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Contrasting User-Driven Play With Developer Vision 60

Posted by Soulskill
from the dance,-puppets dept.
GameSetWatch is running an opinion piece (sparked by a lecture at NYU by Deus Ex developer Warren Spector) about the difference between game experiences that are specifically planned by the game's creators and experiences that are either constructed by players or arise unexpectedly. Quoting: "One thing Spector said during the NYU discussion was that he feels multiplayer games are 'lazy.' This is the designer in him talking, of course — his theory that in letting players build stories via Left 4 Dead-style happy accidents in open worlds, the designer doesn't have to tackle complex challenges like making choices meaningful, or making characters believable. Spector wants to take on those challenges, and he doesn't like the idea that user-driven play, from his standpoint, effectively allows game design to bypass them. It's actually an idea I relate to a lot as a writer — I was raised in an era of authoritative media, when individual voices drove culture, opinion and information. The internet's changed everything, of course; the authoritative voice has evolved into a conversation between writer and audience, and the writer now leads the community discussion rather than acting as a single determiner, a unilateral judge."
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Contrasting User-Driven Play With Developer Vision

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  • by plover (150551) * on Thursday April 23, 2009 @11:45PM (#27698181) Homepage Journal

    Who wants to be always led about by the nose through every adventure? We did that before.

    Rigid story lines have all the staying power of cut scenes. They're fun once or twice, but then they get in the way of game play, and it doesn't take long for the average player to <esc> their way past them.

    Multiplayer is about "players". Let them play with each other. A wizened NPC that tells you "You must not enter the Dungeon of Doom until you have brought me the Ring of Gold" is fine in single player mode, but a group of friends doesn't want to grind, they want to play together.

    • by cptnapalm (120276)

      "a group of friends doesn't want to grind, they want to play together"

      WoW has 11.5 million players that would, perhaps, disagree.

      I don't though.

      Since you mentioned cut scenes, I have come to hate them. I never bothered finishing Metal Gear Solid 4 because I got so thoroughly sick of the damn things.

      • Ever tried to find a group for grinding to 80?

        People group when the "real" game starts. Or rather, when they really, really, REALLY can't solo anymore.

      • by Twyst3d (1359973)

        "a group of friends doesn't want to grind, they want to play together"

        WoW has 11.5 million players that would, perhaps, disagree.

        I don't though.

        Since you mentioned cut scenes, I have come to hate them. I never bothered finishing Metal Gear Solid 4 because I got so thoroughly sick of the damn things.

        You'd be surprised how many of them do not in fact enjoy grinding.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Daengbo (523424)

      Who wants to be always led about by the nose through every adventure? We did that before. -- Frist Psot

      [T]he authoritative voice has evolved into a conversation between writer and audience, and the writer now leads the community discussion rather than acting as a single determiner, a unilateral judge. -- Summary

      Teaching is moving the same way. Student-led classes. More collaboration attempts. While this style requires less work during class than the old style, there needs to be a hell of a lot of work before class to make sure that as many possibilities are foreseen and planned for as possible. I can't imagine game development is any different. Providing scenarios for meaningful interaction between players can't be easy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by White Flame (1074973)

      but a group of friends doesn't want to grind, they want to play together.

      Play what? Play how? Also, they don't want to grind, but they want to "play"? What are they going go play at besides grinding in a typical MMO? That pretty much encompasses the entire gameplay, unless you're talking about characters just playing dressup, chatting, and running around for the heck of it.

      Some really get into plot & environment of their world, actually roleplaying within it. Others simply see game mechanics to e

    • TFA is mostly referring to video games, but mentions the flow of journalism toward blogs. This is a shift that takes power away from the educated and gives it to the idiots.

      Yeah, know, power to the people and all that. But really, just how much voice do we want to give to people who equate knowledge and understanding with being 'shifty' or untrustworthy, simply because the educated use words like 'pontificate' that they don't understand?

