Last post, I wrote about a fun little idea I had. Tom Hudson said that a bunch of people had tried stuff before, and it hadn't worked out.
Given that that was also my second paragraph in that essay, I agree. But it's clear that Tom doesn't think my silly little approach avoids any of the problems other approaches have had. (I'm not being snarky. The approach is silly, even if Tom never said so.)
Obviously, the best way to demonstrate this would be a prototype, so I'll work on that a bit. BUT, let me explain to you the fundamental difference between a "classic" approach such as Emily Short's and my own.
The big difference is scripting.
In a classic solution, you can be as brilliant as you want in offering the player social choices. But no matter how brilliant you are, you're going to run into a fundamental flaw: the characters can only say what you write them to say.
That's not gonna work.
It's very important to do away with scripted dialog. Instead, you have to abstract it out. Either use a bunch of fragmented dialog bits that get recombined, use an abstract language you designed specifically for the purpose, or be completely abstract and use something like Simlish.
In a game of combat, you do not see every blow of every weapon in great detail. It has just started to be possible to do that, and most games still abstract combat out to some generic flailing plus a few colored numbers. Social stuff, at least in the beginning, needs to be abstracted just as far. (Although, obviously, not to the same end.)
Abstracting this stuff out will make it possible to do stuff algorithmically. Someone can become angry with you, even if it wasn't programmed in! Someone can be turned against someone else even if the designer didn't expect it, because they can betray without needing to have it explicitly scripted!
Now, obviously, I'm skipping a lot of stuff. This is an immense topic and describing it in a single post is not going to happen. For example, now someone will claim that this has been done before, probably pointing to the Sims. "Look! Dey have all dese emotions an' stuff!"
Here's the bit you need to understand: The design is as important as the algorithm. If the algorithm allows anyone to become angry, then the design has to make sure that people becoming angry matters to the gameplay. If the algorithm allows anyone to side with anyone, the design has to make that matter and offer up a good way to let the player use it.
If they can be angry, but it's pointless, then IT'S POINTLESS. There's no difference between a Sim talking about science-symbol and a Sim talking about police-symbol. An angry Sim is angry, which just makes life irritating for a while and has no significant effect on anything. All of the socializing-with-Sims stuff is useless, because there is no significant game effect to it. Yay, you made a new friend, just like the old friend.
The Sims isn't about socializing, it's about consumerism when you play it straight and it's about injecting your own meaning when you play it freely. Either way, socializing isn't a big part of the game.
To make socializing a big part of the game, you have to design it from the ground up.
Details on how to do this.
I hope I'm being clear. I'm not very awake today.