! Don’t make me cut you!” He transfers money to me, saying red dagger: “Don’t kill me/I’m frightened/I hate violence!” Blue coin, I tell him smugly – I am pleased/satisfied/content about money. “That’ll do, chump – thanks!” (If I don’t frighten him – perhaps because I don’t have a visible weapon, or perhaps because he has a guard – he might say blue dagger: You don’t frighten me/I feel safe/I am adequately protected.) It’s a bit of a limited system but it would be very easy for players to get the hang of, I think. I don’t know how hard it would be to program. I think it would be better for everybody than trying to rig up some kind of text parser, though.

That’s been at the forefront of my thoughts on this. I think a lot can be accomplished – and games now extant have already done a surprising amount – but these things are going to have to walk before they can run. Walking is going to be fun though. Even the transitional forms will have a great deal to offer.

No kidding. Not everybody has a big pile of money to burn.

A game like this is so ripe for expansions. This is a genre where “expansion” does not mean “here’s some new maps” or “have a new unit or gun.”

I still like the idea of a player avatar – and all characters – responding to their circumstances in a visible, physical way, with Fable-style (except not connected to spending experience points) scarring and muscle development and aging and gaining or losing weight. I guess it doesn’t have to have any “stats” effect. I do however like the idea of a game where merchants are portly and well-dressed, and can’t fight as well as the lean, ragged bandits or the buff, powerful soldiers, and can’t wrangle a plow as well as the weather-worn farmers. Is the gameplay limitation of stats justified? I say it is. Somebody without training or experience in any field is going to have a bit of a harder time picking it up. However, I wouldn’t want there to be a page with numbers on it detailing this – let the player get feedback by looking at his character model (and, of course, by seeing what he can do). Not that doing something new should be impossible – but it would be nice to have a difference. I’d want to reject the “levels” model where the overall relative power of one character can tower over another character’s, though. Let there be a fixed number of points that everyone has (under the hood, of course) that can change in terms of distribution but will still have the same absolute total.

All that having been said, if stats turned out to be a real killjoy in testing, and a bit of tinkering with them didn’t fix that, I’d say take 'em out.

In Civ4, a strategy game (which I use as an example because I’ve been playing a lot of it), there’s a difficulty that gives no bonuses to either you or the computer. You start in more or less comparable situations – if you’re in a game with a single computer opponent and you change places with him on turn 1, neither of you winds up in a somehow untoward situation. Even on the other difficulty levels, the computer’s options and general circumstances are essentially comparable to yours. What RPG does that? Even some FPSes have a “Realistic” mode or general gameplay model where a couple of shots will kill anybody.

Ongoing tweaking during development will be an important tool for refining just about every aspect of the game. This is especially true of the professions – if farming is unrewarding, it needs to either get better or get handed off to NPCs.

True and important where it applies – and it will be an important influence on the player experience. I still can’t get over how cool it is in Space Rangers to have your actions have personal consequences – blow up a couple of liners for a quick score, and these five guys who saw it will band against you, they’ll attack you on sight later and get their buddies to join in, and some of them may even hunt you down.

The reason I suggested some kind of specific limitation on how high a player can rise, though, is so that the original game can avoid incorporating “city leader” or “army leader” gameplay, which creating would raise difficult design questions. Those questions can be answered, of course, and the resultant gameplay could be awesome, but there’s only so much the initial project can do, and I’d like to reserve that effort for making the core game functional and good.

Agreed. But these games will present the player with different types of goals. The goals of the first sort of game are delineated ab initio by the creator, whereas in the second sort the player develops his own goals in the context of the game and his experience with it. If the player in such a game can do satisfying things, I don’t think it’s really a loss if those things don’t include the old-school stuff like killing Gannon or a taking on a whole castle full of guards singlehandedly.

Sounds good to me. It works for Civilization. I think this approach is surprsingly fun and viable when “you must kill your way across the world” isn’t a premise of gameplay. A game like Animal Crossing isn’t about being the baddest ass.

What exactly would “winning” be in a game like this? Can you “win” The Sims?[/quote]
Not really, no.

But I don’t remember the Sims having an option where you could discreetly move your fence over the property line to take some of your neighbor’s yard, or hork some of his lawn flamingos, or seduce his wife, or drop a flaming toaster on his doorstep.