      The Internet gives the educated unprecedented ability to collaborate a

      • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:35AM (#27698943)
        Do you seriously think that professional journalism is anything more than idiots with training in sensationalism? When New Scientist will have articles on zero point energy and 20/20 will run segments on engines that run on water or even free energy machines? Or that the bulk media runs the moon landing conspiracy theories?

        Nothing has changed. Idiots will be idiots and like attracts like. Anyone smart will know not to listen.
        • Do you seriously think that professional journalism is anything more than idiots with training in sensationalism?

          Do you seriously think that professional programming is anything more than malicious hackers with day jobs? Oh wait. Not everyone who works in the same profession has the same moral character and goals.

          When I worked as a newspaper writer, I did try to write stories that would keep government accountable, point people to good things happening in their community, and generally make the world a bett

          • Point taken. But on the whole--its no worse than the blog sphere really.

            The problem is people don't read informative articles. We (the general public) really do like our sensationalism over fact or rational, well reasoned articles. Its hard to find a good news source.

            Titles like "Britney Spears Pregnant" or "Terrorist kill cute fluffy bunnies" just sells better...
            So its our won fault.

            Let the reader beware...
            I'm sure there should be some cool sounding Latin phrase for that.
      • ID loudmouths had a megaphone before. Given to them by the sheeple that sent a load of money for the promise of salvation.

        With the internet, you, as someone who has too much integrity to tell people to touch TV screens for healing, have one too.

      • by Ezekiel68 (652736)
        You seem to not be in on the secret that we're all in this thing (life) together. We have all played the fool, every last one of us, and each of us has his moments of triumph and insight.

        Power is never finally "given" to anyone. Occasionally, however, it is taken back by its rightful owners.

    • "Who wants to be always led about by the nose through every adventure? We did that before."

      Many of the best games do just this (lead you around by the nose) and are great *because* of that fact despite gamers complaints. Some gamers don't understand that if you make a game more open you also can reduce the enjoyment of the game because the pacing now is unstructured. In a more freeform environment many gamers get really bored.

      For instance - travel in WoW is mind numbing to me after playing a game like Dia

      • Doom 2 IMHO was one of the most memorable games because all the enemies had some kind of interesting death, and in multiplayer the interesting death animations were hilarious.

        Chainsaws for the win!

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        I think the best compromise (for the single player experience) are the ones where one aspect is fairly structured and another aspect is fairly unstructured. Why was Oblivion considered an awesome game? You had complete freedom.....within the box they put you in.

        Jeremey Gibson (http://mdm.gnwc.ca/people/jeremy-gibson) was teaching a class I was taking and he mentioned emmergent(sp?) gameplay. The best example was in one of the Tony Hawk games (I don't remember which one or which level). Basically the gam

        • by AuMatar (183847)

          The best compromise is that some games do one and some do the other. Take your example of Oblivion- I hated it, along with every other Elder Scroll game. Too open, no goals. I just don't find those games fun at all. Other gamers love the openness and hate strict storylines. So there's at least 2 markets there, and different games can hit both markets.

    • Old news (Score:3, Funny)

      by iYk6 (1425255)

      In other news, Beethoven doesn't like rap.

    • I play games to be entertained, so I don't have to make my own fun. But in reality, things aren't so black and white.

      Look at LittleBigPlanet, it has a great single player game, as well as a great construction mode. It also is fun co-op. Fun for everyone. In GTA4, you can play the story or mess around and both are rewarding. Medal of Honor 2 for the Wii has a FPS campaign mode as well as an on-rails shooter experience using the same campaign, and you can choose which you want to play.
    • Actually you are terribly wrong. Case and point, most of the AD&D games tabletop or otherwise are based on user created content and yet still retain the part where the players are actually being led by the nose. Further more, people also love watch movies, in a sense that is "led about by the nose" entertainment. Games are fun and entertaining, but games are not replacing movies by a long shot. Co-op in a story driven rpg are also possible and entertaining. You are mistaking bad grinding designs with th

  • From the article:

    "do you want to drive the community yourself, or do you want to interact in an environment that's been created for you?"

