AIIDE 2011: AI of Darkspore

Here’s the slides from the recent talk Lauren Hetu and I gave.  We’re glad so many people enjoyed it.  The talk is split into 2 parts: first, a description of the AI and Ability systems we use for NPCs (similar to our GDC 2011 talk), and second, a remake of the Game/AI 2011 keynote I did about the AI director.

I talked more about “AI is replacing randomness”, and how we can use that as a meme to find new places to make AI Directors.


AI in Darkspore AIIDE 2011


The AI Director of Darkspore

I gave a keynote at Game AI in Paris last week.  Thanks again to Alex and Petri and staff for inviting me.  Excellent conference.  And a big statement to have a design-focused talk as one of their keynotes.  Appreciated.

The keynote was secretly 3 talks in 1:

  1. “What is Game AI?”,
  2. “The AI Director in Darkspore”, and
  3. “Improved AI Design”.

In the first section, I walk through some of the history of AI and why that has failed us, and why we need a better definition for Game AI.  I derive my definition of Game AI, “algorithms that replace randomness“.  I claim there are 3 pillars of game AI: character AI, strategic AI, and AI direction, and correspondingly define AI Direction as “algorithms that replace randomness that manage experiences”.

In the second section, I discussed how we used AI Direction in Darkspore.  I focus on 2 out of the 10 in particular: how we created the random enemy selection buckets and how we layered “spike” and “wanderer” spawn points to add drama and flow to the game.  Unlike Left 4 Dead, Darkspore’s AI Director called for a fixed challenge per level instead of a player-adjusted one.  I discuss how we tackled challenge while still bringing surprise, replayability, and interest to the table.  I showed how we tested the Director, and briefly covered how to tackle the tricky problem of debugging experience management.  Then I go into some of the technical numbers on how the Darkspore AI Director works, and why the numbers are more important then the code.  I call that AI Design.

In the last section, I talk about the importance of AI Design.  I look at how AI Design was actually most of the work, and argue that AI Engineers are the best positioned developers in the industry to make new and interesting kinds of games.  I urge them to look for places where we use traditionally randomness, and see them as opportunities to create better gameplay.  I debate Michael Mateas that AI Engineers need to understand Design in order to make the games of the future.  We talk a little bit about Chris Hecker’s call down for AI Design at AIIDE 2010.  And I share how I’ve found ways to do design in my projects and trained to be a better designer.  Finally, I look at some of the things we left random inside Darkspore instead of AI Directing, and discuss whether or not that might have been a mistake. will be posting the full presentation soon, along with audio and video.  In the meantime, I’ve uploaded the powerpoint slides with notes, as well as a smaller pdf without the notes:

AI Director in Darkspore GameAI 2011 (pptx with notes)
AI Director in Darkspore GameAI 2011 (pdf)

If you haven’t seen it my AIIDE 2009 talk on narrative in AI Director is highly relevant to this talk, expanding on it greatly.

Enjoy!  Please share your thoughts.  I’d love to hear your feedback.

AI Director in Darkspore GameAI 2011 (pptx)

UCSC: How You Can Make a Great Game Talk

Here are my slides for the UC Santa Cruz talk I gave Thursday, April 16th, to an audience of professors and students:

How You Can Make A Great Game

Here are the video links:

Call of Duty: Finest Hour Mission 1:

Call of Duty: Finest Hour Mission 2:

I wanted to tackle a pretty ambitious topic, and this is by no means intended to be the final word, but I think it’s a good summary of the state of the art right now towards how individuals can make something great.

GDC 2010: AI Summit: An AI Assist for Interactive Storytelling

Phew! GDC 2010 has come and gone, and I finally have a chance to breath.  The AI Summit in particular went fantastic.  A big thanks to Dave Mark and all for helping organize it.

Here are the slides from my talk on Tuesday on how you can use existing AI architecture you already have in your game to improve things you haven’t thought of before.  The game taxonomy has been particularly helpful in really understanding tricky game design problems.

AI Summit: An AI Assist to Interactive Storytelling

If you have any questions about the talk, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

I was deeply happy with how our Interactive Storytelling session came out, and a number of people told me it was one of their conference highlights.  Another big thanks to my co-presenters Michael Mateas and Emily Short.

