The Rituals of Alea

I Want To...

Over the past twelve days, I've been wrestling with all sorts of issues - in fact, I have pretty much deconstructed myself and then, when the screaming in my head subsided, put myself back together again. There are a few bits that I couldn't work out where they belonged, so I've put those in a drawer along with some old keys and a book of matches. It's always like that when I try and take things apart.

While rebuilding my psyche, I came to the question of what I want to do when I grow up. I'm thirtysomething, but still...

I came to the unimpressive conclusion that I want to make games. That seemed insufficient, so I explored what happens when I put 'that' on the end of the sentence. This led to: I want to make games that people enjoy playing. When your subconscious is vomiting concepts that look like tautologies, you have to wonder.

Anyway, here's the content of my blog nebula (also known as the scrap of paper which lives under the laptop), which may or may not be a glimpse into the future:

  • The Rituals of Alea: I still plan to write on all six of Caillois' core concepts. We've only just begun to explore these concepts in a modern context, and I'm finding it fascinating. So far I've only written on Ilinx. I think Alea is likely to be next, as it seems to be quite misunderstood.
  • Game Tests (DGD2): I will definitely be exploring ideas for simple games to test people's play style and play needs at some point in the future, although when remains to be seen. Although the "game tests" will likely be inspired by Temperament Theory, the research (if and when it happens) will doubtless show something completely different - good scientists love being wrong!
  • TV Structure in Games: I thought I'd written about this before, but apparently not. Why do we tend to structure commercial games (which are 8-40 hours long) like films (which are 1-3 hours long) when we could structure them like a TV season (which is 12-24 hours long)?
  • The Flow Channel and Play Styles (Difficulty): this is about why some players are comfortable near the top of the flow channel (e.g. Hard Fun, Type 1 Conqueror) and some are comfortable near the bottom (e.g. Easy Fun, Type 3 Wanderer) and whether or not dynamic difficulty is desirable - and whether it is achievable.
  • Beyond Clusters: Direct Game Design: we've used cluster analysis, because it's one of the few tools we have for examining the gaming audience. But in the future, will we be able to create games which tailor themselves (automatically, or by player action) to the individual players' needs?
  • Pure Speculation: Neural Brain Functions: I've been putting this one off, because it's pure speculation. I studied neural networks as an undergraduate, and I have fragmentary ideas as to how this relates to the activities of the brain that I'd like to share (this is not, I should stress, about consciousness).

Well, we'll just have to see what riots out of my fingers...


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Why is it that so many of our experiences are parallel, hm?

Not only was it a week of intense introspection for me, but games that tailor themselves to player input is one of my design goals for our flagship project.

Good to see you back!

Adaptive gameplay is my golden stag too, I think the way to go about it from software engineering and interface perspectives is to consider memetics not as a metaphore, but as a model for actual cognition within human brains and computers. If memes are electrical patterns than there is a reductive equivilancy between humans and computers at the lower levels, so you have a foundation to design games what will respond meaningfully to memes inferred by the computer to be possesed by the player. In fact, Raph Kosters brave little theory of game design, which sees games in terms of patterns, synchs up almost directly with the memetic model; its all about pattern regocnition. Until now game design has been seen as a matter of sequential logic, finding the combination of rules that work through an interative process of testing and experimentation. Its always been mechanics first, the themes have just been skinned on top, but I think we'll get to a point where themes and mechanics are one and the same.

TV season structure is the money format, I think, and can lend itself just as easily to procedural soap operas (of all kinds) as it could to masterfully crafted emergent epics of styles ranging from Homer to Faulkner to Burroughs.

* The Rituals of Alea: Chance? Can chance be fun without an element of strategy? Do people have fun particpating in the national lottery, or is the fun in sharing the experience with friends and/or winning? It seems Alea is unique as it's a play type where the fun isn't in the action but in the result. What do you think? I think I need to read Nicole's book.

* Game Tests (DGD2): Awesome. I would suggest if possible, film player's body language reactions while they take these tests. They can often recontextualise the data you collect.

* TV Structure in Games: Sin:Episodes is trying this. I think the original plan for Shenmue was this, but they went with the traditional way of selling games. And failed. Whoops.

* The Flow Channel and Play Styles (Difficulty): Dynamic difficulty is very achievable. I'm going to shut up now ;-)

Virtua Fighter Evolution (PS2) tried this by the way. You have an 'AI' mode where an AI records your fighting style and adapts against you relative to your patterns. Much as I love the game, I never bothered with this mode, as all the rewards were in the Kumite mode.

* Beyond Clusters: Direct Game Design: Depends on whether the game type needs it. I would suggest that the best way to get data from players is to test them using the gameplay umbrella types (Agon, Illinx) and the sub-gameplay types within in distinct games isolating these. It's a lot of work and expensive unless you can use Virtools and 3D max well. I'd propose putting a group together and working on this on the side.

* Pure Speculation: Neural Brain Functions:
A great subject I'd love to learn more about. I believe Paul McKenna made a very low budget game on PC, the name of which escapes me, that used NLP principals in the game to help you beat smoking and so on. I tried to install it but my PC hated it. I think this is a very important subject to conquer for the future. Advertisers have been using these principals for years in conjunction with subliminals and so on...

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