Friday, July 25, 2014

Nostrum design problems and world as interface

I am currently trying to prototype some sort of social simulation in Nostrum, and I am currently facing three main design problems:

formal definitions (within my system) for emotional responses to information
While showing the game at GaymerX, I had to disconnect the social sim portion because, internally, the NPCs kept getting upset at each other for talking about each other to someone else -- and they would be so upset that they would just go inert. What is the difference between discussing someone else vs. talking behind their back, and does my system have the context to make that distinction? Information currently does not have a "positive" or "negative" valence, it is just information that might be true or false. Should I remove this from the system entirely if I can't make it intelligible? At the very least, I want a system that will collapse in an interesting way.

how and when to display this information to players
Computers are good at processing hundreds and thousands of events in their memory. For players, I think I'm going to have to make some sort of visualizer or browser for all of this? My current implementation is basically a glorified spreadsheet, where each "row" is a separate thought bubble. There's also the issue of screen real estate and information overload. How do I decide what is relevant for a player to see, and what is not?

meaningful connections between social sim and flight systems
At GaymerX, I was really surprised by people being interested in flying around? I'm at a point where I see a flight model as a pesky requirement to make a game about being a pilot -- the narrative of being a pilot is more interesting to me than the act of piloting. But, sure enough, almost every player tried to closely graze past buildings or fly through rock arches. I forgot I put the rock arch in there for that reason. It made me realize I was neglecting how all this connected back to flying around in a world, and how that simple sensation is much more interesting for people.

denial of personhood in social sims
Sure, you visit different towns, and animals will travel between different towns, but what else? It made me think of the city watch in Elder Scrolls games, how they theoretically have lives where they eat and sleep, and you can mess with those lives to disrupt a city watch, but those games never grant them real personhood within the simulation. Most of these guards literally do nothing other than sleep, eat, and patrol. They are the servant class of video games. The obvious fantasy here is for these NPCs to have lives outside of their jobs -- for you to seduce a fascist border guard, or for you to dump someone and then they betray you to the fascists who send more patrols out to you -- but that sounds like a complicated level design problem where Bethesda might have tried and failed already, so that's why the city guard is what it is? If they couldn't do it, then should I try to do it?

world as interface
All of these questions of data / interpretation / interface are also wrapped up in another context -- virtual reality. Traditional text-based screen-based menus do not work well in VR at all. So far, the dominant insight has been to "embed" the interface in the world, or to make the game world an interface in itself. Perhaps game worlds have always been interfaces, and only now are we actually starting to explore that potential?