“Hell or High Water” — Pissed of and looking for someone to blame

Looking into the dualistic structure of the narrative

“Hell or High Water” (2016) is at face value a classical tale of cops and robbers, or perhaps even a modern western as it has been hailed by many. It’s a story about what is right and what is wrong. Lawmen and outlaws. You don’t have to watch the movie for long before you notice that everything in the movie is 2-sided. There is two of everything. There is a counterpart for everything. Two brothers- one the criminal, one the law-abiding citizen. Two Texas Rangers- one white and one Native American.

All the main elements are opposites and are pulling in different directions. By doing so, the scenes in the movie have an inbuilt dynamic that creates a very interesting and well-paced narrative.

Word of warning: the rest of this article pretty much spoils the entire movie — so if you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you stop reading right here and return when you have watched it.

Cross-posted from Medium: https://medium.com/@simonlundlarsen/hell-or-high-water-always-two-there-are-b8f31c548004

“Carlito’s Way” — The One That Got Away

Looking into how one cleverly constructed long take perfectly illustrates Brian De Palma’s extraordinary craftsmanship and his mastery of the visual language.

Your body instinctually moves around when playing a video racing game. You can’t help it. You are leaning left and right, moving with the virtual car in the game.

And almost everyone has tried to lean forward in their cars to get a better look at a road sign, while speeding past on the highway. It makes little sense to the rational mind to lean forward a few inches to get a better glance at a sign, while moving forward a high speed. But we do it anyway.

Why? Because certain visual stimuli make us do it. It’s ingrained in us, as humans. The individual senses are tricked into overruling each other; even though we know we are sitting on our couch playing a racing game, the body leans, because our eyes tell us the car is moving. It’s pure muscle memory.

Director Brian De Palma is a masterful visual storyteller. He knows all the tricks in the book of visual medium, and his gangster opus “Carlito’s Way” from 1993 is a perfect example of this.

The Visual Language

One aspect where “Carlito’s Way” and Brian De Palma’s work excels is in the visual language. From fade in, he is telling us what kind of movie this will be.

He is inviting us into the realm of the story. The entire story you are about to watch is told directly by Carlito (brilliantly played by Al Pacino), laying on the stretcher being rushed to the hospital.

“[..] the first job of any good story is to completely anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a compelling illusion of reality.”
— “Wired for Story” by Lisa Cron

 

Lost but not forgotten

“I can’t make a better picture than this”
— Brian De Palma (from the “De Palma” documentary)

Carlito’s Way works perfectly on so many levels. If you want to study the medium of film and see why it is so different from other mediums, this is a perfect example to do so. Every scene is crafted with such care and precision. Nothing is left to chance, and it all works in unison, the action and acting on the screen, the dialogue, the cinematography, the music, the sound, and the editing. When so much care is put into each element, they are all capable of standing on their own but combined, it creates an experience like no other medium can provide.

Brian De Palma is not credited enough for his skill as a filmmaker. No matter if you regard him as one of the most significant auteurs of the 1970s to 1990s or you see him as a master craftsman capable of surrounding himself with top talent, you have to respect the work that carries his name.

>>> Read the entire article on Medium

Playable Design – Presenting a method for Game Development

The computer game industry is currently facing problems on how to structure and manage a production due to the cause of ever-growing budgets and manpower required. Methods from other fields have been tried. However, these are not built with the purpose of developing games and do not facilitate the entire production or qualities of a game. We have during the course of the project addressed this matter by devising a method of our own which should enhance the process of creating games. A deeper analysis of current computer game developments identified the main problems to occur in the pre-production which suggests that this is where the point of insertion should happen. We have based our solution on theory from fields such as software engineering, innovation theory and game design theory and supplied these by observations made through experiments where we simulated parts of a game production. The result is the EVE method, which stands for Experimentation, Visualization and Evaluation and is based on principles of creative process control, flexible design in the form of prototypes and easily accessible feedback through early testing.

Download the entire report below and get a ready-to-use game development process with an heavy emphasis on prototyping as a design tool.

Download

Playable Design – Master Thesis (PDF – 2.1 MB)

Me, myself and my avatar

Discussing participatory culture and player rights in virtual worlds
By Simon Larsen

Supervisor: T. L. Taylor
Course: Computer Games Culture – F2005

IT-University of Copenhagen


Me, myself and my avatar

The currently biggest virtual worlds 1 on the market boast millions of active players 2 and have indeed become as a second home for many. More and more of our leisure time are being spent in the world of Azeroth, Paragon City and Norrath 3. At the same time, more questions arise about player created content and the ownership of that. But what rights do players have in the games? To briefly sum it up; none. The majority of players have properly never even read the End User License Agreement or the Terms of Use for their game. But because games like these have become such a participatory media, or co-creative media to use the words of Sue Morris (2004) it is important to discuss ownership and control of these game media.

