ludology

All posts tagged ludology

In the deft hand of a chessmaster, 2007 was swapped sharply with 2006, a cumulation of the years gambols and decisions, and the two were abreast just a moment before 2007 secured its checkmate, and 2006 was whisked away to join the year-end spoils. For me, time is a game, neither linear nor predictable with its human players, but played for a finite round before we try to wash the board to start anew. Yet players remember. There was a lot to remember this year. And that makes the next game different, even as we knock off dates in the same sequence.

  • For my first dream for the Year of the Pig, I dreamt that I ate my cat, and she was very tasty. Therefore my New Year's Resolution is to NOT eat my cat, and use guilt as an excuse to post cute kitty pictures.
  • Also for the New Year, Xstine's company Emdigo released their Actionscreens on the Verizon network, and you can check out the Marvel deck here. Some of their cards are absolutely lovable, especially the holiday set.
  • Bungie warms my heart by letting our troops beta-test Halo 3 for Xmas. Halo still sucks, but at least it sucks festively. πŸ˜‰
  • IGF's list of this year's finalistsfor best independent games is here, and it's time to get crackin' at it!
  • I learned how to play Mahjong. Actually I didn't, I learned that the game mechanics of Mahjong, while simplistic, belied a wealth of playing etiquette that for the Chinese culture were as important to the "play" as the rules. While the culture shock led to quite a bit of stubbornness on my part trying to wrap my head around what was essentially a game of manners and custom designed to facilitate social gestures, it did show me why the appeal of Mahjong is so strong to the asian community. Western and Japanese game design is a far cry from being able to capture the casual asian gamer market that I saw.
  • Finally, we begin the new year with 90% of our wedding logistics taken care of, a huge relief for us in return for a hectic week in L.A. I'll be expecting you all to be bringing your hot girlfriends and rich boyfriends. Right? RSVP for two, don't be shy.

There is something grotesquely addicting about watching Elebits, the upcoming Wii game. It seems to simultaneously satisfy the repressed anxieties of the Japanese schoolboy in us, and the magnifying glass execution fantasy we had with carpenter ants. Then it takes that bubbling cauldron of elementary sadism to the next level by laying down a track of level progression borrowed straight from Katamari Damacy, a sort of empowerment over physics over time. Watch for yourself, it gets very interesting a third into it, and I think I've been convinced to make this my first Wii title.


Last nite, hungering for a challenge, we grabbed a guildie cleric and three-manned Tempest's Spine, one of DDO's raid instances. I finally just couldn't take another run hearing people bark out desperate orders that inevitably led to group wipes as they cowered behind their shields and took the most weak-kneed route to a demi-victory.

And we did it! Albeit with a couple mishaps, as none of us knew Tempest's Spine that well. I think despite the lack of content, what DDO has done to keep us as players is the relative de-emphasis on gear, unlike MMORPGs of other ilk. To design games around gear checks is unfair, and insulting to all but the most hardcore players. People should be rewarded for taking risks, not for sinking massive amounts of playtime into epic raids repeated ad infinitum.

Guild Wars had headed this route, and it did seem to reward skill over play-time, but not to the extent that DDO does. It offered an increasing options base to choose from, but sadly some gear advancement is necessary to keep players interested. On the other side of the spectrum is World of Warcraft, which offered a tremendous diversity of content and perfect treadmill of gear advancement, but that left working folks like us frustrated at losing to people with sickening gear and the patience to wait for all their timers to reset.

It was Russian Roulette, with some folks having way more chambers. But hey, with 13 Tzameti looking so good, maybe that's just some folks' prerogative style.

I thought this was interesting, this demographics study by the Daedalus Project of the most popular massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft:

Some highlights (taken from Terra Nova):

  1. Female players are older than male players.
  2. Younger players prefer Rogues and Shaman. Older players prefer Hunters and Warlocks. Rogues and Shaman also score the highest on the Advancement (goals/achievement) and Mechanics (min-maxing) motivations.
  3. Older players prefer Dwarves and Gnomes, who also happen to score the lowest on all achievement motivations. Gnomes score the highest on the Role-Playing and Customization motivations.
  4. The RL gender distribution is 84/16. The in-game gender distribution is 65/35. 55% of female characters in the game are being played by men.


