also why the Mafia continues to be such a enduring subject of American
fiction - witness the success of The Sopranos. It's about families
and their relationships. Criminal families are great sources of dramatic
tension because they have a lot of conflicts that don't occur in normal
families: the temptations of large amounts of ill-gotten money, the constant
danger of being caught, the pressure from the police to inform on other
members of the family, homicidal infighting over power and territory,
and so on. Of course any criminal gang is going to face those problems,
but they don't have issues of family loyalty and obligation to complicate
see families at all in computer games, much less the kind of difficult
familial interactions that I have just been describing. Family relationships
have long been explored in literature, but are very little explored in
interactive entertainment. If I were going to try to truly break new ground
in this medium, this is where I'd start.
In the game that I would design, you would be playing the role of a forensic
psychologist. The gameplay would consist of a series of one-on-one interviews
with the members of a large and highly dysfunctional family, all of whom
are colluding to cover up the murder of one of them by another. Not a
criminal family, just one in which someone has finally snapped and killed
someone else - goodness knows it happens often enough. For whatever reason,
there would not be enough physical evidence to solve the case. The object
would be to untangle the facts of the crime, in effect prying apart the
family's story (or stories). In order to do this, you would have to understand
the relationships among the members, and those would not be simple. Even
in healthy families, most people's feelings are multilayered, and change
with time and circumstances. An event as catastrophic as a murder is bound
to bring a lot of issues to the surface - and cause a lot more to be suppressed
in the face of police scrutiny. Only by uncovering their real feelings
about one another would you be able to arrive at the truth.
You'd play the game by asking questions and listening to the answers.
You could interrupt an interview at any time and switch to another member
of the family, if one person's answer raised a question for another one.
There would be clues and red herrings, and of course a great many lies.
Some lies might conflict with others, which would let you know you were
on the right track, if you were paying enough attention to notice it.
Certain members of the family would be stronger or more level-headed than
others, and some approaches would work better with some than with others.
You would have to observe everyone's reactions very carefully, and perhaps
Ideally, the screen would show a view of whoever you were interrogating
at the moment, with a great many subtle facial expressions and body language
for each person. If you were watching closely enough, they would give
you clues about what effect your questions were having on the person's
state of mind. If the project didn't have much money we could implement
this with a large number of photographs of real actors. If money were
no object, we could create a 3D model of a person with fully implemented
facial expressions such as Jeff Lander described in his Gamasutra article
"Flex Your Facial Muscles
Unfortunately, 3D rendered people still don't look much like real people
(they're too symmetrical and their movements are too mechanical, among
other things), so that might harm the effect somewhat.
Each person's replies would be pre-recorded sound bites, or possibly artificially-generated
speech if the technology has gotten that far. At the moment, however,
we're even farther behind at generating the subtle nuances of tone in
real speech than we are at generating subtle facial expressions. Another
and far cheaper approach, although somewhat lacking in subtlety, would
be to do the whole game in text. It would print out what the person said,
what tone he used, and how he looked when he said it. However, because
words are clearer and more direct than body language, the clues about
each person's inner feelings could be a little too easy to spot. If that
proved to be the case, it might be better to stick only to questions and
answers, like a chat conversation. You would have to pick up cues from
the person's vocabulary, a bit like reading a Shakespeare play.
The questions themselves would be asked by assembling a sentence out of
words from a menu, and as time went on and you learned more, the menus
would grow so that you could ask about more and more things. As for the
answers, obviously it would be wonderful to develop an entire psychological
model of a person with full sentence-generation capabilities, but that's
the work of a lifetime, if not several. In any case the goal of the project
is not to develop new technology, but to create a new kind of experience
for the player, regardless of how that's achieved. Although it's technologically
uninteresting, I would probably just treat each person as a very large
finite state machine. Asking the same question would not always elicit
the same answer, however, because each person's "state" would
change as the game progresses. The response you get would depend on when
you ask the question. If you ask, "Did you kill your brother?"
right at the beginning, the suspect is bound to shout "No!"
Later on, once you've delved into his psyche a little, you might get a
different answer: "No… but I wanted to."
Now, undoubtedly there are a few pragmatical types reading this who are
thinking, "Why build this? Nobody would ever buy it." The game
as described doesn't have much replayability, either, but I don't think
that's important. This isn't supposed to be a commercial product; it's
an experimental project to test the boundaries of what our medium can
do. We need these kinds of tests, and as we're now starting to see academic
programs devoted to game development, I hope more of them will appear.
The nice thing about academic research is that it's not intended for sale;
it's intended to expand our understanding (although if it has commercial
applications, so much the better).
There's no shortage of games that are mysteries of one kind and another,
but most of them are solved by physical exploration and physical evidence.
I haven't yet seen anything like what I've described. My goal would be,
to put it rather romantically, to allow the player to explore new mysteries,
the mysteries of the human heart.