Thursday, June 21, 2007


THING #1- What happens the DAY I post about how Nintendo does not like to let people peek behind the curtain of their game making magic? I pop open the latest copy of GAMES(TM) and see an article showing off the recently opened Nintendo museum in Japan. The exhbit chronicles the history of Nintendo, mainly their video games. And what is sitting there on page one of the article? Sketches from Miyamoto himself, behind the scenes, rare ass sketches of Mario and Donkey Kong from 1979, 1980. These are sketches that Miyamoto did showing how the characters should look and move in the game. So once again, just goes to show: I know nothing. But still, with the exception of that event, I stand by my point that Nintendo- by holding the behind the scenes stuff pretty close to the vest- manages to create stronger, more loved characters/franchises.

THING #2- I was 'dark' when Spidey 3 came out so I didn't get to post this. By the way, 'going dark' to me is a Vegas term for when a show is not playing on a certain day. As in: 'Cirque is going dark on tuesdays starting next month'. Lots of people assumed I was trying to sound like a spy or something when I wrote I was 'going dark'. But I wasn't. So I wanted to clear that up. Cause that would be stupid. But now that I've written this, I am wondering which is worse: trying to sound like a bad-ass spy when, clearly, I am not...or using Vegas show terms to describe my hiatus from blogging. :) Anyway, so I saw this and I loved it:

I mean, that's as close to a real world Spidey encounter as I will ever have. I was at the drive thru at Burger King and I look up and I see this. It's a little small for Spidey, not sure why they didn't go life size. But it was still very cool and I really sat there for a few minutes imagining what it would be like to glance up and there's the real Spidey, staring around, looking for bad guys and whatnot. "Toss me a fry, true believer!" he would say. But it struck me as how- if you saw Spidey in real life- how creepy he would actually be. In the comics, even tho it's an aspect of how others treat him, visually it never came across to me. But seeing him here, I was like, "man, now I know what JJ. Jamison means when he calls Spidey a menace!"

THING #3 (NOTE: I knew I had 3 things to say but I could not find a picture of thing #3, so deal with it)- Finally, had an amazing write up yesterday on games needing to get more meaningful before they are given respect by anyone other than gamers. I thought it was great and thought provoking. I chimed in on the comments section in hopes of getting some other opinions and advice from other designers on the subject but I think I killed the thread (either that or simply no one posts on the next-gen comments section...heck I didn't even know they had one till yesterday). But I thought what I wrote about story in game and emotion in game really nailed my feelings and struggles on the issue. So I 'reprint' it here in hopes that maybe someone has some insight into what I feel is the biggest problem with story and games...oh, and here's where you can find the great next-gen story (I would link but the blogger link Icon is not appearing):

and here is my response to it:

Great article and as someone who has struggled with this issue before (as a designer with my own games and as a player: a game like Facade comes to mind as something I've played that has set its sights on the lofty goals you suggest we pursue), I can tell you that many designers have the intent and some of us lucky ones even have the freedom to puruse the goal of making games matter more than they currently do. The biggest issue I've come up against- besides my clear lack of talent- is the inability to convince players that the fiction matters. Unless you- as a player- make a clumsy self-conscience effort to force yourself to buy into the fiction, you are always aware that the game world is meaningless in any context other than the surface goals given (i.e. get thru the door; kill the enemies). So in Facade, instead of caring about the fate of this young couple's marriage, I just went around and either started messing with things to see what would happen (kissing the man's wife was the very first thing I did, ignoring the fiction of the scenario alltogether because I wanted to see what would happen), or I just focus on how to 'win'. It's not because I don't WANT to care about the story and scenario. I love character stories and political drama and all sorts of 'mature' subject matter when I see it in movies and read about it in books. It's just that- in a game- I simply don't care about anything other than my goals. Until we figure out how- if it's even possible in an interactive experience- to make players suspend disbelief and really buy into the wolrd fiction (while they are playing, not by watching a cut scene), then all of the effort that would go into making players care for characters and situations will be wasted on all those other than the few willing to force themselves into buying the fantasy...and I don't think that is close to even 5% of the folks who go into EB and buy the latest hit title.
Again, loved the write up. It was great and thought provoking. But I would love to see someone address what I feel is the real problem with this issue versus simply telling us designers that the solve is coming up with characters we care about and scenarios more involved than: kill the bad guys! We get that, and some of us have even done it. It's just not working.

