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Is it a game or a simulation


CurryKitten
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I was just having this conversation with fellow forumite/corporate whore jonnyc, we manage to waste at least 1 hour a day of worktime by using our companies instant messanger client to talk about nothing.

Today we managed to accidentally talk about an actual subject. I think it needs more discussion.

Basically we started chatting about Doom 3 and some of the negative opinions coming in about it "it was all hype, we're not 12 anymore" was Jon's explanation - I suggested that Half Life 2 might live up to the hype as it pushes the game forward by having those "real world" physics representing a greater sense of freedom.

But hang on a sec, we've all seen the HL2 demo (I would hope) where some cables holding a container are shot out, making the container swing down and take out the bad guys.

That's a setup up isn't it - is there any difference between actually doing that and watching a cut scene of it ?

If the universe is truely "free" roaming then does the game dissapear; are we simply left with a Wolrd simulator (with aliens in it in HL2's case).

My person opinion on this is that real world physics can enhance the game massively, but not with swinging containers - just the little things. Take the ultimate example: For many years we've all wondered around in games with big fuck off rocket launchers that are unable to blow up a flimsy looking wooden door... this can only be opened by the red key of course.

or

How come all those crates look the same, but only one of them moves... and why can't I move it over there, why only up down this single path.

Then again, if we allow that much freedom, then can a player circumvent the game - blow a few holes through some walls and bypass big boss fights ? How can we balance allowing the feel of a completely free environment whilst gentle ushering players down the set path ?

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You're right, with too much freedom a player can do what they want and they'll never follow any path intended through the game however script it too tightly and you have splinter cell. No bad thing, IMO but I think the trick comes in disguising linearity as well as possible, or having a sufficient number of solutions to each task to make us feel as if we stumbled across our own solution.

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a freeform realistic physics world would be great and to drive the player along, there should be a strong narrative.

'blowing a hole in a level and missing a boss fight'- thats not too big a deal is it? unless your objective is the boss fight.

anyways, take the tunnel-sim Doom3 and the open-level game farcry. doom3 is heavily scripted and has 0-intelligence AI, Farcry has a form of reactive AI and minimum scripting.

which is better?

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What you do is you make sure there are clever ways of ensuring the player has to do certain things if it's a linear narrative. For example, if they're on a tiny enemy-infested desert island, finding a way off that island will become a natural goal, probably by going after a heliport or something.

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But there's that bit in the Half-Life 2 video where he pushes a table in front of a door, stopping a zombie soldier from getting in. The soldier then rattles the door for a bit, then goes over to a window and starts shooting into the room that way. Just before the player leaves the room, the zombies somehow smack the door with enough force that the table can't keep it shut.

If that was all happening 'on the fly', then that's amazing. A unique, realistic situation that emerged totally out of the real-world physics and advanced AI.

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But there's that bit in the Half-Life 2 video where he pushes a table in front on a door, stopping a zombie soldier from getting in. The soldier then rattles the door for a bit, then goes over to a window and starts shooting into the room that way. Just before the player leaves the room, the zombies somehow smack the door with enough force that the table can't keep it shut.

If that was all happening 'on the fly', then that's amazing. A unique, realistic situation that emerged totally out of the real-world physics and advanced AI.

Wasn't it revealed in the stolen code that all that stuff was really scripted? I still think we're some way off that kind of AI / physics interacting together.

Halo is a prime example of the greatness of physics engines in games though, even though it's still fairly primative. It throws up real comedy moments of accidentally shooting banshees out of the sky to land on your mate in co-op and throwing grenades round corners, ducking back and watching the grunts fly past you...

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Greater physical interaction is what we should have got with this gen. Instead we go last gen's games with better clothing.

All the PS2 crap from Phil Harrison about procedural rendering was meant to enable this.

I can't understand why the whole ragdoll physics stuff has taken so long to take off. This is the kind of stuff the PS2 was invented to do.

I understand that "Black" from Criterion is going to take destructable environments to the next level.

It really is a question of game design as has already been pointed out. Much easier to have a tunnel game, than one that is actually open. Even when I play Getaway and GTA3, the level of object interation disappoints me.

PSI Ops seems to be a step in the right direction. I think "All Human's Must Die" from Pandemic will also have a lot of destruction based interaction.

Katamri Darci (You know what I mean), that has no constraints levels.