There’s several posts that have come out of the conference, and I hope to get to them at some point.  But things are quite busy now and so they may have to wait on more exciting news.  They say action is better then words anyways.

GDC 2009: Friday

One last time, the usual applies – these are at-the-time stream of consciousness notes, unedited.  Pure live-blogging with the added disadvantage of not actually being live.  I have to write quickly to keep up, probably missed everything, apologies to speakers I just didn’t understand.  It was a fantastic conference, and you’ve all been a part of it.  My personal additions are in ().  This is nowhere near as good as having actually been here or having the actual audio, I’m afraid.  But here’s something to remind us all with.

Play in the Age of Social Software

Frank Lutz and Mark Pincus

Missed Mark but got in to see Frank talk about some of his recent gams. He makes the point that games before computers were all social. He’s doing games that use social mechanics to overcome game design problems. Pac-man in NYC. Using social mechanics to encourage players to work together in non-zero sums way. Or players working together to find stickers for Sopranos game, gratitude even though they would get a small advantage of getting $100K by working alone – the sharing really surprised them. And a lot of the players would gather online while the Sopranos were being broadcast, turning TV into a social space. It’s a single player game, not designed to be a social game – that emerged. This took them by surprised. So strong they wanted to encourage and support this community even in single player game.

Next he did Parking Wars for Facebook. Parking cars in your friends spaces to make money. Designed to be at Facebook rhythm. It’s a persistent game of low intermittent activity. Yet kind of a game you’re always playing. Also had an interesting visualization of the social graph – everyone’s game board is unique and totally different. Seeing friends of friends, picks up on that cocktail party vibe. And it can be played very cooperatively, but punctuated by these gotcha moments. They thought they were designing a little game for a little TV shows. You have to play for a very long time to get to the upper tiers of the game. But people hit that ceiling. “Worst game ever played” because people played for 2 months straight. Accidentally designed a casual MMO. Little tiny version of Blizzard. So had to make content for these players. So designed badges, to also try out a new idea about social badges, like achievements. Hidden info on what was required to get badges, but once a friend got it you could see what it took. There was a really tough one called the Flirt, and people would try and trick people into thinking they’d gotten it, it was so hard. One of things that’s interesting is the ethics/morality issues that emerge. One of them is collusion – symbiotic alliances between players. Public and knowable in Parking Wars, like between husbands and wives. People called this cheating. He thought it was just a non-optimal form of play. But it was kind of a Prisoner’s Dilemma variation within the game. Another form of cheating was fake facebook accounts. This is obviously cheating. Player community weren’t as much aware of this. Player’s also discovered a bug – if you have an ‘ in your name, you are unticketable, so a lot of player’s just changed their name.

Backchannel was another game made for The Hills. Basically competitive form of chat. Test a new social form of gameplay. Comment on the show with funny thing. And as people click on comments the the comments earn points, and if you’re fast the other clicker earns points. Similar to Acrophobia, Apples to Apples. Lot of math behind it to incentivize people to think about what other people like. MTV wanted traffic to their site, and so they did a lot to link players at the end of the game and using data analysis to forge connections between similar commented people.

Kelly’s Bags was a game to promote Electrolytes. They wanted to create a game for a particular audience, 30-40 yr women, people not already on Facebook, give them a social network game. Impromptu social network related to these bags. You have a collection of bags, scavenger hunt component, and every day there’s another fictional event, and you score points by bringing a bag. One of the ways you score points is by bringing a popular bag – popularity points. But don’t want to wait to see what’s possible, you want early time bonus points. Trying to model fashion and trends and a game dynamic. You can also create friendships with other players and get a bonus for having same/different bags from all your friends. Looking at game theory and the analysis of decision making and trying to make a complex payoff, a dilemma again. Whose going to take the unpopular bag bullet? Right away players figured out how to optimize the system, surprisingly – to change keep changing your friends. Thousands of posts at 11:30 of people trying to find friends to match their bags. Became a hilarious parody of fashion – caring more about your handbag then your friends. Game ran for 6 weeks. Built a tiny little intense group of players by having a prominent forum. Had all the things in real communities – fake bars, guess a word game. Ethics and morality of game actions also became intense in these communities. New kinds of social dynamics. Reality TV shows and EVE Online are doing it. Reflecting moral and ethical dilemmas reflect real world ones.

