Saturday, September 22, 2007

Social Minigames that Don't Suck

So, I've been playing some MySims for the DS. It hasn't gotten good reviews, but honestly, for $30 it's a fine game. I just wish they would let me do stylus-based designs (maybe they do, later, but I doubt it).

MySims has been somewhat interesting on two fronts. The one I'll talk about here is their social minigame. Sure, it's insipid... but it's better than any other social minigame I've played. Compare it to Oblivion's, which was so abysmal it was like injecting bees under your skin.

For those many of you who don't know the game, basically you get three slots that are randomly filled with a kind of social interaction: chatting, listening, comforting, yelling, etc, etc. When you use one, it is replaced by a new one. The goal is to get their mood bar to max before your time bar hits min.

The game is pretty dull, but it has the kernel of a really good mechanic.

See, as you progress through a conversation, you'll tend to avoid some options. It's pretty rare that you want to yell at someone, for example. These options take up valuable slots until you're left basically choosing whatever fate tosses your way. Basically, as the conversation advances, your freedom is restricted and the tension goes up. Obviously, in MySims this is pretty minimal, but it's certainly possible.

The steady reduction of freedom/resources is a very strong mechanic to base your game off of. Most games have it to some extent, although usually it's a soft touch.

The system could be upgraded: let you build your character's personality. If you have a grouchy character you'll get dealt more aggressive options than if you have a laid-back character. Also, your character's mood can change depending on recent accomplishments/set-backs.

At this point the system has only a minimal feedback loop, but if you make the new options you are dealt based on the response of the character you talk to, you can get your feedback. If you get angry, he'll get angry, which deals you a "get angry" card...

This is mostly likely best as a "mutation" rather than a dealt option. For example, if you get the "comfort" option, it comes in as something pretty mild at first, like "give thumbs up" or something. However, as they get more upset, when you are dealt the comfort option is becomes "hug" or "everything's all right" or whatever. The situation you build allows you to build the situation in new ways. In this way your personality would still show through, but there would be strong feedback.

The whole thing works best if you (A) have a lot of end goals and (B) talk to a lot of the same people over and over. If you're always just trying to make whoever you meet happy, it's a pretty boring situation compared to when you try to convince them to build a starship or run away with you or whatever.

MySims suffers from an excess of leisure, just like SecondLife: there is no pressure to survive/accomplish, so all of the effort of the player is directed towards leisure activities and luxuries. MySims doesn't have many leisure activities worth mentioning, though, and this is the primary thing you hear ranted about in reviews. Animal Crossing had more pressure and more leisure activities, making it an all-around better game.

The MySims kind of social game would require a game with either huge numbers of leisure activities or a fairly high pressure. That's the only way to provide enough goals to let the social interactions vary in an interesting way...

Later, I'll talk about content creation. But what do you think about this?

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