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See if glass breaks. Jump on stuff. See if bullets leave holes.
February 8, 2013 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Gamers are the ultimate trolls.
posted by Faint of Butt (109 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is a gigantic banner they've got there
posted by motorcycles are jets at 7:28 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can't see anything behind that nav bar.
posted by DGCA at 7:30 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


As an example of what happens when game devs challenge players' preconceived notions of how the should act in a game, check out the recently released Antichamber. It's a lot about un-learning old behaviors and being open to new experiences packaged as a trippy game experience.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:32 AM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Almost every game could be done for half the price and twice as fast if not for the fact that it needs to feature a metric fuckton of anti-troll security measures.

"Stop fucking around, we don't want to do QA." Maybe you ought to make movies or write comics instead.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:33 AM on February 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


I do find the random bold text that highlights weird parts of the sentences a bit distracting.
posted by Brockles at 7:34 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Gee, I wish the background color was just a slightly lighter shade of beige.
posted by ook at 7:36 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


They check if a chair can be pushed around. See if glass breaks. Jump on stuff. Look for weak textures. See if bullets leave holes. Tea-bag the first enemy killed. Try to open every door and every drawer. Stare at the grass to see if it moves. Check if they cast a shadow.

Who is this wizard and how does he know my morning routine?!
posted by Think_Long at 7:40 AM on February 8, 2013 [25 favorites]


Seriously, though, I think the Skyrim approach to this problem -- let the users screw around if they want to, and don't worry too much about it -- is absolutely the correct one. If your player decides to hang around in the room filling up with water, you don't have to worry about the immersion-breaking of them discovering that the room never actually fills up with water. Because if they're making decisions like "let's hang around in this room that's filling up with water" their immersion in the story is already broken.

Besides, things like the trick of being able to steal from vendors by putting buckets on their heads are comedy gold.
posted by ook at 7:41 AM on February 8, 2013 [41 favorites]


I think part of the problem is that a lot of modern games are designed to give the player the illusion of freedom while actually having a tightly scripted on-rails narrative experience. The flooding room example becomes complicated for the developers because they are thinking in terms of interactive cutscenes that the player is supposed to follow along with, instead of having an environment for the player to interact with freely.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:42 AM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


He makes a reasonably convincing case that Skyrim ("Fuck around all you want, if it breaks something that's your own fault") and Walking Dead ("This is your linear experience and you will make decisions only when we say you can") have the right idea. Why offer the illusion of freedom of action if you're going to spend so much time and effort making sure that the player still does exactly what you want them to?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:42 AM on February 8, 2013


I can't see anything behind that nav bar.

Another class of webdesigners that should be taken out and shot for usability fail - the ones who put huge banners at the top or bottom of the page, on top of the actual content. Don't these people use page-up/page-down at all?
posted by daveje at 7:44 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Stop fucking around, we don't want to do QA." Maybe you ought to make movies or write comics instead.

You've either missed the point or are being obtuse. Your house is built to be reasonably fire-proof, but it's not built to withstand you attacking the walls with a flamethrower. How much more expensive would your house be if it needed to be that safe?
posted by yerfatma at 7:44 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does the banner bar break? Can I stack text and see if the banner bar can be jumped through? Is there some weak kerning in that banner bar?
posted by Slackermagee at 7:44 AM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


A few years back, I was on vacation visiting a friend of mine who is a game developer. I spent a day hanging out in his office, and played the game they were developing. It wasn't totally complete at the time, but it looked like they got mostly everything working engine-wise and were just working on the art and polishing the design. So, naturally, I set out to see how fast I could break it.

The game is a physics-based sidescroller and you could generate objects on the fly. One of the first things I encounter is a seesaw. So, obviously, I try to see how high I can get on the seesaw by dropping objects on it as soon as the character lands and immediately erasing them, increasing the height and velocity each time. After about four or five jumps, I catapult the character out of the bounds of the level, at which point it seems that he landed somewhere with a platform (I have no idea how this game stored level information), because the stage would scroll as I moved around and fell into an invisible pit.

Time to break: three minutes.
posted by griphus at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Imagine yourself with a paintball gun, role playing bank robbers with a bunch of friends. When the “game” starts, what’s the first thing you do? Is it running away from the bank or trying to melee the team mates with your gun?

When I am handed a loaded paintball gun, the first thing I will do is shoot one of my friends.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


The actions of a gamer sussing out just how interactive, how real, a game is is strikingly similar to how one learns to dream more lucidly. You find yourself in a reality which isn't quite right, so you have to test the most basic things in order to establish the rules. If you see a mirror, does it reflect accurately? If you try to walk through it, what happens? There is a newspaper... can you read it, and does it make sense?

I wonder how much of this phenomenon is less trolling, and more how a human would actually react if they suddenly woke up in some altered reality with subtly different rules of interaction.
posted by gilrain at 7:48 AM on February 8, 2013 [23 favorites]


If this dude really wants to blame someone, he should blame Roberta Williams. (Or, say, the games that have some loot on a ledge that can only be reached by running at the wall, and at the last second firing an RPG at your feet that propels you into the air and onto the ledge. *sigh* I miss Marathon sometimes.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:51 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why offer the illusion of freedom of action if you're going to spend so much time and effort making sure that the player still does exactly what you want them to?

Well, the illusion of freedom of action is why we're playing a game rather than just watching a movie. Done well it enhances the experience, even though the "best" way to utilize that freedom of action is to, well, not use it. A fun paradox, that.

And at the other extreme, a truly non-narrative, open-sandbox world is going to feel rather limited in the end, simply because there just isn't room enough in the computer to apply interesting, non-repetitive interactions to every object in every room in etc.

The best-case scenario is a narrative that is strong enough that it makes the player want to follow along, so they never notice the rails. (If I'm really engaged with the narrative, and the room is filling up with water, I'm going to want to get the fuck out before I drown.) If I'm constantly bumping up against the rails and trying to wander off in other directions, that's a sign that the narrative isn't very compelling.
posted by ook at 7:52 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first rule of gaming is that you are required to shoot every glitch. Everything else is just gravy.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:57 AM on February 8, 2013


How much more expensive would your house be if it needed to be that safe?

But it doesn't, and neither do the games. He's given two scenarios where the correct solution was the cheapish one, and I'd argue that it's damn-near always the case. But yes, I understand where he's going, I just think the angle he's approaching it from is sort of silly.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:58 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gamers are the ultimate trolls.

Well, duh. See /r/gaming.
posted by kmz at 8:03 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christ, this guy would be in serious trouble in the realm of cardboard counter and hex-grid gaming. Playtest the stupid strategies is game design 101. Why? Because if the stupid strategies work, your game sucks.

Imagine yourself with a paintball gun, role playing bank robbers with a bunch of friends. When the “game” starts, what’s the first thing you do? Is it running away from the bank...

