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Author Topic: When gameplay hurts - my path to notgames  (Read 9188 times)
Thomas

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« on: May 23, 2010, 10:25:26 PM »

During the making of our upcoming game Amnesia, we several times bumped into situations where gameplay has lessened/hindered the intended feel of the game. This is what has really started my exploration of not-games and I just thought I would share these experiences. My point is, kinda, that wanting to do notgames has simple come from the will to create certain experiences and not some general desire to just do games differently. This is not a bad reason btw, for from it, I just wanted to share some design issues that has come up that might be of interested:

When we first started out making the game, we thought about having some super marioesque design, where the player would need to avoid traps, and such in order to reach a goal. We did some quick tests and quickly found out that this put severe limits on what kind of environments we could do, and did not work well with either the atmosphere we wanted to create.

We also thought about doing some kinda of light-based game rule system, where the player was supposed to avoid light and thereby fear it. Again, this put a lot of straint on the type of locations we could create and espeically when trying to light the levels in approiate manners. It also had a kind of opposite effect of making the dangers with dakrness abstract, pulling the player out of the experience and a lot of the atmosphere was lost. After we scrapped this design another game, Lit for the Wii, was released with a similar mechanic and one can clearly see how the rules force the graphics to look in certain ways. The system with light and shadow lives on in the game, but in a very different form, and along the road we have just scrapped more and more rules, until it lost almost all of its mechanical and abstracy game-rule meaning.

For a level late in the game the player was supposed to face an enemy, which could only be defeated by tearing down the environment in a certain manner. The idea sounded good at first, but upon closer study, cracks flaws started to appear. In order to reach certain parts, the design would have to become quite convoluted and once again the rules of the game would destroy much of the intended atmosphere in the level. The end solution was to make the gameplay simpler so that more freedom was given to the things that matter: creating an engaging scene and evoking emotions.

Long story short: Time and time again, I have seen how traditional gameplay has forced us limit what worlds we could build and as sort of consequence what kind of emotions that could be conveyed.

Would be very interesting to hear if anybody had similar experiences!
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JordanMagnuson

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« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2010, 02:10:33 AM »

Thanks for sharing Thomas! Your experience as a developer here is exactly the flipside of what we've been talking about over on the interactive closure thread: http://notgames.org/forum/index.php?topic=204.msg1892#msg1892

Interesting how the sides converge!
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Michaël Samyn

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« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2010, 02:14:50 PM »

We've had a similar experience. Even though we started our career as game developers with a sort of "anti-game" attitude, up until now, we've always fallen into the trap of game design. In the beginning, because of lack of experience on the one hand and lack of care on the other, we often ended up designing very bad game-type interactions. And considering how even well designed game-play can wreck atmosphere and immersion, you can imagine what a disaster badly designed game-play can be. We're currently rediscovering all of our old mistakes, as we are prototyping a new game based on our first game design ("8").

But even in more recent projects, and even in The Path, which has been praised/rejected many times for not being a game, I feel that we've been holding ourselves back and/or not pushing ourselves had enough. We've always known that the "game" stands in the way of the playing and the enjoyment we get out of videogames. But it wasn't until we started this Notgames project, with its explicit rejection of game elements that we realized what the correct attitude should be.

Before, we always tried to include some type of gameplay. In an attempt to lure habitual gamers in, for instance, or to give a sort of semi-linear structure to something we essentially saw as non-linear. To help the players, in other words. And while this does work sometimes, to some extent, it also confuses things needlessly. It creates false expectations (and thus disappointment) and it keeps your content from being expressed as well as it can be.

