Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"True" Simulation

I have found that, once I tackle a subject for a few years, there is suddenly no "best" rule set. An example that is coming up more frequently these days: social simulation.

Most people come into the field thinking that they're going to try to discover some underlying truth, some supreme rule set which will be able to do all sorts of social things. Most people, when they first try, come up with some ultra-generic system of addressing some kind of "social atom", like "I'll track how much they like any given thing and how much those things like any given thing and then use a logic chain to determine what the reaction to any attempt to affect any given thing is..." and so forth and so on. The end result, when applied, is labyrinthian and never works.

This is true of other fields as well, of course. Newbies tackling any system tend to come in with a simplistic approach that will solve all the problems of the world.

But there is no "best" approach, at least in games and simulations. There are variety of approaches, but the "best" approach is whatever simulates exactly what you want to simulate.

For example:

If I approach a game based around a social mechanic, I don't think to myself, "what's a good way to simulate social mechanics?" Instead, I think, "What's a good way to make the player feel the pressure and rewards of obligations?" or "What will make the player feel the contrast between the rash relationships of youth and the staid relationships of older people?"

See, the theme of the game isn't "relationships". That's like saying the theme of a game is "blue" or "culture". Instead, the theme is something very, very specific. I generally use a comparison of some variety, because it gives me a basis for the game's core challenge.

Understanding the theme, you can then decide on the rules of the simulation. You don't need to solve strong AI for this, and you never did. Trying to put strong AI into a game is like saying that you're going to build a go-kart, but it's going to have a cold fusion reactor in it. Just build the freakin' go-kart.

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