Heh. I've masterminded EXACTLY this sort of strategy. The scenario pitted assassins against the secret service where the secret service had to escort the president (who was unarmed) down the center of the arena (a warehouse space full of plywood walls and a couple wrecked cars). The assassins won if they killed the president. What we did was hide the president (he lay down in the darkest corner he could find) while the rest of us divided into two teams - bait and loose high cover. The assassins went after the bait and loose high cover flanked the shit out of them. Then while this firefight was going on, the president sauntered down the edge of the field without a care in the world.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:04 AM on February 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm definitely appreciating the guided path more and more. I just started playing Uncharted 3 and I forgot about something awesome that series does - subtly manipulating you into things as simple as slight movements, and then rewarding you with interactions that seem to happen completely organically. Early on you're fighting a bunch of bruisers with Sully, and he's knocked on the ground. Because of the relationships the series has fostered, you're drawn to help him. That emotional draw is already significant, I would never rush to Lydia's aid in Skyrim. As you get close to him an animation triggers and you help him up, completely in game. That's a really minor example, but it pings such great feelings in the player.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:09 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think part of the problem is that a lot of modern games are modern American life is designed to give the player citizen the illusion of freedom while actually having a tightly scripted on-rails narrative experience.

Oh wait, that's a different problem.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:09 AM on February 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Goofing around is the best part of gaming. My favorite parts of games aren't the scripted elements; it's when I'm goofing off, like purposely jumping off the mountaintop in Uncharted 3, falling to my death and hearing "NATE!" dun dun dun... or base jumping naked off the roof of my condo in Saint's Row 2... or hurling myself into traffic and getting run over and dragged around in Sleeping Dogs... or deliberately walking into fire so that I catch fire, then chasing my gaming buddy around trying to catch him on fire before it goes out.

A virtually consequence-free existence is just flat out fun.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:10 AM on February 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Also I've long passed the need to SMASH EVERYTHING phase I still need to check if a game has toilet smashing capabilities.

On preview my last comment was directly refuted by the next two which were being written at the same time as mine. Heh.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:12 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


And at the other extreme, a truly non-narrative, open-sandbox world is going to feel rather limited in the end, simply because there just isn't room enough in the computer to apply interesting, non-repetitive interactions to every object in every room in etc.

At the heart of every game is an extremely repetitive (but fun) gameplay mechanic though. In an FPS it's shooting enemies, in a racing game it's driving, in a beat-em-up it's beating up enemies. At the end of the day, what makes the game good or bad is mostly whether that repetitive element is fun or not. Portal has a great storyline, but if the puzzles were too frustrating or too boring then it wouldn't matter. And likewise a sandbox game like Minecraft that has no narrative at all can become extremely popular because narratives are not really necessary to make a good game. It's mostly just convention that an RPG or FPS has to have a on-rails storyline whereas a sports game or racing game doesn't, it's possible to make fun games in any genre at any level of predetermined narrative.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:15 AM on February 8, 2013


This is a part of normal QA, I dunno why they're whining.

Recently in the game "NFS: The Run" there was a level where you're being chased by the mob. It's a bullshit level so I decided to just stop the car and reverse out of the stage. Well if you do that, it resets, but when the game resets it places your car in the reset zone again, so you're stuck in an infinite reset loop and have to actually quit the game and restart the level in order to continue.

This wouldn't have happened if I wasn't just foofing about. The more freedom you give a player the more this is going to happen. I think players are willing to deal with the occasional glitch if it means more freedom.
posted by hellojed at 8:16 AM on February 8, 2013


Reward me for following the narrative.

Also reward me for fucking with the narrative.

REWARD ME. DANCE, PIXELS, DANCE!
posted by cavalier at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, for now the water just gets to a certain height, and it actually never fills the room.

You know what else nobody tests in real life? When you're putting water in a bucket, no matter how much water you put into the bucket, it never gets much more than a foot deep in there. It's like that forever!

Did it really not occur to these guys to put some sort of window or something in the room so that there would be a logical place for the water to go after it got to their target depth? If you were trying to escape from somewhere that wasn't filling up with water, wouldn't you wonder where the water was going as that might be a better escape route than the one proposed by your sidekick? Particularly when sidekicks in games tend to be dumber than a bag of hammers?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2013


Often times, if there is a cheat code or a break, I will use it. I think it was the first Sim City where I made a zillion dollars and built metropolis with only one street. No way it should have worked. But the game enviroment enabled me to do it and it was FUN!
posted by cavalier at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2013


Yeah, uh, this is how ALL software development works. If you don't want to pay for the unhappy path you're in the wrong business.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interesting that a lot of these problems are solved by the brutally unforgiving nature of roguelikes. Instant death! Sure, five minutes in, you can jump into the spike pit all you want, but by the midgame, you're going to have to be careful. If you're in the equivalent of a room filling with water, you don't just wait around to see what happens. If you do, and you're wrong, it's game over.
posted by aureliobuendia at 8:18 AM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Choplifter for the Apple ][ had a cool bug. There were only 3 people allowed on the ground at a time. When you landed the chopper near them, they ran towards it, and if you stayed on the ground, boarded it. I looked at these little suffering people and said, "the Lord helps those who help themselves and lifted the chopped off the ground before anyone could board and then landed again, closer to the end goal. Eventually, you could convince those suckers to walk home on their own damn legs and why they hell did they need a chopper?!

The end result was that when these three hostages made it to the goal, the game never updated that there were now three fewer hostages in the world, so it was impossible to free any more.

I sent a letter to Dan Gorlin at Broderbund and he responded that it wasn't a bug but was due to my 'innovative style of play.'

Horseshit. Bug I say.
posted by plinth at 8:25 AM on February 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


Exploring a virtual environment is the primary way to learn the game mechanics being used by the designers. It's like a flight simulator or a fps; I am not going to get truly lost in the fiction that I'm flying a plane or shooting an alien, I'm going to get involved in the mechanics/controls/artificial physics the designers created. Narrative or puzzles are ways of elucidating the evolution and complication of the game's core concepts. Story, cinematic or otherwise, cannot be the main point; games are defined by their problems/puzzles, with a few notable exceptions. Otherwise, why would you invite interaction in the first place?

Although The Walking Dead totally puts a lie to that idea. That's what happens when you ask why the player even needs to interact: brilliant game design. Uncharted 2 is another example of creative problem solving. Yes, when I meet a gentle villager, I will try to punch him. If I can, then any emotional or narrative content feels like filler. But in that game, the 'hit' button becomes 'handshake', and refreshes the game world. Now I want to shake hands with EVERYONE! It's a simple change that really made that game memorable.

The tone of the original article sounds very petulant. I think it's less a problem of 'trolls' (totally not the right word here) and more one of clarifying the mechanics of the game. Jonathan Blow's blog for The Witness has some interesting posts about solving movement bugs, but it's never presented as "We have to make sure those horrible players don't walk off a cliff just to spite us." It's part of the compact between designers and players.

He's also ignoring the fact that thinking about how the player might (mis)behave is a crucial, important part of the design process, not an exasperated afterthought. In fact, it creates more interesting games. In what creative industry is questioning assumptions ever a bad thing?

I'm not a designer. I'm a theater director. All I do is think about how an audience will respond and all they do is something I haven't thought of. It's great. It makes me a better director, and hopefully my plays more fulfilling.
posted by colorblindrg at 8:26 AM on February 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Enjoyed the article, it was a nice look into the head of a game developer and the problems he faces. But I think he's made an important and telling mistake:
...because game developers keep adding new ways of interacting with stuff, the devil’s voice inside our heads keeps inviting us to mess around.
This is actually one of the chief failings of modern games: So many of them do not offer very many ways to “interact with stuff.” This is why players can be counted on to try shooting everything; shooting is often the only possibility for interaction the player is presented with. Many “modern” games are hardly more interactive than Zork was. (And despite his reference to text adventures right in the article, the point seems lost on him that text adventures didn't need any special “anti-troll” measures. If the parser could understand what you said, if the game logic was capable of doing what you asked, it would happen, even if it was fatal. That was the game.) Almost no modern games have even a fraction of the interaction possibilities that an ancient game like Nethack does. And even Nethack's main interaction dynamic is “Stab (hapless creature).”