Question: Community managers to keep people honest, and how do you build word of mouth? Mark does, Frank bootstrapping in, it’s time consuming. Porn spam is a full time job. Question: Used in companies or conferences? Relationship between training games and trust and corporate communications games. Serious games movement has done some work in this direction. Replacing some more traditional activities like sports. Question: Unwilling to give personal information? Facebook gave privacy control, was big deal for mainstream. Maybe not enough for everybody, but what makes it feel social is that you are real and you may see your friends and you have a reputation. The ethical questions make people behave better. Halo multiplayer is infamously hostile environment, and Facebook has solved this problem. Question: How important to do open platform, cross-platform, and what resources are out there for people to start out with? Don’t know yet. Spreading the Facebook plumbing is a revolutionary concept, that you have a persistent identity. Depends on your context, the size of your audience. Resources – great blogs, just google social gaming. Question: Game balance? Interesting balance between social fantasy and persistent world. Like a good cocktail party or tennis ladder, you only care about your friends and people around your level. So focus on making it not fun for griefers at your level. Depends on amount of persistence. Even if player’s aren’t playing optimally, player’s should feel they can play optimially, that the perception of you being able to compete if you start a week late is there.

Beyond Balancing: Using Five Elements of Failure Design to Enhance Player Experiences

Jesper Juul

People present designs after products, going up. Researchers start high and try and make it applicable. 2 studies of failure in games.

Failure is a situation presented by the game to the player and the player fails at the challenge and the game punishes the player for that. For a period of time we thought about balancing as tweaking the number of times a player fails at the game, but we should be tweaking the cost of failure to the player, particularly in turns of time.

Traditional view of Balancing – balance single-player games as an autonomous unit and place player in flow state, not too easy, not too hard. But this is harmful. There’s this myth of hardcore players like to fail, casual players don’t like to fail. Does the casual player dislike failure? Gamezebo survey – 183 responses, average age 42, 93% female – a game that is too easy is surveyed worse then a game that is too hard. Want to be challenged. Will work to overcome frustration. So in actuality, match failure design to the time constraints of players. And communicate failure appropriately. (How casual are these survey participants really – not clear how driven to website.) The Danger of failure – learned helplessness. Player’s ask – why did I fail? If you fail students the wrong way you can get them to never come back. Internal or external, global or specific, stable or unstable. It is only me, I am stupid, I will never solve this, as opposed to everybody has this problem, I’m bad at this one thing, I can learn to solve this.

Looks at a little game he tried and then surveyed. People enjoyed it most when they finished the game but lost some lives. Not completing or completing it without dying was markedly easier. So we should push people out of the flow channel a little bit. (I think this is misunderstanding the flow channel.  It’s supposed to push you.). Failure makes it obvious for players when they improve. “Too easy if not forcing me to use creative thinking or use my reflection.” “You never have to adapt your strategy.” Failure adds depth and content to your game.

Ways to tweak your failure design. 5 elements of failure design. Failure count – measure the number of times the player reaches the failure state. Failure Awareness – knowing that you might have lost makes it feel you good, knowing you could have failed. Try and make player aware of possibility of failure, even when unlikely. Benefits of failure without the cost. Failure Communication – failure can be communicated very differently – through game objects or directly. Objects are fairly neutral, direct is… stupid-feeling. Look at where the feedback is coming from. Consider Flywrench, where you fail an amazing amount of time, but only lose a very slight amount of time. Failure setbacks – players don’t have unlimited time, so snatches of time. Tweak the setback of each failure to match time constraints of players. Randomizing can make repetition interesting. It makes a level replay after failure more interesting .

Move from failure count to failure cost – failure count x failure communication x failure setback x failure repetition. High cost, like Mega Man vs. low cost like Peggle. Remember, the expanded audience is not averse to failure count, but to high failure cost, in emotion an time.

Question (Chaim): Research with children? Nope.

