Saturday, September 8

Shadow Monsters

Shadows are very, very near and dear to my heart. Thats why this concept is so cool. Its called Shadow Monsters. The hand shadows are actually being changed via the projector. The system was designed by Worthers' Original.

What is really interesting, is as I was watching it I began to look for consistency. Its quite possible you did so as well. You can actually see diagrams of the projectors functions in the background of the main website. I think its funny I looked for its inner workings so quickly. A big issue in video games as of late is the consistency of a players' input. In particular, this is mentioned for Wii and PS3 motion control quite frequently. When analyzing the video, I was looking for consistency. "Ok, how do I make an eye, how do I make teeth?" Why valid questions, I soon realized I was looking at the game the wrong way. It doesn't matter how specific images or sounds are generated. Thats not the purpose of the game. The purpose of the game is to have fun creating awesome-crazy looking monsters that bark and wail at each other. And laughing. I'm sure the projector does determine these effects somehow. But its besides the point. The game really just wants you to have fun playing around with shadow puppets and watching them morph and interacting with the changes. Its awesome.

Shadow Monsters

BioShock, Choice, and Emotion

Kotaku the other day linked me to an article over at Sexy Videogame Land, a blog by Leigh Alexander. The article is entitled "The Mechanics of choice," and reads about the recently released BioShock from Irrational Games (now 2K Boston), emotion in videogames, as well as choice. I would entreat you to read the entire article, it isn't long, but I will quote for discussion purposes regardless. Alexander starts off her article with a fantastic statement:
I've heard a lot of discussion about how much choice there is (or isn't) in BioShock on the matter of the Little Sisters, and in gaming in general. People have been saying for years they want more choice in games, and they want to see the gameplay reflect their choices. We want consequences both foreseen and unforeseen; we want the opportunity to make a moral decision without knowing exactly what we'll get out of it. We don't want, as some gamers have called it, a mere "cost-benefit analysis." In other words, at the core of any gaming experience, no matter how intense, it's still a game; you are still an explorer, a combatant, and you have a protagonist with stats to manage. In the end, choice in games may simply come down, at least historically and at present, to what gains you want for your character and what you're willing to trade. It's not a moral issue at all, then, but the simple exchange of boost for penalty, choice being a factor only insofar as you can decide which bonuses you want and which you can do without, and perhaps which cutscene you'd rather see, which ending you'd rather get.
I think she's right. But before I go on, I implore you, read the entire article. Alexander says so many interesting things, and so very well, I couldn't possily replicate her argument if I tried. Plus it will get your minds working and put you in the right mindset to continue reading this post.
Finished? Fantastic. Let us contiue. We are offered choices in video games, particularly RPGs, but what do these choices amount to, and, what governs our decisions?

I have not played BioShock, everything I know about the game is from what I've read, watched or heard. Everything I'm going to say concerning BioShock is not based on personal experience. What Alexander is arguing, is that though BioShock touts actual choice based upon emotion, when confronted with little sisters and big daddys, the choices actually do little more then affect your character's stats. Therefore, when playing BioShock, what decisions or what frame of mind is governing players' choices? Do players' make decisions with their conscience? Are emotions the motivator by which players respond to the game and make their choices? Or, is the game guiding players' choices? Is the in-game effect or result of a player's choices the true hand that sculpts that player's decisions? At what point does a game's functional reward infringe upon players' emotions? From Alexander's article:
Add in the fact that we're trained to predict what the game "wants" us to do. In the RPG genre, choice often comes down to which answer you pick to a question. . . .Could it be though, that we as players have been conditioned to look at our gaming experience as a cost-benefit analysis? What is it, exactly, that we're hoping to "get" from a game that offers us choices? values and identity really mean nothing because it's only a game?
Let's say a little sister is at your whim. Do you save her? Do you let her live because you think it wrong to harvest her adam? Wrong to kill her for your own benefit? Or, do you kill her, take her precious adam? And if so, why? Do you kill the little sister because you don't think she deserves to live? Do you kill her because you want her adam, you want your character become more powerful? Or do you kill her because you need her adam? You feel that without it, you will not be able to survive much longer in the destroyed paradise that is BioShock?

The beauty is: Every answer is correct. You, the player, are always right? You can save the little sisters, you can kill them, and you can do so for whatever reasons please you. And you know what, thats awesome. The choices that players make aren't what we're trying to get at, but rather why players make these choices.
The choice is yours.

I think it entirely possible, even probable, that players make decisions of their own accord. Some players will kill the little sisters, other will let them live. The only thing infringing on the players' free-will is when necessity governs their choices. In other words, if players feel like they need to kill the little sisters to complete the game, then I can guarentee you that's what they'll do. Here is the problem: If indeed the game necessitates players to kill the little sisters and harverst their adam to complete the game, then all potential emotional input is lost, null. If we as designers truly want emotion to govern play, then we cannot allow, under any circumstances, in-game results such as character ability or otherwise control players' decisions with finality.

