Friday, September 29, 2006

More on the dangers of realism

The goal of this post is to cover in excrutiating detail anything negative that derives for greater realism that was not explored in my earlier post.

Go here, download the issue 7 preview, and read pages 16-19.

Wow, that was easy.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Uwe Boll, example: sleazy businessmen, not artists

Read this, will you? You can even read how he decided to show up his detractors by inviting them to fight him in a boxing match. That's seriously mental.

This guy doesn't understand games and doesn't understand films. He only gets releases because he's funded outside of Hollywood.

Games were once a black hole of suckery when it came to licensed IPs; people who complain about how bad they are now didn't play any games before the release of GoldenEye. We are slowly pulling ourselves out.

Films based on game IPs on the other hand are only just budding, and making all the same slip-ups as before; they're being done by businessmen who don't ask, "What can we do with this IP which will kick ass?", they ask, "How much cash could I wring out of this IP if I made a film based on it?"

It's a big problem, money in the arts. There's a careful balancing act between crap so deep and meaningful that the average person hates it, and crap so blatantly mass-produced and uncared-for that everyone on Earth hates it. Movies based on video games are - for the moment - the latter.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Realism in Games

Realism is often sought-after by game developers, reviewers, and players, yet poorly understood by many. A rather elementary principle that a budding game designer soon learns is, "realism doesn't necessarily help a game", yet the reasoning behind it is usually murky.

The key is not to look at realism as a value-adding aspect like graphic quality, sound fidelity, screen resolution, etc., but more as a carefully-balanced aspect like progression of difficulty or overall complexity; too little and too much are both undesirable.

The dangers of realism are a lack of fairness (or overabundance depending on how you look at it), and an overload of complexity:
No one wants to watch an action movie in which the hero goes up against 3 armed opponents and is lucky to inflict a single casualty before being killed. Media manipulates the acumen and luck of all parties involved to portray something fantastical; in this case realism would make the game too difficult, or, assuming the player can possibly win by taking realistic courses of action, too boring.

In Counter-Strike, we could realistically expect the Counter-Terrorists to have better munitions in more ample supply than the average Terrorist squad, as well as considerably more manpower, especially on hostage maps where the CTs have presumably had plenty of time to gather their forces and form a plan of attack. In this case, realism gets in the way of a fun competitive game by stacking the odds severely against the terrorists; after all, the goal of terrorists is to sow terror and avoid direct confrontation in order to make up for their inferior strength, and as such are almost by definition weaker than the CTs.
Imagine a game like Trauma Center with about 30 antibiotics and dozens of types of forceps. There's a reason that doctors spend years in school learning how to treat the human body, and as a result any game based on medicine needs to be simplified in order for a layperson to play it at all.

The same goes for flight; which is more popular, Star Fox (a.k.a. Lylat Wars outside U.S.) or all flight simulators combined? I don't even need to check the sales charts; my money's on McCloud. The reason is that the complexity of a realistic aircraft requires a person spend a great deal of time learning in order to get off the ground, let alone engage in heart-pumping combat.
The benefits of realism are immersion and common-sense mechanics:
Immersion is the holy grail of gaming. The reason realism is so touted, along with high-resolution 3D graphics and surround sound, is immersion. Immersion is the only thing which a mass-market game can always use more of, regardless of its nature or its genre, and so the push for realism that follows is understandable; The issue arises when more realism adds less immersion than it does unfairness and complexity.

In some rare cases, realism can reduce immersion. In a medieval game, speech from even the English would be quite difficult to make heads or tails of. Going back to counter-strike, the guns are all left-handed, even though they are used, by default, in the player's right hand. The only reason for this seems to be to show off the gun's realistic machinations, such as bullet-casing ejection - things that would go unseen if the gun were right-handed or held properly in the left hand.
Common Sense:
This point seems to be lost on many developers, and so was the inspiration for this article: realism is important to common sense. When a player first picks up a game, e is using all of eir knowledge, common sense, and perceptions to put the game into a logical context. Without this context, the game seems to make no sense, and is no fun.

