The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

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The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Left 4 Dead: This game is really the poster child for dynamic content because that's its raison d'etre. Valve wanted to explore dynamic content in the form of their "AI Director". They built four short "campaigns" but then put the real work into a hugely varied and responsive system of spawns, spawn points, and spawn rates.

Eh, that's not really how it's done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diablo II - make that *almost* 10 years old. :P

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

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

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

And really, though, if a dev team puts a lot of effort into something people are only going to see for a moment, it's all a moot point if it results in compensating for that time and money in sales.

I'd just like to say that if you want all that, why not play an RPG? The games you mention are like that because they are that genre of game.
Also I find it ironic that one day we have this article saying that game story is good, and then this one telling us it is bad and we should make our own :P

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

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

And I for one do not like repetition and grinding.

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

Zelda has been doing it for a long time, and I don't see alot of people throwing crap at it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreed. Games like Pac-Man and such do have their place in the market and can still be hella fun, but I'd hate for that to be the only thing in the whole industry

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

EVE Online so great

Eve online isnt a turd? When did we come to this conclusion?

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

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

Interesting--never realized it before reading this article, but I wonder if it's that the Platforming game is so deep in the video game DNA that it wound up determining the course of everything from the FPS to the RPG. Sort of like you're calling for an alternate path that never happened: what if instead gaming grew out of the 4X genre instead of the Platformer?

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

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

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

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

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

Something like that. A living, breathing game.

John Scott Tynes:
The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

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

Read Full Article

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

John Scott Tynes:
The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

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

Read Full Article

The Sims: GTA Ver.

That's really all I got from that. Really. Admittedly, a really, really advanced take on the Sims.

I like my narrative in games. Imagine if all we did in GTA was to steal a car and get from point A to point B with each level making the amount of police chasing you increasing. Pac-Man, again.

Realistically, I wonder if we have A.I. that can manage that. Or assuming we do, if our PCs or gaming machines can run it. The chess machine looks like it fits in my closet. And that's basically what this is, isn't it? A response to a player's actions that will cause a change in the player's surroundings - I might be on a limb, but this sounds like... chess.

I Don't think he's saying 'All games should be like this!', relax people. This sounds great, but this concept wouldn't work for all genres and style of game, and I'm sure he gets that. I mean, why would he suggest cutting out whole segments of the gaming industry, including devs and customers just to get the game he wants. He's expressing an opinion on something that he feels isn't catred for in the current market. And there's no nostalgia goggles here, dreaming for a simpler game in a complex world. This article has picked up on a great point.

The game industry moves so fast that we barely have time to fully explore a generation of gaming before it's obsolete and the next, better console is out, and there's often so much untapped potential in retrospect. That's why we see so many 'retro' concepts popping up in modern gaming, fro re-released, updated versions of games to taking a simple concept from an older game and bringing it into the current generation. What's being said here, is that there's so much potential that can come from mixing these modern concepts and platforms with the older ones, and it means we get more game out of our game. Is that such a bad thing? I know this concept won't be for everyone, but not everyone likes Halo, does that mean we should have scrapped the concept? No, of course not.

Imagine a game that was so varied every time you played it could keep you coming back to it regularly for months or years without subcription fees or DLC that's required to expand the playability, yet the game is so translucent that everything you do has a visible and noticeable effect without forcing you to play through the game a second time in order to see the flipside of the coin. We're not talking about moral choices, good or bad here, that can only lead to a limited number of outcomes, a la Fallout 3. What you're given the opportunity to do here is replay a game and not just have a slightly differing outcome with essentially the same play as before, but a completely different experience each time.

