GWJ Conference Call Episode 181

Conference Call


Just Cause 2, Metro 2033, God of War 3, Dawn of War: Chaos Rising, Returning Special Guest Eskil Steenberg! Your Emails and more!

This week Eskil Steenberg joins us fresh off the official launch of his online MMO, Love. We talk about the Nintendo 3DS, subscription models and all sorts of other things. We also spend a little time exploring what a new player should try after logging into Love for the first time! 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

"Love Main Theme" (Ian Dorsch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 0:42:42
"Love Trailer Soundtrack" (Ian Dorsch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 1:05:19

Comments

Anyone else who bought a code on Love? Servers seem to be down at the moment, but I'm excited!

If you are looking for stories in emergent gameplay systems, look to Dwarf Fortress. Every game generates a new world filled with characters with traits, motivations, and relationships that evolve over time depending on how the game progresses. Following the life of an individual dwarf in that game will show you some really amazing stories as they experience the joys and tragedies of their daily existence. And when you throw dozens of these dwarfs together in a fortress being assailed by countless external factors you'll find lots of interesting, epic narratives.

Just my two cents...

likedamaster wrote:

Didn't like Eskil the first time I heard him, don't like him now. He's an obvious sony fanboy. Going off on random rants totally off subject. By far the worst guest, for me.

Carry on.

I don't have any idea where you get Sony fanboy after listening to him...

I was super excited you guys had Eskil on again. I definitely don't agree with all of his ideas, but I love the unique perspectives he brings to most discussions... which is very much the same reason I favor this podcast to nearly all others.

Dysplastic wrote:

Instead of focusing on improving the narrative in emergent games, how about improving the emergence in narrative games? Mass Effect 2 had a good narrative and excellent characterization, but your interaction with the game world was incredibly linear and could really have used more interesting possible outcomes that wouldn't necessarily have to affect the plot.

I think the game I've played that does the best job of that so far is Oblivion. By letting you tackle any of a half-dozen quest lines (that, taken by themselves, are largely linear) in any combination and any order and break off at any time to do countless smaller side quests, it opens up amazing possibilities for emergent situations the creators could never have planned to pop up.

One of the most memorable gaming experiences I've had in recent memory was when I pissed off a bunch of elves in a side quest by freeing some ogres they'd enslaved. The elves would have totally outclassed me in a straight fight, so I snuck past them and undid the ogres' locks and then beat feet out of there, leaving the elves to the ogres' tender mercies.

Unfortunately for me, some of the elves survived and tracked me, unbeknownst to me. They caught up to me as I was attempting to break this other fool out of prison. I couldn't run far, because my character was a vampire and it was daylight outside, and I couldn't fight, so instead, in a thrilling chase scene, I snuck past the prison guards with the elves hot on my heels. The guards didn't see me, but they DID see a bunch of elves in full armour tramping through their very much off-limits prison. The guards attacked, the elves defended, I found a nice dark corner from which to watch the carnage and wait for nightfall.

Now there's a story you won't find in Mass Effect.

garion333 wrote:

Which I think is where he envisions it all going: to the point where the emergent story feels as natural as Mass Effect's plot.

Among other things, that would require an AI capable of passing the Turing Test. Maybe in a hundred years, definitely not any time soon. And even when we get there, I'm sure we could find a better use for such an AI than designing video games.

Great CC today guys! I really enjoyed Eskil's take on things, but am I the only one who did a double take at an MMO developer that doesn't like 20 hr plus games. Yes, I realize he was talking about playing 20+hrs verse creating a 20+hrs game; it stopped me in my tracks for a second (luckily Excel didn't notice I wasn't paying attention to it.)
Can't wait to try out Love, sounded like a fun time.

Dyni wrote:

I was super excited you guys had Eskil on again. I definitely don't agree with all of his ideas, but I love the unique perspectives he brings to most discussions... which is very much the same reason I favor this podcast to nearly all others.

This. I also don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but the thoughts and concepts he brings, in addition to the resulting discussions caused by them, makes the podcasts that he appears in some of the most interesting GWJ podcasts I've heard. I think Eskil should be a guest once every few months, regardless of whether he has a product to plug or not.