Contrariwise, if your Sims ended up broke and destitute, it was all your own damn fault, not because Ralf Johnson next door had walked off with your life savings and Crazy Myrtle from down the block burned down your house.

What you’re presenting is a game in which there is no way to win, but where there are options for other (computer-controlled) actors to make you lose.


So because there is the potential for bad things to happen to you, the game sucks?

How would Civilization or Space Rangers (I know I’m harping on these two games, but dammit, they’re really good) be a better game if the computer was forbidden to make you lose?

Even if the worst happens and you die, there’s always the potential to jump into someone else’s body, or start a new game. Is this losing? It’s a sandbox, not a ladder.

The primary reason I support game patents and royalties is to encourage Research and Development in gaming. A large majority want to leech off someone else’s innovation… very few want to take risks and try out innovation themselves. So we get a bunch of derivative game design and I can’t even blame them, from a business standpoint. If business is standing in the way of progress then it seems to me to be best to change the business model.

I can talk forever about AI, but a publisher just says “too risky” and its end of discussion. If I can counter with “you’ll get royalties from anyone imitating your AI” he perks the fuck up and says “tell me more”.

Its ludicrous that this industry’s only R&D comes in the form of games themselves… that’s like saying Ford could only innovate within the production of actual cars. Can you blame publishers and developers for not being innovative?

Hah. Its a strange strange world when us westerners have to put our hopes in Eastern Europe. America: the used-to-be land of the Entrepreneur.

I don’t have the same concerns you do here. If the game is focused on the economic model, war will hurt and limit the economy, but from a PC perspective his economic choices were already limited (farmer, merchant) so the loss of some of the higher economic functions (the luxury craftsman like a pinmaker for clothing) won’t matter at least in a early rendition of the game.

While war means a depopulation and thus less consumers in the economy, it doesn’t change the basic gameplay for the PC.

If a farmer is poor and his farm is destroyed in a war, that pretty much sucks. He could suicide and start a new game if he gets desperate… or maybe there could be a Beggar class ;).

Not if you scale it.

You’re thinking in terms of large-scale war, but there is all kinds of conflict.

A war in a village can be a couple of gangs going against each other, or a fight between criminals and policemen.

My example of bandits vs. soldiers gives you an idea of the scale of violence I expect in the examples we’ve been discussing, which is another reason why I find it silly to speak of soldier ranks in terms of lieutenant, sergeant, etc… the “army” of soldiers just won’t be big enough (unless developers exceed my expectations for what is possible in the near future). Maybe its more accurate to call the class Guard.

In the game design choice of scaling the conflict to fit the game or superimposing a big conflict, I choose the former. I think there’s a lot to gain by making it a closed system.

I think its an interesting idea to have a Dream Mode where a PC can, outside of the normal workings of the world, have special events happen. So if he’s a bored soldier tired of short conflicts against bandits, he could select “army sieges city” in his Dream and fight alongside his fellow soldiers in defense against a competitive army, in a superimposed setting but in a Dream so it doesn’t affect Waking Reality.

Now… just because the world is a closed system doesn’t mean its an explored closed system, necessarily. Unfortunately games in the near future will probably be small, but as worlds grow the NPCs around the PC might not know anything about “the other side of the world”, but events over there are running on AI also.

Or maybe in this 3 city system the third city is locked. Noone can enter, noone can leave. Maybe its been like this for a while and NPCs around you have no idea what’s going on. A mystery to explore. Maybe you decide to try to figure this thing out but you die three times before even getting inside the city. You die a 4th time as you realize its a quarantined plague situation and the plague gets you. Then on your 5th character you explore farming further and finally on your 7th character you discover a root that a traveler tells you has been used to cure certain plagues in the past. If you do manage to be a hero and cure the city of the plague, you’d better not die a final death or the city won’t know your next character is related ;).

I think roleplaying in general is not something applicable to the computer games industry.

Roleplaying is “I’m pretending to be someone else”.

Whether you’re playing a character in a VSOG, or the AI is operating in the kind of game we’re talking about, or you’re a PC in the kind of game we’re talking about, its not about being someone else. If your goal is “become town leader” that’s YOUR goal, for your character but really for yourself. The AI doesn’t think “I’m roleplaying”… it thinks “I’m going to do what’s best for myself”.