Ok, gonna drop the kid off at pre-school then get to work. Talk to ya'll later!



Anonymous said...

Ironically I felt the very same way when I to saw Spidey looking down at me outside of Burger King. Only difference though is I did throw him a fry, he said; "Thanks, that was a mighty fry-tastic thing you did","oh' by the way Irish be sure you play my latest game on the XBOX 360" I replied; "No problem Spider man it was my pleasure, and I'll be sure to check it out" and then I headed home thinking "should I have really eaten that other hit?" Oh'well at least he knows what console to concentrate on. lol

Rob Zepeda said...


RE: making games more meaningful

A challenge I would present designers is to make the motivation to kill in a game more meaningful. Think about it: it would have to take some pretty traumatizing shit to happen to me or my friends/family before I would be moved to kill in real life. Revenge and self-preservation are highly motivating factors to kill another person, but those are usually extremes. In war, those rules are slightly different. I think Max Payne guys did it well where they showed you your dead wife and baby, and they also showed you exactly who did these things. You knew exactly where to channel your rage. You knew exactly who you had to kill. The Batman movie by Mr. Nolan also showed a side of the revenge story when Bruce Wayne decided to transform himself to get his revenge on evil.

I think games could explore this more. Imagine what would need to happen to you IN REAL LIFE for you to physically hunt a person down based off of a few clues. You would need to have such great anger and passion to stay motivated for days or weeks in order to find the person(s) responsible for your rage. That rage would feed you to remain dedicated and to completely ignore the rules of society. Nothing else would matter except killing that person who did you so wrong.

A game like this would cause shockwaves in the industry, but its an example of how games could take traditional ideas (killing bad guys) and making them much more meaningful.


aderack said...

Hey. This is Eric-Jon Waugh. I'm not too familiar with the Next-Gen comment system either. I was kind of avoiding looking at the article, out of fear of what kind of response it would attract, until Colin pointed out your reply.

I suppose an indirect answer to your question is that ideally games should try to move the player's goals toward the subjective: what feels appropriate to do in a given situation, rather than what the game expects the player to do. The player's goal, then, is ultimately not to feel like shit as a result of the choices he makes.

So how would a game try to dissuade the player from kissing the wife? If it's a logical option within the range of action available to the player, I don't know that it should. Instead, it should explore the ramifications of the player having taken that action.

That said: I don't know how constructive it is to set up a framework for completely free action like this, that allows a player to just do whatever the hell comes to mind. The idea is liberty, not freedom: give the player choices, not carte blanche. The more difficult and subtle the dilemmas, the better.

Were the game to hinge on the player's romantic entanglement with this guy's wife, or his weird feelings for her, and were there serious (though probably not lethal) consequences to acting out on them -- yet the benefit were obvious, if somewhat intangible, then maybe we'd be onto something.

This is completely impractical and dumb, but imagine if the player's sexual attraction for her were to take root in the game's controls. Imagine it was so strong that the player had to consciously fight against it. Hold down a button, say, as hard as possible, to avoid instinct taking over. The advantage to letting go would be obvious: not having to hold back anymore. Yet doing so would just open up a lot of unpleasant complications that, in retrospect, would make the player regret not having had more self control.

I'm trying to imagine how one-generation-past-Wii motion control could fit into a theory like this.

aderack said...

When I showed the post to a colleague, this conversation followed:

Andrew: interesting
there's a scene in indigo prophecy where you can choose to kiss or not

eric-jon: Well then.

Andrew: of course
it doesn't matter
but it's still nice

eric-jon: Yeah. The idea of choice is kind of weird in some circumstances. The fact that videogames... the way that the player interacts with them is by outwardly DOING things... that's... limiting.

Andrew: yeah

eric-jon: I mean, you don't go up to a person and think, rationally, "Do I kiss this person? Yes/No"
And yet you do have a choice. There's always the option. Though it's not really an option unless you're in a personal situation where it would occur to you.
Even then, even if you're strongly drawn to a woman, and she's sitting right there, it's not "Do I kiss this woman?" And then you take the action or not.