Arf! Arf arf arf: Talking to the player with barks

Patrick Redding

Barks refer to generic grunt noises from NPCs. He’s referring to AI Dialogues. Not conversational, scripted, not cinematics, not MP taunts. Barks.Why do we use barks? More immersive, verisimilitude, let’s AI express selves like real people. Makes the AI seem smarter, reveal intelligence, or mask stupidity. And reveal status of the game world to the player. Finally, it can support the game’s themes naturally.

So we take this numerical code set of systems and try and make them softer, more analog. Could be idle/ambiance fleshed out lives or letting player know their actions matter. Or interaction in combat or social through game systems. Or narrative content. Overhearing NPC conversations, for example. Good AI bark games – Halo, (5000+ lines of dialogue), Halo 2 is 15,000, Halo 3 is 35,000+. Fallout 3 had a robust conversational game, but needed to layer into that in combat, as well as attract player at long distance. GTA 4 is synonymous with this stuff, 80,000 lines of dialogue, 7,000 for Niko. Tons of voices for pedestrians in different languages. Babbling guys on sidewalk. DJs use AI systems to react to time of day, game pieces. Far Cry 2 had 4500 lines of dialogue, narrative content, and only 3000 lines of systematic combat and 1100 of buddy combat dialogue. 100 lines of zulu and afrikans lines were incredibly useful. F.E.A.R. put affordances in the world to make tactical decisions about the world and their dialogue tried to expose that. Fable 2 had 160,000 lines of dialogue to back up their world. Assassin’s Creed had 12,000 for crowds and Altair reactions to react to.

Considerations – systemic vs. Scripted? Primary function of AI in support of gameplay? Does AI have a life when player not around? How dynamic is combat and other actions? How open is the level design, how flexibility?

To consider scripting. A trigger hits script, defines event, and it goes through. Systemic has a source and a stimulus, that drives the event. The source states provide the frameworks for the barks. The systemic side of it has different inputs from different parts of the AI, is it larger oversight AI or on the character? Depends on whether it’s a deep or broad system. If it’s sensory, reciever looks at states and the source has game data states as well. These states are where the data is. If it’s dispatcher, the receivers are the same, but the source is a big babysitter and identifies global conditions become true. Maybe player is almost dead, maybe tension is high, maybe AI is told to use certain tactics. Tells receivers to act as if something was true.

Another thing we have is contextual/affordances. Used by Sims and Far Cry 2. In FC2, used for interesting idle behaviors. These needs drive their tasks. Interestingly, other Ais can be affordances which can generate conversations.

The scripted side is more mission driven. It pulls from gated story dialogue. Somewhat interactive story-esque. Could be quest or location pulled, but pre-set up.

The bark strategies. Generic vocalizations – terrible to write, direct, and perform. Zero subtext context that we hear over and over again. They add all this redundant data to the game. On FC2 they set aside a separate database for these, and had a lookup table – writer could just look up the tag without having to write it into the script. At runtime the dialogue manager detects the writer’s tag in the script and chooses one. Much easier to record because actors can improvise, and gets more different versions.

Can use heat maps to track where player is inputting damage, and use it as a game data state that the AI can track and react to. We can use this to react more appropriately, avoid bad stupid reactions through bark filtering. Also have ability to take RPG statistics to tweak reactions as well, to gate content. Also believes in different reactions from others, not just railing at the player. Chain dialogues. Before one would start a bark, check in radius around, and chain them through the Ais. If you have solo barks, you can also use different languages to cover for it not being chained or even it being repetitive – can get more from fewer.

Layers all these types of barks together to get best results.

Content management pipeline – spreadsheets are an ugly compromise due to so much content. Have dedicated tool, and you don’t want the designer doing it. Can also add meta-data to inform other systems of the game – animation, audio, at run-time, for things like gestures, facial animations, building an AI performance manager. What kind of prop is used? But hard-codes rules into other systems, which gets a bit messy. Also, use variation banks that can be swapped in and out through streams, and maybe use global AI conditions like alert state to swap out banks and get that variety. Use generic vocalizations to fill in for that. The Censor system regulates the sheer amplitude of barks, but also lets designers tune the mix, and avoid repetition. And finally in playtesting they had little bots that tracked frequency of playback of each bark and mined the database. Maybe some barks weren’t played – bug – or the player is getting spammed – get more variety, add new states. Really useful tool.