I just think roleplaying in general is misunderstood with respect to gaming. Just because you’re playing a character that differs from yourself doesn’t mean you’re roleplaying.

When you’re playing a farmer you’re not thinking “what would a farmer do here?”… and maybe you have him plant some seeds since you’re playing out the “farmer role”… you’re thinking “how do I get X result?”… and you plant seeds as a part of that (even if X result is just to have fun with the gameplay). Its YOU who wants to get the result… through your character.

There is no fundamental deception in this game that you or any AI is playing a role. You could treat the game as roleplaying… and “pretend to be a farmer”… but its not necessary within the game.

Sure, but keep in mind that even the Sims has conflict. There are all kinds of different levels and different scales of conflict… where you draw the line and call it “war” is rather arbitrary.

In order for the AI to take a realistic approach to it.

Your “exchange keepsakes” thing would not occur under a realistic approach, since the NPC knows the situation is not equal. What I’m saying is that if this situation really occurred… lets say you’re thrown into a videogame and you meet a NPC… both you and he know that you’re not equal… he exists only in the game and you mostly exist outside the game. You can possess him, he can’t possess you.

Exchange keepsakes? Exchange KEEPSAKES?

My point here is to get serious about AI, to get really serious about advancing AI, you have to really understand and appreciate what the AI is… and more importantly the AI has to really understand and appreciate what the AI is.

Obviously there are all kinds of limits to AI, but its important that these limits be ONLY in terms of technology, and not in terms of human perception and treatment.

In other words, to whatever extent possible the AI should be programmed to learn about and understand the world around him, including the fact that he is an AI and the PC is controlled by a human.

How can you love someone if you don’t know him? How can you love someone if you don’t know yourself?

The issue here is how to make possession the best designed element that it can be. Treating it with complete honesty is how I would approach it.

Here’s an example of this sort of thing playing out…

NPC understands (programmed as if he understands) that he is an AI. He takes a look at the PC. He understands what possession means, that the PC may take over his identity upon the death of the current PC character. The NPC loves his city. Thus the PC would have to express actions that shows he too supports the city. The NPC has a network of friends and business partners… how does the PC relate to them? The NPC supports the current town leader… how does the PC treat the town leader? The NPC would like there to be more aggressive taken agaisnt bandits… has the PC killed or harmed any bandits?

Love is a pretty silly word to use in conjunction with today’s AI… even many humans can only give shallow love, much less what a pathetic AI is capable of. What today’s AI can do is to analyze the relationship between his identity and the PC’s to an extent and determine a level of positive or negative toward that PC. Enough positive and possession would be offered.

No, because they would know it would be meaningless. Only the PC can possess at the moment.

Basically, AI can possess too but any reasonable quality of possession would take a far greater level of AI than what we’ll see in the near future.

A couple things I see here…

The point of possession in the first place is to cater to the PC… to give him a goal within the game (enable possessable NPCs) that promotes his existence in a continuing world. To be blunt, its what I see as a realistic form of Reincarnation. One of the garbage, pathetic aspects of the traditional understanding of Reincarnation is that its random… people even talk about coming back as a frog or some such nonsense. As a human affects the world, this effect he creates on the world is ANYTHING but random… its specific, its identity-driven, its purposeful. I might see a human I’m impressed by, and want to learn from him, and if I die where it became illogical to return to life as myself (because I was the one who died, so don’t deserve life again), I may want to return to life as HIM.

Of course, besides the basics of biology this doesn’t work in traditional reality because you have no right to possess someone else just because you die… that would be immoral. With a “lesser” lifeform such as an NPC in a game however (and no biology to make the process impossible), its a different story.

This inequality is what makes it fundamentally pointless for an NPC to possess a PC, besides the lack of need to cater to the NPC.

I have no problem with that, in Dream Mode. The player could explore the NPC/NPC AI where he’s in a level of control and can implement whatever artificial structures he would like.

In terms of NPC possession of NPCs within the regular game, that would be ok but bear in mind that realistically it would rarely occur.

Possession between NPCs would mean that the first NPC who died gets to take over the NPC who didn’t die. Now it creates a moral problem where NPCs can enter into risky behavior because they “really won’t die” when they are killed. Of course, if the other NPC sees a possession-contract NPC doing this, he can break the contract and even take legal action, etc.