What problems lies in the fact that commercial companies effectively owns content created by players of virtual worlds?

Identity extension

The common statement you hear when discussing rights of players in virtual worlds is; “it’s just a game”. Yes and no, but there is much more to it. Scott McCloud writes in his book “Understanding Comics” (1993) about the interaction with inanimate objects;

When driving, for example, we experience much more than our five senses report. The whole car ” not just the parts we can see, feel and hear “is very much on your minds at all times. The vehicle becomes an extension of our body. It absorbs our sense of identity. We become the car.” (p. 38)
This notion of inanimate objects being an extension of our identity can be translate directly to virtual worlds. We and the avatar we control in the game are one and the same. That is why people spend so much time in the games and feels very much attached to their avatar and the actions done by and to them. The avatar is another version of them.

In online multiplayer games without persistence, the skill of my avatar and the skill of me, as a player, are directly linked together. If the game company Valve took the (however unlikely) decision to shut down all Counter-Strike servers worldwide, I could just take my FPS 4 skills and start playing Quake III or Unreal Tournament. With persistent game worlds that is much more difficult. The skills I have as a player only count for a part of the abilities of my avatar, the rest is gained from leveling in the game. If I was to change to another game, I had to start all over from scratch.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe

The counter-argument to this statement is – again “it’s just a game”. No actions in the game have real-life consequences. Still people spend months, even years, in some of these games, building social networks and honing their reputations by their actions (Taylor, 2002).

Who Watches the Watchmen?

If we take a closer look at World of Warcraft, we clearly see that the balance of power and control is uneven to say the least. Blizzard Entertainment? who runs World of Warcraft? explicitly states in their Terms of Use that:

“All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to World of Warcraft (including but not limited to any user Accounts, titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialogue, catch phrases, locations, concepts, [..], transcripts of the chat rooms, member profile information, [..]) are owned by Blizzard Entertainment or its licensors.” (Section §13. Ownership).

In short, everything related to the “universe” of Warcraft is owned by Blizzard. Any story that you as a player creates either in or outside of the game, through role-playing or otherwise is owned by Blizzard. It is, presumably, your labor of love, but you have to rights to it.

Furthermore, they state that: “You may not do anything that Blizzard Entertainment considers contrary to the ‘essence’ of World of Warcraft” (Section §3. World of Warcraft Code of Conduct, C.v). Even the quotation marks around “essence” are there, but the term is never defined clearer than that.

The power of many

But where is the fair use of the game? If I want to role-play a certain character in the game and create a back story around it that, goes against the ‘essence’ of World of Warcraft, what then? Will they ban my account from breaking the Terms of Use?

The value these players give to the overall game experience is higher than that of the game itself. Reed’s law 5 certainly applies to these games, where the number of participants in the network is directly connected with the value of the network. These games are nothing without the players 6.

Question left unanswered

“MUD players are people. They don’t stop being people when they log on. Therefore, they deserve to be treated like people. This means they have the rights of people.” (Koster, 2000)

Many questions still linger unanswered. This is a topic of continuously heated debate, and each side of the table has still to come up with the argument that would end the discussion.

If the balance of power over intellectual property and the player rights shifted more in the direction of the players (customers), would this unleash a barrage of legal issues that would eventually end the MMORPGs, as we know them today? Is it then best to leave the balance in its status quo?

Would this damage the game playing experience? Would it destroy the play, as in? I play a game to escape real life, why bring real life in here? Is this the Pandora’s Box of virtual Worlds?

Could the game companies gain more from loosening the grip on the rights, instead of controlling them rigorously? As Henry Jenkins writes (2002), some game companies already do and seem to be gaining from it.

 

References

All links checked as of April 2005. Not all are referenced directly in the text.

