The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

John Scott Tynes

New member
Dec 31, 1969
69
0
0
The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

Developers need to stop treating games like they're virtual books and start crafting more dynamic experiences.

Read Full Article
 

NewClassic_v1legacy

Bringer of Words
Jul 30, 2008
2,485
0
0
The biggest problem with this is that the more you introduce to a game, the more you're calling on a player to take part of. Part of what makes EVE Online so great is the fact that the gamer community within the game determines everything, from the wealth of the nearby factions to the availability and price of supplies. This makes the game a very dynamic experience, from a both individual and community standpoint. And when something like the fall of Band of Brothers happens, you can see a huge shift in economy and stability of the nearby space.

However, ask any major EVE player and you'll see a massive amount of work that's being put into their game. EVE guilds, call Corporations (or Corps), have grown in such sizes as to require multiple guilds to fall under an umbrella alliance, and have entire corps for combat, mining, industry, and trading. Get large enough, and each of these gets their own forum, who all have their own adgendas and goals, who all work under this massive goal of the alliance as a whole. Keep going and you'll see players start getting assigned quotas for x amount of material mined, or amount of income brought into the corp.

At an individual level, players upkeep massive spreadsheets to determine output and input based on varying costs of materials and how much income one gets in what section, with must be constantly updated for local economy. Every skillset needs to be planned out, to the point that players have three to four programs running at any given time just to know how long a skill's development will take, what progress the skill is being trained on, and other such factors. All of this amounts to several real-time hours of preparation for a single game. What some critics have called a second job that you pay a monthly fee to access.

As much as I hate to say it, sometimes dynamic content will hurt a game before it will help it. If you compare the simplicity of the original Harvest Moon title to the current titles, where the first one was determined entirely by how well you maintained your own farm based on simple criteria like how many kids, amount of affection from wife, number of chickens and cows, and amount of farm cultivated; the later titles start to dynamically mold the game to the players actions, which controls the size, shape, and placement of the town and who all occupies it.

While the Harvest Moon for the SNES provided a simple afternoon of fun day to day, the latter ones call for a more focused player who plans out their future steps and checks up on FAQs online to really make the most out of a game. Or barring that, denies them a level of satisfaction they could achieve by otherwise looking things up.

Sadly, because everything has to be programmed in for the player to achieve it, all programming more dynamic content would do is call for more guides and caution on the player to achieve as much of the game as possible in a single run. For the casual player who has no more than a few hours, this would burn the gamer out long before the game would be able to fly from the shelves.

Why sandbox games do so well is that they allow for both the progression of a story for those who want it, and an open world to play in for those that don't. Sandboxes allow for the Pac-Man-esque pick-up-and-play aspect that made the GTA and Saints Row games so successful to begin with, and still leave an outlet for those who want to take breaks from blowing up helicopters with random sniper rounds to read a book.

On the whole, I see the reasoning for dynamic gaming, but it's a cautious line between overwhelming the player, and welcoming them into world that grants them some fun in their escapism.

I think that all games should strive to be a little more like Legend of Mana. It's a title that has a linear story, which is to replant the Mana Tree, and gives the player three major arches to achieve that end. While they're at it, they're controlling how the "levels" are placed, and how their placement affects the materials and weapons in the towns, and the strength of the enemies in the dungeons and fields. All while able to be enjoyed from both a pick-up-and-play and bookish kinda way.

I am glad there are more games than just GTA and L4D. I'm also glad they're there for when they're needed.
 

Credge

New member
Apr 12, 2008
1,042
0
0
Left 4 Dead: This game is really the poster child for dynamic content because that's its raison d'etre. Valve wanted to explore dynamic content in the form of their "AI Director". They built four short "campaigns" but then put the real work into a hugely varied and responsive system of spawns, spawn points, and spawn rates.
Eh, that's not really how it's done.

All infected can only spawn in places the survivors can not see them. Whether this be behind a tree, on the other side of a wall, or what have you... it's essentially the same thing.

There are no spawn points or system of spawns. You don't place spawn points, you create areas where the survivors can not see the infected. Each special infected is on a 20 second timer, tank and witch excluded, and each horde is dictated by a few factors:

1. Average player movement speed. The faster, the less likely a horde will come.

2. Boomer bile. I forget the number, but a designated horde will come at you every time. Depending on the layout of the map (read: where the survivors are biled) the infected may come at a trickle or may come in a blob. It depends on if they can all spawn in one big area at once or if they have to spawn in several smaller areas.

3. The amount of time that has passed since you had a horde on that level. The longer, the more likely a horde will come.

4. Rate at which you have killed infected. The higher, the less likely a horde will come.

That's it. This is why maps like BH4 can be beaten without a single horde attacking you and with a small smattering of infected (maybe 20-30 on the entire level). The only thing that slows you down in that level would be a special infected (tank and witch included). There are just enough zombies to kill so you don't get a horde called on you, you move fast enough so a the AI director doesn't call a horde, the special infected can't keep up with you, and the level is short enough to where you the maximum time allowed for the AI director to hold back isn't even closely touched.