Due to limitations of development time, I don’t see it being worthwhile to implement NPC/NPC possession within the regular game.

The bandit would probably just become a bandit again quickly afterward… he wouldn’t exactly enjoy or be any good at being a merchant.

No… all militaries large enough have had ranks.

A small bandit group for example would have a bandit leader and the rest might be of equal rank. Or a small group of soldiers the same.

Rank refers to communication… if you’re a soldier its not good to have to wonder what rank another soldier is… you take a look at his uniform and you can tell he’s a Lieutenant, and you know whether you should take orders from him or give orders to him… your Rank classifies you in the military to OTHER people in the military, and the reason for this classification is for the hierarchy of command and militant needs (such as a Commander ordering a 20-man group on a mission led by a Sergeant).

The scale of the game determines things like the size of the armies and the ranks within those armies.

That’s all fine, but how long will it take for the scale of the game to support what you’re talking about? Unless the game is focused almost strictly on the military (which limits the user-base), it looks like a lot of years to me.

Text parser would be impossible. Most RPGs use text menu systems which work ok. Your system is ok for some situations (though I’d rather the attitude be less obvious than just selecting a color for it) but I question its robustness toward other situations. What if you are exploring an attitude and don’t really have an attitude?.. I suppose that can just be a different attitude with a different color.

Maybe… I think this system would be doable but I can’t say its very ideal… having to select an attitude for everything problably places too much focus on that… attitude should develop more naturally than the PC just “selecting his attitude”.

What I like about this is that you can identify people physically to an extent… you get an idea of his identity from his physical status.

My problem with it is that as I understand it, animation is one of the big developmental time sinks… that’s why various body types, postures, etc. have been so limited in most games… crappy inefficient systems now exist for producing differences. In a game that primarily focuses on AI, the importance of putting that much effort into animation is questionable.

Fable FOCUSED on that… it was a main element of the game… that’s why it could do it. Other games may be able to do it too, but probably only when development gets more efficient along those lines.

The way I’m seeing it is as a stats/skill combination.

The game begins, and the player chooses between starting the game as a farmer, a merchant, or a soldier. He chooses: farmer.

Now he’s put into the character of a farmer, with randomized stats within the Beginning Farmer Class model. Physical stats, mental stats, etc.

As he farms, his physical stats probably go up (with respect to stamina and strength) as long as he is getting a good diet and rest, etc., and his mental stats may worsen if he lacks social contact.

However, his ability to farm is based not just on his stats but on your skill as a player within the farmer gameplay. YOU learning how to farm makes a big impact, but the farmer’s stats also affect it.

For example, you learning what seed to use makes a big difference on the resultant profit, but the time it takes to plant the seed is based on the farmer’s stats, and the ability to acquire the right seed is based on the farmer’s relationship with the proper merchants.

Also, your character’s stats can affect your gameplay. So lets say a traveler is walking by your character’s farm, and you tell the farmer to greet the traveler. The farmer just stands there.

You think “WTF?? Did the game freeze?” You move the cursor around, select other menus, everything is working. The traveler is almost out of range, you frantically again tell the farmer to greet him, again the farmer does nothing.

Now you’re pissed. Maybe you didn’t take note that the Farmer’s Shyness stat is at 88, and he’s already talked to 2 strangers this month… he simply refuses to greet a third…

Stats offer a real dimension to gameplay… an interaction between the character and the player. It limits what the player can do with the character but this limitation is what the character is all about. A farmer is not going to become a crack soldier just because the player is very skilled at soldiering.

Yep. Then again though, if this happens a lot its going to result in a lot of wasted development time and a growing budget. Its best to get the original plan right in the first place ;).

I agree with that to an extent, but the problem is that you have to have desirable player goals. Is the player going to be content with just being a Super Farmer or just being a Crack Soldier? If so then absolutely, you can keep costs down by providing nothing more. A lot of what we are talking about comes down to cost and revenue-expected tradeoffs.

Absolutely. The horrible habit of designers thinking in militant terms is what makes a game design as basic as The Sims seem so fresh and exciting. You can do other things… in a game… besides killing?

Gamer: “Let me guess, there’s going to be a lot of killing in your game”.

Developer: “Of course! Is there any other way??”

