Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

7 June, 2006

That’s not very realistic!
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:17 PM

I’ve read a few posts lately that have inspired me to write this entry.

Creating the Wrong Experience over on Damion’s blog. An interesting post where Damion talks about his distaste for use-based systems, as demonstrated by how an Assassin in Oblivion has to go hopping through fields collecting flowers in order to increase his skills.

UO’s resource system on Raph’s blog. This fascinating post, in three parts, talks about the goals, design, implementation, and final removal of the UO ecology system. Really interesting stuff.

In both cases, the core argument is that the game should be “realistic”. Damion argues that use based systems create unrealistic behaviors such as the assassin jumping around everywhere and having to collect flowers in a sun lit meadow in order to practice skills. Raph says that simulating complex systems allows for all sorts of neat emergent behavior.

As you might expect, I’m going to argue that realism isn’t a very good reason.

Now, I should admit my biases: I’m not terribly fond of heavy simulation games. The closest I get are the “Sim” games, but I would argue that these aren’t true simulations. Instead, the Sim games take the right combination of simulation, abstraction, and simplification to keep the game fun. I’ve been told that running a real city is nowhere near as fun as it is in SimCity. I’ve also been told that the techniques used in SimCity to build the “perfect” cities are often flawed in the real world. But, this didn’t stop me from wasting hour upon hour with the game. So, my preferred games don’t rely very heavy on “realism”. Not to say these types of games don’t have fans, but that’s not where my biases lie.

I tend to think that simulating “reality” tends to lead to very boring games. Too often game developers fetishize the development of physics or other aspects in order to simulate reality in games. For example, there have been numerous games that try to simulate “realistic” physics, from the notorious Trespasser (updated link to a good description of game) to more recent games including Half-Life 2. In all this time, the only really interesting gameplay feature has been the gravity gun in Half-Life 2, in my not-so humble opinion. And even that got annoying many times.

This doesn’t mean I take an extreme position, however. Games tend to require some basis in reality in order to operate. Even very abstract games like Pac-Man or Tetris require the adherence to common rules such as geometry. Trying to implement Pac-Man in a bizarre form of non-Euclidean geometry would be a pain, and trying to play it would be damn near impossible. Even the most fantastical games tend to follow rules we’re familiar with in the real world, even if it’s using a real language in order to communicate with the player. But, the inclusion of a basis in reality doesn’t necessarily mean that the game must include a detailed simulation of reality.

In many cases, I view simulating reality as purely intellectual exercises. It’s the ultimate “wouldn’t it be cool if…” scenario conjured up by game designers wanting to break away from the old models. Advancement systems that are “realistic”, or in-depth simulations that lead to astounding emergent behavior tend to fit this bill. The tend to be complicated boondoggles that never seen to quite live up to their promises.

Use-based systems

Now, let’s focus on the posts above. Damion argues that use-based systems lead to unrealistic behavior: an assassin hopping through the fields collecting flowers is perhaps a little out of character. Damion’s dislike of use-based systems is a bit ironic given his involvement with them in Meridian 59. Familiarity breeds contempt, I’m sure.

The problem with Damion’s complaints is two-fold, in my mind. First, “realistic” learning isn’t fun. How do you learn in “real life”? You go to school. You sit in a room for hours on end reading books, listening to lectures, and sometimes getting to do some practical training. Boy, wouldn’t that be fun! I can see the bullet point on the back of the box now:

  • Hundreds of hours of realistic training in a school before you can do anything in the game!

Okay, maybe not.

To really evaluate the problem, we have to consider the purpose of the use-based system. The system allows for character advancement that is largely under the player’s control. Want to get better at casting attack spells? Then go cast them! You don’t have to go murder monsters to gain abstract points which allows you to improve multiple abilities at a time, even if they are never used. The whole point is that the player can choose the development of his or her character in the world by focusing on some skills instead of others.