The author demolishes the point himself, but he doesn't seem to acknowledge that there's any shortcoming on the game's part:
[Players] check if a chair can be pushed around. See if glass breaks. Jump on stuff. Look for weak textures. See if bullets leave holes. Tea-bag the first enemy killed. Try to open every door and every drawer. Stare at the grass to see if it moves. Check if they cast a shadow.
In other words, players desperately seek out new or surprising forms of interaction. The pots-on-heads trick in Skyrim isn't a failure or a case where the developers decided to ignore the “trolls,” it's a form of interaction that emerges naturally from the other mechanics of the game. Allowing that to happen makes the game more interesting, it makes the game-world seem filled with more possibilities, more of a playground for the player's imagination and less like a movie interspersed with a bunch of busy work.

And hey, do we really need a new word for “joker” or “vandal” or “trickster?” “Troll” already had a highly specific meaning, and this isn't it.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:27 AM on February 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


It's not trolling, it's testing. All gamers know that a game is defined by its rules – what can I get away with? what can't I? – and the world of a game is part of those rules. It literally defines the boundaries of your actions.

When you find the boundaries, you know what you're not allowed to do – but you also know what you can get away with. And the latter can make a game hilarious (The Sims is ONLY about murdering Sims, after all), but it can also completely ruin a game. Skyrim, which somebody above wrote about handling lack of immersion well, breaks this on super basic levels: the world simply does not know how to respond to your actions, to things you've accomplished, to places you've decided to go. You're trapped in the game's pre-written narrative, unless you ignore it outright to go do smaller, more trivial tasks; but the more of those you do, the weirder it feels should you decide to return to the main storyline. The world's hugeness itself is what ruins the gameplay: you either immerse yourself in the visuals without giving the gameplay any mind, or you treat it as a map of repetitive assignments with no depth – a very pretty map, but a map nonetheless, and one whose locations have next to no purpose.

Games that are too strict aren't interesting either; play is found in the ambiguous place between total freedom and total restraint. That's what makes it so interesting. It's also why different hardcore gamers can still like entirely different things: there are so many TYPES of hardcore gaming! It's great. But yeah, this guy's complaint is stupid. If anything, game designers should realize that we want to break things and make more games based on what gamers want. I don't want your sad fucking excuse for a C-list Hollywood movie packaged in with gameplay that tries to simulate shooting a bunch of people with no motive other than "I wasn't talented enough to direct movies". I have movies for when I want to watch movies. What I want in a game is something playful, something fun. And modern game designers fucking suck at just straightforwardly making a fun no-frills game. I'll be happy to leave this era of game design behind.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:28 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


daveje: "Another class of webdesigners that should be taken out and shot for usability fail - the ones who put huge banners at the top or bottom of the page, on top of the actual content."

I like to imagine that they're trying to create an immersive experience of being a medieval knight viewing the internet through a visored helmet.
posted by exogenous at 8:29 AM on February 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Why offer the illusion of freedom of action if you're going to spend so much time and effort making sure that the player still does exactly what you want them to?--Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish

A lot of people are saying this and it has been my pet peeve. It really zaps your creativity if the story line drags you along one preset path. To me, the ultimate game presents a world and a problem, and it doesn't matter how you solve it. In fact, the designers have succeeded if most of the people solving the problem have done so in ways that were not thought of by them. It goes all the way back to the 8 bit game Lemmings.
posted by eye of newt at 8:43 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you'd like to use that site's design on your own Interweb presence project, you can download its wordpress theme here.
posted by notyou at 8:54 AM on February 8, 2013


I've always thought that it was a continual quest to see what Easter Eggs or shout-outs were left in the game that made players try all sorts of things. With the addition of achievements and trophies for finding secrets, or doing things that weren't logical in real life, it's almost become second-nature to test the limits of a particular game.

It also reminds me of the D&D dungeon master's dilemma of trying to get the party to move the story along, despite having a wide-open world in front of them. Like these video games, there are good DMs that can roll with the unorthodox, and bad DMs that railroad you down the path.
posted by CancerMan at 8:55 AM on February 8, 2013


Yeah, I think it's "testing not trolling" too - seeing how accurate the virtual world mimics the real one to see what, if anything, can be exploited in a unique way.

Also, repeatedly bolding parts of your essay does not magically make those arguments better or more authoritative.
posted by modernnomad at 8:56 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


NukeAnything Enhanced for Firefox allows you to right-click something, choose "Remove Object", and remove it from the currently rendered page. It also features an undo, and if you refresh the page, it loads a fresh copy so you can start over.

(This is not off-topic.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:02 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I had a similar thought to aureliobuendia - If you really can't afford to finish out the logical consequences of the scenario described, go to a quick "you're dead" cut scene and be done with it. If the game has been enjoyable to that point, gamers will realize that this is not a place they can play around.

This kind of quick decision-making can be a huge draw - it's been going on since the Dragon's Lair laser disc game back in the day. It's what makes horror games fun for people like me. I'm not saying that EVERY place in every game has to have that now-or-never, no time to smash the roses feeling, just that if it's going to entail a lot of expense, there are always ways around it.
posted by Mister_A at 9:05 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think players are willing to deal with the occasional glitch if it means more freedom.

This is essentially my argument for abolishing the TSA.
posted by mediated self at 9:07 AM on February 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Actually Portal is a good example of what I'm talking about. The whole game is about messing around with things and stacking shit and doing weird stuff to solve puzzles. BUT it is made clear that falling in the goo is always a BAD THING and should be avoided.
posted by Mister_A at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2013


Interesting that a lot of these problems are solved by the brutally unforgiving nature of roguelikes. Instant death!
posted by aureliobuendia


I think more so it's because a roguelike developer is never going to say, "We need to produce additional water effects, record extra sidekick voice-overs and mo-cap new body and face animations, have vfx artists produce underwater screen post-process, have the programmers hook it up, and create drowning animation, sound, effects and code?"


}}}}}}}}}}
}}}}}}}}}}
}}}}@}}}}}
}}}}}}}}}}

You have drowned.

posted by RobotHero at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


So the author of the link's problem seems to be that people act in unexpected ways? And the poor dear has to deal with it? You are a game designer, that is your job.

And the use of sidekicks in game design, eh. Was playing one earlier this evening where it was lucky I had an earlier save game to go back to, because apparently the time I spent searching a location for loot (another key mechanic of the game) meant that I couldn't get to them in time to 'rescue' them. Never mind also that there was an important narrative element hidden in the area that takes a bit of finding.