I’ve been assuming that no matter what, bandits and guards should be in the running for the initial release’s professions or at least NPC professions. I’ve also been assuming that potentially the game will be able to support a more warfare-oriented scale of conflict. The latter may or may not be a good enough prospect to justify inclusion.

I would imagine that some of what guards do is quite boring – they stand watch all the time. But who wants to be bored? This is as true of guards as it is of players, so perhaps the guards have a card game or something that they play. A lot of old favorites like chess and poker can be put in pretty easily, but it would be a nice addition to have something original and exotic if possible.

This is interesting, especially if the character’s experiences subtly but recognizably color his dreams. However, it seems like a pretty big investment of dev time. Maybe an expansion can do this.

I think this is only partly true at best. Even if players don’t see themselves as playing characters distinct from their true selves, games (especially if they are good) tend to influence the player in the way that his avatar would be influenced whenever they can, and lead him toward decisions that would be good ones from the avatar’s perspective. When a farmer is farming, he’s not thinking “what would a farmer do here” either – he’s examining his situations and making what he sees as the best decisions for those situations, the same as a player in the farmer class would.

Also, immersion is unquestionably a major issue in RPGs, and it’s the main reason I brought this up. World of Warcraft ultimately had utterly no immersion for me, and that was the main thing that drove me to quit. It had no immersion because the fictional circumstances postulated by the game had absolutely no effect on the behavior of the inhabitants of the world. Who can enjoy a game where undead warriors behave just like elven mages? And that manner of behavior is derived from a community not of fictional elves and mages and suchlike, but rather from a real but uninteresting community of message board regulars and patch installers and cheat users and disgruntled customers…

I think roleplaying DOES matter. If people are going to behave obnoxiously or unimaginatively, let them do so withing the parameters of the game, not off somewhere to the side of them churning up a disruptive wake like a pack of jackasses on jet-skis.

But for the purposes of the game, isn’t the existence I have in the game the only one that matters? I’m not playing the game to drag in the baggage of my existence outside the game. The game doesn’t have to acknowledge anything outside of the game itself.

Well why not?

Isn’t this the precise opposite of treating the player like he’s just another NPC? This kind of special status for the player – I just don’t see what’s gained by it. Again, I invoke the concept of immersion; making the player fundamentally different from NPCs, and regarded by them as such, is just going to make him an outsider in the world he wants to be a part of.

I also don’t think a genuine “learning AI” is feasible here, although I don’t know too much about AI. I was figuring NPCs would make decisions be means of weighted equations, and the weights would be the stats and modifiers and belongings and past history and present circumstances that they build up over the course of their lives.

No argument there. That’s why my use of it was so qualified. Although I’m not above using it lightly because there is a colloquial use of the term that’s far less serious than the full authority of the word.

I’m with you on all of this except the “understands he’s an AI” part. The NPC should look at the past deeds of the PC and their history together and other examinable things in the game world in “deciding” whether to accept possession. Example:

Green scroll, I tell my son, meaning, “I want to make a will with you.”

AI calculation...
-2 little time spent together
+2 adequate food
+2 adequate shelter
+1 poor clothing
+1 I still have that fish we caught
-5 you abandoned my mother
-4 your reputation as a murder frightens me
Total: -5

Red scroll, he says, shaking his head. Red you. Red dagger. Blue mother. He starts to cry. Blue fish we caught… red scroll. He runs upstairs to his room. I leave dejectedly. Where did it all go so wrong?

Notice that he doesn’t have to know I’m a PC. He doesn’t have to know he’s an NPC. He just has to weigh some factors from the historical record. This isn’t true AI – it’s really kind of a spreadsheet. But to a player it will have real enough results. Some kind of self-aware or even seemingly self-aware code is beyond the scope of a project like this.

This is easily the best argument against NPCs possessing, and I readily accept it.

This too.

Yeah, but seeing him use a bandit’s inclinations and skills to overcome his new status as the merchant in terms of property, appearance, and social network would be interesting.

And on the other hand, what can change the nature of a man? A bandit doesn’t necessarily choose the life of a bindit because it’s appealing in and of itself. Maybe for whatever reason (he’s an outlaw wanted for some crime, or he couldn’t get a job, or his job couldn’t pay the bills, or his crops failed, or his house burned down) being a bandit was the best course available to him. Perhaps the opportunity to prosper as a merchant will sway him. Perhaps he’ll think (or rather, “think”) of the difference between being a bandit and sleeping in a ditch and eating what he can catch while he waits for a hopefully rich traveller to pass by and being a merchant with a warm bed in a nice house with good food and a healthy daily income.