Notes

  1. Here I am referring to Virtual Worlds, MMORPGs, MUDs, MOOs (The terms are here used interchangeably) and the like, as game spaces that encompasses some form of interaction with other players (people). It is intently used very broad, so here it includes, without excluding, games such as “World of Warcraft”, “City of Heroes”, “Second Life”, “Counter-Strike”, “Quake”, “EVE-Online”, “Anarchy Online”, and so on. Even respected scholars are finding it hard to determine what constitutes as a virtual world and what does not (http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2004/06/a_virtual_world.html)
  2. According to MMOGchart.com
  3. “Azeroth” being the fictional world of “World of Warcraft”, “Paragon City” is from “City of Heroes” and “Norrath” is the world of “Everquest”
  4. FPS: First Person Shooters. An action-oriented genre of games, currently dominated by games such as Counter-Strike, Half-Life 2, DOOM III and Far Cry.
  5. Reed’s Law states that a value of a social network is directly connected with the number of participants. 2N − N − 1, where n is the number of participants in the network, e.g. a network of 5 participants would have the value of 26, while a network of 10 would have a value of 1013. The value of the network scale exponentially with more participants (Wikipedia).
  6. As of writing this players of World of Warcraft are leaving the game by the numbers and canceling their accounts because of their dislike of a new PvP system that has been implemented

Scaling geometry difficulty in Level Design

The last few days I’ve been playing a lot of God of War II and thoroughly enjoying every last moment of it. That is, up until now. I’ve just gotten to some of the last levels I presume as the story arc is nearing its end (the Phoenix Champers) and the difficulty have just risen so steeply in the last few levels that the game is becoming more frustrating than fun to play.

Let me explain. In the last few years I’ve steadily gone from being a hard-core gamer to a somewhat ex-core gamer due to high level of time consuming elements of my life (such as university studies, wife and son). And that has some clear effects on my timing and aiming skills. These skills only stay good if honed continuously, and I simply don’t have the time for that.

And in the case of God of War II many of the later sequences of the game requires just these skills. As I’ve become an ex-core gamer I tend to play on the easy setting just so that I have time to complete the game without using too much time on it and still see the parts of the game that everyone is talking about. The problem is just that the geometry in the level design don’t scale. The difficulty of making a jump in a 3D environment is just as hard on extreme difficulty as it is on easy.

And that’s no good.

When games moved into 3D, however, the jumping puzzle became a more difficult task. In addition to requiring the player to control their jumps in an extra dimension, the problem of viewpoint reared its ugly head. Games with fixed cameras sometimes made it quite difficult for the players to see where they were landing, while manual control added another control to juggle. #

I would really like to see that if I choose to play on easy setting that the jumping and timing puzzles gets scaled accordingly, else I’ll end up in the position I’m at with God of War II currently; I’ll just stop playing and all the hard work and godly greatness being purred into the levels to come will forever be lost on me.

Alfred Hitchcock and The Elements of Suspense

On Why Hitchcock Still Can Make You Sit on the Edge of Your Seat.
Written as part of my education in Medialogy in December 2003


 

From the introduction:

What is Suspense? 

Suspense is today such an incorporated element of movies that it for many seems second hand, but what elements are needed to create a good suspense scene? It is easy to spot a non-working suspense scene, but what are the key elements that make a good scene become a masterpiece?

It is impossible to talk about suspense without mentioning Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). He was the master of the technique. Although Hitchcock was not the first to use suspense in movies he had in the “golden era” of his career (from the mid 50s to the late 60s) developed a template for implementing suspense that worked so well that it is still revered as the best examples of the use of suspense.

In Hitchcock’s own words:

“There is a clear difference between surprise and suspense […]. We are sitting here and having an innocent conversation. Let us assume that there is a bomb under this table between us. […] suddenly there is a loud boom and the bomb goes off. The audience is surprised, but before this surprise they have only seen a very ordinary scene without any significance. Let us instead look at suspense scene. The bomb is under the table and the audience is aware of this because they have seen the anarchist plant it there. They also know that the bomb will go off at one o’clock, and up on the wall is a clock showing that the time is now quarter to one […]. In the first scene we have given the audience 15 seconds of surprise […] but in the last scene we have given them fifteen minutes of suspense.”.

The whole scene rests on this difference in knowledge and the audience’s fear on behalf of the unknowing characters.

In short: Suspense is a dramaturgy technique that plays of the difference in knowledge between the audience and the characters on the screen. It often revolves around subjects like; will the hero reach the right place and save the heroine before it is too late? Will the bomb expert defuse the bomb before it goes of? Will the detective see the sinister figure waiting in the alley?

Download

Download the PDF here (2,5 MB): Elements of suspense

Den korteste vej til algoritmner og spil

IN DANISH ONLY

Written as part of my master thesis in Information Science together with Jens Frederiksen in December 2004 at the IT-University of Copenhagen.


 

Abstrakt

Denne rapport og den dertilhørende Java kildekode, er kulminationen på vores 16 uger programmeringsprojekt på IT – Universitetet i efteråret 2004.

Vi har undersøgt hvilke algoritmer og datastrukturer der skal anvendes for at lave en repræsentation af Hex spillet som Piet Hein og John Nash opfandt uafhængigt af hinanden for snart 50 år siden.

