Monday, 20 August 2012

The Self, Presence and Storytelling

At GDC last week I gave a talk called "The Self, Presence and StoryTelling". There will be a version of it up on the GDC Vault in 2 - 3 weeks I think and hopefully it will be free like last years' talk. Before that comes up I will put up a pdf version of the talk containing a bit more information (something I promised at the end of my talk). You can get hold of that here:

Download "The Self, Presence and Story-telling"

Get the mobi version here (thanks to Tomasz Rozanski for creating this).

The paper is basically a summary about a lot of the stuff that has been written on this blog. It is an attempt to define a new design approach that makes it easier to make games that can deal with a wider range of themes and let you play all the way through. I would be very interesting any feedback you got as I would like to keep the document updated and revised if there are any new insights or any info in it that is no longer true.

EDIT: Proof-read the paper a bit and made a little bit more readable.
EDIT2: Mobi version now available.


39 comments:

  1. I haven't read the entire thing, but I did want to comment on this excerpt: "For instance in Amnesia, we started the game with a few directions such as “try and live the game
    instead of trying to beat it”, which seem to have worked great in putting players in the right frame
    of mind."

    I felt that this was one of the jarring things about Amnesia- it was a game that succeeded very well at show-don't-tell, so when this was explicitly mentioned, I felt a little let down.

    You care very much about creating a agreeable world with a consistent experience to foster user immersion; I would like to see this desire and expectation of the player acted out within the game rather than told explicitly. Make it just as invisible and natural as the rest of the gameplay elements- teach the user the correct way to play the game.

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    1. "teach the user the correct way to play the game."
      I am not sure this is possible, because it is outside of the game. Any mechanics that forced a playstyle (or perhaps I should say "suggested a playstyle") will go against the interaction-for-presence axiom, because you need to incorporate a non-digetic feature. I am not sure in princible how to do it even, but perhaps I am missing something :)
      I do agree with you thought. Would be nice to skip it. I just think that's impossible.

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    2. I thought the same thing actually. Like it was slightly condescending?

      Not a big thing of course, and quickly forgotton about once the game started.

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    3. Thomas- oddly enough, I think if you simply removed it Amnesia itself would draw the player into the right mindset. The game is very good at conveying a narrative rather than following a rigid game-like structure.

      In Amnesia, I felt like that mentality guided the design and production, and the explicit instruction just went overboard. A small tarnish on an otherwise perfect idea.

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    4. Yeah, in Amnesia, the thing that made me stop and take stock was oddly the thing that the Frictional Bloggers keep telling us shouldn't be done.

      It was the moment when my character first almost collapsed upon seeing the castle emblem. This was when control was wrested away from me, and I passively flailed about on the floor.

      If there was anything that told me I needed to avoid the monsters and not rush in to kill things and that I wasn't a super person, it was cues like the collapse, and Daniel's reaction to the first monster sighting, and the slow way the game unfurls rather than the opening hints.

      It's showing not telling.

      Same way a horror movie doesn't tell you to take it seriously as the right way to watch a horror flick. The atmosphere should be doing that.

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  2. Telling the users the right way to play a game is not condescending Peter, it is just trying to make him enjoy the game has "intended by the developer to get the full experience", the developer made the game to be played in a certain style if the gamer has no direction in how to get in the game spirit he could play it in a totally different way has intended and get a wrong idea about the experience, for the better or worse, the later being the most likely. For Amnesia the best way to play the game is how the developers suggested in the beginning of the game, going Rambo will spoil all the fun and atmosphere.

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    1. Telling people things they already know usually comes across as condescending.

      Like what you just wrote, for example.

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    2. I'm not trying to start a fight or anything but i'm really take back by your reply, what i wrote is condescending? Do you even know what the word means?

      And telling people what they already know? If they know, why then i have seen many "lets play" videos on youtube where the user was playing exactly in the contrary way to what the developers suggested in the intro, and does players where the ones that more negative remarks made about the game.

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    3. "Do you even know what the word means?"
      Nope. Not condescending at all.

      Delete
  3. Forgot to say, Thomas when will you blog about the engine development again?

