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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeDesignA ludologically constructed conversation game
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Anthony Flack
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« on: May 14, 2009, 04:43:39 PM »

Spun off from the front page discussion - I wonder if it actually would be possible to create a conversation-based game that was designed to be ludologically satisfying? I can't think of a less arsey way of saying that, but what I mean is basically this: You create a set of rules, a system of opposing forces, that creates a state of complexity which the player can influence in meaningful ways with their choices. You are working towards a win condition and there is at least one other force pushing you back into a fail state. The game would be different each time you play, and it would have to be balanced enough that the choices you made would be meaningful. I used chess as an example. You know, a GAME game. And it should be a proper good one, without any obvious strategic exploits.

(I don't know if it would work, but I don't see any reason it couldn't be possible, if you found just the right model to use. It would probably be really, really hard to do well. But maybe it could be done? I don't know. I just thought it was an interesting idea. Anyway...)

What I'm suggesting is thinking about the data in the conversation model as an abstract model first; as a set of rules that can be formed into a game that works, and can be balanced and checked for exploits. And then kind of parsing it into something else. Using chess as a model would be a stupid idea, but I'm going to go with it for now because I don't have a better suggestion.

Imagine that each piece on the chessboard, instead of being a knight or rook or whatever, represented a philosophical argument, or a feeling, or a fact or statement, that could be put into play, and used to counter other pieces, but was also vulnerable to being shot down or used against you. And your next move was presented to you as a choice of what you are going to say next. In the chess analogy, the king would represent your core position; your win/lose condition. Maybe you're trying to win a philosophical argument. Or conduct a hostage negotiation. Maybe this is a discussion about whether your relationship is going to break up or not. The pieces that you "take" could even be parsed as compromises or concessions you made along the way, so it isn't as simple as a straight win/lose.

I guess that, in order for the game to work and not be illogical, it would need to be about something that was not empirically right or wrong. The most important thing is that it can be played in a way that makes for a ludologically satisfying game, and not just a puzzle.

If it actually worked, you could develop it further by integrating it into a larger setting - where you interacted with a world, found information and "did stuff" as well. Your actions would provide you with "pieces" to use in your conversational game - but also create counter-pieces that could be used against you.

As an aside - I always wished that the courtroom scenes in the Phoenix Wright games were more dynamic. Imagine a game where a really clever lawyer could win with less "facts" on the board, for example. Friggin' hard to design, I'm sure... but impossible? Maybe not?
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Anthony Flack
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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2009, 05:03:40 PM »

An example mechanic: you can counter an accusation with a statement, but doing so commits you to a position which you must defend.
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Alec S.
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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2009, 05:40:38 PM »

I think this is a very interesting and important design challenge.  Role Playing and Adventure games could be greatly improved by a conversation system, and branching dialogue trees are rather flawed.

I think the primary way to go about designing a conversational game would be to break it down into verbs, then figure out how those verbs connect and relate to each other.  This would also involve creating certain values to measure certain aspects of the conversation state, which the verbs could then affect. Next these relations between verbs and values would need to be implemented in an algorithmic form, and finally there would need to be a intuitive representation (ie.  plain English phrases) over that which the player can interact with.

A few verbs to start with:
-Accuse
-State position
-Present fact
-Counter argument
-Raise repercussions 
-Appeal to emotion

A few values:
-Convinced Level
-Defensive (ie. how much the character is on the defensive)
-Emotional State

One way that a system could work is each character has a point they're currently trying to argue.  The point is set by either accusing or stating a position.  Accusations put the other person on the defensive.  The players must use actions such as presenting facts, using counterarguments, raising repercussions, and appealing to emotion to defend their point, argue against the other person's point, or effect one of the values (For example, an appeal to emotion could effect the opponent's emotional state).
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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2009, 06:29:44 PM »

Have you played Siboot?
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Anthony Flack
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2009, 06:55:47 PM »

No! I'd never even heard of it (this is a new area for me). The Wikipedia article suggests it might be worth investigating?
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« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2009, 06:57:04 PM »

yes, it's something like what you describe. it's primitive, but it's definitely something that makes conversation into an interesting game (it's about denial of information, trading of information, gossiping etc.)
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« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2009, 07:09:30 PM »

This is an intriguing idea. Your analogy was quite nice too.
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« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2009, 08:25:41 PM »

Quote
I wonder if it actually would be possible to create a conversation-based game that was designed to be ludologically satisfying?

