August 19, 2008

Week 4 reading: Evicting the Elves

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 3:19 pm

Week 4 reading: Hallford, N., and Hallford, J. (2001). A Designers Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games (pp. 219-246)

… role playing games are not about rules. RPGs are about characters living in interesting lands with challenges to overcome. Unless you do a very astonishingly bad job with your design, players are primarily going to talk about the things that happen in the game world…. Role playing games are about worlds that people want to visit and explore, places where they will put the lives and skills of their electronic alter egos on the line to destroy or defend. Your job will be to build a world about which the player will care. (Halford & Halford, 2001, p. 219) [emphasis added]

Here is the basis of this reading: a RPG is about the immersive world that the Player can associate with as an unified environment of events that enhances the gameplay experience. As with all multimedia the Player will not care what the code looks like as it is the visual and narrative metaphors that engage the imagination. [Engaging gameplay, no doubt, does require good code in order for the gameplay to take place however great code will not make up for a poor story with or without a fragmented implementation.]

If you’re one of the seven people on the planet who haven’t read Tolkien’s works yet, I highly recommend that you do so. You can learn more about creating an immersive world by studying The Lord of the Rings than reading any 10 books written by me or any of my game designing colleagues. (Halford & Halford, 2001, p. 220)

Another great source that is more visually descriptive of the recreation of Tolkien’s works is Peter Jackson’s “special extended DVD edition” of “The Lord of the Rings – The Motion Picture Trilogy” which contains vast amounts of detail that went into the making of the motion picture. Though related naturally to the silver screen the processes that Jackson employed in the adaptation of the narrative through the vision of concept artists and attention to detail that the Weta Workshop produced in the props and sets is certainly applicable to the development of a game world where one wishes to achieve a totally believable sense of immersion.

Halford & Halford advise to show the dialogue to the audience rather than telling it to them (2001, p. 224). As with film a game is not a play that is confined to a small stage that relies on the telling of the back story to make sense of the plot. In a game the Player can explore the narrative in a way that a play and film cannot which enables the game designer to let the Player experience for themselves who the good or bad NPCs are and what experiences are harmful to them.  This is the nature of an interactive non-linear medium that should be exploited to fullest degree.

In the design of the game world one should note that each element in that world will have an effect of the other world elements (Halford & Halford, 2001, p. 226). An example given by Halford and Halford is introducing a dragon to an otherwise realistic world – the dragon’s placement in the new world would have obvious effects on the behaviour of humans and their reactions to the dragon if the dragon was a carnivore. This relates to symbiotics or in other words the relationships between organism which may or may not be beneficial to one another.  In another way, we also need to be mindful of developing the world’s ecology so that there is a degree of perceived realism in how NPCs react with and have been defined by their environment. What are the NPCs strengths and weaknesses? What are the Player’s strengths and weaknesses? How might the Player exploit its strengths to defeat NPCs weaknesses or overcome environmental challenges?

The relationships between Player, NPCs and Environment might be explored as a series of causes and effects – a series of answers or solutions to “what if” type questions (Halford & Halford, 2001, pp. 226-227). The question to ask is how much power do we want to endow on the creatures of our world (Halford & Halford, 2001, pp. 230-231)? What effects will too much ‘power’ (magic, technology, supernatural powers etc) have on the gameplay? Creating an omnipotent character would perhaps not be beneficial to the overall gameplay as it could create a sense of disbelief, a feeling of unfairness and quite possible ruin any sense of ‘fun’ the game is endeavouring  to create.

Halford & Halford (2001, pp. 236-238) talk about “evoking a mythic past” which could be interpreted as associating a back story to objects or props in the game narrative. This can create a sense of importance, a sense of mystery, a sense of desire in obtaining a particular object and therefore make its worth feel more valuable to the Player which immerses them into the game.

Further Immersion into the game’s environment might also be achieved through the use of symbolism (Halford & Halford, 2001, pp. 238-239). Symbols can carry very powerful messages that go far beyond their visual representation – using a symbolic image could easily help imply a back story that a narrative description would take time or even have trouble in describing. Symbols are usually also cross-cultural which will enhance a feeling of association with the game by the Player without needing to impose literal translations that the Player does not agree or identify with. If the Player is able to identify with the game world through their own associations then there is a greater chance that they will want to explore it more rather than feeling that they are watching a play where everything has to be explained to them.

The “important” NPCs in the game should have an individual purpose – not be too real (i.e., cut to the chase a bit more) and have a depth about them that make them interesting to interact with and stand out from other NPCs (Halford & Halford, 2001, pp. 240-245). Halford and Halford provide four dimensions or “characterisations” that a major NPC might follow:

  • Unique message for the player.
  • Distinctive animation, visual style, or sound effect. … He may … have a unique voice or sound effect associated with him
  • Effect on gameplay . His actions or inactions can affect some aspect of the gameplay.
  • Reason for the player to care about their life or death. (Halford & Halford, 2001, p. 242)

In closing of the reading, Halford and Halford describe an example of a NPC following a conditional set of responses that makes the NPC appear to be acting independently from the Player (2001, pp. 244-245). The idea here is to create NPCs that don’t just stand around waiting for the Player to interact with them in order for the game narrative to evolve. The possibilities with this approach, as illustrated in the article, is that it opens the gameplay up to more ways of unfolding the narrative in a non-linear fashion. The world no longer stands still waiting for the Player to arrive and interact. If the Player is elsewhere solving other tasks in the game the narrative still unfolds leading to a far more unpredictable outcome – one which will certainly appear less linear to the Player and therefore a more interesting and rewarding experience.


Reference list

Hallford, N., & Hallford, J. (2001). Evicting the Elves: Honoring the Spirit of Worldbuilding. Swords and Circuitry. A Designers Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games (pp. 219-246). Roseville, California: Prima Tech.

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