Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Digital Difference

Question #1:
Try to find an example of a digital game which truly takes advantage of the traits of the medium, and could not be successfully implemented in a non-digital form. In particular, think about the traits of digital/computer games as listed by Crawford. Describe the game, and identify the core gameplay mechanic. What is it about the core mechanic that makes the game truly a digital game?

For my digital game of analysis, the first game that i can think of that is unique to the digital medium would have to Katamari Damacy. Yes yes, it has been demoed in class and all, but hey... i did play, enjoy and complete the game (with all the little presents, mind you.) Core mechanic of the game, to roll up and accumulate stuff till your katamari is big enough to complete the level.

One factor that katamari boasts, like most other digital games is the ability to be able to provide immediate response and feedback to the player. In short, player sees an item in the world, rolls his katamari towards in and it is immediately picked up and accumulated in the katamari (which is supposed to translate to "soul blop" or something like that btw.) However, this is not very different from giving yourself a time limit, and placing things on a board and then trying to use a sticky ball or something to try to accumulate items isn't it?

What makes this game truly a digital game is the use of the digital medium for its computation and dynamicity. In terms of computation, the goal of the game is to reach a target size within a targetted time limit. All this, while being able to be done manually, when you think about it as individual tasks, actually really requires the power of the computer. As it is somewhat impossible to be able to measure the size of the ball in real time with the clock still constantly ticking away, hence, to quote from the sage "The computer is so fast that it can handle the administrative matters faster than the humans can play the game." What i am saying is that i think it is impossible for humans to be able to perform these administrative procedures manually and create a real life version of Katamari Damacy.

But the main juice of it being a truly digital game does not lie in the power of computation, but rather in the ability to be able to create a virtual space for the players to play in that interact with the player's actions on a dynamic scale, and this, i feel is the main draw in videogames, and what makes them so immersive in the first place. In the case of katamari, what is impossible to duplicate in a real life game is having the world scale up and down according to the size of your katamari, increase in scope and in size at the same time as the katamari, which is controlled by the player, does. Yes, the core mechanic is accumulating stuff as you go along to reach the target size, but it is also an implicit rule of mechanic that the world scales along with the size of your katamari, i mean, wouldn;t it be weird if you were rolling up rats and erasers all the time even if your katamari reflects a size of 300m or something. Hence, the power of computation in creating a digital, living, breathing world for interaction is the main factor in what makes katamari damacy a game unique to the medium of the digital kind.

But it is interesting to note how games, no matter how unrealistic or weird, are rooted in the physics of the real world, i mean, in the case of katamari, it is like the world is made to scale up with the size of the player's katamari cos "size" and "scale" are real life concepts, but being applied in a totally make-believe world that has things sticking to a ball, just so that players can relate to it in some sense. Maybe i can try exploring this concept in NM2218 or something.. but i guess.. for this part.. as again.. i have digressed.

Question #2:
The third and final assignment is to design a digital game. Blog about your initial ideas for the assignment, ready for discussion in the workshop this week.

Well, when we were brainstorming for an idea for assignment 3 this week, it was really kinda tough, cos in order to design a unique digital game, we had to firstly, consider what makes a game uniquely digital in the first place.

My initial idea was to use the networking aspect of digital games and came up with this idea of a massive multiplayer version of DDR. which could allow players from all over the world to log in at any time and participate in dance sessions. It was to be like this whole virtual club environment, playing songs all day long, and players could enter and dance and leave whenever they wanted. As in most MMORPGs, there is no fixed goal in the game, but probably to obtain a ranking, or to be able to perform mass dances, or outdance another player, or maybe even duet dances. In the end, this idea was shelved cos of the lack of objective i guess.

So we went back to the drawing board, and we decided to try to come up with an idea of a simple core concept that yet, could only be produced in a digital medium. Donny brought up katamari damacy (hence the choice for the first part), and immediately, it got me thinking. I wanted to have a game that takes the property of the small scale to big scale kinda thing, cos like i mentioned in part one, that is only achievable in a computer-generated virtual space. Then we got further to thinking, and i thought of trying to implement the ability to take multiple personas simultaneously, another concept only able to be realised digitally.

