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  1. #1
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    Choice, consequence and intention in gaming.

    This is something that's been bothering me for a while, and I'd love to hear other people's input.

    My biggest problem with games that offer you choices or have consequences for your actions is that they (almost) always assume your choices and actions were intentional. In Dragon Age 2, my LadyHawke somehow found herself having "girly fun" with Isabela and I'm still not really sure how that happened. In Oblivion, I got arrested for murder a lot* because of allies straying in front of my arrows - that's not murder! It was an accident!

    But it's not something that I can see being fixed easily. How is a game supposed to know whether you did something intentionally or accidentally? The only real 'solution' I can think of is Fable's apology mechanic, which is less than satisfactory. I suppose you can sometimes get people to stop being hostile in TES by blocking instead of attacking, and you can get people to stop being hostile in Deus Ex by running and hiding, but both of those only really clear the immediate consequences; they don't satisfactorily allow for accidents.

    Have you seen any other mechanics that help a game distinguish between intentional action and accident? How well do they work? Can you think of any other methods that could help?


    * Before I started savescumming any portion where I had some stupid ally AI.
    "Moronic cynicism is a kind of na´vetÚ. It's na´vetÚ turned inside-out. Na´vetÚ wearing a sneer." -Momus

  2. #2
    Lesser Hivemind Node Kodeen's Avatar
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    It might help if someone used types of actions that were assumed to be one or the other. For example, when there is a car "accident" it is automatically assumed it is in fact an accident, as it is very rare for people to crash their cars on purpose. Conversely, if you punch someone in the face it is assumed you did that on purpose, unless you have very poor fist control, which would also be rare.

    There's also an area of actions where the intention doesn't really matter. If you lose control of your car and run someone over, killing him, sure it was an accident. But you will still be punished for murder, albeit at a reduced charge such as involuntary manslaugher, and thus a reduced outcome.

    To really be able to decide between the two in an ambiguous situation, you'd need some type of mediation mechanic, like a trial. That would probably make it an entirely different game, however, so something simpler.

  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    I was thinking it might be possible with something like EEG. I reckon player brainwaves are probably different when they make a mistake vs. when everything goes as planned. Facial expression recognition might be another good one. But those are both ways that require some form of specialised hardware (at least, I don't think something like Kinect is good enough for expression recognition).

    You might be able to get some useful data from behaviour monitoring. At least in the Oblivion example, it should be possible to tell what the player was trying to aim at vs. what they actually hit based on crosshair position over time. Or you could look at what players do after they make a mistake. But the problem with behaviour monitoring is that it would be pretty domain-specific to an individual game: it wouldn't be generalisable, and therefore would be prohibitively expensive to implement.

    Which, I think, just leaves game mechanics.
    "Moronic cynicism is a kind of na´vetÚ. It's na´vetÚ turned inside-out. Na´vetÚ wearing a sneer." -Momus

  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus
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    Quickload.

  5. #5
    Lesser Hivemind Node Kodeen's Avatar
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    I think the biggest issue with your Oblivion situation is that they are applying civilian law to a wartime scenario. Friendly fire is an established area. I don't know anything about wartime law so it may still be punishable, but not enough to garner the 1000 reputation or whatever you probably got.

  6. #6
    Accidents have to have consequences, that's the whole point. It's called emergent gameplay: You accidentally run over a pedestrian while trying to drive to the next mission, then the cops start chasing you, then you crash and your car explodes, then all the pedestrians are damaged by the explosion and attack you, then you steal a cop car to escape.

    This example was brought to you by GTA, but Skyrim and Deus Ex are made for the same kind of emergent stuff. Consequences should always apply to your actions, not your intentions.

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    Maybe I'm biased because my PhD is pretty much based on the idea that 'pure' emergence is boring (though not in those exact words, and my PhD is about the emotional trajectory and structure of a sequence of actions; nothing to do with intentionality), but I think it depends on the game. If you're going for simulative fidelity then perhaps your actions matter more than your intentions, but if you're emphasising the narrative significance of those actions, then intention is important, not least to the integrity of the relationship between player and character.
    "Moronic cynicism is a kind of na´vetÚ. It's na´vetÚ turned inside-out. Na´vetÚ wearing a sneer." -Momus

  8. #8
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    Ah, how I long for the happy days where I thought my research was meaningful...