Of course, this relates to the second problem: the most efficient path to build skills isn’t necessary the most realistic. When I played Morrowind, I gained several skill points in spell abilities by casting useless little spells near a shrine where I could easily replenish my mana. Sure, it wasn’t exactly exciting or realistic for me to be casting a silly summoning spell in the middle of a shrine, but it was the best way to gain skill points in an efficient way. The assassin in question could have chosen to do his hopping in the middle of the night or in some deep, dark cave in order to stay in character. But hopping around in darkness is boring; it’s easier to hop around as you’re going form one place to another, perhaps stopping along the way to collect some herbs for alchemic practice. In Morrowind, it was possible to save up money to buy training from NPCs to gain skill points; note that this was significant harder than just hopping everywhere, or otherwise practicing your skills repeatedly.

This efficiency problem is the same one we run into in online games: people bottom-feed to minimize risk, get bored, then blame the game (and, by extension, the game designers) for being boring. Game designers need to discourage people from doing the easy-but-boring things in order to keep them interested in the game. In the case of this single-player game, this is harder. The biggest problem is that a dark assassin shouldn’t be skipping around in the daylight. So, should the game penalize people for being out of character? That’s always a dangerous road to tread since the player’s concepts and the designer’s concepts could be at odds. Maybe I’m playing a ninja, a master of disguise, and skipping along in the meadow is part of that disguise. Should the game penalize me, even though I’m potentially acting “in character”? Should the player blame the game when he or she has chosen to act out of character in the name of convenience?

Perhaps we should put more thought into designing a system that allows players to actively choose which skills to develop in a system of meaningful character advancement that doesn’t lead to “unrealistic” behaviors. Unfortunately, I don’t think the answer is going to be an easy one. If the answer were easy, someone would have done it already.

Large-scale simulations

Now, let’s consider the UO ecology system that Raph describes in his posts. An ambitious system, for sure, which was part of the “world simulation” aspect of the game. The system never really came together, and was eventually ripped out of the system since it declared it a “boondoggle” by the person in charge of implementation.

The goal of such a system is emergent behavior. That is, behavior that the designers didn’t necessarily intend, but that adds to the feel of the game. It makes the game feel more immersive. It’s also pretty neat to think about.

Raph does point out a few problems with this kind of system: a complete system demands more and more granularity, and the simulation of more and more systems. It also requires a lot of processing in order to work correctly; the processing requirements have almost certainly gotten much steeper with the complexity and 3D-focus of most modern online RPGs.

Raph also points out a huge problem: there needs to be causality for the system to really work. If players don’t understand why something happens, then you have spent a lot of time implementing a system that seems no different to the player than random chance or a simple scripted system. If the players can’t tell the difference, then there’s no reason spending so much time and effort on a large-scale simulation of the end result will be largely the same.

But, the problems don’t stop there. There are three practical problems to tackling this sort of project that make it unfeasible. First, not every bit of “emergent behavior” is good. What if someone figures out that casting water spells makes it rain more in the desert, which increases the frequency of desert plant that is supposed to be rare? We already have a huge number of “unintended consequence” type problems in our games without implementing systems to create more! From an engineering point of view, “unintended consequences” can also be a code word for “bug” in the game. These types of systems can be breeding grounds for bugs (in the form of design flaws) in the game.

Second, the designer still needs to figure out all the consequences of the system in order to make sure it fits within the game. In the end, the designer ends up doing at least as much work in designing a system like this. Unfortunately, the engineering side of things will likely take longer to implement a robust simulation than to implement a simple scripted event system. And, let’s not even start on the massive load this will put on QA. This type of system isn’t really saving any work, unless you leave the door wide open for bugs to show up in the system.

Finally, there’s no real “end” to the implementation of the system. As Raph points out, it can require more and more layers and levels of simulation to have everything work as one might expect. Budgets and schedules are finite, so having something that can’t be easily broken up into chunks for development purposes is going to be problematic. This type of system can’t just be developed in chunks, because adding new aspects to the system could radically change the system from what players expect. And, believe me, players hate changes like this. So, if nothing can change radically, you’re pretty much stuck with variations of whatever system you implement in the first place. The nature of this type of system mean that you probably won’t get a very good simulation with only a small fraction of the system in place.

So, what are the right answers?