Was real fun thinking about doing the whole mission again, purely because some egotistical idiot can't design a game properly.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aha! So its baskets, not buckets! I don't know how long I spent trying to get a bucket to fit onto an NPC's head in Skyrim. It just would not fit. Even tried a cooking kettle without luck.
posted by General Tonic at 9:12 AM on February 8, 2013


Also, the game I'm talking about has like a dozen different sidekicks who are functionally the same, but apparently necessary to add variety or something. Oh and the game also kills half of them of half way through the game as part of the narrative. Was really worth the time I spent with then, doing their moronic tasks.

No one is making you do this game designers.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:13 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or when you’re having a family dinner, do you club the china, or try to jump on top of the TV?

I call this Thanksgiving.
posted by Splunge at 9:16 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Linguistic drift is continuing to take "troll" in a bad direction.

The opening example in the article sets the tone. Making sure the player focus can't walk right through walls and exit out of the level geometry isn't an "anti-troll security measure," it's QA. Is it expensive and time-consuming QA to thoroughly check for that throughout a game? I'm sure it is. Tiny violins, etc.

It ties neatly into the 'Skyrim solves the problem by not caring!' silliness. I would comfortably wager large sums of money that QA hammered on the "test to make sure the player won't phase right through walls and floors" aspect; it's a well-known (in gamer circles) how very terrible earlier Elder Scrolls games were at that exact thing. (In Daggerfall, you could make a drinking game out of every time you'd randomly fall out of a dungeon into a void outside the level geometry.)
posted by Drastic at 9:19 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Scientists are the ultimate trolls. They do this shit in real life and get paid for it.
posted by srboisvert at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, you couldn't play Daggerfall without having the cheats enabled, purely so you could 'recover' from entering the void. You could also 'warp' to your ship while robbing a store and then 'warp' back, and it would be refilled. It was still a really fun game as the designers seemed to start with the idea of 'what can players do', rather than 'how do we force the players to follow our shitty narrative'.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:25 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dan's Data recently had a neat post on the Skyrim Giant-Assisted Space Program and related weird behavior in games.
posted by exogenous at 9:32 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Christ, this guy would be in serious trouble in the realm of cardboard counter and hex-grid gaming. Playtest the stupid strategies is game design 101. Why? Because if the stupid strategies work, your game sucks.

These days, when folk ask me to sit down to play a game of Risk, I throw the pieces at them and then eat the board.

This is actually a lot more fun than playing the game the way it is meant to be played.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:33 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


See also Tom Francis writing about this phenomenon from the player's perspective: How mainstream games butchered themselves and why it’s my fault which has one of the best responses from a game developer to a critical article that I've ever read: Bulletstorm’s creative director responds to our ‘Mainstream games’ editorial, a response that single-handedly reversed the loathing I felt for Bulletstorm.
posted by straight at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


A response that was written, I just realized, by Adrian Chmielarz, the author of the article we're discussing here!
posted by straight at 9:44 AM on February 8, 2013


Tea-bag the first enemy killed.

Do they mean something different from what I understand that word (NSFW) to mean?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2013


I like to imagine that they're trying to create an immersive experience of being a medieval knight viewing the internet through a visored helmet.

Hey, I just wore something very, very similar to this the other night. I can vouch that it is indeed really hard to see from in there.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2013


There's a great exploit in Monster Hunter Tri where you can fall off something and get blasted onto a secret ledge by your gunner buddy. Then you attack the monsters with impunity, and also with guns.
posted by Mister_A at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2013


Or when you’re having a family dinner, do you club the china, or try to jump on top of the TV?

If you're a toddler, yes.

Gamers are like little kids in a new world they are trying to figure out. How does it work? What are the rules? What can I get away with? What will make other people laugh?

Place a toddler in a new environment, or with a new object, and they reveal that they are indeed the "Ultimate Troll". Why sit on a chair if you can flip it over and drag it over the cat?

And so there are two parenting solutions:
1. Over my Walking Dead body: "You know what? Fuck your freedom. You’ll only do stupid things with it. That’s not what our game is about.” This approach requires the implementation of "a metric fuckton of anti- troll toddler security measures."
2. Blue-Skyrim Thinking: Let the kid dream up any crazy idea and then do it, even if it breaks things. "If you want to screw up your experience – no problem." You may end up with a few buckets on heads, though.
posted by Kabanos at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


It was still a really fun game as the designers seemed to start with the idea of 'what can players do', rather than 'how do we force the players to follow our shitty narrative'.

If anything Daggerfall actively pushed you towards open exploration as the main quest is very easy to break (via either in game actions or its many random quest breaking bugs). I've logged scads of hours on that thing and I've never made it to the Mantellan Crux.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2013


From stright's link:

However, apart from occasional logical problems (e.g. “You can never break through to us with brute force – morons like me will always out-dick you” – so, if “always”, we don’t need to change anything, right?), the article is written under one assumption: that developers do what they do to FORCE players to experience what they want them to experience. That it’s our ego that dictates these solutions.

Guy makes interactive entertainment. Hates his audience.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


In any case his thesis that this is why games cost so much to make is not only bullshit, it's devaluing the work that 90% of his team does.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:55 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tea-bag the first enemy killed.

Do they mean something different from what I understand that word (NSFW) to mean?


Not really, it's just tea-bagging within the confines of what games will let you do, as seen here.
posted by Copronymus at 9:56 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. Over my Walking Dead body: "You know what? Fuck your freedom. You’ll only do stupid things with it. That’s not what our game is about.” This approach requires the implementation of "a metric fuckton of anti- troll toddler security measures."

The Walking Dead solution is more like throwing the kid into a padlocked cage and letting them choose which food you pass through the bars. Cheap, and gets the job done as long as you only care about food going into the kid's mouth - which is the ultimate goal of the whole experience when you get down to it - but it pretty much forces you to go bare-bones.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:57 AM on February 8, 2013


Hello, I'm David McGahan, "moron" is the word Tom Francis used to describe his own behavior in games; that line is a quote from the first article, not a word Adrian Chmielarz picked to describe his audience.
posted by straight at 10:03 AM on February 8, 2013


It was the 80's, on my cousin's Commodore 64, and one of the classic Scott Adams (not Mefi's Own) adventure games.

> kill myself

Sorry, you don't feel destructive today.

> feel destructive

<insert FX of character dying>

This is not a new thing.
posted by no relation at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the heart of every game is an extremely repetitive (but fun) gameplay mechanic though. In an FPS it's shooting enemies, in a racing game it's driving, in a beat-em-up it's beating up enemies. At the end of the day, what makes the game good or bad is mostly whether that repetitive element is fun or not.

I've been mulling this over for a while and I kind of think I disagree with this a lot.

On the one hand, yes, you can break down any game into the set of repetitive tasks involved in playing the game, and make the argument that as long as those tasks are fun, the game will be fun. And for some games this is truly all there is; the rest is just window dressing -- but I'd argue that those particular games aren't for the most part very memorable. To the point that the only ones I can think of offhand are Tetris and maybe Pac-Man. Portal, maybe. (It still would have been a decent puzzle game without the narrative "window dressing", but the window dressing is what made it a great game.) Dealing with games only at this level means the experience can only be as good as a good casual twitch game. Which, yeah, I like casual twitch games, but only for a few minutes at a time -- I'd rather my FPS feel like more than an extended round of Duck Hunt with prettier graphics.