You spend your £40 ir $60 and get a game that lasts you as long as you want it to. That's not to say you don't play another game for the rest of your life because, as a gamer, of course you will! But this way you get more for your buck than any other game has so far offered. And as to the argument that this wouldn't be immersive, why not? To me it seems that it would be MORE immersive, it's more realistic, it makes more sense. Nico Bellic's story is so unrealistic and un-immersive it's unelievable. Phone calls in that game annoyed me, it was cute and interesting at first, but imagine you're in the middle of a mission, and your lonely idiot cousin calls you up to see if you want to go for a drink. I'm trying to kill a city's worth of people here!

And what about a mix of the concepts too? Isn't that waht this is all about? We take the fun a replayability of Pacman, Asteroids and many other arcade classics, the openworld sanbox style of modern games, the graphics and control of a modern platform, the AI concept of the future as described in the article and just colour and flavour it here and there. Maybe when you reach a threshold you get a cutscene, but the great thing is, each time you play the game it's different, not just the same video with a different characters and the same story, the cutscene is made up of tiny clips, each being played in response to an action you took. I mean, as a concept it sounds good, but I can see the technical difficulties in producing something like this. It's vast and screams 'Bugs galore!'

The point is, this could be something that's looked at when the technology is avilable, right now I'm having trouble seeing something so grand on a smaller scale in any way, but is it worth ruining the concept with a smaller game? If it's bad and doesn't turn out the way people hope, or is over hyped (as of course it would be) it will ruin this concept for years to come, no dev will touch it. But if it's done right, it could be a totally new subgenre of gaming. That doesn't mean that everyone has to go out and buy it, or that all games will eventually be replaced by the 'Dynamic' genre. But it sounds like a good idea in the making, given some polishing and a few years to invent and update technology for it to work, this could be something special. Who knows?

Let's not completely shut this idea down because it won't work right now or because you may not be the biggest fan, if we did that we'd never innovate, and that's what the industry needs. A true innovation, not a gimmick to hook new gamers, but an completely radical idea that will unite most of the population in the idea that gaming is fun, it isn't just for kids or nerds or anti-social freaks, it can be for everyone, and everyone will be catered for. It's very candy coated but it's a good thing I think.

Enhancing replay value is a great goal and DC seems like a good way to do it in sandbox games. You can still have missions, but they will take place in areas that you don't control. The beginning of each game would be similar, but each one unfolds differently. I would be glad to see this kind of thing in games.


I'd just like to know who you're speaking for. You're not speaking for me, that's for sure.


No really, I didn't notice Mr Tynes mention who he was speaking for, or mention that he was speaking for the gaming majority.
As you may be able to tell by my post, not everyone agrees with your opinion either, in the exact same way that you don't agree with the opinion expressed in the article.

Would you like to know why? Because when it comes to this sort of dynamic content, and pay attention, this is the important part, there is not only one 'correct' opinion.

Personally, I like the idea of more games being designed with dynamic content in mind. If they are anything like the examples in the article, they look like they could provide both a challenge and replay value that wouldn't find in a standard linear action game.

That said, for the some reason that sometimes I'll read a novel, and sometimes I'll play chess, I also don't like the idea of dynamic content becoming the only gaming feature. Because sometimes I want a story driven shoot-fest like Call of Duty, which, despite its lack of ability for the player to affect the environment, (besides through use of bullets that is) sometimes its just fun.

Hmmm...certainly another interesting article, and one that I find compelling. I can see that dynamic content is a direction for the industry, even a very good one, but I also like a little meat with my cheese and bread. It feels like a lot of games used to trenchcoat their characters (Prime example: Dante. I love the DMC series, but Dante is, essentially, a badass to be a badass. He evolves, certainly, but he is not a wonderfully compelling character.) and we are just now kind of moving away from that. Good characterization is a dying art, it seems and I don't like that. I've been keeping up with the Ratings War in the Forum RP board and they've been having a discussion (between rounds) about the "code" to win the RW: it seems to be trenchcoating (or rather, armor plating, in Ultrajoe's case (don't kill me please, I'm only a child)), creating a character with loosely defined powers and winging it. They've also been saying how it's exploiting the system, but that's a moral thing, go read the damn conversation if you want to know more. I very much enjoy well-written, well-developed characters and well-written plots. What you're suggesting also sounds compelling, but in the way chess is compelling, not the way novels are compelling. I don't think we need to stop treating games as visual novels, but I do think that it needs to stop being the only thing we have.

