January 31, 2005

Johnny Wants Freedom, Structure, and Consequences

by Andrew Stern · , 7:46 pm

“Wannabe game designer and failed programmer” Johnny Pi has a new blog, Design Synthesis. A few quotes from some of his initial posts:

[W]hat remains to be seen is how game developers are going to merge freeform and structure. How can we model a reactive gameworld without creating a picture of anarchy? … I’m interested in the confluence of order and chaos.

What it comes down to is creating a great deal of freedom and making the different parts of a world interesting. … I hope in the future we can figure out a way for a game to generate truly creative content that is not either too boilerplate or overly random.

Doesn’t anyone see even a tiny bit of irony in a game that asks you to mow down wave after wave of Nazis without the slightest twinge of horror at your actions? Or any kind of mental effects?

I blame the ego. People expect videogames to place them on an upward power curve, to gain in their abilities until they are fully equipped to survive the gameworld. We don’t expect to suffer repercussions.

Perceptive commentary — added to the blogroll.

Update: The guy must be unemployed or something, because he’s churning out new posts like a madman.

4 Responses to “Johnny Wants Freedom, Structure, and Consequences”


  1. andrew Says:

    Speaking of consequences

    What would be left behind at the end of a videogame? … [W]hat would happen if the game had consequences, what would happen to the remains?

    (via Game Brains)

  2. iJames Says:

    I blame the ego. People expect videogames to place them on an upward power curve, to gain in their abilities until they are fully equipped to survive the gameworld. We don’t expect to suffer repercussions.

    This is generally true. OTOH, if we did suffer repercussions, we’d have to stop calling it a “game.” We’d probably stop calling it “entertainment” as well.

  3. Jason Dyer Says:

    This is generally true. OTOH, if we did suffer repercussions, we’d have to stop calling it a “game.” We’d probably stop calling it “entertainment” as well.

    “Suffering repercussions” is really a different topic from the “upward power curve”. Repercussions can be part of the world environment, while the power curve refers to PC ability alone.

    There are plenty of examples from RPGs where power comes at a price. In Fallout 2 you can choose to mindlessly slaughter people. However, bounty hunters will start chasing you, and you will find effigies of yourself hung out in the front of towns. You may get to loot everything in sight, but the game also increases in difficulty.

    In other words, the player’s *personal* power will grow but there is increased animosity from his or her surroundings.

    Attempts to limit personal power can seem abrasive to the player because in an truly interactive environment events should be avoidable — in other words, when failure is part of the “plot railroad” the railroad becomes far too obvious. (When the PC is successful in his or her actions, any lack of agency is easier to ignore.)

    For example, in Deux Ex there is a “forced failure” at one point which briefly removes all the player’s inventory. However, when I played through the particular section that I was supposed to lose, I killed everything around and there was absolutely no reason for me not to escape. The railroad forced me to go back and lose anyway.

  4. Jason Dyer Says:

    It is of course possible to reduce power by design rather than by plot. A simple example would be powerful one-shot items in an RPG. This tends to lack the moral dimension of “repercussions” excerpt by fantasy element (each time you use the Rod of Ultimate Power, an angel loses its wings).

    These reductions tend to be local rather than global — say, the Rod of Ultimate Power happens to be only a small part of the PC’s cache of resources. A truly global design would have every resource reduce in size once used. This runs into the classic “hoarding” problem where the player makes minimal use of the toys available because they lack knowledge about how far their resources need to stretch.

    Wishbringer had a stock of “wishes” that slowly depleted, but the design did not suffer from hoarding because a.) every situation had a “normal” solution that did not use wishes and (more importantly) b.) every wish was guaranteed to only be useful in one situation, so there was no reason to stockpile.

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