Then it struck me, to make a game based on the eco system, i mean the eco system is a defined system that scales itself up from every prey to hunter, and it perpetuates (somewhat). So we came up with this idea of playing a bacteria of alien of some sort, and starting from a small species, the player has to guide it to an environment of choice and set himself/herself up to be eaten by a prey of choice, and then, taking control of that hunter and make it the prey for a bigger animal. Kinda like a katamari damacy meets spore, but not like any of them at the same time, cos the mechanic is to get eaten and take control of something else. So from now on, all we have to do is fix the objective of the game, we kinda know we want passable traits as the bacteria is passed from one prey to the next hunter, but we are still not sure about the main objective of the game, so what if we become the biggest hunter.. then what? well.. more brainstorming i guess...

Balance of Fun and Purpose

Back to blogging, been uber busy the last two weeks.. my schedule was simply C.R.A.Z.Y... and at tut this week, i actually heard ppl could play the MacDonald's Game for 7 hours just to "win".. amazing.. where does he (they) find the time... really wonder if arts students have it easier. But i have to admit that is hardcore.. but again.. i think i am hardcore.. just not on games i don't like oh well... anyway... to make up for lost time.. this week i will be covering two entries at one time..

So, as an amendment for my "negligance," i took it upon myself to try some other serious game that no one in class talked about this week and write an entry about it for the serious game post. My game of choice: Ops Flashpoint... the army simulator. My bro is actually working as the programmer for it in SAF... and so i volunteered to be his playtesting guinea pig while i do my anaylsis. Despite his numerous warnings of the monster he had created.. i still decided to venture into the unknown and go where no man (or woman) in class has gone before.. to try to relive my guard duty days in the army through the works of my brother's hands.

One word to sum it up: i quote "CRAP.."

From what I played, i would say that the game is HEAVILY focused on the training and "educational" aspect than on the fun side. My bro did tell me that there were times that he wanted to put something more creative in, but his training goals stifled his creativity quite a bit. From the mission that i played, what i was supposed to do was this like guard duty thing, and there would be a variety of scenarios that happened and i was given choices on what to do and how to react...

The problem? All other choices besides the ones set to be correct ended up in failure, and me having to retry the mission all over again. Not fun at all... but i guess it can't be helped, based on the guidelines of the game. The game was designed in such a way that it was meant to be more of a training simulator more than an actual game. I mean yes, there is interactivity, but to what extent? Does interactivity only include letting players make choices? To me interactivity in a game is more about giving players the option to make choices, and play out the consequences of the choices.. and not just having to retry the mission all over again. From what i played here, where i am required to choose a sequence of choices to complete the mission, kinda reminded me of the FMV games of the 1980s like Dragon's Lair, and honestly, till now i still wonder if those games are really considered games, as the interactivity is really quite minimal, and they (and this) do titter on the line of puzzles rather than games.

But from another perspective, i guess that it is successful in the goals of what it was designed to do...what is to educated the soldiers, no matter how dim-witted, some of them are, about the procedures and possible scenarios that could happen when they are on duty. And i am sure, replaying the mission over is an effective way to educate them. And giving them too much freedom through interactivity might make the game more fun, but it would defeat the purpose of the "game" in the first place.

So my conclusion for this is that, as far as it goes for a game, the army simulator sux... there is minimal interactivity, lots of retrying, disruptive to flow and frustration inducing. As far as education goes, i would believe it would be somewhat effective... and i guess this only further accentuates the concept that it is not possible or easy rather, for these two factors to co-exist.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Games: A stage for a Social Play