Once again, there is no silver bullet. Despite my arguments above, use-based systems aren’t a panacea to solve all ills. And, I do admit that simulations can be done properly and be an entertaining basis for a game. The big question is: do these tools fit within your game? Will players play hopping, flower-gathering assassins and then blame you for making them behave out-of-character? Or, does the system give users enough control over their characters to cause real emotional investment? Will players be able to tell your detailed ecology apart form something scripted or random? Or, have you figured out a way to show the player causality in order to clue them into the larger working system in the game? The answers to these questions like these will determine if these systems are right for your game.

But, putting these systems into the game simply for the sake of “realism” will result in someone crying every time. Players don’t want realism, they want fun. And, although a game can’t be 100% fun 100% of the time, we have to be careful in which areas we sacrifice a bit of fun for anything else. On the other hand, you might have found that niche of masochists that love whatever pain you throw at them. If so, I’ve got a few pet projects I’d like to inflic…er, I mean, test on them. :)


  1. I really disagree with this point:

    Second, the designer still needs to figure out all the consequences of the system in order to make sure it fits within the game.

    In the end, every system offers up emergent behaviors that we didn’t expect, chief among which are the players. Saying that a system can’t be put in unless you know all of the consequences is overstating it. You just need your best guess — and sometimes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    The risk in trying to be overly controlling is the opposite — sterile gameplay that gets very monotonous. Surprises are good things — and yes, it does mean the maintainers always have to be on our toes, but that’s the case anyway.

    Comment by Raph — 7 June, 2006 @ 11:15 PM

  2. I agree with Raph — understanding all the consequences can make for a sterile game.

    One of the lessons that I remember from working with Will Wright was that he said that it wasn’t until the simulation showed a behavior that he wasn’t quite expecting, but yet still felt “right”, that he felt that the simulation was ready. This was true for both SimCity and SimEarth — I’ve not had the priviledge of working with him since, but I suspect he’d say the same thing happened with all of his games.

    Comment by Christopher Allen — 7 June, 2006 @ 11:24 PM

  3. Well, there’s good emergent behavior and bad emergent behavior. Dupe bugs are technically emergent behavior, but we tend to lock those down, fix them, and punish those that use them pretty heavily.

    I think the real truth is probably somewhere in the middle of the extremes we’re talking about here. A single person being able to know every detail of every system will eventually lead to boring gameplay; although, I would argue that for most games this isn’t a large problem if you plan accordingly. We shouldn’t expect games to last as long as M59 or UO have and still be hugely profitable. On the other hand, having something that is too rich with emergent gameplay opportunities runs the risk of being buggy and feeling incomplete; but, again, there’s obviously a few hundred thousand people out there that truly enjoy this type of gameplay and are willing to pay for it.

    Personally, I think there’s more risk in relying on emergent behavior because that can lead to bugs. People can be awfully forgiving of our games, but they will absolutely not put up with a buggy product. From an engineer’s point of view, the locked-down system is better.

    One other thing to consider is that the game focusing on emergent system is much harder to create. It’s hard enough to find someone experienced at designing and implementing an online game. The number of people who can implement a world-like game such as UO are much smaller. It’s likely a subset of people you know personally, Raph, including yourself seeing as how you’ve worked on the two main games to fall into this category. ;) I’d certainly feel more comfortable at the helm of a game-type design rather than a world-type one, personally.

    As usual, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. :) Anyone reading this can take my words as a challenge to go out there and build the super world simulation that breaks WoW’s numbers. (And remember to give me a comped account!)

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 June, 2006 @ 11:38 PM

  4. Since games are often systems of suspended disbelief, there is a price that comes with “realism” – its can be immersion destroying.

    For most games realism isn’t nearly as important as believability. Inconsistent realism levels will make your games’ reality an unpleasantly lumpy texture.

    Comment by Oliver "kfsone" Smith — 7 June, 2006 @ 11:51 PM

  5. You’re on.

    One thing about designing behavior as opposed to designing content: Behaviour can be tested in a sterile environment. Time can be speeded up, behaviour can be examined thoroughly. When you create specific content, it exists only for players and only players can test it. On a large scale, this means you rely on an unreliable and self-interested group of testers rather than your own team members.

