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万字长文,Greg Johnson谈游戏的故事互动要素设计环节

发布时间: 2016-04-28 14:57:13 Tags: Journey , Little Big Planet , StarTrek , Tomb Raider

作者:Greg Johnson

互动故事游戏是否还存在着?

如今已是2016年了。是的,我们曾经猜想在2016年里我们将能看到悬浮汽车,机器人管家,事件发射器以及“全像摄影互动电影”的诞生。也许你并不是像我出生于20世纪60年代,所以这些并不是你们想象中的未来。而互动电影的未来在那里呢?现在我们的至少还拥有它们不是吗?

现在让我们谈谈电子游戏。如果你是一名游戏玩家,你可能知道有一种游戏类型叫做“互动故事游戏”,并在游戏媒体中的很多人已经讨论了好莱坞与电子游戏的集合很多年了。而如果你并非游戏玩家,现在的你可能会开始犯困了,或许你可以考虑看看其它内容。

所以到底什么是互动故事游戏?这种组合到底意味着什么?这听起来应该很有趣吧。这似乎在暗示你你可以直接进入电影中并“生活”在故事里。就像在《星际迷航》中的“Holodeck”上。当然了,这里的重点在于你拥有绝对的自由可以在游戏世界中随时做任何想做的事,并且最终都会出现一些有趣的结果。即最后将会诞生一个针对于你的体验且让你感到满足的故事。

万字长文,Greg Johnson谈游戏的故事互动要素设计环节

StarTrek(from sogou)

接下来请跟紧我,因为这些内容可能会有点微妙,甚至会有点疯狂。关于“Holodeck”描述我们指的便是“互动故事游戏”。它们其实并未真正存在,或者说今天存在的互动故事只是基于最简单的形式。现在我们所拥有的是“互动式故事游戏”。因为游戏的本性便具有互动性,并且许多游戏都带有故事,所以我们拥有的便是互动式故事游戏。而这也是我们需要解决的一个大问题!什么?你认为这是一个愚蠢的问题?好吧,那然后呢?

到目前为止游戏产业已经花费了数十亿美元并投入了无数时间去创造游戏。我可以证明人们已经在创造互动故事这条道路上努力了至少30年了。所以结果呢?

尽管现在市场上已经有许许多多的游戏,并且许多游戏都是非常优秀且让人印象深刻的作品,但我们还是不能否认互动故事的创造还处于初始阶段。现在的我们仍处于试验阶段。不幸的是,这种R&D般的互动方法从本质看来是不可预测的,它将为互动故事项目添加更多风险,并因此需要你投入更多时间与金钱。这也许便是我们未看到更多人尝试着去推倒互动故事障碍的主要原因吧。我们所看到的尝试经常是一些低预算独立项目,即无需投入太多资金。这些项目总是能够提供给我们一些有趣的观点和值得学习的经验教训,但是它们所涉及的范围却太小,所以只能提供一些可能性暗示。

我应该关心的,因为……

在我们深入分析互动故事之前,让我们着眼于一个始终存在的问题,“我们是否关心?”毕竟这是一个世界性的游戏类型。就拿我来说吧,我便沉浸于一些与互动故事毫不相关的出色游戏中。这是否是值得我们关注的问题?对于某些人来说可能不是如此,但这却是一个大胆的声明。因为互动故事是作为人类的我们总是在追随的内容。

从生理方面来看,当你发现人类是为故事而生时,你肯定会非常惊讶的。大脑研究者发现,我们的大脑中有很大一部分的构造都是为了“创造可替换的现实模型”。从进化的角度来看,我们在脑子里构想未来并运行假设模拟的能力拥有巨大的存活值。这种能力让我们能够通过在自己安全且隐秘的思想里测试我们的行动而预测到它们的结果,这同时也能让我无需真正面对危险情况而从别人的经历中获得学习。这种“现实建模”便是人类智能进化中最伟大的里程碑。基于此我们便可以构建“复杂的因果关系链”,也就是我们所谓的“故事”。

关于故事对于我们的“真实性”,其它有趣的大脑研究还表明,当我们在读书,看电影或听故事时沉浸于故事中,我们的大脑便会像我们在现实世界中经历某些事件那样发生化学或电力上的反应。我们的惊讶,害怕,喜悦,刺激,生气和背上等情感反应以及我们的学习和记忆中枢,甚至我们大脑中的视觉皮层和感官或运动区域都会像真正的经历那样受到刺激。这并不是说我们不能判断真实与虚假,这只是在传达故事对于人类体验的基本影响的线索。换句话说,我们总是会禁不住对故事做出反应。而我们本身就是故事制造机。在过去几年里,神经学家在识别人类大脑特定区域的功能方面取得了突飞猛进的发展。他们发现我们的大脑皮层中的一个区域,即背外侧前额叶皮层是主控制中心,即将命令并划分我们的各种不同想法和冲动;它将排列,组织并构建因果联系,或者换句话来说,它将创造故事。而眼窝前额皮层将扮演核查员的角色去确保我们的内部故事是否“合理”以及是否与我们其它的心理模式相一致。并且正是这一大脑领域决定着我们对于真实与虚假的判断。

让我们想想每天的生活是如何被故事所包围着。我们会通过故事与朋友和家人分享我们的每日经历,我们总是会在脑子里构思各种场景和对话,我们会列举相关故事去教授别人,我们会通过幻想的故事去猜测未来,我们会逃离到虚构的世界中放松自己,我们还会在游戏环境中扮演其他人。我们甚至会在梦中构思故事,即使是半理智型故事。

你心里可能会说:“你只在前面3个段落提及故事对于人类的重要性。但是还有很多优秀的游戏能够让你有身处于游戏故事的感受。它们可能不会让你做任何事,它们也许也不会让你改变太多故事内容,但是它们仍会很有趣,并且有时候也会传递一些不错的故事体验。那为什么我们需要理解更多有关互动故事的内容呢?”

如果我们能让创新变得不那么有风险,我们便能够更多地进行尝试。这不仅适用于一步步地创造更出色的现有故事游戏,同时也适用于一些更大步且更有野心的飞跃,即我们真正尝试着去推动艺术的发展。一款优秀游戏的目标是让玩家在选择与行动中感受到满满的动力。游戏是关于行动。而故事则是关于终止怀疑。一个优秀故事的目标是将你带进故事世界中并让你能够“身处体验”里。而互动故事便是在努力将这三者结合在一起。挑战当然是来自故事内在的线性序列。即每次当你将玩家选择引进故事中时,你便会打乱这种线性。

这便是创造一种真正的互动故事体验的巨大挑战。任何尝试过处理这一问题的人总是会告诉你最艰难的部分便是明确如何提供给玩家足够的选择和自由去影响故事中所发生的事。或者从理论上来说也就是如何在故事中为玩家提供“代理”。从本质上来看,游戏就像是一些重复行动和结果的紧密循环。你需要不断闪避与射击,然后再次闪避与射击。或者你需要一直驾驶着汽车,玩音乐,或在地下城中移动等等。这些循环让玩家能够基于某些技巧创造某种专业技能,并让设计师能够延伸难度并挑战任何核心活动的参数。与我们的讨论更有关系的是,这些循环将提供他们所需要资产的效能。即它们将让游戏创造性能够基于有限且不断重复使用的内容而创造出持久的游戏体验。有些游戏可能会提供像环境,敌人,车辆,关卡设计等各种内容,但只要这些内容变得不可操控,设计师便会停止添加内容。一旦核心循环能够运行,游戏便是可游戏的。与此相反的是,让玩家能够通过行动从根本上改变故事的游戏则会遭遇“内容爆炸”问题。如此每个玩家行动都将引出一个全新的NPC行为和世界状态,而基于一个预先创造好的资产去创造一款游戏便变得不可能了。

互动故事所具有的关键问题在于这里并不存在所谓的“什么是故事?”的问题。在某种程度上这并没有多重要,并且不应该成为设计的关注点。当然了我们总是想要看到最棒的故事,但是我们需要回答的真正困难且有趣的问题是:如何以一种可行的方式让玩家能够以某种意义且具有戏剧性地影响故事?

我们可以选择两条基本的路线:真正的路线或者虚幻的路线。真正的;路线是指现实世界,即带有其当前的限制。不管好坏这便是我们现在所选择的路线,也许不是我们自己的选择,但这却是现实。在这条路线上我们会使用各种技巧去呈现给玩家自己能够影响故事或者真正“身处”故事的感觉。而这里的每种技巧都存在局限性,成本和利益。这些技巧都不是专属的,你也可以将其与其它技巧相结合进行使用。

而虚幻的路线则是我们所假设的未来的Holodeck。这是一条高级仿真路线,这里有真正的“自然发生的故事”(游戏邦注:即不是预先设定好的故事,而是源自仿真体验中)。奇怪的是我们可以从虚幻路线中学到许多东西,所以我们将会选择从这里开始然后再回头着眼于互动故事当前的发展状态。

虚幻的路线

让我们从一个有趣的思想运动开始,毕竟这便是我们在虚构路线上所拥有的一切。让我们假设我们暂时拥有最高级且最复杂的互动故事模拟技术。想想我们可以将你置于一个高级的模拟中,即你能够在此按照自己的想法四处走动并做任何想做的事。你可以说话,并完美地控制你的人类角色。假设我们的虚拟现实伴随着值得信赖且受程序驱动的AI角色,完美的实体以及你想做的所有行动的结果的详细细节。实际上,假设我们能够创造一个非常真实的模拟,并且这是与现实生活中不同的模拟。现在想象你所阅读的这个句子便是模拟内容。非常有趣吧?难道你会不喜欢虚拟现实吗?

现在让我们带上自己的游戏设计之帽并问自己一些问题,游戏多有趣?它是否能卖得出去?当然了游戏图像很出色,游戏角色具有很棒的外观,但是它是否具有吸引力呢?你该如何获胜?在这一模拟内容中我们是否添加了摄像机去捕捉最有趣的故事?就此而言,我们该如何保证故事能够令人满意,而游戏又将在什时候结束?

即使拥有世界上最高级的模拟,我们也仍未拥有一款有趣的电子游戏。显然这意味着创造一个高级的模拟并非我们的目标。要想创造一个真正让人信服的人类般的AI是非常具有挑战性的(即使它只是一个外星人或机器人)。而创造一个模拟的“生活世界”也具有非常大的挑战。但即使我们成功创造了这些充满挑战性的设计和工程,这也还是不够的。因为我们仍未能创造出一款有趣的游戏。

所以我们到底遗漏了什么?从根本上来看,到底什么才能创造出真正让人满足的电子游戏体验?如果我们能从模拟体验中获得故事的话,我们又该如何确保所有故事的结果都能让玩家感到满足呢?这便是两个很好的问题。关于第一个问题,“到底什么才能创造出真正让人满足的电子游戏体验?”也许太过基本,但让人感到讽刺的是,一些我们认为再明显不过的事却未能获得别人足够的关注。明确对于所有电子游戏真正重要的东西能够在我们的设计过程中提供帮助。或者并不是如此。让我们慢慢来看。

是什么创造了一款电子游戏?