I'm crying out for the chains to be released from games and have some real fun.

I want to be able to break everything, pick-up everything, climb everything, all the game designers need to do is figure out how to make it a fun game. (That is their job after all.)

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Red faction sort of tackled the destructible walls thing, and it was great fun.

Even though Red Faction was flawed, the destructable scenery technology was a glimpse of the future. I think it will be the next big thing, once everyone's got used to realistic physics.

In Red Faction, it was fantastic looking around the room after in intense firefight and seeing huge chunks blown out of pillars, massive gaps in walls that had previously provided cover and craters on the ground. Shame there were so few instances of this.

I can't wait for a GTA style game that integrates fully destructable scenery and a proper physics engine. Though I can see problems arising when someone puts on an 'infinite rockets' cheat and chips away at a skyscraper until it falls over.

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I think the industry went down the prettier games path because it is more immediately obvious to people, so much easier to sell. Putting good physics engines in and letting the player interact with the world in a more realistic way also makes the game desgners job slightly harder as the player has many more chances to back themselves into a corner and be unable to continue.

Oh, and the physics in the HL2 stuff was real, it was some of the AI that had been scripted to get the soldiers to stand in the right place to show it off.

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Wasn't it revealed in the stolen code that all that stuff was really scripted?

I'm not convinced that it was scripted. The player didn't have to enter that building at that time. It was just one building in a huge, open environment. What would have happened if the player had alerted the guards, and then ran off ? Would the guards have still tried the door, and then looked through the window ?

I think not.

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I'm not convinced that it was scripted. The player didn't have to enter that building at that time. It was just one building in a huge, open environment. What would have happened if the player had alerted the guards, and then ran off ? Would the guards have still tried the door, and then looked through the window ?

I think not.

Fair points, but it was video footage of someone at Valve playing the game, it's entirely possible the whole thing was mocked up, the guards might still have tried the door, we don't know either way.

And how come the game still isn't out now when they said it was three or four months off?

Maybe I'm just being cynical (I'm not convinced by the reports of Marines in Halo 2 spontaneously overturning tables for cover either), but like I said before I'm not sure we're at the level of technology where AI and physics can interact in such a realistic manner. Decent physics (for a professional programming team) seems to be a relatively simple thing these days (Havoc 2, middleware type stuff), same thing with tactical AI, but there must be a huge number of variables involved in getting both systems interacting. We haven't really seen any intermediate stages in this sort of thing evolving in games.

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Even though Red Faction was flawed, the destructable scenery technology was a glimpse of the future. I think it will be the next big thing, once everyone's got used to realistic physics.

In Red Faction, it was fantastic looking around the room after in intense firefight and seeing huge chunks blown out of pillars, massive gaps in walls that had previously provided cover and craters on the ground. Shame there were so few instances of this.

I can only remember one occasion in Red Faction (single player) when I made use of the Geo-mod stuff for a purpose that wasn't scripted. There was a door that wouldn't open without a key (I didn't have it), so I blew up the wall to the side of it and entered the room that way.

Everything else was pretty much blocked off, or the walls would go back into infinity and have nothing behind them, or there'd be metal walls behind them, or whatever.

However, it was great in multi-player; on one particular level (the one with facing platforms with rocks in the middle area) I used the respawning rocket-launcher to blow a tunnel into the far wall, and it just kept on going and going. Eventually, the tunnel went back so far, I had to walk through it for about 2 minutes to stock up on rockets again! It wouldn't ever end!!!

Anyway, as for making games more 'free': It's just a matter of getting rid of the scripted narative entirely a leaving very loose objectives (as Alex.W said). "Kill this person", "activate this machine", "get into this building", and just leave all the necessary tools there, plus a whole world of physics and AI to play with.

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I can only remember one occasion in Red Faction (single player) when I made use of the Geo-mod stuff for a purpose that wasn't scripted. There was a door that wouldn't open without a key (I didn't have it), so I blew up the wall to the side of it and entered the room that way.

Everything else was pretty much blocked off, or the walls would go back into infinity and have nothing behind them, or there'd be metal walls behind them, or whatever.

Anyway, as for making games more 'free': It's just a matter of getting rid of the scripted narative entirely a leaving very loose objectives (as Alex.W said). "Kill this person", "activate this machine", "get into this building", and just leave all the necessary tools there, plus a whole world of physics and AI to play with.