    In the games which posess sizes such as players demand today, you cannot economically design huge swathes of continents in a static-content form unless you have Blizzard’s resources. I know i don’t have those, do you?

    As for water-spells in the desert – well, i’d call that terrible design. If you’re going to have spells at all (which i personally don’t feel any need for) even those need Use Cases beyond “You do some magic”. If you water-spells utilized local humidity, for example, you’d pretty soon find that this problem would not exist.

    Comment by Cael — 8 June, 2006 @ 12:00 AM

  6. The middle ground that advocate is:
    1. A simulated environmental & resource system that works on its own and is optimized via factor analysis (such as factor push) to yield a balanced environment. Call this a passive portfolio of game assets and their underlying functions and models.
    2. Overlay the primary system with an active portfolio of game assets, functions, and models that can change in the short-term the long-term passive portfolio. A set of tools and macros can be deployed to incrementally push an variances back to the optimized level. In the case of magically created water in desert will water a plant, but the effect may be tuned to have only incremental effect or a high decay rate such that it is not worth the effort on the normal circumstances (e.g. factor optimized).
    3. Overlay the active layer with hand-crafted scripts and fine-tuning.

    So, the question is where is the balance right now. A simulation approach means that one have to build and tune a big set of interactions and codes, which are not easy to do when you got billions of variables to deal with. Hand-crafting is cheaper, particular with high quality art assets.

    However, there comes a point where investing on a broad, robust platform becomes cost effective. Do you think we are at that point yet?

    BTW, another solution to the water magic in the desert is implement an equivalent trade system: query the level of water content in the 8×8 grid and set the maximum water effect to the level of water content, which applies the transformation functions Raph describes. The emergent effect is that water mages will cast a water spell to disrupt another mages water spell, which originally disrupted the water content in the area, which……..

    Which leads to a temple of water elemental with a guild organized to man the temple 24 hours days. They’ll create an oasis in the desert by monoplizing the water content in the desert and extort money from the traveling caravans….

    Might be fun, but might not also.

    Any ways, enough rambling by me for now,


    Comment by magicback (frank) — 8 June, 2006 @ 12:53 AM

  7. Oliver Smith wrote:
    For most games realism isn’t nearly as important as believability. Inconsistent realism levels will make your games’ reality an unpleasantly lumpy texture.

    Yes, usually when people claim they want “realism” they really want consistency. They want things to work as they expect, and get upset when things don’t. Sometimes this means working like things do in “real life”, though.

    I think someone mentioned an “uncanny valley” concept for simulations in a comment on one of Raph’s posts. I wonder if this holds any weight: the closer you get to a “perfect” simulation, the more annoying it will be because of the little things missing that we otherwise expect.

    I also see we have a bunch of problem solvers here. The problem with the water spells can work in reverse.

    Let’s say you have a humidity stat, as first offered by Cael. Let’s say you have humidity affect how fast materials decay or tarnish. So, now the solution is to have a bot stand around casting minor water spells in a humid area in order to make a storeroom in a guild building preserve things better. This could be detrimental if you balanced the combat in humid areas on the assumption that replacement equipment would not be readily available. You’ll have people rolling through your content, upset that they now have to resort to skipping through fields collecting flowers to gain experience points! ;)

    Frank, I don’t quite understand your scenario there. I kinda understand doing the multiple layers, but that seems to be the worst of all worlds. The costs and potential bugs of building an extensive simulation with the costs and static content of hand-created content. Perhaps you could explain a bit more?

    I guess this topic has gotten people fired up. Lots of comments with so few reads! Keep the comments coming, I always love a good discussion.

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 June, 2006 @ 3:09 AM

  8. Actually, my point was that converting local humidity to usable water means that you will inevitably run out of humidity. That always bothered me about Marvel’s Iceman – air simply does not hold that much water.

    Comment by Cael — 8 June, 2006 @ 7:16 AM

  9. Now, let’s focus on the posts above. Damion argues that use-based systems lead to unrealistic behavior: an assassin hopping through the fields collecting flowers is perhaps a little out of character.

