Friday, January 18, 2008

Cause and Effect

Principle: Avoid responding to the player's actions with behavior that is contrary to reasonable player expectations, as it breaks the implied "contract" between the player and the game designer.

Players cannot form a useful mental model of the game world when things happen unexpectedly or without an apparent cause. Players should be able to understand the laws at work in your game's environment, and to make appropriate deductions based on their understanding of those laws.

If unexpected or incongruent behavior is desired, players should ultimately be able, by virtue of the game's design, to reconcile such behavior with their operative mental model of the game world -- which by its nature is allowed to change as the game progresses.


Jeremy said...

I absolutely agree with your assessment! I also blog about this in my game design blog Game Design Theories. If you are still blogging then send me an email at "d-o-b-b-e-r-1-1-3-4-@-y-a-h-o-o-.-c-o-m" (Just remove the dashes) and maybe we can talk about game design stuff.

Purum said...

3 things:

I wanna be the guy
Daffy Duck getting messed with by Bugs Bunny

Culture: all reasonable expectations can be irrelevant to a player that follows queues from his or her cultural communication. In order for this to happen (the cause and effect) the contract shouldnt be implied or imposed onto the player. First the game must state it's own cultural/communication axioms and help the player adapt to these. Some call this a tutorial; i call it learning or reinforcement.

Have you played "I wanna be the guy". it's a game that basically prevents the player from assuming anything. The enjoyment derived from the game is basically performance based. Like a sports event of sorts, track and field comes to mind.

Lastly, Daffy duck getting messed with follows a random and chaotic progression that can be achieved and utilized in games too; even if the player can only modestly choose their outcome. After a while, a dialogue emerges that helps players understand what is going on, even when the progression is completely chaotic, there is a subtext that should help players understand a natural conclusion... regardless of the amount of chaos inserted between cause and effect. This conclusion can be based on context. for example 2+2=4 in mathematical reality, but not in radioheads song 2+2=5 which is a fact that that song wouldnt have it's own context if it didnt stand by that wrong equation.

I jsut have a little bit of reservation using implied contract... or reasonable player expectations... very ambiguoius when dealing with humans.

Adrian Lopez said...

Thank you Jeremy and Purum for your comments.


Another way to state the principle in my post is to say that game elements should behave in a way that makes sense within the context of a game's imaginary world. If 2 + 2 = 5 in your game and 2 + 2 is somehow used as an element of gameplay, it should should either be possible for the player to deduce that 2 + 2 = 5, or at least it should be possible for the player to answer 5 and then understand why 5 is the correct answer.

It's certainly not necessary that a game agree with existing knowledge, real-life facts, or the player's cultural conventions, but in that case I think it's essential that the player's expectations be properly "set up" by the game.

Perhaps a better name for this principle is the principle of non-contradiction. If your game is known to respond in a particular manner to particular input patterns, it should not behave in a manner that contradicts the established mechanism. Apparent contradictions are, of course, permitted, provided they are ultimately resolved to the player's satisfaction.

Think of it this way: Science Fiction audiences don't usually like it when an author violates a fundamental law that's been established previously. This is the same thing, but for games.

Purumus said...

I like the term non-contradiction; though I disagree with Science Fiction audiences as an example if the "fundamental law" comes from other works of science fiction.

In my previous comment, i talked about outside humans/players bringing their "truths" into the art in question. Now I'll talk about works of art influencing each others, which seems to be what you mean when you mention "an author violates a fundamental law that's been established previously" to which i ask: established where? By who's authority? popular agreement? trends?

As I've experience the audience, science fiction audiences that get upset at star wars are probably Star Trek fans that think they know "better science" as they've learned from within star trek. They can't suspend disbelief to enjoy star wars and star wars fans, conversely, can't enjoy star trek because it's too heady. The solution is to (re)construct - EVERY SINGLE TIME, the "laws" of the interactivity/gameplay (BTW I try to never refer to "narrative" when talking about games) within the game itself and not contradict them within the remainder of the experience, unless explicitly suggested to players that these rules will change; therein the artistry of the developer and the elegant nature of the witnessed rules can shine through to the player.

Star Wars vs Star Trek: I happen to enjoy both, this being evidence of my attempts to deal with each realm separately; though, midiclorians were too much of star trek in the mix... something i already took a leap of faith in. As I see it, Midiclorians are when star wars "jumped the shark".

Sequels can show us some of this. They should definitely use the same concepts used in previous titles, but zelda (arguably one of the better franchises of the last 20 years) continuously changes it's elements, keeping with the theme of youthful exploration. It discards any official sequence of events, even the games avatar (zelda can be technically considered the protagonist of the series) is inconsistent. The gameplay changes too! 2d to 3d to 2d with a gestural interface, etc. the graphical style changes (we could discuss how game players are actually a demographic that is accustomed to letting go of consistency because of the continuous attempts at technical realism in a BOOK! ;) etc.

Non-contradiction in a microcosm is acceptable AND expected within an art piece mostly because humans seek to identify patterns everywhere; however, we're also taught to keep within the lines. So, when an art piece ends, we seek closure and adapt to the next piece... we know to move on; otherwise i'd hate "Empire strikes back" because of episode 1,2,3.

Yet, non-contradiction across all art works... the lines are and can remain blurry. We're probably saying the same thing... I'm just looking to declare usable limits and boundaries so I can reduce it to a fundamental artistic "law".

I really hope i didn't just dump this on the page with a whole bunch of contradictions :-p