Monday, April 28, 2008

you live, you learn

I have some notes about a game called eXperience 112 (The Experiment in N.A.) created by lexisnumerique. I was rather excited about this game since the player does not directly control the main character but rather communicates through manipulating the environment. This basic idea had occurred to me during my AI class when I was preparing my presentation on Interactive Storytelling. Since we do not have a way to parse natural language right now, players must communicate with a game through a limited set of verb/noun combinations. Most games hid this behind button presses and such, but just look to the sentance builder interface of early LucasArts games and think about it a bit.

Anyway, so I thought since you can't make a character the player can really sit down and talk to, why not make a game about observation from a position that is slightly removed. It would be a strange game, watching a characters life and influencing things in subtle ways. Kinda like Rear Window but with only one focal character and a few that come in/out of that characters life over a few days. I have gotten off track!

So it seems someone else had a similar idea and made this game. The problem is, they decided it had to be a REAL game. A study in observation and character wasn't a game enough it seems. Things start out alright, you are on an empty military base with just the man character and some security cameras. Over time you learn what happened to everyone else, and how they relate to each other, which is pretty interesting but presented in a somewhat boring text/e-mail fashion. The problem is that they made it into a traditional adventure game. The main character, her fate, and the players relation to her should be the focus, placing the player not in control of her but in a position to communicate with her is what is interesting. Alas, the game is really about solving traditional adventure game puzzles, but with the added twist of having to tell someone what to do instead of just controlling them. This results in lots of WALK OVER HERE DAMN IT and the main character just looking confused. After about 3 hours I dubbed her "stupid girl" and my hatred began to grow.

At last I can get to the lesson here, and that is always look at what your player is doing the majority of the time. In the case of stupid girl, I spent 90% of my time flashing lights madly trying to get her to walk down the damn hallway and having to change which camera I was viewing. These actions are a chore and not fun at all once the novelty wears off. There are interesting elements to the game for sure, but they are not the heart of the interaction with the player. The design of the game is all centered on the player battling the least responsive input system yet implemented. And the sad thing is, THIS DID NOT HAVE TO BE. The game didn't need to be 20+ hours long, the number of locations could have been reduced massively, stupid girl could have walked around and observed things and reported back to me by herself. GAH! It just makes me so mad that they could have had something here if all the money wasted on this giant environment that it is a pain to navigate had been spent on creating a compelling core experience.

I had other things to discuss but I am lucky if anyone read this far so I'll save it for later.

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