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Thread: Games as a strange questions generator.

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia

    Games as a strange questions generator.

    I read a little article written by one game developer about his decision to remove the ability to jump from his game. It was a walking simulator, as we call such games today. You know, walking through the streets, talking with some people, like in real life...
    Except it was made on an engine which was designed for a FPS game. Soon it became obvious to him that it's default control scheme of space button idolatry like in Quake is not what we call "walking".

    Something else became obvious too. He coldn't remember the last time he jump! In real life. Moreover, he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen someone jumping.
    REAL PEOPLE NEVER JUMP! It's an occasion when we jump. Rare coincidence of circumstances. We would prefer to get around a little peddle just dont to jump. Me for sure.
    Man, this simple observation was a discovery for that guy! For me too!

    Different perspective as a result of a simple yet strange question. Have games raised such questions for you too?

  2. #2
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    Arma 3 replaced the jump mechanic with a "climb over obstacle" mechanic, and after so many hours playing that game, I've never encountered any occasion where I thought that that wasn't the right way to handle it.

    But on the bigger scale, I think player movement and controls is just a function of what kind of gameplay flow and feel you want.

    We've had this discussion recently on the Dark Mod forums, since some people want to greatly speed up the speed of mantling, jumping, sliding, and a few other things, and they posted some videos of many games that used that faster speed side-by-side with the Darkmod version.

    My basic opinion was I didn't like it, not because he didn't notice a legitimate difference, but because I thought gameplay is on a spectrum from more simulationist (like Arma 3, where you shouldn't have jumping at all) to more gamey (like recent FPSs where you want mantles and jumps to be inhumanly quick), and each step in either direction is changing the character and flow of your gameplay and the feel of the game in those directions.

    I actually tend to think of walking sims (which don't have jumping at all, and are prone to restrict areas you access with invisible walls, etc.) are on a gamey end on the other direction as the FPS-gamey direction, and proper sims are about versimiltude about how humans actually handle space. (There's also a whole discussion about what movement you want the player to directly control vs. some elements you want to externalize to compensate for the lack of environment feedback, things like the screen marking the direction you're being injured, or the lightgem in Darkmod, etc. But that's another related issue.)

    So anyway that's the way I think about it. There's no objectively right or wrong answer. Or let me try to phrase it properly. It's a design decision about what kind of character you want for your game, and if you want to capture that character, it'd be best that you design the movement and control elements consistent with the norms for that character.

    It sometimes happens though that a designer thinks their game is in one genre, but as the game comes together, sometimes the game itself has a natural tendency towards the genre that best captures what it is, as the designers begin to understand what it is... So I think that's the case when these kind of dynamics come into play, when a designer actually gets it wrong what the character of their own game really is, and over time it becomes more clear and the natural pressures will come into play that push players into wanting those elements to go in the proper direction, e.g., making jumping quicker or getting rid of jumping or whatever it is.

    Playtesting often helps tease those things out. But it can happen in the opposite direction too, which is what I thought about that Darkmod criticism case, where there's a demographic out there that really wants to push Darkmod in a gamey FPS direction that IMO is really antithetical to its natural character...

    But over time majority opinion of gamers may shift, where twitchy norms or walking sim norms get so set in a certain group of players that they start demanding it even in places where it doesn't belong at all (because, e.g., they just haven't been exposed to the history & sensibility of different genres), which is actually a little concerning to me. I want to see different gameplay sensibilities continue to be represented and respected, and I don't want to see certain pop norms dominate to the extent that they suffocate off certain sensibilities just because it doesn't mean anything to them in their limited experience.

    That's the kind of things I think about in this neighborhood.

    Edit: Okay, I'll be explicit with some examples.

    - You need jumping in Darkmod because environment-negotiating gameplay is core gameplay (although as environment negotiation, not jumping puzzles per se).

    - I can tolerate the quick mantles and jumps in post-Dishonored immSim FPSs, even if they're not to my taste, I recognize its core to the character of that genre, & if I were on the design team I'd demand them too.

    - As I said, it'd be wrong to have jumping in Arma3 & it's proper it handles it with the climb-obstacle action.

    - As for walking sims & other games inspired by them or building out of that root... that will take a whole other post, because I'm not gungho about this trend of cinematicizing games and want gameplay to still be a core part, but even then I recognize if you want a walking sim or cinematic flow, you want to make sure you don't have jumping, etc, to respect or capture that character.

    I think you could gather my probable thoughts on other examples from that.
    Last edited by demagogue; 18th Nov 2023 at 19:25.

  3. #3
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia
    Wow, just wow. I couldn't even imagine such a detailed and more so fast reply to that obscure chain of thoughts of mine.

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    (There's also a whole discussion about what movement you want the player to directly control vs. some elements you want to externalize to compensate for the lack of environment feedback, things like the screen marking the direction you're being injured, or the lightgem in Darkmod, etc. But that's another related issue.)
    Brilliant examples of those "strange questions" which can be generated in us, IMHO, only by game, or by situation of creating a game if more precisely. The problem of direct control/scripted sequence prioritization. Or, as you have mentioned, the problem of some kind of compensation of some essential for a game but supernatural or simply imperceptible for us, as human species limited by input and output devices, features. I agree with you that those problems haven't single right solution. It's only a design decision to make it that way or another.