Yeah, this is probably a job for the Dreams expansion. That dream thing is a damn good idea.

Yeah, I was thinking black brings up a topic neutrally. I say black coin dagger – “How 'bout that highway robbery?” A peddler might tell me red coin dagger – “Those fuckers robbed me!” A bandit might respond with blue coin dagger – “Business is good!/I love the life.” Or perhaps he’d say green coin dagger – “Yeah, how 'bout it, huh? Show me what you got.”

I’m not really sure how this would work, and although I’d be all for a better system, it’s gotta start somewhere.

There’s always the need to be economical with dev time – and the resources of the target platform, too. Perhaps a game like this could have very simple, stylized graphics – it doesn’t necessarily even have to be 3d. I’ve been picturing it like Morrowind, but it wouldn’t need to be. And the characters could have bodies on the simple side, but maybe make up for it with detailed, unique faces. Something like that. Maybe a Lionheart graphics solution where characters are 3d but in 2d isometric environments. And perhaps they could be identified principally by their clothes? I think there are a lot of potential ways to get around the limitations of development and the machines the game would run on while still having characters identifiable by some manner of markings they’ve picked up through their in-game situations.

Completely divorcing any aspect of the game from the player’s input would be bad. Farming (or any other profession) should definitely not boil down to “roll your stats against this table.” I don’t think that kind of thing would be interesting enough that anybody would want to actually get involved in the professions.

I’d think twice before limiting the PC’s behavior via stats. Shyness sounds like something NPCs might need statted out. But if the player is a shy farmer, he can CHOOSE not to deal with people he doesn’t have to. Perhaps he wants to concentrate on the farmer gameplay. And then again, if he does choose to talk to the stranger, who is the game system to tell him he’s a shy farmer? He’s the farmer. If he does unshy things, maybe he’s just not that shy.

I see the PC’s stats as better used to influence results. A social situation where stats come into play is if the player is a veteran soldier relaxing at an outdoor cafe and eating meat pies, and he sees a little boy watching him. The player decides that he’s in a good mood and he’s a nice guy, so he offers the kid a meat pie. But the boy is frightened by the soldier’s unfamiliarity (-1 to his reaction), muscles (-1), sword (-2), stubble (-1), and facial scars (-3). The meat pie (+1) and friendly greeting (+1) don’t outweigh that, so he runs away. Here the player’s “character sheet” influences the outcome of his actions, but doesn’t restrict him from trying. I don’t think there’s any need to codify the PC’s personality, because that’s in the hands of the player. If the player says he wants to try something, who are we to say he can’t? Freedom is a good thing, even if it means that sometimes players will try things and fail.

That was more or less my reasoning too.

It’d be nice. Still, mistakes can happen, and not planning for the possibility can only compound them. Besides, games evolve under development. Judicious flexibility in the process can allow a game to improve a great deal in the phases past initial design.

This is why it’s an important design goal to make the professions rewarding. I think a focus on that is more important than a bigger scope of advancement in professions, because if a less-rewarding profession has more ground to cover… they already make those, they call them MMOs. The core professions should interest the player to the best extent they can, whether he’s just starting out or already prosperous.

Fortunately, the professions aren’t the totality of the game. A lot of the game’s longevity will be that you aren’t just a farmer/guard/merchant/bandit, but also a human being in a world of human beings.

One last thing that I think is perfectly understood implicitly but should probably be made explicit for clarity: we’re talking about a “medieval” sort of setting here. The reason for this is that a modern setting is too familiar and issues of detail and realism will bother players more. It’s also not as escapist. However a futuristic or more fantastic setting would be somewhat unfamiliar and players might have a hard time connecting to it or seeing it in human terms. A medieval setting is immediately comprehensible, but not so comprehensible that familiarity breeds contempt.

So because there is the potential for bad things to happen to you, the game sucks?

How would Civilization or Space Rangers (I know I’m harping on these two games, but dammit, they’re really good) be a better game if the computer was forbidden to make you lose?