所以我们需要在模拟中添加什么才能将其变成真正成功的游戏体验?如明确的目标,挑战和成功条件。电子游戏将我们置于一些虚构的环境中,然后会提供给我们一个明确的目标。它们会在我们的前进路上设置障碍并提供给我们克服这些障碍的方法。

另一个定义电子游戏的元素便是奖励。这些奖励可以是游戏中非常明确的元素,如点数,徽章,喇叭响或进程指示器等能够表现自我并让我们觉得自己很厉害的内容;或者它们也可以以影响我们的肾上腺素或多巴胺等形式表现出来。毋庸置疑,对于设计师来说这是较难计划的奖励类型,也许我们能从高级模拟中碰巧获得一些这样的奖励,而因为电子游戏一直在努力创造“瘾性”,或者说表现出“不可抗拒的吸引力”,所奖励便需要在此发挥作用。

奇怪的是,在电子游戏中简单的移动非常关键。仔细想想,当你走在某个游戏大会的地板上或在电子游戏商店中观看游戏预告片时你会看到什么。几乎所有电子游戏都会让玩家去控制移动,各种各样的移动。人类是一种视觉生物。我们的视觉皮层占据着大脑中非常重要的位置,对我们来说视觉是非常重要的一部分。移动可快可慢,但通常情况下它总是包含着类似动物大脑对于移动反应的模拟,即将让我们处于一种流状态中。那时候我们就会像追逐地板上的激光的小猫。这种流状态会让我们感到兴奋,放松,并释放出平时的压力。

总之,电子游戏就像是微观的生活世界,它们能够提供明确的目的以及成功的方法,并且会在我们面前设置可控制的障碍。它们会通过移动吸引我们的注意并将我们置于流状态中,并通过传达我们有多厉害而从实体上和情感上给予我们的奖励。也难怪电子游戏能够创造出巨大的收益。

我们所描述的是所有电子游戏的共同点,为什么它们能够吸引到我们,但这绝不代表所有的电子游戏都是如此。创造一个具有挑战性,吸引力,模拟元素,奖励,以及教育性质的微观生活世界并不简单。而创造能够影响我们的情绪或推动互动创新界限的故事便是真正的艺术。之前我所合作过的一个开发者几乎每天都会重复这句话:“创造电子游戏是很难的。”

讨厌游戏者

关于“是什么创造了一款电子游戏”我遗漏了一个定义。而这一定义也是更广的“所有游戏”定义的组成部分。游戏的主要目标便是娱乐我们。当然了,有时候游戏也可以训练我们并教育我们,但是游戏最主要的目标,特别是对于电子游戏来说,便是娱乐玩家。

让我们想想这句话,“你是如何看待一款游戏?!”这意味着什么?这是关于你做某些只是为了娱乐的事的动机,即你可能不会足够认真地去面对它们。

这也将引出有关非游戏玩家以及讨厌游戏者的观点。不知道你之前是否听过这些内容:“游戏是在浪费时间并且不会提供任何价值”,“我更喜欢‘现实世界’”,“游戏并非艺术”,“电子游戏太过暴力”,“游戏是一种反社交的自我刺激行为”。

我们是否在意这些说法?当你打开Facebook时,你可能会喜欢这样的说法,因为它们其实就像在捍卫所有的游戏和玩家。然而理解为什么有那么多人不玩游戏也是帮助我们理解如何创造出能够为更多用户提供价值的方法。这并不意味着我们就一定要去吸引非游戏玩家的注意。我们可以想办法将这些人变成游戏玩家也可以选择不这么做,但是在理解如何创造能够让非游戏玩家觉得有意义且有价值的体验时,我们将尽力推翻界限并确保能够创造出让我们的游戏玩家更加喜欢的游戏。

所以这些非游戏玩家到底想要什么?好吧,让我来说说所有的这些人,因为我非常清楚他们想要什么。

大多数非游戏玩家想要的:较少的重复行动,较少的杀戮,较少的流血,更多的意义,更多的人性,更多成熟和复杂的故事,更多美感,更多与现实世界相关的内容,以及更多具有学习性的价值。但这并不是说非游戏玩家不喜欢故事或娱乐;他们中的很多人都很喜欢读书,看电影和玩游戏。只是他们所感兴趣的是人对人的互动以及基于角色的故事。也许行动热爱者与电子游戏玩家间具有强大的关联性,这也是电子游戏想要利用的。描绘有趣的角色,互动对话和生活状况,并创造没有杀戮的互动内容并非游戏产业所擅长的或者所感兴趣的事。游戏产业站在擅长并且符合这些非游戏玩家兴趣的便是合作游戏,或者家庭游戏,即能够带给游戏的人欢声笑语。所以这便是我们吸引这些用户的主要方式。也许互动故事还能开启一些全新方式。

除了那些很难与电子游戏世界连接起来的人群,还有另外一个群体是一脚踩在外面一脚踩在里面的人(就像我这样)。这些人喜欢玩游戏的理念,但却为了能够花更多时间与家人相处而没有足够的时间或空间去玩游戏。所以你最好能够为他们创造较短的游戏体验以及没有攻击性的多人玩家体验,即让他们可以将其他非游戏玩家家庭成员带进游戏中与自己一起游戏。

接下来让我们着眼于我们之前提到的真正的路线,即我们在互动故事中当前的艺术状态。我们将从当前的互动故事游戏中最常使用的结构开始。实际上我们将作出一个大胆的尝试,即假设在今天有80%以上的故事游戏都使用了这一结构。

真正的路线

电子游戏类型多种多样。有时候你会听到像“故事游戏”或“互动故事游戏”等说法。这些说法都没有非常明确的界限,所以我们很难去定义到底什么是“故事游戏”。大多数RPG游戏都拥有某种类型的故事。许多带有比赛和过场动画的策略游戏也会提供故事内容。甚至连街机游戏也拥有某种故事设定。所以为了我们的目的,我们将把电子游戏称为故事游戏,而前提是它的主要作用是让玩家能够经历一些故事,如果没有故事便很难去描述整款游戏。但是这么做似乎也很模糊,所以我们只能顺其自然了。

也许今天的故事游戏从表面看来非常不同,并拥有各种图像风格,主题,游戏机制和范围,但奇怪的是,当你从结构角度去看它们时却会发现它们都差不多。因为当我们想到“故事游戏”时,我们便会发现这些结构都是默认的,许多游戏制作人都不会去考虑其它替代内容便使用了这样的结构。

我们将这样的结构称为“路线结构”。在这些“路线”游戏中,玩家将沿着预先设定好的路线(游戏邦注:可能很窄,也可能很宽,即拥有各种宽度)移动。在他们的前进道路上会设有障碍和门。障碍将基于挑战,谜题,战斗或各种类型的钥匙和锁等移动形式表现出来。通常情况下,路线游戏总是结合了这些障碍。最小故事元素总是伴随着玩家行进的路线进程传递。当玩家到达能够彻底止住他们的脚步而他们又必须想办法通过的位置时,这便是我们所谓的门。在这里游戏通常都会传递一下主要的故事元素,因为玩家必须在继续前进前经历这些内容。门同时也会提供给设计师去创造其它满足前进的条件(游戏邦注:例如拥有可收集的资源,升级或获得与故事状态相关的成就等)。它们同时也让设计师能够基于全新背景和音频视觉资产,角色,迷你游戏,boss或改变故事环境而加载全新关卡。

万字长文,Greg Johnson谈游戏的故事互动要素设计环节

Tomb Raider(from verycd)

像《古墓丽影》,《最后的生还者》《神秘海域》,《黑暗之魂》,《生化奇兵》,《合金装备》和《镜之边缘》等大规模的AAA级游戏,《古堡迷踪》,《旺达与巨像》,《旅程》,《骤雨》,《撕纸小邮差》等中等规模的游戏,以及像《2-Brothers》,《Magicka》,《视觉之上》或《Orphan》等小规模游戏都使用了同样的游戏风格。但这并不是说这些游戏在其它方面也是相同的,这也不是说它们都是虚构或原创的。基于这样的基本结构,它们能在主题,美术风格,范围,音频,剧本或游戏机制方面创造出一些全新内容。而玩家的目标始终都是沿着一条或多条路线向前行进,游戏的主要“工作”则是在玩家的行进道路上设置挑战和有趣的障碍,并传达给他们一些预先创造好的故事。

超越简单的路线结构

就像我们之前提到的,在这一路线结构上许多游戏发生了改变,并且一些稀有的故事游戏更是完全偏离了这一路线。在我们谈论这些游戏所采取的一些方法前,让我们先欣赏一些优秀的路线结构游戏。在我们追逐具有沉浸感的互动电影体验的路上,我们并不希望因此忽略了这些优秀的作品,并且有些作品其实可以称得上真正的艺术品。就像我最喜欢的两款游戏便是《ICO》和《旅途》,尽管所有游戏玩家都有自己的喜好,但有些游戏甚至会改变他们的生活或者推动他们从事游戏创造的工作。其实基于简单的公式也需要我们做很多事,并且有时候它能够约束你的多样性从而让你专注于少量的内容,即那些对你来说真正有帮助的选择。

万字长文,Greg Johnson谈游戏的故事互动要素设计环节

Journey(from douwan)

在接下来的文字中我们将列出现有游戏用于推动故事中玩家参与感的一些技巧。我们将首先着眼于路线结构中的一些变量,然后深入人们用于强化故事沉浸感和参与感的技巧。最后我们将列出一些刚出现不久的新概念。值得注意的是,每一款游戏通常会使用一种以上的技巧,设计师也不会将它们当成特定的“技巧”。而通过将这些技巧区分开来进行分析,我们希望能够以此帮助设计师们更准确且更有效地实现他们的目标。

免责声明:我们会在概念后会列出游戏案例。这些例子旨在帮助读者更好地理解这些概念,并没有其它特殊含义。

结构路线变量:

开放世界部分

这些游戏将其有限的路线分布在一些更开放的空间里,通常是在城市或城镇中。这些开放区域通常拥有一些轻微模拟元素能够赋予其活力,并且这里将会出现NPC角色和敌人。(如《时空之轮》,《最终幻想7》,《疯狂麦克斯》,《死亡左轮》)

分支路线和连接路线

有时候玩家将会到达一个十字路口,并且他们将在那里选择不同路线。通常情况下这些路线都是沿着主要路线延伸。在故事中它们代表的是“可选择”的故事线程。有时候游戏将允许玩家在之后回头去打开路线,而这不仅能够创造一个更大的开放世界实感,同时也能够约束玩家最初的游戏进程。有些游戏创造了一个路线网并将其用于地图上,如此玩家便可以从一个地方前往另一个地方并且始终都处于一条有限的路线上。(如《神鬼寓言》,《Magicka》)

嵌入式路线和区域

沿着一条路线移动的玩家有时候也会找到一个通向一条“嵌入式”路线或开放区域的门道。这与分支路线相似,只不过分支路线是一种选择(即路线A或路线B)并且将把你引向一个全新场所,而嵌入式路线则是一个新增路线,将把你带回到入口处。

迷宫路线

许多游戏会通过婉转路线或将路线的组成部分变成迷宫而改变路线的线性结构。但这仍然是一条有限的路线,只是不再是直线而已。如果我们将“迷宫”换成“地下城”的话,你可能会更好理解。(如《小龙派斯罗》)

高级地图和支线任务

许多游戏都拥有一张主要地图,即玩家可以使用某些方式在这里自由移动。当玩家到达地图上的目的地时,他们便会进入“嵌入式”路线中或开放区域里。有时候,这些地图也设有自己的大门将把你引向全新的“嵌入式”路线或开放区域(如进入一栋建筑)。通常情况下,在一款带有地图的故事游戏中,玩家需要基于某些顺序打开一些区域,即让故事能够按顺序展开。通常情况下存在一些玩家可以以任何顺序选择进入的区域,它们便是所谓的支线任务。(如《双重国度》)

额外的技术

多重结果和多种结局

让玩家觉得自己能够影响故事发展的一种最常见也是最有效的方法便是让他们的特定行动能够改变故事结果。最棒的结果应该是它不会再引出一个全新的故事分支。通常情况下如果设计师非常聪明,他们便会在故事过程中往玩家的行动中添加多种结果。即可能是导致一些NPC角色的死亡或者能够拯救它们的生命,并因此会改变一些故事元素。这里存在的技巧便是,如何在不改变主要故事进程的前提下让玩家觉得自己能够真正影响故事。(如《骇客任务》)

玩家声誉,好人vs恶人,玩家行动的所有AI记忆

有些游戏会创造一些简单的AI到游戏的NPC中并让他们能够参考玩家在游戏前面所做或所说的一些事。有时候这些NPC的影响会很大,并可能呈现出不断发展的“玩家声誉”的感觉。NPC可能会变得更让人印象深刻或更有价值,或者更害怕或更生玩家的气。有些游戏专注于让玩家选择“好的”或“不好的”路线,并且结果和声誉都会影响到玩家的故事体验感。(如《神鬼寓言》,《黑与白》,《辐射》,《疯狂麦克斯》,《宇宙在我心》,《动物之森》)

随机的NPC

有些游戏创造了拥有不同外观或行为的随机NPC。这会让游戏的后续进程变得不同,并让不同玩家能够拥有稍微不同的“定制”故事体验。《暗影魔多》的开发者便投入了许多精力去创造这些的系统并将其命名为Nemesis系统。

同伴NPC

有时候游戏会提供给玩家一个能够成为他们旅行伙伴的NPC角色。这也是创造与NPC间的情感连接的有效方式。这些角色并不需要非常聪明。而通过以一种传统结构(如路线结构)去提供游戏中的同伴角色,设计师将无需投入太多努力于NPC的AI上,并且它也无需承担太多游戏责任。(如《ICO》,《最后的守护者》,《永不孤单》,《2 Brothers》,《野兽传奇》)