Andrew: yeah

eric-jon: That's one of the things I like about the violence in SotC.
It's not "I STAB NOW" so much as "Okay, I'm letting go"
Where violence isn't something the player does; it's something he submits to.

Herby said...

There is many games that I feel emotional attachment to. One of them is a game called God of War. I want to complete my goals to finish the story. I want to know what happens at the end. I feel an emotional connection with the character.
In movies you don't have to do anything except sit there and watch the movie. Maybe a book involves a little more work. Like reading comprehension. But the goal is the same to finish the story. Now this is only applicable if it is a good story. If the story sucks it doesn't matter. You don't care.
The problem with video games is that you have to use your brain to control the character. For people that don't play games they have to use a big part of their brain. Therefore they cannot get attached to the story. They are always thinking about the controls.

So my point is there are games that are meaningful but not to the mainstream population like movies because of the controller. There is hope though. As the PS3 trojan horse sells more and the population that plays video games gets larger it will be easier to make the motion of using the controller second nature. Us gamers grew up with video games that is why we embrace them and it is nothing to pick up the controller and play through the story. Time will eventually help games catch up with movies and books. It is all the same just video games involve a bit more work from the participant.

Last but not least there are two types of games in my eyes. There are ones to rack up points, kills, whatever. The other is like an adventure book where you turn to a certain page to move the story along and get to the wonderful ending. I love both. I think most people still think most video games are of the nature of the first kind to rack up points. Man it has only been decades since pong has been out. By the end of this next generation most people will be playing movies and books or as we call them now video games.

aderack said...

The thing is, the point of a videogame is not to tell a story as such; rather, it's to present to the player a certain perspective, within which to explore the significance of the available options, in particular in relation to the player's own sense of self. If the exploration of those options happens to tell a story, then fine. To appropriately use the medium, however, any meaning must ultimately come from the player's decisions; not from predefined plot and character revelations. Therefore, any plot and character issues must serve to illustrate facets of the perspective at hand.

Anonymous said...

Sup Jaffe.

Actually, I've had many big ideas on this but certainly one of the big lacking factors in most games is empathy. Empathy not just built from story or character, but empathy as gameplay. I'm reminded of when I tried out Re-Mission by HopeLab, and certainly the very human mission of curing cancer is a "story" that brings up empathy, it's gameplay required little. But for it's intended audience being the cancer victims, that feeling of power a shooter gives can be an engrossing and uplifting feeling. But I digress.

When I think about it, there are only a couple games where human empathy towards a virtual being is a requirement to success. One being Ico, another being the Sims. (Though empathy in the Sims is optional.)

Some people empathize with characters or game play differently. But look at any number of the really successful non shooters or non action games in history, and they all require a certain amount of empathy expressed in different ways. Sim City and Civilization are practically zen gardens whereupon you could express your technique in a limitless combination of ways. And those titles in particular have stood the test of time.

Other games build empathy by allowing you to develop your own character, or express your own creativity through your character. Western RPGs try this, though often they falter when the illusion of choice is gone. An idea like Little BigPlanet has gone a long way just on the promise of creativity.

When it comes to videogames, we have to think of empathy in different ways than any other medium. That's why I thank creators like you for having the guts to make a button to hug and protect Kratos' wife and child. A moment where empathy is crucial to success. Not to make this sound like a loveletter to ya (or whoever came up with that) but that's a good message for other developers to take to heart.


Anonymous said...

That is exactly why I MGS so much. Throughout the entire game you have the same goal so instead of spending cutscenes telling you what do to, Kojima instead focused on making deeper characters and storyline. Enjoy the blogg btw.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel like I just read an article out of the National Geographic on the pros and cons of future weather modeling!
It brings to mind a line from the movie Amadeus 'simply too many notes' an interesting read none the less.
A game that I believe will transcend all this dizzying blabber is a game like Rock Band. Say what you will but you can actually learn to play the fukin drums along with your jerk weed buddies screwin up their guitar solos. The only thing keeping this game from being open ended is the inability for the user to programme his or her own tracks for obvious financial and legal reasons. Just one example that there is some hope. When we get to the point that games don't fall into a generic genre we will be getting somewhere. When the movie WILLOW came out what I remember most fondly was going into the theater with no preconception. It was risky but clever marketing. Not a flood of info, just check it out. It would be nice if gaming companies would just let us experience the artistic and creative side of games without holding our hands. The bottom line will always prevail.
This comment was og posted @ Next Gen.
I enjoy your blog bro,

Anonymous said...