Let's use Counter-Strike one last time. Let's say that for an assault rifle, the gun fails to fire every so often. Imagine two different expressions of this failure:
  • The gun makes a kazoo sound and fires confetti for a few seconds.
  • The gun jams and the cartridge is forcefully ejected by the player's avatar.
They both operate on exactly the same gameplay principles, yet the former makes little sense while the latter is perfectly understandable. When a player plays the game for the first time under the "confetti" presentation, the random failures of the gun will not make sense to the player. The player will become increasingly confused and frustrated as e attempts to explain the cause of the failures which are getting em killed so often. Unless other players in the game explain the gun's operation to the player, e will quit forever.

On the other hand, with the "jammed gun" presentation, there may be some confusion as to what causes a mechanical malfunction in the gun, but there is no confusion as to why the gun is not firing; guns do not fire confetti, they become jammed. In this case a player is far more likely to be more understanding of the situation, and is immediately closer to being fully acclimatized with the nuances of the game that need to be understood for effective and fun play.

Possible examples abound. For one, imagine a flight simulator that responds to a certain failure by instantly pointing the aircraft at the ground and teleporting it within 50 feet of the earth's surface. Even in a game emphasizing arcade-style play, such a response would only be perceived as a bug.
What to take away from this is that there are easily-understandable reasons behind why realism can be a bad thing - despite these aspects usually being acknowledged but glossed-over in much game design commentary - and that realism can help to make game rules intuitive for the player, making realism about more than immersion.

The follow-up to this post is here.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

An article on DRM

Here's an article that uses plain English to explain copyright's historical origins and reasonings, why we have copyright problems in this day and age, and what's wrong with the software copy-protection fad of the last 5 years or so:

Read it, and be wiser.

Among other things, I blame the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to teach others how to circumvent copy-protection, while saying nothing of teaching others how to make explosives.

Also thanks to this page for helping me to remove the (read ...) links from posts that have nothing more to read.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

43 Things

This is a fascinating site. I thought it was stupid at first... pedantic, even. I was wrong. It reveals many things.

It reveals I've done way more in my short life than I realize, things that other people want to do, and how fortunate I should feel. I can even chime in with my 2 cents on getting it done.

It reveals how people want things. Some people want to grow as people, others are comically superficial regarding appearance or fitness; some goals are bold, others are down-to-earth; some goals are possible, others are fanciful; some goals are uplifting, others are dangerous. It's a fascinating insight to the human condition.

You can also find amazing things and coincidences. You'll find out someone who's beaten you by a week to all the "things" you are reading about and commented in them lives in the same city. You'll send "cheers" to people's entries and goals, and they just might cheer you back; these can appear at a glance to be out of nowhere. Why am I being cheered by this person for wanting a job in video games? Does he like games? Does he like that I'm so confident in what I want to do? I have no idea.

You'll learn that people want things you didn't know people want. You'll learn just how common some wants are ("stop procrastinating" is astoundingly common).

If you just poke around here and there, it will seem like a pointless waste of time where each person is totally self-centered on what ey want to do; you need to actually join, poke around, and leave comments on things you've done and want to do, to get the full experience.

That said, here's my page. Be warned, seeing the desires of a fellow human being, laid bare for all the universe to see, can be embarrassing and/or terrifying just as easily as it can be enlightening.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wired Magazine / On "Gamers"

Wired Magazine's site crashes FireFox frequently. Attempt #3 is just a link to a list of other links from this guy who actually more or less knows everything he's talking about. I don't read Wired and I'm not about to start for one column, but this is good stuff.

Go read, if you care about gaming.

Speaking of gaming, who are "gamers"? I would never call myself a gamer; would you? Most of my leisure time is spent playing games, thinking about games, talking about games, or writing about games. You might think this qualifies me as a "gamer", and I might wear this label with pride. In fact, I don't quite understand why anyone would describe eirself as a gamer. Let's think a little more deeply about this.

If you love books, you might call yourself a "reader". Yet even at first glance, we see that this word has very different connotations. There's no reader "culture" or "lifestyle" to speak of; reading is just something you do as a hobby and in no way identifies how you culturally identify yourself. You can find a T-shirt on the internet with the Konami code emblazoned on the chest quite readily. You'd be much harder-pressed to find a shirt with, say, the definition of an intransitive verb.

The same goes for movies. If I go to movies often, I'm not a "movie-goer" in a strictly cultural sense; I'm a guy who loves movies. If I like music, am I suddenly part of the "audiophile culture"? I could make up terms and shove them into quotation marks all day, but I think you get my point.