    To be perfectly accurate, I’m not actually a big of being a slave to realism and/or sim gameplay either. My problem with use-based systems is that they tend to create unrealistic behavior WHILE THE GOAL OF THE USE-BASED SYSTEM IS THEY ARE REALISTIC. Which is to say, if it’s going to end up being unrealistic anyway, then you can do something that’s, you know, fun.

    Damion’s dislike of use-based systems is a bit ironic given his involvement with them in Meridian 59.

    Not so much ‘ironic’ as much as ‘a direct result’.

    Comment by Damion Schubert — 8 June, 2006 @ 7:33 AM

  10. OK, first off the disclaimer: I’m not a professional game designer. I’m an investment analyst by profession.

    The concept I describe is pretty much what is being done already on a smaller scale: automate what you can and handcraft what is important. But in addition to this I am asking for greater systems interaction, which can result in what Raph hopes and also what Damion describes.

    In the area of environments, we can program into the world the physics of nature such as the stages of plant growth. We can then allow players or other programs to interact with that system. If the system is too detail or too mutable, then we can end up with the Raph’s UO cannibals scenario, where people eat HUMANMEAT and keep skulls and ears for decoration. On the other hand, you might want to allow the collection of the bones of a particular dragon to grind into alchemical powder. From a simulation/system approach, the variables and functions are already there for use-cases. From a hand-crafted approach, the particular loot item has to be created and programmed to drop upon the death of the dragon.

    On top of this passive system description of the world (the code is the physics) is a second layer of mostly transformative functions (the code is the modifiable law). I guess you can call this a set of callable functions that transform the passive world temporarily or cumulatively over time. Examples of this are deformable terrain, wall of stone spells, etc.

    On top of these two layers is the AI layer where the ecology programming and the NPC programming sits. Now, you’ll probably know that programming this layer from a simulation approach will hit the pitfalls Raph describes. So, while this is where the boondoggle is, I think starting with the default of everything turned off, you can program a monte carlo simulation to observe the effect of turning on one AI agent at a time, and fine tune as needed.

    Another technique is to go with the belief that perceived causality is what’s important to players, so instead of programming an ecology system of wolf attacking bunnies for MEAT, we’ll just abstract the ecology into statistical simulation and then show wolf chasing bunnies only when there is a point to it, such as when you need a plot hook. So when players see that black cat crossing the hall twice, they should either think that there is a glitch in the Matrix or that’s the PLOT HOOK in capital letters and should follow the White Rabbit.

    The major cost of building this extensive simulation system is what Brian aptly called “bugs”, things that you didn’t want or didn’t expect to have. One solution from the financial arena is to do extensive factor/variable analysis and then optimize the variables and allowable band of probabilities and uses. But again, the decision factor is whether this boondoggle of a feature is worth the effort.

    I believe it is. The marketing people is going to sell changing climate, deformable terrain, or other individual transformation of the environment as individual feature to boast about, so why don’t we program all that basic natural system interaction into the world and called that “the mother of features”.

    As to the third layer, I’m not sure we can cheaply apply the simulation approach, so let’s settle with a simulation approach to the first and second layer.

    Ok, end stream-of-thought chant. Apologies if some of the above does not make sense. Please ask questions and I’ll try my best to make more sense.


    Comment by magicback (frank) — 8 June, 2006 @ 11:10 AM

  11. The reason you want a “realistic” game world, as opposed to a non-realistic one like tetris or checkers, is that realism encourages immersion, and more importantly, realism makes it easy for players to learn/understand the rules of the game. (Ex: To go back to Adventure or Zork, I know I can pick up objects, not because the game rulebook tells me that I can, but because Adventure and Zork are based in reality (as I know it)).

    Unfortunately, reality is often less fun… partly because it’s not necessarily designed to be fun, and partyly because we’re in reality so much it has gotten boring. Thus, reality (aka: use-based systems and making PCs eat) must often be discarded in search of fun.