I'm not saying that narrative is the only way to make the experience more compelling, of course, or that I want it in every game all the time. There are lots of other forms of interestingness beyond the core button-pushing mechanics, ranging from the very simple (can I beat last session's high score) to the slightly more complex (leveling, loot grinds, "kill ten rats" questing) to long-term goals (surely this castle will contain the princess!) all the way up to immersive storytelling.

(It's telling that even the most casual of casual games are incorporating more and more of these levels, up to and including narrative: collect the coins to buy power ups to be more powerful in future sessions to ultimately Save The World From the Evil Mastermind who, uh, set up all these match-3 boards you've been playing through...)

I think narrative -- well written (and well-designed) narrative, anyway -- is potentially the most compelling of the available options. And I say this despite the fact that I'm the type of gamer who impatiently clicks through the cutscenes as quickly as possible and who never reads the quest text. The existence of a narrative gives the illusion of progress even if you're not paying terribly much attention to the narrative, or even if that narrative is the most primitive form of MMO do-this-thing-and-get-a-reward-for-it. (I realized this about myself by trying to play LOTRO without paying for access to the higher level areas -- you're free to wander around and kill things throughout much of Middle Earth, you just can't take any quests in most areas unless you pay for them. Killing ten rats because someone told you to turns out to be a lot more interesting than just killing ten rats.)


Then again maybe this is just me expressing my personal prejudices. I don't tend to enjoy racing games or sports games, which are the two examples you cited of games that traditionally don't have much narrative. And I thought I'd enjoy Minecraft but wound up not playing it much at all. So IN CONCLUSION IF YOU LIKE THE THINGS I LIKE YOU WILL AGREE WITH WHAT I SAY, I guess.
posted by ook at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So is random bolding the n3w l33t sp34k?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 10:49 AM on February 8, 2013


Man, this makes me want to play Bulletstorm again.
posted by rebent at 10:53 AM on February 8, 2013


The existence of a narrative gives the illusion of progress even if you're not paying terribly much attention to the narrative, or even if that narrative is the most primitive form of MMO do-this-thing-and-get-a-reward-for-it.

I think this depends a lot on your expectations going into a game, and the genre of game we're talking about. I like RPGs and require a compelling narrative to consider one good, whereas for multiplayer games it hardly matters at all, because the primary mechanic is to compete against (or with, for co-op) other people, not advance the narrative. In fact, for massively multiplayer games, most background information is more or less incidental.

I've begun playing Planetside 2 lately, and each faction has some sketchy details (that is, in the game itself; there is a whole history from the first Planetside, but I don't care about it enough to read 30 grafs of it), but if you find yourself wanting to know why you endlessly fight over little patches of the map, you're playing the wrong game. There is no overarching 'progress' in PS2, just unending back-and-forth, but it's still fun. That's not to say other MMOs (obviously Warcraft has a lot of story to it) are always that way, but narrative isn't necessary for me to consider PS2 as good as AAA RPG titles.
posted by axiom at 11:07 AM on February 8, 2013


I really disagree with the assessment that it is 'troll' behavior developers are always trying to curtail. I think that labels 'anyone who might break my game' with intentions they might not have.

If someone walks away from the door, maybe it's because they were trolling and evilly cackling to themselves "well, did the developers think of THIS?!". Maybe it's because they pressed the wrong button, or messed up the controls, or swung the camera too fast and got confused. Maybe it's because they weren't paying attention and then looked up and wanted to know where they were. Maybe they realized they were almost out of ammo or mana potions and wanted to go back to see if they missed any before a boss fight starts. Maybe their toddler drooled all over the analog sticks and next thing you know the player has fallen through the world.

Hell, I've sat through so many usability tests with 'hardcore gamers' who couldn't figure out how such brand new gameplay as 'rotate the camera with the analog stick'. And others that couldn't figure out how to aim their weapon, so they just melee'd everything. And others that, dear god, got so lost because they were blind to the "HERE! PRESS THE BUTTON HERE!" sign and the NPC pointing at the button and telling the player "IT'S OVER HERE!" and the Objective UI popping up and the button fucking GLOWING ON SCREEN... so they go around and press and shoot and jump at everything else in the room. The examples are endless.

Sure, the obvious ones are intentional (like jumping at the pile of rubble repeatedly to see if they can get into an area they shouldn't), but for anything someone might intentionally try to break, there's a dozen users who may unintentionally break it.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 11:18 AM on February 8, 2013


Why does this white king and queen, with their knights and bishops, hate the black king so much? What motivates the pawns to march forward to almost certain doom? Is it the dream of being that one rare lottery winner who is elevated to become a queen?
posted by straight at 11:20 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: Heh. I've masterminded EXACTLY this sort of strategy. The scenario pitted assassins against the secret service where the secret service had to escort the president (who was unarmed) down the center of the arena (a warehouse space full of plywood walls and a couple wrecked cars). The assassins won if they killed the president.

In the rules as stated here, it might be be a workable strategy for the secret service to kill the president themselves and carry his corpse to the center of the arena. After all, the assassins can't win if they can't kill the president, and they can't kill the president if he's already dead.

The point being, this is the sort of thing that people playing videogames will try.
posted by baf at 11:24 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure, the obvious ones are intentional (like jumping at the pile of rubble repeatedly to see if they can get into an area they shouldn't)

Even that is an uncharitable assumption. If your players are thinking "the game designers obviously don't want me to do that," then you've failed somewhat in creating an immersive experience. You should hope that players would look at a pile of rubble and think, "Hey, I wonder if I could sneak into the castle by going around that way? Or maybe there's hidden treasure up there?"

Don't try playing Dark Souls if you're stuck in the mindset of only doing things that the game developers "probably intended" for you to do.
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It kind of depends on the mindset involved. If you're thinking "Maybe there's a hole in the rubble I can't see from this angle," or "maybe I can make the rocks fall through the hole and open a path," it's immersion. If you're thinking "Maybe if I jump at just the right angle, I'll clip through the floor," not so much.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:38 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this depends a lot on your expectations going into a game, and the genre of game we're talking about. I like RPGs and require a compelling narrative to consider one good, whereas for multiplayer games it hardly matters at all

I think you're right; I got carried away and overstated the importance of narrative, it's not the be all and end all.

Maybe a better way to say it is, there's the core mechanic, there's the illusion of freedom, and there's the illusion of progress. Illusion-of-freedom can come in many forms, whether it's a large sandbox world or the freedom to decide your battle tactics or etc; illusion-of-progress likewise can be a bunch of different things, from progress bars to multiplayer rankings to narratives.

The core mechanic has to exist, or else it's not a game -- and all else being equal, of course it's better if it's great than if it's merely good. The other two are, strictly speaking, optional -- but excellent illusion-of-freedom and/or illusion-of-progress can easily make up for a mediocre or at least not actively bad core mechanic.
posted by ook at 11:53 AM on February 8, 2013


Reward me for following the narrative.

I was thinking about this the other day, and how games usually don't anymore but they kind of used to. I'm almost finished with Xenoblade and the sidequests in the game are absolutely awful. Everything boils down to "go grind until you can kill this superboss" or "go grind until you've collected 10 Random Shinies." You get experience and money and eqipment from completing quests but it's all really haphazard and lots of the rewards are things you can easily get if you just continue with the main story and ignore the quests. Only two quests have effects beyond the insignificant exp/money/loot scheme but they follow the same "kill things"/"find things" model and it's just sour and really poorly designed. It's also all completely irrelevant to the story, which isn't very interested in itself anyway. I've completely ignored all the quests in the game, but the design is such that they're really intrusive. The game really wants you to do sidequests and keeps bugging you about it, but then laughs at you when you're dumb enough to do that.

