Sunday, November 26, 2006

Swords and Smiles

Melee combat is very complex, but you wouldn't guess that from most RPGs. The melee combat has been abstracted into a simpler form where we use high-level commands to control the combat, and the low-level bits aren't even simulated. Of course, once you've abstracted something like that, it's easy to include fantastical elements like magic, and re-weight things so that various approaches are balanced in game when they aren't in real life. The abstraction simplifies a lot, so we add in a lot of stuff to prop up the play - plot, highly varied monsters, an equipment-buy cycle...

Social play is very complex... but is it more complex than melee combat? Is it more complex than torque and positioning and sharpness and how the body reacts to injury? I lean towards "no", but I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I understand that social play isn't a zero-sum game like melee combat, but...

Here are the questions I'd like to figure out how to answer:

1) Can social play be abstracted out into something very similar to the play in some existing genre? Not "can we replace swords with smiles?", but "can we use a turn-based dynamic like an RPG?"

2) With the advent of "deeper" interfaces (such as the Wii), melee combat (and other situational) simulations are likely to get less abstracted. Will this new wave of "realistic" models provide us with a better foundation for abstracting social play?

3) Does anyone care?

4 comments:

Patrick said...

I've been thinking along the "turn-based into real-time" lines for social play, and I think its very promising. Storytron is all turn based, Facade is all real time, the latter has shown the issues of pure real-time drama and the prior will probably show issues with the prior in terms of narrowed appeal. Whats interesting about Eets, or even Gravity is that you make a choice and get to watch it play out, like a procedural cut-scene, in real-time, and you're quite invested in how that narrative plays out because your initial choice has everything to do with it. The problem with both games is they're punishingly narrow in their goal-orientation, there needs to be a more diverse, dare I say rhizomatic structure in place so there are several parametric outcomes that are equally "good", but significantly different.

So:

1) I believe abstracted social play can be wrapped in a puzzle-game like genre, except the puzzle has to be a rhizome, rather the opposite of a puzzle, and thats a hell of a design problem. A careful balancing of smoke and mirrors can make instance-by-instance compromises possible, but its still tough.

2) The major premise of Fianna et franchise, and the core of Kung-fu drama that I've been wanted to make for even longer, is the microgame nuance of the combat allows for social cues to be abstracted. Take Kill Bill, yeah there was highly coreographed action (the pace of which can be matched with a tightly balanced Wii combat game) but the really compelling part was the subtext, the character's relationships, The Bride's ability not just to wound Elle, but to take out her eye in revenge for killing her master. Terse bits of dialogue always makes combat better, of if not dialoge, pauses with sharp eye contact.

3) The fifteen year old girls buying a Wii in the next three years aren't going to be kept happy by Wii Sports, they'll know they care when we put it in their face. Of course, if you want to go mass market, you're better off putting a fantasy career or social climbing as the micro game to the more dynamical, but abstracted inter-character drama. I imagine it'd be better to get eperienced nesting social play in highly fictive puzzle solving or highly nuanced combat first.

One last thing, it makes much more sense from a production standpoint to attempt such things as download-able games before diving in AAA. But you know that. No matter how much tissue testing and prototyping you do, until you see how it performs in the market, you don't have a foundation from which to ask for ten million dollars.

Jason O said...

I have always been fascinated by fencing and kendo, yet my fighting style in most games is strictly offensive because it is so hard to abstract things like parrying into the current interfaces.

This is largely because the nuances of movement are predefined in most games. For instance, in Soul Calibur a block is just a block, and you only have certain types of blocks (or any kind of moves) that you can do. A straight punch is always a straight punch, etc.

The only real drawback might be when people find out that they are not the badass warriors they always thought they were and then might prefer the current style of simulating combat. Personally, I'm willing to take a few lumps for a more immersive style of combat.

Craig Huber said...

I wrote a brief little comment over on my own blog as well (link), but thought I'd add a couple of added thoughts here.

I'm not sure we will get to a solid abstraction of social interaction without taking some intermediate steps first. For example, I think it might be necessary to track a bit more than just a "liked/unliked" scale for NPCs for the first few experimental tests (h/t to your earlier essay). I think there needs to be some method of tracking an emotional state with various potential vectors (sorrow, rage, fear, happiness, etc.), and establishing varations of response to different stimuli based on that state.

One hope would be, of course, that a deeper abstraction could be drawn from the results, such that a simpler system could be developed that provided the same basic "natural-seeming" results.

A second hope would be that some system could be derived that would actually be acceptable to players for interaction with each other (on some level of abstraction.) I personally remain skeptical that most players are ready for that arena of play... tho some games, i.e. the Sims, might be an indication of wider acceptance of the possibility than I have been personally made aware of by my particular (and peculiar?) circle of acquaintances.

I am also more than willing to help test those boundaries, tho... (heh)

Craig Perko said...

These are good comments. I'll comment on them soon in a new post. Gah! So little time...