    A comment about simulations… One of Pixar’s “Making of” videos (for Monsters Inc.) had the quote, “We sand the undersides of the cabinets.” A little bit of simulation in a game (but not too much) gives it the “made with skill and care” feeling.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 8 June, 2006 @ 3:37 PM

  12. I’ve run into problems with reality in games myself. One of which seems to be that people all seem to have a completely different idea of what the word “Reality” means when talking about reality in gaming.

    I have a tendency to gripe and openly complain about weapon inconsistancies in MMORPGs and have gotten into many arguements about the issue. My personal preferance is to have weapons that exist in the real world to be be names and modeled correctly as well as function correctly. Which leads me to my above point. On several occasions I have had people start arguements with me about the game not being the real world and there for realistic naming conventions/models/function need not apply. They then further their arguement with ramblings about Elves and Magic and twelve headed chicken sandwitches. One person mistakenly told me (don’t you love when people start telling you what you believe?) that I would obviously have a problem with a weapon called a Three Pronged Beeblewang (I can’t remember what he actually said.) He seemed quite shocked when I said I had absolutely no problem with said Beeblewang because it was obviously made up for the game and there for could be what ever the devs wanted it to be.

    My point about the weapons is that they exist in the real world and there for should be based on the real world versions as much as the system can allow. Until RPGs and MMORPGs start allowing multiple damage types on a weapon, I’m not going to argue that a Rapier is capable of Piercing AND Slashing and an Axe technically does more blunt damage than slashing, but is capable of both. I don’t like realistic war games, but I know what an AK-47 is and if I picked that up and it ended up being a pistol, I would be rather miffed.

    I think some people take the whole “Realstic” thing too far and others take it in a completely different direction. One person might argue that realism is games like Call of Duty and so forth while another person might say that it’s making a character have to eat and sleep or they’ll die and jump around constantly in order to improve their skill.

    I’ve fooled around with EVE a few times, once in beta and once durring the trial later. Quite a few interesting things in the game. But the universe is so huge that I actually spent something like 25-30 minutes to get somewhere that wasn’t across the universe. Maybe it was because I had a crappy ship or that I hadn’t been playing for a long period of time, but I’m pretty sure that’s intentional. Yes, space flight is long and that felt fairly realistic in terms of a game -> real life, but I think that’s a little overboard on the realism. I much prefered Earth and Beyond, yeah there was less to do, but I actually got to go places and do things in a reasonable ammount of time. EVE kind of made me think of the old SWG Que where most people filled the Que and went off to do something else for a few minutes.

    I agree with Mike Rozak. I like realism to the point that things remain consistant or you feel like someone actually took their time to make the world feel more real. When I feel like someone didn’t do research on something that’s plainly obvious to me, it really breaks the illusion for me. Reality has it’s place in games, but when you try to make something too real it starts crossing one of many possible lines.

    Comment by Ceryk — 9 June, 2006 @ 1:28 AM

  13. This reminds me of a recurring pattern in comic book art (where most of my training is. Don’t worry, I have a relevant point… at least I think so).

    Many comic artists never go through formal art training, and don’t really know how to draw realistically, or more importantly, they never learn fully how to observe, to ‘see’ – this leads to artists who are abstracting not from insightful observation, but from grossly copying other popular artists. Even people with plenty of formal training fall into this trap, giving us things like the ever growing breasts of superheros (or the ever more tangled logic of class/level systems).

    The problem here, though, is more complex than I thought, and I find myself rethinking and rewriting my ideas.

    Osamu Tezuka (father of Japanese comics, and creator of such gems as Astroboy, Phoenix, Jungle Emperor Leo, etc.) was not trained as an artist, he was a doctor. And his style was developed by copying Disney’s work. But abstraction, growing outwards from a personal observation (of a realistic source or an abstracted source) into an idiosyncratic stylistic vision, is very different than an abstraction, ossifying inwards from a superficial observation of a limited, generic subject.

