GWJ Conference Call Episode 128

Conference Call

Resident Evil 5, World of Goo, The Path, Julian Hates Empire: Total War, Gaming on The Fringe, A New Contest!, Your Emails and more!

This week we get back to basics and tackle fringe gaming. Gaming systems vs. environments, how it informs the mainstream and what the future may hold. We're also launching a new contest this week! To win a Steam copy of Empire: Total War just listen to the audio file submitted by TempestBlayze and send your answers to [email protected]! If you want to submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

REDONE "Parker's Root Beer" - (Eric Carl) - www.sans-concept.com - 0:32:10
"Natural Mother" - For Rest - (Adam Emanon) - www.myspace.com/nonameadam - 0:59:00

Comments

PyromanFO wrote:

For the whole "system vs. environment" thing, I think a much better way to talk about it is with the Taxonomy of Gamers.

As much as I like the New Taxonomy of Gamers (specifically the dismissal of "hardcore vs. casual" altogether), I'm not sure if Krpata's principles are applicable here, since he's primarily focusing on categorizing gamers, and this discussion is still surrounding the games themselves.

I agree with the original premise that gaming's newfound diversity is presenting a lot of problems to the gaming community, as it has revealed that our tools for discussion and classification are lagging behind a bit. But I also agree with Elysium's point that leaving the analysis at only system and environment seems to paint too broad a stroke.

adam.greenbrier wrote:
BlueBrain wrote:

System vs. environment? Isn't this just the same as the 'gameplay vs. story' and 'gameplay vs. graphics' conversations everyone has already had before rolled into one? The only difference is now we're talking about how the fringe keeps pushing the envelope of system vs. enviorment. So we're effectively talking about indie vs. mainstream, gameplay vs. graphics, and gameplay vs. story all at once while pretending it's a totally new subject. Maybe there's more to this, but it seems to me that you guys are just inventing new terms for things gamers have been talking about for years.

While system versus environment can be broken down into gameplay versus graphics, and it sometimes was in the podcast, I don't think they're necessarily equivalent comparisons. Environment is about the experience of playing the game, while system is about the rules of the game and their application.

I tend to agree with this but, just for argument's sake, I'll take a shot at further clarification, as well as adding a missing component:

- System: what actions are possible in the game and what rules are applied to those actions (i.e. gameplay)
- Environment: how does the player perceive and perform those actions (not just the presentation, but the interface as well)
- Premise: what context is applied to the actions that the player takes

I think the inclusion of premise is crucial to the discussion because it helps take care of some of those tricky games that eschew both environment and system, like Jason Rohrer's Passage or perhaps even something like Don't Sh*t Your Pants. Both of these games are deliberately lo-fi, with simplified systemic and environmental components, but the premise that's delivered through that ramshackle construction is the entire appeal of the game. Also, the distinction of premise helps further distinguish some games that are built upon commonly-used gameplay techs, such as the Unreal Engine, that allow developers to continually re-use many of the same principles for system and environment; if we didn't consider premise in the argument, then how exactly do we distinguish Bejeweled (or any other typical "match 3" game) from the original Puzzle Quest?

A game's premise wouldn't necessarily have to be limited to narrative or setting either; simple arcade games or puzzle games, like Pac-Man and Tetris, enforce a context on your actions in the game by gauging your accomplishes in a competitive environment through a high score. This context, despite being simple and abstract, can still have some appeal. Even something like Texas Hold 'Em can be analyzed in this way:

* System: Each player is dealt two random cards, face down, at the outset of the hand. After an initial round of betting, where players can wager some finite currency into a shared pot, five community cards are randomly distributed, face up, through three different rounds (three cards for "the flop", one card for "the turn", and finally one more card for "the river"), each of which are separated by additional rounds of betting. Players use these community cards in conjunction with their own two cards dealt at the outset to construct a five-card hand, per the typical rules of Poker. After the final community card comes on the river, one final round of betting proceeds and then all active players reveal and compare their hands - whoever has the superior hand wins the spoils of the shared pot.

