Monday, February 20, 2006

You control your destiny... or does your destiny control you.....?

late..... this week i'm late.. but as the saying goes.. better late than never... had a uber busy week.. so doing back-blogging now.. on a monday morning.. oh well.. today's topic.. story Vs. agency.. kinda like the header.. do players actually have control in games.. or are they just bounded by spaces in between the line of the narrative.. just like in life.. do we actually have control of our fates? or are we just playing what is already laid out for us? well.. guess that is an age-old question that no one can really answer.. anyway.. on with the main course...

Question #1:
Discuss the tension between agency and narrative structure within the game. Do you agree that narrative and interactivity can never co-exist? Why/why not?

Different genres have different emphasis and needs for narrative, in this sense, RPGs are mostly the ones that require on narrative the most to drive the game forward, relative to the rest of the genre of games, and hence, most Japanese RPGs are fairly linear in terms of narrative and only give players agency in battles and in customizing their characters. Some people will complain about the linearity, about the lack of freedom as a player on deciding on where to go next or what to do.

So we have the other side of the coin, which is the case of many Western RPGs, like KOTOR or Morrowind, where players have absolute freedom as to where to go and what to do... but of cos, there will always be haters no matter where you go.. so the haters will say that this makes the narrative relatively weak, as the main narrative element oftern ends up rather diluted... either way... the tension between agency and narrative will always exist.. but its really up to the designer's vision that determines which one they wanna put the emphasis on... Personally... i prefer a stronger narrative and lesser agency...

But this is not to say that interaction and narrative cannot exist. In the pen and paper D&D games, the Dungeon Master (DM), serves to play the bridge between the gap the player experience and the narrative, as he/she sets the narrative for the players, allow the players to interact with it, and then react accordingly to player actions to weave a related narrative event.. hence, in this sense, it shows that it is possible to achieve a harmony between narrative and interaction through a third party..

For the game of video games, the human factor of a DM can actually be replaced with extensive coding... allowing players to a set of choices that can lead to alternate endings, or different character histories... different events... order of events.. etc... all these elements can allow narrative and interaction to "seem" to co-exist to the player... of cos.. in the end.. the number of choices are still bounded by code.. but the vast amount of choices is probably enough to create the illusion of almost total freedom for the player..

For example, in a game like GTA, narrative and interaction actually do co-exist, as in this game, players get to choose the narrative path they wanna take... who they wanna kill first.. who they wanna work for.. how to go about doing it.. all these are choices for the players to interact with... but at the same time.. the order you choose to accomplish the tasks do set a narrative path for you.. like for example... it might be cos you helped killed someone in the past.. and now.. his narrative path is closed of to you.. cos he is already dead and cannot offer you any more side quests or something.. making you unable to pursuit that aspect of the story... this kinda gameplay.. sandbox gameplay.. is really all the rage now.. and i guess it is so cos it weaves narrative of a coo background story of being a gangsta... but with the amount of interaction involved so that you will feel bonded with the character you are playing.. cos you really feel that you are in control...

hence, it shows that narrative and interaction can actually co-exist..but of cos... for ABSOLUTE FREEDOM and STRONG NARRATIVE to co-exist is another matter altogether.. IMO.. the two elements are really part of a zero-sum game... and its the designer's choice of how much to tilt in which direction to create the optimum experience for the player..

Question #2:
How is time represented in the game? Is there a separation of story and discourse time? How does the game’s use of time allow for interactivity?

I see that time in games is represented in two senses.. the then and the now.. or better defined as the non-gameplay time and the gameplay time... even if players are playing a flashback scene.. i still define it as a now.. cos when players actually play the game.. they are experiecing the given narrative events they have been steered too... and in that sense.. for the players.. the time that they play will always be ""now" in the story..

The seperation between discourse time and story time is mostly clearly defined.. the story time normally sets the mood and background for the discourse time... and it also gives reason for the existence of the discourse time... which gives players a better sense of motivation and logic to complete the given task.. and weave the total gameplay experience to be a coherent one.. especially in RPGs.. but today.. almost all games in all genres have some form of story time.. i guess this is to set the context for the discourse time and give a sense of consistency with the given context so that players can "believe" what they are playing...

In GTA, the story is mostly told out using cutscenes... and once the motivation for the mission has been made clear to you.. the letter box disappers and the gameplay starts.. in this sense.. the seperation is very clearly drawn... however.. the beauty of GTA is that it lets you accomplish missions in a large variety of ways.. you can think of it.. you most probably can do it in the game.. and in a larger sense... how you accomplish the mission during the discourse time.. is actually a setting for a story time.. your personal story time.. in your own context.. of how you went about getting a particular thing done.. so in this sense.. the line between story and discourse time is actually one experience... of cos .. there are also other ways to weave the two.. such as alternate events happening if you fail to accomplish the mission in a particular time perharps...