So emergent game play relies on the players to develop the story themselves. That's not a story, that a simulation of a real or fantasy life, and I can't say I'm all that interested. My life was about as fantastic, and I don't mean that in the sense being wonderful, as I can handle. Give me something vicarious please. Otherwise where's the catharsis I so desperately need?

Playing a fake life for essentially no stakes is vicarious.

I'm shocked no one mentioned it but, for me, the best example of emergent stories (I don't think I can call it storytelling if no one's actually telling it) is The Sims franchise. There you're not interacting with anyone but yourself and the weird quirky people yet your Sim(s) manages to get into crazy predicaments, do things you didn't expect or want, and stories simply grow out of the strange AI alongside your own limited control.

That said, the idea that a wholly emergent system can make something akin to Mass Effect 2 isn't likely to happen even if it is possible. It's like saying a game of D&D can be a better story than Lord of the Rings was; sure it could happen, all things considered, but does anyone think it actually has?

The topic of emergent gameplay / story was timely today. Not only have I been meditating on how much I love open world games, but I just cast aside Dragon Age because I realized, 30 hours in, that I would never have the patience to finish it and that I'd rather go read books.

I think Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is filled with emergent play and I'm spending all my time in Just Cause 2 base jumping. I think I know where my love falls pretty clearly. Great podcast.

I am so much onboard with Eskil it hurts. However, I'm not at all sure that Love is a game I'll enjoy. The thing I'm really looking forward to is the next-generation procedural narrative. The new Introversion game is something I'm really intrigued about, for instance.

Narrative is just a sequence of events (resulting in drama). A round of Counter-Strike has a narrative and it arguably does not need "a story" to generate drama. I'm very big on traditional stories when they're well-told, but games like Mount & Blade are already proving that you don't need a pre-set, pre-told story to generate epic drama.

To be quite honest I don't think Eskil gives current games enough credit. He asserts that things like Mass Effect 2 will be possible in the future with completely emergent stories, but I already think it does that quite well. I think he's trying to get at the point that mechanics can someday dictate the drama, but I fail to see how any path in any game could create an emotional investment if it hadn't been considered and accounted for by the creator. We need to find a way to marry mechanics with emergent plots and make the linearity invisible, not remove the script completely. Just my caffeine-overloaded thoughts. Carry on!

Certis wrote:

Emergent story story can feel natural and I think there's a place for it in the future, but it won't ever deliver a Heavy Rain or Bioshock. It would be a different genre rather than a replacement for what's standard right now. Works for me!

My thoughts exactly. I think that Eskil's thoughts apply quite well to what he's working on -- emergent games. However, I came away thinking (and this may not be fair; it was a brief discussion) that his theories on what constituted good game play were narrow and a tad academic.

I find myself extremely curious about Love, and want to try it out this weekend. I'm hoping it's skinner-box-free game play will be engaging, but when I hear that I'll be collecting "tokens", I worry that it's going to feel empty and experimental, and the mechanics too transparently gamey.

But I hold out hope. My degree's in humanities for Christ's sakes. Who else is going to stand up for our ivory-towered gamer philosophers.

LarryC wrote:

Playing a fake life for essentially no stakes is vicarious.

You just blew my dust-filled mind. I guess I mean that I prefer playing, say, Uncharted 2, where my experience of the game does not depend on what happens to Drake, over games like EVE and presumably Love, where the game is all about how I respond to what happens to my character and how I choose for he or she to act. There's no space between I the player and I the character in those games, and I don't think I like that.

I think a problem and a strength of emergent 'stories' is demonstrated by the endgame of Mass Effect 2*, players love to figure out systems. If you say "you must destroy X% of the fuel supply to hinder your enemy's transport" then people will work out exactly what X is, what each part of the fuel system is worth, then do exactly what is required to get the result they want. In one way this appears as just a game system, in another way the player has to investigate the system and plan an attack on it. More complex systems (does the enemy work around the damage, do they repair it) will let the player get more invested in the world, and the illusion of an intelligent enemy. You probably need more and more of these systems the more convincing you want your world to be, and the more complex the game the harder it is to be sure it's clear of bugs and unintended consequences (gamers love to glitch things).