I agree entirely. I can't wait for that day. And this is why I don't agree that games have reached their technological peak (as some people in the single format vs multiple formats debate were stating). The kind of stuff I hope to see in the future isn't possible on today's machines (or if it is, it would look really naff).

It's true that the Geo Mod stuff in Red Faction was disappointingly under-used. I remember seeing previews that showed the flow of lava being altered by destroying the channel it was running through. What happened to that, eh?

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I don't think it is just as matter of looser plot scripting, the game has to cope with the player being perverse (possibly not deliberately). If the objective is, "start that machine," then it might need to be altered if the machine was accidentally destroyed half an hour ago, or it is now unreachable due some military grade landscaping by the player. Morrowind is an excellent example of the problems that freedom can introduce.

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but I think the trick comes in disguising linearity as well as possible

I have a reservation on that plan. Games that do that and declare themselves to be open-ended and everything make me sick. I find the game committing such a felony of bad faith that I can't even suspend my own disbelief like I ususally can with a clearly linear game like a final fantasy. Of course, as you all know, I'm thinking of KOTOR when I talk about this pretended freedom. What a bastard.

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The truth is that I probably derive more enjoyment out of set-piece designed games than games where you have choices. Maybe it's because I've grown up in a period where that's the norm, but with newer games where I have choices I have trouble making them because I want to see all of the possibilities. Even in a Final Fantasy, if I come to a point in the dungeon where it branches, I often start down one way and then think "Oh no! This is the RIGHT way towards the end of the dungeon!" and I double back for the other path because I don't want to miss the dead-end with the treasure chest. Often I go down a little ways of each path and go back and forth several times before I go all the way. This is especially irritating about myself in a game with random battles. But I digress.

The other difference in enjoyment is that my own playing and uses of the game world (in an open-ended real-physics environment) will always seem less clever than the situations that the designers set up for me in other games. Discovering a sneak entrance through the air duct in Deus Ex will never feel as clever to me as a really nifty albeit pre-set route that I figure out and climb around a broken tower spire in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

I have yet to play a game that gives me the chance to do things of my own design that feel as clever as things that the designers set up for me to do. However, I can still believe that I might play such a game in the future, and I am willing to believe that the enjoyment of cleverness is not comparable between the two kinds of games--that there are simply two types of it with their own merits and characteristics. I can admit that it is a different kind of enjoyment when I find my own way then when I find the set way and that it is just as valuable, even if my own way isn't as cool.

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The Zelda games always did "linear non-linearity" very well.

You're running around the field and you can see Geruto Valley and, man, you can almost touch it... But how to cross that gap...

It's at this point where the player is tricked into thinking that he's trying to get into the valley, by being clever and stealing Epona from Lon Lon Ranch. But the game had it scripted all along that you'd spend an hour arsing about with a horse. It uses your personal motives to disguise the plot being forced along.

The game is throwing scripted events at you, but you feel like you made them happen. This is the key to creating open games with structure.

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Will people stop thinking that great AI and great physics are the be all and end all in order to make a great game. They can add certain things but you have to be careful of other negative affects.

For instance if the AI is too good, your avatar has to be tougher, better armed, assisted by others, have more save points, have more health packs, have more cover, escape routes etc. In ithetr words things have to be made easier.

Most games will introduce a mixture of AI types, some tougher than others and hopefully that will true of Doom 3.

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For instance if the AI is too good, your avatar has to be tougher, better armed, assisted by others, have more save points, have more health packs, have more cover, escape routes etc. In ithetr words things have to be made easier.

But "better AI", I mean more realisic AI. To steal a phrase from Steven Poole, good AI is actually artificial stupidity.

Enemies that have eyes in the backs of their heads, know your wherabous no matter what and are able to make every shot land between your eye sockets would be classed as having poor AI.

It'll be a long time before enemy AI is able to strategically out-think a good human player.

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CurryKitten, Barry Atkins' 'More Than a Game' book (Manchester University Press - where all things related to videogaming theory is happening these days) may offer you an answer...see the last chapter! Yes the book's about games as fiction, but the last chapter offers answers to your question about the blurring of game and simulation with reference to flight school simulators that say "THIS IS NOT A GAME!". Hope this helps.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0...4030391-4409464

Toops

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