The time factor is a major element in the whole interactive experience of GTA.. cos in a free-form game as such.. it actually gives players the control of their own time.. whether they wanna just drive the cab for the whole damn day.. or they wanna continue with climbing to the top of the underworld.. whether they wanna kill so and so now.. and lose him as a potential mission branch later.. all these different choices are achieved by leaving the time factor in the hands of the player.. to allow him/her to choose his own story...

well.. so there we have it.. ANOTHER long entry.. oh well... guess when it comes to games.. i just really can;t stop talking.. ha ha.. THE GREAT BIG MOUTH.. signing off..

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Serious Side Of Gaming.....

well.. today's entry is still about gaming (what else?).. but on a more serious note.. it actually involves some work too.. but still.. my work in this case is to playtest a game.. MY GAME in fact.. so I don't think I should be in any position to complain about anything.. but it can be quite serious stuff.. with all the tweaking, balancing, altering of rules... serious stuff... as we had to constantly ask ourselves what is wrong? or what can be done better? guess game design is not purely an art only.. this constant experimentation kinda shows its a science too.. oh well..
anyway.. on with the show...

PLAYTEST #1: 06.02.2006. MONDAY

For this session, we playtested with a very simple track with only one shortcut. The main purpose in this playtest was to test the foundational mechanics of the game, to see it there were any major problems, whether it was functional, and most importantly... whether it was fun... here are some of the important changes and points noted...

  • The foundational mechanics of the game were altered, from a 8- cards given, shuffle every 5 turns format, to a 5-random-cards per shuffle format. This change was made to make the players' movements a bit more random and harder to predict.
  • Race was kept close, players were rather neck to neck with each other during the course of the game
  • A suggestion was made to change the movement to a 3 card format.
  • Penalty for getting rammed was changed from the victim missing a turn to the victim to losing one action card and moving one space less on the next turn.
  • Situations arose when there were two players on the same square crossing the finish line at the same time.
  • Power ups were refilled at the start of each lap.
  • Suggestion was made for more power ups as players would prefer to constantly be able to play action cards and whack other players.
  • Overhead and delay were observed in the 5 movement cards distributed every 5 turns format setting

This session allowed us to see that the fundamentals of the game worked quite well. All we needed from there was to add in the spices and test the game out again and see if it would be better.


This session, we added in the spices, mainly the chance cards and came up with a more complex and almost-final track design to see if all the elements fell together properly. The points noted and changes taken include:-

  • Chance cards created and added to the game.
  • Movement was changed to a 3-in-hand, draw one card after every turn format to reduce overhead, yet allowing players to still be able to plan their moves but with a random factor involved.
  • A HP system was added to alter the penalty for getting rammed.
  • Ramming penalty was altered to the reduction of 1 HP and loss of one action card.
  • This was done as it was easy to forget there penalty of one less movement in the next turn(me being the biggest offender of this).
  • Card order for play was set to movement, chance then action, to clear ambiguity.
  • Power up points were placed on the map to ensure players constantly had action cards to play.
  • Placing of power up points were tested.
  • Tested the new track, and identified where was the fun part and where were alterations needed.


This was the playtest with a lot of changes made... but the result is.. IMO.. the game was a lot a lot more fun. The chance cards were hilarious... we really went over-the-top and came up with some of the weirdest events (anyone say U.F.O? [inside joke]). The change in the game rules and distribution of cards also allowed the game to become more intuitive. More instantaneous.. which is a good thing.. cos it means.. less overhead. The track also played out well, the design of it allowed quite a bit of funny things to happen. We playtested it from 2.30.. and before anyone knew.. it was already 6 in the evening... guess that must mean its fun... rite? RITE?

P.S. I came in last, but still found the game rather entertaining.

Anyway.. one more playtest to come on Saturday (damn my group mates.. WHY SATURDAY?!!!). But guess that would be the final internal playtest and a crucial one, as we will have to finalize everything by then before starting production on the final product. For the meantime... THE GREAT ONE.. riding off into the sunset in a U.F.O...

Friday, February 03, 2006

I'm Losing my Favorite Game.......

Thursday nite...... Once again... blog nite. This time round is a three-part question, and based on the feedback from the GREAT sage Alex Mitchell, it would be realistic to guess that the word of the moment is..... "Minimalist entries." Oh well, as much as I am a fan of the minimalist concept, have never really been good at keeping my thoughts short, but I will try.