So this all reminded me of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6, which both reward you with character development and backstory if you do the sidequests. Some of the most beautiful scenes in Chrono Trigger are tied to the side quests; and you can skip them. The thing with Lucca's mother, Robo's green thumb, the wider meaning of the game's events... There are these major events in the story that are just there if you want them. I really like that. Final Fantasy 7 does this even better by having all these optional little sidetracks that exist for no reason other than to flesh out the world, characters and plot as fiction. You don't have to watch Gast's tapes. You don't have to go to Lucretia's cave. You don't have to go back to Nibelheim. But if you do, if you're naturally curious about the game world, you're rewarded for that with a more complete understanding of the story.

It just struck me that while we do have a few games like the recent Fallouts that reward exploration, a lot of more modern games punish you for being curious about their world or just give you worthless shiny things. Braid is a good example of that: the plot is nonexistent but obtuse enough to make you curious. A lot of people went and did the secret stars thing to try and unravel whatever it was Jonathan Blow was trying to say in the game, and got essentially punished for that. It's an extreme example, but this balance between freedom of exploration and lack of interactivity thing isn't just mechanical. Games can provide interesting ways of getting the story, but that aspect of game design has mostly been collecting dust for a while now.
posted by byanyothername at 11:59 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the articles mentioned the excess of "hand-holding" in modern games as part of this. It's given me a lot to think about, because as someone with a generally poor sense of direction, the feature in the first Dead Space where you can hit a button and would show a path to what you were looking for is probably one of the best game features I've ever had the pleasure of utilizing.

I don't demand that my games be perfect, or logically consistent or hell, even glitch free, but when the flow of gameplay grinds to a halt because you can't guess which of the identical elements is the thing that lets you continue, it turns even the most immersive gameplay experience into having to listen to a toddler tell a joke to which he's forgotten the punchline.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:01 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


In fact, the designers have succeeded if most of the people solving the problem have done so in ways that were not thought of by them. It goes all the way back to the 8 bit game Lemmings.

There should be entire game design courses focused on studying Lemmings. There was nothing that could be considered "breaking" the game; you simply HAD to exploit the game mechanics, intentional or otherwise, to arrive at a solution. And the game was difficult enough that it felt like real victory. There were so many "eureka!" moments I had as a kid, like learning that you could dig through a tiny bit of solid concrete if your lemming thinks he's digging through soft soil. Or figuring out that a lemming building a bridge that connects to another bridge might turn around if you line up the pixels just right. Or figuring out that you need to hit the "nuke all lemmings" button to succeed in some situations. Lemmings was a game where the urge to test, explore and break was baked into the design at every level and every choice.
posted by naju at 1:14 PM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


One of Josh Sawyer's core tenets when designing Fallout: New Vegas was something like the player was walking around with a constantly-running flamethrower and every single character that she met was going to die. So any narrative that needed to happen should also include physical objects.

It's still possible to complete the game that way. It's also really quite flexible in terms of sequence-breaking--you can get to New Vegas as a low-level character and nothing explodes. But sadly, not every game is as resilient as that one.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:26 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like it when the game designer realizes many people will follow the pre-set path and uses it to their advantage. There was a specific Doom level I remember, where running straight forward towards the enemies visible ahead of you would put you into the level - but backing up would allow you to enter a courtyard not visible from the starting viewpoint, where you could obtain a chainsaw. If you rush blindly ahead you might miss that, and thus miss out on the fun of attacking enemies with the chainsaw before they'd been activated by your entry into the level - leaving them standing targets, and thus immediately dead meat.

Often clever designers throw in traps this way too - you see the shiny button or the section of wall with the crack in it, you push it or shoot it, and pow, something bad happens. Like you fall into a hidden pit just before the button, or the cracked wall breaking will trigger a ceiling collapse, that sort of thing - a result that is not necessarily important or necessary to the storyline can make you much more cautious about reckless exploration. It's one of the things I liked so much about Half-Life; some things were obviously there for you to break or explore, but the end result was often a Very Bad Thing, which made the NECESSARY exploring more nerve-wracking.

But this isn't going anyway any time soon. Duke Nukem 3D had some ridiculous parts but it was the first game I can remember playing that let you interact with the environment - walk across a dead body and you leave bloody tracks, shoot the wall and it leaves a pockmark, poke the pool table and the balls roll around, use the toilet and your health goes up! It was crazy refreshing, especially after outgrowing the arbitrary limits in Doom (Why can't I climb over a waist-high wall, anyway?). Free-exploring with the jetpack? No way was I going back to dumb environments again. I don't need fully-destructable environments, but there needs to be some level of freedom and correlation with reality. It takes you out of the illusion when a weapon that can reduce an enemy tank to a pile of rubble is incapable of cracking a plate glass window.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


First time I played Morrowind I killed the spymaster you're supposed to meet at the very beginning of the game (just screwing around) and the moment he died a message popped on the screen:

"With this character's death, the thread of prophecy is severed.
Restore a saved game to restore the weave of fate,
or persist in the doomed world you have created."


Which I thought was a pretty cool way to handle things.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:02 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reward me for following the narrative.

I was thinking about this the other day, and how games usually don't anymore but they kind of used to


I don't know that it's an age thing as much as a different school of designing philosophy. There are any number of old-school RPGs with their share of endless, pointless grinding. Dragon Warrior comes to mind for just one example. I think it's always been the case that some games fill their world with little bits of extra story and care about worldbuilding and others focus solely on the main story and and care more about teaching you to completely master a set of core game mechanics.
posted by Copronymus at 2:08 PM on February 8, 2013


Re: killing necessary characters, I don't like much about Baldur's Gate, but Biff The Understudy is a creation of absolute genius.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:11 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a reputation among gaming friends growing up, as the guy who would invariably find bugs, glitches, or otherwise "break" a given video game.

One of my favorites was when Battlefield 1942 first came out - parking jeeps in the middle of the road, then covering them with landmines. For some reason, the landmines would weigh down the jeep to the point where, after loading it down with enough, usually 5-6, it would clip through the ground with the landmines still attached. Suddenly you had the explosive capacity of 5-6 landmines, plus an exploding jeep, completely hidden below the road, just waiting for an enemy jeep or tank to come rolling over.

Same game, before patches, you could commandeer a fighter plane, and have three or four of your lan party buddies equipped with bazookas, go prone on the wings of the airplane. Provided you were relatively ginger with your banking and maneuvering, you suddenly had the only WWII combat aircraft in the sky with air to air missile technology.

Same game, many levels had aircraft carriers or large ships off shore, which could be captained and relocated, ostensibly to provide support for the land effort. Wasn't long before it was discovered that you could fly over, parachute onto your enemy's vessel, and steer it out to sea, eventually into the "you're leaving the game area, have some constant damage for your troubles" portion of the map. Get it out there far enough, and the enemy would be spawing into an area they couldn't return from before being killed by the game.