世界转换

有些游戏会基于玩家的表现采取某些方法逐渐改变环境的外观以及某些主角的状态。这种选择通常是以好的行动vs邪恶的行动或光明vs阴暗的形式表现出来。(如《黑与白》,《神鬼寓言》)

无意义的世界故事

其实这并不是一种技巧,它只是一种“回避”策略。许多游戏创造了一个让玩家体验的“无意义的世界”故事。这么做的好处是无需创造许多看起来很聪明且受AI驱动的角色。并且这将创造出某种孤独感并在游戏中呈现出一种神秘的氛围。(如《旅途》,《Rime》)

分支视频

这是Telltale等公司非常擅长使用的一种技巧。玩家将观看一个如电影般的高质量故事,并随着影片的播放通过点击做出某些选择。当他们这么做时,故事便会出现分支。还有许多其它技巧能够用于该方法中,如限制玩家做选择的时间,要求玩家搜索选择等待。(如《行尸走肉》,《我们身边的狼》,《国王密使》)

持续时间

这一技巧指的是当玩家不再游戏时,游戏世界中的世界也不会静止。这让玩家在游戏结束时能够继续收集资源,让玩家会想念NPC角色或者让玩家会想要回到游戏中去看看游戏世界或角色状态发生了怎样的改变。这将赋予游戏世界巨大的可信度,但这同时也具有巨大的设计挑战。(如《动物之森》,《人面鱼》,《疯狂麦克斯》)

多人玩家伙伴

有些游戏能让2名以上的玩家在一个在线故事冒险中一起潜行。这也是将真正高质量AI带进游戏的有效方法。这会让玩家觉得自己并非孤身一人在游戏世界里,他们能够在情感上与其他人联系在一起,并让整个游戏体验变得更有意义,即使游戏世界本身并不存在其它角色(游戏邦注:例如《旅途》)。而这一设定的缺点便在于玩家将很难去控制其他玩家在故事中所做的事,他们可能不会按照你所用的方式进行游戏。而处理这种问题的一种方式便是限制他们可以执行的行动或输入内容,不过即使如此问题也还会出现。

开放世界结构

一款开放世界游戏总是会避免在玩家前进方向上限制他们。在一款真正的开放式接游戏中,玩家从一开始便会进入一个完整的世界。通常情况下这里仍会存在一些封锁区域或会限制玩家进入全新区域的元素,如难以对付的敌人或需要搜索的资源。开放世界会呈现出有关故事序列的挑战,如控制事件或叙述的流。

轻,重,局部和世界模拟

轻模拟是指当NPC执行一些让他们看起来很有活力或很忙的简单循环行为。这些AI只拥有最小的反应性,但是它们却能够提供让人感觉具有动态的背景。(如《辐射》,《侠盗猎车手》。重模拟(或深度模拟)是当一个模拟NPC(或生物)影响了其它NPC行为时。这会创造一些因果链(或串联行为)以及比较难以预测并且更加生动的世界。从故事角度来看这是较难控制的。重模拟也代表对于玩家更加复杂的NPC反应。(如《矮人要塞》,《孢子》,《模拟人生》)局部模拟指的是在较小的空间进行紧凑控制的模拟。这一模拟能够以较低的成本创造出更大的回报。(如《刺客信条)世界模拟是指整个游戏世界是一个巨大的连接模拟的一部分。(如《动物之森》,《模拟人生》)

沙盒游戏

这与开放世界没什么区别,但却也值得注意。沙盒世界能够提供给玩家有关行动的有趣结果,但却不需要玩家基于任何顺序去完成目标。玩家能够自由地在一个巨大的沙盒中探索。(如《我的世界》)通过创造一个充满关于玩家行动的有趣结果的世界,游戏便能够让玩家创造属于他们自己的故事。但是开发者仍然很难去创造一个能够生成复杂或让人满足的故事的系统。

对话互动

我们很难通过不存在任何对话的书籍或电影中想象一个吸引人的故事。而这也是我们在一款电子游戏中最难做到的事,甚至我们还需要同时营造给玩家自由感。处理对话最常见的方式便是使用对话树。这能够提供给玩家一个句子或句子片段等选择,当玩家做出选择后,NPC将提供另一个句子作为回应。这里也有一些其它技巧,如“情感姿态”选择,非言语的交流行动选择或对话块。最后一种方法便是将对话分解成小部分并让玩家能够基于非特定顺序看到这些内容。(如《星航》,《宇宙在我心》)

持续故事和背景故事

我们必须清楚持续故事和背景故事间的区别,因为它们对于递交内容具有不同的要求。持续故事是指随着玩家的前进而不断展开的故事。(例如玩家对于故事中的事件的反应是源于他们的行动。)而背景故事则是已经发生过的故事,有可能是很久前发生的事。基于持续故事玩家的行动可能会对所发生的事产生影响,因为故事就像是“现在”发生的,这需要故事以某种逻辑顺序展开。相反地,背景故事之所以有用是因为玩家不会期待自己的行动会对这样的故事产生影响,并且故事的展开也是不受玩家控制的。大多数科幻小说都包含发现与揭露背景故事(游戏邦注:如该文明中真正发生的事或某个人是如何被杀的)。玩家也许能够基于任何顺序找到相关线索。也许对于玩家来说这不如“生活在故事中”有趣,但这也是提供给玩家吸引人的故事“感”的有效方法。(如《命运》和《质量效应》)

创造一个附属门网

创造一个开放式互动故事游戏结构的一种方法便是创造一个附属故事门网。我们可以先从最终的玩家目标开始并回到一个巨大的网格中。就像为了获得D你必须拥有“C”,为了拥有C你必须获得“B”,以此类推。为了获得“C”你可以前往场所7或场所8。在每个场所中都存在如何让你获得所需要东西的条件。为了了解如何满足这些条件或该去哪,你就必须将你在之前行进路上所了解到的背景故事组织在一起。最终游戏将通过要求玩家获取旅行资源以及在偏远区域设置更复杂的敌人而限制玩家到达这些场所的能力。这是一些早前的开放空间探索游戏会使用的方法。这也是一种开放世界结构,这里不存在任何路线(尽管可以添加一些嵌入式路线)。并且这主要依赖于背景故事。(如《星航》和《StarControl 2》

一些新概念

基于属性和性能的广义行为

一个我们不常使用但却能够作为世界模拟并变得更常见的概念便是基于对广义属性和性能的回应的NPC行为概念。这种方法的一大优势便是它能让NPC行为变得更加灵活并让它们能够对任何带有属性的内容作出反应。这意味着随着PC或其它NPC属性的改变,面向这些角色的NPC行为也会随之发生改变。关于这类系统的另一大优势便是NPC角色将分布在游戏世界的任何地方;同样地,全新NPC角色也能出现于游戏过程中,而现有的NPC将清楚如何对它们做出回应,因为它们能够对性能作回应。假设一个NPC的设定是讨厌一切绿色的事物并且会攻击任何比自己弱的对象,并逃离比自己强大的对象。这都是一些简单的属性,并且会引出一些复杂且多样的行为。作为玩家的你可能会喝掉一瓶药剂并变成绿色,如此原本友善对待你的NPC将会发生态度上的转变。它将开始攻击你,而一旦你拥有一把宝剑,它便会逃离你。这一NPC也会对任何它所遇到的其它NPC做同样的事。这一简单的概念也可以创造出更好的效果。(如《涂鸦冒险家》,《孢子》,《宇宙在我心》)

静态空间里的故事进程

最常见的控制故事流的方法便是在路线上或地图上将其整合到空间元素中,然后控制玩家在这个空间的进程。而这也不是控制故事流的唯一方法。像《消逝》和《灯红酒绿杀人夜》,《小贩人生》或《模拟人生》等实验型游戏便尝试着在一个有限的空间内控制故事。就像我们之前所提到的其它游戏那样,这些游戏仍然拥有一些概念门。这便是玩家推动故事发展必须满足的一些条件。这也可以是在固定顺序中需要开启的一些故事内容,但选择这样路线的设计师也需要采取一种更加模拟的方法并将故事事件分解成一些具有条件的“可能事件”,确保结果并非事先设定好的,即提供给玩家更多控制。《消逝》甚至创造了一个“故事管理者”,即能够基于结果对于故事高潮的影响去划分它们而引导事件的走向。

万字长文,Greg Johnson谈游戏的故事互动要素设计环节

the sims(from xiami)

使用NPC目标状态去控制故事

随着NPC的AI越来越复杂,控制故事流的一种方法便是使用一些关键NPC角色的目标状态。在某种意义上,NPC本身会变成所有“门”的持有者。想象一个NPC拥有它想要在游戏世界中实现的目标。而作为玩家的你将与这一NPC的目标连接在一起。即你的目标可能是帮助或阻碍NPC,但不管怎样你的目标都是受到NPC当前目标的影响。随着NPC目标的转变,你的目标也会发生转变。当NPC实现自己的目标时,世界状态(或故事状态)也会发生改变,而你将进入一个全新的故事章节。这一方法非常有组织性并且会让故事进程更加清楚。

PC自主性

另外一个已经出现在不少游戏中的方法便是提高给玩家角色一些自主性的技巧。换句话来说,作为故事主角的你的角色也许拥有自己的意愿。它可能不想做你“命令”它做的事。而这将让你变成影响者而不再只是控制者。也许你是你的角色的上帝般的存在。也许你的角色讨厌你让他/她做的事,也许你拥有某种方法与这一角色进行交谈。这是让你的角色变得更加可信并提供给你与游戏世界另一种情感连接的有效方法。

打破第4堵墙

通常在游戏中我们总是通过那些作为游戏故事组成部分的角色进行互动。也有些游戏尝试让玩家直接与游戏角色进行互动,即与AI角色进行交谈或直接面对它们。而打破第4堵墙并让一个聪明的NPC角色意识到你便是从情感上连接玩家与游戏的一种方法。到目前为止这些直接互动方式都是关于呈现一些全新的外围设备,但在某种情况下这种方法只能基于更深层面的使用,即让玩家能够更直接且更真实地与AI角色相连接。匿名让我们能够保持一定的情感距离,而被“看到”则会带给我们更深的感受。

玩家的个人空间

获得来自玩家的情感回应的一种简单方法便是占领他们的个人空间。因为我们总是认为自己是聪明人,并且作为人类的我们也创造了数百万年的进化,我们的大脑已经变得非常强大了。而这种技巧便是使用黑暗中的恐怖感,并让某些事物突然近距离出现在屏幕上。许多恐怖游戏便是这么做的(游戏邦注:如《玩具熊的午夜后宫》)。但如果你想真正激发玩家情感的话,这种“侵占个人空间”的方法还是很难做到,除非你能让玩家带上VR眼罩或使用触感设备。一款名为《夏日课程》的VR游戏便有效使用了这一技巧并尝试着通过近距离呈现角色并侵占它们的个人空间而让玩家对NPC角色做出发自内心的回应。

交流和自然语言

如果我们一开始便希望能为人们创造有趣的故事体验,那我们遇到的第一个问题便会是如何创造有趣的互动角色。尽管有些故事的确是基于一个单一的“英雄”角色,并且不再存在其他任何角色,但我们也必须承认这么做会限制设计师所传达的故事类型或者细节程度。故事中的语言的重要性也是如此。有些华丽的电影和游戏都只有少量或不带任何语言。这么做会让人觉得更优雅或者在某种程度上会创造出简化感。但是想想你曾经喜欢过的所有故事,这些故事中有多少故事不存在任何谈话内容呢。这也将我们带回一个反复出现的难度问题上。如果我们需要角色,我们便需要使用语言去创造吸引人的故事,而“我们该如何使用语言呢?”之前我们曾讨论过对话树以及玩家如何从菜单中选择固定的选择。但是我们未曾提到过自然语言处理(NLP)。该方法能让玩家输入任何想要输入的内容或按平时那样说话。然后游戏将把他们所说的内容转变成文本,程序也将把他们的输入内容解析成可识别的内容。然后游戏代码将选择一个来自一组预先设定好的短语或交流行为的NPC回应。我们必须清楚交流并不意味着交谈。作为人类的我们有一半有意义的交流是发生在非语言领域,即使用我们的身体或脸。就像转移目标或不回答等简单的方式也是一种有效的交流方式;而行动和表达方式也能够传达出我们的的感受或目的。这是游戏很少触及的一个领域。较早前的Sega Genesis上的《人面鱼》以及最近的《Milo》都尝试了这样的交流方式,即让玩家能够自然讲话并尝试去识别玩家的语气,面部表情和肢体语言。当然了,这里也仍存在许多需要解决的问题。

生成语言领域存在一个完全不同的挑战。生成语言是基于某些含义和环境的内在概念,并按照语法规则从一个单词中创造出短语的过程。当然了,这便是我们大脑的产物。传达“意义”以及创造能够“理解”的系统便是AI一个让人兴奋的新型领域,但显然这也不是一个可以轻松进入的领域。

对于游戏中的自然语言(NL)我们还有最后一点需要说明的。这与在面向其它国家进行产品本土化时所出现的NL难度有关。虽然执行NL并不是一个最难克服的障碍,但是开发者只有做好这一点才能保证成本效率。也就是说随着AI和VR时代的到来,文转声最终将发挥有效作用,我们也将看到越来越多推翻自然语言与充满表现力的非言语交流界限的作品的诞生。

我能做的只有射击?