Vi har kigget på to forskellige korteste vej algoritmer; brede-først-søgning og Dijktras algoritme. For at finde den korteste vej er graf strukturen et naturligt valg, til at undersøge problematikken. Der er benyttet disjunkte mængder datastrukturen for at nemt at kunne undersøge om en spiller har skabt en forbindelse med spillerens to sider.

Hex spillet er blevet brugt som case for at udforske de algoritmer og datastrukturer, for at få spillet til at fungere. Vi har implementeret to versionen af spillet i Java, hvor den ene version er den som Hein og Nash opfandt og den anden er en version hvor alle felterne på spillebrættet har en vægt som har betydning for den korteste vej i fra den vindende spillerens to sider.

 

Indledning

Vores mål med projektet var at kigge nærmere på spillet Hex / Polygon Game som et klassisk graf problem inden for algoritmer og datastrukturer. Vi præsenterer vores implementering af disse ved hjælp af et simpelt userinterface udarbejdet i Java, hvor de underlæggende algoritmer og datastrukturer liggende bagved også programmet i Java.

Vi valgte programmeringssproget Java, da vi tidligere har erfaringer med dette og da et af projektets formål var at udforske objektorienteret programmering virkede dette som et oplagt valg.

Det overordnende mål i vores projekt er at opnå en grundlæggende forståelse af grafer, træer og datastrukturer, samt hvordan de benyttes og udarbejdes på en hensigtsmæssig måde i forbindelse med konstruktion af spil. Implementeringen af disse i Java er sekundært, og udarbejdelsen af et userinterfase tertiært.

Projektet er derfor todelt, i henholdsvis en teoretisk og en praktisk del. Den teoretiske del skal give os en indsigt i algoritmernes og datastrukturers overordnede opbygning. Den praktiske del vil bestå i en implementering af de teoretiske elementer i Java.

For både at få den teoretiske indlæring om datastrukturer og algoritmer og for at sikre en mere praktisk tilgang til emnet har vi anvendt spillet Hex som en case. Derigennem har vi direkte kunne afprøve og af- eller bekræfte noget af den læste teori.

Problemformulering

Hvordan sikre man at spillet Hex altid har styr på om der er en vinder og dernæst for at finde den korteste vej fra den vindende spillers to sider?

Afgrænsning

Hex spillet udspringer af matematikkens verden, vi vil dog ikke dække det matematiske aspekt i spillets udformning eller forskellige strategier. Vi bruger blot Hex spillet til at udforske datastrukturer og algoritmer.

Vi beskriver ikke alle benyttede datastrukturer i detaljer, f.eks. prioritetskøer. Ligeledes har vi ikke brugt de matematiske analysemodeller for datastrukturer og algoritmer, som f.eks. Stor O notation.

Målgruppe

Det er vores mål at give en beskrivelse af de teorier og emner, som vi gennemgår i rapporten på et abstraktionsniveau, hvor essensen er bibeholdt, men hvor de matematiske beviser for de forskellige begreber træder i baggrunden. Det er for at holde fast i vores mål om at skrive denne rapporten til vores valgte målgruppe; studerende som os, som ikke har haft undervisning i algoritmer eller datastrukturer og derfor ikke kan forventes at have nogen forkundskaber eller viden omkring emnet.

Download

Download hele rapporten her i PDF (7,7 MB): Den korteste vej til algoritmer og spil

Level design patterns

Looking for the Principles of Unified Level Design

Written as part of my master thesis in Information Science in April 2006 at the IT-University of Copenhagen.


 

“Few things are harder to put up with than a good example” – Mark Twain

Introduction

My aim with this paper is to take the idea of formal design tools and show how to apply them to the process of creating levels for multiplayer first-person shooters (FPS). The focus of this paper to be on the architectural properties of the levels and not the storyline or other added elements that differ from game to game. Single player games are often very linearly structured because they need to convey a tightly knitted storyline to the player. The levels themselves are constructed in such a way that they emphasize the storyline and underline the mood and setting that the story is conveying. Multiplayer games must to a much higher degree leave the playing field open, so to speak. To use the words of one of the leading forces behind Epic Games’ Unreal Tournament series, Cliff Bleszinski:

“A Level Designer who is building for a Multiplayer oriented title is much like a playground architect” (2000a).

