WIP: No Lack of Void.

nlovwip2
Seule.

Steady progress is being made on the first prototype. Owing to some consulted brains, two rudimentary blobs can now be controlled by two players, their heads can be manipulated using the right stick of a game pad, rendering some very actual puppetry inside the unity scene.

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No Lack Of Void unity scene.

The scene furthermore features invisible barriers just outside camera view that teleport the players from one side to the other, resulting into them exiting left and reappearing right.

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Code.

This is just some code to give some technological credibility to this thing.

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Analysis: Gang Beasts

Customisation_Hats
Blue person emoting victoriously, without reason.

In the course of testing games that might some relevance pertaining to my research, Gang Beasts came along. I suppose it could be classified as a brawler, a beat-’em-up or even a fighting game, but I believe that would be selling this odd little game short.

In Gang Beasts, you and up to seven or so other players play grumpy jelly people. The object is to beat each other up across various large, interactive spaces. You have controls for hitting, grabbing hold of things, lifting things up, and, here we go – emoting victoriously. This animation does nothing – but in various playthrough with various people, it is by far the most often-used function, whether used for humiliating grandstanding or limp irony.

gangbeasts
Romance.

Gang Beasts is ostensibly about beating each other up, but the playground-like design of the levels and the severe clumsiness of the character controllers make for a very playground-style of play, one where people spend as much as time fooling about on the swings as they do actually performing the prime directive of the game. This is abetted by the strange, physics-driven nature of the controllers: The characters often topple over, and their crouch animation makes their arms flap about in suggestive manners, which a lot of players I played with interpreted as either dancing or intimidating gestures. Couple this with the way each character can grab the other and pretty soon various quasi-romantic scenarios emerged. Not because this is a romantic game, but because the players made it romantic.

WIP: There’s No Lack Of Void.

I’ve been prodding at a crude prototype meant to encapsulate a few of my first ‘conclusions’ into testable form. It’s tentatively titled There’s no Lack of Void, after Estragon’s comment in Waiting for Godot. It’s an elementary Godotian setup: There’s a void, with a fake tree and rock in the middle, and two playable characters. Exiting the stage right means entering the stage left. They are essentially trapped in this void, and they can only react to their lot. This will probably be achieved by mapping the head bone rotation to the right analog stick, but I’m still figuring out that one. Also, I’d like there to be a way to actually escape the Void, but I haven’t found one yet.

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Unity ‘infinite’ canvas setup.
sk1
Crude sketch of simple characters.
sk2
Slightly less crude sketch of environment, characters and manner in which they might express themselves.

Kissing in Skyrim

Fus roh something.

Skyrim is one of the most mod-prone games of the past decade. Everything from Spider-Man costumes, Thomas the Tank Engine costumes, machine guns and nudity mods abound. And now, a kissing mod, Not the first, in fact. But this one is interesting because it does not employ custom animations. Instead, it uses some ridiculous tweak to the ragdoll systems which results in characters making preposterously dramatic lunges at one another, during which mouths may or may not connect.

This is (tenuously) relevant, because what we have here is not so much a kissing gesture, as much as a weird jumping-like motion that has been repurposed and packaged as ‘kissing’, and which we accept as such, partly because the movements are vaguely familiar and partly because the modder tells us to. The kissing is implied rather than executed, which is to the consumer the same as being executed. It was not kissing but now it is.

Sub-Question Three

What role does an existing relationship between players play inside a game?

There are some slightly regrettable elements to this question. What ‘role’, is hardly specific. An ‘existing relationship’ is in sore need of some specific definition. On the whole, the question seems oddly specific and wildly vague at the same time, and I’m a loss why I thought this was an adequate question only a week ago.

Regardless, let’s have a stab at half an answer. I think we can establish that pre-existing relationships do play a role in how a game is experienced by two said involved specimens in said relationship. Otherwise, friends would probably not play games together. But they do. And their friendship is a key motivator. They would rather play with a friend than with a stranger. Which is understandable. That’s what friends generally are for.

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Les Loups-Garou de Thiercelieux.

However, the game that is to result out of these findings presupposes a measure of dramatic interaction. Familiar and amicable interaction more or less precludes any dependably dramatic interaction. So should the players always be total strangers and unaware of true identities, like in Journey? Or can their be some mechanic, some transformative element that makes it easier to relinquish existing roles and assume new ones? In Les Loups-Garou de Thiercelieux, players easily cast off existing roles and relationships to assume new ones to the benefit of the game, but a case can still be made that pre-existing relationships influence their decisions inside the game.

Further research is required to make any sort of definitive statement about this quandary. The best course of action, I think, is to organize a few playthroughs of Les Loups-Garou de Thiercelieux and other games that involve some form of roleplaying, and see how this affects familiar dynamics.

‘Drama’ in general, and in games

On to the second sub-question:

What does ‘drama’ entail within a game?

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Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

What does drama entail at all? The word derives from the Greek word  δρᾶμα, which means action. It derives from the verbs to do or to act. Which seems to imply that in drama, things happen. Further glances tell us that “The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective form of reception.”

That’s all very well. Drama is something where things are made to happen in a collaborative effort to be consumed or spectated in a collective fashion. And that’s just dramatic theatre. Would I would like to do in this article is attempt to distill which active elements within ‘drama’, whether it be theatrical, cinematic or something else, are present in video games, which aren’t, and which of those that aren’t could conceivably be transposed into a video game context that realize the sort of advanced puppetry I’m currently envisioning as the end result of this project.

As mentioned previously, a lot of definitions mention, in some form or other, ‘collaborative modes of production’. In a lot of cases this refers to the gesamtkünstlicher nature of theatrical productions, and the ensemble of creators necessary to facilitate it. The writer, the performers, set designers, builders, a small army is required to play out the drama contained in a play. Similarly, we can steal the definition and hereby propose ‘collaborative modes of production’ could also refer to players. A multiplayer game is nothing if not a collaborative mode of production, the production being the final, unique experience of gameplay, the mode being the actual play, and the collaboration the very fact that two or more players are interacting with one another in a designated arena.

But can we say that presence of X systems guarantee a Y amount of drama? How much is 1 drama? Can you have too much drama?

The problem is that, much like improvised drama, most significant interaction will take place between players, who are, contrary to the system, complete mechanical unknowns. There is no sure way of predicting the totality of player actions, which is at once what makes it beautiful, but hard to encapsulate from a designers’ standpoint. This means that there is no true guarantee of a coherent story or even something that is interesting. Somehow, the means available to the players must be constrained to simultaneously imply a sufficiently large range of expression, as well as conducive limit that challenges them to reach beyond what is offered and start to create situations themselves.

When a player kills another in a game it is a nuisance for the receiving party. But it is not necessarily dramatic. If the two players concerned were on the same team, and this killing was in fact dramatic, this contextualizes it as dramatic, but as long as this is not sufficiently backed by the players’ performance, it is simply tomfoolery. So, how can the environment and the programming aid in contextualizing players’ actions as those of a dramatic nature?