Thanks for this great article!

One of the greatest examples of this Dynamic Content is Boxhead: Zombie Wars. Each time you play, you start off from scratch with just a couple of weapons at your disposal. By going on large zombie killing sprees you get access to more powerful (and more expensive) weapons, to go on larger sprees. Each game plays differently and there are so many different tactics you can try. Do you focus on turrets, do you try a barrel streak, ... In these games the difficulty setting really matters because it completely changes the pace of the game and the strategies you need to apply in order to stay alive.

I think a good example of this is something like the ASCII roguelikes and the RTS/simulation Dwarf Fortress. These games are different every time you play them because almost everything is dynamic and hence lend themselves to the best player-made stories (that's the goal of DF, make a game that naturally produces stories). A player-made story is infinitely superior to a pre-written one because you know you had a real part in it, not one that was written in a script but one you developed through your own actions. What these games also have is permadeath. Any error you make remains part of your story just as any success. If you fail you fail permanently, being the player doesn't give you a magical SNAFU-recovery kit (in most games people can just load if anything goes seriously wrong, that means their story is pretty much a series of successes). If your fortress falls to a siege you don't get to rewind (unless you cheat), the fortress has fallen and all you can do is send another expedition and make a new one, hopefully learning from the errors of the previous fort.

Anyway, DF is way too complex for most people. The success of Carnival Games comes indeed from the return to gaming's arcade roots, what's called new gaming and casual gaming is really just old gaming.

I think, in principle, dynamic content is a fantastic idea, and should work in theory. Mount & Blade, despite being a graphically poor game, and one with some problems in combat, has a big world without a story line to follow - you make your own path and follow that to fame and fortune. Similar with the X series, although they do keep trying to make the token storyline work, heh.

The problem I have with dynamic content is 2 pronged:
* Stock phrases and/or text quickly get old. The typical automatic mission generator simply can't pass the turning test when it comes up with dynamic text/audio, and stock text/audio gets repetitative after not too long.

* Trying to express a story dynamically is borderline impossible, I think - or more accurately, impossible to do in a dynamic way. Even the great Deus Ex followed an ultimately linear path - Ok, it was a WIDE linear path, and you could position yourself anywhere on that path, but still the arching story was linear and non-dynamic.


Anyway, DF is way too complex for most people. The success of Carnival Games comes indeed from the return to gaming's arcade roots, what's called new gaming and casual gaming is really just old gaming.

Yeah, to be fair I did try and use it, but the ascii interface and complexity of the website tutorial was just too much for me to get into it.

Is it just me, or the article has not much to do with level-based and sandbox game models, and more to do with shoehorning some RPG elements in GTA (something that was partially done in San Andreas)?

I think the main problem with increasing the openness is sandbox games is the loss of focus for the player and the inability to deliver a coherent story with a defined plot progress. Which is not necessarily a problem, by the way. It's the same, (relatively) old argument: movies and games, games that want to be movies, games that do not need to be movies (my opinion). Also, I usually like non-plot-based movies. :)

John, you ignorant slut.

You know as well as anybody that while level design is a significant cost, the biggest development cost comes in the form of assets. Though those will probably get cost prohibitive before too long.

That being said, level design is still a significant cost, but your dynamic content fix is already a style play that's well represented in varying degrees in the CRPG and management sim genres, though there's always room for titles at that particular party, and there will always be those who enjoy more narrative games.

There are other, simpler, solutions to the level design issue. There's the popular favorite, user generated content, with mods and map editors and suchlike, and there's also my preferred option, the episodic release. When it costs significantly less than a launch day AAA release, it gives you a chance to see if the game is the sort of thing you like, and gives you the option to follow on, while relieving the developer of the pressure to create and playtest and debug a full set of maps by release day.