The only thing that is truly random about the director are the weapon and item placements... and even then, it's not really that random. Other than the designated weapon and item placements (medpack in ambulances, shotgun in the quicky mart of DT 4, the molotovs on DT1), the other placement for items are generally just a choice between "none, this, or that".

L4D really isn't dynamic. It has a specific set of rules that depends mostly on you the player. Timers exist to attempt to limit the player while level design is there to attempt to slow you down so the AI director can spawn things on you while random exists to attempt to make the player believe that it's all random.

Valve did a good enough job obscuring and advertising the random part of their game so most people don't recognize the obvious patterns, timers, and other things that make up the real meat of the game.

The only real astonishing thing about L4D is the combination of the AI director and his ability to make sub-par level design (tons of empty, useless rooms most of which don't have the item spawn triggers that the director uses to determine if an item is placed in that spot or not) an enjoyable experience. The more useless rooms you have, the more the player explores them, the more he gets attacked (seemingly randomly), the more the player feels like he has to explore them to find the items he needs to destroy the hordes that come, the more hordes that come...

Of course, people exploit the director to hell once they understand how it works.
 

HeartAttackBob

New member
Sep 11, 2008
79
0
0
This sort of dynamic content sounds awesome, if game devs could pull it off.
From what I've seen, one of the potential problems with more dynamic content is that it is much harder to bug test and troubleshoot, a problem that sort of balloons exponentially with bigger games. The title is exactly right: this is a Hard problem. Dynamic-ish content has been done in smaller games like those mentioned, but expanding it to a GTA level game would be most impressive.

I must admit, as appetizing as dynamic content of this scale sounds, I will always have time for good "virtual book" games like Mass Effect and Bioshock, even if the storyline is relatively linear.
 

PopcornAvenger

New member
Jul 15, 2008
265
0
0
Dynamic content is the reason I still play Diablo II - hell, it's still on the shelves, and the game is over 10 years old! I hope Blizzard is smart and includes similar dynamic items and collectable sets in Diablo III.

Fallout 3 is tremendous fun, and possesses a degree of the randomness I often yearn for, at least as far as encounters go. Still, it has to be modded to bring it's replayability up to an acceptable level.

Borderlands looks promising. Not only dynamic items like Diablo featured, not only randomized encounters, but dynamic terrain as well.

Not really on point, I know; the OP was targeting protagnist <-> NPC interactivity more than anything, "factional" code.

I agree about the linear games. They can look very pretty, and be packed full of excitement . . . . at least, on the first playthrough. In Mass Effect, if it wasn't for the facegen system, as well as the various class & weapon combinations you can play (and those are very limited), I wouldn't have played it more than once, maybe twice. I liked Call of Duty, but I'll never replay it's singleplayer.
 

Marohen

New member
Jun 30, 2009
59
0
0
I disagree with this article. While dynamic content is certainly effective in inhancing the replay value of a given game, it is not the end-all be-all solution to rising production costs.

Take the epitomal example of linear gameplay: The point and click adventure. These games boiled down to finding some key object and using it on something else in order advance the plot, now at first this might seem tedius but the game offsets this by rewarding the player with the continuation of its (In a proper scenario) interesting and compelling story. It goes further then normal storytelling conventions in media by making you involved in it, and can become very enjoyable.

And this is where the notion of pure-dynamic content falls flat; the inability to immerse yourself in a story, a plot, full of compelling characters dealing with interesting situations. Sure, this can stifle replay value, but it can only do as much as a good book or movie can.

And really, though, if a dev team puts a lot of effort into something people are only going to see for a moment, it's all a moot point if it results in compensating for that time and money in sales.
 
Apr 17, 2009
1,751
0
0
I'd just like to say that if you want all that, why not play an RPG? The games you mention are like that because they are that genre of game.
Also I find it ironic that one day we have this article [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/the-needles/6219-Tell-Me-a-Story] saying that game story is good, and then this one telling us it is bad and we should make our own :p
 

SykoSilver

New member
Sep 10, 2007
26
0
0
The OP doesn't seem to care for stories in video games, but I wouldn't be so dismissive. Games have their own unique interactive approach to video games. Sure, games are only beginning to get into it (e.g., Heavy Rain, Mass Effect), but it cannot be overlooked. Stories have effects within a gameplay experience as well, such as emotional weight, drive, and immersion.

I am not arguing that one-use levels and content are the way to go--I'm all for recycling content and I love to return to places in video games, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. A good narrative is a good thing, even if it requires one-use content.

And I for one do not like repetition and grinding.
 

SykoSilver

New member
Sep 10, 2007
26
0
0
I would also like to emphasize that there are other cost-cutting approaches to making games while maintaining good narrative. For example, episodic gaming, which provides a quicker feedback loop and allows developers to recycle and improve existing technology and content.
 

Pendragon9

New member
Apr 26, 2009
1,968
0
0
Zelda has been doing it for a long time, and I don't see alot of people throwing crap at it.
 

Giest118

New member
Mar 23, 2009
89
0
0
Games like GTA4 and Fallout3 actually repel me because they try to do this. They have very little in the way of any kind of actual goal, so they feel pointless.