The storyteller is no longer present to the same extent as in a single player game. Multiplayer games are often fast-paced and center on reaching specific predetermined team-based objectives. So when looking for examples that underline the design patterns presented herein the following games are the only ones taken into consideration:

  1. Unreal Tournament 2004 (by Epic Games, 2004)
  2. Day of Defeat: Source (by Valve, 2005)
  3. Battlefield 1942 (by DICE, 2002)

To use a famous quote from pioneering game developer Sid Meier; the aim is to look for “interesting choices” in level design. I wanted to draw the attention towards design patterns for multiplayer level design, since most of the literature available on multiplayer levels design seems to focus solely on collision points (Bleszinski 2000a) (Saltzman, 2000) (Güttler & Johansson, 2005) and I strongly believe that this is just a (small) part of a very larger picture of designing multiplayer levels. Secondly, of all the other works on design patterns for game design (see section 2.3.1 on page 7) none is focused on level design.

Problem statement

Level design is essentially is a craft and therefore you need proven formal tools. By using design patterns as a design tool when creating levels multiplayer games you ensure that the players can seamlessly navigate through your game world. At the same time, it will greatly reduce the scope of the design process as you apply tried and tested solutions to your current problem domain.

There is no need for reinventing the wheel every time you plan and design a new level. The question that I will try to answer in this paper is; how can formalized design patterns be used for creating interesting choices in level design?

What are design patterns?

Design patterns are formal tools used for solving known problems. Said in another way; it is a design toolbox. In many fields, ranging from architecture, over software development to creative fields such as literature and movies, people are using some form of formal design tools to help create their work. Some call them design patterns others call them “tools-of-the-trade”, but they are essentially the same; formal tools that describe problems (or problematic areas) and proven ways to solve them. If we take movies as example, try to count how many movies you have seen lately that followed a storyline similar to this one: the main character of the story sets out on a quest to undo the wrongdoings that have fallen upon him/her. During this quest, the main character faces many perils and is close to giving up near the ending, but somehow he/she prevails in the end. I would dare say that the large majority of the movies present on IMDb.com’s Top 250 list of the greatest movies ever made follow a storyline very similar to the above. Looking at how movies like Indiana Jones, the Star Wars movies, and The Matrix trilogy is using the Hero’s Journey way of storytelling and then comparing it to the way David Lynch told the story of Lost Highway it is easy to spot the difference. Filmmakers such David Lynch, who is truly artists in their field, makes movies that are not easily understandable. Ask anyone who has seen Lost Highway (1997) or Mulholland Drive (2001) of what the movie is about and you will properly end up with as many answers as people you ask. The popular movies all revolve around the same story outline. They do it because it works. It is easy to understand for the viewers, because of the familiarity of the storyline. You can argue that this type of storyline is a design pattern. Are they works of art? No, by no means! But they are all using a collection of very effective tools for creating entertainment that is easily recognizable for everyone.

The question then is; do these tools hinder the creative workflow and merely created assembly line produced entertainment that all look the same? When doing level design for multiplayer FPS, the aim is not that the player must play against the environment and solve its architectural puzzles embedded within. They must be able to instantly recognize the navigational patterns and move fluidly through the level. The architecture must be created in such a way that the players are working with the environment and it is not becoming an obstacle that the player also has to overcome. More Indiana Jones and less David Lynch, so to speak.

Prior work

The idea of using formal design tools as an approach to solving issues in different fields is not new, not even in the domain of computer game design. Christopher Alexander et al. described design patterns as a formal design tool for use in the field of architecture in the book A Pattern Language (1977). In it Alexander writes the sentence that should prove to be the foundation for the entire use of design patterns in software development in the decades to come:

Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice. (Alexander, 1977, p. x)

Software developers Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson and John Vlissides based their neo-classical book on software development Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (1995) on Alexander’s description of a design pattern. They took the notion of having abstract patterns describing solutions that could be used to solve some very concrete problems in software development. It is properly within traditional software development that you can find the biggest influence of design patterns.

Design patterns in games

Design patterns in games have been a topic of discussion for some time now. Doug Church proposed what he saw a way of overcoming some of the very general problems involved with the process of game development and game design in his article: “Formal Abstract Design Tools” (1999). Harvey Smith has also proposed some formal design tools. During two separate presentations at the Game Developers Conference he outlined the thoughts behind his “Systemic Level design” (2002) and “Orthogonal Unit Differentiation (O.U.D.)” (2003). Common for these two presentations is that he is talking about design patterns, but he never get around to actually calling them that.