Question (Adam): Facade conversation mixing? Hoped to do mission briefings in barks, that dynamic. Had big dynamic goals. Could probably strip out redundant systems using this model including player and mission dialogue. Certainly RPGs, thinks it’s a smart direction to go. Question: edge cases of trouble without enough variety, growth of variety? In FC2 didn’t have much of this, but could be a problem with it. Is doable, some succession of reactions for social mechanics. Question: Testing? Only highly successful system because done in early prototyping. Went through 3 system re-writes, iterations. Started with sensory and added more and more director stuff in the list. Depend on playtesting. No easy solution.

Vast Narratives and Open Worlds, Part Deux — Big Huge Problems

Ken Ralston and Mark Nelson

This talk is about blunder management. Going over there vision for their MMO and struggles. RPGs have more world interactions, so that requires special design. Scope is really difficult to manage, because expected to go large. Lots of different authors are difficult to manage – you can hammer them down to a single voice, or get all the different colors – but want both, so learn how to nuance it, you have to do 400% of everything and then through away things that don’t work. Moving targets and shifting focus – they triumphed by selling it to their publisher, but it’s a reality of making life crazy. Your vision needs to be able to adapt. Bethesda was brute force, more like jazz – so many notes, some may be bad, but there’s something for everyone. And fixing this up takes time and causes tragedy.

The classic blunders – scope and trying to do to much. We out think, outsmart ourselves and put ourselves in really risky points – at either complacent, huge ego or overwhelmed state. And then when you are on those extremes you do things that later you think weren’t that smart. Ken thinks in their IP the problem was they tried to do a mid-stream narrative IP revision when they should have stuck with it. There was a Plan A and Plan B, and when they fell back to Plan B, they didn’t work it through. Ken had these visionary world ideas, that’s his thing, but it wasn’t going to be fun – would have sucked. Mark thinks it was trying to do too much – RPG, strategy, big battle sim – all in one game. What they tried to do to fix it go back to the vision statement. Focus on an RPG, not a weird hybrid. Work on what they new, not be so far outside their zone. At the very outside edges of their blunder readiness. They were distracted from iterating on the vision. And didn’t want to lose company communication time on the vision rethink. Eats up all your leads.

Second blunder – the Emperor’s New Clothes. Ken thinks it was his silent complicity with the replacement IP vision. Ken wanted to give support, inspire people, keep their effective domain work. He didn’t savage Ken enough. Mark finds everything really fun, decided to redo the game and didn’t tell Ken. But Mark thinks he needed to tell Ken that big battles would never work – he should have said it up front. Oblivion‘s big battle was 8 guys with no AI turned on – they knew better. Ken thinks it was because the currency of victory is only testable in an implementation. But you can’t win that argument if it’s not on screen with the guy whose focused on something (the kinds of guys you need). They fixed it by re-opening the lines of communication. Take a step back and tell each other what they are doing wrong. Ken’s mantra is make decisions are always good – right or wrong. He was banging back between complacent and overwhelmed, and blunder ready. If you see someone in this, help them out and get them help. Also, better document the vision and communicate it – team synchs, blogging, small Powerpoint presentations of condensed knowledge. Blogging was a great tool, just a couple lines at the end of the day, but it kept everyone updated through their selected RSS feeds. When people are coasting and going to the internet, it gives people a casual place to watch the soap opera of development. To see the emotional color. Find new ways at work, new trick, to get people to communicate. Stay on message. Be conservative early – you cannot just rewrite the IP on the fly during production. Lot of detail work on the IP, and it’s tragically difficult to change the high level stuff, particularly when you hide it in the original themes. They had a core objectives bullet lists, 10 of them, but they let it get away from it. Forgot about it. Use it as reference for their decisions. But they had to diverge from their list. It’s really hard to rework your top 10 list. Plan for the future and scout the terrain. Mediate the tragedies for your scopes. Don’t always be let people get away with not delivering and be supportive.

