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Interactive closure in games?

Interactive closure in games?
« on: April 28, 2010, 07:37:13 am »

I was just reading this article, Exploring Emotion and Aesthetics with A Boy and His Blob and Lucidity , and had an interesting thought. Incomplete, but it might go somewhere.

I wrote in the comments:
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"Now take a video game like A Boy and His Blob: the story may be almost as linear as a picture book’s or a film’s, but when the player sees Boy at point A, it is up to that player to both imagine Boy at point B, and to invoke the necessary action to actually get him there."

This stood out to me. Reading this, I thought of Scott McCloud's discussion of closure in comics, particularly between panels, how central it is to the way the medium works. And what you describe sounds like a possible equivalent for games. I mean, outside of game mechanics, but in terms of an interactive experience of a story. Like notgames. Most games are about making that imagining part tricky and mechanically interesting. But there could be games about making that imagining part aesthetically interesting with respect to the story. Breakthrough?

What do you think?
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2010, 07:58:56 am »

Could you explain what Mr McCloud means by closure? I'm not familiar with his work.
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2010, 08:23:17 am »

I like how the writer of this article (a game developer) honestly analyzes his personal response to an experience with games and realizes that the things he responds the most to are things that have nothing to do with games. Welcome to the club!  Wink

With regards to his question if the games are "better than a pretty picture", I have a counter-question every game creator should ask themselves:
"Is my game as good as a pretty picture?"!
Because pretty pictures can be very striking, emotionally. And if your game is not as striking with all the benefits your medium offers of interactivity, procedurality and non-linearity, well, frankly, you're doing it wrong.
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2010, 08:34:45 am »

I also like how he concludes that a game's interaction needs to serve its aesthetics, that it shouldn't "draw attention to itself". The next step is, of course, to start your project from these aesthetics and design gameplay for the sake of these aesthetics.
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2010, 06:39:07 pm »

Cheesy

Here's a good description of the concept of "closure" in comics:
http://blogs.lubbockonline.com/hero/2009/08/14/friday-night-fights-gutter-analysis/

Closure means filling in the gaps between panels, inferring the transition from point A to point B in your mind.

The connection to (not)games that I saw was that being at point A, and imagining point B and then actually performing the actions that will get the game from point A to point B is similar to the act of closure in comics. But requiring even more extensive involvement.

And the point is, that most games do their best to make this "interactive closure" challenging and mechanically interesting, while perhaps they could instead, as notgames, try to make it aesthetically and narrative-ly (is that a word?) resonant instead.

One more piece of the puzzle. Wink

The next step is, of course, to start your project from these aesthetics and design gameplay for the sake of these aesthetics.

Good idea. Smiley
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2010, 09:28:04 pm »

This idea of interactive closure sounds quite interesting! Need to have it in mind!

However, it is needed that the player knows what B is and this can sometimes be hard get across. It might also force the game to be very linear. I guess one can have more fuzzy goals, like "become happy", but the fuzzier B gets, the harder it will be do focus on closure (since the future actions will be harder to know). Any thoughts on this?
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2010, 03:49:08 am »

Man, it has been awhile since I heard anything about Scott McCloud. The last of his morning improv comics was a really good example of how interactive storytelling can end and branch in different places, and the rest are worth a look as well.
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2010, 04:30:50 am »

Quote
I like how the writer of this article (a game developer) honestly analyzes his personal response to an experience with games and realizes that the things he responds the most to are things that have nothing to do with games. Welcome to the club! 
Thanks  Smiley

Quote
With regards to his question if the games are "better than a pretty picture", I have a counter-question every game creator should ask themselves:
"Is my game as good as a pretty picture?"!
Because pretty pictures can be very striking, emotionally. And if your game is not as striking with all the benefits your medium offers of interactivity, procedurality and non-linearity, well, frankly, you're doing it wrong.
I absolutely 100% agree with this. I was using "better" there in the since of offering something "beyond," which I do think that an interactive experience should do (otherwise it simply IS a pretty picture), and I think I was almost hoping that someone might jump on it like this Wink.

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I also like how he concludes that a game's interaction needs to serve its aesthetics, that it shouldn't "draw attention to itself". The next step is, of course, to start your project from these aesthetics and design gameplay for the sake of these aesthetics.
I also agree with you here (which I guess makes sense, since you're basically agreeing with what I wrote Smiley), though I think there's still some issue of people confusing aesthetic with graphics and sound, and I don't think gameplay/interactivity should serve graphics and sound: I think all three should serve the developer's vision for the game's aesthetic. The problem with most contemporary games, I think (and what I was trying to say in my article) is that most game developers only believe that graphics and sound need to serve the aesthetic, and that gameplay is this other "dimension", of puzzles and point scoring, that you tack on, on top.

Quote
This idea of interactive closure sounds quite interesting! Need to have it in mind!

However, it is needed that the player knows what B is and this can sometimes be hard get across. It might also force the game to be very linear. I guess one can have more fuzzy goals, like "become happy", but the fuzzier B gets, the harder it will be do focus on closure (since the future actions will be harder to know). Any thoughts on this?
Good questions. No answers off the top of my head, but I think there's room for a working theory here.


Finally, just wanted to say that I've been looking around the notgames forums and blog, and I love what I see here Smiley. Best wishes to everyone.
Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2010, 07:54:40 am »

After reading Curt Purcell's responses on closure I started to think if games perhaps is lacking this at a basic level?
Because you follow every motion of the character's journey, you lack this kind of mind-made closure found in other media and that this might perhaps lessen the impact?