    Largely I think, it’s an issue of attitude on the part of the creator. Do we stick with what’s comfortable, or take risks and try to do something unfamiliar? Do I read anything besides superhero comics, that inspire me to imagine that being a superhero could mean something new? Did you go from being guild leader of a large raiding guild to being a MMORPG developer, already ‘knowing’ exactly what it means, and can mean, to play an MMORPG?

    I’ll try to clarify here. Looking at a system like WoW’s, it’s obvious they were inspired by the already limited worlds of EQ and Lord of the Rings, more than any careful observation or research. “It’s fantasy, what do you expect” is not justification for being so myopic. It seems to me that this tends to lead to a system that is so specialized and insular that its patterns of logic no longer apply to anything but itself. This limits its ability to speak to exterior concepts and experiences. In theory I would say it would also limit your potential audience, but in light of WoW’s popularity I think that theory needs looking at.

    Going back to comics, it’s like a superhero story that no longer looks to anything but other superhero comics for inspiration (perhaps the newest blockbuster action movie, too) – it becomes detached and isolated from any ‘real world’ concerns, and soon is only accessible and understandable to superhero fans (Granted it will be a really safe business move, because all superhero fans will like it by default, or at least not be offended by it). Beyond that, the readers already know everything about the stories, and reading them becomes an empty action, never leading them to grow or think about anything outside their comfortable little subculture (or level bracket?) – making such comics little more than a kind of comfort food in book form. Contrast this with something like The Incredibles, which uses the same tropes and cliches, but transforms them to explore the creator’s personal experiences. “The archetypes of genre fantasy make excellent tools, but horrible masters”, to paraphrase an author who’s name I can’t remember at the moment…

    To me it’s not a matter of perfectly simulating the real world, so much as giving ourselves the opportunity to be inspired by something different, something outside the safety of the conventions we work in. Something more applicable to our understanding of everyday life than ‘kill 1,000,000 monsters to get max level, then raid’. Spore is a great example to me, of how research into real world science can inform a very abstracted game – or at least, I hope Spore won’t require you to farm food for your creature, for hundreds of hours, before getting to the city building stage!

    I think the key to making a more ‘realistic’ MMORPG is not making it an accurate representation of the real world, but that its abstractions are grounded in real-world concerns, as well as more fantastic ones. That, for example, we look to real world politics to inform our world building, instead of just copying Tolkien for the XXXth time. Or researching ecological systems instead of just plopping down 500 wolves and 10 prey animals. I think this would allow for more intuitive gameplay, and also would open the door to more meaningful metaphors and experiences, more complex problems and ambiguous solutions.

    Speaking of which, I’ve been hankering to play through Ico again…

    Sorry for the giant ramble, but I felt the need to work it all out in my head.


    Comment by Eli — 9 June, 2006 @ 10:44 AM

  14. It just has to make some kind of sense like how the world Tolkien created made sense. For example, if you got a dungeon placed somewhere in the forest, the questions are why was there in the first place, why did the monsters occupy the dungeon, etc.

    The value of a system simulation approach is that you can apply common sense to solving quests.

    For example if you create a game about being stranded on an island like Lost, the TV show, you better create a world where people ccan apply common sense actions like what has been done on Thief or Obivilion.

    The difficult task for MMORPGs is to implement and fine tune a balanced simulation system. Not easy task to achieve.

    Comment by magicback (frank) — 9 June, 2006 @ 8:19 PM

  15. Bartoneus wrote:
    Never, EVER, say that sentence again. Please.

    There are many smart people dealing with problems like this.

    All these people have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some of them are scary smart and all have tried a variety of things.

    I feel pretty confident that if there were an easy answer to replacing use-based systems with something not quite so exploitable, someone would have come up with at least an initial prototype by now. An answer might be out there (and probably is), but I don’t necessarily think it’ll be an “easy” answer. On the other hand, it might be something obvious once we stop and consider a breakthrough someone makes. :)

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 10 June, 2006 @ 12:13 AM

  16. Simearth… prime example of a game designed for realism that simply lacked the fun factor.

    Dont get me wrong.. i like the game and i can see how it might be educational but it sure is boring. Great idea though.

    Comment by Austin Craig — 16 June, 2006 @ 2:53 AM

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