The team – it was difficult because of the need for experience. Transitioning from RTS to RPG. Want people in genre who can say their experience with authority. And get an important need hire every 3-6 months for someone who sets the team on fire. Staying hot for 3 years is the big challenge – managing your own enthusiasm. So look for hires who can help. And be aware vast scope gets people isolated and makes people feel separated. If don’t know what art or features are coming, they won’t use them.

Classic blunder 3 – Counting chickens pre-hatched. Mark thinks it was not playing to the strengths and experience of their designers. Weren’t paying attention to who their designers were and what they were good at, and play to their successes. Once they did, jacked up the quality of the game. Somehow lost good people because didn’t make him feel important enough and didn’t listen to him enough. And putting good people on another team because they were complacent about what they had, when they were really in risk of failure. Ken doesn’t think he knows anything unless he can explain it to a bright 10 year old. He wasn’t energetic and brutal and autocratic enough to the innocent.

They fixed this by giving out domain ownership to people, small areas to people to own. They owned it 100% – made people’s become experts quickly. Chosen by who was asking questions in the meeting. And it created less work for them. Gave them more time to look at the game as a whole. Distributing burden, sometimes to people who were better at it. Also, Mentoring, there’s no universal theory. Every individual needs something different – some every day, some only once every few weeks. And cross-discipline seating. It’s not comfortable, people want offices. Bioware has folding tables and moves people around on the fly. It sounds horrible, but it was so success for them. More review, shorter cycles. Getting into young people’s stuff early, eyes on it, eyes on it, eyes on it allowed them to grow quickly and learn what they were looking for. Go 2 days instead of 2 weeks.

So how do you strategize hiring? You need to hire just in time. Maybe that means contract work for a very short time. Not just which people to hire, but when they’re hired. Look for the TRP – the tragically responsible person. Giving people ownership makes them feel good about what they’re doing. And manage the enthusiasm burden – know where the individuals are and who the individual leaders are. Mentoring, promoting learning readiness. And use blogs and wikis. Gives you revision history and quality control. But not Sharepoint. And knew better – unwilling to spend the time to stop producing and make things actually work.

The Narrative – why it’s difficult. The scope – content is king, have too have too much because it’s the bar. Be vast, modular, and extensible. When writing, stop making art and stop making fun. To the moment to moment gameplay of the player. And dialogue – nothing is more poorly simulated. Ken hates it, but knows it’s essential. They got a big win by getting a “least harm” dialogue system.

Their Classic Blunder – started writing narrative way too early, before systems were nailed down. And write your narrative to bring your player to the fun, which means waiting for that to be ready. The Cart Before the Horse. Ken thinks it was late and poorly integrated faction design, as well as him using celebrity before it was actually ready. His big focuses in writing are Faction, Setting, and Theme. And faction has a little chunk of story in it because it gets all the associations and relationships with the factions. And he forgot that.

To fix it, wrote and rewrote. The quests were overcomplicated and boring. Designers were trying to tell stories rather then writing gameplay. Simpler is better. The Lord of the Rings is a FedEx quest. The Quest of the Holy Grail. These things are fine. It’s the moment to moment stuff that makes it fun. Oh, and they put factions back into the game. They were trying to do a “blue ocean” RPG to do something new, a main narrative. So they stripped it out, when they were good at them. And they brought back “Tuxedo content”, simple but elegant content.

The Classic Blunder: Less is More. Ken thinks it was building an on a Narrative designed for a Defined Protagonist. You lose lots of protagonists to meet and the customization character. Mark thinks it was trying to make “RPG Lite”. RPG players like all those stats and numbers, it makes the game fun for them. So they remembered what mad games fun, played to their strengths, and iterated to see where they were right. They sprinkled loose threads and narrative hooks. Objects in the environment, everything you can do. Explore fast-paced dialogue menu system vs. the lingering conversation experience. And concentrate on core RPG Experience. Designed the systems to support the narrative. Design the narrative to focus on the gameplay.