From experience I know that the best horror moments from our games have always been when we leave a lot of information unknown and for the player to imagine. I think this could be true for any other emotion as well and perhaps more exploration into this direction might be fruitful. What we (Frictional Games) have made so far in our games, is very simple stuff with noises from unseen sources, notes telling of events and very simple (and wide spread) stuff. But perhaps this can be used on more fundamental level? I mean that actions taken all involve some kind of gap that leaves open for interpretation. The question is if this might be harmful for interaction though?
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2010, 09:54:16 am »

Imagination is a powerful ingredient in the experience of videogames. I think we should include it in our design practice much more actively. Because imagination allows our work to enter the head of the player, and that's where we want it to be.
(imagination can also be used to reduce programming complexity and asset creation because you basically make the player a co-creator)

The question is if this might be harmful for interaction though?

It doesn't matter. Interaction is a tool. Use it to make your work better. If interaction does not make your work better, don't use it.
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2010, 10:05:57 am »

I think there's still some issue of people confusing aesthetic with graphics and sound, and I don't think gameplay/interactivity should serve graphics and sound: I think all three should serve the developer's vision for the game's aesthetic.

This confusion probably comes from the fact that videogames have been mostly created by engineers and programmers. And when computers got fast enough to show pretty pictures, they were forced to hire artists to make those pictures. Most game development studios still work in this way.

In projects where artists are leading the production, this issue does not exist. Sadly (and ironically in view of the game industry's recent rejection of Ebert's criticism) such projects are very rare.

One of the practical problems is that there are not many authoring tools that allow artists to create software systems. Most programming environments require the analytical mind of an engineer. Sometimes an engineer also has a sense of aesthetics. And sometimes this sense extends to the aesthetics of the algorithms. But again, this is rare. Aesthetics are the domain of the artist. If we find a way to make this technology accessible to artists, we will see a boom on "holistically aesthetic" experiences.
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #11 on: May 02, 2010, 01:21:51 am »

However, it is needed that the player knows what B is and this can sometimes be hard get across. It might also force the game to be very linear. I guess one can have more fuzzy goals, like "become happy", but the fuzzier B gets, the harder it will be do focus on closure (since the future actions will be harder to know). Any thoughts on this?

The problem you describe is the problem with designing any nonlinear interactive experience. Smiley

B doesn't have to be a particular situation. Unless you want your game to be linear, of course. If you're talking about a puzzle game, B might be easy to predict and plan ahead of time. But if you're talking about a strategy game, say, then there are way more possible options for what B is at any point in time.

But you can make predictions about B more easily when you know what the player is trying to do - and this is much easier if you give the player goals, and reward them for making progress toward them like a typical game. For a notgame, though, you can't necessarily depend on that and instead you have to think more about the motivation that comes with experiencing a story.

After reading Curt Purcell's responses on closure I started to think if games perhaps is lacking this at a basic level?
Because you follow every motion of the character's journey, you lack this kind of mind-made closure found in other media and that this might perhaps lessen the impact?

Interesting point. Because there is a difference between imagining the gaps in the present (comics closure) and imagining and closing the gap to the future (interactive closure). I'm not sure what the answer is here.

Do keep in mind that closure doesn't work when interpretation is completely open-ended - the gap can be wide, but you need solid ground on both sides or it's not a gap. Don't push the player off a cliff. Wink

(imagination can also be used to reduce programming complexity and asset creation because you basically make the player a co-creator)

Good point. This is part of why pixel art is appealing, by the way. You get to imagine the details. Wink

Aesthetics are the domain of the artist. If we find a way to make this technology accessible to artists, we will see a boom on "holistically aesthetic" experiences.

Yes. I really want to accomplish this someday. Game Maker is not enough! Tongue

Creating an artist-accessible game development technology could be an interesting offshoot of the notgames project. How would it fit in?
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Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #12 on: May 02, 2010, 02:24:16 am »

(imagination can also be used to reduce programming complexity and asset creation because you basically make the player a co-creator)

So can procedural generation, although programming an artist might be more painful than just hiring one  Wink

I completely agree about the power imagination has in games. This kind of reminds me of the art revolution in the twentieth century - the camera made representational art pretty pointless, so artists turned to more abstract works. In gaming, today's technology allows one to create realistic worlds and simulations (light, physics, particles, etc.), so to move forward as a medium game mechanics and graphics need to become more inspirational than representational.
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From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. - Karl Marx
Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #13 on: May 02, 2010, 03:24:39 am »

(imagination can also be used to reduce programming complexity and asset creation because you basically make the player a co-creator)

So can procedural generation, although programming an artist might be more painful than just hiring one  Wink

 Grin
Re: Interactive closure in games?
« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2010, 08:39:26 am »

Do keep in mind that closure doesn't work when interpretation is completely open-ended - the gap can be wide, but you need solid ground on both sides or it's not a gap.

I'm not sure if I fully understand the concept of closure. But one interesting design tool is to play with people's expectations. Maybe they imagine "state B" to be one thing and then they find something else. The confrontation between their expectations and what they actually found, can trigger inspiration and interpretation.

Now, the next step is to allow "state B" to be many different things. In our Drama Princess project, we even experimented with randomness. Instead of making sense "on purpose", we rely on the imagination of the player to make sense of the connection between "state A" and "state B". I think a certain artistic sensitivity during creation can prevent this from feeling completely random. When the connection feels right, even if you don't have a rational explanation for them.
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