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    Ah, how I long for the happy days where I thought my research was meaningful...
    Good times!

    Heh, I'm not particularly under any illusions about the significance of my research itself - at best it's going to be a very partial solution - though I do believe in the significance of the reasons for my research.
    "Moronic cynicism is a kind of na´vetÚ. It's na´vetÚ turned inside-out. Na´vetÚ wearing a sneer." -Momus

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    I have a hard time buying into the concept that "oops I ran a red light, now a cop will come and give me a ticket" in Mafia or "oops I picked up one of the many items on the counter instead of talking to the shopkeeper, now a guard is beating me with his sword" in <pick your Bethesda title here> is true emergent gameplay.

    You can end up, in self-defense, wiping out half the town, or whatever, but once you're caught and pay the price, nobody gives a shit about you. It's like it never happened. This flows into the rest of the game: Nothing really matters. What you do Monday isn't remembered Tuesday. The only difference between the two isn't how you're treated, but how much material wealth you have.

    As such, when I read the OP, my first impression was, "he's not complaining about unintended consequence per se, so much as the cognitive dissonance that sometimes occurs when the scripted narrative doesn't match the player's image of his character." You thought your Hawke was straight, but apparently your Hawke is bi, because you incorrectly interpreted the flirting as friendly. You didn't just fall and land in Isabela's panties, after all.
    Nalano H. Wildmoon
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  11. #11
    Lesser Hivemind Node Keep's Avatar
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    Good topic. It really bothers me how earnestly the AI interprets your actions. It's assumed that what happened was what you wanted to happen. When that's not the case...jeez the whole thing falls apart doesn't it?

    I think the MOST important thing to realise for a developer is: There is a disparity between "My intention behind my action" and "Others reaction to my action". And it seems there are two basic ways to try and overcome that disparity:

    1) Move intentions inside the game. Sort of like in Pool, where you have to call which pocket you're going to pot the 8-ball in, make the player have to "announce" what they intend to do before letting them actually do it. I can't think of a way to turn it into a useful mechanic - especially for a real-time game - expect for the sake of expressing that belief that there is a God-like understanding within the universe, of what was meant and what was not, and what was right and what was wrong.

    2) Acknowledge that yeah, there is this gulf between me and the world, and so there will be a similar gulf between the player and the game-world. Existentially difficult, but true. So acknowledge it. And then play with it.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    Quickload.
    Yeah, this. I mean, that's kind of what loading is for. If you make a mistake, you can load up a previous game state.

  13. #13
    Going to a narrative perspective, then; even if the game world could read your mind, why should all NPC's automatically know your intentions? It seems like judging you by your actions is more realistic. It seems like the problem is that you can't argue your case.

    There could be a simplified trial system whenever you're arrested; You state your intentions (With freedom to lie, of course), they check your claims against the established facts, and the court reaches a decision based on how they correlate (Along with you/ your lawyer's diplomacy stat).

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    I wonder if granularity of actions isn't an issue. Actions in games tend to be somewhat larger-grain than what we would consider actions in real-life. The problem is that in a game, one action has a consequence, whereas it would take us several real-life actions to generate that consequence. Intention is a lot clearer when you have performed several actions than it is when you've only performed one.

    I think Nalano's right in that the Hawke and Isabela thing wasn't the same. My misinterpretation of the situation notwithstanding, it took several actions to get to that point; not just one. In Oblivion, shooting at a scamp but hitting an ally was one single action. (I also performed the real-life action of telling the ally to get out of the way, but since the ally didn't exist in real life, he couldn't hear me.)
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  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JackShandy View Post
    Going to a narrative perspective, then; even if the game world could read your mind, why should all NPC's automatically know your intentions? It seems like judging you by your actions is more realistic. It seems like the problem is that you can't argue your case.
    It's just a facet of the fact that nobody is actually sitting there, gauging your intent. These are RPGs that have been designed before-hand by people who made the narrative and then posited what likely reactions would be to situations they created. They're not live-DMed. Thus, there will always be bit of a disconnect if the character is seen as a pure player avatar. That's the nature of the medium: Nobody has the infinite time and infinite resources to plot out every possible point in the spectrum of human thought.