Even if the worst happens and you die, there’s always the potential to jump into someone else’s body, or start a new game. Is this losing? It’s a sandbox, not a ladder.[/quote]
Uh, you just lost the last 50 or however many hours you put into the game. They’re gone, along with your avatar, and if the NPCs are particularly vehement about it you haven’t made any lasting impact on the world either.

Weren’t you saying that Space Rangers could never give you a game over screen just from NPC action? “I never saw a screen saying ‘GAME OVER. KELLER WINS’”, right?

And, uh, forgive me if I’m mistaken, but Civilization has several alternate ‘win states’. In fact, it might be possible for some sufficiently advanced AI to win the space race with the rest of the world just standing around scratching their heads, right?

You’re offering a sandbox where anyone can kick over your sandcastle. And, uh, that kinda sucked in real life, I don’t think the game can dull the sting that much.


I said that in response to the complaint that an NPC could end the game by fulfilling some kind of arbitrary, trivial condition half a world away from you. That would indeed be stupid. But even though that won’t happen you can still die. In Space Rangers, Keller can still kill you. In this game, you’re not immortal either. There are, in fact, very few games where you ARE immortal.

The experiences I had in 50 hours of gameplay were lost? Were my memories erased or something? This isn’t an MMO. It’s not about accumulating stats/items/money. It’s about the experience of living in the world. So I’m starting a new game – so what? There’s still plenty of things to do. Nobody complains that after you finish a game of civ, win or lose, you won’t be able to keep all your techs and cities when you start your next game.

I played KotOR. I played it for around 20 hours. I won. Nothing from my victory carried over to any subsequent game of KotOR or anything else. Were those 20 hours “lost?” (I’ll concede that the part of those 20 hours that represents the finale of Manaan may well have been lost. My least favorite part of either KotOR with the possible exception of replaying Peragus. And maybe also Tanis. Okay, it’s really just my least favorite part of KotOR 1.) I played KotOR again. Once more, I played for around 20 hours. This time I reached the end, but somehow I lost. (Perhaps Malak laughed me and said, “Fool, do you think quickload can save you?”) Were those 20 hours “lost?” Were they any more or less “lost” than the other 20?

I said that in response to the complaint that an NPC could end the game by fulfilling some kind of arbitrary, trivial condition half a world away from you. That would indeed be stupid. But even though that won’t happen you can still die. In Space Rangers, Keller can still kill you. In this game, you’re not immortal either. There are, in fact, very few games where you ARE immortal.[/quote]
But if you start a new pilot after your old one gets rocked by Keller, you can start in the new, changed universe, right? Where only Keller exists, and all the advances the UFP has made with Dominator tech are still around?

If you don’t, shouldn’t you be able to? Space Rangers casts you in a very heroic role, leaps and bounds above what you’ve been talking about, where you can change the galaxy.

And yet there’s this interesting feature in Age of Empires III where your home city gets more powerful through the course of various one-off scenario “games”.

I played KotOR. I played it for around 20 hours. I won. Nothing from my victory carried over to any subsequent game of KotOR or anything else. Were those 20 hours “lost?” (I’ll concede that the part of those 20 hours that represents the finale of Manaan may well have been lost. My least favorite part of either KotOR with the possible exception of replaying Peragus. And maybe also Tanis. Okay, it’s really just my least favorite part of KotOR 1.) I played KotOR again. Once more, I played for around 20 hours. This time I reached the end, but somehow I lost. (Perhaps Malak laughed me and said, “Fool, do you think quickload can save you?”) Were those 20 hours “lost?” Were they any more or less “lost” than the other 20?

In the first case you played for 20 hours and got the satisfaction of seeing your plot resolved. At least ideally, you did. Certainly you’ve had the experience of seeing the worst. Ending. Ever. and feeling like your time has been wasted?

(AGH HATE SEPTERRA CORE. “Sure, millions died needlessly, but now you can join the galactic civilization - in fact, their sacrifices enabled it!”)

In the second case you played for 20 hours and arguably didn’t satisfy your motivation for playing those 20 hours. You’d have to put in another 20 hours just to get the payoff. I’d definitely call the second 20 “more lost” than the first.

I like an RPG more when it gives me a good ending. And more when it gives me something to do after the ending. I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep the night I finished Lunar 2, and then finished it again.

A sandbox game with entirely player-motivated goals, such as the one you seem to be describing, doesn’t sound very fun to me. I like the game recognizing when I achieve goals.


