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Game Theory Introduction
by Robert Simple on 01/25/13 04:22:00 am

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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.


Hello everyone, this is my first blog, and I’m not quite sure about how to go about this, but I am somebody who has been studying, what I call game theory, for the past decade.  I have been reading and learning what others consider game theory and I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on what game theory is.  However, has anyone ever tried to look up game theory?  I have, it’s actually a reference to philosophical and civilized structure.  Game theory is the study of the interactions in society, whether it’s social-political or economical.  I found it interesting to learn that something that appears on the surface to correspond to something that we do has nothing to do with us.  I use a general term “us” to imply those of us who work in the field of game design and implementation.  Later on, economists adopted the term “game theory” to be a description of how economic systems interact with one another.  Even psychologist attempt to use the term as a basis for describing how people in society will interact with one another, but not under civil rules of government, but common daily interactions.  I believe that the work we do here, in game design and implementation, will offer a new perspective on game theory. 


First off, we need to convince everyone that game theory belongs to people who study games.  I plan on posting countless articles on the topic of game theory and I hope to see others reading these articles and interacting with me.  Let me begin with a simple introduction to what I have discovered and I believe many who read this will find that they have come up with similar principles.  I read an article here at gamasutra and it was someone like me trying to establish a base line on how game theory could possibly work in order to organize games into classes that could be understood, decomposed if you will, broken and strip down to their core.  Unfortunately I disagree with the model that was proposed, and frankly I felt the comments on the article agree with me.  The problem is that most people attempt to break down games by their implementation or their classification, both of which I feel do not express the true definition of game theory…although I would like to admit that game implementation is a part of game theory. 


I believe game theory is broken into three parts; these parts are disjoint but one part leads to another.  The first part of game theory is game design.  Some might want to question the terminology of how design could be considered theory and with a later article I will go into greater detail about how design is theory, but for now I will give a brief overview.  The game design aspect of game theory is the understanding of what kind of game we are trying to describe.  When we describe game design as the understanding of the kind of game that is being built, we begin to pull back from the generalized idea of design which is about level design, game intelligence and the interface.  Instead we approach game design with a system by which we can understand how games are suppose to be understood.  The design of a game does not reflect its classification (shooter, rpg, etc.) nor does it reflect the implementation that the game will undergo once the design is fully understood. 


When we wish to design a game we are faced with a core question, the bottom line understanding of the game, that’s right, time.  Time is the most critical factor in game design and the most understood.  Time determines if the game is static or dynamic, and I’m not talking about production time, I’m talking about game time.  If a game is to hold position and wait for input from the player, then we call this a static game, while games that move without respect to the player, but move in real-time are called dynamic games.  I know that static and dynamic are terms used by computer science to represent ideas about memory, but in game theory static and dynamic will be used constantly to refer to the concept of a waiting game or a changing game. 


The next big question that every game designer faces is the movement system, does the game play on a fixed sized board with pre-determined locations (or fixed positions) or does the game have a field and the objects of the game will roam freely over this field.  This splits movement systems into two categories as well, which I call grid and free respectively.  From this simple base line definition we can see that we have four overlapping classes of game design, static-grid, static-free, dynamic-grid, and dynamic free, and I bet you can use these simple four groupings to classify every game that has ever been produced and any game that will be produced.  We can understand that static and dynamic games are disjoint; and free and grid games are disjoint as well.  A simple take on the remaining parts of design are the world system, combat system, and attribute system.  These systems, again, do not reflect the game classification, but can have dramatic effects on the game implementation understanding.


I would like to move on in order to pack as much base line information in as possible and will go more in depth about each thing listed above with later articles.  Game classification is what I would call the normal understanding of game theory.  When most people are told to describe a theory about games, they fall back on the classification of games, as if this meant something about how the game was designed.  I will admit that classification helps provide a context of understanding a game; the classification does not tell the designer’s intended understanding of the game.  Rather the game design helps provide a context for the classification of the game.  How about a quick example of what I am trying to talk about.  Take the games dark cloud 2 and Metroid:other m, these two games refer to themselves under different classifications, one calls itself a RPG, while the other refers to itself as a shooter/adventure classification.  If one was provided with only screen shots, both games contain a character in a third-person perspective that wields a long range weapon and engages their opponents on a free movement system that takes place in real-time.  Based on this simple breakdown of how the two games play, we can see that the game classification did not help us at all with the game designer’s intended understanding of game play.  One finds themselves searching for some other basis to separate these two games into their respective classifications. 


So the question becomes, what separates the classifications of games?  I would like to give a simple but incomplete answer to this question, first we have the timer classification, this is a disjoint classification that separates the game classification into games that require an action before a timer expires from the games that require an action without regard to a timer. 


Second is the experience classification, this classification separates games between those that allow the player to increase the capabilities of their character through means other than standard power-ups.  What do I mean by standard power-ups, consider Castlevania on the Nintendo DS, the game provides equipment that the player can grab in order to increase the character’s traits or perhaps change how the character combats its opponents.  These are standard power-ups because the player acquires equipment that directly affect the character, while the game also provides a system by which when the player kills enough enemies the player is given a generalized boost.  This simple example shows how a game classification can stand in two classes of understanding, generalized and power-up, or as I like to call it, the experience system. 


Third is the quest system, this classification of games is for those that have an intended goal for the player, but in order to achieve this goal the player must succeed at a set of smaller goals.  I am not referring to the simplistic idea of levels, but the somewhat generalized idea of smaller goals in order to achieve a larger goal.  Again, a simple example is found with Zelda, in order for the player to advance through any of the dungeons, the player is required to find keys.  Finding these keys are the smaller goals in order to achieve the greater goal of completing the dungeon.  While games that fit under the sports genre do not deal with quest systems, or smaller goals in order to achieve a greater goal.  This is a very easily misunderstood and misused system due to the generalized fuzziness that blocks the clarity of game understanding. 


Fourth is the competitive system; which is most commonly found in sports and fighting games.  This is the classification of games where the main objective of the game is to defeat another player, rather than defeat the game or achieve an objective.


I feel this introduction to later articles is becoming a bit long, so I will try to make a quick point about the last piece of game theory, called game implementation.  I used a few examples above about game classification and it brings up an important question, do these games use the same implementation?  That is, when two games appear to have the same classification, but label themselves as different genres, does that mean they have different implementations, since they are the same classification.  For my model of game implementation there are four parts, the data, the engine, the interface, and the intelligence, each part of the implementation is responsible for distinct aspects of the game and do not overlap. 


The game data is the core of the game implementation and holds all the game information.  The game data is where you find the game mechanics lay out with mathematical precision. The game engine is where you find all the game rules and logic.  The engine is not responsible for housing data, but for interpreting and using data.  This does not mean the engine doesn’t have its own set of variables, because it does, what it means is that the engine variables are only for the engine and do not leak out into the game itself.  All data that is transferred to the engine and given back is housed in the game data.  The game interface is self explanatory; it’s the part of the game the player will use in order to interact with the game.  The game intelligence is the AI part of the game, both the interface and intelligence do not house data that control the game, but have data that helps control the interface and intelligence respectively.  I would also like to point out that the intelligence is basically an interface for the automation of the game.  Games that don’t require automation don’t require intelligence, and the game intelligence should never consider information that isn’t offered or available to the interface.


My final point is to say that I am entirely open to criticism and conflicting views, feel free to tell me anything about your own game theory ideas or comment on what I have begun to talk about here.  I will be spacing out my articles to give people time to read, review, and respond to what I am writing.  Also it will give me time to review what others are saying or asking and give an appropriate response.  I look forward to any and all feedback.

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