Posts Tagged ‘games’

Why Don’t Characters Have Minds?

Posted: June 15, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Musings, Story
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Behaviourism as I was taught it in Sociology classes seems a bit different from how Wikipedia puts it. Notably, as I understand and will discuss the issue, people may as well not have thoughts and feelings. All you can judge them by, all you can understand them by, is their behaviour, their utterances, their frowns. The behaviour they exhibit.

Now, while this may sound par the course for those of us who walk around the world, we cannot assume, according to behaviourism that there is a construct such as the “Mind” at work here. We treat “frown” as is not happy, and perhaps even the desire to transmit that idea. We treat laughter as approval, but we do not look at people as if they are having a thought regarding something being funny. There’s nothing beyond the laughter, and perhaps connecting it to what had preceded it. There’s no black box that finds things funny, sad… and if there is, it’s locked to us (and this is how it differs from the definition given by Wikipedia).

Now I’m going to ask you people to forget the above discussion – not literally, but if you have objections to it, then they are most likely not relevant, as I was covering what lead me to the thoughts I’ve had, for the most part.

As I seem to have said so once before regarding emotional connection, to characters, characters in roleplaying games seem devoid of “minds”. All we get to see are their actions, hear what they say, and we get to make up whatever story regarding what goes on inside their minds, or we can even ignore the whole question; what you see is what you get.

I find this quite different from normal human interaction, where we seem to always be attempting to gauge what people are thinking through their reactions. It is the black box which we are attempting to piece.

I think games should have more moments to explore what characters feel and think, even if it were in the form of monologues like soap operas. The closest we’ve got is I think in inSpectres’ confessionals, though those are more akin to the 40-something confessionals or those in Survivor (reality show), and as such are just as suspect as anything else said by the character. I think it’d be interesting to explore, share, and have the game informed by what occurs inside the characters’ heads.

As for “Deep roleplaying”, or immersion, it solves very little, seeing as even if we were to treat those characters as people, we still are not privy to what they think. For something that seeks to emulate stories, this is quite a lacuna.

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I’m beat, so posting this idea before I crawl to bed and forget it.

I was thinking of using this idea in order to write fiction, and maybe not even just ultra-short fiction but a real short story, but I don’t know if I’m up to it. I also thought of it in regards to RPGs later, but it might serve as a better way to showcase it.

You know how in ‘s RPG, Primitive, you play cavemen and as such, you also come up with the tribe’s lingo during the game, and are limited to monosyllables(more or less)? Well, how about a game/story where there are no words, no verbal or gesture-based language to discuss things amongst different characters?

Now, in a story, or even a game, it could be unclear whether there is no language, and you just show how it is without it, or that it is a limitation imposed, something that is true within the character. That ambiguity is easier to maintain in ultra-short fiction, like I’ve toyed with here(friends only link to a micro-fiction I’ve written, comment and ask for me to email it to you if you so desire).
The characters act, they can use body language, like setting a hand on someone’s shoulder, or weeping into their hands, but no sign language, or pantomiming.

In an RPG, you can either design it into a game or just impose this as a limitation upon players.


Watched Gran Turino, was good, liked it for reasons different than what I didn’t like about Watchmen. But if you read what I’ve said of Watchmen, one of the things I’ve liked was how much of an Eastwood vibe Rorschach gave off. Well, Eastwood’s character here sometimes almost growled, but rather than seem ridiculous, it didn’t, it also seemed somewhat self-ironic from a meta-movie point of view, of Eastwood, or of the character he played here.

Anyway, Eastwood’s character was named “Walter Kovalski” and Rorschach’s name is “Walter Kovacs”, heh.

Edit: I forgot, the reason I liked Gran Turino, even though it may not have had a “message”, is that it did something else that can make a movie good: It affected me emotionally. It was well crafted, and it hit you where it aimed to. And that’s enough.

Diablo 3!

Posted: June 28, 2008 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
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It looks totally cool. The art really resembles that of Warcraft 3, look at the Gnarled Walker‘s middle picture.

The game looks like a lot of fun. The surrounding environment that gets blown up (like in the Witch Doctor‘s Firebomb ability).

Action, swift action, cool enemies (watch the playthrough demo trailer), like this thing that breaks into a swarm of land-eels of sorts. It was a bit amusing to hear how you should have Ground Stomped to stun the shield-skeletons, so you could get past their shields, when the Whirlwind cut through them with ease.

The final boss-monster was cool, in a novel way: one of the characters kept running around it, and it kept turning around, trying to get its aim locked on it, heh.
The Locust Swarm is totally cool.