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  4. I'm also looking forward to your next "tech talk". Really enjoy getting a sneak peek into the development. :)

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  5. Tech talks:
    I have not been that much involved in new tech lately, and Peter who does most of the fun stuff has been busy. I will try and get him to do a blog shortly :)

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  6. Well, I think there's a difference between explicating extradiegetic guidance versus explicating something within the diegesis.

    For instance, I didn't mind when Orson Welles narrated a perspective from which to view the film The Trial before the film actually begun.

    I think there is a difference in what belongs to the experience and what is extraneous to it, and how the position of exposition falls into these categories. David Lynch chooses to not to give descriptions for what he intends with his cinematic art, but I myself don't mind when an artist gives guidance as to how to view his or her art.

    I think that a little disclosure of guidance how to approach the art preceding or following the presentation is ok.

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  7. I think that a little disclosure of guidance how to approach the art preceding or following the presentation is ok. (2)

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  8. An upcoming game that is NOT the Pigs-game? (footnote 10) Cool. :) Very interesting thoughts, and well-done psychology background which is a very good approach I believe.

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  9. Unfortunately, your talk in GDC Vault is for members only :(

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  10. "The main reason why horror is at the forefront here is simply that it the easiest one to do. As mentioned when discussing Slender, simply putting the player in an environment with the right mood and the horror feeling come almost instantly. Other emotions do not come this easy and require more complex setup."

    Do you think that is because being scared is mostly alienating, whereas joy, sadness, camaraderie, etc. all deal with sympathizing, other humans, human-like intelligence, or normalcy, which is hard to replicate in a videogame?

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    1. Good point! Yeah, horror works very well when the player is alone, whereas other themes requires other people. I do not think it is any impossible task or even really hard one, as there are examples (Passage, Everyday is the same dream, One Choice, etc) that with very simple means evoke them to some part. You do not need to simulate very complex people. I think the problem is that because it is not as instantly obvious as horror is, it has not latch on to game design trends.

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    2. Could it not have to do with fear being a slightly more primal defense/survival mechanism than other emotions, thus being easier to invoke?

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    3. Yeah that too. The old fight or flight comes from the reptilian brain so goes way back.

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  11. Thomas, I have not yet finished reading your article, but I am hooked and slightly surprised at how you pin-point stuff that I have been meaning to write about lately, namely the theme of "transparent controls" and intuitive, organic gameplay. You always manage to inspire me as a game dev in so many ways.

    However, I really need to throw out some criticism. The language in the document is a complete mess. Spelling errors, faulty grammar, duplicate words - sometimes so bad that I had trouble even comprehending a few sentances here and there. You should proof-read the entire document and re-release it. Some people would stop reading for less which would be a shame.

    Still an interesting read and I might come back for more feedback on the actual topics.

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    1. Yeah I know it is very badly written as I wrote it quickly and did almost zero proof-reading :( I just wanted writing it out of my system so I could get back to work. But now I feel kinda bad about it. I will try and give it ago tomorrow and proof read the thingie, so it at least is no worse than the writing of the blog posts here.

      Glad to hear it was still an interesting read though!

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    2. There, updated it so it should read a lil bit nicer. Could use more work, but this will have to do for now :)

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    3. I skimmed through the revised version and it looks better ;)

      This is all science of "why we play games", one of the most important questions at hand, and I think you really provide insightful connections between research in storytelling and human psychology that most game-devs would overlook, not prioritize or simply not understand. There is too much focus on the "mission, mastery and reward" mantra.

      My biggest dream is to create games that in some way stimulate emotions (like Journey), and that is why I read your articles. You prioritize that aspect of gaming, and you obviously want to make a change in this direction. I will try and help with that as soon as possible (currently making an effort through my blog).

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  12. A major problem with the "other people requirement" is the uncanny valley... But, if the game's script is not pushing it, trying to achieve way more than it's really possible, we (as players) have learned to overcome the uncanny valley factor.

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  13. Hey Thomas. Did you ever play Blendo's Gravity Bone and their new Thirty Flights of Loving?

    I just read this article on RPS about it, and i have to agree about the importance of making the player think about their situation. Which comes from implied things and not implied. You should play those games, read this article and take some notes to discuss.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/08/29/dear-videogames-stop-telling-me-everything/

    This i think could help with the narrative and the implied storytelling that you guys tried in Amnesia. Things that are done in Gravity Bone and TFOL are just so useful and could give another layer of meaning to the work. I bring this up since you guys are committed to bring an experience in story telling. Let me know what you think!

