Community-Driven Gameplay

As I gear up towards learning about game design, I’ve been thinking a lot about what sorts of games I’d like to make. To this end, I started thinking about games that I like–RPGs and multiplayer games like Brawl or BF:BC2. While I always pine for intellectually stimulating games, I find that games which fulfill this role are not games I can usually replay and enjoy as much as the first time. I always come back to the multiplayer games, though. I explained this a bit in The Ultimate Reward, but the gist of it is, human controlled avatars are fluid. I can come back to the same level, map, or enemy and it will always react in a dynamic way. Where a game like ME2 is one that keeps me thinking about it long after I finish, it is not a game I can play multiple times.

In ME2, while all the decisions you make are intellectually stimulating, they become noise you don’t pay attention to if you play through a second time. You already know what your choices and their consequences are, or at least an idea of what they would be, because situations are always posed under the paragon/renegade system. You already know what your crew members say at which points, though the nuances may be unknown to you. Characters in the game never change, even though you might be playing a completely different Shepard from the first time. This is a problem because you may make a connection with a crew member, only to have them reach their scripted ceiling and repeat the same thing over and over again. This breaks the illusion.



Exploring your choices through Shepard is only novel at first. Afterwards you realize that you don’t actually have much freedom to explore complexity and experience fluidity because of the gameworld; its denizens remain static even if you do not. The whole appeal of ME is the decisions which you make through either dialogue or actions. No one played the first ME because of the shooter gameplay, and despite the RPG elements, I’m sure you can find a dozen games which nail the mechanics better. And for all the polish which ME2 has received in its mechanics and gameplay, you didn’t buy it because it would be a decent RPG-Shooter. You bought it because of the dynamics involved with making choices in the game. Only those dynamics aren’t as fluid as they might seem: everything has a ceiling.

To be fair, you can’t possibly expect a developer to program an infinitude of choices and outcomes. The thing is, they don’t have to. Having limited choice is fine so long as you experience a dynamic playthrough. Enter Guild Wars 2 and its proposed “dynamic event system.” Colin Johanson, the Lead Content Designer describes his desire to build a living, breathing world which “allows the world to dynamically change based on actions and decisions made by the players. A single player decision can cascade across a zone, changing the direction of a chain of events until they dramatically alter the content played by players in a map.”

The thought alone is amazing. This, right here, is the problem with a game like Mass Effect. It doesn’t have a living, breathing world. You’re the only living, breathing part of it. Everything else just exists for your own sake–how exciting is that, really? Your choices do cause a chain of events, but they aren’t experienced by anyone else. It takes affecting another person–a real person, not just some avatar–for your choices to matter, and for your choices to have dynamic consequences.

Think about it: what if you took a game like Mass Effect or Fallout, and took its dialogue/choice system. Except, it doesn’t just apply to your proverbial Shepard. It applies to the world at large. What if your crew didn’t always repeat the same thing over and over again if you pick X choice? What if, instead of an AI controlling your Miranda or Jacob…you had another human being making choices as to what was being said or done at the time? This would be more than simple Co-op–what Shepard experiences is completely dynamic. You can’t tell what Miranda will say when you make a pass at her. She could enjoy it, but what if she interrupts you and just straight up slaps you? To me, this is what is truly missing from a game like Mass Effect: other human beings which not only experience the consequences of your actions, but also play an active role in shaping what those consequences are. Only through other human beings, and their choices can you create a living, breathing world. This is probably a good way to depict the many layers to be found within any one character within a game. If the appeal of a game like Mass Effect are your choices, having such a dynamic system which affects other people’s experience with the game would truly drive the idea of your choices mattering home. Real choices, real consequences, real people.

Perhaps the idea isn’t best suited for Mass Effect. In fact, this sort of idea would probably be better suited for a smaller-scale game.

“When a quest is completed it has no real effect on the game world. You receive your reward and then move on, looking for the next quest to do. The world appears no better or worse for your actions.”

Clearly this isn’t the case in Mass Effect: you have the power to change everything around you. But the world still doesn’t seem to be better or worse for your actions–and perhaps this is unavoidable because its “just” a game. The stakes are higher if they affect people, though, and perhaps that idea can serve as moral/ethical leverage whenever you make a decision that involves other people.

Ultimately I see player involvement as the future for video games. I’m not talking multiplayer per-se here, we already have that. More of, the idea of other people being integral to your experience with the game. After all, if people are being depicted on-screen, there can’t possibly be a better candidate to play that part except for another human being. No vision will be compromised if the developers know how to clearly plot out roles for people to take on; what they can and cannot do. Wouldn’t this approach alienate people who do not have access to online? It might, but frankly I don’t see the “appeal to everyone be accessible to everyone” as an impediment for creating a game with a clear sense of direction. We see far too many games which compromise vision, if not throw it out the window altogether in order to create accessible game. If anything, the drive to create the ultra accesible-to-everyone game has bastardized modern video games.

In any case, community-driven game play would be my version of “emotionally engaging” if I was manning a developer. For this reason, while I am not particularly interested in playing an MMO, Guild War 2’s lofty goals pique my interest.

Colin brings it home when he states that “Events are designed to help bring the community together and to give everyone a shared sense of responsibility and camaraderie in the game world”

These ideas don’t just apply to MMOs, though: I see them as being the next step in video games in general.


  1. Fernando Cordeiro

    I see something contradictory in your MMO idea.

