Psychoengagement

This is fascinating. I did a bit of work on this as part of my masters. Originally it was as the byproduct of an assignment designed to find a an actual use for biofeedback in commercial gaming but it became a crossover piece where we investigated using the biofeedback as both a control mechanism AND a psychological loop to increase the challenges presented.

One of the significant difficulties we faced was actually getting players comfortable with bio-feedback devices. Both their implications/sci-fi history and the nature of the devices themselves are somewhat sinister so we found that simple interaction with device could produce an emotional response that was completely separate from the game itself!

Antisocial/Social

Im mostly posting this to remind me where it is. This social aspect of gaming is a fascinating, double-edged sword. Clearly social features generate interest in a product, an additional level of engagement for players, and a new ‘mechanic’ for what can otherwise be a somewhat lonely pastime, but at the same time the nature of remote interaction breeds behaviour that is beyond the norm.

For as many users as there are who find it easier to open up online in a way they cant in real life, there are those who instead use the anonymity and infinity of network communications to pour out the anger, spite, and hatred they must bottle up in face-to-face communications. Technology is an outlet for everyone and everything – good and bad. The best hope for social features in-game is to find ways to help mitigate the negative emotions and foster the good ones. In combat, however, this is tricky…

Shout, shout, let it all out…

The most interesting aspect of this article to me is the ‘proximity based voice chat’ stuff. Working on a combat/action based MMO in which clan politics play a huge role the concept of espionage, privacy, and battle tactics are always important. Chat in an MMO is entirely artificial as is – with everyone shouting at everyone the world over – but is there some scope for proximity chat even in a fantasy based realtime (but not quite FPS environment)? Very possibly, but it is something that might be alien to MMO players…

The difficulty is that a product marketed in a way as to mimic a more mainstream MMO is relying heavily on some of the traditional social features of such. You NEED to be able to find your friends and communicate with them across worlds since the notions of group/social play and the notions of huge/open worlds are both key to the principals of the genre. The solution to this might be to expand the use of the ‘social’ features (friends lists, clans, etc) to actually alter the way that chat works. Make voice communication, party, and general chat ‘local’, but allow for transcontinental clan or ‘linked friend’ conversation – perhaps not in real time, but as a message system.


These ideas are just that. I dont have time to think them through in detail the noo, but worth coming back to.

Behind the screen

I am really into some of what this article is suggesting. I think that he doesnt succeed particularly well in looking for wider solutions to speed up play-time, but the concept of averaging damage roles in play is interesting.

For minion creatures, or for large numbers of creatures, the averaging of damage rolls make much more sense. Against 5 goblins making 2 attacks per round their damage over 5 rounds, for example, will in principal average itself anyway. Standardising this process seems like very sensible behaviour.

For single powerful creatures, however, the variation between a string of 1’s and a critical threat is what makes the encounter super-edgey. In addition, powerful foes rarely last for 10’s or rounds anyway so that averaging the damage is completely artificial – they are unlikely reach average scores in their own short time so forcing them is misrepresentative.

Skill and rewards

This┬áis totes fascinating. There has always been a slight disconnect for me between the concept of ‘skill based games’ and ‘randomised loot’. Its comparable, in a way, to my ex (JP) who was really good at fruit machines winning a reward that was always random and not necessarily that great from a sustained skill input. Instead should skill based games not reward players like a shooting gallery – where the player can choose the reward they win based on the level of their skill?

Online/Offline persistence

I like what is happening here. In order to achieve a successful online environment there needs to be significant ‘persistence’ of character. A player needs to be responsible for the actions of his character in order to prevent online environments becoming the places that people behave in ways inappropriate for the real world. This case is, in some ways, the opposite of this rule, but has the very same effect. I love it.

Relationships…

…are hard. This is heavily on my brain right now for all sort of reasons but to make this work related – I read this article the other day and found it sort of fascinating.

I cant think of many games where my relationship with or attitude towards the NPCs has been much more than rudimentary. One thing I cant stand is the kind of 2d character building that seems to be popular in the likes of Dragon Age, Assassins Creed, or even Skyrim. NPCs are polarised figures – obvious tropes – with little in common with real world individuals. Their single-mindedness eliminates any possibility of relationship since even if your goals happen to align their motivations are so laughably limited as to make you want to see them fail, even when it means you failing too. The article above deals with this nicely in an unusual way. In the way it tackles anonymity it suggests a method of relationship that reminds me of one successful such application in my own experience : the Marathon trilogy.

From the very first vidscreen presented to the player you begin to build an accidental relationship with Leela, the do-gooder AI trying to save the Marathon. Her motivations are simple but her application is complex – making decisions for the highest good in way that involves no player input at all but has one relying on her sensible decision making for survival. The fact is that to start with there is not enough information for the player to make any decisions at all, even if the game were to allow it, and so we suddenly find ourselves trusting Leela because of the vulnerability we feel.

Later, as we meet the other AIs, Durandal in particular, we start to build a relationship with a character who’s anonymity and mystery force us to cobble together snippets of information in order to try and understand what is happening, and what is going to happen. All of the conditions in Bell’s article seem to be met, even in the linearity of the experience.

I’m not sure I have a conclusion, except that of course this method of relationship building is appropriate only in certain types of game. The lessons, however, could well be used in less linear RPG type experiences to help players develop relationships with NPCs that are not based on explicit goal sharing or the willingness of players to colour inside ‘alignment’ lines.