That was also one of the first games I remember where you could also stick a det pack to a player, vehicles, etc. - we'd usually load our vehicles and each other down with det packs, and suicide bomber ourselves or each other, should an optimal situation occur, or if we were over run. Was the first game I remember loading up the front of a jeep with detpacks and driving it into an enemy tank, bailing off at the last second, and then triggering.

God, I loved that game...
posted by stenseng at 2:17 PM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not trolling, it's testing. All gamers know that a game is defined by its rules – what can I get away with? what can't I? – and the world of a game is part of those rules. It literally defines the boundaries of your actions.

Read my mind. The phrase I expected to find in this article was "testing the bounds of the universe." There's no reason to assume that a video game will work with the same physical (when I jump, I fall instead of floating through the air) or ethical (I can't just smash pots in a house where I am a guest) rules and even the rules we're used to in video games are different than the common rules of the world around us--curiosity and rudeness and destruction are usually rewarded, with little tangible harm to the actual user whereas in real life, if we went around hacking random chickens in the village we'd get arrested and people would be upset with us. But in video game reality, that behavior is just as likely to be rewarded. So of course we test the boundaries, particularly when a game just starts. We don't know the rules yet.

My favorite games are the ones which accustom you to one set of rules and then drastically change the rules halfway through. This can be really simple, like how getting an airship in a FF game opens up the entire worldmap and makes it far less linear. Or it can be part of the entire premise, like FLY'N (has anyone else played FLY'N yet? so fantastic) which has you constantly learning new physics. This is why, I think, no one likes AI that holds your hand through tutorials. Video games are a medium built for learning lessons through brute force. Why read some boring scrolling text when you can learn the same lessons by hacking and slashing the world apart yourself?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:35 PM on February 8, 2013


Same game, many levels had aircraft carriers or large ships off shore, which could be captained and relocated, ostensibly to provide support for the land effort. Wasn't long before it was discovered that you could fly over, parachute onto your enemy's vessel, and steer it out to sea, eventually into the "you're leaving the game area, have some constant damage for your troubles" portion of the map. Get it out there far enough, and the enemy would be spawing into an area they couldn't return from before being killed by the game.

Oh, man. I reeeeaaaaalllly wish I'd known about this back when I was playing in a fairy casual 42 clan/league.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:38 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


@adamdschneider - iirc - only a member of the team could pilot the team's ship, so you had to switch sides temporarily - people would be stoked that you had joined their team, until they started to wonder why their aircraft carrier was drifting farther and farther from land...=)
posted by stenseng at 2:58 PM on February 8, 2013


All the things I will have to design that have nothing to do with the game, but have everything to do with the gamers...Most games are a mix of “fun” content and “security measures” content: blocking volumes and bloated level scripts that are 20% action adventure, and 80% anti-troll triggers.

But obviously a whole lot of us would consider that 80% as "making a more robust, interesting, interactive, and realistic world."

I think the fundamental disconnect here is that Adrian Chmielarz thinks of "the game" as a particular activity. "This is a game about running around and shooting bad guys for points. You get bonus points for doing it in creative ways or by creating combos." If that's what you think of as the game, then a player trying to find a clever way to sneak around all the monsters and get to the end of the level without shooting anyone is just being obtuse and not actually playing your game. And creating all the code to respond to that kind of activity isn't making the game more robust, it's just a "security" measure to restrict people who aren't really playing "the game."

I have some sympathy with this. Chess board manufacturers aren't required to include special magnets to prevent players from upending the board when they're losing. No one expects 2D fighting games to support jumping out of the ring and picking a fight or starting a conversation with one of the spectators. It's not unreasonable for a developer making a shooting game to not want to support any activity but shooting. They just need some way to let the player know, "This is Doom, not Deus Ex or Fallout," especially when the art assets, the characters and environment, might encourage players to think otherwise.
posted by straight at 3:10 PM on February 8, 2013


I don't know that it's an age thing as much as a different school of designing philosophy.

No, I agree, but it feels like there was a period when the hardware capabilities, culture and industry were just so that you had lots of games with little story bits crammed into every corner, and now that's largely a style that's fallen out of favor.

And/or I'm older and have outgrown a lot of this stuff.
posted by byanyothername at 3:46 PM on February 8, 2013


One of Josh Sawyer's core tenets when designing Fallout: New Vegas was something like the player was walking around with a constantly-running flamethrower and every single character that she met was going to die. So any narrative that needed to happen should also include physical objects.

It's still possible to complete the game that way. It's also really quite flexible in terms of sequence-breaking--you can get to New Vegas as a low-level character and nothing explodes. But sadly, not every game is as resilient as that one.


THIS. I hardly ever fuck around in games, to be honest. Unless I'm playing GTA I follow the story and do the side quests so I can get to the part where I shoot things. But in New Vegas I killed a major NPC because he was evil and because it was the quickest way to complete a companion's side quest. Other characters explained that the organization would go on without him and complimented me for killing him. There's even an NPC, Yes Man, who exists so you can complete the game if you piss off all the main factions.

OTOH I've read of Dark Souls players killing every NPC they meet for no reason. Because the game auto-saves after every action this screwed those psychopathic players.

Tim Rogers points out that most games can be rendered absurd just by standing still. He also talks about how in Gears of War you lower your gun around allies and civilians, like a real soldier would.

In Red Dead Redemption the characterization and story was so compelling I never fucked around. Same with The Witcher 2. Skyrim's 'solution' is to create a game so bland and characterless that flailing around like a toddler is the only way to have fun.

I think games need to trim the fat. Just have the water kill you. Get rid of the NPCs and story in action games (I'm looking at you, RAGE).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:59 PM on February 8, 2013


In my old life as a game developer, these kinds of unexpected user behaviors came up all the time as "bugs." "It's not a bug," I would explain. "The design doesn't say what should happen, and when I asked you, you said you didn't care. So nothing happens. I already have 300 bugs on my plate." "Nope, it's a bug," they'd always reply. "We can't ship it like this! It's terrible. Make it do this ridiculously complicated thing I just came up with. I don't care how long it takes you!"

One of my overworked coworkers made an in-game popup that triggered when a player finished a race by driving around the track backwards: "YOU ARE A DUMBASS. GO TO HELL AND DIE" with an OK button. We all had a good laugh, and he didn't even check it in, but he still got a stern talking-to from the boss.
posted by Sibrax at 4:41 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread, and TFA, reminded me of an article that I once read. Some researchers at Durham University in the UK used the Half Life 2 engine to create a fire drill simulator. The non-gamers did great with it, but the gamers tried to do silly things like run through doors that were on fire.

