Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rambly Videogame Theory Ideas

I thought I’d try out a more traditional blogpost just to see how I like it. If I do, I might sometimes write these up if I’m thinking about something. This is will likely be completely nonsensical and meaningless. Don’t read it.

This morning I just started thinking about how if you drew a graph that showed the amount of people playing games since their creation against the amount of artistic development in games since their creation (somehow represented in a numerical form), the amount of people playing games would be vastly larger than the artistic development. I mean, gaming is (arguably) bigger than film, yet the amount of art theory for games is minisule in comparison to film. I know that this is obviously due to the fact that film has been around for about a hundred years and gaming for only about 40, but it’s still amazing how quickly gaming has become so popular.

I got thinking about how there is still so much potential innovation in gaming that just doesn’t seem to be happening because people are so comfortable with what they understand right now. For example: how many games are fundamentally about the player inhabiting a character and then moving through space with them? Pretty much all of them. I guess it’s safe to say that this is because creators of art inevitbly are inspired by what they know and understand, and a world made of space is something we fundamentally understand and find very difficult not to envision when creating something. We try to imitate our world, but alter it to make it our own. Yet there have been games that have strayed away from this and been enormously successful. Whoever made the first ever rhythm game was a fucking genius, for instance. They completely and utterly neglected to traditionally mimic reality and instead chose to mimic one particular object in reality: the musical instrument. Isn’t that just fucking clever? Like, really, super clever. The rhythm game is fundamentally and conceptually unique in that aspect.

And not only that aspect! Something videgames also do is use other artforms. They incorporate storytelling, cinematography, music, etc. Most games are built a lot like a  traditional film. There’s a story, characters, blah blah blah. Ultimately, the story is motivating you to continue the gameplay until the end. In rhythm games, the story is not the ultimate focus. The music is. A blend of gameplay and storytelling doesn’t drive you to continue. Instead, a blend of music and gameplay does. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Something I also started thinking about was how some of the systems we use in games today are completely primitive. The RPG stat system is something that almost every game uses nowadays. But why? Why was it ever invented in the first place? I’ll hazard a guess and say that it’s because the people who were making games in the beginning weren’t great artists of storytellers, but rather programmers. They didn’t understand how to convey a character’s development through plot, or visuals, and gameplay theory certainly didn’t exist yet. They instead created the most simple, primitive form of character development: the stat. Anybody can instantly understand that 20 Strength is better than 10 Strength, and that if you once had 10 Strength but now have 20 Strength, you’ve clearly developed. Yet now we have good storytellers in gaming (well, kind of). Now we know how to convey a sense of development through gameplay, visuals, plot, emotions, interaction and so on. Why then, do we still hold on to this archaic technique, and so strongly too?!? The more I think about it, the more I realise how lazy the stat system is. Yet, some of my favourite games use the stat system. Final Fantasy (not all of them), Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls, Monster Hunter. I don’t know. This isn’t really a complete thought.

While writing this I thought of something, though. Something I have thought for a long time is that there are two main types of games: storytelling games and sport games. A storytelling game, self-explanitorily, ultimately tells a story, while a sport game is more about being skilful at the game and successfully playing it. Maybe stats don’t really belong in storytelling games, because their purpose is already being achieved by the story. Do you really need arbitrary numbers to tell you that you’re stronger when the way the story evolves can do the same in a far more evocative, effective way? Do you need both? Yet, in a sport game, stats might be more useful. In Starcraft, when choosing whether to build a Collosus or an Immortal against an army of Zerglings, you want to know the mathematical properties of the two units so that you can correctly evaluate which is the more appropriate unit.  Knowing the lore behind the unit won't get you anywhere. My thoughts aren’t really completely together. I’m just sporadically writing this in the morning cause it popped into my head. Maybe this’ll get some of you guys thinking and hopefully you can come to some more concrete conclusions about things. But ultimately I think the stat system needs to be used only where it is appropriate, rather than in every fucking game ever just because.

I was going to write a whole other paragraph about all the things that Journey doesn’t necessarily do wrong, but tradionally. But  honestly, I don’t really think it has any merit at all. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this and I might do some more rambly-type blogposts if I think of something and feel like sharing it. Expect some more mini reviews soon!

1 comment:

  1. Now here's a reply from someone who last played a computer game, when you still had to type instructions.

    Game: there is a door in front of you.
    Gamer: open door
    Game: the door is locked
    Gamer: look around
    Game: there is a flower pot on the ground near the door.
    Gamer: lift the pot
    ... etc

    However, I get the drift of your frustration, and I think it might be a matter of more refined game development (?).
    Look at yourself.
    You need to know how much money you have in your bank account, to know if you can afford to see a band play at the Enmore. You need to know what time it is, to know if you can catch a particular train. You need to know if you have the right Yu-Gi-Oh cards to have a chance at winning.
    These things are like stats, right?
    On the other hand, you need no stats in real life to know if you are fit enough to swim out to Wedding Cake Island. There is an element of trying, when you are not quite sure and you’ve never actually swum out there – but stats alone won’t help.
    You are either a good, strong swimmer, with solid experience in open-water swimming, AND you are feeling fit and healthy, you haven’t just come off a three-day bender, and you had a good, protein-and carbs-laden meal a couple of hours ago… - or you are a fool to even try.
    Off you go, into the waves at Coogee and may the force be with you!
    Isn’t it a matter of refining the performance behaviours of game characters (humans, animals, zombies and anything in between) and to develop graphic assimilation methodology that changes the look, stance, agility, motor-skills, reach, endurance, energy levels, strength and so on, of these characters, so that stats become obsolete and behaviours (these very things above, like look, stance, agility etc) allow the gamer to assess whether or not they are capable of achieving a certain outcome within the game?
    So when the rabid dog bites your calf, you start to have difficulty running pretty much immediately, but initially, you can still shoot the blasted thing and fight your way out of a cul-de-sac that’s fast filling up with hungry Zombies.
    However, unless you are able to properly care and bandage the wound and unless you ingest the right medicine within the next hour or so, your strength will slowly fade, fever will affect your mental ability and make your heart race, so that exertion becomes tiring faster and your abilities are impacted any which way you look at it. With tetanus getting a hold of your muscles, you will not be able to jump or even climb steps, your hands will shake and your vision will be blurred. No matter what the stats are (money, guns, crystals or the key from under that pot in front of the door that’s locked) you will not make it very far … you get the idea.
    Are games that sophisticated yet, or will it take another generation of soft- and hardware development to allow for such changes to be game character intrinsic?