    But the author forgets one very important thing: In Soviet Russia, community drives you!
  • There are different markets, and there is nothing wrong with that. I enjoyed dues ex, and now enjoy l4d. I dont see how taking the l4d approach is "lazy". Its just different and they focused on different aspects of the game. Sounds like someone is afraid that their experience is going stale.

    • Maybe it should be a little bit of both. Online play *could* theoretically be expanded to be more then just a copy of a basic set of game styles created ages ago now. Not a lot of innovation in MP really, so it might make sense that eventually someone will take initiative and see how we like something new.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wildstoo (835450)

      I get the feeling that Spector is still butthurt from when Quake 3 Arena (probably the epitome of what Spector is referring to - a plotless multiplayer game) outsold Deus Ex by a considerable margin.

      There's room for both types of games, and I don't think there's much laziness involved in developing a fun, balanced, competitive multiplayer game. I mean there are plenty of godawful single-player "experiences" one could point at to refute Spector's claim.

      It's not multiplayer free-for all vs. single-player guid

    • by CatLord42 (657659)
      Personally, I cannot stand RTSes or MMOs, although I might eventually enjoy an MMO. The decision to make a game open is not a new thing. RPGs (the paper and pencil version!) did this a long, long time ago (there is probably another example, but I'm going with what I know and not doing any additional research for just this comment).

      I enjoy L4D (I really like FPSes). I don't see it as open. It is definitely a led-by-the-nose experience. It's not the destination that's fun, it's how you get there, with
  • Warren Spector has been outspoken against MMOs as a particularly terrible example of "multiplayer" for a while too. I can understand that he doesn't want to work on them, but that doesn't make them any less fun, and I think he's failing to recognize the challenges of enabling meaningful emergent play.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      I think he's failing to recognize the challenges of enabling meaningful emergent play.

      It must be challenging if nobody's managed to do it yet...Or, at least, when something actually emerges that wasn't planned by the creators, they immediately make sure it's out of the game.
  • One word. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Nethack.

  • I don't play WOW, but I know a lot of people who do and it seems like people like it because fundamentally there is a strong story, which you are traveling through as a group.

    I've enjoy a number of multiplayer games in the past, including FPS's and other things. But it seems like none of them have the longevity that WOW has (for most people).

    • The difference you're missing is "multiplayer" vs "massively multiplayer".

      What makes WoW worth playing is that it weaves an interesting, huge, persistent, shared world, not that this world has an interesting plot.

      I'm sure the plot helps, but face it, eventually you run out of plot. Eventually, you have to make your own. To the hardcore players, the plot of WoW matters about as much as the plot of Counter-Strike does to any but the most casual CS player.

      That, and there's simply more to do in WoW. How many ti

    • WOW has a very colorful world going for it, but I found the plot quite weak, because in whatever situations you were put in (mostly instanced dungeons) that there is some thread connecting your actions, everything rings hollow because, after all, it IS an MMO, so nothing you do has any effect on the plot at large.

  • Crysis is a much complex game than, for example, Prince of Persia. In Crysis you get not only the a state-of-the-art 3d engine, but a platform for making your own maps and even designing and programming your own characters and almost everything in the game.
    • Do you honestly think Prince of Persia has no dev tools? How do you think it was created?

      No, I don't think dev tools are a measure for how "complex" a game is, certainly not for the difficulty that went into it.

  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Friday April 24, 2009 @12:39AM (#27698451) Journal

    I understand that there's a certain challenge and art that's lost -- that of the narrative. This is still possible, but more difficult, and often users can completely throw off your plans. It has to be a much faster-paced, more dynamic story -- the kind you live as a GM, not the kind you write as an author.

    But now you have the completely different problem, just as challenging, of balancing gameplay mechanics, storyline, politics, and everything else that makes up a community.

    Ultimately, it's likely to be more frustrating for you, but more fun for the gamers -- which is really the point.

    One example, a well-known story from Eve Online: The developers created a long event, with a fair amount of plot and depth. The first part of it involved getting a bunch of small ships to attack some huge battlecruiser, that they had no business fighting -- but get enough small players together, and they'd have a shot. Great way for newbies to have some fun.