在设计一款互动故事游戏时需要面临的一大挑战便是玩家代理。之前我们说过游戏是关于玩家“做”什么。当我们谈到玩家在一个不断展开的故事中所扮演的角色时,这一问题便变成了“我该如何影响故事的发展?”

如今,大多数游戏所设定的基本标准便包括玩家移动,射击以及拳脚相向。当你停下来并开始思考自己该如何只通过这些行动去影响故事时,这便变成了“我是否该使用暴力”或者“我该杀谁”以及“我该救谁”的选择。你可以基于有限代理去创造更高级别的选择,即引出“我该与谁合作”或“我该选择执行或不执行怎样的任务?”而当你手上没有枪支时,你能够影响故事世界的方法便会非常有限。

我们必须承认的是,除了射击外游戏中还存在其它类型的代理。例如潜行和隐藏便是一种行走路径。也有许多游戏将这种选择路径作为实现目标的方式(游戏邦注:如《神偷》,《刺客信条》,《合金装备》)。而最常见的其它类型的代理(玩家行动)当属环境行动了。从根本上来看,你将接近游戏世界中的某些对象,然后你将按压按键去打开一扇门,喝一杯水,浏览一个标识,或者捡起一把钥匙等等。有时候环境行动会出现在与NPC的互动中,有时候玩家也将从有限的行动集中获得一个环境行动选择,如1)亲切地对待一只小猫,2)踢猫。

毫无疑问我们可以找到一些已经使用过玩家代理的创意故事游戏。而在任何故事游戏中,“我可以在何时做出怎样的行动”这一问题都是核心问题。也许有人会认为如果我们的目标是模拟真正的世界,我们便需要尽可能地提供给玩家使用更多行动的机会。实际上,关于为什么这么做是不可行且不合适的存在一些原因。以下便是我们需要考虑到的内容:

1.在角色的控制方面我们受限于输入设备。

2.我们希望能够保持游戏控制足够简单,容易,不会让玩家感到郁闷。

3.我们希望玩家行动足够清楚且够特别,因为游戏全部都是关于行动。

4.许多玩家行动意味着需要更多玩家和NPC动画资产,而这却是不现实的,除非你能够从程序上创建这些内容,而在这里你也将遇到各种不同的问题。

5.基于各种玩家行动,我们也需要处理各种不同的反应以及大量的故事结果(可能还有分支)。

6.所有玩家行动都需要对“游戏系统”产生影响,例如你能否在玩家实现目标的过程中帮助他们或阻碍他们。许多行动都将创造出更加复杂的游戏系统。

7.硬核主机游戏用户总是喜欢更加强烈的内容,如果我们是面向他们创造游戏并希望将游戏卖给他们,我们就要用行动说话。

也许除了这些内容外我们还有其它需要考虑的内容。从根本上来看这并不是一个简单的问题。而解决这一问题的方法并非提供给玩家更多代理,而是应该采取我们在现实生活中所采取的方式。也就是我们应该提供给玩家合适的代理,并在适当时候让他们能够面对适当的选择。如果你在玩家经历游戏的过程中只呈现给他们少量行动,游戏将大大限制玩家影响故事,特别是其他角色的方式。环境选择所面对的问题在于玩家并不习惯故事中的有限集,因为它总是不断改变着。这意味着玩家将需要留意自己的选择是任意的还是有限的。每当玩家希望自己能在游戏中做些什么而又不能这么做时,他们的沉浸感便会被打破。相反地,当游戏提供给玩家固定的行动集时,他们便会愿意接受这里的局限性并且一段时间后便不会再纠结于此。

有些游戏尝试了所谓的“直接控制”,即玩家可以通过直接移动去控制角色(例如当你移动鼠标或控制器时,你的手臂便会移动)。直接控制似乎能够让玩家更直接地“享有”对于行动的所有权并让他们觉得自己真正参与其中,但同时这也具有许多问题与挑战。例如:你该如何直观地在控制器上呈现复杂的行动,或者你该添加怎样基于直接控制的行动到游戏体验中,以及怎样的行动会让玩家感到厌烦?如果你在错误的地方或基于错误的方法使用了直接控制,这便会破坏游戏的沉浸感并让玩家感受到游戏控制。随着VR以及全新红外线传感器或像戒指和触感手套等输入设备的出现,这些输入问题便得到缓解。也许关于直接控制最有趣的挑战便是NPC角色对于玩家意图或者所传达的意义的理解。这便需要一些非常复杂的AI。即使NPC不能“理解”,直接控制也会很有趣。有些游戏甚至使用直接控制去影响多人游戏设置(如《小小大星球》,《MakeOurWay》)。

万字长文,Greg Johnson谈游戏的故事互动要素设计环节

Little Big Planet(from verycd)

关于这一主题的最后一点便是射击本身,或者更准确地说是“杀戮”。我们并不需要深入讨论有关道德和电子游戏的热门话题,但必须注意的是,从现实的游戏玩法角度来看,创造一个不包含杀戮的游戏活动是非常具有挑战性的。当一款游戏通过实体行动在讲述一个故事时,总是存在一些比生存更容易传达或更多动态性的内容。我们很容易通过有限的玩家行动去传达杀戮,并且很容易创造基于技能的杀戮。但即便如此还是有许多游戏找到了其它玩家行动的创意解决方法,我们该为他们的创造性鼓掌。但不幸的是,许多拥有有趣的互动故事的游戏却是基于非常黑暗的主题以及非常血腥的内容。这也是许多潜在玩家所难以接受的。

单词很古怪不是吗?

也许现在去定义这一词有点太晚了,因为我们已经使用了许多次了,但或许我们还是应该花些时间去好好定义我们所谓的“游戏结构”。同时我们也需要定义另一个频繁出现的词,游戏机制。

单词真的很有趣。我们可以将其当成实物任意摆弄,我们可以假设我们所想的有关它们的东西也是其他人所想的那样,因为不管怎样猫就是猫,不是吗?而游戏也就是游戏。在我们的日常生活中,我们很难在第二次就猜出所有东西,但这里所存在的秘密是我们的大脑总是不断地跟我们开玩笑,所以我们才可以每天正常运转。如果你不再去考虑它,你便会发现我们所使用的每个单词都拥有一个抽象结构;这也是居住于这个宇宙中的我们所具有的心智模式中的一部分。不管怎样你所拥有的每个想法,每种直觉以及所有理解都只是不断运转的心智模式机器而已。基于我们大脑中的电线的运转速度,我们的心智模式将根据我们的记忆和情感进行一些随机且具有关联的连接,并尝试着将我们所看到,听到与读到的的事物带进一个更大的背景中从而让其变得有意义。当我们将我们所听到或读到的单词转变成“意义”时,我们的心智模式将考虑像环境和意图等元素。而所有的这一切都是发生在一张巨大的神经网中,并以极高的速度连接着我们的大脑,而我们只能真正意识到那些最终跳出来的想法。

这里的重点是,单词只不过是我们添加到拥有各种“模糊”程度的概念上的标签,并且我们还会将其与其它概念相连接。再加上你自己的心智模式和其他人的心智模式具有很大的区别,所以这真的是我们希望能够好好处理的一部分。让我们以一个较为明确的单词为例,如“cat”。这是指狮子还是猫?当你的朋友说自己要养猫时,你应该就不会有这种疑问了。让我们再看看“game-play”或“art”。当我们说“game play”或“video-game”时,我们认为自己知道这意味着什么,但是这些单词却也拥有许多让人困惑的内容,只是我们假设自己的理解便是其真正含义。让我们再看看“art”这一次。当游戏玩家和非游戏玩家花了好几个小时去争论游戏是否是“art”时我真的非常惊讶,这就好像他们所理解是同样的内容。而这点真的很有趣。

所以为什么我们要绕到语言原理中?这只是为了指出游戏结构这一词只是一个任意结构,就像游戏机制一样。

就像学术一样,似乎我们需要花些时间去定义我们的词语,这里存在非常有帮助的用途。了解一个机制是什么并清楚结构是什么,或者主题,故事,奖励系统等等,你便能够更明确地去考虑它们。模糊的思考总是会浪费你更多时间。所以让我们更清楚地进行定义。

“游戏机制”?

“游戏机制”指的是玩家在游戏中所做的事,并伴随着一些让这些事变的更具挑战性,且是有趣的挑战的元素。之前我们曾经讨论过一款成功游戏的目标是如何强化玩家的行动和选择。而在这里玩家所做的事便是游戏的核心,即玩家期待的很大组成部分。考虑游戏设计的一种最有效的方法便是询问一个简单的问题:“大多数情况下玩家会怎么做”。但是让人惊讶的是,即使是最优秀的设计师也经常会忘记问自己这一问题。

当你在设想一个游戏机制或分解现有游戏的游戏机制时,你可以先考虑类别。在现有的游戏机制中可能只存在40或50种类别。简单来说,这些便是玩家真正会“做”的事。以下便是其中的一部分类别:

徒手打斗

射击

赛车

解决谜题

收集

跟上音乐节奏

锻造

操控对话树

闪避与跳跃

隐藏与潜行

攀爬与跑酷

飞翔

简单的快速按键回应

建造和创造

一些特殊的机制:

使用弹弓通过收缩与释放发射小鸟。根据小鸟的重量以及弹弓拉缩的距离小鸟将呈弧形移动。玩家将尝试着敲击结构以撞击小猪。

在敌人攻击阶段快速移动以避免被袭击,然后在敌人休息的时候准确打压敌人的薄弱区域。

尝试着在音符消失前通过按压准确按键去匹配音符。

一些简单的机制:

随着地域的显现朝前移动并尝试着寻找前进的道路。

在不同对象间移动并躲避敌人的探射灯。

在时间范围内按压按键。

一些复杂的机制:

驾驶坦克的同时转动炮口并使用伸缩功能去射击目标。针对目标选择适当的盾牌,并在盔甲无用时从内部或后方攻击敌人,同时利用地形作掩护。

需要注意的是这些行动案例都是将挑战描述作为行动的一部分。“画张图”是一种活动,这并不是真的游戏机制,而“在5秒钟内画张图”则更像是一个游戏机制。我们未提到但却应该作为游戏机制定义的一部分的内容是,评估玩家的表现以及对于自己表现的反馈。但是“在5秒钟内画张图”还不是一个真正的有机制,因为这是一个很难判断的内容。但这并不是说主观的“创造性”活动在游戏中没有立足地—-它们当然有,只是它们本身并非游戏机制而已。

另外一个需要注意的是:我们经常听到的“游戏玩法”这一词。这通常指代的是一款游戏中出现的机制集合,即伴随着玩家对于这些内容的“乐趣”的期待。玩家和游戏评论者经常将游戏玩法当成游戏中“最重要的内容”。有时候他们可能会困惑游戏玩法到底指什么,但如果你能够提供给他们明确的定义,他们便会豁然开朗。

“游戏结构”?

