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Making the player examine the world

Making the player examine the world
« on: January 18, 2010, 08:15:40 pm »

This is sort of a sub-topic of the whole reward topic, but I think it deserves its own thread.

Once a virtual world is modeled we obviously want the player to examine it, interact with it and take in all that it can offer. The "naive" approach is just to assume that the player will look at it because of its intrinsic beauty (or what not). To understand why I think this is a bit naive, consider going to an old castle with or without a guide. When you are just walking around by yourself you will take in impressions but will not be sure exactly what is worth focusing on and will have a harder time to remain interested (at least this the way I mostly feel). On the other hand if you have a guide (and this does not have to be a person) you will be told what to focus on and also be told more information about objects and get more out of the experience. Getting to know an object (where it came from, what it is used for, etc) will greatly enhance the experience of looking at it.

How to do this in (not)games? In normal adventure games they do it by simply having descriptions and while that works it kind of forces an impression on the player and will not be doable sometimes. I am not sure if it was the meaning, but I think it was nicely done in Fatale where the player had to light candles around the scene. I found that this made me inspect it more closely and I also liked playing around with the physics I was close in. I would not have gotten to know the scene as well without this mechanic. It would be really interesting to know if this was your intention Michaël.

In other games like Bioshock scavenging for items make one investigate more closely, but as this is highly connected with how gameplay mechanics of running around killing stuff, it will not work in a notgame. In Amnesia we have been considering using a similar approach, but only using items that are related to the story and will in turn enhance the environment (like finding the dagger used to committ a murder), etc. Siren uses a system like this.

I think this is very interesting as examining and interacting with environments is at the core of experience, but is made a lot harder when the simple gameplay (like shooting, etc) is removed. Would be very interested in hearing ideas and/or examples from other games!
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2010, 12:01:29 am »

I feel that the idea of extinguishing the lights in Fatale is a bit half-baked. While it does indeed force people to pay attention to the scenes, it also adds a kind of gameplay element that is confusing because it is not rewarding as gameplay. So I have mixed feelings about its success. If we were to do it again -within a notgame context- we'd probably try to avoid adding anything that could be interpreted as gameplay.

You're right that the interaction with the lights forces the player to pay attention to the scene. But while the extinguishing of lights is emotionally connected to the death of the main character, whose role you're playing, it doesn't say anything specifically about the scene. I personally think the interaction after the extinguishing (moving the flame over the objects) is more successful. Especially when you're moving over a character's skin.

This being said, I don't think all of this is necessarily a problem. Rather it's a choice. The choice between guiding the player or not doing so. I don't think guiding the player is a requirement. Especially not if you're not interested in reaching a wide audience. And if not guiding the player is important to the meaning of the piece, as I feel it was in Fatale (because Fatale is about looking, the desire to look and the prohibition to look and therefore the choice to look must be the player's).

That doesn't mean I'm not interested in strategies to enhance the player's experience of the environment. We often start a project with an idea of what the environment is and who the character you will be playing (with) is. And it is often the relationship between character and environment that determines the strength of the idea: as in how much the combination speaks to the imagination.

We often feel like landscape painters. We don't necessarily want to show an environment to a player, we want to make them feel like they are in this environment. Since we don't tend to work with linear narrative, most elements in this environment are optional to explore. This is why for some people our games are very short and for others they last hours. I must say I don't have a big problem with that. And I like that players have the choice.

I do have a problem with players running through the game at top-speed and then declaring that they didn't have a good time. I know that, unlike novelists or film directors, we do have some tools at our disposal to force the player to take their time. And I definitely want to experiment with these. But I don't think they should be required. Maybe there are other ways to make the player slow down. Maybe ways in which the player feels more in control, so that they feel it is their own choice. And maybe sometimes they'll play the game superficially and other times they'll go deeper.

I never use an audio-guide in a museum because I want to let my imagination run wild. But I do realize that I enjoy certain artworks more thanks to my knowledge of the story or characters they depict. But I think I enjoy this because this knowledge is already part of me, of who I am. I don't think I would enjoy it as much if I learned about the story right then and there (unless there was some connection to things I do know already). I think my experience would be radically different and would take place on a more rational, less emotional level.

I guess this is one of the reasons why we tend to work with old stories at Tale of Tales, stories that people already know. But that should definitely not be the only kind of stories the medium should deal with. And we've also experienced that, since we add a lot of original content to the story, we still need to figure out how to communicate things, how to guide the player's imagination.

Some people don't need such guidance. But most people do. And the people who don't, usually don't mind if it's there. Especially not if it adds another layer to the experience.
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2010, 07:57:50 pm »

This is an interesting topic! It reminded me of something I've been wanting to write an article about for a long time, so I thought I could share my thoughts here and see if it makes any sense to you guys.

I have some background in performing close-up magic and to me guiding the player kind of translates into what magicians call misdirection. When performing magic tricks it's usually used to be able to do something fishy with one hand while everyone looks at the other, but in games the same psychology can often be used in a much more subtle and nice way.