    Problem is, some fairly powerful pirates -- possibly a guild or two -- got wind of this, killed the target ship, then set up an ambush and massacred all the newbies.

    The bad: That whole plotline, and all the work that had gone into it, had to be scrapped.

    The good: This story has become legend. It actually makes me want to play Eve, knowing my actions, as a player, could have that much impact on the game.

    Another, probably more well-known example: The Sleeper, in Everquest. This was a creature that is several times more powerful than gods in that game -- in fact, if I'm not mistaken, several thousand times more powerful than any one god. It can only be awoken once per server, and once awake, you only get one attempt to kill it, or it can never be attempted again on that server.

    This creature was simply not intended to be killed.

    However, instead of actually making it invincible, the developers just gave it insanely high vitality, and the ability to pretty much one-hit anything, and sometimes several things at once. This is cool -- using actual game mechanics, rather than top-down "make it so" directives, to enforce the idea that this thing is hardcore.

    Well, some players killed it. It took about 300 players or so, but they did it.

    And again, this is exactly what the developers did not want. In fact, the first attempt, they simply deleted the creature when it got to around 30%. Players were outraged enough that, once they were sure that killing it wouldn't cause a bug, they reset the event and allowed the players to try again. This time, they won.

    The point isn't that you shouldn't bother to create well-written, finely-crafted events. In fact, without a rich world around him, and without his own nicely scripted event, The Sleeper would just be another dragon. Yawn.

    The point is that players will do things that are completely unexpected. They'll do things that surprise you, frustrate you, and go directly against what you intended.

    And you will never understand this medium until you understand that this is the best thing that can happen. Games are great because this can happen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sentry21 (8183)

      The same thing happens in World of Warcraft. A new 70-man raid instance is made available, and all the high-level, best-gear-available guilds on the server all start hitting it, doing it as much as they can, trying and trying desperately to be the first to beat it.

      Eventually, one group beats it, and then there's a cascade. The second group finishes it, maybe faster. Then the third. Then 60 people. Then 40. Eventually you have three hotshots essentially solo'ing something that used to be nearly incomprehensi

      • by Nutria (679911)

        Eventually, one group beats it, and then there's a cascade. The second group finishes it, maybe faster. Then the third. Then 60 people. Then 40. Eventually you have three hotshots essentially solo'ing something that used to be nearly incomprehensible.

        In a lot of cases, it's just a progression of knowledge and skill. Once you know exactly what needs doing, you can refine it further and further, hone the edge sharper and sharper

        But isn't that what humans have been doing for millennia? Climbing Mt. Everest, f

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thing is, neither of the examples you give were intended by developers at all. I understand that's the nature of so-called "emergent gameplay", but these are one-in-a-million abberations, and both required direct involvement from the developers running the game (in that they were special dev-controlled in-game events).

      Actually designing a game to support and encourage such gameplay would be virtually impossible. How do you design a system to reliably produce unexpected results that are actually enjoyable?

      Th

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Thing is, neither of the examples you give were intended by developers at all.

        Yes. That was precisely my point.

        I understand that's the nature of so-called "emergent gameplay", but these are one-in-a-million abberations, and both required direct involvement from the developers running the game (in that they were special dev-controlled in-game events).

        In the Eve case, the direct involvement actually caused the opposite of the intended effect.

        In the Everquest case, the direct involvement (beyond creating the event in the first place) almost ruined it. Making the creature go poof at 30% was not cool.

        Actually designing a game to support and encourage such gameplay would be virtually impossible. How do you design a system to reliably produce unexpected results that are actually enjoyable?

        By designing a system that allows such things to happen.

        In particular, by:

        - Creating wide open game mechanics
        - Using them consistently yourself (Sleeper could be killed, it was just hard)
        - Examine every a

  • by kaladorn (514293) on Friday April 24, 2009 @12:47AM (#27698499) Homepage Journal

    Sometimes, game devs hit the home-run and make a story I can't put down (KOTOR II, HL-2). Other times, most of the time... not so much.