既然我们已经描述了什么是游戏机制,我们便能够将其与游戏结构区分开来。就像我们之前提到的,游戏可以拥有许多游戏机制,但却只能拥有一个游戏结构。

为了着眼于游戏结构,我们必须着眼于游戏整体。在某种意义上,游戏结构便是更高级的游戏形状。它将定义玩家体验流,即他们将前往哪里,他们将基于怎样的顺序做什么?因为大多数游戏都包含玩家在不同场所间的移动,所以游戏结构其实就像游戏世界的地图一般,并带有能够用于各种场所的设计说明。也有些游戏比这个更复杂,通常情况下如果你能够绘制出游戏结构的话事情便会简单许多。通常情况下在玩家访问全新游戏部分前他们需要满足某些特定条件。这些条件可能非常简单,如到达游戏中的某个场所,收集特定的资源,与NPC角色交朋友,达到特定级别,或者获取一个道具等等。所以你如果能在图表中绘制出这些内容便会很有帮助。除此之外这也能让设计师更清楚地了解玩家在游戏中的选择点。这就像在为一部电影编写提纲。

故事游戏的游戏结构通常包含一些故事章节概念。即故事环境发生改变的游戏阶段。有时候基于玩家所处的章节他们可能会出现新的目标或拥有新的能力。在一款线性游戏中,要映射出这些与故事相关的改变非常简单。而在一款包含自然发生的故事的游戏中,绘制结构便会较复杂。在这里这便是关于明确潜在故事线并罗列出玩家需要满足并且能够改变与故事相关的角色状态和世界状态的条件。(本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源或咨询微信zhengjintiao)

篇目拓展:篇目1, 篇目2篇目3篇目4篇目5

Designing Interactive Story (PART ONE)

by Greg Johnson

DO INTERACTIVE STORY GAMES EXIST YET?

So…. The year is 2016. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this supposed to be “the future”? Heck, 2016! That’s when we’re supposed to have hover cars, robotic assistants, matter transmitters, and full-on ‘Holographic Interactive Movies”. OK, so perhaps you’re not a child of the 1960s like me, in which case, maybe this isn’t quite so much “the future” for you, but still… where are the Interactive movies? We should at least have those by now, right?

Let’s talk about video games. Raise your hand if you like this topic. (Really, go ahead, who will know?). (….OK, fine. Don’t raise it then.) If you’re a gamer you’re probably aware that there is a genre of games called “Interactive Story Games”, and also that people in the gaming press have been talking about Hollywood and Video Games converging for many years now. If you’re not a video gamer you’re probably already starting to get sleepy, and this might be a good time to think about reading something else.

So what are Interactive Story Games? And what does this convergence mean? It sounds exciting doesn’t it? It sort of suggests that you can somehow step into a movie and “live” the story. Just like in the “Holodeck” on StarTrek (Raise your hand if you know what that is……. oh, come on.) The idea here is, of course, that you have total freedom to do anything you want in the game-world, at any time, and interesting things will happen as a consequence. In the end, a really satisfying story, unique to your experience will result.

So back to our first question…What are Interactive Story Games? As we said already, this is commonly referred to as a genre of existing games. On the other hand, the interactive story that we just described where you can “live the movie”, clearly doesn’t exist yet, so what’s up with that? What is this existing genre of which we speak?

Well, try to stay with me here, because this is going to get a little subtle, and perhaps just a little inane…. what we were talking about with our Holodeck-type description are: “Interactive-Story games”. Those don’t really exist yet, or perhaps it’s fairer to say that Interactive-Story exists today only in its simplest form. What we currently have are “Interactive Story-Games”. (hopefully you’re not reading this out-loud to someone, because that won’t have made any sense to them at all.) If you think about it, games are by their nature, interactive, and there are plenty of games with stories, so we DO have Interactive Story-Games. Voila, that is one major problem shot down! High Five! ….what? That’s a stupid problem to solve you say? OK, well how about this then?

The game industry has spent billions of dollars, and probably hundreds of millions of people-hours producing games so far. There are a lot of really smart people making games. (some of them even talk to me now and then, when they’re not ignoring me) I can attest to the fact people have been trying to make truly interactive-story for at least 3 decades now. So… er… cough cough…. Where is it?

In spite of the fact that there are tons and tons of games out there, many of them truly impressive and masterful works, it’s still tough to deny that the art of building Interactive Story is in its infancy. We’re still mainly in a world of trial and error. Unfortunately, this R&D-like, iterative approach is inherently unpredictable, and it adds tremendous risk to Interactive-Story projects, which translates into time and cost. This is probably the main reason why we don’t see more attempts to break the Interactive-Story barrier. The attempts we do see are most often in the realm of low-budget indie projects where the money at risk is minimal. These projects often offer interesting insights, and wonderful learning examples, but they are so limited in scope that they only hint at exciting possibilities.

AND I SHOULD CARE BECAUSE…..

Before we dive into a deep scientific analysis of Interactive Story (which will be very scientific – did I say that already?) Let’s take a look at the ever-present question of “do we care?” After all, there is a whole wide world of game genres out there. I, for one, have been addicted to many awesome games that have nothing to do with Interactive-Story. Is this even worth the trouble to pursue? For some, clearly not, but here’s a bold statement for you…. Interactive Story is something we human beings almost have to pursue. (by the way, if you’re reading this, and you’re NOT a human being, please email me. I REALLY want to talk to you!)

How surprised would you be to learn that human beings are literally built for story… physiologically speaking. Brain researchers have been finding that a significant portion of our brains are structured specifically for ‘modeling alternate realities’. From an evolutionary perspective, our ability to imagine possible futures, and run hypothetical simulations in our minds has had tremendous survival value. This singular ability has allowed us to predict the consequences of our actions by first testing them out in the safety and privacy of our minds, and it’s what’s allowed us to learn from the experience of others without needing to face dangerous situations. This ‘reality modeling’ is possibly the most significant milestone in the evolution of human intelligence. With it, we construct ‘complex chains of causality’, also known as “stories”.[1]

In regards to how ‘real’ stories are for us, other interesting brain research has shown that when we’re immersed in a story, via a book, movie, or story teller, our brains trigger chemically and electrically in exactly the same ways as when we experience events directly in the real world. Our emotional responses of surprise, fear, joy, arousal, anger, and sadness, our learning and memory centers, even our visual cortex and sensory or motor areas of the brain get stimulated as if the experience were real. This isn’t to say that we can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, but it is a clue as to how fundamental stories are to human experience. In other words, we can’t help but respond to stories. We’re story machines. Within the last several years, neurologists have made great strides in identifying the functions of specific areas of the human brain. One area of our cortex, the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, is found to be the master control center that essentially orders and sorts our various disparate thoughts and impulses; it prioritizes, organizes and builds causal links, or in other words, it creates stories. The Orbitofrontal Cortex acts like a fact-checker to make sure our internal stories “make sense” and are consistent with the rest of our mental model. This part of our brain decides what’s “real” and what’s not.[2]

Think about how our daily lives are filled with stories. We share our life events with friends and family via stories, we run scenarios and conversations in our heads constantly, we teach each other by relating stories, speculate on the future with imagined stories, escape into fictional worlds to relax, or role play-stories with each in acting or gaming contexts. We even dream in stories, albeit semi-rational ones.

“OK, OK!” You say in my mind. “You made your point about stories being important to human beings 3 paragraphs ago! But there are a ton of great games out there that give you the feeling of being in a story. They may not let you do whatever you want, and they may not really let you change the story much, but still, they can be lots of fun, and sometimes deliver a pretty good story experience. Why do we need to understand more about Interactive Story?”

If we make innovation less risky we’ll be able to do more of it. This is true both for the small incremental steps of making existing story-games better, and for bigger, more ambitious leaps, where we really try to advance the art. The goal of a great game is to let players feel empowered through choice and through action. Games are all about doing. Stories, on the other hand are about suspension of disbelief. The goal of a great story is to transport you into the world of the story and allow you to “live the experience”. Interactive Story strives to blend both of these things together. The challenge of course comes from the fact that stories are, by their nature linear sequences. Every time you introduce player choice into a story, you mess with that linearity.

This is the key challenge with creating a truly Interactive Story experience. Anyone who has tried to tackle this problem can tell you immediately that the tough part is figuring out how to give players lots of choice and freedom to affect what happens in the story. Or put in a more academic way, how to give players “agency” in the story. Games, by their nature, tend to be tight loops of repeated actions and repeated outcomes. You dodge and you shoot, then you dodge and shoot again. Or perhaps it’s driving, or playing music, or moving through a dungeon or whatever the actionable-loop of your particular game is. These loops allow players to develop an expertise in some skills, and they allow designers to ramp difficulty and adjust parameters of whatever the core activity is. More relevant to this discussion is the fact that these loops offer efficiency in terms of the assets that are needed. They allow game builders to create sustainable play experiences with limited, repeatedly used content. Some games may offer lots of content in regards to environments, enemies, vehicles, level designs, etc… but as soon as this becomes unmanageable designers simply stop adding content. As long as the core action loops work the game is playable. In contrast to this, games that allow players to fundamentally change the story via their actions very quickly run into an ‘exploding content’ problem. With every player action potentially causing a whole new set of possible NPC behaviors and world states, building a game from a fixed set of pre-made assets becomes extremely problematic.

The key problem with Interactive Story is never “what’s the story?” In a way this is of little importance, and shouldn’t be the focus of a design. Of course we ultimately want great stories, but the real difficult and interesting question to answer is: How does one allow the player to meaningfully and dramatically affect the story, in a way that is viable?

There are two basic roads we can take: The Real Road, or The Imaginary Road. The Real Road is the road of the real world, with all its current limitations. For better or for worse it’s the road we’re on, maybe not by choice, but hey that’s reality. On this road we use a wide variety of tricks and techniques to try and give players the sense of affecting and being “in” the story. For every technique there are limitations, costs and benefits. These techniques are not exclusive but can be used in combination with each other. We’re going to go over all of these shortly and talk about when they are useful and what trade-offs they offer.

The Imaginary Road is the road of our hypothetical Holodeck in the future. This is the road of advanced simulation, and true “emergent story” (i.e., story that isn’t pre-planned, but instead simply emerges from the simulation experience as a fascinating byproduct). Oddly enough there is a lot to learn from thinking about this Imaginary Road, so we’re going to start here and then circle back to look at the current State of the Art in Interactive Story Trickery.

Designing Interactive Story (PART TWO)

by Greg Johnson

THE IMAGINARY ROAD

Let’s start with a fun thought exercise, after all that’s all we have on the Imaginary Road anyway. Let’s suppose for a moment, that we had the most advanced and sophisticated Interactive Story simulation technology ever. Imagine that we could put you into an advanced Simulation where you could go anywhere or do anything you wanted. You could speak, and control your human avatar perfectly. Suppose our virtual reality came with totally believable, procedurally driven AI characters, perfect physics, and incredibly detailed consequence to every action you could think of doing, or anything might say. In fact, suppose we could create a simulation that was so real, it was indistinguishable from real life. Imagine that your life, right now, as you’re reading this sentence IS that simulation. Pretty impressive, huh? Don’t you love virtual reality?

Now let’s put on our game designer caps and ask the question…. how fun is this game? Is it going to sell? Sure the graphics are great, and that avatar is really good-looking, but how engaging is it? How do you win? Where in this simulation do we put our camera to capture the most interesting story? For that matter, how do we guarantee that the story will be fulfilling at all, and when does the game end?

Have I beaten this point to death enough yet? Even with the most advanced simulation in the world, we still don’t have a fun video-game….far from it. Clearly this means that creating an advanced simulation can’t be our only goal. Creating deeply believable human-seeming AI (even if it’s an alien or a robot or whatever) is a huge challenge. Creating a simulated, “living world” is a huge challenge too. But even if we manage to pull off both of these amazing feats of design and engineering, it’s not enough. We still don’t have a fun game.

OK…so… what’s missing? What makes for a fulfilling video-game experience, at the most basic level? Also, if we are able to have stories emerge from our simulated experience, how can we make sure whatever stories result will be fulfilling and complete for the player? These are two good questions (thank you very much. I asked them myself) Our first question, “what makes for a satisfying video-game experience?”, may seem almost too basic, but ironically, things that seem obvious to us, tend to get less explicit attention. Being clear on what is fundamentally important to all video games might help us in our design process. …Or then again, it may not. Since we’re not in any rush, lets tale a look and see.

WHAT MAKES A VIDEO GAME?

So, what would we need to have in our simulation to turn it into a successful game experience? Here are a few things: clear goals, challenges, and clear success conditions. Video games set us up with some fictional context, and then they provide us with a clear purpose, or goal. They put obstacles in our way and they give us a means of overcoming those obstacles.

