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Tired of Saving the World

April 7th, 2014 #

Since Google seems to be filtering all the crazy bits out of the recent search terms, I haven't had that to remind me to post here.

Anyway, to the subject at hand.

As I was working through my backlog of games on steam, I found myself weary at watching yet another intro animation that describes how the world is going to be destroyed by one evil force or another and only you can save the world by collecting an oddly specific number of magic thingamabobs from around the world, while everybody else (most of whom are more experienced than you) seem to be otherwise occupied.

Yaawwwnn.

Another thing that really tires me are shopping lists. I went through a bunch of games I had not finished at one point and realized most of them I stopped playing when I hit a "shopping list".

With a shopping list I mean that at some point of your quest someone tells you that in order to progress, you need to do a, b, c and d, or possibly to collect a, b, c and d, or, let's say, seven magic thingamabobs.

I understand where these kinds of quests come from. They give the illusion of non-linearity to the player, or possibly just encourage the player to explore the world a bit in the order the player wants. But the prime problem is the same as with the world-saving master quest.

  • Why are the stakes always so big?
  • Why does the player have to do everything?
  • Why does the player's role have to be so important?

All of these are relatively easy to fix.

First, I don't think it's always necessary to save the world. If you've played Full Throttle, for instance, the stakes are much lower, and by making them more personal, they have much more impact than your generic world-saving.

Infinity is boring. It doesn't matter if you're about to be crushed by an infinitely large boot or a half-ton one, but the half-ton one you can understand, and it feels much more threatening.

The second and third points can be solved by making the player feel like he's not the only one doing something, and also not necessarily giving the player the most important task. The Half-Life series actually does this at points.

Let's say a voodoo medicine is needed to cure the teacher of the village. Others go and find the exotic and dangerous ingredients while you're tasked to get water (and a bucket to carry the water in, and so on and so forth). While doing that, you also bring wet towels to ease the teacher's pain and discuss various matters with him.

By making the stakes more manageable, they become more personal and have stronger emotional impact. By giving the player a less-central role, the tasks again become more personal. While not the most important, the others' efforts would be wasted. And while not being alone, the player gets a feeling he's really helping, doing something he can understand.

New Year, Blah Blah

January 17th, 2014 #

Okay, it's been a new year for a while. Time to update the site..

First, here's the traditional new year's demo for the two of you who hasn't seen it yet..

I also started writing more "making of" articles, you can find those under the new Breakdowns category.

I cleaned up and published my TextGL code, which I used in "Litterae Finis".

And now, for no reason whatsoever, let's look at a game design.

There's a co-operative children's board game I've played recently. The premise is that there's four fruit trees. Every turn, players roll a die; if sides 1-4 come up, the player picks a fruit from the tree related to that side. If side 5 comes up, the enemy in this game, the bird, takes a step forward. The final side of the die lets the player choose which tree to pick a fruit from.

Oh, and if a tree is already empty, you don't do anything.

If the bird takes five steps, it gets to the garden and eats the rest of the fruit. If the players manage to pick all of the fruit before this happens, they win.

So I thought to myself, how much agency do the players actually have, and what's the probability that the players win..

So instead of working out the math, I wrote a small simulator for the game and ran a million randomized games to see what the result is.

The only place where the players actually make any decisions is when the final side of the die comes up, i.e, which tree to pick from. If you always pick from the tree with the least fruit, the likelihood of rolling empty trees gets higher, and thus the likelihood that you roll a bird comes up more. On the other hand, if you always pick from the tree with the most fruit, the reverse is true.

Now, if you do the good choice always, your chances of winning are about 63.1%, and if you do the bad choice, you end up winning 55.5% of the time. Totally random picks win at around 59.7% of the time.

Since it's a kid's game, it makes sense that the game is rigged to make the players win most of the time, but not so much that the bird doesn't have a chance at all. You also can affect how the game goes, but only slightly.

For the heck of it, I also ran some tests to see how the number of steps the bird has to make affects the results, and I'm pretty sure the game designers did the same, as the five steps is such a clear sweet spot.

stepsbadrandgood
1096.7%97.5%98.1%
993.8%95.1%96.2%
888.9%91.0%92.6%
781.5%84.2%86.5%
670.0%73.8%76.8%
555.5%59.7%63.1%
438.1%42.5%45.9%
322.2%25.0%27.7%
29.3%10.8%12.2%
12.1%2.6%3.0%

So there.

As for new year's resolutions, I think I'll keep the trio I've used for some years now; let's see which ones I manage to upkeep this time..

  • Writing. Doing it right now. Also the "breakdown" articles. Other stuff? We'll see.
  • Music. Still "doodling" on the midi keyboard every now and then, should dedicate some time to record stuff too..
  • Getting in shape. This is (still) mostly a scheduling issue - I need to dedicate some part of the day for this and make it a routine or I don't get anywhere with it again..

There are of course other things I'd love to do, like code a zillion different projects and finish one of my indie game projects and get it out there and make SoLoud much better and.. .. but those will happen if they will, and since I really WANT to get those done, they have higher probability of happening than, say, getting in shape.

And no, round is no shape for a human to be.

 

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