But there is a margin. When does the game choosing for you, based on necessity, diverge from the players' actual emotional decisions? Lets say it is not necessary to harvest every little sister, or even a single one, to play through the game. It may be, I don't know. However, as we know, when players do harvest the adam, they are rewarded, in-game, with a boost in character statistics, skill, and ability. Which in turn offers new ways to play the game and approach its various situations. In other words, more ways to have fun. Therefore, we are now presenting players with true options, true choice. And these choices are governed by two things, primarily: more ways to have fun/character ability, and personal emotional impact. Alexander finishes her article as such:
After a while, I started letting the Little Sisters squirm a sec after I'd felled their Daddy. . . .Now, I chase the Little Sisters down. I want 'em. It's like I can't wait; I deserve that Adam after what I went through to get it. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?. . . .I made some choices. And now, much to my surprise, I'm becoming something I hate. And I love it. Cost-benefit regardless, the choices in this game are beyond the mechanics. The merit of choice in games may not be what we get from it, but when done this richly, how it feels.
This is what games are all about. As Alexander says, regardless of in-game effects, she has made moral decisions and is reaping they're emotional effects. Games can impact people. We just need to make sure we allow players to choose and not force them to through in-game necessity. What BioShock can do is amazing. More importantly, BioShock represents how video games have the potential to effect people in real, tangible ways--and not just on the screen.BioShock teaches people that they can be manipulated. Some may argue, "but the little sisters aren't real, they're a collection of polygons animated to create the illusion of life." True, but in essence wrong. Its not the little sisters that matter, its is how they effect you emotionally that does.

If people can feel remorse for how they've interacted with a set of polygons, and learn something about themselves as a result, then video games really do have a power to effect people. When players decide, when they choose for themselves (hopefully without the game forcing them to do so), to kill a little sister, to steal her adam, then they are emotionally responsible for that decision.

We've been taught as human beings that killing is wrong. In choosing to kill a cluster of polygons for personal benefit, people are teaching themselves a real life lesson, and will therefore pay the consequences for their actions, in-game, and out. And thats a beautiful thing. It really is. This is part of what makes game design so amazing. Our ability to affect people. Designing a game around emotional choice, and pulling it off, is nothing short of extrordinary.

Remember that "What is Next-Gen" series of posts I made? The answer is emotion. Graphics, sound, multiplayer, all important in their own right, to be sure. But emotion coupled with interaction is the true hallmark of a next-generation game, andis whats going to take video games to the next level.

Artwork by Rahll
Screenshots from Official BioShock Website

Saturday, September 1

Halo Wars: My Opinion

I've done some thinking about Halo Wars since my last post. The question I posed to both myself and you readers was whether Halo Wars should be designed for balance in the tradition of an RTS, or more so in the tradition of Halo itself. I was undecided on the matter. I thought it important for Halo Wars to have balanced play considering its importance in the RTS genre. However, as Halo Wars is also a Halo franchise product, and not just an RTS, it should stay true to the style and feel of Halo, considering its genetics, so to speak. I was deliberating which was more important when it hit me: The answer, A, is that both franchise and genre are equally important, and B, that neither should have to be compromised for the other's sake?Going back to the issue that started this question, the warthog. The warthog in Halo Wars is like an invincible giant compared to the warthog of Halo yore. It does move like a warthog, true, but by no means does it, or its riders, appear to take damage like one would expect. In fact it seems that Halo Wars is merely a superficial skin on what appears to be no more a standardized RTS template. Maybe thats harsh, addmittedly my knowledge of the game is limited and the game itself nowhere near completetion. Therefore everything I say should be understood with these concessions in mind.

The question I keep asking myself is: whay can't Halo Wars be both Halo and RTS? And you say, "Duh! It is. Thats the point." And I totally agree. But not with the game in its current state. I mean why can't Halo Wars really be "Halo" and "Wars?" Their is nothing wrong with the game being an RTS, indeed it makes sense considering the franchise's history. But who ever said Halo Wars has to be built on the same basic RTS blueprints as every other RTS ever made? Noone (except for maybe Microsoft, who knows). My point is, Halo Wars should play like an RTS but feel like Halo.
I love how the warthog moves, and I love that it can jump huge gaps; its an awesome feature. But the warthog should be just as susceptible defensively as it always has been. As things stand now, the warthog is more like a tank, which it isn't. Hypothetically, it could zoom around and shoot at the same time, perhaps automatically, like airplanes do in Supreme Commander. But, really, Ensemble could do absolutely anything, anything they want. But whatever they do I think its necessitous to retain the Halo feel.

My opinions are premature, to be sure, and probably sound a bit more severe in writing than how I actually feel. But who cares? My opinion is moot, really. Yours, however, is not. What do you think?

Also, I should note that the date system in my blog is working incorrectly. This post was actually made on Sunday, September 2nd. And the previous post on September 1st. I've looked through all the settings and there seems to be nothing wrong. There must be something wrong with the code. Bear with me while I figure out what the problem is, thanks.