A "game" is something you can win or lose. You can't "win" a game that doesn't have a goal.
 

Krakyn

New member
Mar 3, 2009
789
0
0
I'd just like to know who you're speaking for. You're not speaking for me, that's for sure. The idea of picking up a game and starting at a random place with random levels and no progression sounds ridiculous. Harkening back to Pacman and Q-bert means you have nostalgia goggles and really need to take them off.

That style of play may have worked up until 20 or so years ago, but it's definitely not what I want to see in a game. I like to see a story in my games. I like to feel edge-of-my-seat tension as the game reaches a climax. If you want something else, make that game yourself, but please don't try to call on the industry to screw up MY intelligent, directional games. Thanks.

edit: Oh, and stop being a douche and ripping on people who write fantasy novels. It just shows how much you lack perspective. A lot of people who like video games like fantasy novels. Just because you want to go relive the only time of your life when you were happy, as a child, playing dumb repetitive games like Pacman and Q-bert, doesn't mean that everybody else does. Those people who turn to video game writing because they "can't get their fantasy novels published" are actually successful and moving forward, while you're stuck in the past. Good luck with your failure.
 

Noone From Nowhere

New member
Feb 20, 2009
568
0
0
There isn't a single thing wrong with treating games like virtual books so long as there is a wide variety of both genres and formats to choose from.
It sounds as if you would prefer the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' format or comics and magazines which either focus on quick,dynamic casual reading or re-readability when more people are trying to put out their take on 'War and Peace' or 'The Stand' or 'The Iliad' level epic narrative-driven novels.
 

Ben66

New member
Mar 6, 2009
27
0
0
Krakyn said:
I'd just like to know who you're speaking for. You're not speaking for me, that's for sure. The idea of picking up a game and starting at a random place with random levels and no progression sounds ridiculous. Harkening back to Pacman and Q-bert means you have nostalgia goggles and really need to take them off.

That style of play may have worked up until 20 or so years ago, but it's definitely not what I want to see in a game. I like to see a story in my games. I like to feel edge-of-my-seat tension as the game reaches a climax. If you want something else, make that game yourself, but please don't try to call on the industry to screw up MY intelligent, directional games. Thanks.

edit: Oh, and stop being a douche and ripping on people who write fantasy novels. It just shows how much you lack perspective. A lot of people who like video games like fantasy novels. Just because you want to go relive the only time of your life when you were happy, as a child, playing dumb repetitive games like Pacman and Q-bert, doesn't mean that everybody else does. Those people who turn to video game writing because they "can't get their fantasy novels published" are actually successful and moving forward, while you're stuck in the past. Good luck with your failure.
Agreed. Games like Pac-Man and such do have their place in the market and can still be hella fun, but I'd hate for that to be the only thing in the whole industry

I also found the "auteurs who can't get their fantasy novel published" line to be downright disrespectful. I like something along the lines of oldschool arcade games now and then, but we're at a point where that's not the only option anymore, in fact we're experimenting with combining gameplay with narrative. Admittidely, yes, some of those experiments result in the plot getting in the way of gameplay, but it's better to keep experimenting in that route instead of stubbornly sticking to one option of making games.
 

Ashbax

New member
Jan 7, 2009
1,774
0
0
NewClassic said:
EVE Online so great
Eve online isnt a turd? When did we come to this conclusion?

On topic: I think that GTA idea is pretty good, although taking out looks and putting in something to do with blowing stuff up would be smarter, becuase GTA players dont care about looks.
You should become a game dev or a modder or something, you seem to have some good ideas.

Although most gamers seem pretty satisfiyed with the current level system.
 

CoverYourHead

High Priest of C'Thulhu
Dec 7, 2008
2,514
0
0
I dunno. I would like to see some games do this, but not all. I like the stories behind some games (Mass Effect, KOTOR... y'know, pretty much all BioWare games) but this way of progression sounds like it wouldn't deliver a solid story most of the time. I think it would end up being more along the lines of, "I'm a person. I am going to get power now." And then in the middle, "Oh no! My enemy is beating me! But I just killed him, so it's okay." And end with, "Yay, I have power now." and there wouldn't be much room for a real story with real characters. That's not to say I'm condemning your idea entirely, just that it would have to be tampered with to really work, and that I wouldn't like to see all games become this.

Though I really would like to see some games with this idea.
 

Booze Zombie

New member
Dec 8, 2007
7,416
0
0
The major solution to all games, in my opinion... is to make them all sandbox, with an advanced A.I randomly generating events, missions, opportunities, etc... even enemies and areas to keep a place fresh.

You just blew up The Bronx? Now a gang's taken over the area and is running a massive anti-government arms smuggling operation, blame their lack-luster law enforcement for the bombing even happening.

If you started a new game and blew it up again, you could buy the real estate yourself, turn it into a drug den, whatever.

Something like that. A living, breathing game.
 

super_smash_jesus

New member
Dec 11, 2007
1,072
0
0
John Scott Tynes said:
The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

Developers need to stop treating games like they're virtual books and start crafting more dynamic experiences.

Read Full Article
Has anyone ever told you that you look very similar to the lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age (Josh Homme)?