Oh, the Barbarian seems to be the same Barbarian from Diablo 2, twenty years older. In the gameplay, when he rescues Deckard Cain, they seem to recognize one another.

I had understood what the “problem” with Cranium Rats was a while ago, but I needed to let it sit and stew for a while more.

First, I’d like to thank Filip, who tried to break the system as hard as he could, and showed me the gravity of the problem.

So, the problem is this: There’s friction between Story and Competition, and it is such that one not only comes at the cost of another for you, it can come at the cost of the other for everyone. If you choose winning, mechanically, you may make choices that will make less sense to the story, or will make for a weaker story, and I wish the story to be significant at the same time as there being unrestrained competitionl. But I guess the lesson is that you can’t have both.

I will now explore similar cases in other RPGs that sadly do not apply to my case, but I want to show that I am looking at other cases, and if someone manages to solve this issue, I would be there, ready to jump and grab it.
Capes: Capes doesn’t have an end-point, which limits the competition; there’s always a next time. Nothing is finite. Another possibility is when competition is not really there, you want to “Win” for Resource A, and he wants to “Lose” for Resource B. In CR there’s an end point, there’s a definite winner, and so, definite losers.
The Shab-al-hiri Roach: In the Roach you have a roadmap, it’s very much like a boardgame in that respect. You know where you’re going, you have a limited number of stops on the way, and you get there. It requires the game to be built in a specific manner, which I didn’t choose for CR.

So, what can be made of Cranium Rats?
One option is to remove Story, and have it as a board game, or nearly one, but this option is the least appealing to me.
Another option is to remove competition, to make it a game about Choice and what makes a Human. Heady stuff. If I go down this route, I’ll also be able to take out much of the current system, which is complex and fiddly, because the system is there to regulate the resource flow and ensure no one is “Downspiraled” to a point of insignificance. This is an option I think I will pursue, and that will lead to an interesting result.

If you people have any ideas of how to mate competition and story successfully, please share.
Or if you have thoughts/ideas/feedback/suggestions or whatever regarding the above, especially option #2.

First, I’d cover how all of my games are connected, it’s as if the memes contained by each game mutated and were passed on.
First came Cranium Rats, then Slime Octopi and Coral, from the idea of a competitive three+ players and an external agent player.
Mechanical Primum Mobile, my two page technological horror game came third, and stood on its own.
Troll Lands basically took the “Monster Parts” idea of Slime Octopi and Coral, though I only realized it after the fact. If I were to re-write Slime Octopi and Coral, I’d take heavily from the advanced and much cleaner techniques of Troll Lands.
Troll Lands in my mind brought the idea of a shoot-off game, where you play Covert-Ops, ala Nikita (or Alias), with Trolls being replaced with agencies, and different roles changing their names. And your goal, as in Troll Lands, being to resist change (or cause it?).
Juiced Rider, Memory Mecha, my latest game, is in a way also a game of Technological Horror. I knew I wanted there to be cards in the resolution mechanic, and although it’s totally different than the way it’s in Mechanical Primum Mobile, it was always in my thoughts when I made this game’s mechanics.
Edit: My games, except Juiced Rider, Memory Mecha, can be had at Cranium Rats Central.


Now we can talk about my games, pimping of them, rejection, and the feelings involved. Both adamdray and kleenestar asked me about this, on Knife Fight, but I knew from the beginning this belongs here, on my own journal.

When I began designing Cranium Rats, I’ve been a denizen of RPG.net, but it didn’t do for me what I needed, it was a discussion based community, and I needed a community where the focus will be on game design, on helping with the design, finding playtests, etc.
I went to the The Forge, the Indie RPG community, also lauded as a design community.
The Forge just started its “First Thoughts” sub-forum, I hit jackpot! A forum for the first thoughts and ideas, and initial mechanics pre-playtesting of one’s game.

I got some ideas on my game, some thoughts, some pointers at other people who at the time had ideas similar to my own (there were two), of having one character controlled by various people, each of whom portrays a different aspect of their personality. To note, my game was mentioned to others which came with such an idea for several months to come, which made me feel nice.

I also met Filip Luszczyk and edwardbenedict on the Forge. They were instrumental, and are instrumental, to all of my designs thus far. That’s the greatest thing the Forge gave me, my alpha readers.

Posting additional mechanical ideas on the Forge resulted in some more alpha-level looks, but the critical issue came after I finished writing the first draft of my game. Aside from my alpha readers, my circle, who were now my friends, it was like pulling teeth getting people to read my document, to play my game, or to give feedback.