I'm also reminded of another article I once read that I can't find linkage to. Back in the 80's, a couple of guys created a homebrew Tron light cycles game on their computer. I want to say it was an Apple II, but I may be misremembering. They'd added a feature; each cycle had missiles that they could use to destroy walls. At some point someone fired a missile at one of the outside walls of the arena, and broke a hole in it. The positions on the arena were represented by memory locations, and they realized they could drive their cycle through the hole. It would apparently go off screen, and sometimes last a few seconds or minutes before the off-screen cycle would crash into some bit of important code, destroy it, and crash the system.
posted by no relation at 5:16 PM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Aha. I found the Tron game article.
posted by no relation at 5:24 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


For some of us, mucking around with the game physics is a form of science. Back in the day, if you got your sprite off the screen, eventually things started to go wacko, strange characters appear or your computer crashes. That leads you to learn about poke statements and that leads you to learn that the image on the screen is just one small section of your entire computers' memory, which includes level layouts, game instructions, sprite designs, scores. Everything! Mucking around in the physics gives me some insight into how the game works, which, as sometimes programmer, I really enjoy. Or, if it's been scripted, it gives me a giddy feeling that the programmers were really thorough and created something secret for curious people like me.

gilrain was speaking of lucid dreaming. Am I the only one who can walk backwards through walls in lucid dreams without clipping? Is my mind just not rendering the wall or doing the collision check, or is my experience biased from all those days using the Doom noclip cheat code? The weirdest part is, if I turn around after no-clipping into a wall in a dream and I'm still in the wall, I end up in a totally new dream environment.

(The no-clipping bug is kind of a problem when I use my lucid dreaming casanova skills to convince a dream crush to pin me against a wall and make out with me, though. Sigh.)
posted by Skwirl at 8:39 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of Josh Sawyer's core tenets when designing Fallout: New Vegas was something like the player was walking around with a constantly-running flamethrower and every single character that she met was going to die. So any narrative that needed to happen should also include physical objects.

There's even a vendor you cannot kill (Vendotron, who runs the Gun Runners shop) and even if you piss off/murder all the faction leaders, every time Yes Man dies he just downloads a new copy of himself into a new Securitron, so the Independent Vegas ending is always available.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:49 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


sebastienbailard: "Christ, this guy would be in serious trouble in the realm of cardboard counter and hex-grid gaming. Playtest the stupid strategies is game design 101. Why? Because if the stupid strategies work, your game sucks.

These days, when folk ask me to sit down to play a game of Risk, I throw the pieces at them and then eat the board.

This is actually a lot more fun than playing the game the way it is meant to be played.
"

Which board? The older boards had glue made from animal fat. They were very tasty. The new boards have some kind of soy glue. They have almost no taste at all. They taste like... like... cardboard. It's like game manufacturers just don't care any more! It just makes me angry! If someone is going to make a game board, then make it taste right! It's like they just don't care anymore. Bastards!
posted by Splunge at 10:20 PM on February 8, 2013


Just have the water kill you

Welcome to the 90s!

One of Josh Sawyer's core tenets when designing Fallout: New Vegas was something like the player was walking around with a constantly-running flamethrower and every single character that she met was going to die. So any narrative that needed to happen should also include physical objects.


Supposedly, in the first Fallout, a way to get some satisfaction before your exile was to kill every character in the cities so that at the ending you'd kill the Overseer automatically just as he was exiling you (the scene is in-game).

I tried to do it once but I got bored halfway because I mainly get my kicks from dialogue (and if you press A you have the choice of attacking the Overseer anyway). My point was that in the Fallouts sometimes you can win without killing anyone and sometimes you can win by killing everyone.
posted by ersatz at 4:56 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is ridiculous.

All games are essentially sandbox games of some sort. All games consist at bottom of some set of more or less absolute rules creating an environment in which the player or players interact with the game entities in some way. There may be an ending, there may be several endings, there may be a 'win' state. Or not. It doesn't matter. The game environment may require a computer or console to be created. Or not. It doesn't matter. The question is always and only - is the interaction with the game worth the player's time?

This is obviously highly subjective - not everyone enjoys chess, CoD, Go, Nethack, Monopoly, GTA, badminton, Galatea, battleships, Minecraft or whatever. But those that do, do. It's possible but actually quite difficult to create a game that is truly linear, but why bother? It's always possible for the gamer to create a metagame within the existing rules. Arguably, the set of metagames created by the game rules *is* the game. It isn't always what the game creator might expect. Nor should it be.

Outside the computing environment, rules are much more mutable: gamers routinely bend or alter them as they see fit for the sake of a better or even different game. Quite apart from variants like Suicide Chess, chessplayers have for centuries evened the stakes between much stronger and much weaker players by having the stronger player start with fewer pieces, or be required to wear a blindfold; Go players have a similar mechanism. But even without altering the ostensible rules, the main metagame in both Go and chess is about delving into and memorising as much as possible of the wealth of existing analysis - learning openings, middlegame strategies and endings. That's not in the rules anywhere. But it's where the game is.

Exploring the set of metagames created by the game rules is the definition of gameplay. When playing a racing game I'll always at some point try and go off-track or go round the course backwards, firstly to see if I can (many earlier racers simply wouldn't let you) and secondly to see what happens when I do. The Nethack DevTeam is well aware of this - this is why they Think Of Everything (do they? Really? Go find out...) and this is why Nethack is so enduringly good. This Pacifist Doom video is a testament to what a good game that was. See also any number of speedruns, or things like Freeman's Mind, or the entirety of machinima - here the metagame becomes 'watching other people play the game'. This kind of thing predates computers - serious chess and Go players use notation to play through sets of games played by others going back centuries.

Game creators who aren't thinking about the set of metagames created by their game rules might make a good game. But only by accident.
posted by motty at 7:57 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The same author also writes an article arguing in favour of short games and another arguing AAA developers should pay more attention to indie games.

So I think his frustration with the "troll players" is born from a similar place, that accommodating every possible thing players could do balloons the scale of the game needlessly.* And he acknowledges with the Skyrim example that a lot of that is his own fault for not being able to just roll with it.

* What some of you are arguing here is that it isn't so needless, depending upon what you and he think is the central point of the game vs. what is an unrelated tangent.
posted by RobotHero at 1:33 PM on February 9, 2013


I've seen developers write with frustration about "kitchen-sink" games that try to include everything, citing Deus Ex and Bloodlines as examples, and that's always sad to me because those are the best games.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:55 PM on February 9, 2013


Intervention Recipes: Velvet Strike
posted by jcruelty at 6:30 PM on February 9, 2013


I've seen developers write with frustration about "kitchen-sink" games that try to include everything, citing Deus Ex and Bloodlines as examples, and that's always sad to me because those are the best games.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 AM on 2/10


Those are the exceptions, though. As a counterpoint, I'm playing RAGE. The shooting is as good as iD can make it - refined, crunchy, tense explosions of violence. But surrounding that core is a shell of bullshit plot, over priced voice acting, dated RPG elements and Mario Kart. If you have a fun mechanic, just let me do it over and over. Gears of War got that right. So do most iPhone games.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:23 PM on February 9, 2013


RAGE isn't a kitchen sink, though, it's a pretty straightforward FPS, unless I'm horribly mistaken.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:46 AM on February 10, 2013


It's a kitchen sink in the sense of throwing in every disparate gameplay element they can think of, but there's also a concerted effort to make you use all of them according to the developer's plan.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:52 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coming way late to this thread, but one of the reasons that people get bored while NPC's talk to you is that in real life, a conversation is not: I talk, then you talk, then I talk. While you're having a conversation in real life, you don't just sit there like a mannequin. You're doing all kinds of little things to let you conversational partner know that you're attending, you're saying 'yeah, uh huh', and making facial expressions, possibly hand gestures, possibly interrupting, and so on. When you take the ability (and the necessity) to do that away, you're kind of forcing people out of the 'conversational' mode, and they start getting anxious and bored.
posted by empath at 2:47 AM on March 1, 2013


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