The player must know/learn how he can win. How to react given a specific context.

I would base such a game on card game rules (and add lots of stuff to make it sound more like what it is than a card game).

Each argument, counter-argument, insult, compliment, etc, would be a card that can be played only once in a conversation.

You could add "speech cards" to you deck by investigating, learning (from previous conversations), reading and experience...

A player could only play any card. Being speechless or changing the conversation's knowledge field without a good card would be BAD.

Exemple of speech card types:
- Knowledge about ...: speak about a specific subject, may change the current knowledge field.
- Insult: Blocks the current knowledge field until the end of the conversation.
- Flatery: passing turn without being speechless.

Exemples of knowledge fields:
- Science
- Personal Life
- Society
- Culture

Exemples of subjects:
- Anatomy
- Love
- Politics
- Theatre

When the knowledge field would be science, if your adversary would talk about anatomy, you would gain points by replying with mechanics, but you would gain more by talking about sports (and the current knowledge field would become "Culture").

Using normal games cards, the game would look like this:
- I play 2 of clubs.
- You play 5 of clubs.
- I play 5 of spades.
- You play Joker, then 3 of diamonds.
- I can't play.
- You take the played cards as points and put them aside. You play 6 of diamonds.
- And the game goes on...

To that, you add the possibility to choose what you say about the selected subject, to know your opponent (and prepare yours cards) and to gain new cards as the game goes on.
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Alec S.
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« Reply #8 on: May 14, 2009, 08:44:16 PM »

I like some of the ideas you have there, but I don't quite see how it fits in with the card game.

I also think that it would be wrong to try to map conversation onto a previously existing rule-set.  It would be better to try to analyze conversation and break it down into its own rule-set.
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Anthony Flack
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« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2009, 09:30:23 PM »

I think the main problem is that you're trying to construct something that does two difficult things at once - functions as a satisfying game, and is able to be parsed into a sensical conversation. So I imagine there would need to be a fair bit of juggling back and forth before you hit on something that could work with one foot in each camp.

"Break a conversation into elements, use those elements to construct a game, and then see if you can parse an instance of the game back as some representation of conversation again" seems like a sensible starting point, but you never know...

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« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2009, 11:21:43 PM »

Miroslav is attempting something like this.

What about existing (non video) games that are based around conversation? Have you ever played that game where responding with a 'yes' or a 'no' means losing? And... for some reason I can't think of any other examples, but I know there are a few.
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Alec S.
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« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2009, 11:36:44 PM »

What about existing (non video) games that are based around conversation?

Well, one could argue that Structured Debate is a game based around conversation.
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« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2009, 12:03:41 AM »

I'd like to add something regarding the "opposing forces" idea in the beginning of the first post.

I do not think that making the playfield simply "polar" is interesting and satisfying. It certainly is easy to understand, because humans of this culture (sadly) are so familiar with it. But it really "isn't as good as everyone says it is" Wink

It's main problem is that it only understands opposition. Oh, sure - it allows an abusive relationship, and it allows situations in which both forces are "submissive" (which then strangely many consider as "friendly" or even "mutualistic") - it doesn't however change, that plain oppositional polarities only know war between forces, and thats it.

Think about it: You have all those games which try to give you "choices" - most annoyingly that "moral choice" crap, in which all you can do is choose between "pro" and "contra", between being "nice" and being "mean", being "egoistic" or "altruistic"... be honest, hasn't this always felt a bit primitive and naive?

I'll try to give you a different perspective, so that you can "see" the problems of the polar approach from a different angle. Some of you probably once heard about the 2D "Territorial map" which is sometimes used in communication psychology, right? If you dont remember or know it, its like this: We have two agents. Every agent gets assigned a value (so that you have two). That way, even if we stay at binary logic, you get four choices - the well known "I'm good,  you're bad", "I'm bad, you're good", "We're both bad" and "We're both good":

Now, the point here is: This isn't actually about psychology! Sadly, not many people understand this. It really is quite simple: You have a statement which consists of two values, which can each be positive and negative. Still doesn't ring a bell? How about this: A but NOT B, B but NOT A, A AND B, A NOR B.