To make all this easier. Design 400%, and cut 350%. They don’t do math, but bring it back down to a manageable amount. Repetition, clarity, focus. Communicate vision consistently and often – posters, shirts, anything. And make decisions. Any decision is better then no decisions. The team – give people domain ownership where they can succeed, and stay on top of them. Mix the seats up, and use effective cross-team documentation. And for the narrative, figure out what you’re making first. And remember you can change the story a lot easier then you can change the gameplay. Finally, seed the world with setting, theme, faction with loose hooks and develop into those.

Question: How did prototype feed in? In a bad way, to try to sell it to publishers. They were making it up, not using their tools, it was false fun. It was not genuine system fun, producable fun. Ken Ralston can wave hands and make a pitch and sell bad stuff. Some of the good early experiments were good. Question: Tech? Because we’re not tech people, when they failed we couldn’t tell whether it was really hard or whether they needed help. They needed an experience tech guy. Question: How many new people every 6 months? Need to be more sophisticated about what phases of production they are in. Bioware really knows how to do this stuff, have multiple teams going on, really helps. They were too arrogant about how far they were trying to go. Should have tried to talk to them. It’s a goal – just want someone still stupid. Question: Meaningful choice? Everyone says they want it. But when you get it, someone says they didn’t get to do some other thing. Morrowind had meaningful factions, Oblivion did it the other way, People complained about both. Ken: But main quests need to become less important. The most important story is “I’m not dead yet”. Ending the main quest is like being dead. Give your world a narrative structure, but less there and more finesse, the users focus on the other thing. Main quests suck. They just serve to lead the player through the game. Question: Factions first? Yes, narrative later, yes sometimes both ways, but structure around faction decisions. Ken’s rule is 3 different kinds of factions. (Rock-Paper-Scissors. Breaks the symmetry, 4 stabilizes too much.) Question: main quests? Still important.

Lionhead Experiments Revealed

Peter Molyneux

Why Experiment? Lionhead tries to innovate, innovation is inherently risky. It was a drunk night. Innovation helps with the success of a game because its what consumers want. Back in the Black&White days of 30 person teams innovation was easy and cheap. Lots of people at Lionhead have great ideas, a forum was needed to explore these. Peter Molyneux comes in with lots of dumb and stupid ideas, and he needed an outlet for his chaos. A lot of the good things come out of this group – one button combat in Fable 2, dog in Fable 2. Yes it’s costly, but it doesn’t really matter, because consumers really want that innovation. Be innovation without that huge risky. You can do it at 30 people easily, but when you’ve got 100 people, the last thing you want is a designer tromping in with some new cool idea. And those ideas everyone else has, they can’t express it in “the game” otherwise. So they’ll leave your company, unless you give them that forum to explore and innovate.

Plus, experiments avoid the nasty habit of innovating late. They only added a number of ideas because they experimented with those ideas first. The bread crumbs, the ambient orbs, all of it. It does not cost the earth and you can do more and do it quickly. And it doesn’t upset your production.

Anyone at Lionhead can start up an experiment team – a short term projects that have 1-5 people on them, short term projects that tend to take place at the end of a project when team members are free. Usually lasts 1 week – 12 weeks with the average being 4 weeks. The concepts can be proposed by anyone, they just need a sponser from a senior member of staff. The sponsser sells the idea to the Lionhead creative board, and it gets scheduled like any other project. About 6 people, most senior about 1-2 junior. Meet once every few months. There’s some structure to it. There’s milestones and checkpoints in this mini-production, and have a producer. Milestones can be a day or a week or in an extreme as a month. Coming back to the board, they ask why this experiment, what does it add, what does it cost, maybe even what do you see? Also, how much will it cost to make, how often will it be seen in the game, and if applicable what do you say to teach it to the player?

They have tools specifically for this – a very simple prototyping engine which strips away all unnecessary code and allows laymen like scripters to play around. Graphically the prototypes don’t look amazing but get to the core of the idea. They use existing game engines as well to experiment in, where it’s most appropriate. Also creating “concrete” internally – a way to share assets like graphics, animation, even a piece of code – tags to allow it to talk to the system and understand what the asset is and move it from game to game.

Afterward, they evaluate. They create a risk assessment, they work with the team until the tech is implemented, designers are briefed so it is fully used, and get any available patents. It’s very important to let design know, otherwise it will never be seen.