* Environment: Each card dealt to a player is a simple playing card, marked with iconography denoting a rank and suit. Each player's finite currency is represented through a stack or pile of poker chips. Actions taken during the game are done through various physical gestures (e.g. players discard their cards to fold, or push all of their chips to the middle to "go all in" and bet all of their chips.)

* Premise: A player reaches the end state of the game when all of their chips are lost. In many cases, the players buy their chips for betting by using their own actual money, which introduces the context of gambling.

Each of these components touches upon a reason that Texas Hold 'Em (or any poker variant) may appeal to a potential player. People that are interested in gameplay can be fascinated by the system in Texas Hold 'Em because, even though there are definite skill levels in play, each hand remains unique due to the random distribution of the card, as well as the imperfect information (the two face down cards dealt to you, as well as your opponents) surrounding the resources. Texas Hold 'Em can have value as a party game, though, because of its completely accessible environment - all you need to play are some chips, a deck of cards, and some friends. And the premise has appeal as well, for (potentially obsessive/addicted) gamblers as well as players who thrive upon competition.

To bring this big TL;DR back to another point raised during the podcast, I would theorize that premise may also help explain the appeal of The Path. Beyond the art style, there may not be much to the environment and the gameplay, but the premise of the game, which trades upon decidedly "un-gamer" principles, may appeal to gamers as an alternative to the usual products out there in the gaming market.

Your explanation of satire is interesting, but I find Rob's idea to be more compelling: they screwed it up, and now it's not a bug; it's a feature.

I think for some features it's satire and intentional, for others they just didn't think it through. It's a little of both.

Street Fighter Video Link. LINK!

http://dogfaceshow.com/?p=71

Is the name of the SF4 discussion videos according to the esteemed Shawn.

Duoae wrote:
mrtomaytohead wrote:

yeah, I said the same thing, but nobody paid attention when I mentioned it earlier.

You didn't write it in a mildly offensive manner ;)

Sigh...

On the topic of System vs. Environment, I fail to see how Dwarf Fortress lacks in the environment department. I suppose this is true if you're using the word "environment" to mean "graphics", but what about story, setting, characters, et cetera? Are Interactive Fiction games not focused on "environment" simply because they lack graphics? People certainly don't play them just for the sheer joy of typing in words from a limited vocabulary of commands, so I fail to see how they could be "system" games.

Dwarf Fortress is an environment generator. It creates a living, breathing world with its own procedurally-generated history and inhabitants, and then lets the player loose to create their own stories. Every one of your dwarfs has their own family, personal history, likes and dislikes. They depict significant events in works of art. The environment may not be presented in a very accessible manner, but it's certainly there.

mrtomaytohead wrote:
Duoae wrote:
mrtomaytohead wrote:

yeah, I said the same thing, but nobody paid attention when I mentioned it earlier.

You didn't write it in a mildly offensive manner ;)

Sigh...

You might not agree with my methods, but I get results, dammit!

To your credit you did put it much nicer than I did. I'll chalk up my rudeness to being tired and confused at what this whole system, environment, and fringe thing is supposed to mean besides gameplay, graphics, and indie.

In the end I think environment means graphics, setting, and story all in one. Someone else said 'artfulness', I think that's a pretty good way of saying it as well. I still don't think system and fringe are really much different from the established terms gameplay and indie.

muttonchop wrote:

On the topic of System vs. Environment, I fail to see how Dwarf Fortress lacks in the environment department. I suppose this is true if you're using the word "environment" to mean "graphics", but what about story, setting, characters, et cetera? Are Interactive Fiction games not focused on "environment" simply because they lack graphics? People certainly don't play them just for the sheer joy of typing in words from a limited vocabulary of commands, so I fail to see how they could be "system" games.

Dwarf Fortress is an environment generator. It creates a living, breathing world with its own procedurally-generated history and inhabitants, and then lets the player loose to create their own stories. Every one of your dwarfs has their own family, personal history, likes and dislikes. They depict significant events in works of art. The environment may not be presented in a very accessible manner, but it's certainly there.

