Showing posts with label convo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label convo. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nostrum and "strategic retreat" into conversation analysis

So I was reading some of the Versu design papers and suddenly it hit me: they're doing a lot of the procedural narrative stuff that I want to do, and yet, their magnitude of systems complexity and authoring was still way too much for what I needed (or could feasibly engineer) for Nostrum.

I am now issuing a "strategic retreat" to all departments and agencies here at Radiator: we're going to leave "strong" procedural narrative alone, and pursue a different model for NPC simulation.

For this new approach, I'm digging up another old idea I had: to think of conversation as the exchange of information. For this, I'm leaning heavily on "conversation analysis" theory from linguistics...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


At some point, I think I forgot I was making a game. It became more like this expansive simulation of every possible reality, folding into itself; I caught myself wanting to make everything interchangable with everything else, to let every piece talk to another piece and act like yet another. Everything was a network, a graph, and every node was another network. Recursion upon recursion.

There's a tendency in game development to think that you will always be coding "the" framework you can re-use and re-use for everything. Everything should be modular, endlessly recyclable, endlessly useful. It's hard to let that go and accept that you should focus on making a game, first -- a game that works -- and not an engine or a library or something that'll change everything as we know it. I ended up forgetting the most basic lessons of making.

Convo felt too big, and it felt too big by 2/3. I had to cut 2/3. I don't know how I can quantify a fraction like that, but I thought about my ability to build and engineer and develop, within the timeframe I wanted, and decided it was overextended by at least 2/3. I've cut a bunch of stuff, but I'm not sure if the scraps on the floor -- do they add up? Is it enough? How do you know if you've cut too much? Is this what Peter Molyneux feels like?

More details soon...

Monday, December 31, 2012

Convo's current epistemology spec / knowledge model


In Convo, characters do not have fixed names or skill stats, exactly. Instead, they have knowledge that they selectively believe about themselves and represent to others.

One character might have knowledge that they are sometimes Josef, a French civilian with 8 mind points. Someone else could also have knowledge that they are sometimes Josef, an Abwehr officer masquerading as a French civilian with 6 mind points and lockpicking abilities. Both characters can claim to be "the" Josef, and perhaps both characters are the Josef. The "truth" is partly whatever you can get the people who matter to believe -- that might be a commander, a guard, or a farmer, or whomever you need to accomplish your goals at a certain time and place. A "person" is just the sum of their knowledge and what other people believe and perceive about them.

This knowledge model, of separating objects from their qualities, describes personal identities -- but it also describes the entire world and what happened in it. To some extent, the world doesn't exist, just traces of it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Deceptive epistemologies in strategy game interfaces, and a theory of strong vs. weak fallibility.

When you play Command and Conquer or Starcraft, you're supposedly some anonymous commander at a console who can see everything and command everyone via some combination of technology and/or space magic. When you play Warcraft, maybe you're looking into a magic mirror. When you play Company of Heroes, uh, you're... uh... a plane is flying above and radioing battlefield recon back to HQ, and some lovely women in neat khaki caps slide pieces around on a map?...

As far as user interface framing goes, there's very little metaphor outside of fantasy magic and holographic virtual magic. Of course, none of these are "problems" in these games, because everyone knows it's a trick -- that is, we all know it's just some stupid bullshit that doesn't matter, and that's okay. ("Tetris doesn't need a plot!!!")

But the only way to coherently read this kind of fiction is to disembody it, to assume you're more like some abstract "force" -- maybe you're the collective human will to survive or collective unconscious manifestation of nationalism, some system of belief guiding all these people and resources toward some grand purpose that few of them can imagine. (Frozen Synapse imagines that you are literally "Tactics," the player character is the squad's abstract ability to think, perceive, and act.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

On why Convo is now a WW2 spy romance, and the myth of psychological realism in fiction.

Short version: I've chickened out, a bit. Long version?