    And now that I think about it, It's kinda funny that the OP used DA2 as an example, because you can predict the results of your actions. If it's a dialogue option that puts the player further on the "I wanna bed this guy/gal" path, it will be marked with a giant fucking heart symbol. If it's an "I wanna just be friends with this guy/gal" option, it's an olive branch. If it's an "oh my god they think I'm flirting with them, no no no," it's a giant broken heart symbol. Not ambiguous at all!
    Nalano H. Wildmoon
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  16. #16
    Lesser Hivemind Node Keep's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JackShandy View Post
    It seems like judging you by your actions is more realistic. It seems like the problem is that you can't argue your case.
    I think the "judging" is actually the real topic here (unless, like I said, you try and implement "intention" into the game itself).

    How do you make the game "judge" the player in a way that doesn't contradict the player's own judgment? OP judges his actions as leading to a friendship; the game judges them as romantic, or judges his shooting as friendly fire, but the game judges them as aggressive attacks.

    Even if you do (and I think you should) want it to be possible for the player's intentions to be misunderstood, it's still a problem to make sure the internal judgment that responds to the player's actions is not...stupid.

  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Lambchops's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thegooseking View Post
    I'm not particularly under any illusions about the significance of my research itself [...] though I do believe in the significance of the reasons for my research.
    That's pretty much the perfect preface for a thesis in any research field!

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus mickygor's Avatar
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    It wouldn't be too hard to code something to monitor situations like accidental friendly fire from straying, but the computational cost is too prohibitive. Qualitative analysis for things like conversational choices leading to sexytime, though... Well, you'd need a mind reader. Or perhaps an option to turn down advances/actively state that you didn't mean to stray down the path.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    You can end up, in self-defense, wiping out half the town, or whatever, but once you're caught and pay the price, nobody gives a shit about you. It's like it never happened. This flows into the rest of the game: Nothing really matters. What you do Monday isn't remembered Tuesday. The only difference between the two isn't how you're treated, but how much material wealth you have.
    An interesting way to solve the "remembering" issue would be a system like fallout's (1&2) karma, but far more polished, tracking all your deeds, giving you special "karma titles" like "grave-digger" (this guy saved xxxx many people, so he must be guy. but oh, take into account he also committed xxxx crimes so he isn't that good) and weighting em into a scale to determine NPCs reactions comparing em into a "karma reaction" table depending on the NPC's "role" or even "personality".
    In the end if you did a lil' of everything, based on this some npcs will remember you are a bad guy, others will remember you are good, some will not even give a fuck of who you are currently and so on. And of course it could include a way to compensate for some of those "deeds" when possible. I don't think shooting arrows and killing by accident will be easily forgiven... but in the end if you have done more good than bad they should be weighting that to your favor.

    Sorry for the sort of off-topic, but that part on Nalano's post got me thinking.

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    I don't like karma. Partly because it's implemented in a silly manner (somehow the world instantly knows that you've stolen something in an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night) and partly because all actions are devolved into numerical values on a slider. This means that the NPC isn't reacting to you but to your karmic value - even if the NPC has never seen you before nor had cause to have heard of your exploits - and what ultimately changes is perhaps the greeting and some merchant discount, which means we're back to "the only thing that changes is your material wealth." You quickly pick up on this and simply make a mental note to "pay off" your bad activities (like killing everybody in town and methodically propping up their heads in the bookcase in your foyer) with good activities (like giving bob the bum a dime thirty thousand times).
    Nalano H. Wildmoon
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    "His lack of education is more than compensated for by his keenly developed moral bankruptcy." - Woody Allen

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