    I find that people who think they've got to control the narrative or interactions with the world are people who think I need to see their story, rather than help much in making my own. KOTOR was a bit that way, but at least it offered you multiple paths and endings. Things like L4D leave you to fill in a lot of the details. Things like MUDs always did - they rely on players and their characters bringing key interactivity to the world. Modern MMOs, at their best, have elements of that, when they aren't grind-fests or 300 person raids.

    There used to be trends like this in RPGs - The DM/GM is god, it is his story, blah blah blah. Works fine with 14 year olds. Get to 24 or 34 and people start saying 'Hmmm, I think I have something to contribute and I don't need railroaded'. Older GMs and players learn that a good RPG is about shared contribution and working together to build a meaningful narrative or story. The GM might still provide some plot elements, but not all of them - his players provide some and he learns to integrate those. Some are by their requests, some are by their actions and interactions, some are accidents - but all make the story more than the sum of its parts. And they help to make the world feel like it is about the players, and not about the GM (or in the case of video games, the authors). What matters in the game - the player or the author? If the author isn't clear and thinks he's what matters, he may end up writing quite a few sucking games.

    Again, this may be age related. Or mood related. Some days people like having stories laid out before them like a movie, with little choice. But other times they get pretty sick of not having options and not being able to just punch some of the real jerks in the story lines right in the face (for instance... not saying I have had that experience....always....). I think the older the gamer, the more times he's been along the railroad and the less he's interested in it.

  • At least for "story building through happy accidents".

    After a while there is no such thing anymore in L4D. Sure, the first few tank encounters are a "mid-movie climax", and they sure did go to lengths to give the game a movie feeling, but essentially, after the new game smell wears off, it's just another boss to slay. You breeze through the levels, you don't even talk a lot anymore. You know the fastpath, you know the edges and quirks. And most of all, you quickly notice that the appearant freedom you have

    • by p0tat03 (985078)

      'Tis the problem when the opponent doesn't learn - play L4D in Versus mode and see the difference. Instead of playing for story, you're not playing for that sublime moment when everything comes together for a truly spectacular experience.

      For example, I remember one time I was on the zombie team, the survivors were in the generator room right after the subway, classic faceoff situation. Our boomer bile-bomed two survivors, who got swarmed with zombies at the worst possible moment. Their buddy who tried to he

  • by Keill (920526) on Friday April 24, 2009 @06:33AM (#27699959) Homepage

    The 'problem' Spector is talking about certainly isn't unique, but has become far bigger with the creation of computer games...

    Most forms of 'entertainment' exist purely to TELL stories, such as books, films, music, plays etc., and a large industry exists just to manufacture and distribute them.

    Games, on the hand, are about the OPPOSITE. They're about letting players WRITE their OWN stories whist playing the game, and generally competing or co-operating in trying to get the ending they desire.

    Computer games, are not quite unique in this respect, but they DO have the most amount of scope in allowing games to encompass BOTH of these in the same product - i.e. both telling a story and letting the player write their own.

    The PROBLEM, is that you can't do BOTH at the SAME TIME. They have to take it in turns. Now, because games are about story WRITING, their MAIN focus should be on letting the player have enough influence and power over the story they can create, rather than the story the game is trying to tell them, especially in computer games, where the amount of options that can be given to the player to do so are almost limitless.

    Unfortunately, so many people involved in the computer games industry have come there from the normal entertainment industry, and are therefore more experienced in TELLING stories, rather than knowing how to give people opportunities in WRITING them.

    This is one of the reasons why so many of the high-end computer games now seem to all about the story being TOLD, rather than the game and game-play experience of the player, and, unfortunately, sometimes to it's detriment.

    The fact is, though, is that there is room for EVERYTHING, or at least, there should be. The only thing that matters is exactly what it is that you're trying to make - is it an interactive story, or a game, or some balance between the two?

    For Spector to say that story writing, is lazier than story telling, however, only tells me that he doesn't understand GAMES for what they really are. It merely tells me what his own opinion is on what games should be, and I'm sorry Mr Spector, but you're WRONG.