    By having all the other people in the gamesphere controlled by humans, a developer must make sure that nobody is left without a quest of some sort (you know, because people won’ play the game just to talk to Commander Sheppard, unless Sheppard is the avatar used by Obama). This means that everybody will have quest and it’s is likely that you won’t get a more heroic set of quest, while I get only the crappy “raise your pet” quest (unless, of course, you have several different games with different natures working under the same MMO world – which would be ideal. By the way, if you ever develop something like this, I want some credit.)

    Anyways, either all of us will receive heroic and exciting quests or average Animal Crossing-like quest, but the result will be the same: a banal and equalized experience. By this, I mean there won’t be any character development whatsoever (which is one of the reasons I don’t care much for MMOs in the first place).

    I do see a way to get out of this contradiction. Get rid of demos! Instead of that, allow people to enjoy (enjoy?) a part of the game free as mundane NPCs. Meanwhile, you still have you non-mundane experience as Sheppard. Sure, this assumes there will be way more people NOT buying the game than people buying it, but it could work.

    This would of course alienate who doesn’t own an internet connection – which could backfire considering the plan NEEDS everyone to work.

    Btw I completely disagree with you when you say “If anything, the drive to create the ultra accessible-to-everyone game has bastardized modern video games”. Poppycock. Accessible doesn’t mean everybody will desire to play it. Accessible doesn’t mean easy or mutated. Also, different niches, with different tastes have different profitabilities and you can’t expect to fulfill such tastes by only making the game playable/accessible to everyone.

    Also, modern video game is in no way bastardized. I look what’s out now – including the accessible stuff – and can’t avoid thinking how exciting the times for gaming are. Saying accessibility bastardized modern video games is like saying sound bastardized movies.

    As a developer, you creative vision will be restricted not only by people claiming you should not pull a Godard on your games, but also many other (and far worse) nitpicks from publishers. Great developers are able to cope with such demands and present a great game that still delivers, despite the restrictions faced.

    I absolutely despise Godard, btw. Overrated pretentious fuck.

  2. Well, first off, not an MMO idea. It doesn’t have to be large scale. In fact I don’t think it can work UNLESS its small scale. Also, depending on the game, it might not even have quests, at least in the sense you’re describing–it doesn’t have to be an RPG. Why can’t there be character development? If my friend is allowed to play as Miranda, all they have to do is give her the Shepard treatment: they get to choose how to react in any given situation and in this way, they build on their character. After all, Shepard is defined through what choices you make. And there are people all around Shepard when he makes decisions, and they’re scripted to be a part of it. That can easily be a role that another person takes, only in the ‘perfect’ implementation there would be no singular shepard with only supporting cast. Just, the entire party involved is actually…involved. Not just one protagonist that you happen to be able to command and all the AI which reacts to you.

    I also did say it would alienate people without an internet connection, but that that shouldn’t matter. Vision comes first. When I say ‘everyone’ I don’t mean random unimportant NPCs that are just fodder. No one wants to play those roles, anyway, and it wouldn’t make sense to try to flesh out something thats not the point. And as I said, the idea is for a small scale game, and so you wouldn’t neccesarily need a ton of people to get something working.

    I never said accesibility meant any of the things you said it doesn’t mean. Accesibility and attaining it often means that developers take extra precautions to make sure the game can be enjoyed to people *who aren’t even their target audience*. How is that not a mistake? Look at all your favorite games. Did the developers go out of their way to make the game accesible to everyone? Was that approach even neccesary to make those great games what they were? Then take a look at games like FF13. 25 hour tutorial? Jesus christ, really?

    What I meant by the bastardization comment is that nowadays, developers want to *engineer* a hit. Things that a succesful game in that genre has become a checklist which must be put into your game in a manner that is the most accesible to absolutely anyone that might so much as consider touching the game. Vision, what you intend, almost seems to be secondary. It doesn’t even matter because following that vision might mean alienating potential customers.

    To be sure, that approach is one of the cornerstones of a few companies–namely ones like Nintendo. But then what Nintendo does isn’t taken as a question of philosophy or direction for copy-cats, its merely seen as a blueprint to achieving success by piggybacking off what companies like Nintendo do. Games which come out of that intent follow the checklist but have no soul.

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  4. Fernando Cordeiro

    I was thinking how weird that I misinterpreted your text about all the points I wrote about. Then I remembered this was not the first time. Since these cases only occurs to me with you, I’m convinced this is not my fault alone. Ergo, you should be more clear when conveying your ideas.

    Case in point. When you say “More of, the idea of other people being integral to your experience with the game. After all, if people are being depicted on-screen, there can’t possibly be a better candidate to play that part except for another human being”. Here is what I think:

    – The ration non-playable/playable character is big.
    – The problem derives from interaction with NPCs. The solution involves other people assuming the roles on those NPCs
    – From the 2 sentences above I deduce I big number of people will be necessary to assume all roles.
    – From my experiences with games, I relate the idea of a big number of people in different roles to MMOs.

    So there. I don’t think that was an illogical chain of thoughts.

    And yet I don’t get the idea. Even after your explanation, I still view it as an MMO. Especially when you say “there would be no singular shepard with only supporting cast. Just, the entire party involved is actually…involved”. So you are saying only a percentage of the NPC will be controllable – i.e. Sheppard’s crew, instead of everyone? If so, that fact was missing in the original post – and it’s of vital importance! But then the result would be similar to Resident Evil Online – but with talking-trees/actions instead of static permanent lines?

  5. curly

    i’m excited for FF12-3

    sorry, guild wars 2