Someone who did indeed call the formal design tools for design patterns were Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen. They presented in their book Patterns in Game Design from 2004 a way of using patterns in the process of designing games. Their book took the call from Bernd Kreimeier’s article “The Case for Game Design Patterns” (2002). Björk and Holopainen have with their book made the definitive documentation of how and when to apply design patterns to the process of game design. Björk and Holopainen have continued to work with the aim of making design patterns for games an intricate part of the game design process. Both with “The Game Design Patterns Project” website4 and with their newer article “Design Patterns and Games” (2006). Noah Falstein and Bob Bates revived their “The 400 Project” project during the Game Developers Conference in March 2006. Their project is a very ambitious take on rules that makes a good game. The project was originally started by Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein in 2001, and even though they rigidly state on the project website No, although there are similarities. Alexander’s work grew out of architecture, and is, in Hal’s words “A welcomed allied analysis”. But it lacks the imperative – the 400 rules are stated in terms of instructions to follow, rather than observations of existing patterns. It also lacks the trumping information that is important to understanding how these rules interact. The similarities between their project and game design patterns cannot be overlooked. As of writing this they have listed 112 rules of the 400 intended.

A very brief history of multiplayer first-person-shooters

In 1992 id Software released Wolfenstein 3D and effectively changed action games forever. The game measured a whopping 700 Kb, a huge amount at the time, but was nonetheless downloaded a quarter million times (Saltzman, 2000, p. 111) in the year it was released6. Since then firstperson-shooters (FPS), as the genre became known as, have become one of the most popular genres.

Wolfenstein 3D was technically not the first action game with a first-person perspective7, but it was without doubt the game that launched the genre. The second generation FPSs were building  upon the foundations id Software made with their first games Wolfenstien 3D (1992) and especially the two DOOM games (1993 & 1994).

Quake (1996) and Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995) showed signs of more advance gameplay, but it was not until GoldenEye 007 (1997) and Half-Life (1998) that the genre really showed its full potential. The FPSs was clearly maturing as a genre and the desire to innovate the gameplay elements, spawned memorable games such as Medal of Honor (1999) and Halo (2001). This was also the period when the genre finally moved online with various offerings for multiplayer play with Quake 3 (1999) and Unreal Tournament (1999) leading the masses.

One game really opened the eyes for the potential of multiplayer FPS was Counter-Strike. It did not start out as a stand-alone game, but as a mod for Half-Life. But the influence this mod had (and still very much have) on multiplayer FPSs is not to be overlooked. When it was first released in June 1999, it quickly became the most popular game to play over the internet. You can in fact talk about the eras before and after Counter-Strike. It is still to this day the undisputed king of online FPSs. According to Wikipedia.org Counter-Strike accounted for 70 percent of entire the online FPS audience in 2004. Valve, the developer of Half-Life, also saw the commercial potential of Counter-Strike and bought the rights for the mod and later turned the once free mod in to a commercial product in November 2000. Valve released a much anticipated updated version of the game called Counter-Strike: Source in 2004. This version utilizes the much more powerful game engine Source that also powers Valve’s other products such as Half-Life 2 (2004) and Day of Defeat: Source (2005).

Other multiplayer FPSs worth mentioning are the Tribes series (covering three games from 1998 to 2004), Battlefield series (covering three games 2002 to 2005 and numerous expansion of each game), and lastly the free Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003) is worth mentioning for it’s addition of experience points to the class system.

The sole reason that Counter-Strike is not included as an example is this paper is the mere fact that it is the most analyzed FPS game around. Adding one more analysis to the pile would not accompany much. Instead I have opted to look at the before mentioned games.

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Level design patterns (PDF – 2,1 MB)

Please do not walk on the grass

On how role-playing in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” can be difficult

Before you starting spamming the comment function with enlightening comments such as “GTA is not a RPG you idiot!”, let me explain what I mean with role-playing in a game like Grand Theft Auto (GTA);

It is correct that GTA is not marketed as a RPG, but in it you play the role of Carl Johnson ((or just plain CJ among friends)) in his quest for correcting all the wrongdoings that has come upon him and his family. This, in itself, does not really constitute GTA as a RPG, since then all games would more or less be RPGs, but the sheer size of the game world and the freedom to roam around in this, creates a narrative vacuum that the player has to fill out by him/herself, very similar to “normal” RPGs. Furthermore you, as a player, are free to dress up Carl in more or less any way you find suitable and “pimp his ride” in various ways. On top of that you have the element of the fitness and sex appeal of CJ. These elements are clearly added into the game in order for the players to identify more with CJ, e.g. that they share the same goals and behave in a way you would prefer etc.

The overall story arc of the game is very well constructed but in some cases the narrative that the player is creating (though his/her (inter)actions) clashes very hard with the narrative that Rockstar Games has put into the game.

When I first loaded the game on my PS2, I was expecting the grandeur of the two previous games in the series, GTA III and GTA: Vice City, and Rockstar delivered. The game is bigger, prettier, sounds better and driving around in the game is just a fun as it was in the others. It has a great and better written story than the previous game. But this is also where GTA: SA goes down an unfamiliar path for the series.