I think we found the problem. If you don’t like open-ended games, of course you’re not gonna like what we’re discussing. That doesn’t invalidate it for everybody – there have been good sandbox games in the past and there will be more in the future – but it does seem reasonable enough to assume that you wouldn’t like it.

I think we found the problem. If you don’t like open-ended games, of course you’re not gonna like what we’re discussing. That doesn’t invalidate it for everybody – there have been good sandbox games in the past and there will be more in the future – but it does seem reasonable enough to assume that you wouldn’t like it.[/quote]
It’s not that I don’t like open-ended games per se. But if the only reward for establishing a successful farm is that I get to look at a pixelated image of a successful farm, I may as well have just opened up the GIMP and done some drawing, y’know?

The NPCs exist to amuse me. If I have an awesome farm going, I want them to react in rational ways. Maybe somebody offers his kid for an apprenticeship. Maybe a trader makes my place a regular stop. Maybe the duke raises my taxes, which isn’t good but it’s consistent. I want to compel the NPCs to react to me but I don’t want to be compelled to react to the NPCs - I don’t want to wake up one morning to find myself afflicted with a powerful urge to visit some neighboring farm and offer my son as an apprentice.

Again, this may be personal preference. Certainly there are plenty of people who enjoy playing White Wolf, but I find myself put off by most of the play samples depicting die-mediated player-on-player interaction.


I’m loving this thread, both in its serious sense, and the sense in which it has gone into Turing lala land.

I have a suspicion that AI of this complexity works great when it’s just a zero-player, rule-bound text-only prototype grinding away like conway’s game of life. But then it becomes a nightmare when the walking, remembering belief system has to walk from point a to point b in a 3D world without getting stuck on a column.

I think we found the problem. If you don’t like open-ended games, of course you’re not gonna like what we’re discussing. That doesn’t invalidate it for everybody – there have been good sandbox games in the past and there will be more in the future – but it does seem reasonable enough to assume that you wouldn’t like it.[/quote]
It’s not that I don’t like open-ended games per se. But if the only reward for establishing a successful farm is that I get to look at a pixelated image of a successful farm, I may as well have just opened up the GIMP and done some drawing, y’know?

He’s right, it should unlock a spell or powerup that you can use on a second play through.

Hey, be fair. We aren’t talking about Neural Nets and Emotion Engines here.

Besides, what game doesn’t have to deal with pathfinding?

Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene: The Game

Hey, be fair. We aren’t talking about Neural Nets and Emotion Engines here.

Besides, what game doesn’t have to deal with pathfinding?[/quote]

:) I think, what I’m trying to say is, it’s actually fairly easy to create the amazing AI entities being described here, because it’s all stuff you can store as variables – it’s just like an RPG, but with many, many more stats to keep track of (what does each person think of everyone else, for instance. What is their statistic for ‘vengefulness’, etc)

The hard part is having the npc’s actually express such characteristics, and act on them, convincingly in your fancy game world – and keeping the randomness bount by abstract but coherent rules, so it doesn’t go completely nuts. (As in those geopolitics games where Belgium starts a war with Bhutan, etc.)

As in, if your game is some kind of text-only affair, it’s easy to have x meet y, roll against the variables and decide what they do to each other based on previous meetings and factional affiliations. But, I imagine it would be amazingly difficult to do this in a title such as Morrowind, or Fable, or what have you. Failing to acknowledge the “embodyment” work involved, I further assume (!), is why it’s often very easy to think, “Why didn’t they just do this and that and this” when we look at such titles.

Probably talking out of my ass. “Nigel remembers you slapping him with a fish in 1974 and attacks you with a stick.”

Naw, this is a good point. Implementation’s always tough. Although doing this in a Morrowind-like engine would be frickin’ awesome, it would also be hell to code, hell to test, and quite possibly hell to play. (It would need a good interface and killer optimization.) It’s probably more realistic to consider any near-future implementation of these design goals in an isometric engine or something like that. Isometric engines don’t have to be bad looking, and they often lend themselves to being easy to understand and use.

Hmm, so you’re saying we should go for the Young Ones license? It could work. And it would peripherally involve Stephen Fry, who is awesome for writing The Hippopotamus, which along with Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now is one of my favorite novels about the occult.