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Jan 22, 2004

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1.

Interestingly, I have been thinking about this very thing lately. I'm no art student, so this may be well-known to others, but I started thinking about what I thought of as "arms-race" art the other day.

It seems to me that in every art form there is a time when the artists seem to be competing to be MORE real or MORE technical (in the case of music) or MORE whatever than the next person. Ultimately, everyone, from artist to consumer, gets tired of what has become a ludicrous one-upmanship contest. At that point the interesting stuff begins to appear.

I guess that this is a required growth period for any art form, where the boundaries are defined within which everyone thereafter works.

2.

Not to pimp it to much, but my State of Play paper has a major section on this topic, based on our experience with Second Life. In SL, we've worked hard to bring as much physical simulation as possible into the world, including both rigid body dynamics and fluid dynamics. For example, we use Havok's physics middleware for rigid bodies while our clouds are based on Jos Stam's "simple" fluid simulation combined with cellular automota for seeding.

We attack the object problem by allowing users to create many of them, allowing them to be combined into more complicated objects, and by allowing scripted behaviors to interact with the physics system. This allows users to create some amazing things. Compare the Ultima Online "piano" with the full 88-key piano that plays the right sound for each key and can actually be played that one of our users built.

3.

I wonder if the drive for physical realism is more a human-factors one than an artistic one.

In a more physically plausible world, there are more things that you *can* do and already *know how* to do. As the world becomes physically less realistic, it becomes harder to know how to work it in interesting ways.

4.

"Some facts of reality are easy to implement and others are downright impossible."

Not impossible. Just beyond your budget.

Greg Egan's "Permutation City" explores this idea in a really fun way. At one point in the story, a virtual character punishes his real-world counterpart by taking a long shower and staring at the water as it trickles down the tiles, knowing that this will be hugely expensive to compute.

5.

Richard> In a more physically plausible world, there are more things that you *can* do and already *know how* to do. As the world becomes physically less realistic, it becomes harder to know how to work it in interesting ways.

This is an excellent point and is particularly applicable to Second Life. In a world as open ended as SL, we wanted to maximize physical realism in order to provide some of the context that a normal MMOG provides via storyline or setting.

6.

It is sometimes argued that interest in simple (visual) realism is easy to saturate with good
design -- that we shouldn't worry about
achieving the levels of resolution in synthetic worlds that we enjoy in everyday life. Maybe --
but if I contracted some kind of disease that
left my visual cortex in such a state that my perception of the real world was at the
standards of the graphics in There or SL I would consider it a pretty serious impoverishment.

7.

> Not to pimp it to much, but my State of
> Play paper has a major section on this
> topic

Is there a link to this pape? I would have
written Cory directly but his link runs
to SL site, not his email.

Fred Hapgood

8.

To bring up some hoary MUD-Dev terms, in part we're discussing the simulationist approach. Now, obviously, to some degree, these are all simulations. But simulationist refers to attempting to model basic behaviors in order to permit higher-order behaviors to emerge. What Cory describes for clouds and pianos is exactly a simulationist approach. The opposite approach is essentially stagecraft; you make something that looks like a piano, and behaves like a piano, but is not actually a simulation of how a piano works.

Searching for "simulationist" in the MUD-Dev archives should pull up a few references--and I believe I discussed some of this with Ted last week as well in my neverending monologue on economic design in muds->UO->SWG. Perhaps he can summarize--clearly, my prolixity was such that I am incapable of reducing the topic to something short, since I spoke at him for a good three-four hours about it.

I think it's worth pointing out that by far the main current of virtual design is NOT simulationist. The number of simulationist games is fairly small both in the commercial and the hobbyist world, and there's only one full-blown simulationist world in the 100k club--UO. (SWG is half-heartedly simulationist, and only in some areas--the economy, most notably). One of the chief inspirations for simulationist design in the hobbyist community was the game DartMUD.

Just today I got a MUD-Dev post that asserted the following (this is heavily excerpted):

start quote-->
How can the current computer RPGs be improved? Why do I not find them particulary interesting? The following are the points that I think designers are underestimating in their players.

How can the current computer RPGs be improved? Why do I not find them particulary interesting? The following are the points that I think designers are underestimating in their players.

- Players are creative

Most RPGs of today rely on the idea of experiencing pre-created
content: players should experience the game content much like a
very interactive book… The designers
assume that players like to be entertained in their laziness,
rather than entertained in their creativity...
While often appealing by graphics and professional content, such
games easily break if new content is not constantly added, which
really isn't cost effective. They work by "throwing" tons of
content on the players... Most players are creative enough to provide most game content if
they are given an open ended interesting system. Non-creative
players will live off of the creative ones. In order to make the
game interesting enough it must have detailed game mechanics...

