Posted: May 2nd, 2008 | Author: Simon | Filed under: Journal | Tags: analysis, Games, gta, GTA: San Andreas, itu, narrative in games, Writings | Comments Off
In light of the recent release of Grand Theft Auto IV, let me blatantly do a self promoting plug about two articles I’ve written about the Grand Theft Auto games.
The first one “To be or not to be in Liberty City” is a synopsis I wrote together with Henrik Bennetsen about the narrative structure and the impact of this on the gameplaying experience in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
And the other one “Please do not walk on the grass” is a more magazine article version of the former. This one got some big time attention at the time of publishing as it was part of the first ever Carnival of Gamers.
Man those where the days… playing games all day and just turn out a small synopsis now and then about what I thought about them, spiced up with some highbrow references to other peoples’ work on narrative and immersion in games.
I sure miss those days.
Posted: March 2nd, 2007 | Author: Simon | Filed under: Journal | Tags: io interactive, itu, master-thesis | Comments Off
I just handed in my master thesis!
I’m currently working with the legal department from IO Interactive to be able to host a portion (hopefully all) of the thesis on this website once they comped it through the NDA.
Posted: May 1st, 2006 | Author: Simon | Filed under: Noteworthy | Tags: analysis, fps, game design, Games, itu, level-design, multiplayer, patterns, Writings | 2 Comments »
Today I handed in a paper on design patterns for level design. It’s a paper I’ve been working on on the side in the last 12 weeks. As this is a side project the scope is rather small, but it might very well be a topic that I’ll explorer further in future projects or in my master thesis.
I have made an analysis of these multiplayer levels from popular first-person shooters (FPS):
From Day of Defeat: Source:
From Unreal Tournament 2004:
- Two Tombs
- Grassy Knoll
- Double Damage
- Absolute Zero
- Bridge of Faith
- Electric Field
From Battlefield 1942
- El Alamein
- Iwo Jima
And have from that analysis compiled what I believe to be common practices of development and have formalized these in Level Design Patterns:
- Multiple paths
- Local fights
- Collision points
- Reference points
- Defense areas
- Risk Incentive
Read much more about these patterns in the paper itself.
Download the entire paper here (PDF ~ 2.01 MB)
Posted: January 24th, 2006 | Author: Simon | Filed under: Noteworthy | Tags: analysis, Games, group dynamics, itu, mmog, report, roleplaying, world of warcraft, Writings | Comments Off
As mentioned earlier, just before Christmas I handed in a paper about a study we did of World of Warcraft.
We were looking for the dynamic relationship between the behavior of the individual player and the behavior of the groups they participate in, and how they mutually influence each other.
We used Bartle’s player types and two theories from the field of Organizational Theory; Richard Daft’s Life cycle Model and H.J. Leavit’s Open System Model.
Our problem statement:
- 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?
Get the entire report here (PDF format)
Posted: November 21st, 2004 | Author: Simon | Filed under: Journal, Noteworthy | Tags: analysis, emergence, gta, GTA: San Andreas, GTA: Vice City, itu, narrative in games, open world games, story telling, Writings | 1 Comment »
Looking closer at importance of the story arc in the emergent game world of the Grand Theft Auto series
By Simon Larsen and Henrik Bennetsen
Supervisor: Espen Aarseth
Course: Computer Game Theory – E2004
IT – University of Copenhagen
THIS IS AN UNFINISHED WORK. It is only a synopsis that contains many unanswered questions.
DO NOT QUOTE.
See Liberty City and Die
Many games have tried to give the player the feeling of total freedom to roam around a living breathing game world before Grand Theft Auto (GTA), but few have had the huge commercial success these games had. At the same time the game has got mission that you have to complete to finish the game, so it?s basically a progression game.
In this synopsis we will look closer at these two terms progression and emergence games by examining the three last installments in the Grand Theft Auto series: Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3), Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (VC) and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (SA).
The question that is going to be addressed herein:
- Is the overall story arc vital to drive the playing experience forward because of the nature of the offline single player game that the GTA series is?
- Is the narrative vital to keep the player entertained and the get the player accept the setting?
- Could the game evolve into a game more in the form of e.g. Return to Castle Wolfenstein or Battlefield 1942?
- Or would GTA have had been a more fascinating game as a MMORPG?
In any given part of the GTA games you can find periodic systems. If you for example stand still by a way side for some minutes the same cars will start to drive past you and the same dialogue will be spoken by the pedestrians in your vicinity.
Image 1: Four kinds of systems (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003, p. 155).
But on the overall scale of the game, nothing will be in a periodic state. There are too many random events occurring. This places the game in the complex system category. It is not total chaos since nothing in the game is completely random (e.g. you will never find Haitian gangs in the Cuban controlled parts of Vice City). It is in complex systems like these that emergence in the gameplay can become apparent.
You could easily write a walkthrough for the GTA games but hat would only cover 50% of the game, and all the different missions can be solved with a variety of different strategies.