We should never forget that a) gamers are mostly rather intelligent and b) they often spend a lot of time with our work. So I think it's ok to create something that they might not be familiar with (in terms of content as well as in terms of form). As long as it is well designed (which is of course a discussion of good ideas versus what people are used to). Gamers are used to putting some effort in their entertainment. And if they pick up one of our games, it's probably not because they're expecting Mario or Doom.
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ghostwheel

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« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2010, 07:25:39 PM »

This is another one of those conversations around the issue of how much game to you put into your not-a-game experience. I've decided to eject all gaminess from my project. It seems to me that half-heartedly putting in some weak game elements into an art project doesn't make it an art project that may attract some gamers, it just makes the experience a crappy game. From what I've seen, Amnesia is, at it's core, a game. This doesn't mean it can't be an interesting and artistic experience. You seem to be putting a lot of thought into it as a game, which is good. I can understand you're frustrations but I don't think you should look at it as gameplay vs experience. If your game is strong, everything will fall into place - make Amnesia that best GAME it can be. It's when the gameplay is secondary that it can be problematic.
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Thomas

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« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2010, 08:43:27 PM »

Well, the main goal in is to evoke certain emotions in the player using whatever means necessary. We tried classical game-rule ways of doing this and it as failed many times. For me it is not really a "vs"-thingie. The experience is the key thing and main goal. Everything else is secondary.

Actually we made a game (an expansion called Requiem) where put the game part as a primary thing. Many people ended up hating it as it did not deliver what they wanted.
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JordanMagnuson

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« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2010, 01:05:43 AM »

Quote
Gamers are used to putting some effort in their entertainment. And if they pick up one of our games, it's probably not because they're expecting Mario or Doom.

Good point. Though gamers can be fussy in terms of preferences, it's true that they're used to working for their own entertainment, which is a rather unique strength (obviously "sophisticated" entertainment at any level requires effort on the part of the viewer, but with games, even the most "lazy" gamers are used to putting in some effort). And as you say, the more "fussy" gamers aren't probably very likely to pick up a notgame anyway.

Quote
This is another one of those conversations around the issue of how much game to you put into your not-a-game experience. I've decided to eject all gaminess from my project. It seems to me that half-heartedly putting in some weak game elements into an art project doesn't make it an art project that may attract some gamers, it just makes the experience a crappy game. From what I've seen, Amnesia is, at it's core, a game. This doesn't mean it can't be an interesting and artistic experience. You seem to be putting a lot of thought into it as a game, which is good. I can understand you're frustrations but I don't think you should look at it as gameplay vs experience. If your game is strong, everything will fall into place - make Amnesia that best GAME it can be. It's when the gameplay is secondary that it can be problematic.

Interesting point Ghostwheel. Personally I feel that we haven't yet explored deep enough to know all the ways that gameplay and "experience" or atmosphere might interact. But at the same time, I think you're on to something, in that I don't believe the interactive component of a work should ever be treated as a second class citizen to image and sound, whether or not that interactive component is built around "gamey" elements. Whatever the interactive elements are, they need to be fully integrated as part of the work's aesthetic. Something that far too many game developers don't seem to understand.
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Michaël Samyn

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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2010, 01:17:33 AM »

I think integration is exactly the problem that Thomas is talking about. It's easy to integrate goal-oriented competitive gameplay with a story about being a hero who saves the world. It's not that easy to integrate the same gameplay with a story about a man who gets confronted with dormant fears in his own psyche and who is desperately trying to remain sane (I haven't seen enough of Amnesia to know that this is what it is about, but I'm sure you get my drift).

This does not mean that interaction is not a major concern. If typical gameplay interaction destroys your story, then you need to find other types of interaction that support it. Games have existed for thousands of years. There's a lot to fall back on. But this interactivity offered by the computer is very new. So there's a lot of insecurity here. I don't think we should encourage each other to just fall back on the game format. I think we should support each other in our exploration of the unknown.

And I don't think this is an art vs game thing. It is quite possible to make interactive entertainment that is not a game and still doesn't aspire to be high art. Much like there's dramas and comedies next to action movies.
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Dagda

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« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2010, 02:11:09 AM »

Thomas, I think I'm very much on board with your views & interpretation of the "notgames" label- the way I'd put it is that referring to something as a "notgame" while talking with a game developer is like referring to something as a "notnail" while talking to someone with a hammer. The most well-honed techniques aren't always going to be the best tool for a job.

On a tangent, I wonder how much of what we identify as the limitations of videogames (as a medium) are the product of their interface (i.e. binary-input buttons on a keyboard or controller, plus some thumbsticks or a mouse). Perhaps the physical navigation of a space is simply the most intuitive kind of virtual experience, and thus the one where we're most inclined to accept a limited set of actions.
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Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
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