    ALSO! new episode of The Walking Dead today. Can't wait to play that one.

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    1. Played both and loved both! :) Lots of cool stuff in TFL especially. I liked how it the game used cuts to make sure the player always was on track. The game also seem focused on a very narrow activity in a small closed of scene, which is sort of an extreme version of what I give as a practical advice in the paper. Finally, great to see interactions without that has nothing to do with gameplay (like picking up guns and ammo).

      And very excited for the next Walking Dead. Ep 2 was really a step forward. If they can bring it up another notch ep 3 will be fantastic.

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    2. Yea. First time of TFoL i picked up everything... second time i didn't even bother, since that was not the point. But there were moments where i just did just because i thought it would fit the character.

      I do like that the cuts where there to keep you on track, but they were kinda weird. Not seamless. I felt like i did something wrong and i skipped part of the story. Which i felt was a problem. Maybe there can be a way to make sure this happens smoothly?

      I think the narrow experience comes from you taking into the character itself. You are running away, you are trying to help your friend and you just take on the role. I like it when that happens, and this could well be said its true in The Walking Dead. In the second episode once i was done i felt some remorse, dread, and i wondered what could i have done different. After thinking about it i had this feeling of satisfaction that the game made me feel all of that ending with "that was pretty awesome episode".

      It's good to see you keep up with your games, we all hope that the next game you guys are developing has learned from all of these new games, applied, and maybe come up with new ideas that feel fresh and overall, tell us a good story.

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  14. I wish I could watch your presentation, but according to the site its members only. I'll read your written version, but its SOO much more interesting to listen to you speak about it. Your a great speaker Thomas, I watched your last presentation and you make everything really exciting, for me at least. Thanks for uploading your paper.

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  15. Thomas: I wonder if you have played the stanley parable? Just played it for the first time yesterday and found it has a very interesting take on player agency. Would love to hear your thoughts on that game.

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    1. I really liked SP. It is more of a commentary on games as such more than a proper game itself though. This means that I do not really think it has much to see about game narrative in the way it was made. It does make you think about storytelling in games when playing and is great catalyst for that.

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  16. Thomas, have you ever considered a value of passage of time in games?

    In Ice Pick Lodge's game that was released in the West under title Pathologic (studio is originally from Russia) - the time within game passes independently of player's actions. Indeed, it is possible to loose simply because you did not gather items or information from NPC in time (given that plot is about pandemic in a small town and NPCs die left and right - it is not out of question), causing town's and character's demise. Which adds to atmosphere of urgency and ... even makes you care about NPCs more than usual, just as character would (a doctor).

    Of course this could distance player from game, forcing them to figure out the mechanics, rather than experience game at their own pace. However, I find that many big titles disappoint by doing the opposite - allowing player to go searching for loot nearly indefinitely while the main quest or plot line patiently waits.

    If used corectly, making time into "gamer's enemy" is a powerful tool, in my opinion. For example, wouldn't it serve as an additional feedback loop between a character and a player if it is understood that in some relatively short time character is to perish unless the progress is made? (shadow catches up with Daniel; bomb explodes in a town in Fallout3, killing all and the hero; Reapers turn to Ice Cream cones in Mass Effect :) )

    Would want to hear your thoughts on this, if you don't mind?

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    1. Afraid I have not that much to say about it, but I like the idea of a world that lives its own life regardless of the player. This is basically what Last Express do, and I will try it out once it is released for ipad. Perhaps I will have more thoughts about it all then :)

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    2. I recommend playing STALKER with AMK mod. Crazy unpredictable things can happen with the NPC's, which means you don't notice the "developers hand" (you called it fail safes i think) and feel like anything can happen in this world. Very cool.

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  17. Brilliant article! i haven't read something like this in months! genius, you guys are making the future right now!

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  18. I think about this stuff all the time, this paper was amazing! So interesting and i'll definitely be using the end tips in the future. Thanks for writing this :)

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  19. can I traslate it in russian for my gaming blog?

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