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Games have the potential to be infinite, so why are you still working on a throwaway project?
by Anton Temba on 04/08/13 10:15:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The never-ending cycle of waiting for the next great thing.

Lets get this straight. Books, images, music and video are a single-use item. Once you've seen them, read them or listened to them, the discoveries has been made and you move on to something else.


Sure, you may revisit them for a second or even a third go, but by that time, they're already old. You know what happens, you know what it looks likes and how it feels. Its done.

A throwaway product.

Before I continue, I do infact recognize that its a throw-away product for a single person. It may have as many uses as there are the amount of people, which are born every day, making its potential lifespan infinite in that sense.

But thats not the point. Lets get a bit selfish here.

This article about you as a consumer, not the whole world.
Picture this the following:

So you've experienced some neat scripted game and its now over. It was fucking awesome.

You want more.

There is none at the moment.

Lets also mention that making games is a hard and slow process.

...

That sucks, doesn't it?

You're back to square one. You experienced something inspiring, but it ended and thats it. You wanted more, but the experience was cut off as soon as the content ended. Now you're left stranded to look for something else to enjoy.

Whats worse, is that it may take a long while before you get something that good again, but if its the same limited design, you'll consume it in a few hours like the last game and be back in this same state of emptiness.

Waiting till the next good game comes around.

Its an endless cycle. So what's the point of continuing this?

However, there is another way.

 

Something a computer program can that a movie can't.

Video games have something that movies, music and books don't. The potential to be infinite.

When I say infinite games, I don't mean those simple highscore-based arcade games, no.
I'm talking about games with the same seriousness and scale as those massive scripted ten plus hour adventures like Mass Effect or Skyrim, but much better and truly infinite.

If you're freaking out and saying this is impossible, then stop. It is. The main difference between those above examples and the infinite game, is that you play as yourself and not forcibly being someone you're really not.

From the perspective of gameplay design, it works much more fluently, is more consistent and doesn't require the artifical constraints you get often get in a scripted game. It just works.

Most of the time, unless your main goal is to specifically teach something or tell a story, which movies, visual novels and books are more fluent at, these games are meant to give you a specific experience. A thrill, an emotion or some particular feeling. An atmosphere.

The trick is to focus on that experience and build around that, rather than stuffing the player into a some arbitrary role, when the real goal of the game is to simply give an experience, like being a pilot, monster, soldier, hunter, spy, hero, adventurer, commander, god... you name it.

The whole aspect of putting a player into a specific character's role only shifts the focus from what is really important, which is about delivering an experience, not being someone you're not.

 

Were not really making the games we really want, are we now?

But alas, the games industry, both AAA and indies, seem oblivious to all this and keep doing the same thing over and over, despite deep down really wanting that infinite game. Talk about the definition of insanity, eh?

Whats mind boggling, is that developers spend years of their life to create games, only for them to have such a limited - and often rather shoe-horned - design that can be exhausted within a few hours, some times even in just mere minutes.

This is understandable for movies and books, since they're not interactive by nature and cannot generate fresh new content like a computer program is capable of doing, either through multiplayer, user content or procedural random generation.

But come on, whats with the obsession of shoe-horning the scripted movie framework on video games?

This is especially the case when the player is put in the role of a specific character, usually with the hopes that he or she will experience the story from a more closer angle.

There is a huge problem with this design. A big conflict.

 

Fitting a square peg in a round hole.

You put the player in full or even partial control over a character that has a previously established past, abilities and perhaps a personality of some description.

The problem is that the player can do anything he wants. Any story or personality the character has or the path that he takes will get perverted in one way or another.

Its no mere coincidence players are having fun doing absurd things that the character they play as would never ever do. Like tea-bagging corpses. Or going AFK during a conversation with an NPC in the middle of something important.

Typical player behaviour in a video game universe.

Why? Because you simply can. As the player you're in control, after all.

A game is an interactive system and its natural for this behavior to occur, so your attempt to tell a convincing scripted story and creating strong immersion in this way goes right out the window.

And yes, an obvious thing to do against this is to limit what the player can do, to the point that the pretty much runs on rails, but at that point your game has turned into a glorified movie.

Doing so cripples the game's ability to be infinite and it greatly limits its flexibility in terms of gameplay and what the player can experience within it. Thats just contradictory game design right there.

Trying to force a storytelling approach to a video game while giving the direct control over a character to the player is as shoe-horned as it can get. The more serious a game tries to take itself, the more cringe worthy it becomes.

So you're basically shooting yourself in the foot with a design that adopts the approach of movie and books.

 

So, back to the point of infinite games.

Like mentioned previously, there are three big things that make the whole infinite game idea possible; multiplayer, procedural random generation and user content. In addition, there are two more; persistency and emergent behaviour.

Using these five concepts, either all of them or even just a few of them, it is possible to create a video game that never gets old or lame unlike a movie, book or those traditional scripted video games do inevitably.

With all that said, I return to my initial question:

Why would you spend years creating something so complex as a video game with the goal to deliver an experience that limits itself with a scripted, finite design?

All that hard work you put in would get used up in mere hours, where instead you could create a game with a design that is infinite?

Not only you could create something that will have virtually infinite longevity for yourself to have fun with endlessly, but also provide a lasting product to your players that offers them same infinite entertainment, with much wider flexibility on how it can be played.

To infinity and beyond!

Talk about some seriously huge value for their money. This is what video games were meant for. This is what they're capable of.

Besides that, people are starved for infinite games, you can see signs of this in any hardcore gaming communities when you ask them about it. Theres a huge opportunity to be had here for success and a new form of games to enjoy.

Go out there and design your games with infinite gameplay in mind and a strong focus on the atmosphere and emotion its supposed to evoke in you. Its all a matter of design.


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