What misdirection really is about is to get into the mind of the audience and make them think what you want them to think. Since no one falls for that trick if you say that's what you're doing, it all has to be done through very small and unnoticeable "clues". In a performing situation that often translates into for example looking at something (i.e. your left hand) which makes everyone look there (apparently that's how the human mind works). That's something that in a way have been used in adventure games where characters look at important objects in the environment, but I think there are tons of more interesting methods left to explore. I have been trying a little but I have no usable, practical advice so far.

Another, arguably more interesting kind of misdirection is the use of "story" as a way of making people think what you want to think. A close-up magic example would be me taking a coin and making it look as if I move it from my right to left hand, while in reality I'd keep it in my right hand. The story in the mind of the audience here would be that the coin has moved and if I keep my left hand closed you would not argue with that. As long as I pretend the coin is there I can do all other kinds of things (like move my right hand to the pocket to get my wand, while secretly dropping the coin) without anyone suspecting anything. The point is that I have planted an idea in the head of the audience and as long as that idea is not challenged it will stay there, affecting their thinking in very noticeable ways. In Blueberry Garden I tried to make the whole first 3-5 minutes "scripted" through this kind of mind control, planting one idea that lead the player to a place where another idea was planted, and so on. Of course a lot of players get "dropped on the way", that's the beauty of freedom and interactivity. Still, a great deal of people follows the planned path, not only through the game world but also in the mind. I have heard this described by a person as the game "mind reading" the player, which apparently was a very cool experience (ironically the truth is more of the reversed).

Now I don't claim these ideas to be very original, I guess everyone dabbling with level design (or writing) comes up with similar ways of working and thinking. Architecture and cognitive psychology are two areas that might hold way more useful knowledge for making people do certain things in a game world. To me the secret tricks of the magicians will always have a special place in my heart though.

I'm sorry if all this seems a bit ill thought out or off-topic, I just wanted to share it with people that might be interested, since I haven't really had the chance to discuss this with anyone (except briefly with Petri Purho who also performs magic).
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2010, 08:32:26 pm »

I have heard this described by a person as the game "mind reading" the player, which apparently was a very cool experience (ironically the truth is more of the reversed).

Mind writingSmiley
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2010, 09:27:45 pm »

Although not very good at magic, I know bit of the theory behind it and have also been thinking about making use of it in games. Like you said Erik, it can be a very good way of setting the player in a certain mindset and I am very interesting in exploring that more!. The kind of magical thinking I have used is to repeat something for the player so that they will assume it will always happen like that and then do some trick Wink For example, you can make players do a choice that will end up with bad consequences if wrong and then you can give more similar choices further on, but without the consequences. This way one adds tension without the need to have a win/loose mechanics since the player will think that they barely escaped at each choice.

Another thing (a bit unrelated to the topic) is to have a "magicans choice". I saw a clip of Penn and Teller pulling a lil prank on some computer science guy (cannot recall name otherwise I would have searched for clip), where some people set him up to test a new computer program. At the beginning of the program he was given a choice of what he wanted to see and one of these choices where "magicans". Now by making the other choices boring, they made him pick the "magicans" option and by that kinda forced him into a certain path, even though he thought he made a free choice. This is just a simple example, but I think that by giving the illusion of choice an experience can be greatly enhanced. Like magic, it does not hold up for replay, but not all media needs to be replayable Wink
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2010, 09:56:45 pm »

This way one adds tension without the need to have a win/loose mechanics since the player will think that they barely escaped at each choice.

Ah, that's really nice!

Regarding forced choices, what you wrote remembered me of when I made a little game called World of Pong. The game is a (fake) MMO and in the beginning the player has to choose what side to fight for, left or right. I only had the energy to program the logic for playing on one side though, so I pulled a little trick: no matter what you choose you end up playing on the right side. I figured right would be the most popular, it's just feels "right" Tongue

To make it a bit more sure-fire I also added a text under each button, telling how many people were on each team. I made the right team be quite a few people less, my hope was that most players would want to make the two teams equal in strength.

I have no scientific proof for how well this worked but all my playtesters choose the right side Smiley
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2010, 10:14:17 pm »

Haha! What an awesome trick Cheesy
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Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2010, 07:25:22 am »

Another technique could be unveiling a new clue immediately before/after examining the first clue.  Has anyone tried this?  That could keep you examining the world out of sheer curiosity.

For example, maybe you're exploring a realistic world and see a figure pass by a doorway.  You follow where you think the figure went and find an artifact.  Once you examine the artifact, you see the figure again and put the artifact down to follow the figure.  Maybe the next time it's an audio cue or an object falls over.
Re: Making the player examine the world
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2010, 04:21:04 am »

Another technique could be unveiling a new clue immediately before/after examining the first clue.  Has anyone tried this?  That could keep you examining the world out of sheer curiosity.

Yes, interesting idea! It could be procedural, so no matter where you are or what is happening when you examine the first clue, the second clue will be generated and put just where you can see it at that moment.
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