But all this tangentially touches on one of the more interesting design questions, particularly in the MMORPG genre, of metaplot vs. player agency. How do you balance a a game with a narrative that runs from point A to point B, yet still allow players the opportunity to influence the world? Eve is amazing in the degree of agency afforded to players, while WoW otoh...

One of my solutions is the Neverwinter Nights solutions, which gives GMs editor tools to put together scenarios for their guild to play through (just like a tabletop rpg), but as part of the editor's toolbox, there will be certain potentially expendable persistent NPCs, whose life or death or attitudes towards the PCs is driven by what occurs in the adventure, and whose potential demise would affect whatever metaplot is being created by the publisher. I had a mostly cyberpunk/Shadowrun sort of setting in mind for that sort of a title.

Another solution I had in mind was a three tired game. I read an sf story back in the 80s that had humans contracting with aliens that had a lifespan of 10,000 years to some work on some project or another. Thing is, the humans had to subcontract to an insect sized race of aliens with a lifespan of only 24 hours to finish some of the components they needed. How does this translate into a game? In this case, the long lived aliens are represented by the publisher, who have some bigger metaplot ongoing. The short term is represented by casual gamers, who jump on to play quick casual games for free. In the middle we have the paying gamers, who are collecting resources from a block of games being played by the casual gamers to contribute to their part of their project.

The replayability question also highlights another difference in gameplay styles, that of performance games vs. improv game. Performance games are those games where you keep retrying and practicing the level until you get it right, for varying defeinitions of right, which could include unlocking achievements, or beating the level at a higher difficulty. See Super Mario Bros., Guitar Hero, DDR, et al. Improv games have more dynamic environments.

Armitage Shanks:



I wasn't arguing about dynamic content, but rather games with no directional progression. Dynamic content could work well with a lot of games.

The part I'm most upset about is the "games don't need a story, look at Pacman and Q-bert" argument. I didn't say that we don't need games like that, I told him not to fuck up the games I like in the process. One shouldn't eclipse another, they can easily be two separate entities. Thank god.

I'm not sure how long the author has been playing video games(I've been playing them 30 years myself), but the concept of dividing a game into levels did not just begin with Doom, Wolfenstein, and other FPSes. The concept of levels connected by some storyline(however thin or shallow) existed even in some of the old arcade games. As for the save feature, that was a necessity to satisfy gamers' demands for ever larger and longer games; the games got bigger, but the human being's ability to invest such time and effort as required by the game in a single session did not change. So, the ability to save progress and return later had to be included.

As for the concept of dynamic content, I personally do not consider simply shuffling around the same gaming elements as creating dynamic content(which is all the examples presented, and indeed most games touting dynamic content, do). Current methods of "dynamic content" utilize the same assets shuffled about in various ways to give the illusion that there is something new and different, however, this is only an illusion. The basic game and how the game is played has not changed. The gamer's strategies and approaches to the game do not change as a result of this "dynamic content".

Dynamic content, in my mind, would be having the game actually invent a whole new region, level, item, monster, npc, or other assets on the fly or as the game progresses(or at the very least be able to research such assets and chose the appropriate ones for the current progression of the game) and insert those assets into the game at appropriate moments. However, this requires the game to do something that, as far as I know, is impossible for any computer to do, have an imagination. The game would also have to remember what it has done on prior gaming sessions such to not repeat the same content over and over, at least not until the gamer has completed the content at least once. Achieving this sort of dynamic content creation would require far more resources and effort than any current linear game, thus worsening the costs of game creation. Right now, the only kind of game that truly has dynamic content is the pen-and-paper role-playing game, because it uses the ongoing imagination of the human being to generate truly new content.