To make some sort of procedural "anything", you have to have an idea of what the building blocks of that "anything" are, or at least what you'll argue they are -- and then either frame your game in those terms or expressly simulate those terms. So if Convo is a game about narrative instead of people, then what's a unit of narrative?

From there, my thinking goes like this...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Convo and "what do simulations simulate?"

Simulations are simplified systems that have some semblance to the real world. The decrease in complexity, the ways in which the simulation is different from the actual thing, is called the "simulation gap."

In games, I argue that players never forget they're playing a game or simulation, but they're willing to suspend their disbelief and ignore the gap to enjoy themselves more. I think the term "immersion" in the sense of "forgetting you're playing a game", then, mischaracterizes this dynamic and implies the simulation is all-encompassing and consumes the player, when really, it's important that games are NOT holodecks and it's a good thing that they aren't.

As designers, one of our jobs is to "sell the simulation gap" and make it an asset instead of a liability.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Talking about Convo.

Figuring out how to talk about your game is part of designing your game -- so trying to explain Convo to various people has been extremely helpful in refining my design goals.

My favorite version so far has been, "it's an attempt to make The Sims accessible for hardcore gamers."

The argument is that social simulations like The Sims and Prom Week are actually really complicated systems, more complicated than most supposedly "hardcore" games -- like, I tried playing Prom Week again the other day, and couldn't understand how to achieve anything because each character has a dozen abilities and a dozen moods and a dozen relationships. It seemed like a brute force approach to simulation, to dissect the gamut of human feeling and then to directly design and represent each facet. Don't even get me started on how much stuff is in The Sims... it's all very fascinating, but it's also really intimidating.

But take something like XCOM -- I really like how there are just 3 core verbs (move, shoot, overwatch) that produce a variety of situations. However, the player stories consist mostly of "my squad was in danger and we survived" or "we got massacred" or stuff along those lines. I don't think XCOM's relatively limited range of emergent narratives come from its limited verb set; I think they come from the premise of its simulation, a military squad battling aliens. What if we replaced that premise with, uh, the mundane but thrilling dramas of everyday life?

"My bros were in danger but one chatted up a really hot girl, but then she started talking about particle physics which he knew nothing about, so I had him text his friend about particle physics so he could talk to her instead. Turns out, they both hated plaid."

Other elevator pitches:
  • "It's like XCOM plus Jersey Shore."
  • "It's about applied linguistics and binge drinking."
  • "It's like XCOM plus Love Actually."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A bit about Convo.

Convo is a tactical squad romance about applied linguistics and binge drinking.

I remember when I was of legal age (okay, well, of kinda somewhat legal age) and I started going to bars. Who teaches you how to behave at a bar? How do you know how much to tip a bartender if at all ("$1 a drink, usually, in the US") or what tabs are ("you pay when you leave") -- is it weird if you're there by yourself? (Sometimes.) When do you buy a round for everyone? (Sometimes.) When is it okay to check your phone? (It depends.) There are all these rules of socialization that we internalize without thinking, practicing them until they become reflex. Different bars in different places have different rules, and we wordlessly sensitize ourselves to each arena.

But even before we enter bar culture, we get socialized at a much more basic level -- in the art of conversation. How do you know when it's your turn to talk? When can you make a joke? When can I leave a conversation?

My prototyping process has involved a lot of linguistics research along these lines, mainly focusing on an old (now somewhat irrelevant?) branch of applied linguistics called "conversation analysis." It might be really hard to teach an AI just how to time its responses and get into the rhythm of things, but there are 5 year olds who effortlessly achieve gapless conversation on a daily basis. I find that fascinating -- and where there's elegance and an element of timing, there's strategy and a game.

To be clear, my goal isn't to solve "procedural conversation generation" in any way, but rather to sidestep it. Convo is NOT about "what" you say or "how" you say it -- it's mostly about "when" you say it.

I'll post more about Convo as I develop it.