There is a very well-defined story arc in the games that the player can chose to follow. The keyword here is chose, since it is not required for the player to do so, although some areas of the game will be locked to the player until certain mission in the story have been completed. Beyond that the player is free to pursuit any action he or she may desire. Jesper Juul (2002) defines two different types of games as Games of Progression and Games of Emergence respectively. So what exactly is GTA; a game of progression or a game of emergence? It is both.
A new term might be need here: Emergression. Games that are both progression and emergent at the same time, but cannot exist without both being present in the game. In order to keep the player occupied and interested in the game, you will have to have some form of narrative to keep getting the player to accept the setting and drive the emergent gameplay forward. Without the narrative the game would still be highly entertaining but the average player would properly not spend more than 5-10 hours on it. When the first three “unique jumps” have been found and you have played taxi-driver for 10 customers, the game would become trivial and extremely repetitive.
Image 2: The emergence is increasing as you progress in the game (adapted from Juul 2004).
To avoid letting the game become repetitive you will have to have “a series of interesting choices” as Sid Meier would say or as Rollings and Ernest (2003) calls it “One or more causally linked series of challenges in a simulated environment”. The openness of the mission structure is only part of the equation that makes the GTA series such a successful formula. In the future the series might become a platform of gaming, where the game just establish the setting and then let the players live out their inner Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde without forcing any given story on the play. Then we can speak of simulations, as defined by Gonzalo Frasca (2001), when talking about GTA.
The breaking point stated by Selmer Bringsjord (2001) is also the need for a smarter AI. This begs the question: Will GTA develop into a multiplayer game or even a MMORPG? Is playing against other people the ultimate AI?
Another question is then; do the GTA series include gameplay for all of Richard Bartle’s player types (1996)? Gameplay for the explorers and achievers are certainly there. But what about the socializes and the killers? Well, everyone who has played the game, loves to talk to others how have also played to game and the killers might find pleasure in killing innocent bystanders and pedestrians, and in the mission that requires killing of certain characters. Then again is it at all relevant to talk about player types in an offline single player game like GTA?
To be or not to be in Liberty City
It is clear that the emergent nature of the GTA games attracts a big crowd of gamers, but would the games have had the same commercial and critical success without the narrative to help the game progress? And this leads us back to the question of whether the narrative really is vital in an emergent game such as GTA? Would the story be apparent in Grand Theft Auto 7? Will it become a MMORPG?
This game series might very well eventually become the final battleground for the death match between narrativism and ludology. And the battle might never be settled. This is why we call for the coining of a new term. We use the term “Emergression”; for games that currently cannot exist without both progression and emergence.
- Are emergression games the future of gaming or a necessary step on the ladder?
- Historical perspective: Traditional games are often emergent, chess etc. Was narrativism a necessary step in the development of computer games, or just a sign of immaturity of the medium (e.g. something needed to ease the marketing of the games)?
- If we look back at GTA San Andreas in 10 years will we find it amusing that it was considered a very emergent game?
A critical look
Are GTA games really emergent? T.L. Taylor brought up the point at a seminar at Copenhagen University, November 2004, that you don’t actually use the emergence to advance in the game. So is this emergence really just a null event in the progression of the game? Something indisputably cool but essentially immaterial; like choosing the color of your car in a racing game.
- Can the game be played in a non-emergent manner and still be completed?
- Is completion the only goal when playing a game? How does this relate to Bartle’s player types?
All links checked as of November 2004. Not all are referenced directly in the text.
- Holland, John H.: “Emergence: From Chaos to Order“. USA, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0192862111.
- Johnson, Steven: “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software“. USA, Penguin Books, 2001. ISBN: 0140287752.
- Salen, Katie & Zimmerman, Eric: “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals“. USA, The MIT Press, 2003. ISBN: 0262240459
- Rollings, Andrew & Adams, Ernest: “Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design“. USA, New Riders, 2003. ISBN: 1592730019
- Aarseth, Espen: “Quest Games as Post-Narrative Discourse” in Ryan, Marie-Laure (Editor): “Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling“. USA, University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN: 0803289936
- Bartle, Richard A.: “HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES: PLAYERS WHO SUIT MUDS“. 1996.
- Bringsjord, Selmer: “Is It Possible to Build Dramatically Compelling Interactive Digital Entertainment (in the form, e.g., of computer games)?“. GameStudies.org, 2001.
- Frasca, Gonzalo: “SIMULATION 101: Simulation versus Representation“. 2001.
- Frasca, Gonzalo: “Sim Sin City: some thoughts about Grand Theft Auto 3“. GameStudies.org, 2002.
- Frasca, Gonzalo: “Simulation versus Narrative. Introduction to Ludology” in Wolf, Mark J.P. (Editor) & Perron, Bernard (Editor): “The Video Game Theory Reader“. USA, Routledge, 2003. ISBN: 0-415-96579-9
- Juul, Jesper: “The Open and the Closed: Games of Emergence and Games of Progression“. 2002.
- Juul, Jesper: “Hvad spillet betyder: om Grand Theft Auto 3″ in Engholm, Ida & Klastrup, Lisbeth: “Digitale Verdener: De nye mediers ?stetik og Design“. Denmark, Gyldendal, 2004. ISBN: 8702023687
- GameSpy: “Bored in San Andreas“. GameSpy.com. 28th October 2004.