IMPORTANT TRIVIA all should know:
THE GREAT JER'S favorite game of all time is...... The epic, the spectacular, the mind-blowing masterpiece....... The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. I still vividly remember running through the fields of Hyrule, with the ambient music playing in the background, watching the sunset, and telling myself...... man.... I have never played a game that has so successfully draw the player into the world of the game as much as this...... and of cos.. the brilliant dungeons... the cool time concept.. man.. I could go on and on about how great this game is.....But as usual... I digress.

Anyway, what better game to learn from and dissect into its core elements to answer the questions than this absolute masterpiece from the guru of game design himself Shigeru Miyamoto, (the man can actually come up with a game concept after being inspired by gardening, pure genius......).

[Digressing again] *Ahem*

So, (cliche alert!) without further ado...........on with the show.......

Question #1: Describe the formal elements that make up the game. Be as clear and detailed as possible.

Formal Elements

1 Player experience, and the player interaction in this case is player versus game. Definitely a design choice as there is no other way for the scale of the game to be realised in any other fashion other than this selection.

A hybrid of exploration and solution. The game narrative moves you forward as you explore new places, move from one place in the world to another, of cos at the same time offering you incentives to explore other than plot progression, such as better power ups. Ever so often, in the midst of exploration, the player will have to enter intricate dungeons to get to the next point of the story. The dungeons are actually all brilliant environmental puzzles, so in this sense, the objective is solution. These are the two main objectives, but along the way, there are other mini objectives as well, such as a capture objective in the creative boss fights, mixed with solution, to discover a boss' weakness and exploit and kill him before he kills you. But to keep it simple, I will stick by the two aforementioned.

Players are in control of the main character, Link, at all times in the game and have total freedom to control his movements and actions. Well, guess to break down the procedure of the game, it would be as follows,

Explore World ---> Interact with characters to progress plot ---> move to dungeon ----> solve dungeon -----> Defeat Boss ---> Explore world with new item

I guess that is the skeleton of the game flow, but of cog, to break it down so simply would be a great injustice, cos there are a lot of other things thrown in along the way to keep the game fresh constantly.

I guess the main rule that defines all other rules in the game is that you cannot do something that Link is not programmed to be able to do. In a sense, like Mario, the main rule in the game is that the player is bounded by the control actions given to Link. Other smaller rules that bind the game include time, for example, you cannot enter a town at nite, or so and so character is not available in the day, and plot progression. Due to the point in the plot the player is at the moment in time, he/she might not have a particular item to progress to a particular area, so guess that is a rule as well.

But there is one "unwritten rule" that I observed about the game, and that is that the "A" button is cleverly used as a context button, which means that, that the use of the button changes according to the situation. In this sense, it is an unwritten rule because some times, you would not know that such an action is available to you until you actually enter a particular circumstance, in this sense, it makes it easy for the player to guess and look out for the changes in the A button whenever he/she comes to what seems like a dead end.

The standard in a video game I guess. Time, health, money, equipment, actions, objects and information.

Some conflicts present in the game include, mental, where the player has to think and use his/her wits to solve the intricate puzzles in the form of dungeons, like what to use where that sorta stuff. Opponents, are in the form of AI controlled enemies and the trickier boss fights, which as mentioned, require puzzle solving and combat skills at the same time. And in the form of dilemma, I guess it would be in the form of what 3 items to keep in your inventory for easy access, might not be a big choice with adversely different consequences, but I guess the incentive for this is convenience.

For a videogame the boundary is obvious, everything in play is happening on the screen and in the control of your hands.

The short term one would be to solve the puzzle at hand, or defeat the boss. The long term quantifiable outcome would be to reach the ending in the plot.

[Somehow I think this minimalist thing is not working out well... Oh well...]

Question #2: Does this description fully capture the requirements for playing the game? Are there any additional rules or assumptions that you may have left out? Do these need to be written down? Why/why not?

I would say that for a videogame, with the rules set to firmly and enforced so strongly by the programmer's code, and the rules are sorta written in black and white. However, one thing I would like to mention is that the players do have some leeway in setting their own goals to some extent, like would he/she want to hunt down all 100 golden spiders to get all the good items? Or would they rather concentrate on plot progression and totally ignore the bonuses? Or how about doing all the little sidequests as and when they feel like it and advance the plot when they feel like it. In this sense, the player has a great degree of control over the pace that he/she wants to play. But as far as rules are concerned, I would say there is no need to write down anything as it should be clear to the player what can or cannot be done in the game world since it is already set in stone.

[Amazingly I managed to keep that short.]

Question #3: Following Doug Church’s approach, try to extract the abstract design concepts that constitute the gameplay. Can these be transferred to a different type of game? Why/why not?

Making an implementable plan of one's own creation in response to the current situation in the game world and one's understanding of the game play options.