Wow I would say you killed the thread. When most people post to a comment they like to feel that they can contrubute, enhance or otherwise provoke some other insight to the subject matter...or they just spam. After reading your reply it's like...umm...errr there's not much else that could be said that could add anything more to the dicussion. Any attempt would be akin to one talking out of one's own ass.

Joel said...

hey jaffe.

what a great subject to think about.

story in games is something i think about a lot, but i dont ever seem to come to an absolute conclusion on whats the best. i flip flop all the time.

there was a period when i felt story should be completely removed from games. all too often peoples ideas for games was the same.. about elves and orcs and whatever, and when they would explain their game idea, it wouldnt even BE about the game. they may as well just write a book.

and i think thats part of the problem, games havent come into their own yet.

but you are definetly on the right track, and if i had to guess who it is that is going to revolutionize the industry, well.. you know what im saying. :p but thats too much pressure for one man. all im saying is that your thinking about the right stuff.

so, that was a long winded way of getting to what i want to say. and hopefully you'll have time to read this. :p

unlike a book or a movie, in a game, you assume the role of the main player.

in a game.. we arent even telling a story AT ALL.

the only comparison is REAL LIFE.

you wouldnt say your "getting lost" in your own life.

what we have to do is better understand how to tell a videogame. (not a story)

the example you used of "just doing stupid shit because you dont care/want to see what happens" is a problem that comes with the endless restarts of a game.

its convienient, but in real life, if you could replay any scenario in your life over and over, i'd do random shit too! as long as i could undo it, and do it right in the end.

you know how in jak and daxter, and im sure many other games, you never save the game once.

what if you make a game that is CONINUALLY saving.

i know theres some problems that would have to be solved with this idea..

but i think if youve only got one shot... your going to care a lot more.

and i would love a game where i dont redo the same level 50 times until i get it right.

i guess this idea is a little out there, but i do think a game of this nature would change the way you approached playing it.

anyways, i had more to say, but i cant remember what it was anymore.

you should blog about this subject more often (and other subjects like this)

these are the types of things i love discussing the most.

i do feel like videogames are the future of entertainment, but i just dont think we've figured out in what way yet.

aderack said...

Rather than continually saving, I think a good model is only allowing a temporary save. The player can save, and quit, and go eat dinner or go out or do something with his life, then can return, load, and continue playing. But there's no way to reload, once you've started playing. If the player tries to get around the system by resetting... well, too bad for him. There's only one chance at life, and you just have to roll with your mistakes.

Dead Rising almost does this. Almost.

aderack said...

Why is that model significant? Well, because if the player is in this for the long haul, and doesn't have the "get out of jail free" card made standard a decade ago by the removable memory card, he's more likely to give a shit about consequences.

The idea is to, one way or another, persuade the player to invest in the game, and feel responsible to -- if no one else -- himself not to screw things up too badly.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jaffe,

A friend and I were speaking of this very subject the previous evening. We were discussing Manhunt and a personal distain for loosing weapons after using them. I expressed my opinion, I believe that this is done to drive the action. On the other hand of that idea, it also motivated me, as a player. As I needed to find another way to defend myself before I was backed into a corner.

When I played God of War, I felt overcome by the inhuman rage that you intended to convey. I felt the moment, I enjoyed the absolute of every adrenaline driven moment of that game. At first, I was overcome by the way that the game was put together.

There was no fancy overture, no visual joy-gasm stroke fest for the eyes. It was a man, a character, presented in his worst hour.

Then the combat began, The drums filled my ears and I was driven. I felt every moment of rage that was conveyed. I enjoyed every moment of it, I for one was enthralled by the visceral lust that would be required to seperate sinew from bone. Only to leave my opponent broken in my wake.

I agree completely, many people cannot immerse themselves in a story. I do not believe that it is anyone's fault. It's mearly a large portion of our society, missing out on something that can be wonderful and provocative.

