Sunday, April 16, 2006

Gaming Culture I: Swan Song

Well, its that time of the sem, the time to say goodbye to school and go into three long months of retreat, but of cos there is this little four letter word in the way of now and then.. E.X.A.M... ok.. make that a big problem. Just finished the second hell week with 4 deadlines in 3 days then thrown directly into study break. And blogging is actually my "rest time".... unbelievable...

Anyway, as the last entry for this sem... after thinking about the whole issue about class feedback and blog exercises... i guess i finally managed to earn my two cents worth on this,and my conclusion is that....Arts students are damn slack to be complaining about this module. Probably gonna get stoned for it.. but still.. i think roughly one entry a week is quite a fine workload.. and i sorta like it this way.. cos me being the last minute kind.. would probably die if i had to try to engulf the whole theory near the exam period.

With the blog exercises, at least there is a division of workload by giving us something to think about what was thought in the previous lecture before moving on.. and i think by keeping pace with the blog... would help the learning process a smoother one... but then again.. i do empathize with the ppl who don;t have the time to.. and end up trying to finish everything in one shot. That would definitely be a hassle. But then again, its a blog entry... no word limit (which i exploit in the wrong kinda way by writing REALLY long entries)... means we can actually write as little as we want... so its really a matter that totally boils down to the individual.. but i guess it works for me. Then again.. maybe i am one of the few who are actually passionate enough to be talking week after week about games and just games.. oh well...

Anyway... the final question for the sem.. here we go...

Think back to the very start of the semester, when we talked about the concept of meaningful play, which occurs when "the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game" (from Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play). When the game is an alternate reality game such as The Beast, where the game does not have any explicitly declared actions and outcomes, and in some cases does not even acknowledge its own existence, is it possible for there to be meaningful play? Does this type of "game" require us to rethink our definition of games?

Well... i guess this brings us back to the point of The Sims that we discussed back in the early days, of it not really being a game cos there is no real quantifiable state of winning or losing in the game... and our conclusion for it was that it was not really a game. However, we did discuss that it would still provide meaningful play a sense if a player were to actually set his or her own mini-goals in playing the game.. like buying the most expensive fridge or something like that.. and work towards that goal.. in that sense.. what we are discussing here is something similar to that.

In games like The Beast, players are like trying to solve the puzzle that the developers set, and depending on how you look at it, it can still fit into our definition of games. If each puzzle that the developers set is likened to a stage or a level.. and if the quantifiable outcome is to solve the puzzle and move on to the next puzzle(level)... then meaningful play can still exists when the collabarative mass of players each work as part of the team in order to acheive this outcome. The rule of the game can be likened to something like "there are no rules... solve the puzzle by any means possible.." and in this, is a rule in itself.

Actually, personally, in alternate reality games such as The Beast or even D&D, the game is not so much about trying to achieve the actual quantifiable outcome or by reaching the goal, by rather it is governed by an implicit, unspoken rule of ""playing your role to its fullest." In all 2218 fashion, in such games, even though it seems like you might be playing the role based on the choices you make, but at the same time, the role is playing you, by making you choose choices on what that role is perceived as in your mind. And in this sense, the meaningful play actually comes from you wanting to play this role to the fullest.

Probably same case here for the Beast, of whether the players know that there is a quantifiable outcome or not, maybe the meaningful play is factored in when they play the roles assign to them despite knowing it might be a game.. which is the role of the "detectives" trying to solve the case... and when they feel a personal acheivement in fulfilling this assigned role.. then they would have "won" the game.

Well.. guess it is a confusing thing.. especially in cases where the magic circle is so blurred.. i guess in a way.. life could be like a whole big game as well.. and you win when you actually fulfill the role of what you set yourself out to do and be... giving meaning to your life and existence.. and at the same time creating "meaningful play." Something to think about i guess...

So here we are.. at the end of the road.. it was a good one.... and i know i enjoyed it... somehow.... i have a feeling that this is not the last i will be seeing of this blog... i have a bad feeling about the immortalvampire resurrecting itself in Game Design 2... we'll see. For now.. its time to nail the coffin shut... THE GREAT JER... signing off...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Are you Ready for SYSTEM 2000?

Pardon the bad english in the title... it is a line from a jap song anywhere.. so its argubly Janglish. Anyway, this week... the set of questions are mind-boggling to say the least, and really got me thinking quite a lot more than most other weeks.. i mean i understand the whole system thing.. but cards as game systems? i thought they were game technologies or something.. oh well...

To answer the questions, i went back to the lecture notes and ripped off this definition of game systems that i will be working with for this entry, of cos... courtesy of the Great Sage himself.. in short, a game system is " A set of components that function together in multiple games." To add to the confusion we got this too, " Even as culture, games are systems composed of designed elements that interact to produce emergent cultural effects ."