Question: Only Lionhead assets? No, anything you can. Avoid the excuse that you aren’t using something because of X, Y, or Z. (Second time he’s said that.) Question: Yes, between games, to use the fallow time. Downloadable content is eating into this, yes. But these experiments are so valuable they are so worth it. Question: Money? It is essentially attributed against a group. There’s a Shared Tech group, and if it’s for a game then it goes to the game, and if it’s central technology, then it goes to Shared Tech, which has a separate budget. But it’s rare to not be able to justify it financially, since it’s such a small amount of money.

OK, on to his examples. Protodog – dog for Fable 2. Tried punishing, rewarding, a bunch of animations and looks. Realized they wanted an experience of bonding, and so they dropped punishing or rewarding, and that saved them from waiting a year to figure that out. But they tried again, putting the dog in front of the play, and found the dog was leading you rather then you leading him around, and really cemented him in the game. Also departmental research – 1000s of creatures on screen using GPU, raytracing, water and fluid of mechanics, deformable skin, soft shadows. Most successful experiment was one-button combat to get combat available to players, picking different animations based on distance, positions, and objects/walls around the environment.

Shows an experiment that didn’t quite work. The Room – which he’s shown before as GDC – with the malleable clay and portals. It had great character, a lot of detail, but didn’t seem to go any further.

Question: hit rate? Around 70%, quite a lot of experiments fail at the start.

Player’s Expression: Far Cry 2 Level Design: Structure & Beyond

Johnathan Morin

Are we respecting our player’s enough? Not talking about respecting everyone, talking about the first time someone tries something. And then those who explore it deeper, and then have a quest for excellence and have an urge to create. That through the invention players can get greater at it then the creator can. Cultivating character – use emotion as strategy. “We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle. Goes into a story of how his kid was exploring a toy, discovered something, interpreted it, and it influenced him, which changed exploration. We think we know shit and we base our life around it. Playing Street Fighter 2, there’s emotional buildup. The kind of guy you are is important. Anyone can become angry, but at the right time and in the right way, that’s difficult. The player is trying to exhibit self-control, direct himself. If it’s that hard to control players, how can we control them?

In Far Cry 2, they tried to do it with World navigation, Cause & Effect Loop, and Micro Decisions build-up, and then opportunities to breathe. In world navigation, they had quest choice, then the condition of the player, and the risk and uncertainty, all of that affects the player’s decision. Based on his character. But you’re going to screw it up sometime. We always screw up our plan. And so we get angry, for getting pushed out. So what do you do when things don’t go according to plan?

As designers, we need to think about there character to understand how people react. In Far Cry 2, there are Strategists, Rambos, and Fugitives (avoid confrontation). They filled this with Planning & Approach gameplay, Combat gameplay, and Escape & Evasion gameplay. Stealth approach, scouting, planning, AI Alert = Combat for strategists. AI Alert = Combat, Mercs Dead = Win, Player Dead = Player Win, or Player Flee = E&E, for Rambos. AI Own Player, player flee AI, AI Follows, Vehicle/Foot chase for the fugitive. Different mechanics for very different kind of players. These 3 players form a loop where each type overrides the other type. The pacing is the player. The designer doesn’t have control.

Micro decisions build-ups – people are making decisions based on their characters, how do we do emotional buildup? Hmmm… density. Layering density, in this case cover, to build up pacing. Looking at the 3 different modes, Understand how they react to the different densities, and map those onto your level designs. Look at the flow of gameplay, where each mode pushes the player. And it can get really complicated, so we’ll need to think a bit more about it.

The players also need opportunity to breathe, which is why there are diamonds in Far Cry 2.

Questions (Chris Hecker): analogue between guitar makers and developers as opposed to composers? Question: Tempo inside your game? Didn’t have time. Tried to control it, but in the end shouldn’t try, should be inherent in the place. Does say he wants to do it in a systemic way though. Question: Expected player to feel anger? Hard to please everyone. But also, when you get pissed off, you actually like it, when you succeed. He wants player to have emotions and reactions to the game, to be destabilized. It’s a thin line. Not a perfect job on Far Cry 2 – but the ones who liked it really liked it.