I think people do have to be cautious of proclaiming emergent stories as the "be all, end all" of video game story telling, it's another tool in the shed. Lots of systems in the game world won't make interesting characters or locations, give the big bad guy a reason to blow up the world, a history of the game setting.

*Regarding ME2

Spoiler:

Lots of people on this board were obsessed with getting the perfect 'right' ending, where all your team survives, and dug into exactly what was required at each step to make it happen

oMonarca wrote:

Yeah, but his point was about calling those moments stories or unique experiences. Not if they made good or bad stories. Good or bad, for me, they're still stories. But we shouldn't be discussing vocabulary when we all pretty much got what we was saying.

This is mostly a matter of semantics. Is a bunch of procedurally generated stuff that happens a "story?" Maybe, in a technical sense; but I'm not going to think of such a "story" the same way I'll think of an honest-to-god human crafted experience, designed to tug at my emotions. They just aren't even in the same league.

If it helps any, feel free to re-read my earlier post and insert a qualifying "good" in front of every instance of "story."

Eskil is one of the best (and admittedly only) guests that has been on the podcast in a while.

I'm intrigued to give Love some, er, love, but the plate is full at the moment between STO, BFBC2, and Warband. I dig the concept of a game where there your creativity can run free.

gore wrote:

Is a bunch of procedurally generated stuff that happens a "story?" Maybe, in a technical sense; but I'm not going to think of such a "story" the same way I'll think of an honest-to-god human crafted experience, designed to tug at my emotions. They just aren't even in the same league.

+

jlaakso wrote:

Narrative is just a sequence of events (resulting in drama). A round of Counter-Strike has a narrative and it arguably does not need "a story" to generate drama. I'm very big on traditional stories when they're well-told, but games like Mount & Blade are already proving that you don't need a pre-set, pre-told story to generate epic drama.

= Yes. Emergent events, like hbi2k's great Oblivion "story" (okay, there I go) above, or that awesome thing that happened to you when you were playing GTA/Far Cry 2/Battlefield/Civ/EVE etc. are narratives. Narratives are what games with emergent systems can offer us. They can't give us stories in the strict sense, that is narratives with an arc and climax all that stuff. Stories have to be deliberately authored, so they're still the domain of linear games.

Okay, so narratives can still display drama (otherwise they wouldn't be worth re-telling), and can illustrate a point or moral, and can otherwise look very much like traditional stories especially when they are re-told. But they're still two different species, and someone looking for a proper story won't find one in an emergent game, despite all the narratives the game could generate. This isn't to denigrate the value of emergent narratives either though, because Bogost is my homeboy. I just wanted to delineate the two terms.

Gravey wrote:

Emergent events, like hbi2k's great Oblivion "story" (okay, there I go) above, or that awesome thing that happened to you when you were playing GTA/Far Cry 2/Battlefield/Civ/EVE etc. are narratives. Narratives are what games with emergent systems can offer us. They can't give us stories in the strict sense, that is narratives with an arc and climax all that stuff. Stories have to be deliberately authored, so they're still the domain of linear games.

Okay, so narratives can still display drama (otherwise they wouldn't be worth re-telling), and can illustrate a point or moral, and can otherwise look very much like traditional stories especially when they are re-told. But they're still two different species, and someone looking for a proper story won't find one in an emergent game, despite all the narratives the game could generate. This isn't to denigrate the value of emergent narratives either though, because Bogost is my homeboy. I just wanted to delineate the two terms.

I think this is as good a delineation as any. I'm sure people will argue with the precise terminology, but I feel you've hit the core distinction precisely.

An outcome that is generated purely as a result of my own interaction with an "emergent system" can indeed be a very compelling and rewarding experience in its own right. I just don't envision this sort of experience as equivalent to the precisely crafted choose-your-own-adventure sort of storytelling we see in games like Mass Effect 2.

Eskil seems (based on his two appearances on the show, at any rate) completely uninterested in the latter, and that's a valid - if somewhat limited - perspective. As far as I'm concerned, both approaches can coexist peacefully, and I don't see either as a full replacement for the other; instead, I see the elements becoming intertwined, to create games that are more than the sum of their parts.

gore wrote:

An outcome that is generated purely as a result of my own interaction with an "emergent system" can indeed be a very compelling and rewarding experience in its own right. I just don't envision this sort of experience as equivalent to the precisely crafted choose-your-own-adventure sort of storytelling we see in games like Mass Effect 2.