3 in the morning... again.....fighting to keep my eyes awake.. to update my space.. cos if i don;t do it now.. really wonder when I will find the time and discipline.. rough week... technically.. "the 10 days of hell" are supposed to end today.... but somehow they got extended three more days.. to make it the 13 days of hell.. how fitting.. ARGHHH.. I am digressing again.. on with the questions please... today.. its all about acting... if a player is like an actor who is able to show a myriad of emotions in context of the script, the player must also be able to play roles driven by different motives in context of the game....
Question #1:
Describe the social interactions which you observed during play. In what way did these interactions emerge from within the formal elements of the game?
Oh.. before any answering.. first let me state that i am doing the analysis on "Little Max"... cos it was my first time playing and I guess it would be more interesting to do an analysis based on a newer game as compared to "Mafia," which i have like played SO many iterations of it...
Well... I guess the name of the game in "Little Max" is all about bluffing and guessing. The interactions between players take the form of one trying to bluff (or not) his dice roll, trying to get away with it if he fails to ACTUALLY beat the score, and the other player trying to read the previous player's call... and discern if he/she is telling the truth or not.. hence determining the move to make.. whether to roll or to challenge.
The game rules are actually set for players to bluff... as with rules like he must call higher than the previous player.. are already implying lies to be told if the player happens to not be able to get a higher score.. just as the rule of only letting the player himself see the number he/she rolled..
On the other player's side, the interaction manifests itself in the form of observation, trying to observe the bluffing player's body language and establishing eye contact to try to attempt to figure out if the call is a ruse or not. Again.. this form of interaction presents itself because of the window of opportunity for bluffing that the formal rules sets for players. So, in order to minimize the risk of elimination from the game by making a wrong guess(also a rule), the next player actually attempts to employ his/her knowledge and experience of body language and eye contact from the real world (outside the magic circle) in the context of the game.
Also, some emergent behavior I noticed.. and did participate in.... was taunting. To some extent I saw some ppl (maybe only me?) who were not actually in play at that moment, jeering other players and encouraging them from making a move... be it challenge or accept. This adds an element or a role rather.. of harassment between the players (who are actually involved in the bluff).. and the other players that are supposed to be looking.
Question #2:
Using Sutton-Smith's categorization of social play roles, discuss how the players' roles changed during the course of the game.
Since the game takes place in consecutive turns, a player's specific turn always begins with the previous player calling out a number (in most cases, unless there was an elimination previously). So the first role the player takes is having to guess.. which I think is the counteracting role of harassment, where it is up to the player to see through the other player's bluff. But one interesting thing about little max is how the role moves on from there... cos if the player chooses to accept.. then he in turn becomes the actor and tries to bluff the next player with a higher call, or to bluff them into challenging his call if it is true. However, if the player chooses to challenge the call, then he is actually further extending his counteractor role of not only trying to see through the previous player's bluff, but also to take an action of exposing it. So IMO, the role varies based on the player action taken.
For the rest of the players not involved, they may choose to play a supporting role or not. If they choose to taunt the current player, or attempt to convince him into one of the choices, they are also harassing the current player in a way. And so once the player has cleared his turn, he then has a choice to switch to a supporting actor in harassment, or just be a neutral onlooker.
However, the roles played above are instantaneous, which only applies for one player's turn, be it the involved players or the supporting onlookers. I would guess the long term role of each and every player is the actor and counteractor in a race, a race to see who can actually stay the longest in the game without being eliminated. Each player is trying to outlast the other and stay in the game at the same time through the individual play instances.
Question #3:
Suggest a modification to the game which will alter the social dynamics that emerge during play.
oh.. the "what if" section.... well.. since we are here.. then how about this... "what if" players could actually see the number the last player rolled even if he/she decides to accept it and call a higher number? even though the change might seem minor... i think the implications of such a change in the rules would make the game either more interesting or easier. Like even though by letting the next player see the previous roll regardless, it is seemingly easier to guess the last player's character, but it might not always be the case. I feel that it might add a new mental element to play as if the game goes around more than once, players can use this "history" of being honest or not to their advantage as they can try to create a ruse first then later tell the truth when the next player is not expecting it and chooses to challenge it instead.
Another idea is to use three dice instead of two and call out two of the desired numbers. I would think that such a mod would expand the field of play, as it gives players more choices to choose from, however, it might or might not alter the interactions significantly.
Well... guess that;s it for tonite.. don;t you just LOVE minimalist entries.. anyway.. an ending note on assignment 2.. seems that the mafia mod of vampire is really not working out.. and honestly.. I don;t think I can find a way around the lack of feedback thing w/o making it too much like mafia... so.. i am gonna bring up a new idea.. a sorta find the pairs come pass the parcel hybrid.. probably more original.. but really don;t know if it will work out well.. well.. guess we'll see.... till then......