Some people bemoaned my lack of clarity. I rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. Some people still claim my texts are unreadable. This drives me crazy. I understand the fault is mine, but I’m still extremely frustrated by it. With each re-write more people said they could follow my game, and those who can’t can follow more than they could previously, so I do derive some satisfaction from it. But ultimately I’m frustrated at being unable to communicate clearly. It is so bad in fact, that I think my next version of Cranium and/or Rats will be given to Mr. Bennett (EdwardBenedict) to rewrite into plain English, for part of the revenue (if we get to that stage).
Yes, accepting one’s strong sides, and those that are not as strong, is an important part of creation. At least if you want to get anywhere.

Some people are not comfortable with my.. pushiness. Pimping my game over and over again (though each time it’s to a newcomer, so it’s those who heard it before who suffer), or asking time and time again whether someone had a chance to read the manuscript yet, and if so, what they thought, why they think they thought that, areas to improve, and so on and so forth, but, as I’ll illustrate below, I believe only being pushy got me anywhere at all.

So, my first game, Cranium Rats, had underwent 5 revisions, of various proportions, and is currently sitting still at Beta version 3.0. Many of those revisions were done based on comprehensive feedback given by one or two people. Almost all of the post-alpha stage (the idea stage) feedback I had received was due to me directly handing the manuscript to people. Sometimes this was in person, and sometimes this was online. In about half the cases, I had to do a follow up and “bother” the people every so often till they read the game.

The feedback was almost always very helpful, and the amount which I received by people to whom I did not personally hand the book or draw their attention to it, had been minimal, which lead me to keep acting in this pushy manner, because it is the only manner in which I’ve seen results.

Cranium Rats is the only of my games which had been playtested thus far. I organized the playtesting and took part in them. The posts on the Forge regarding the playtest sessions raised some interesting points, and contributed to my game, but sadly the people who participated in them were only people who either participated in the playtesting or were friends of mine. The Forge failed me beyond the alpha stage, as it did not attract more eyes, nor did it give me any feedback from people that I didn’t already know (the people).
It was as if I was in a community, but only those who were already willing to give me something beforehand gave me something.

Now, if you follow Cranium Rats’s design log over at Story Games, you will notice how much time it is between each change to the game. That’s what I feel about it.
Every time I get filled with energy, I go forth and design the game again, improving writing, improving rules, incorporating feedback, then I go forth and declare the new version of my game. After receiving no feedback, or receiving feedback of the sort that it’s an unreadable game, I grow tired. After a month or so I’m drained of energy, energy which if channelled was enough to have the game published three times over.
I feel exhausted, drained, sad. I feel that I put in the effort, but it takes me nowhere, that after I do all that I can, I go out and ask others to contribute, and after a certain while, my energy level dwindles. It’s hard to maintain a high energy level, especially in the face of (perceived) indifference.

Now, me, I’m stubborn, eventually I always push again, I always come back to my games and design them further. But I think there’s a problem, the symptoms of which are apparent in my story. What about all the other game creators, that without external feedback will get frustrated, close up shop and never work on their game further?
Maybe they “Don’t cut it” and aren’t ready to publish a game on the personal level. But maybe they just need more external input, more faith from people, and more deeds, less words, but a kind word would be fine too.

Meta-entry.

Posted: August 6, 2006 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
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Cross-posted from my RPG Blog.

This is not a real entry. This is not the entry you have been looking for. This is more or less a semi-service announcement post.

First, I’m looking for responses on this thread on the Forge. This is a thread regarding Cranium Rats and removing the kinks regarding hybridization of Story and Competition when it comes to Token economics. I feel this issue has much to do with CSI Games, so I turn to you for help.

Second, I just finished Mechanical Primum Mobile, it’s a small cute game about mechanical angels and the loss of humanity’s free will. A scene which is the basic unit of the game should take 5-15 minutes, the came is written on two pages and uses Blackjack as the basic resolution mechanic. It’s part of the “Technological Horror” Compact RPG challenge, give it a look.

Third, the CSI Game Logo voting ends in two days and it seems we won’t be getting new entries, so go off and vote, what are you waiting for?
Even if you have nothing to do with CSI Games, your vote and artistic taste are appreciated.

Fourth, I have a whole bunch of ideas waiting for me to get off my ass and post them here on this blog, but now that this blog has a basic amount of content, I’m curious what you, dear reader, would like to see written about?

Have fun at GenCon, anyone who’s going!