Eskil seems (based on his two appearances on the show, at any rate) completely uninterested in the latter, and that's a valid - if somewhat limited - perspective. As far as I'm concerned, both approaches can coexist peacefully, and I don't see either as a full replacement for the other; instead, I see the elements becoming intertwined, to create games that are more than the sum of their parts.

I'm actually inclined to argue that emergent narratives play to games' strengths of interactivity and proceduralism more than traditional storytelling, which proceeds from the strengths of linear media. Not that storytelling in video games is necessarily done poorly (well, not all the time, anyway), or that it should be utterly replaced. But I do envision, as you say, equally compelling and rewarding experiences from emergent narrative that are complementary to the storytelling of books and film, precisely because video games as systems of agency and discovery are positioned to do that.

They are not positioned to deliver traditional authored stories, and games' insistence on aping cinema, with the best video game story still being the equivalent of a poor movie, points to that. For me, the future of "storytelling" in games (that is, delivering meaning) isn't Heavy Rain, but The Sims. Heavy Rain is at best a limited game of choose-your-own-adventure and at worst a mediocre movie. The Sims is a vast possibility space, where the player's active exploration of the system leads him to discover its meanings.

So in my previous post I made it sound as if narrative is inferior to story. And for a particular purpose, it is: delivering dramatic stories like we get in linear media. Like I said, emergent narrative can't do that. But emergence, and the narratives they construct, can be equally as effective at conveying meaning to the audience (not just an entertaining event, but an enriching experience). That's the true value of video games as an art. And it's not done through the device of a linear plot that delivers its meaning to the reader as she proceeds from start to finish, but through interaction with a hidden rules set that reveals its biases to the player as he discovers them. If that is what Eskil is championing, then I am all for that.

And this is pretty much what I would have said, if I could speak properly :p I totally agree with this view point - I like games either because of the system/mechanics in place or the mood they can set up. I'll rarely finish a game just because of the story. Since there are other mediums doing it better, I'll go to those.

That's a good point on mood. I finished Riddick and Half Life 2 largely because I liked the mood of the game and wanted to play in the world, even if it was more linear.

Gravey wrote:

But I do envision, as you say, equally compelling and rewarding experiences from emergent narrative that are complementary to the storytelling of books and film, precisely because video games as systems of agency and discovery are positioned to do that.

Honestly, I think that there are games already that do this quite well.

Eve online for example, as several people have mentioned already. Rock Paper Shotgun's article on the "Great War" in Eve is a great example of this. I find the game fascinating that it can create stories like that. It's too bad that I just can't get into it.

So many moments in this podcast would have been better with a Barry White voice.

Why pay $60 for 10 hours of single player, when you can pay $10 for a month of LOOOOVVVVE
I subscribe to LOOOVVVE

Certis - is the dead space in Just Cause 2 like the dead space in Far Cry 2? I haven't played JC2 yet but I did enjoy JC and thought it was great how you could just call in a helicopter to come pick you up and drop you off at the next mission instead of wasting time driving around the island. Did they take this option out of JC2? The reason I brought FC2 is because I know you've mentioned you liked this game on previous shows but I hated driving from objective to objective in that game and eventually gave up because I hated getting ambushed which sometimes lead to being run over and having to start the whole mission again. So has Just Cause 2 gone in this direction where you're forced to drive around the land looking for your next objective?

Rob Borges, it was great hearing your voice on the Digital Cowboys most recent episode. I started listening to them a few months back after one of the Conference Callers mentioned them. I never knew how much work went into making these conference calls sound so good - thanks! I'm looking forward to the second piece of their show.

Polliwog wrote:

Rob Borges, it was great hearing your voice on the Digital Cowboys most recent episode. I started listening to them a few months back after one of the Conference Callers mentioned them. I never knew how much work went into making these conference calls sound so good - thanks! I'm looking forward to the second piece of their show.

Thanks, it was a lot of fun. Especially nice considering how long we went and knowing I didn't have to worry about the edit. PHEW!