Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Some Thoughts about the Wool Over your Eyes

Suspension of disbelief: It refers to the willingness of a person to accept as true the premises of a work of fiction, even if they are fantastic or impossible. It also refers to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. (Wikipedia)

How thick is the wool you're willing to pull over your eyes? The tolerance level for suspension of disbelief varies greatly from person to person, and as far as the general audience for games go their willingness to suspend their disbelief is much higher than the average non-gamer. I don't think many developers and gamers even realize how far they're willing to go to force their own immersion into a game. Consequently, this affects their designs and limits their audience.

We need to make it so that the amount of suspension needed to be immersed into a game is less than it is now. For gaming I define suspension of disbelief somewhat differently. As gaming is concerned, suspension of disbelief is about masking your mechanics to a point where they are no longer considered systemic mechanics, but merely an extension of the world you are inhabiting. Let me give you an example to clarify what I mean.

In Left4Dead when a player goes to heal another player with a medpack they don't think to themselves, "I'm going to heal Francis because he's down to 12 health, and this medpack will heal him for 75 health bringing him to 87 health, which will increase his run speed as long as he doesn't get hurt again." They think, "Shit! Francis is hurt, I'll patch him up." The less we get players thinking the first way and the more we have them thinking the latter way, the better.

On the other end of the scale, there are mechanically heavy games like Warhammer Online, where in almost all of your choices are based on your knowledge of the game as a system. It quickly becomes, "I'll choose this piece of loot for the +14 weapon skill over this one with +14 initiative." Obviously, there is a demographic who enjoys that sort of nuts and bolts gameplay that involves getting into the nitty gritty of the game system. Diablo 2 thrived off of it.

What I'm saying is that if we want to open our games up to the non-gaming population more we need to implement our mechanics in such a way that they aren't smacking us upside the head with percentages. A game that did a great job of making the nitty gritty mechanics more natural is The Witcher. In The Witcher there is plenty of old fasioned RPG nuts and bolts, but the game makes the compromise (improvement) of not forcing the player to learn their entire system in order to play the game. Instead, I can simply choose to add another dot onto a skill whenever I level up, and instead of describing it to me as "+25% damage per skill point" it is described as "Sinew of Blows" or some such. Leveling the skill then unlocks a new animation that I'll see Geralt perform when I attack next using that skill, making me feel like the character himself has improved and not just his statistics. The descriptor coupled with the new animations that leveling up unlocks makes what would traiditionally be considered a classic skill tree in a more natural playable direction. It's not perfect, but it's trying.

If we can lighten up that wool over the players eyes, we can get more and more people playing our stuff and enjoying it for what it is as a whole piece, not just power-gamers playing it as a mechanical system. Remember, just because you don't mind having your character described as a robot with a number assigned to each skill, doesn't mean the player won't mind.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Thoughts About Provoking Thoughts

I've had some difficulty coming up with something I thought important or interesting enough to write about first. I was reading this Gamasutra article which lists the editors top five indie games picks of 2008. The list itself is interesting, but what caught my attention was the little summary at the bottom with regards to their number one choice, I wish I were the Moon:

"...this indie title goes to the core of what is fascinating about independent games today. At its best, they're different, they're evocative, they're poignant, and they make you think differently about yourself and your life."

I immediately thought to myself, what makes these traits so inline with Indie Games? Why aren't triple A titles considered part of this domain as well? It would be foolish of me to say that this is the oppinion of the entire industry, but it certainly is something I've noticed more online and certainly amongst my peers. The idea that indie games are reserved for the art and making statements, with triple A titles being reserved for more light hearted fun.

In contrast to the above sentiment, there was also an interview posted with Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin of Castle Crashers/Alien Hominid fame. What was interesting about this was where the interviewer asked them what was up with all the pooping animals in the game. His response was:

"I didn't want people to take our game seriously. You know, like that they're thinking that there's some kind of statement that we're making in any form whatsoever. People will do that. I think that the more we show people that, we're just having fun and want them to have fun. "

So here's a guy on the indie side of things saying, "Hey, we just want people to have fun." and here's me wanting to be on the triple A side of things saying, "Hey, why can't we be serious?" Where does the disconnect stem from?

I think part of it stems from the fact that publishers, while being more acceptive of statements than they used to be, are still scared of upsetting customers. So, the biggest outlet for those kinds of games are on the indie side. So now there is this perception that indie games are for art and triple A games are for fun and thats the way things are.

I don't know if there is a solution to the developers vs. buisnessmen debate, only compromises that fall on either side of the scale, but a big step in the right direction is getting ourselves as an industry out of this rut of "This is what an indie game is, this is what a triple A game is, this is an FPS, an RPG, an MMO, etc. etc." The more we fall into that trap, the less we can do with the medium.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who is this guy?

I think it's important that I introduce myself if I expect anybody to take anything I say seriously.

As far as the basics goes, my name is Ray Ortgiesen and I'm enrolled at Champlain College as an Electronic Game and Interactive Development major. Like most people in the industry, or wanting to get into it, I've been playing games as long as I can remember and I've been making games since not long after that. I don't know how many board games and card games I came up with that I made my parents play with me, but I still have a stack of what were essentially home made Yugioh cards sitting in my closet. I started doing some mod work around 13 or 14 with Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast. I don't want to try and make myself out to sound like I was some child prodigy. The first level I remember getting to properly compile in Jedi Outcast, I spawned in on the ceiling, I had the room scaled so improperly the player was clipping through it awkwardly, and it was lit as if the sun was in the center of it. Hey, you've got to start somewhere.

Long story short, I kept up with it and here I am now, in college, still making games. (Though I expect these ones to come out a little better than my ill-fated Yugioh knockoff.)

Beyond that, I really pride myself on playing just about any kind of game you can find. As a designer, I believe that it's really important to expose yourself to as many games as possible, both good and bad. That's not to say I love every genre of game. I don't. But I have played them all, and I at least understand why people do like them.

Outside of games, I also play guitar, scuba dive when I can find the time, and read alot.

There you have it, now you have a general idea of who this guy is who is writing his ideas about games.