    Unfortunately, this outlook doesn't seem to be at all uncommon atm., which I feel does a great disservice to both story telling AND writing as creative media.

    In fact, I had a long argument with another person on a forum recently, (who also seems to be involved in the industry), about this very subject: She also said that games, (mainly role-playing games it has to be said), were more about the stories being told, than the ones being written.

    I'm sorry, but the definitions of story writing (games) and story telling, are separate and DISTINCT - to try and define either by confusing one for, or involving, the other, is to belittle BOTH.

    The only thing you need to decide, Mr Spector, is exactly which one of those it is that you wish to do: tell a story, or let someone write one for themselves, or interleave one with the other, and try and balance both of them out to your satisfaction, (which, yes, a lot modern games now seem to try and do).

    To try and say that only one of these options is viable, or a better form of entertainment than the other is simply arrogant, misleading, or a result of misunderstanding about the subject. matter. I'll leave other readers and yourself to decide which was the most likely outcome here.

    Note: I've been thinking about doing a paper about story writing in RPG's, based upon this subject in reaction to, and following up on the argument I had recently...

    Is it me or is that paper looking like a better idea all the time???

  • by internerdj (1319281) on Friday April 24, 2009 @08:37AM (#27700965)
    Letting the players have too much control for too long ends up getting boring for most of your players.
  • From a writing perspective, sure - there's not much to write when the users are driving the game. But to say it's lazy "game design"? Has he actually played Left 4 Dead?

    What struck me hardest about Left 4 Dead is how amazingly well-designed the game is. The way the special monsters are designed to force players to work together. The way ammo and guns are shared, encouraging players to work together to find them. The way pills and grenades are severely limited to prevent hoarding and encourage sharing.

    • Im sorry but Deus Ex is 10 times the game L4D is, which is just a glorified HL2 mod.

      Please, give the man some respect, he created, in Deus Ex 1, one of the most complelling and vivid sci-fi settings I have ever had the pleasure to indulge in since Neuromancer.

      Narrative, done well like Deus Ex 1, gives the player room to make choices and experience consequences. Most importantly, the narrative gives actions purpose. If there is no story, who cares that you just killed the Grand Foozle of Badness? It is out o

      • by ukyoCE (106879)

        How do you compare Deus Ex to Left 4 Dead?

        My point was in the definition of "game design". To me, game design refers to the creation of a game. Games don't require narratives to be games, or to be fun.

        Chess does not have a "killer narrative" that makes you truly care when that rook takes your pawn. Does that mean chess is 1/10th the game of Deus Ex? Does that mean chess is "lazy" and a poorly designed game?

        Of course not.

    • by RedClyde (1458209)
      Exactly. You can get a really good idea of just how much thought and experimentation went into Left 4 Dead's game design by reading the official blog and listening to the in-game commentary option. The game has a level of balance and polish that clearly suggests he hasn't played the game for long (if at all).

      It's especially telling when he says this:

      (...) his theory that in letting players build stories via Left 4 Dead-style happy accidents in open worlds, the designer doesn't have to tackle complex challenges like making choices meaningful, or making characters believable.

      It seems that, to him, 'meaningful choices' don't include interesting tactical decisions - of which Left 4 Dead has plenty. And while the story may be threa

  • This really isn't an either "this or that" thing, you really want both elements. Games that force you to do things because the story dictates it suck, but so do games that don't have any story at all.

    What I as a gamer want are interactive worlds that I can explore without hitting an invisible wall and that have enough simulation in them that "story" can evolve on its own without every bit being prescripted. Prescripted events in fact are the biggest problem I have with games today, you can take most FPS and

  • This is a no brainer, but it is not easy to create open enough worlds for players to be able to make thier own story/gameplay.

    Wow for example is massivly hand holding and directed gameplay. Of course this will go down as the most popular game of all time.

    Eve is ridiculously open, and the amount of things players can do in eve is stupidly large as all it is, is a giant sandbox.

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