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Controlling characters, not puppets

Controlling characters, not puppets
« on: September 26, 2011, 06:03:41 pm »

I´ve been thinking about this lately:

My feeling when playing most games is not that I am that character but rather that I have control over him through a remote control. Video game characters feel more like puppets than human beings, and may be another cause why I don´t identify with them.

One thing that stuck with me was when playing Amnesia (I haven´t played much, it stresses me), somewhere near the beggining you are going upstairs in a wide room and you hear a scream from the left. The game takes control of the character just for less than a second to turn your view around as a reflex. This was really powerful, as it´s exactly what that character would do and as reflexes are always out of your control. It made the inmersion stronger.

Another thing I remember is in Mirror´s Edge, you could not fall from a ledge because you character had the reflex to rebalance herself, and when you got close to a wall, she touched the wall with her hand. A little detail that gave her more presence, made her more real.

So I wander if this could be pushed further. It makes no sense seeing my avatar running stuck on a wall, or falling off a ledge by accident or miscalculate a jump. It´s not a question of skill, is that as a human being he would have reacted and not fell down like an idiot. I wander if we can avoid our avatars making stupid things and avoid players taking care of stupid tasks. For instance, if my character is talking to another character while walking, the character focus should be the speech, and walking should be done instinctly, as an effortless task. And I don´t mean taking away control as many games do, but maybe reduce control to what makes sense. If I cross a room filled with desks and chairs I should not care about finding a path between them like in a maze, I don´t have to think to do it in my everyday life. If I try to jump from a rooftop to an obvious death I would like that character to get scared and not dare to. I mean, If I was to jump and misjudged the lenght and died, why do I have to see myself die, then load the game and try again? Couldn´t the character see it by himself?

I want to be those characters, with their reflexes, their manias, their behaviours, their tics, their preferences and their subconcious. I want to decide what to do but do it only in the way that character would. I don´t want to play a remote controlled puppet.
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2011, 06:44:21 pm »

Agreed!

It makes no sense seeing my avatar running stuck on a wall, or falling off a ledge by accident or miscalculate a jump.

Obviously it depends on the product .. there won't be much left in Super Mario if you can't make a wrong jump Smiley
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2011, 11:49:25 pm »

Yes, yes and yes.

And yes again.

You hit the nail on the head for me and this was my starting focus in the engine I'm developing. The powerful thing about this medium is the ability to literally be inside someone else's head. Any little gestures a character makes, any control taken from the player (however momentarily) and any behaviour that a player character exhibits external to the players helps to empower the gamer - at least the gamer that isn't in someone else's head to live out their own fantasies, but is instead looking for a deeper experience. The Path taught me that.

The natural progression from this (for me) is bringing this 'behaviour' further up the cortex (as it were). What that means is a pattern recognition/memory structure driving these behaviours (the beginning of 'personaility'). That makes me sound like a nut - ha! Rather than hijack this thread, I might post another tomorrow.

But, yes!

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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2011, 11:01:32 am »

I cannot but think of Jeroen Stouts papers on Symbiosis (tried looking for online resources of it, but can't find it - luckily I nabbed it while it was up!) and related issues of how characters and players can co-interact in meaningful ways. Interesting ideas indeed.
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2011, 11:27:05 am »

I think, I am on the complete other side of the spectrum. I am growing the feeling that too many games are too ego-centric for their own good. I mean, that everything and the whole virtual world revolves around the player. I don't want to do that. I find it boring. The player needs to realize that he is a part of this world, but that he is not necessarily the most important part in the world. I suppose I tried to convey this point in Labyrinths (although it was not intended in the first place, this idea sneaked into it and became rather dominant).

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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2011, 11:42:55 am »

I hope I don't misunderstand anything, but Jeroen is writing about how exactly that (the ego-world of the player) can be pushed aside for a stricter drama. I should probably ask Jeroen if it is OK I host his thesis or something, since it brings up some interesting points. Hate to write about other's work in a way that might disturb the original content ^^.
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2011, 03:04:19 pm »

@György I totally agree with you, and what you are pointing out is something I´ve been thinking of a lot. I do miss being "nobody", not being so relevant, not having the whole world turning around me. I thought of starting a topic on that, I may do it eventually, but that´s another topic. This thoughts came to me while playing a couple of games lately, it´s not so much focused on the games I want to make, but rather how some games I play keep me away from fully enjoying their universes.
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2011, 03:08:41 pm »

it is a bit narcisstic, if you think about it. Everything is about you, maybe that's the appeal for many gamers.
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2011, 05:28:41 pm »

reduce control to what makes sense

I will make this my motto! Smiley
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2011, 05:29:51 pm »

there won't be much left in Super Mario if you can't make a wrong jump Smiley

That's because it's a game. We're not here to discuss those. Wink
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2011, 05:38:24 pm »

I think, I am on the complete other side of the spectrum.

I don't think so. I see no contradiction between a fictional character being more aware of its fictional environment and a desire for the player to simply be immersed in a world that would exist without him too. In fact, I believe the two ideas support each other!

When we were developing Drama Princess, we came up with a system for driving autonomous characters through behaviors. One of those behaviors was "being controlled by the player." And when the character was performing this behavior, all its other (autonomous) properties (looking around, sensing objects to interact with, changing mood, etc) were still active.
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Re: Controlling characters, not puppets
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2011, 06:34:09 pm »

I'm fascinated by this idea that less control might give you more immersion, more humanity.  But once I thought on it, I realized this is exactly right.  The behaviors that make people interesting are by-and-large unconscious or at least compulsive.  How much time do we spend consciously and rationally living our lives along the path we've chosen vs. retroactively rationalizing the stuff we did instead?  A game where you have to fight against your own character seems compelling.  Could you design an experience that makes players proud of the uncontrollable flaws or their character (like people are in real life)? 
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