Another defining aspect of video games are rewards. These rewards can be explicit elements within the game, things like points and badges, fanfares, or progress indicators, all of which stroke our egos and make us feel competent; or they can operate on a more subtle physiological level in the form of shots to our systems of adrenalin, or dopamine.[1] Needless to say, this type of reward is a little harder for designers to plan, and we might get some of this by chance from our advanced simulation, but video-games strive to be “addictive”, or perhaps more favorably put, “irresistibly appealing”, and this is part of why this works.

Oddly enough, simple movement is a key part of video-game expectation. Think about it for a second. What do you see when you walk the floor of a game convention, or watch game trailers in a video-game store. Almost all video games involve players controlling movement …lots of movement. Human beings are visual creatures. Our visual cortex takes up significant real-estate in our brain-organs, and vision is… well pretty big for most of us. This movement can be fast or slow but more often than not it involves a certain level of animal-brain movement-response stimulation that is designed to put us into a flow state.[2] We’re like cats chasing the laser light on the floor. This flow state can excite us, or it can relax us and give us a release from daily stress. (how many video games you have on your mobile device?)

In short, video games are like microcosms of life – they give us clear purpose, and ways to clearly succeed, and then throw manageable obstacles at us. They engage us with movement, put us into flow-states when they can, and reward us, chemically and emotionally, by telling us how awesomely competent we are. It’s no wonder video-games make billions of dollars.

This overly simplified view of video-games may seem a bit cynical, so perhaps it’s worth adding a nod to game makers out there. What we’ve described is what all video games have in common, and why they “work” on us, but this is by no means all that they are, or can be. Crafting a microcosm of life that challenges, engages, stimulates, rewards, and sometimes teaches is no easy feat. Creating games that elevate us, or that push the boundaries of interactive innovation is truly an art. A developer friend I used to work with had a saying….one he would say to me almost every day when we worked together, and it eloquently captured the vast array of challenges that game developers face every day… …“Making video games is hard.” Mike Badillo (well said, Mike).

GAME HATERS

There’s actually one more piece of the definition to “what makes a video game” that I forgot to include. Ok, I didn’t forget, it just wasn’t so relevant to the point above. This definition is actually part of the broader definition of “all games”. It’s the fact that games are arbitrary, and their primary goal is to entertain us. Sure, games can sometimes train us and teach us, but the overriding perception of the purpose of games, especially video games, is they exist simply to entertain us.

Think of the phrase “what do you think this is, a game!?” What does that mean? It refers to the fact your motivation for doing something might be only for entertainment, and you might not be taking something seriously enough.

This leads us to the topic of non-gamers and (shudder) game haters. When have you heard this before: “Games are a waste of time and offer nothing of value”, “I prefer the ‘real world’”, “Games are not art”, “Video-games are way too violent”, “Games are for anti-social self-stimulating geeks” (ouch that one hurts).

Do we care about any of this? Well if you hang out on Facebook you probably love these statements because they offer an awesome excuse to climb up onto a soapbox, flamethrower in hand, and gloriously defend all games and gamers. Still, understanding why many people don’t play video games is a clue to understanding how to make games that offer value to a wider audience. This doesn’t mean we will necessarily choose to appeal to non-gamers. Maybe we’ll pull some of these people into the gamer-fold and maybe we won’t, but in the process of understanding how to build experiences that even die-hard non-gamers find meaningful, and valuable, we’ll push our own boundaries, and make games that we gamers love even more.

So, what is it these non-gamers want? Well, allow me to now speak for all those people because I know exactly what everyone else wants….. ok not really. Still speaking as someone with one foot in the gamer camp and one foot in the “Is this all the game industry has to offer?” camp, I’ll take a brief shot. If you happen to be a non-gamer and are reading this (which would be really impressive) you can attest to how spot on, or not, this assessment is…

What most non-gamers want: Less repetitive actions, less killing, way less blood, more meaning, more humanity, more mature and sophisticated story, more beauty, more relevancy to the real world, and more value in the area of learning. It’s not that non-gamers don’t enjoy story or entertainment; many of these people are big book readers, movie goers, and board game players. Generally what they are interested in is people-to-people interaction, and character-based stories. There is probably a strong correlation between action lovers and video-gamers, after all, that’s what videogames tend to be. Portraying deep and interesting characters, interactive-dialogue, and life situations; and making that interactive without the killing, isn’t what the game industry seems to be good at, or very interested in doing. …Certainly not so far. What we do, we do really well. One thing the game industry is good at, that overlaps with these non-gamer interests, is cooperative play, or family play, and giving people reasons to laugh and smile together. This has been our main avenue to reach this audience so far. Perhaps Interactive Story will open up some new paths.

In addition to that population of people who have trouble connecting with the world of video games, there is another big group out there of people (like me) with one foot in and one foot out. These are people who love the idea of playing games, but simply don’t have the time or room in their lives for hours and hours of gaming that isolate them from family members. For these people the answer lies in shorter play experiences, and in non-aggressive multi-player experiences that can pull other non-gamer family members into the experience with them.

Well let’s leave that for now and take a look at the ‘Real Road” we mentioned above, which is to say, our current state of the art in Interactive Story. We’ll start with a look at the most common structure used in current Interactive Story-Games. In fact I’ll make a bold statement as say that perhaps 80%, or more, of all of today’s story-games use this same structure.

THE ‘REAL’ ROAD

There are quite a few different genres of video games. Sometimes you will hear the terms “story-game” or “interactive story game”. These terms don’t have very clear boundaries and it can be debatable as to what qualifies as a “story-game”. Most RPG games have some sort of story in them. Lots of tactical games with campaigns and cut scenes offer stories. Even arcade style games will often have some story-set up and story resolution that caps the experience. For our purposes, we’re going to call a video-game a story-game if its primary role is to allow players to live through some story, and if it’s difficult to describe the game without describing the story. Again, this is admittedly vague, but so be it.

Today’s story-games may look very different on the surface, and have wildly different art styles, themes, play mechanics, and scope, but oddly enough, when you look at them from a structural perspective they are all very similar. This is so true, that we have come to think of this general structure almost by default when we think about “story-games”, and many game-makers launch into building with this structure without even considering alternatives.

We’re going to slap a label on this structure and call it the “Path Structure”. In these “Path” games, players move along a pre-determined path which can be narrow, wide, or of variable width. Obstacles and gates are placed in the player’s way. Obstacles take the form of movement based challenges, puzzles, fighting challenges, or keys and locks of various types. Almost always, path games have a combination of these barriers. Minor story elements are often delivered along the path as players progress. When players reach points that stop them completely, and that they must pass through, we call these gates. Gates are usually where major story elements are delivered because players are guaranteed to experience these before advancing. Gates also give designers the ability to require other conditions be met for advancement (for example, having collected resources, or leveled up, or having achieved story-state related accomplishments, etc.). They also allow designers to load new levels with new backgrounds and audio visual assets, characters, mini-games, bosses, or change the story context.

Big Blockbuster AAA games like: Tomb Raider, or The Last of Us and Uncharted, Dark Souls, BioShock, Metal Gear Solid, and Mirror’s Edges, as well as medium scale games like ICO, and Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, Heavy Rain, Tearaway, or even smaller scale indie story-games like 2-Brothers, Magicka, Beyond Eyes, or Orphan all use this same game structure. This isn’t to say that these games are similar in other ways, and it’s not to suggest for a moment that they aren’t imaginative and original. Within this basic structure they all bring new things to the table when it comes theme, art style, scope, audio, writing, and especially play mechanics. Still, the goal of the player is almost always to progress forward along a path, or set of paths, and the main ‘job’ of the game is to place challenging and entertaining obstacles in the player’s way, while delivering bits of pre-created story.

Designing Interactive Story (PART THREE)

by Greg Johnson

BEYOND SIMPLE PATH STRUCTURE

As we mentioned earlier (um… I think), there are quite a few games out there with variations on this path structure, and some rare story-games that deviate from it entirely. Before we talk about some of the approaches these games take, let’s have a moment of silent appreciation for some of the great Path-Structure games that have been made. In our noble quest for the Holy-Grail of the Immersive Interactive-Movie experience we don’t want to blindly rush past these great achievements, some of them truly inspirational and… dare I say it? …works of art. Two of my personal favorites are ICO and Journey, although every gamer has their own favorites, often games that changed the course of their life and perhaps even launched them into a career of making games themselves. There is a lot that can be done with a simple formula, and sometimes limiting your variables so you can focus on doing fewer things well, is exactly the right choice.

In the next few pages we’re going to run down a list of some of the techniques existing games have used to promote a sense of player-involvement in story. We’ll start by looking at a few variants on the Path Structure, and then devolve into a grab-bag list of some techniques people have been using to enhance story immersion and involvement. Lastly we’ll list out a few newish concepts that are just starting to be explored. It’s worth noting as well, that individual games generally use more than one technique. Designers may do this without thinking of them as specific ‘techniques’ per se. Whatever works, right? Still by pulling them apart we can hopefully empower designers to achieve their goals with greater clarity and efficiency.

A disclaimer: Examples of games are listed under the concepts below. These examples are meant to help readers understand the concept, and aren’t meant to be exhaustive by any means.

Structural Path Variants:

Open World Sections

These games intersperse their constrained path areas with, wider, more open spaces, often cities or towns.These open areas usually have some light simulation element to them to make them feel alive and populated with NPC characters and enemies. (Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 7, Mad Max, Red Dead Revolver)

Branching Paths, and Networked Paths

Sometimes players will come to a crossroad where they must choose one path or another.Usually these new paths will re-converge along the main path.In a story sense they represent “optional” story threads.Sometimes games will allow players to re-traverse unlocked paths later, giving a sense of a bigger open world but still constraining players in their initial play through.Some games create a network of paths and apply these to a map, so that players can go from place to place but still always be on a constrained path. (Fable, Magicka)

Embedded Paths and Areas

Players moving along a path will sometimes find a doorway leading to an ‘embedded’ path, or open area.This is similar to a branching path, except a branch is a choice (path A or path B) and it lets you out in a new location, while an embedded path is an addition, and it brings you back to your entry point.

Maze Paths

Many games will make a path feel less linear by turning the path, or parts of the path, into a maze.It is still a constrained path, but it’s not a straight line.If we replace the word “maze” here with “dungeon” it becomes easy to see that it is commonly used. (Skylanders)

High-Level Maps, and Side-quests

Many games will have an overarching map that players have some means of moving freely on.When they get to destinations on the map they drop into ‘embedded’ paths or open areas.Occasionally, these may, in turn have their own portals that drop you into new ‘embedded’ paths or open areas as well. (e.g. going into a building). Usually, in a story-based game with a map players need to unlock sections in some order that allows the story to be told in sequence.Usually there are optional areas players can go to in any order, and these are called side-quests. (Nino Kuni)

A Grab bag of Additional Techniques

Multiple Outcomes and Multiple Endings

One of the most common, and powerful ways to give players a sense of impact on an unfolding story is to allow their specific actions to alter the conclusion of the story.The wonderful thing about a conclusion is that it doesn’t lead to new branches of the story.Often, if designers are super clever (and if they have an adequate budget to create content) they will add in multiple outcomes to player actions that happen midway along the story.This might be something like causing the death or saving the life of some NPC character, and thereby changing some aspect of the story. The trick here usually, is to figure out how to make it feel like you’ve really impacted the story without changing the course of the main story – at least not until the very end. (Deus Ex)

Player Reputation, Being Good vs. Being Evil, and AI Memory of player actions

Some games will build some simple AI into the game’s NPCs that allows them to refer to things the player has done or “said” earlier in the game.Sometimes this NPC impression can be widespread and result in what feels like a growing ‘player reputation’. NPCs might become more impressed or appreciative, or more afraid of, or angry with the player.Some games focus on giving the player choices that take them down a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ path, with consequences and a reputation that affects the ‘flavor’ of the story experience.(Fable, Black and White, Fallout, Mad Max, Doki Doki Universe, Animal Crossing)

Random NPC Generation

A few games have taken the approach of creating random NPCs with different appearance or behaviors.This allows subsequent play-throughs of the game to feel different, and it allows different players to have slightly different, ‘customized’ story experiences.Shadow of Mordor put a lot of work into a system like this and called it their Nemesis system.