In GTA III the protagonist was an unnamed guy with a gritty past, the plot was familiar in sense of “Goodfellas” kind of way. And again with GTA: VC the setting was instantly recognizable, everything from the Miami Vice inspired intro, the Don Johnson and “that other Guy“, the pink flamingos and everything in between.

These two games worked perfectly, because the story was loose and the setting geared towards only one kind of storyline, so there was little difference in the story that Rockstar had put into the game and the story that the player developed while playing.

I would argue that the focus on a better and stronger story proved to be San Andreas’ Achilles’ heel. As I said, the story is better, no need to argue about that, but it is also tighter and more confined, therefore limiting in the way the players act out their “inner criminal”.

An example of this is in the first part of the game. Here you take on the “Doberman” mission, a mission that involves taking over some gang territory from competing gangs in Los Santos (the first of three cities in the state of San Andreas). The game explain very clearly how the game mechanics works in connection with this and before long you and your recruited gang members are out cruising in pimped-up lowriders looking for drive-by action ((note the deliberate use of “you” and “your”)). Within minutes full-blown gang war is happening in downtown Los Santos.

The gang war gameplay element of SA is a nice little (mini) game in itself, but wear out after some time. And this is where the real trouble kicks in.

After I’d have taken over more or less the entire city of Los Santos and in the process developed my own story of CJ as being this “don’t-you-look-at-me-or-I?ll-shoot-you” kind of guy, that doesn’t take any crap from anyone (yes, really living out my inner criminal here) I decided to take on a mission I was more or less certain that would progress the story line of the game. And the mission did indeed progress the story, but in a whole other direction than the one I wanted.

The mission starts with a cutscene where a crocket cop named Tenpenny (brilliantly voice-acted by Samuel L. Jackson) back-stabs CJ. Since it was a cut-scene there was nothing I could do, even though my view of CJ had now become this before mentioned hard-boiled gangster that would blow the head of anyone trying to cheat him, even cops.

So there I was, thrown out of town, with no guns, no homies to protect me, no nothing. Just seconds ago I was the king of town, I was the guy with homies on every street corner looking out for me, I was the one everyone feared and few had live to tell the tale of. CJ and I were one, but no more. The bond between me, as the player of the game, and Carl Johnson was lost the minute he sat foot in the hillbilly town of Angle Pine… never to be found again.

I kept on playing the game, but CJ was no longer an important part of the game for me, now I was just looking for quick ways to complete the missions, earn money to buy property and scouting for nice cars to drive around.

After this “incident” I played the game in the way Rockstar properly wanted me to play it. The problem was that they had open up this huge game world for me and told me that I could do anything I wanted in. But in really they wanted me to act in a very specific way in it, and not walk on the pretty grass even though I could.

No Man is an Island

Looking for the dynamics between the game, the group and the player

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” John Donne (1572 – 1631)

 

Preface

This report was written in fall of 2005 as part for a project cluster in “Advanced Computer Game Analysis” at the IT-University of Copenhagen. The idea of this cluster was to look at games in an analytical and methodological perspective, and by doing so understand the elements and functions behind the game. During this report we will investigate how and why group structures within multiplayer games emerge.

As this is a new field for all of us we have consulted people who are currently working in this field. We would like to thank Miguel Sicart and Jonas Heide Smith, PhD students at the IT-University, for going beyond the call of duty and sharing thoughts and ideas on the subject.

 

Introduction

This was not how they planed it. This was going to be a walk-over. The dragons of The Blasted Lands were known throughout the entire realm of Azeroth, as being easy prey for seasoned adventurers like themselves. But something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong. Seven of the ten man strong group that had set out to bring down the dragons, were no longer among the living. Their lifeless corpses lay scattered on the hillside which had proven their final doom. One of them was still on fire, but the proud warrior that once occupied that body, had long since seized his panicking attempts to put it out. He was now walking the lonely road through the eternal fields of the afterlife. Their slogan of “you will never walk alone” suddenly had a very hollow ring to it. Every man for himself was now the order of the day. The chance of survival was close to none. Everyone was running around screaming. “I’m not even supposed to be here for crying out loud! You just be happy I’m helping you fight this dragon.” “Can’t anyone control that freaking rogue? We have rules, and a chain of command for the love of God. If nobody followed our rules it would just be total anarchy. I make the calls of when to fight and when to run!” Never before had they been in these parts of the barren wastelands. Before leaving the secure town of Ironforge behind, they had allied themselves with some highly skilled veterans to help with bringing the dragon down. Because down it had to go! The legend had it that the dragons of The Blasted Lands held guard over some of the most precious metals in the entire known world. Metals that could be used to forge mighty swords and armor. But all that seemed to matter little now…

The story above is an imaginary scene from the game World of Warcraft. Even though none of this really took place, it is included to illustrate some of the mechanics in the game. The game mechanics combined with the human factors, are some of the issues which we will try to cover in this report.