In Zelda, in a particular level, a dungeon, in this case, the objective would be to solve the dungeon, find the boss key and defeat the boss. Players have to figure out how to go about doing this, it might be preset by the developers as to only having one solution to the puzzle. But it is the players job to figure out the steps to take in solving the dungeon, like where to use the hookshot to cross to the platform to get the key and such stuff. Players have to make mini-plans to get the most immediate objects they need and a bigger plan to solve the entire dungeon. In this sense, there is intention as they have to use the control and equipment options available toachievee the goal required. In this case, it is somewhat similar to Mario 64.

Perceived Consequences:
A clear reaction from the game world to the action of the player.

In the case of Zelda, alike Mario, the consequences are mostly immediately perceivable, for example in a boss fight, like say the first boss, the player is required to use the slingshot to shoot the eye of the boss before stunning it and then moving in with the sword for the kill. In this sense, using any other weapon instead of the slingshot would not produce any effect and will stir the player to try something else. Same case for the dungeons, at a puzzle, the player can very clearly see if the puzzle works or not.

However, there are times when the consequences are not THAT obvious, especially when exploring the world. For example, where would the new road you just discovered take you? To a new item, or to a dead end that you cannot cross at the moment? However, the option to backtrack is always available in this game, so in a sense, it encourages experimentation and discovery, whichIi will talk about later.

Story: A narrative thread that is continued in the game.

As a action RPG of sorts, like most RPGs, the main narrative in the game is pushed forward to the player as the player progresses through the game. In this sense, the main narrative is linear and developer-driven. However, there are times in the game where there is a chance for players to weave their own little stories as well, like maybe how he defeated a particular boss with his own little tactic, or with only one little speck or health left or something like that.

In this sense, alike the Squaresoft RPGs mentioned in the article, the main story given in the game is linear, more or less, however, the combat aspect of getting to the next plot point is free form, like how to take down a group of enemies is entirely left up to the player to weave their own tales to tell.

Also, the pace of plot progression, or which the story is told, is determined by the player as well, he/she has the choice to go to the next plot point immediately, or just walk around the world with his or her new equipment to find more hidden treasures.

For the above three points,Ii would say that they are transferable to almost any other type of games, as every game involves interaction, and when there is interaction, there is choice, and such, with choice, there is always consequence, mostly perceivable. As most games give players some form of control, and to do so, the consequences of their actions have to be made somewhat perceivable, just that it comes in different degrees, like in games of chance like roulette, the consequences of betting on a particular number are not as instantly perceivable as say in Mario 64.

In terms of intention, almost all games encompass this point as well, as with control, the players are often given a choice and freedom as to how to go about achieving the given objective. And to do so, intention is involved. Like in chess, or even card games like Uno, players have to formulate plans as to how to outwit their opponents.

For story, like the article said, almost all sort of games can be told as a narrative. Even winning a game of poker can be told as a narrative, it just differs on the different degrees of engagement and involvement in the narrativeIi guess. So it would be safe to say that the 3 tools given by Doug are easilytransferablee to many other types of games besides videogames. However, I gave it some thought and wanted to mention two other FADT thatIi thought of and wondered if they counted as design tools.


This is my own little "Formal Abstract Design Tool," not too sure if it can be considered as one, but I think this is one element or tool in game design that a lot of games use. It differs from intention as it is not really formulating a plan to get something, cos a lot of times, a player just explores for the sake of finding incentives, without a concrete plan. And it is different from a game objective as it is not really necessary to achieve, but players are still encouraged to do so anyway. But of cos, with exploration, there must be a reason for players to want to actually explore the environments, in the case of Zelda, it is mostly more life, more gold or new items. Of cos, this concept can be easilytranscendedd to other videogames as well, as a lot of games nowadays do give incentives to encourage players to explore the world more, like the hidden packages in GTA. But in card games like UNO,Ii guess this factor would not transcend across as well, soIi guess the effect of this FADT would differ based on the given medium of the game.


I think that this would be another FADT, as they would give players more reason to do a particular thing. Like in Zelda, the enemies drop currency, which can be used to buy items, for various purposes like health restoration. To me, the good games always give players incentives to take various risks or do more of an action, in my opinion, such incentives allow players to set mini-goals or sidetrack from the main goal, or reach the main goal more effectively in a game. For example, in Zelda, there is absolutely no need to fight more than it is required, but players still do it for the currency, to be able to buy more items, to try to make life easier in boss fights. This tool is more easilytranscendedd to games of other mediums than the above, like in Blackjack, there are times when you would consider drawing one more card in hope of getting so much closer to 21 points despite the risk involve, this to me, can be considered as a form of incentive as well.

Well.....Another week...Another entry....Its a wrap.......Finally......Guess the "minimalist entries" thingy will always be a dream for me... THE GREAT ONE.. signing off.....