What was most striking to me was that the two most common classes for whom Mechanics was the primary player motivation were the Rogue and the Shaman, and those are the first two characters I created. My obsession with games, admittedly, has always been with game mechanics over all else. Even more telling, based on the Race Motivations table, my *undead* Rogue and *tauren* Shaman fall right into an unerring prognostication.

After being very unhappy with the way Blizzard was changing the game, and being tired of the childishness of the playerbase after beta ended, I created my third character, a Hunter. Their chart shows Hunter players as scoring the lowest in teamwork and advancement, reflecting my sentiment at that point. Even more interestingly, the order of the characters I created, Rogue, Shaman, Hunter, fall in succession on the chart describing average player age. I began with the class most played by the youngest group, and ended in the class most played by the oldest players.

Interestingly enough, Xstine succumbed to the unspoken forces of her gender, and chose a Priest both in beta and after release, a common choice for women. After PvP was released and her options for Exploration and Customization were limited, she switched to a Rogue. Today, as we play DDO, a game with rather limited exploration opportunities, she has a greater interest in the mechanics of character creation than she ever did in WoW. Her main? One of the best rogues/fighters on the server. :ninja:

Few Americans have ever played this Japanese arcade game where you control Sonic the Hedgehog with a trackball. Fortunately we have a video of the game being played form beginning to end. I find this game enthralling to watch, and mourn its retirement. The gameplay is crafted with precision, every tile every animation every pop and crack at the perfect time, I can't help but crave bodily for a modern game to have half as much intensity and "suspension" of tension.

I recently found the Rules Master List, the bible of what to do and not to do in designing the perfect game. While some tenets are ripe for breaking, there are juicy tidbits like:

3. Maintain Level of Abstraction
Immersion is easily disturbed — don't make the player re-calibrate his "suspension of disbelief" and lose touch with your game

20. Make the Effects of the AI Visible to the Player
It can be tempting to model subtle choices in your AI, but unless the final results are clear to the player, you may well be wasting your time.

58. Don't Make Your Objective Your Primary Threat
If you are tasked with defeating a head Ogre, don't make all the opposition along the way solely smaller ogres.

Segasonic the Hedgehog does many of these right. I think an archive of gameplay, capturing casual and expert play through the entirety of a game, would in itself be incredibly entertaining. I'd pick up cable tv in a heartbeat if it meant I could watch people beat esoteric, oldschool, or recent releases all day long.

By now, you may have seen this video demonstrating the new Will Wright One-week Wonder, Spore.

There is no doubt that this game is absolutely incredible. Procedurally generated life? Culture? What astounds me about this game is that he really broken down things into a hierarchy of agent and society. First we create organism by giving them weapons and parts. Then we create cities, who are really organisms whose weapons and parts are formed by the creatures we created. Then these cities become the world organism, who extend not an arm but a UFO into the rest of space. The analogy continues. It redefines how we understand "organism." This reaches back into the Latin and Greek root "organos" meaning a tool or instrument. We get to play with a system that uses sub-systems as instruments to an end.

So why do I hate Will Wright? Well, let me stir some vanity and quote a post I made in another forum:

"My theory is that Will Wright, fancying himself a creator of sandboxes that empower people to 'create their own narrative' has forgotten one important thing. Most people suck at creating their own narrative. This is why we hire writers, directors, game designers, and musicians. Extreme ludology can never wholly displace the nuances of expert narration."

That about sums it up. I don't hate him. But I made myself ask why I don't like his games, and that's the answer I got. I'm not interested in what narratives I can come up with within his system, I'm interested in narratives that don't yet have a system to be told with. I love limitations, just not self-serving ones. I prefer sonnets over prose. But looking at Spore, I can already see all the "gameplay" that can possibly happen, and there is no suspense that comes from being at the whim of, say, a great writer.

But that's my fault for watching the video I guess. If you plan to play Spore, rewind time and don't watch the video. If you rather glean some inspiration and move on with a realer life, stay on the coattails of the future with me.