This is something which applies to a lot of things. You can basically apply it whenever two aspects are relevant to a "rating". When are at least two aspects relevant? Well, basically in any kind of relationship. When i say relationship here, i do not just mean a personal relationship between humans, but any kind of relationship.

To give you a really primitive example in a game: The player may choose to reject/fight something, he may choose to accept/integrate into something, he may choose a free "alliance" in which both still retain their autonomy, or he may choose to simply avoid/noninteract with it. Doesn't this kind of choices sound a bit more interesting, than plain "friend/foe", "good/bad", etc. choices? Smiley

- Lyx

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« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2009, 01:18:44 AM »

P.S.: Since you do seem to be interested in having some kind of "strategy" and stuff, it may be interesting to point out that two-player games in game-theory (NOT videogame theory) follow the same schema - i.e. "win-lose", "win-win", "lose-lose", etc. In other words, this really is a scheme which from a programming POV allows to make a lot of connections which the AI can analyze. It's just plain first-order logic - the "datastructure" is compatible with all kinds of things.
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Anthony Flack
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« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2009, 05:09:15 AM »

Okay, apologies if this is a little bit rambling:

The reason I'm interested in strategy is because I wanted to look seriously into reasons WHY you might want to model complex social interactions in a game system. If it's simply to provide NPC agents that don't break immersion, then I have some serious reservations about that approach. And if you just want to model a system just to see what it does, and let the player poke at it, I guess that's fine although it seems more like a programming exercise than something that would necessarily be interesting to play with. And if you're NOT playing with it, it might as well NOT be a full-blown interactive element in your game.

I mean, it's all very well creating a complex conversation model, but what if the player finds an optimum strategy through that system that leads predictably to a win state? I guess you could call it an art game and say that was part of your intended message. But a dynamic system that can be predictably stabilised isn't a very interesting dynamic system. You want your system to be poised at the point of complexity, halfway between stasis and chaos. So we need to consider the system in terms of strategic balance in order to build something capable of maintaining that unstable equilibrium in an interesting way. That's why I think in terms of opposing forces - creating the right mix of positive and negative feedback to create an unstable (and therefore interesting) game state. Besides, every meaningful decision you make in life is a competition between opposing forces.

Ideally, what you want is a system where the player is making choices that have the possibility to effect the outcome, both positively and negatively, in a way that requires proper consideration, rather than applying rote responses.

But although I use win/lose in this context, I don't mean to imply that your goal be strictly adversarial with regard to the NPC character. Merely that you, the player, have some kind of goal that you're working toward - it could be framed as a mutually beneficial outcome for both characters that you're trying to achieve. Perhaps you would be free to pursue any one of a number of outcomes, on several poles - just so long as the path towards your goal was strategically interesting.

I don't tend to think of these things in terms of win/win, win/lose on two axes, because in a single-player video game, the human player is the only true agent, and the NPCs are yet more elements of the game. You might want want to create a game system which is symmetrical (as chess is symmetrical), with both the player and the NPC following the same rules - but since it IS a single player game, you don't have any obligation to do so. You could treat it more like a game of solitaire.
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Lyx
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« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2009, 05:32:09 AM »

Okay, apologies if this is a little bit rambling:

The reason I'm interested in strategy is because I wanted to look seriously into reasons WHY you might want to model complex social interactions in a game system. If it's simply to provide NPC agents that don't break immersion, then I have some serious reservations about that approach. And if you just want to model a system just to see what it does, and let the player poke at it, I guess that's fine although it seems more like a programming exercise than something that would necessarily be interesting to play with. And if you're NOT playing with it, it might as well NOT be a full-blown interactive element in your game.

I mean, it's all very well creating a complex conversation model, but what if the player finds an optimum strategy through that system that leads predictably to a win state?
I dont really see the problem. If you want a win-state, create a win-state, if you want no win-state, create no win-state. If you want multiple win-state, then create multiple win-state. If you want to leave it up to the player what HE/SHE considers a win-state, then give allow for multiple outcomes. Where's the problem again?