    What interested me in this case is the situation itself. How it's even a problem? I mean where else such subtle and strange from the common sense perspective things can be a subject of our attention?

  5. #5
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    To put things into perspective, it's not like I just came up with all of those thoughts on the spot. I'm part of the dev team for Darkmod, and we have pages and pages of discussion in our dev forums on all of these kinds of issues to go into crazy depth. And it's not just in the abstract, but because we're literally designing the mechanics in the code, or we're responding to demands for modifications and we have to articulate why we're voting "no" in a way the other side can grant.

    So I was just repeating a lot of what I was already posting or thinking about in the Darkmod dev forum.

    You wouldn't believe how in depth those discussions go though.

    Now I really roll my eyes when I read fans casually criticize games like "Why didn't you do X? It's so obvious. Idiots! I could have told you & you'd have never made this disastrous mistake." What they don't appreciate is that we have a 400 page thread talking about exactly what they're complaining about, and we brought up their opinion already in post 2, and then the next 150 pages will be walking through all the technical reasons it can't be done without wrecking the game or how it's bad for the game in the long run... And it covers every possible counter-argument in exhaustive detail that they could come back with, so it's already hundreds of steps ahead of them into things they haven't thought about yet and wouldn't unless you actually walked them through the whole discussion, and then you can often accurately predict where their thinking will probably go, even if they haven't thought of it yet!

    But it's not like you can just toss out the conclusions of 400 pages of back and forth in replying to their off the cuff criticism. They'd have to go through it themselves. Even then, some people are so stubborn they'll stick to their conclusion no matter how good the arguments are on the other side. It makes me really appreciate what other devs go through, why odd things end up the way they do (not because the devs are idiots), and really appreciate that decent games can get made at all!

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    we have pages and pages of discussion in our dev forums on all of these kinds of issues to go into crazy depth...
    "These kinds of issues" were never discussed so deeply before. Furthermore, "these kinds of issues" were never discussed before at all. Literally. Why would we ever think about such things? I mean, before the appearance of videogames.
    As Warren Spector kept answering to many notions about overall clumsyness of System Shock with the same :"1993". No one knew how to appropriately implement such an advanced character control scheme from a first person perspective into a 3D graphical environment. No one in history. Until 1993.
    Why would we ever think so many about control scheme implementation, interface usability, the jump mechanic after all? Only by necessity to make a game. That's the wonder of game as a strange questions generator for me. To make a game we can create a completely new sphere of knowledge, simply to look at the world itself from the new perspective.

  7. #7
    Brethren
    Registered: Apr 2000
    Location: The Docks
    Quote Originally Posted by Kamlorn View Post
    Something else became obvious too. He coldn't remember the last time he jump! In real life. Moreover, he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen someone jumping.
    REAL PEOPLE NEVER JUMP!
    Maybe this isn't the point, but since when do players want, or even expect, realism in their video games? I'd say it's probably the opposite most of the time, we want to do things we'd normally never be able to do or would risk doing IRL. That's the fun of it, right?

  8. #8
    Chakat sex pillow
    Registered: Sep 2006
    Location: not here
    I think one of the most meaningful things video games can do, like any other art medium, is to interrogate our assumptions about ourselves and the world and what we take for granted. Pathologic's examination of your agency in a hellish situation via Brechtian theatre motifs is one of the most irritatingly opaque and near-unplayable experiences I've had in gaming, yet one that remains firmly lodged in a portion of my brain because of how interesting it is.

    It's why I tend to have this background sense of dissatisfaction when games default to killing as the default goto for any conflict-ridden situation. I mean, I'll be the last one to tell you that it isn't fun, and I'm not arguing to take away your Quakes and Dooms. But when you have a realistic enough setting and a grounded-enough protagonist, like Drake in Uncharted (yeah, I'm invoking the hoary old ludonarrative dissonance chestnut), it does make me wonder if roleplaying psychopathy should in fact have been something we've normalised in the genre. In a roundabout way, this leads back to the walking sim, because one of the first walking sims, Dear Esther, was made by Dan Pinchbeck. And he made a Doom 3 mod called Conscientious Objector, which is about as ludicrous as it sounds*. And really, the funny thing is why that's ludicrous - if it wasn't demons from hell in Doom 3, but just a bunch of humans you need to kill instead, the game would be different, but it would play just fine to us anyway. That's pretty interesting, because we're taking a heuristic shortcut in our brains that says 'if they're enemies, they must die', and then reinforcing the dopamine loop from killing them over and over again without thinking too hard about it.


    *Here's the research paper he wrote about it, also, if anyone wants to know more.

  9. #9
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia
    Quote Originally Posted by Renault View Post
    Maybe this isn't the point, but since when do players want, or even expect, realism in their video games? I'd say it's probably the opposite most of the time, we want to do things we'd normally never be able to do or would risk doing IRL. That's the fun of it, right?
    Players expectations are often the dim valley for players themselves. I dont dare to talk about such a controversial topic with such confidence. For me personally it's a natural art's claim to imitate the nature.