So based on what i am getting, my understanding of a game system are the rules, elements and components given to facilitate a game experience. But any of these can be added, removed, or somewhat modified, or even the method of interaction between the various composites can be altered, to create the game experience itself. So based on this understanding of the game system, THE GREAT ONE will then attempt to answer these head-scratchers...

Question #1:
Creating mods (modifications) to existing games is a common practice, not just for computer games, but for any form of games. Does this imply that any game can be considered a game system? Why/why not?

IMO, I would say that not every game can be considered as a game system, but i guess the answer to this question lies heavily on the scope in which we are answering. For me, i am choosing to answer this from a wider scope, as in to have the gameplay varied significantly before it can be considered a different game.

For example, we all know that Sierra created Half-Life 2 as a single player FPS, with a narrative. But at the same time, for this game to exist, they create a system, weapons, enemies, physics, narrative, etc, and more importantly, the interaction between these elements to create the gameplay experience. Be it the balance of narrative and gameplay, or the interaction of player and enemy AI, all these are welded together from a set of elements, which is the game system.

A group of geniuses, then went to take the physics of the game, stripped the narrative, put in multiplayer and created Counter-strike, making big bucks in the process. As the game play experience was totally different from that of half-life, shifting the paradigm from single to multi-player, i would say that Counter-strike is a game built upon another game as a system.

However, taking all the elements in counter-strike, and modifying the rules, such as limiting the number of players, or changing the weapons, or objective from deathmatch to capture the flag, albeit the creation of different play experiences, i won;t go so far as to say that these are completely new games built upon the counter-strike system, but rather, just variations of the same game.

Hence, a game of capture-the-flag, despite being a very different experience from a game of deathmatch, with their own rules and all, both of them are not in their own rite systems, but rather, they are both still rooted to the counter-strike "system", and are just variations of the elements to produce different experiences, each being their own games with their own rules, but none being systems, as altering any of the rules could probably result in a diff game altogether.

However, i guess if you look from a smaller scale, and see a multiplayer game of capture the flag with 4 players as a different game than that of a 16 player one... then i guess it would be fair to consider a game of capture the flag itself as a game system. Its all a matter of perspective i guess.

Question #2:
Consider a game which you feel could be successfully modified. How could this game be generalized into a game system? How much of the unique character/flavour of the game can be retained? How generic can you make the game system? How easy will it be to create new, unique games from the game system?

Now this part is really mind-boggling, gave it a lot of thought and the main thing that came to my mind are the traditional strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Shining Force. The system of such games essentially breakdown to one player controlling a group of characters and coordinating their movements and such on a grid map against a group of enemy players controlled by computer A.I.

To generalized such a game into a game system in its most generic form would be to have players moving a group of characters on a grid based map to destroy another group of characters. However, what this system can be modified into is to change the gameplay in possible sceanrios which allow multiplayer, like two players or more controlling two different groups of characters to battle a group of computer A.I, or 4 players fighting it out on a map using the same mechanic, or with different objectives, like first to reach a certain place, or even adding a ball to make it a grid-based, turn-based version of soccer or something. Thus, to create new, unique games based on this simple turn based grid bounded system will not really be hard.. as already seen in many different iterations of the Strategy RPG genre and including the examples i mentioned.

I guess when talking about the amount of flavour preserved, a lot of it depends on the context of the games created. Like, if following the examples of the multiplayer co-op games or the deathmatch games, where each player still controls his or her own army of characters and take turns to play, the original flavour would still be quite preserved. However, if adding new elements like a soccer ball to make it a turn based version of soccer, the movement and all might still be the same, but the essence of controlling an army of characters on a board destroying another group of players would be lost.

Question #3:
Describe one new game designed on top of the game system you proposed in question 2.

Well, guess for this part of the question, i would love to expand on my idea of the multiplayer co-op version of the traditional shining force game. In the normal game, one player controls 12 players on a grid-based map against an army of enemies controlled by A.I. Imagine using these elements, but introducing a different player to control half the army instead. Adding in the disability for one player to see the stats of the other player.

Assuming this game would be played online, players will have to take turns according to the attributes of their characters, and work together to destroy the enemies, at the same time, coordinating their attacks with each other to devise a good strategy. I think this idea has sorta been implemented in the faster paced RTS games like starcraft and warcraft, but as far as a grid based Strategy game goes, think it is still untapped... i think.

The overall experience would be one that still preserves the essence of the slow, calculating pace and planning that such games are known for, using the exact same elements, of characters, enemies with AI and grid based movement, but adding in the human factor. Kinda like imagining two ppl playing one side of chess at the same time, each with control of half the army.

Well..... guess its one more blog entry down..... mind-boggling... YES!.... Brain-straining... YES!... Tiring... Yes! ... but then again.. there is nothing else i would rather blog about than games... ok... maybe about my boring life too.. .. but what the hell....