- Players are individual

Designers often assume a lot about the player's taste and
needs. Players do not want to be fitted in to predefined roles
and ways of playing, they want to pursue their own specific
lifestyle; they want to play *their* role...

- Players want detailed realism

Most players of RPGs want an extraordinary experience that's
different from the real world… A game would break by having too
simplified and too non-realistic game mechanics…. Detailed
game mechanics adds a depth to the game that can not be
achieved in other ways… for instance expanding the number
of item attributes, creature skills and game concepts, and
letting them form complex realistic relations.

/Björn Morén
<--end quote

Basically, a simulationist manifesto. But at the same time, as someone with strong simulationist leanings myself, I have to play Devil's Advocate. All evidence suggests that rather than the premises Mr. Morén starts from, the truth is that

- players want to be entertained, not to be creative
- players want to adhere to archetypes, not create their own roles
- players are perfectly happy with stagecraft, and prefer clear rules rather than unpredictability

The reasons why the simulationist approach is so interesting to some designers and players can be boiled down to these reasons:

- it helps with content creation by providing blanket solutions to problems
- it provides an ever-changing landscape
- it avoids issues with consistency (it's damnably easy to get inconsistent stagecraft)
- it can be approached and understood as a system, cognitively speaking, rather than as an isolated special case

But problems inhere--and yes, some of these are self-contradictory, yet they always come up.

- the content generated, because it is systemic, lacks unique touches. One noise-generated cloud is much like another; silver linings need to be hand-implemented. :)
- the ever-changing landscape can actually irritate people, many of whom prefer a predictable environment. If Fred slew the Dragon in the Hoary Mntns, everyone wants to accomplish the same thing. The idea that the Dragon is gone forever is deeply disturbing because it feels like a lost chance for fun.
- you get consistency, which also means predictability, and predictable content may as well not be there.
- appproaching it as a system means that vast swaths of the net game content can be "consumed" at once, because once you recognize the underlying rules of the sim, you essentially have cognitively consumed the entire system. Individual instances of the sim appearing are no longer interesting.

You can see echoes here, of course, of the complaints against FedEx quests, against fractally generated landscapes, against all forms of generated content, etc.

Long term, I remain convinced that the future lies in simulationist approaches. However, stagecraft is not going away for the foreseeable future, for our sims will have practical limits, and in many cases, the sim is tougher to execute on then (and provides no noticeable benefits over) the stagecraft solution for the same problem. Despite the interesting design possibilities and gameplay possibilities that good simulationist design can open up, it currently cannot compete with stagecraft, and so we see games like WoW ignoring basically all simulationist approaches in favor of simply very well-executed stagecraft. The issue of course, and what will likely drive the industry towards simulation over time, is cost. As the bar rises on the stagecraft, the cost to develop large MMOs with competitive content bases will become insupportable.

-Raph

9.

Fred Hapgood wrote
> [cory]
>> Not to pimp it to much, but my State of
>> Play paper has a major section on this
>> topic

>Is there a link to this pape? I would have
>written Cory directly but his link runs
>to SL site, not his email.

It's the one on the suggested reading list (see left) i think: www.nyls.edu/docs/escapefinal.pdf

ren

10.

Raph> What Cory describes for clouds and pianos is exactly a simulationist approach. The opposite approach is essentially stagecraft; you make something that looks like a piano, and behaves like a piano, but is not actually a simulation of how a piano works.

Not to quibble, but I was speaking more to a creation framework then to specific implementation details. The piano that our user created is stagecraft (when a key is clicked on it streams an audio sample to you rather than implementing James O'Brien's simulated audio) but it is stagecraft on a much finer scale, and, more importantly, is stagecraft that the user can implement rather than the developer.

That being said, I am certainly in the simulation camp. I'd prefer that I had the computing horsepower to implement the real time audio simulation, since then the user building the piano wouldn't need to have access to samples of all the keys and would be able to interactively adjust the tone by changing the size or material of the strings. Alas, I need to wait for my 10 GHz P6 for that.

Raph> - the content generated, because it is systemic, lacks unique touches. One noise-generated cloud is much like another; silver linings need to be hand-implemented. :)

While I love that line -- per CC I will properly attribute it when I use it :-) -- I would counter that viewing one hand-implemented silver lining day after day is boring, while the chaos and vorticity of Navier-Stokes is why we view clouds in the real world, so bringing that into the simulated world is a plus. In fact, the real promise of good simulation, IMHO, is that emergent behavior is less predictable than stagecraft in many situations and provides more variety!