Yeah, that was my reaction as well when rabbit said dwarf fortress was pure system. To take an extremely memorable example someone talked about, when you see an ascii squiggle consume an identical squiggle and then producing other little squiggles, it's not a purely abstract consumption and production of resources. You've been told by the game what they represent, and you did just see your leatherworker kill a fellow dwarf and turn him into shoes. That makes all the difference in the world.

I got a "get off my lawn you damn kids" vibe from the discussion of The Path and art games as well. I am pretty easy to tick off about these things though, since I'm definitely quilty of liking the weird just because it's weird, and I find the wide conservative streak in gamers that seem to think art games will come and take their space marines with shotguns away annoying and stupid.

Great discussion this week about environment vs. system. It's something that I've been thinking about a lot myself lately, although in slightly different terms. If anyone is interested in reading an article I wrote on this tension, check out:

http://thumbinmybum.com/node/18

I basically explore the idea that games are more than the sum of system and environment and that we have to search for new ways of determining the value of different video games.

RE5's replayability is super high. since you can carry over everything, you can basically max out your dude and easily fight your way through what you thought were harder levels the first time around. but it's also great that you can unlock cool bonuses along with alternative methods to beat certain bosses.

btw, i beat the game Solo with Normal and it was fun and enjoyable. Co-op would make it more fun but i liked hearing Sheva make comments during the campaign. i plan on doing co-op later. but i'm glad you guys are loving it cuz i love the game too. i've been addicted to it for the whole week hunting emblems and unlocking all the other cool stuff.

In the sense that "Environment" immerses you in an experience, then all games have "Environment," even Sudoku. In the sense that "Environment" is a perspective that the game seeks to build upon a bare bones system, then I would argue that it's almost similarly pointless.

Nearly all modern games have a certain flavor that they evoke on purpose. PuzzleQuest as an example serves a useful purpose here. PuzzleQuest is unique in that it marries two game genres which appear to be incredibly dichotomous - puzzle gaming and RPGs. The fact that this resonates with a lot of gamers says a lot about the plasticity of the environment and how much of it is completely artificial. Things which we think are "system" as rabbit may believe are actually "environment."

One of the things we equate with "system" are "hitpoints." When we see "hitpoints" in the PuzzleQuest overland, we immediately think of it as "system." What is beneath the nose of every modern gamer is that calling these things "hitpoints" at all is already immersion. In many ways, hitpoints are nothing more than score. Gamers are instinctively trained to equate it with a character through the myriad of games that use the conceit that they frequently fail to notice the artificial connection.

If, instead of "hitpoints," you see "target score" on that there point tally, it would not change the system in any way, but it would change the game's flavor significantly. For that matter, most RPG gamers likewise don't understand that they are always playing for score - their character's hitpoints. It needs to be above 0.

Pure system experiences are few and far between. Even Chess has significant amounts of flavor tied into it. It would make no sense and it would ruin game immersion call your pawns "Kings" and your king "Slave." It'd just jar like heck.

Sudoku, Tetris, and Picross are pure system games - they have little to no environment. Crossword puzzles, too. The thing with these games is that you have no idea what graphics are on them. Tetris could run with ascii characters and you wouldn't notice the difference much. The fact that Dwarf Fortress's ascii-ness is noticed so readily is a sure sign that it has significant points towards "environment."

Carried to logical conclusion, then, the dichotomy is so extreme that it has very little relevance. All RPGs perforce have significant amounts of environment. Most strategy games, do, too, unless you're pushing around nameless sacks of numbers on a borderless map.

FPSs are heavy on environment - just the fact that you see yourself as a gun-toting anything within a 3-dimensional world should key you into that fact. If it were purely system, you would note that you're moving a moving cursor to eliminate variously weighted graphic points with a mouse click.

Indeed, nearly every game I know has environment so integrated into it that it's hard to point to a game that doesn't have one.

Those of you trying to work out the system/environment thing might find it worthwhile to read up on the mechanics/dynamics/aesthetics ("MDA") framework. Here's a brief academic article on it.