I do believe that I have lost my original point in writing this. None the less, I suppose that I would like to thank you for the fine work you have done.

And, as far as the issue of people refusing to loose themselves in fantasy. I would like to recommend, Terranigma. It's an old SNES title, but I feel that it's lack of popularity is a fine example of how few people enjoy their imaginations.

Anonymous said...

When considering the concept of "no second chances" in a game, the challenge is to balance that against the need to replay the game from scratch, and the limited opportunity for deviation from the central thread of play. Players will rapidly lose interest if they die three quarters of the way through a game only to have to play through from the beginning, unless the experience is so open-ended and full of non-linear possibilities that each play session feels completely unique.

Think about traditional games like Chess, or sandbox games like Sim City - the thought of losing the game and having to start over from scratch is mildly disappointing, but the promise of new possibilities brings players back over and over again. If you were to take this approach with a linear experience (like God of War), players would throw down the controller in frustration and probably never bother to play through the game again.

To support this approach you would need to radically alter the entire game design to support it.

And at the end of the day, it still won't prevent players from taking actions that lack real world empathy. This is one of the reasons why people play games in the first place - to experiment with choices that have no real world consequences. In the case of Fascade, the game does end when you choose to kiss the wife - the couple ejects you from their apartment and you must start over again. How many people have played the Sims only to trap their virtual creations in a virtual box and watch them urinate on themselves until they die of loneliness? Again, this is a failure condition, but it doesn't prevent people from trying it to see what happens.

And why should it?

The only way to completely put an end to these sorts of shenanigans would be to have one "life" per purchase. Once you've hit a failure condition, your game is no longer functional. That would give a sense of real consequence to the games we play, but I argue that it flies directly in the face of what people actually want from a game. Such a choice (regardless of the financial implications) would draw less people to gaming, not more.

aderack said...

Then make the games short enough to replay, make them broad enough to want to replay, and do the hell away with zero-sum failure conditions.

As I said, the point isn't to prevent players from doing anything. It's to make them feel like shit when they do things that conflict with their own value judgments. Ideally, there would be situations where no decision was perfect, forcing the player to judge which evil he could best live with -- then to live with it.

RandomExcess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RandomExcess said...

I just discovered this blog and have to say it is a fantastic read - it's great to see an industry veteran who still has so much passion for what he does. Combined with the games you have created over the years, my hat is truly off to you, David.

On the subject of game immersion, emotion, and suspension of disbelief, I think the biggest problem with games is that there is never any significant introduction to the game world in it's 'normal' state.

In any action/thriller movie or novel, there is always plenty of time taken to set the scene and introduce you to the world in it's 'natural' state. We are also introduced to several core characters and given some personal insight into who they are and what they are like. You see an everyday situation with imperfect people going about their daily lives as best they can. Thus when tragedy strikes and their world is thrown into turmoil, we already have some personal connection to them and so it can make us feel for their plight.

Nearly all games, on the other hand, either throw you directly into combat or start you off isolated from the world at large until you're involved in the conflict. (ie: some kind of training/tutorial section that is clearly not part of the rest of the game) Rarely do you interact with 'civilian' characters, let alone those who have any meaning to the gameworld: most NPCs either act as vending machines or encyclopaedia pages - nothing that will impact the players progress or the outcome of the story. Consider any television show or movie - it's only the characters we have been given a chance to learn about that evoke any emotion from us: The hordes of extras are just cannon fodder, there to broaden the scope of the conflict - we don't care if they get killed in the background, because we know (by the fact we haven't been introduced to them) they are irrelevant to the outcome of the struggle at hand. On the other hand, if a main character is wounded, it raises the tension because we know that they are important to the story being told.

This is a vital element that is missing from games - recurring characters. For us to have an emotional reaction to someone or something, we have to first have at least some intimate knowledge of them/it, and it has to be something we learn directly from that person/thing - simply being told the state of the world by a dispassionate introductory monologue or flashy CG sequence won't cut it. The more we see of someone, the more we get to know them, and combined with the duration and frequency of these encounters all affect our emotional responses to anything that happens to that person. Even then, civilian deaths are rare in games (whether anonymous or otherwise), with almost all characters belonging to one side of the conflict or the other. Yet, actually seeing an enemy kill a single fleeing non-combatant in cold blood would have far more impact than being told of the millions they had already killed - make it personal and show the player directly, and you'll achieve much more.

