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Jun 2008

Conference Report: Unpredictability in Video Games

Five speakers linked to the field of video games and coming from various specialties presented their vision of the video games of today and tomorrow at a conference called “New Frontiers in Gaming”. We heard the standard updates in terms of numbers and jobs, but also fringe opinions in terms of industry, design and interactions.

Jonathan Morin, working on Far Cry 2 for Ubisoft, delivered a presentation entitled “Predictability in Video Games: how to avoid preconceived experiences in game design”. Here’s a short summary of his main points.

The execution of a task can have a different cognitive cost depending on its level of complexity, familiarity and it’s concurrence with other tasks… one of the objectives of the video game universe is to allow the player to develop an abstract level of expertise based on his growing skills. Without this key gameplay concept, the player will become fatigued and lose motivation. This could potentially lead to the player abandoning the video game in question.

An essential point evoked by Jonathan Morin is the importance of rendering the least predictable game environment possible to maintain the player at a behavioural level based on rules and knowledge. Rasmussen’s model perfectly illustrates decision making and the development of automation. (Fig. 1)

Skill Based

Schemes, action patterns which need a minimum of resources.

Rule Based

Mental procedures where an extra level of analysis is necessary. On top of his perception, the human must recognize a situation and select an appropriate rule before initializing an action.

Knowledge based

Declarative knowledge. Action plans are elaborated on the basis of memorized knowledge and analytic processes

Fig. 1 – Rasmussen’s model (1986)

To explain this reasoning, Jonathan Morin presented us with 2 simple, recognizable games: Mario Brothers and Pac-Man.

He started by mentioning that a game like Mario Bros. tends to establish patterns that players learn to automate while relinquishing conscious control.

On the other side, he showed us the value of a game like Pac Man, where randomly moving ghosts force the player to develop strategies. Here, the player bases his gameplay on rules.

Eventually, the human adapts to the gameplay environment and learns how to react to events. This is where proper feedback could have the environment react in turn by learning the player’s behaviour pattern. Imagine a fighting game where the computer could modify its behaviour depending on your gameplay style. This would force you to introduce new strategies to accomplish your goal while continually mobilizing your cognitive resources, immersing you in the game and separating you from reality. Although this goal is not new, I don’t believe it has been achieved yet.

From our point of view, it’s interesting to think about how ergonomics seeks instead to create very predictable interfaces so that users can work effectively and efficiently.

Being able to meet and listen to the professionals is always a rewarding experience and we appreciate the SAT organizing these events regularly. By the way, a video of this conference should be on their site this week.

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