Companion NPCs

Occasionally games will provide players with an NPC character who becomes their travelling companion.This can be an effective way to build emotional connection with an NPC.These characters don’t need to be super smart for this connection to be effective.By having a companion character in a game with a more traditional structure (e.g. path structure), it allows the designers to put as much or as little effort as they want into the NPC’s AI, without requiring it to bear the entire weight of the game. (ICO, Last Guardian, Never Alone, 2 Brothers, Brutal Legend)

World Transformation

Some games take the approach of gradually changing the appearance of the environment or the state of some main characters, based on how the player chooses to act. This choice usually takes the form of good actions vs. evil actions, or light vs. dark. (Black and White, Fable)

Barren World Fiction

This isn’t a technique so much as it is a ‘side-step’ strategy.Many games create a fiction of an “empty world” that the player travels through.This has the wonderful advantage of not needing to create a lot of intelligent-seeming AI-driven characters.It can also lend itself well creating a certain tone of somber loneliness, and give an epic, mythic mood to a game. (Journey, Rime)

Branching Video

This is a technique that has been used to great effect by a company called Telltale, as well as a few others.Players watch a high quality movie-like story, and make choices as the movie plays by clicking on things.As they do this, the story branches.A variety of other techniques can be applied to this approach, such as limiting the time players have to make choices, requiring players to search for the choices, etc. (Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us, Kings Quest)

Persistent Time

This technique involves allowing time to pass in the game world when the player is not present.This can allow a player to gain resources when the game is off, or make players feel missed by NPC characters, or let players return to see world or character states having changed.It can lend great believability to a game world, but it poses a number of design challenges (…that we’ll conveniently ignore right now).(Animal Crossing, Seaman, Mad Max)

Multi-Player Companions

Some games are built to allow 2 or more live players to go on a journey together in an online story-adventure.This is an effective way to bring really high-quality AI into the game. (OK, fine, it’s not Artificial Intelligence, it’s RI …“Real Intelligence”).Feeling like you are not alone in a world can connect people emotionally and make the entire experience feel more meaningful, even if the world itself is devoid of other characters. (Journey) The down side here is that it’s hard to control what other players do in the story, and they may not want to role-play the way you want.One stratagem for dealing with this, is to severely limit the amount of actions or input they can have, still this has obvious downsides and only works if it fits your fiction.

Open-World Structures

An Open World game is one that tries not to constrain players in terms of where they can go.In a truly open world game the player has access to the entire world right from the beginning. Often, there are still locked areas, or factors that limit the player’s access to new areas, such as tougher enemies, or resources needed to travel. Open world games pose challenges for story sequencing – i.e. controlling the flow of events or narrative. (We talk more about this below).

Light, Heavy, Local , and World Simulation

Light simulation is when NPCs do simple looping behaviors that make them appear alive and busy.These AI’s are only minimally reactive, but they provide a backdrop that feels less static. (Fallout2, GTA,) Heavy Simulation (or deep simulation) is when one simulated NPC (or creature) affects the behavior of other NPCs.This creates causal chains, (or cascading behaviors) and worlds that feel much less predictable and more alive.This is harder to control from a story perspective. Heavy simulation can also mean more sophisticated NPC reactions to the player as well. (Dwarf Fortress, Spore, The Sims) Local simulation refers to simulation that is tightly controlled in a small space.This can have big payoff for relatively little cost. (Assassins Creed) World simulation is when the entire game world is part of one big connected simulation. (Animal Crossing, The Sims)

Sandbox Play

This is not very different from Open World, but it’s worth a mention.Sandbox worlds are ones that offer players interesting consequences to their actions, but don’t require players to satisfy goals in any order.Players are free to explore at will and experiment in a giant virtual sandbox.(Minecraft)By creating a world filled with interesting consequences to player actions it’s not hard to allow players to create their own stories.Still it becomes very difficult to create a system that yields sophisticated or satisfying stories.

Conversational Interactions

It’s difficult to imagine a compelling story from a book or movie that doesn’t have any conversations.Sadly, this is one of the most difficult things to pull off in a videogame while maintaining a sense of player freedom.The most common way to handle conversation is with conversation trees.These offer players fixed choices of a sentences, or sentence fragments, and then after players make their selection, NPCs deliver their sentences in response.There are a few other techniques used, such as ‘emotional posture’ selection, non-verbal communication action selection, or conversation chunks.This last approach involves breaking conversations into pieces and allowing players to access these in a non-specific order. (Starflight, Doki Doki Universe)

Ongoing Story vs. Back Story

It is worth being aware of the difference between ongoing story and back story because they have different requirements for delivery.Ongoing story is a story that is unfolding as the player plays. (i.e. the perception is that the events in this story are happening due to the players actions). Back story is a story that has already happened, possibly long ago.With ongoing story there is the expectation that the player’s actions may be able to affect what happens, and because the story feels like it’s happening “now”, there is a much stronger requirement that the story unfold in some logical order.Back story, on the other hand, can be useful because players don’t have any expectation of affecting it with their actions, and it can be revealed in a much less controlled order.Most mysteries involve discovering and uncovering back story – (i.e. what really happened to this civilization, or how did person X get killed).Players may find clues to this in a random order.This may not be as satisfying as ‘living the story’ but it’s a great way to give players the ‘sense’ of compelling story.(Destiny and Mass Effect)

Creating a Network of Dependent Gates

One approach to structuring an open ended interactive story game is to create a network of dependent story-gates.One does this by starting at the final player-goal (we’ll call that “D”) and working your way backwards in a big networked chart.In order to get D you must have “C”, in order to have C you must have “B”, and so on.To get “C” you can go to location 7, or location 8.At each location there are conditions for how to get the thing you need.In order to know how to satisfy these conditions, or where to go, you piece together bits of back story that you learn as you travel about. Finally, you limit the player’s ability to get to these locations by needing resources for travel, and by placing increasingly tougher enemies in the outlying areas.This is essentially the formula that some very old-school old open-ended space exploration games used.It is a very open-world structure and has no paths in it (though one could certainly embed paths).It relies heavily on back story. (Starflight, and StarControl 2

Designing Interactive Story (PART FOUR)

by Greg Johnson

A Few Newish Concepts

Generalizing Behavior with Attributes and Properties

One concept that hasn’t been used much, but probably will get applied more as world simulation becomes more commonplace, is the notion of NPC behavior being based on response to generalized attributes and properties.A big advantage to this type of approach is that it makes NPC behavior much more flexible, and allows them to react to anything with attributes.It means that as the PC or other NPC attributes change, the NPC’s behavior towards these characters can change as well.Another advantage of this type of a system is that NPC characters can be picked up and dropped anywhere in the game world; similarly, new NPC characters can be introduced during the game, and existing NPCs will know how to respond to them because they are really responding to the properties. To make this clearer, imagine an NPC that is programmed to hate anything that is green, and programmed to attack anything that is weaker than it is, and run away from anything stronger.These are simple attributes that lead to complex and variable behavior. You, the player may drink a potion and turn green, and now the NPC that was nice to you, hates you.It goes to attack you, and you pick up a sword and now it turns and runs away. This NPC is capable of doing these behaviors with any other NPC it meets depending on their qualities as well.This simple concept can be extended to great effect.(Scribblenauts, Spore, Doki-Doki Universe)

Story progression in a Static Space

The most common way to control the flow of a story is by tying it to spatial elements on paths, or on a map, and then controlling the player’s progress through this space.This is certainly not the only way to control story flow. A few experimental games like Fa?ade and PromNight, Cart Life, or The Sims, have made interesting attempts to control story flow in a single, limited space.Just like the other games we’ve talked about, these games still have conceptual gates.These are conditions that the player meets which trigger story events.These could be story pieces that get unlocked in a fixed sequence, but designers who take this route almost always take a more simulation-esque approach and break their story events into “possible events” that are conditional, and that can lead to other events, making the outcome less certain, and giving players more control.Fa?ade even goes so far as to create a “story manager” that tries to guide events by prioritizing outcomes based on their effect on ‘story beats’ and a story climax etc.

Using NPC Goal States to Control Story

As NPC AI gets more and more sophisticated, one possible approach to controlling story flow might be to use the goal-states of some key NPC character.In a sense, the NPC itself becomes the holder of all of the ‘gates’.Imagine that an NPC has goals that it wants to satisfy in the world and gives it a purpose.You, as the player are allied with this NPC’s goals.Your goals may be to help or to hinder the NPC, but either way, your goals are defined by its current goals.As the NPC’s goals shift, your goals shift.As the NPC achieves its goals, world states (or story states) change and you enter new chapters of the story.This method (which may be getting used already – but I haven’t seen it) would feel very organic and would make the story progression feel less ‘puzzle-y’, and more character based.

PC Autonomy

Another approach that has probably been used already in a few games (but I can’t think of them right now) is the technique of giving the player-character some autonomous qualities.Put another way, your avatar, who is almost certainly the main character in the story, may have a will of its own.It may not always want to do the things you “command” it to do.This puts you more in the role of influencer than controller.Perhaps you are a god, or the conscience of your character.Perhaps your character even addresses you directly; getting pissed off at the things you have asked him or her to do, and perhaps you have a means of conversing with this character.This is an interesting way to make your character have more of a believable presence and gives you yet another possible point of emotional connection to the game world.

Breaking the 4th Wall

Almost always in games we interact via some avatar who is part of the game fiction.There have been a few experiments where players interact with the characters in the game as themselves – essentially talking to or dealing with an AI character on the other side of the glass.Breaking through the 4th wall and being “seen” and recognized by a smart NPC character is one way to get people to connect emotionally.So far these experiments in direct interaction have been more about showing off some new peripheral device, and have felt perhaps a bit gimmicky, but at some point this technique of “breaking the 4th wall” will be used in a deeper way to allow players to make a connection with AI characters that feels extremely immediate and real.Being anonymous allows us to stay at an emotional distance, while being ‘seen’ and vulnerable essentially forces us to feel something.

The Players Personal Space

One very simple way to get an emotional reaction from players is to encroach on their personal space.As much as we like to think of ourselves as intellectual beings, we are also products of millions of years of evolution and our animal brains kick in and take over when certain stimuli-buttons get pushed.This technique is possible to do in a horror setting by using darkness, and then making things suddenly appear very close to the screen.Many horror themed games do this (e.g. Five Nights At Freddies).In evoking gentler emotions, this ‘invasion of personal space’is harder to achieve unless one straps on VR goggles, or perhaps uses tactile, haptic devices. A VR game called Summer Lesson is using this technique to the extreme and trying to make players have a visceral response to NPC characters by having these characters get extremely close and invade their personal space.Given the young male audience they are appealing to, and the fact that it’s a Japanese game, you can probably guess what type of NPC characters they are using to get this reaction. (nudge nudge wink wink).

Communication and Natural Language

If we start from the premise that we want to create great story experiences for people, one of the first issues we run into is creating interesting interactive characters.While it’s true that some stories have been made with a single “hero” character, and no other characters in the world, one has to admit that this is severely limits the type of stories one can tell, or the degree of detail and subtlety one can deliver.The same observation can be made about the importance of language in stories.Some beautiful movies and games have been made with little or no language.There can be a certain grace, and mystery to this extreme level of simplicity.Still, think of all the stories you’ve loved over your life, and how many of these stories had no talking in them.So…that brings us back to the recurring difficult question… if we need characters, and we need language to make compelling stories… “how do we deal with language”? A few pages back we talked about conversation trees and players selecting fixed choices from a menu.We didn’t mention Natural Language Processing (NLP).This is the ability to allow players to type anything they want, or better yet, speak naturally.The game then accurately translates their speech into text, and the program parses their input into something it can recognize.Next, the game code selects an NPC response from a set of pre-made phrases or communicative behaviors.Let’s remember that communicating doesn’t necessarily mean talking.We humans do at least half of our meaningful communication in the non-verbal realm, with our bodies and faces.Something as simple as looking away and not answering is an effective communication; action and expressions convey feelings or intent.This is an area that has rarely been touched on in games.One very old experiment in communication was a product called Seaman on the Sega Genesis.Another product, much more current, called Milo, allows players to speak naturally and it tries to recognize tone, facial expression, and body language.Needless to say, there are many problems being tackled at once here.

An entirely different set of challenges lie in the realm of generative language.This is a whole other ball-o-wax, as it were.Generative language, for anyone who doesn’t already know, is the process of constructing phrases out of individual words based on some internal notion of “meaning” and context, coupled with rules of syntax.This is of course what our brains do (unless you happen to have a set of pre-recorded phrases built into your brain).Representing “meaning” and creating systems that can, in some sense “understand”, is a super exciting emerging area of AI, but obviously, not one to be jumped into lightly.