The problem with games, is that they are an action-based form of entertainment, and forcing players to talk to NPCs and generally learn about their world before letting them into the action component will simply put people off. The trick then, is to tie this directly into the tutorial - since you need to give players time to learn how to play in a non-threatening environment, this is a perfect opportunity. Allow me to use Gears of War as an example: imagine if in the tutorial, instead of simply seeing those skinned corpses as an example of the alien's brutality, we had previously seen those people alive - perhaps a civilian family huddling in fear, being hunted; terrified. You hear their pleas when you catch sight of them, and their screams when the aliens get there first. If you then came across those same skinned bodies, and recognised them, the impact would be far greater.

My point being that immersion in any new fiction takes some time, and that an emotional connection requires a human element. For combat to have any emotional impact, it has to occur after the player has completed this introductory phase and understood at a subconcious level that killing anything that moves is not the norm for this world, and that the people in it are more than just targets.

If by some extraordinary chance, David, that you a) read this and b) are interested in discussing this concept further in terms of actual application, I'd love to talk about it. I have been working on a game design for nearly two years now that takes this kind of emotional connection to a new level - player actions result in 'emotional' reactions from other characters and have both immediate and far-reaching consequences, but none can result in a failure state - the player is free to act like a total bastard (and deal with the consequences), and still complete the game - and yet, the importance of those choices will be clear to the player, making the decisions meaningful. Combined with certain 'dramatic' elements, the impact of the player's actions can generate emotional response from the player, as well as encouraging replay to see what different choices will lead to. (although here I mean replay the entire game, not the section you just played - since there is no 'wrong' decision, there is no need to reload and retry) As 'pie in the sky' as this all may sound, it is completely possible.

p.s: Sorry it was so long-winded, but this is a subject I've been working on for some time and feel strongly about. :P

Anonymous said...

It has allready been mentioned on here, but I just play indigo prophecy ( yeah late to the party) . But that game did a great job at this. Not perfect yet, but I was very into all the characters and their story, the additon of mundane taskes to keep up good spirits really helped also. It was nto until the final chapters it pulled me out a bit, for those who played it know it jumps a bit and goes a bit "overboard" on the story. But it were the intimite scenes that really pulled me in. PErhaps that is part of the adventure game, which unfortunally does nto get made often anymore. I always enjoyed them, did you ever play black dalhia? Another great example. These games are more thougth provoking, and you have to be into the story to figure out all clues which binds you to the main character. I seriously it will work with action games , shooters and platformers. What the writer of the article in my opinion is looking for is the return of adventure games.
Which I hope it will... I'd love to see a new game as great as grim fandango.!

Anonymous said...

I thought you mean "going dark" like you were going to the beach to get a tan.

Joel said...

so, i dont know if anyone will ever look at this comments section again..


someone on here mentioned that the problem with an auto save is that once you die, you have to start the whole game over again, and for a long game.. that would completely ruin the experience.

however.. i think there are some things you could try that are sort of variations of a theme.

like.. for example, you could have infinite restarts... that still autosaves.

however... only the stats change.

like.. for example..

say in a game, you have a pet dog.

you can train him to grow up in different ways, some of the possibilities are "attack dog" "lazy food whore" "REALLY friendly"
and many others you can think of.

now, even on the tries when you have to restart a challenge... how you treated your dog would STILL be saved.

so.. in this way, you would NEVER feel compelled to beat your dog "to see what would happen"... to you.. your dog is quite real..

however, this sort of approach DOES affect the way you design a game.

you have to design a game AROUND this mechanic.

but thats part of what makes a game different from a book or a movie.. its not JUST a story.

games get FUNNELLED into telling a story with one ending. we ALL know that.

thats why we have to keep restarting challenges, because you have to do it just a certain way in order for the story to work.

games have big things coming in the future, but only when we learn to start telling games, and not stories.

although, i heard this from someone else... but what about instead of calling videogames "videogames" how about we start calling these ones "interactive graphic novels" :p

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