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Friday, November 11, 2005

Will Kong Make You Cry?

According to MSNBC, Xavier Poix, the producer of the upcoming King Kong game, is "hoping that when they finish the game the players will cry.”

Not sure when sobbing became the grail of modern game design, but I highly doubt King Kong will be capable of hitting that mark. I'm basing this solely on the demo mind you - but I found the demo underwhelming enough that I probably won't have a desire to play the full game. I do appreciate some of the tweaks that the team is trying, like the lack of interface and cinematic settings ... but I was also wading in some messy mechanics and gameplay. Take this bit:

Poix described a scene where blonde-in-distress Ann Darrow is brought to Kong as a sacrifice. The player, in the role of the adventurer trying to save Darrow, is tied up but can still look around. Allowing just this limited movement, said Poix, reinforces the feeling of helplessness in the player.

Seriously - it won't. It's not going to make a player feel any more helpless. The player is quite used to cut-scenes, locked doors and other means of keeping them from opening a box or running around where you don't want them. This myth that by simply shoving someone into a first person view will convey all the emotions of that situation has got to go. No player will feel any more helpless than someone watching that scene in the third person.

Not unless, of course, you've made the player really care about Darrow. See, this is the step that game producers keep forgetting. It's not about your fancy graphics, your interface or the 4,000 node skeleton you have just animated. If you can't make me care about a character, then I don't really care what you do.

I don't really have a problem with video games going all Hollywood on us ... just so long as they pay attention to the right things. Instead of everyone trying to make a Ridley Scott film (no offense to Ridley, I love his flicks) ...go see a damn Miyazaki fest. That man makes me care about characters even in his kid movies. Hell, that man can make me care for a cat in a movie.

Want to make me cry? Stop trying tricks and schticks with game mechanics and learn how to portray real characters in real plots.


Patrick said...

I think pulling that off will involve giving a level of interactivity to the plot where the player does not feel helpless, but responsible. If being tied up perpendicular to your imperiled girlfriend is something that happesn because of the player's prior action, then the helpless feeling will be meaningful because of its avoidability. Janet Murray calls this "the active creation of beliefe", which I think is a much better term than "willing suspension of disbelief". By focusing on the latter over the prior, designers miss the point.

That said the use of cinematic techniques in the Kong demo shows a lot of promise for well used camera angles to serve as a form of user feedback.

Josh said...

Excellent point. Unfortunately game design these days doesn't really like avoidability as it causes multiple development to be required.

The direction in Kong did seem pretty nice. However, I found the Rex breaking through to chase me more interesting than actually being chased ... because that amounted to mostly running in circles waiting for audio clues. Likewise, the Kong battle felt like a clickfest. So while the setups seemed well done, the execution didn't ring with me.

Course, maybe that's just the PC controls?

Patrick said...

Yeah, the mouse clicking did get a bit old.

As for multiple developments, the main problem IMO is finding content creation methods and/or algorithms that are dynamic enough to keep up with the underlying design. You figure out better ways to do content creation and suddenly the whole field just opens up. Spore is a step in, well in a direction, but I think we a pattern language that corresponds to meaningful associations, like a storytelling grammar combined with a robust data mill, like an evolutionary algorithm. My latest blog post looks at ways this might happen, from a top-down design POV.