    But the author of the article have his own point of view on games and the place of realism in them. Whole philosophy of videogames I would say.
    Last edited by Kamlorn; 21st Nov 2023 at 15:20.

  10. #10
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia
    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    Pathologic's examination of your agency in a hellish situation via Brechtian theatre motifs is one of the most irritatingly opaque and near-unplayable experiences I've had in gaming, yet one that remains firmly lodged in a portion of my brain because of how interesting it is.
    The creator of the Pathologic is actually the author of the article I have described in my initial post. Trully the world is a small town, the world of videogames especially.

  11. #11
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2006
    Location: Washington DC
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    Arma 3 replaced the jump mechanic with a "climb over obstacle" mechanic, and after so many hours playing that game, I've never encountered any occasion where I thought that that wasn't the right way to handle it.
    I have also played a fair bit of Arma 3 and have run into situations where the lack of jump is unrealistic and frustrating. It's usually things like a narrow but deep crevasse, stream, or trench, and the right way to get past in real life is to take a running leap across. Arma won't let you do this, it forces you to wade through, and there are times when that is not appropriate.

    I'd argue the problem is less that people in real life never leave the ground, and more that the representation of jumping in shooters is just a purely vertical impulse, a mechanic originally to provide the ability to traverse vertical terrain in otherwise simplistic FPS engines. It's a way to interact with the physics engine, rather than representing how people interact with the real world. If you have mantling (preferably with a generous height allowance to simulate jumping, grabbing, and pulling yourself up) and climbing over things, that's the two vertical movement use cases accounted for through fixed animations rather than bunny-hopping over things. Add in an ability to clear horizontal gaps as above and that pretty much covers it.

    Speaking of Arma and interacting with the world, one thing I really like in it that I haven't seen anywhere else (except System Shock, I guess, of all things) is the ability to vary your stance more incrementally than just standing/crouching/prone. It makes taking cover feel more natural, and avoids the common FPS situation where a window or sandbag is too short for standing but too tall for crouching.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    It's why I tend to have this background sense of dissatisfaction when games default to killing as the default goto for any conflict-ridden situation. I mean, I'll be the last one to tell you that it isn't fun, and I'm not arguing to take away your Quakes and Dooms. But when you have a realistic enough setting and a grounded-enough protagonist, like Drake in Uncharted (yeah, I'm invoking the hoary old ludonarrative dissonance chestnut), it does make me wonder if roleplaying psychopathy should in fact have been something we've normalised in the genre. In a roundabout way, this leads back to the walking sim, because one of the first walking sims, Dear Esther, was made by Dan Pinchbeck. And he made a Doom 3 mod called Conscientious Objector, which is about as ludicrous as it sounds*. And really, the funny thing is why that's ludicrous - if it wasn't demons from hell in Doom 3, but just a bunch of humans you need to kill instead, the game would be different, but it would play just fine to us anyway. That's pretty interesting, because we're taking a heuristic shortcut in our brains that says 'if they're enemies, they must die', and then reinforcing the dopamine loop from killing them over and over again without thinking too hard about it.
    Yeah, this is one thing that especially stands out to me in videogame adaptations of other media. Metro 2033 is a book with a lot of danger but not a lot of actual violence, but then in-game you slaughter your way through hundreds of bandits and mutants, and nobody seems to comment on the body count. The moral system is symbolized by one NPC outright telling you 'if it's hostile, you kill it', while another encourages you to try to understand the world, but either way you're going to shoot a lot of dudes and critters and your moral points just determine what ending you get.

    I can think of a number of RPGs and imm-sims that play with the idea that killing everyone maybe shouldn't be the default conflict resolution, but they often achieve it through heavy-handed moral systems and finger-wagging at you for using the gameplay systems as designed. The one that always comes to mind first is Dishonored, where there are major consequences to killing, but if you go the stealth route you deliberately forgo a ton of game content.

    I'd say Thief is a strong example of a game that subverts the 'if they're enemies, they must die' expectation. Combat is an option, but mechanically it's a bad way to get through the levels. It's a game that's very close in design to a traditional FPS, but successfully manages to discourage violence as your go-to solution without making you feel like you're missing out on gameplay. I suppose you could also lump in a lot of survival horror, where combat might be an option but only as a last resort. Alien: Isolation did that pretty well; most other survivors will not kill you on sight, and avoiding them is a better idea than engaging in a gunfight and attracting the alien. But even then, you can kill every survivor you meet and the game doesn't comment on it.

    On the flip side, there's Spec Ops: The Line, which dives headfirst into the protagonist-as-psychopath trope and does one of the most direct critiques of it that I've seen in a game.

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2020
    Location: Russia
    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    I think one of the most meaningful things video games can do, like any other art medium, is to interrogate our assumptions about ourselves and the world and what we take for granted.
    Well said! I think that it is not just the "art medium's" case. "Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground?" Example of such "interrogation" (again, well said!) of what we took for granted. From a XVII century scientific perspective this time.

    Really strange question, by the way. Hmm... Maybe I should do another topic about science as a strange questions generator...

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