Here is one last, minor footnote having to do with Natural Language (NL) in games. This has to do with the difficulties NL imposes when dealing with localizing a product for other countries.This is hardly the biggest barrier to implementing NL, but one of many that have kept this from seeming to be cost effective for developers.That said, with our coming age of AI and VR, and with text to speech finally reaching a point where it is reliably usable, we will be seeing products pushing the boundaries with Natural Language and Expressive non-verbal communication.

Designing Interactive Story (PART FIVE)

by Greg Johnson

ALL I CAN DO IS SHOOT?

One of the big challenges to face in designing an Interactive Story game is player agency. Earlier we spoke about games being all about what players “do”. When we’re talking about the role a player plays in an unfolding story, the question becomes “what can I do to affect the story?”

The basic standard set by most of today’s games involves players moving, shooting, and possibly punching and kicking. When you stop and think about how you can impact a story based on having access to only these actions, it pretty much comes down to choices of “do I use violence or do I not” , or perhaps “who do I kill?” and “who do I save”. You can certainly build in higher level choices with this limited agency that result in “who do I align myself with?” or “what quests do I choose to do or not do?” Still there is a pretty limited set of ways one can affect the world when there is a gun strapped irrevocably to one’s hand.

Admittedly there are other types of agency in games besides simply shooting. Sneaking and hiding is one example of an agency that isn’t too far off this well trodden path. Many games will make this an optional path to achieving goals. (Thief, Assassin’s Creed, Metal Gear Solid). Probably the most common other type of agency (player action) is contextual action. Essentially, you come up to some object in the world and you can press your button to open a door, drink from a cup, read a sign, or pick up the key, etc… Contextual actions are sometime used for interactions with NPCs as well, and sometimes players are given a choice of contextual options from a limited set of actions… (a) pet the cat, (b) kick the cat.

We are undoubtedly shortchanging a few particularly innovative story-games out there that have experimented with player agency. This question of “what actions can I do, and when” is a core question in any story game. One might think that if our goal is to mimic the real world, we always want to try and give players access to as many actions as possible. Actually, there are quite a few reasons why this isn’t feasible, and why sometimes it’s not even desirable. Here are a few ‘example’ considerations:

1.We’re limited by our input devices in terms of controlling our avatars

2.We want to keep our game controls simple and accessible and not bog things down

3.We want player actions to be clear and unambiguous, and generally physical, since games are all about action

4.A wider array of player actions means a lot more animation assets for players and NPCs which gets impractical unless you happen to be building procedurally, in which case you have a different set of issues.

5.With a wide array of player actions, we need to deal with a wide array of responses and a larger set of story consequences (possibly branches).

6.All player actions need to have an effect on the ‘game-system’ i.e. do they help or hinder the player in achieving their goals. Many actions make for a much more complex game-system.

7.The core console gaming audience loves to kick butt – so if we’re building a game for them and we want it to sell…. Just sayin’.

There are probably other considerations but these are a few. Basically, it’s not a simple problem. The answer may not be in giving players a lot of agency, the way we have in real life. More likely, it lies in giving them the right agency…. access to good choices at the right time. The problem with having a small set of fixed actions players can do throughout the game is it severely limits how players can impact the story, especially other characters. The problem with contextual choices is that players can’t get used to the limited set as part of the fiction, because it’s always changing. This means that players are continually aware that their choices are arbitrary and limited. Every time the player wishes they could do something in a game and can’t, it breaks them out of the immersive fantasy. In contrast, when players have a fixed set of actions, they tend to adapt to the limitations and stop thinking about them after awhile.

Some games have experimented with something called “direct control” where players can essentially puppet their avatar with direct movement. (i.e., as you move your mouse or controller your arm moves). Direct control seems to offer promise in terms of connecting players more directly to an “ownership” of their actions and allowing them to feel more directly involved but it poses a number of issues and challenges. These are things like: how do you intuitively map complex actions onto a controller, or what actions add to the experience with direct control, and what actions simply become annoying? Using direct control in the wrong places, or in the wrong ways, can actually work against your immersion, and make players too aware of the game controls. (Until Dawn, Octodad, Growing Home, Surgeon Simulator) With the advent of VR, and new infra-red sensing devices, or input devices like rings and haptic gloves, these input-mapping concerns may start to diminish. Perhaps the most intriguing challenge having to do with direct control has to do with NPC characters interpreting player intent, or expressive meaning. This requires some fairly sophisticated AI. Even without being “understood” by NPCs in the game, direct control can be a lot of fun. Some games have used it to great effect in multi-player settings. (Little Big Planet, MakeOurWay)

A last word on this topic has to do with the shooting itself, or more generally put, the “killing”. Without getting too deeply into the hot topic of ethics and video-games it’s worth noting that it can be a challenge, from a practical game-play perspective, to come up with primary player activities that don’t involve killing. When one is telling a story through physical action, there are few things easier to communicate, or more dramatic, than simple survival. Killing is clear and easy to represent with a very limited set of player actions, and easy to make skill-based. That said, there are a ton of great games out there that have found other creative solutions for player action, and their ingenuity should be recognized and applauded. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the games doing interesting things with Interactive Story have rather dark themes, and bloody subject matter. This is quite a turn-off to a large population of potential players. (I find I can’t even get through many of these otherwise amazing games).

WORDS ARE WEIRD, AREN’T THEY?

It may be a little late to be defining this term, since we’ve been using it left and right already, but perhaps we should take a moment and clearly define what we mean by ‘game structure’. For that matter, while we’re at it lets define another term we’re tossing about, play-mechanic (or game-mechanic).

Words are funny things aren’t they? We toss them around as if they were real solid things, assuming that what we think we mean by them is what other people think as well, because after all, a cat is a cat, isn’t it? And a game is a game. In our daily lives it’s generally not productive for us to go around second guessing everything… but the truth behind the curtain is that our brains are playing a continual trick on us, so that we can function on a daily basis. If you stop to think about it, you’ll see that every word we use is an arbitrary construct; part of our mental model of the Universe we live in. After all, every thought you have, every perception, and every bit of understanding is nothing more than the machinery of that mental model working away. At the speed of the electrical wiring in our brains our mental models make causal and associative connections, layering in memories, and emotions, and trying to fit what we see and hear and read, into a bigger picture that makes sense. When we translate the words we hear or read into ‘meaning’ (reading this sentence, for example), our model is also taking things like context, and intention into account. All of this happens within the vast neural network of links and associations in our brainputers at super high speeds, with us only really aware of the thought that pops out at the end, as if by magic.

The point here is that words are nothing more than labels we slap onto concepts that have varying degrees of ‘fuzziness’, by virtue of this myriad of connections to other concepts. Add to this fuzziness the endless differences between your own mental models, and all those other mental models floating around in all those other brains, and it really is a wonder we manage to communicate at all. Take a solid, unambiguous word like “cat”, for example. Is a lion a cat? Well, sort of, though it’s probably not what your friend meant when they said they were going to adopt a cat. Now consider words like “game-play” or “art”. We think we know what we mean when we say “game play” or even “video-game” but these words have an awful lot of fuzz around their boundaries, yet we sling them about left and right assuming our meaning is getting across. And let’s not even get started on disastrously fuzzy words like “art”. I’d be surprised if two people’s definitions of this concept line up, yet gamers and non-gamers spend hours debating the question of whether games are “art”, as if they all meant the same thing…. Ok, so it is entertaining.

So, why this little detour into the philosophy of language? Well it’s really just to point out that the term Game Structure is just an arbitrary construct, as is the term Game Mechanic. (Come to think of it, I suppose I could have just said that to begin with, but then I wouldn’t have been able to use my “is a lion a cat?” question, and I’ve been wanting to ask that one for a long time now.)

As academic as it may seem to spend time defining our terms, or perhaps even boringly pedantic, there is a very practical and useful application to this. Knowing what a mechanic is, and knowing what a structure is, or for that matter, a theme, or a story, or a reward system, or whatever, allow you really zero in and think about it with much greater clarity and efficiency. Fuzzy thinking takes more time. So let’s get to defining.

‘GAME MECHANIC’?

A ‘game mechanic’ (or ‘game-play mechanic’ or just ‘mechanic’), is what a player DOES in a game coupled with some aspect that makes this “doing” a challenge, hopefully an enjoyable challenge. In the first few pages, we talked a little bit about how the goal of a successful game is to empower players though action and choice. This “doing” is at the heart of what makes a game… a game, and it is a HUGE part of player expectation. One of the most productive ways to think about game design is by asking the simple question: “what does the player do, most of the time”. Surprisingly, even the best designers often forget to ask this question enough.

When coming up with mechanics for a game, or breaking down mechanics for an existing game, one can start by thinking in terms of categories. There are probably only about 40 or 50 categories of existing game mechanics. Again, simply put, these are the things players actually “do”. Here are some examples of these categories:

Hand to Hand Fighting

Shooting

Racing

Physical Puzzles

Collecting

Rhythmic Music Matching

Crafting (combining elements)

Navigating Conversational Trees

Dodging and Jumping

Hiding and Sneaking

Climbing and Leaping “Parkour” Movement

Flying

Simple Quick-Button Response

Building and Creating

A few specific mechanics might be things like:

Shoot the bird with the slingshot by pulling back and releasing. Bird moves in an arc based on weight of bird and the distance it was pulled back. Player attempts to hit and knock over structures to pop the pigs inside.

Move constantly during attacking phase of enemy to avoid getting hit, then strike the enemies vulnerable zone accurately during the enemy’s resting phase.

Attempt to match the musical notes by hitting the correct key within a window of time as shown by the notes passing the bar.

Some simple mechanic might be things like:

Move forward as the terrain becomes visible and try to find the path forward.

Move from object to object, hiding from enemy’s searchlight

Press the button within the window of time allowed

A complex mechanic might be something like:

Drive your tank while also turning your turret and using the zoom feature to shoot targets. Select appropriate shell type for target and attempt to hit enemies in side or rear where armor is weakest, while using terrain for cover and to stay hidden.

Notice that these examples of actions all include the description of the challenge as part of the action. “Paint a picture” is an activity, it’s not really a game-mechanic, whereas “paint a picture within a 5 second window” comes much closer to being a mechanic. One thing we didn’t mention, that should also probably be part of our definition of game mechanic, is the idea of being able to evaluate player performance and feedback to them how they did. “Paint a picture within 5 seconds” still has problems as a mechanic, because it is a difficult thing to judge or give player feedback on. (as opposed to say, something like connect the dots correctly to form a picture). This isn’t to say that subjective “creative” activities don’t have a place in games – they certainly do, but in and of themselves they are not game-mechanics.

One other side note here: we often hear the term “game play”. This almost always refers to the collection of mechanics that are found in a single game, coupled with an expectation of these as being ‘fun’. Gamers and game critics will often talk about game play as ‘the most important thing’ in games. They may sometimes have a fuzzy concept of what they mean by this, but if you offered them this definition, most would say “yeah, that’s what I meant”.

‘GAME STRUCTURE’?

Now that we’ve described what a game mechanic is, we can distinguish this from what a game structure is. As we’ve said early on, games can have many mechanics but only one game structure.

To look at a game’s structure we have to step back and look at the game as a whole. The game structure is, in a sense, the higher-level shape of the game. It’s the thing that defines the flow of player experience….where do they go, and what do they do, in what order? Since most games tend to involve movement from one place to another, a game’s structure might be as simple as the map of the game world, with design notes applied to various locations. Many games are more complex than this however, and it’s often useful to diagram out your game’s structure. Often there are conditions that players need to meet before they are given access to new parts of the game. These conditions can be as simple as reaching a location in the game, or it may be collecting certain resources, or making friends with NPC characters, or attaining a certain level, acquiring an item, etc… Mapping all this out in a flowchart can be of great value. Among other things, this allows a designer to know exactly where player choice points are in a game. It’s a bit like writing an outline for a movie.

Game structures for Story-Games generally included some notion of story chapters. These are the phases of the game where the story context has shifted. Players may sometimes have new goals and new abilities based on the chapter they are in. In a linear-path game, mapping these story-related changes is very straightforward. In a game that allows for more emergent (or organic) story, plotting the structure is more complex. Here it becomes a matter of identifying potential story threads and laying out the conditions that need to be met which will change story-related character states and world states. In the section above titled “Creating a Network of Dependent Gates” we talked a little bit about how some of these conditional networked structures can be built.

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