For class today we’re reading a book on semiotics, and I ran into an interesting quote. A quote that says, “Not every reader is the ‘ideal reader’ envisioned by the producer(s) of the text,” before going on to discuss interpretations of signs, text, and ideas, and how the position of the reader can fuddle the author’s intentions. This made me think about games (well, what else is it going to make me think of?!)
Game designers often have to code for not only non-ideal, but anti-ideal, players. Does that mean game designers are/should be much more aware of the semiotic codes of their game by explicitly denying game-breaking or game-crashing activity? Or by crafting tutorials and knowing how to successfully direct players to make sure they don’t miss key information necessary to go on? Interactivity and branching points means that there is a great likelihood that players will miss huge chunks of the game and lack the semiotic codes, experience, and references necesary to continue understanding (which is much different than in a linear book experience where readers may misinterpret the author). As we make more procedural content, we have less control of the player’s path, and these kinds of experiences (completely separate from plot, although that can be included) start to rear their ugly heads.
I also had an interesting prototype earlier this week. I was playing Heart of Shadows as a paper prototype, with lots of hand-waving and making up dialogue on the spot, to see what key parts of the mechanics are seriously lacking. And I realized a whole LOT are lacking. Huge chunks of the system will likely have to be re-written or re-thought completely to engineer the experiences that our player(s) wanted to do naturally but we didn’t support (like asking about the idea of a quest item from a player that already knows about it but hates the player and doesn’t want to spend time divulging the information). Playtesting is scary and depressing!
But it is SOOO necessary! I wonder why we didn’t do this SOONER?! The quarters we spent planning out traits, statuses, plots, social moves… wasted compared to 40 minutes of sitting down and going “What do we want the player to do? Okay, then how do we want the system to be able to react?” Being on so many projects at once can be useful, though. That means I can take this lesson to the pet game!
But how would I paper prototype a pet game? What would I want to do with my pets? In such a wide-open world, I’m starting to… get writer’s block, for a better term. Over and over I am running into pet games that include, in some form: grindy feeding/washing/playing/training that do nothing but raise numbers; long-winded filler plot to distract from the grind; grindy combat in standard RPG grindy combat form. Everything takes so much TIME and REPETITION. Even Petz has something like 20-30 THINGS you can do in the game (and I’m probably being generous) that you can poke at within 10-20 minutes of playing. And then what? You wait for your petz to age, to act differently, so you can do the same stuff and watch them react in very similar ways.
It’s like having a real pet, but a real pet is slow and boring, to be honest, if there is nothing else in your life. Training is hard and frustrating, aging is depressing and yet slow. Human life is similarly boring if you have no projects, no drive, no goals, no hobbies. Sleep, eat, screw, eat some more, sleep. That stopped being intellectually stimulating many hundreds of years ago. Pets work because we have other things going on: life, relationships, jobs, challenges to face and overcome with the help or at least companionship of our pets. They can’t be the one and only focus without making up things, or reducing interactions to them to their most basic and fundamental form (brush strokes, shoving food in their face). At which point, I feel that interaction fails in some way. What can we learn about ourselves other than how crappy and impatient we are?