So, why "gamer"? I have a couple of ideas, and I'm going to list them from least- to most-compelling:

3. Gamers are stereotypically awkward in social situations.
I get the impression that the idea of a nerd who plays video games and has no social skills was fairly accurate in the days of ye olde gameing when compared to a sample of similar non-gamers. If those that have laid the groundwork for the culture don't get along with non-gamers, a desire for soldarity follows. Suddenly that T-shirt with the controller input for a hadoken greatly resembles the rainbow accessory for homosexuals. They're both subtle but unmistakeable declarations on the respective identities of each wearer: "Yeah, I'm one of you, and there's nothing wrong with us. I won't call you a [nerd/queer] or make a crack at how you [don't know the names of atheletes/are attracted to your own sex]; strike up a conversation."
Given that the concept of being a gamer is becoming more and more familiar to the public at large, and not many people find moral issues with games in general, this is becoming a continually less-compelling hypothesis as time goes on, but the the concept of "gamer" is growing, so we need to move further down the list to build a complete answer.
2. Gamers are competetive.
If you play games enough to wear a T-shirt with hylian text, you like winning, even if it's against an AI or just an environment. The shirt becomes a statement of acumen: "I know what this means and you don't, because I'm more 1337 h4x0r than you." The wearer of such a shirt eats up the confused stares of non-gamers. The in-joke or esoteric reference is not specific to gamers, but as far as presumably-mainstream entertainment, it is; books aren't popular enough with the young people who love to be hip and in-the-know, while movies are too popular for any joke to be very "in".
This might single-handedly explain the T-shirts, but not all the people who call themselves gamers, nor the gamer "lifestyle", which seems to amount to - aside from playing games - cursory habits, like drinking Bawls or Mountain Dew instead of Red Bull.
1. Gamers are viewed as a clearly-defined marketing segment.
This is my pet theory. Let's say you want to market something, and your target audience is less than 30, not specifically female, and - this is critical - may or may not be a party animal who likes to drink plenty of acohol and use products with "X-treme" in the name. How do you identify with and appeal to this wide, vague group? They may be 15 or 25, male or female, dull and plain or wild and always trying new things, or responsible and polite or edgy and in-your face. What can this group, from a general perspective, have in common?
Games, of course. Lots and lots of these people play games, while relatively few people outside this demographic play games. Tell them they're "gamers", and sell them "gamer" products, and they'll buy them. They'll buy them because the product is for gamers.
It's not really for gamers of course; it's for the demographic which just happens to also often play games. A high-performance network card might be desirable for someone who opens his computer to vast numbers of unconventional connections, for some information-age utility. But these people are gamers, so they sell you a gamer card. It reeks of young male rebellion, but manages to duck out of actually putting "X-treme" on the label.
So, there you have it. If you ask me, no one is actually a "gamer" per se; it's an illusory group implied-at by marketers to sell things to a demographic. There's no sin in this type of marketing; it does indeed give people the correct impression as to who would want or need the product, and so I can't pin the blame on them.

The problem arises when people who have never worked as marketers call themselves gamers, and think that it in any way defines or clarifies who they are as people. If you tell me that you're a gamer, I still know nothing about you except that you play lots of games, not all of them sports. They might even be only one kind of game; maybe you only play non-squad-based first-person shooters. There are people who have only played half a dozen games regularly at any time in their lives and call themselves gamers, because of their devotion to that half-dozen. Calling yourself a gamer means you are involved in games a lot, but it doesn't imply scopes, degrees, or qualities, so it carries very little meaning, and thus is not at al la useful term. In fact, if you go so far as to call yourself a gamer, I get the vague (though not at all definite) impression that you don't have enough interests or hobbies to be a mature person; you're not so much a "gamer" as a "loser".

Don't call yourself a gamer except to say that you play games.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

GDC radio

Got podcasting software like iTunes? Great, copy this url:
...and then paste it into your software. (In iTunes: Advanced -> Subscribe to Podcast...) And behold, much game dev goodness. If you plan on listening to it in a limited-sound context, be warned that the volume is way, way below a typical song etc. (at least in the current episode), and doesn't spike, ever, making me wonder why the volume is so low in the first place... Whatever, my point is, you might want to manually up the volume before heading off to whatever aforementioned context.