As I mentioned earlier, ever expanding games necessitated the invention of the save feature because the capacity of the human being did not change with the size of the game. However, this did not stop people from wanting ever bigger games to run away from reality. We wanted games that take us away from reality(yet, ironically, we keep demanding ever more realism in the game, destroying the fantasy of the gaming world), but even further, we wanted ever bigger games in which to more permanently immerse ourselves so that we don't have to deal with the real-world. We are constantly seeking a game that is capable of substituting for real-life. However, such a game cannot be created because it is impossible to generate all the assets and logic needed to create such a game. Just creating a truly realistic, fully interactive, dynamic parking lot could take years, never mind a city or entire nation. This is a problem of the gamer having, in my opinion, an unbalanced perspective on life and gaming. Games and gaming are merely one part of life, real-life, and they can never be a substitute for the entirety of real-life. One plays games for a momentary desire for entertainment and thrill-seeking. It's not meant to be a permanent thing, and, no matter how much you run, you can never escape real-life(there is a catastrophic solution, but I'd really rather not talk about that).

I assert that the problem of games today is not exactly that they need more content or dynamic content. Instead, I think the real problem is that the experience of games today has become too dilute. A single development house is only capable of generating just so much into a game in a given amount of time. But, this constant push for ever larger games has necessitated stretching that content out over a much larger game-space. The result is that the gamer receives an experience that lacks the intensity necessary for him to derive a sense of fun. I think the better solution would be to shift our expectations about gaming to be more reasonable with what can be achieved and focus on making a more intense, fulfilling experience rather than a progressively prolonged experience.

Along with this, my opinion is that replay-value has been severely perverted with the idea of easter-eggs and achievements in games, which have become substitutes for actual quality content in games and further serve to dilute the gaming experience. In my personal opinion, the assessment of replay-value is whether the game provides an experience that you seek to repeat for the pleasure of having that experience, as opposed to the chore of hunting for menial easter-eggs or grinding out achievements. Basically, is the game actually fun enough such that you want to have that fun repeatedly, or are you just going through the motions because there is some trophy to obtain.

(Another wall-of-text from the Geizr, but I don't feel so bad about it this time, cause I see several others have done the same.)

John Scott Tynes:
The Hard Problem: Dynamic Content

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

Read Full Article

Uhm, really no. GTA4 had great story missions, the levels were great fun and well written. If you want to make a game 100% dynamic you have to sacrifice the story and to a certain extent the gameplay in order to satisfy your need for replayability. Where would huge setpieces like "Three leaf clover" be if we went your route? That level is the most fun I've had in a game in ages.

In any case, GTA4 is fairly dynamic already. Only, rather than your broad, expansive goals, you might set yourself short term goals such as "I need a better car" or "I want to murder some dudes" Guess what the dynamic game mechanic that makes these challenging is? The police. And if you decide to have some fun and shoot back, it gets MORE challenging and fun! Hell, I've been run to ground by the police in a hospital lobby and ended up defending my position from a six star wanted rating for almost a quarter of an hour and I had GREAT fun! Throwing molotovs at the door as the police ran through, the fire causing them to scream and run, eventually I ran out of ammunition for everything but my sniper rifle and had to run out to the dead policemen for some ammo, as I ran out the door dozens of assault rifle shots hit my chest and I died. This kind of dynamic content is ALREADY in GTA4 and it's there in ADDITION to the story missions.

Oh and those ancient arcade games weren't very fun. Try playing one now, on the same day as playing a bit of GTA4. Tell me which you enjoyed more.

The author of this article does not seem to have much respect for game developers at all. Game developers craft an experience for players not because they are told to, but because they enjoy doing it. The line "Developers need to stop treating games like they're virtual books and start crafting more dynamic experiences" sounds more like the tantrum of a 12 year-old than a grown man with some creative and constructive feedback. Developers don't treat games like 'virtual books', they simply wish to create an engaging and emotional experience for the player.

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