Furthermore, even though the majority of people may want to have "the one goal", that is not necessarily the case for everyone. To someone, the process of playing the game, may be the reward, and i doubt that those consider it just a "programming excercice", as long as the process of playing it is interesting.

To be frankly honest, you seem to be simply obsessed, that if there is no one predefined goal "given" to reach, and if there is no "competition", then its pointless. Nope - pointless is, when you create a game which's only potential appeal is competition, yet it offers no competition. This is pointless - not because of the lack of competetition, but because then there is nothing else left which your game has to offer!

EDIT: As for your concern about a "perfect strategy" - the only way to prevent that, is via randomness. Every mechanic which always works the same, is by definition predictable. If randomness is in, then it is just a matter of balancing the various options which the player and AI Opponent has. Still: Even this will not prevent that there will be a "perfect meta-strategy", unless the randomness strongly changes the game-balance every time. However, if you do not want the game to be trial and error, then you actually want the player - inside a single game - to come near an optimal strategy, because if you wouldn't allow that (i.e. constant randomization), then there would be no point to developing a strategy at all.

Quote
But a dynamic system that can be predictably stabilised isn't a very interesting dynamic system.
You're again asuming a single win-state and a "challenge" to reach just that.

Quote
You want your system to be poised at the point of complexity, halfway between stasis and chaos. So we need to consider the system in terms of strategic balance in order to build something capable of maintaining that unstable equilibrium in an interesting way. That's why I think in terms of opposing forces - creating the right mix of positive and negative feedback to create an unstable (and therefore interesting) game state.
If one only has experience with a certain mindset, then this is true. Outside of that - not necessarily. Not to create a misunderstanding here: I'm not saying that gameplay based on opposition is "bad" - i'm saying that your implication that only oppositional dynamics can be interesting, is a prejudice on your side.

Quote
Besides, every meaningful decision you make in life is a competition between opposing forces.
You're assuming that everyone thinks as you do. For example, there are people who like to "solve" things, rather than "beat them" :-)

Quote
Ideally, what you want is a system where the player is making choices that have the possibility to effect the outcome, both positively and negatively, in a way that requires proper consideration, rather than applying rote responses.
How do you know for so certain, that it is clear in every possible situation what the player considers "desirable", hmm? Are you assuming that choice is only there to give the player a puzzle to solve, not to let the player decide what he wants?

The rest of your "rambling" is more of such assumptions. If you want to create a game with a certain intention, and you want to do this as efficiently as possible, then you're free to discuss how to do that - but if you claim that it is the only possible intention why one would play a game, then you're definatelly trying to enforce your preferences on others.

If one is satisfied that player-taste in most games doesnt matter much - if one is satisfied that most games have just one "goal" to achieve - if one is satisfied that in most games, it is always the same battle between "good" and "bad" - if one is satisfied that most games have little to offer besides of the carefully precrafted path - then yes, of course there is no point to dynamics at all!

- Lyx
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george
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« Reply #16 on: May 15, 2009, 08:00:45 AM »

There are a few tabletop RPGs that have interesting conflict resolution systems that are basically conversation systems that pass around tokens. Of course the tokens can be whatever the players think up, so for a computer game you'd have to constrain the token creation somehow. One of the more notable ones is Polaris.
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Alec S.
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« Reply #17 on: May 15, 2009, 10:16:18 AM »

I think the idea is that this is an attempt to make a conversational game, rather than a conversational situation.  There therefore needs to be a challenge for the player, as well as no dominant strategy.  For this to happen, there needs to be some conflict.  Now, I don't mean conflict necessarily between the player and the game character.  I mean conflict in the literary sense, as in, there must be something trying to prevent the player from accomplishing their goal.  Allowing the player to decide their own goal is all well and good, as long as there's a significant challenge behind every possible goal.

If the game says "I think X" and the player says "I agree with you" and then wins, that isn't a very compelling game play experience.


