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March 11, 2007


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your talk was great. And the one the year before as well. Great job on those questions. I was still be trying to figure out what was being asked and you were already on the ball. It made me think "giving talks at GDC is scary!" Maybe another 3 years before I try to venture in those waters. You guys got hosed in the metagame.

Thanks for the great presentation Clint, it was the highlight of the conference for me.

I find what you said in your last post (about these presentations catalyzing latent thoughts on a topic) to be quite apropos, as the essentially false ethical choices provided in games has been something I've wondered about for a little while. I think that games (being an interactive medium and thus based on action) could provide a huge potential for a very existential sort of narrative (maybe something like Hesse's Siddhartha) if only the players are confronted with harder choices. As it stands, most games allow the player to either a) save kittens or b) kick puppies, which as you stated, is not a very difficult choice.

I remembered an additional example akin to Ultima IV in terms of internal conflict; perhaps unsurprisingly it is another Origin game, Wing Commander 3. There's three specific parts of the game where the player has an optional choice that seems to revolve around the conflict of pride v. duty. In the first instance, a wingman goes on an unauthorized vengeful sortie and player can choose to go after her (to bail her out of trouble) or not; although the only consequence to going is a drop in ship morale. A little bit later, the player gets an opportunity to duel the commander of the enemy navy, but the player's carrier is about to jump from the system. The player can opt to duel the enemy, but it has to be short or he gets left behind and must re-load the game. While essentially this is a false choice (since the player cannot win the duel and return to the ship in time) it does create an interesting narrative tension (where the player has to swallow his pride and fight another day.) Later on comes the most interesting dilemma (as it is a real choice with actual consequences;) the player finds one of his wingmen has turned traitor and has the option to hunt him down. If the player does, ship morale rises and the player feels vindicated, but when the player returns he finds one of his wingmen died in a surprise attack. If the player chooses not to pursue the traitor, ship morale drops, but the wingman is not killed. This also nicely mirrors the first ethical choice (as now it is the player is heading off alone on the vengeful sortie.) I thought this series of dilemmas was interesting in that it puts the player's pride at stake (as a would-be fighter jock) against the character's duty as a military officer (to obey orders.)

Again, like U4, it's not especially deep, but it's there, and I agree with you that it's ground that needs to be re-explored.


You gave an absolutely fabulous talk, I think the best one I saw this year, and I appreciate the follow-up post and slides and such. I can't wait to read in these pages or others what you're up to next, since you alluded to it but could not explicitly discuss it during your talk.

One thing I'm curious about is whether meaningful self exploration of the type you describe absolutely requires an open-ended game; it sort of feels like it does, since a system with only one endpoint will inevitably mean that the designer has shepherded the player to the one right answer. I don't know the answer to this, and I'm going to have to think about it a lot further.

Re: Spiderman 2. I agree with you that the lack of moral exploration is troublesome and limits the degree to which we can truly experience what it's like to be Spiderman. However, in talking with one of the devs, I explained how you had mentioned both your respect for and concerns with Spidey 2, and he replied that the licenseholder doesn't want that exploration -- any opportunity for Spiderman to not do the right thing goes against the grain of the character.

I think that might be a bit of a cop-out, having had a few days to think on it. In Spiderman 2, I'm often making the wrong decision -- I'm webbing around the city trying to get to my next spot and passing up opportunities to do good in the random missions all the time. I do this because as a player there's only so many times I want to stop the speeding car that some thugs have stolen or whatever. (That said, I always stopped to get the kid's balloon -- I mean, think of the children!) There are no gameplay consequences for this -- I don't get the hero points or whatever, but a lack of gain is not the same as a negative, and generally I'm on the way to something that will net me more hero points anyway, so my hero points per minute probably goes down when I stop to help in the random missions.

That all said, I think there's an opportunity to be had there; it's a simple thing for us to track all those skipped missions and shape the public opinion of Spiderman in the game, and feed back on that. There's a very touching scene in the film, as I recall, where Spidey saves the runaway train, using every last bit of his strength to do so, and is then buoyed by the public around him, giving him the strength to get back into the fight. They seem to do this because they suddenly understand what a burden it is to be Spiderman, and they are thankful for it. It's a really great moment in the film, but the game can't deliver on that without potentially bogging the player down in a lot of repetitive stuff.

Anyway, I've now reached the point in my comment where I am rambling. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and it's stuck with me -- can't wait to see what you're working on.

Brett - thanks for the thoughts and feedback.

I think you hit it on the head there with the way (one way) to make Spiderman more about responsibility and potentially keep the licensor happy. Track how many people he does/doesn't help, and have that feed a 'respect rating' in each neighborhood. Of course, have J. Jonah Jameson fanning the flames of the negative trends and burying the truths of the positive acts. Have the public call out 'hey, it's spiderman' in the parts of town where you're loved. Have them call out 'buzz off, jerk' in part of town where you've been lax. Turn up the incidence of violent crime in areas where you've been lax, and in the neighborhoods you've protected, have more kittens in trees, and lost balloons.

This 'rich tapestry' of feedback can give the player an overall perspective on how responsible he's been - but I do think something higher-order is missing to push it to the next level. Have a major villain who gains a serious advantage in the areas where the people dislike you. Or have the people in the parts of town you've protected well intervene and save you by buying you a 3 second distraction when Doc Oc is making his victory monologue.

Again - it's sketches. And again, I don't at all fault the devs for not doing this stuff (I understand the realities of licensing too). The point is not to say this game or that game was good or bad, but rather to say 'I am pretty sure we have the tools and capability to do this stuff right now, and make huge leaps forward.

"the objective [is not to] tell the player explicitly 'you are bad' or 'you are kind', but [make it so] the player tells himself 'I did good' or 'I could have done better'."

This is definitely how the combination of Frank's and Chris's questions struck me; that providing in-game feedback will drive it towards being system exploration instead of self-exploration.

It reminds me of your previous discussion of the scene in Splinter Cell where you're given the option of killing the guy or not (IIRC) but that choice actually makes no further difference in the game. (In case it's not clear, I've never played any Splinter Cell game--but then I'm 39.)

In fact, in that case, if the player knows the action is not going to have any game-mechanical consequences, you could argue that the player is exploring _story_, rather than _self_.

Hi Clint,

I heard your talk on the Thunderbird6 podcast. I thought you presented some really interesting ideas. I liked the sound of the continums you used to describe features that games can articulate. I was wondering if you would mind posting the slides from that talk?

Thanks for the mind meat

The slides I was referring to in the TBird6 podcast were the ones on the right titled FPLAY 2006 The Last 3d Revolution - linked directly under the ones from GDC.

Hey Clint,

I already mentioned to you at the Ubisoft party how much I enjoyed your talk, but then that bastard Dave Sirlin distracted me with fighting game talk.

I was also able to attend Peter Molyneux's talk, and clearly the feedback question is important in Fable as well. It's all well and good to give the player choices that play upon their value conflicts, but the feedback from that conflict has to be evident. One of the things that he mentioned was that if the player showed evidence of caring for their dog companion (by playing with it, interacting with it, etc) they would create a story branch where the dog is put in jeopardy.

As for everything coming down to just being system exploration, this was, at the same time, an acute observation and a facetious one. In my mind, your talk came down to the divisions that occur in the mental model that the player constructs, rather than the systems that the game is running.

- The player constructs a mental model of the Game Rules
- The player constructs a mental model of the "physical" space they are exploring
- And, carrying your concept through, the player of a game that promotes "Self Exploration" (with no One-handed typing jokes implied) would allow the player to construct a mental model of the character that they are playing.

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