All the members of this project group have been playing games for many years and take great interest in especially multiplayer games and how relations between people emerge in such games. Anyone who has spent a few hours in a multiplayer game has probably experienced how people act and interact in different ways. We have all experienced the good and bad things about such games. How people interact with each other and the game has been our starting point. What we intend to clarify is whether or not the player is influenced by the context of a group and if there is a mutual exchange between players. In the following sections we will clarify the scope of this project and how we will approach the subject.

Problem area

Games in the genre of “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” (MMOGs) have during the last couple of years exploded in terms of player population and popularity. Why, could one ask? What do these games provide that make people, month after month, pay fairly big amounts of money to play? Is it the chance to experience grand adventures, epic battles or the opportunity to rise as a hero in a world of chaos? Or is it something completely non-game related, like chatting, forming new friendships etc.?

In the beginning it is fairly reasonable to expect that the main focus of a player in any MMOG is to explore and learn how to act within the game world, but as time passes and you get more and more familiar with your surroundings other objectives arise; at some point you know everything there is to know about the world and you are faced with a dilemma – what to do now? Either you quit the game completely or you find new objectives within the game – e.g. acquiring the best item, being the best player at a specific game mechanic or building strong social relations. These objectives then serve as a means to keep playing, even though the game itself does not instruct you to. One could say that you stop playing the designers game and instead start to play within the world.

So why is this interesting? Well, people tend to approach games in a very rational fashion; how do I optimize my chance of winning. This is due to how games are structured – a cost-benefit principle where every move should be weighed according to the overall goal of the game. This is certainly the case if we were talking about single player games, where every move only affects you. So, would it be a sensible assumption to make when we are talking multiplayer games, MMOGs in particular? During our initial studies, we saw a tendency that people seemed to deviate from this assumption. Why is that? It seems there is something else affecting the player, when he enters a social context. Why would anyone emphasise a non-game related issues, like social interaction, in a situation where winning is everything? Of course there are anomalies among players – not everyone is playing to win a game, but it is, as we see it, a minority in comparison with most players (Smith, forthcoming).

During this report we will try to clarify the key factors when people participating in certain group structures – e.g. do players always choose, as one could expect, the rational choice in a particular context? In exploring this phenomenon we are using the MMOG World of Warcraft as a case study.

This game is currently the biggest MMOG on the marked, with more than 5 million subscribing users (Blizzard.com). It’s truly a game which has managed to appeal to players in a broader perspective. People of every age, play this game. It has become a leading title within this genre and is probably shaping the next generation of MMOGs.

Problem statement

Based upon the problem area we will try to answer the following question:

  • When playing World of Warcraft, what are the key factors of the relationship between the player and the group?

To understand why players make certain choices regarding group structures, we will initially have to clarify how the game facilitates group structures and what types of players it is dealing with. We will therefore use the following questions as means to answer the before-mentioned statement.

  • How are groups structured within World of Warcraft?
  • Which type of players takes part in these structures?

Problem limitation

As part of our problem limitation we have chosen only to focus on World of Warcraft. This is done due to two factors. First of all because of the extreme focus which World of Warcraft is experiencing at this time, which has, as mentioned in the first section, managed to capture the essence for many types of players and thereby their way of playing. Secondly we wanted a problem area of manageable size.

In our analysis we will be using different theories to verify or explain certain findings. We will not at any time try to verify or substantiate the theories, but merely use them as a foundation from which we will try to explain player behaviour in a social context.

 

The report

In the following section there will be a brief introduction to the report and how this is structured. In order to answer or problem statement we have decide to divide the report into two sections, where each part respectively will handle “the group” and “the player”. Each chapter will be organised in the following way:

  • Theory – the theory will be used to analyse the mechanics of the game and will be introduced at the beginning of each chapter.
  • The analysis – the theory combined with the empirical material should give us some answers to our initial (sub-) problem statement.
  • Conclusion – there will be a summary of all our findings regarding the analysis.

The consequence of this structure is that we do not have a purely theoretical chapter, where all the theory is introduced at once, but rather it is split up into smaller parts and explained when needed.

 

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No Man Is An Island (PDF – 1.3 MB)