Quote
Besides, every meaningful decision you make in life is a competition between opposing forces.
You're assuming that everyone thinks as you do. For example, there are people who like to "solve" things, rather than "beat them" :-)
Even when something needs to be "solved" that's a competition between opposing forces.  If you're trying to untie a knot, its a competition between yourself and the complexity of the knot.  If you try to build a building, you are competing with the laws of physics.  There are occurrences that are relatively free of conflict, but these don't make interesting fiction, and make even less interesting games.
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« Reply #18 on: May 15, 2009, 10:35:53 AM »

I fully agree with this. However, i dont see how this would run contrary to allowing choices beyond "pro" and "contra".

Even if we stay with interpersonal relationships, there can be advantages and disadvantages to every option - even options which seem to always be the most desirable choice.

Example: The player can towards an NPC play an aggressive role, a submissive role, a mutualistic cooperative role, or he can seek to distance himself from the NPC. Theoretically, the most optimal choice for both would be to cooperate mutually (most advantageous to both). So does that automatically make this a perfect choice? Nope, because playing that role can be abused by the NPC (Betrayal) - or depending on the NPC personality, he may simply envy the Player for showing leadership-style strenth and therefore see him as a competitor instead. Or perhaps the NPC is shy and first needs some distance, before approaching again - there are many reasons why that apparent "optimal" choice, may not actually be optimal in every situation.

And please, dont tell me "we dont need roles". This is BS. There are ALWAYS roles, even if you dont label them as that. You always have things like "cooperate", "reject", "yes", "no", and so on... thats exactly what i'm talking about. Even if in an FPS you run away, attack, defend, cooperate... same thing. The only difference is that most games artificially restrict the choices to the popular "pro"/"anti" roles, even though logically speaking, there are ALWAYS at minimum those four choices available, unless they get artificially restricted. If the player were given free choice, he could always try to run away, always try to dominate, always be submissive and always try to mutually cooperate. Its just that most games often dont allow all those options, even though there is no explanation why the player cannot choose them (except of "the author doesn't want you to, because his game concept cannot deal with it.").
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Anthony Flack
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« Reply #19 on: May 15, 2009, 06:50:31 PM »

Quote
Even if we stay with interpersonal relationships, there can be advantages and disadvantages to every option - even options which seem to always be the most desirable choice.

Exactly. That is exactly what you want.

This is kind of two seperate topics. I started the thread because I thought it was an interesting design challenge that I thought might lead to some fun ideas, and potentially interesting solutions. Hopefully, it can still be that?

But the thought process that led to the idea is worth talking about too, because it's an aspect of interactivity that I think is often overlooked when talking about NPC behaviour systems. I think malec2b sees what I'm getting at here. It's definitely NOT a case of being obsessed with competition, but rather what conventional game design has taught me about dynamic systems.

It started with the complaint that NPC interactions in games are shallow and meaningless. I don't personally mind that, if the game's focus is elsewhere. But if NPC interaction is the meat of your game system, then you need to make sure that system stays "live".

It comes back to the question of why you would want to provide player interaction at all. For that interaction to be of interest, the player needs to be making meaningful choices at each junction. Choices for which there is no automatic "right" or "wrong" response. That can't happen in a system that is too chaotic or too static. Even if you're not interested in player choices, if you're quite happy to just see what your NPCs do, you still want your system to generate complex yet meaningful patterns.

I presume you're familiar with cellular automata? Like that old "life" simulation that every 80s computer magazine included as a type-in at some point. Basically a grid containing a mixture of cells and empty spaces, and a set of rules governing which cells would survive, which would die, and which new ones would be born in the next "round". These rules represent the opposing forces I'm talking about - some rules create cells, some destroy them.

If you spend any amount of time playing around with cellular automata, you quickly realise that these rules need to be precisely in balance for the simulation to produce interesting results. If the rules are mismatched, then the system quickly degenerates into either a static, "dead" state, or blinking, inscrutable chaos. Get the balance right though, and it produces interesting, flourishing and continually evolving patterns.

It will always be necessary to introduce some element of randomness, since we are talking about a single-player game and I don't imagine you'd want to create something totally deterministic. But randomness is a chaotic element, and ideally you want your action to come primarily from emergent behaviour rather than spontaneous, senseless chaos. The most interesting systems are the ones that require the least random input to maintain their dynamism.




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