Regarding the Mud-Dev post, I'd say that it is more the "User Created Content" manifesto then a "simulationist" one. Of course, I (and Second Life) are somewhat pro-User Created Content!

11.

Greg>I wonder how long virtual worlds designers will pursue verisimilitude?

They'll do it for as long as doing something else wouldn't get in the way of the experience. Once people have become as accustomed to living in virtual worlds as they have the real one, we can have whatever physics we like.

Of course, it may be that human brains are hard-wired to expect the world to appear to them a certain way, and no matter what you do they'll always feel more comfortable in a virtial world that acts like the real one as opposed to, say, a pointillist world where all objects are made out of discontinuous spheres that interact using gravity-like forces.

The issues are the same even for non-real worlds, though. Even with a very simple (but non-real) physics you still have issues of object discreteness, compositionality and effect propagation through time.

The real world can be more complex because it has the whole of reality as its hardware. Any imaginary world - whether based on the realone or not - has only computers to run it. We can do better than we do at the moment - perhaps even to the degree that what we present fools most of the people most of the time. Ultimately, though, all we can ever produce is, to some level, what Raph calls "stagecraft".

Richard

12.

"Ultimately, though, all we can ever produce is, to some level, what Raph calls "stagecraft"."

This touches on a topic I've given some consideration to recently. I think it might be useful to consider that applying the laws of physics in RL is, in a real way, "stagecraft" as well. That is to say, the real world does not obey laws of physics; we create laws of physics to describe what the world does.

In practice, what this means is that the implementation method of 3D content is not always the relevant determinant for stagecraft vs. simulationism. If we wanted a true simulationist approach for a tree, we would need to program the game world with all of the relevant physical laws (which is hypothetically possible), create a seed containing the tree DNA, plant the seed, and let the tree grow. That would be hardcore simulationism.

But what if the ancient Greeks had had computers and MMOGs? Their version of simulationism would contain no cellular biology models, but would instruct the computer to model the blessing or will of the appropriate god to achieve the same effect. The symbolic notation used to instruct each respective computer would differ, but the effect would be the same.

I'm not denying that the simulation/stagecraft notion as defined above has practical value, but I wonder if developers in the future might use a different paradigm, where macroscopic structure is deliberately designed and placed ('simulationist'), but disposable details of the structure are created on the fly ('generative'). Eg the presence of a tree and maybe even its basic trunk structure are incorporated into the world model on the server, completely without leaves. Leaves are generated on the client machine (hopefully avoiding sprites) when the player looks at them, in greater detail--but on an increasingly smaller sample--the closer a player comes. The same for walls and bricks. In a sense, if we could teach the client computer to 'see' the way the human eye and visual cortex interprets the world (selectively, subjectively), we could shift the burden of processing around considerably; like making each player his own little quantum determinant that taken as a whole and 'observed' by the server, fuses into a classical reliability. This raises the potential for fluid object behavior from the player perspective without burdening the server with the details (and it would seem, player cheating as well). Leaves can fall off trees in realtime, etc. This is neither simulationist nor generative, but has potential to combine some of the benefits of both.

All of which is probably a long way for me to say that I don't think most players care whether the designers choose simulation or stagecraft--they care how it feels, and that that feel is consistent, which is largely determined by the creative talent of the designers. I don't want my virtual piano to feel like stagecraft, and I don't want it to feel like simulation. I want it to feel like a piano. [specifically, a piano that is appropriate to its own surroundings, not necessarily a replica of the one in my den]

13.

Euphrosyne, that idea in particular is one I have been playing with for a long time. :)

14.

Euphrosyne> I'm not denying that the simulation/stagecraft notion as defined above has practical value, but I wonder if developers in the future might use a different paradigm, where macroscopic structure is deliberately designed and placed ('simulationist'), but disposable details of the structure are created on the fly ('generative').

An excellent insight! This is done in every modern FPSs, Second Life, and (I suspect) most upcoming MMOs. On a technical level, what you suggest is actually pretty straightforward, so long as the user can't change the data she is interacting with. For example, if a tree is always just the result of it's base genome and L-system, then it compresses down to dozens of bytes and you let the client do everything. However, if the user can break a branch off and the it is desired that all the other users also see this, then the system needs to store that data and pass it around to the other users. Pretty soon you're storing and transmitting so much delta information, that the bandwidth and processing benefits of the original design are reduced or lost.

Euphrosyne> But what if the ancient Greeks had had computers and MMOGs? Their version of simulationism would contain no cellular biology models, but would instruct the computer to model the blessing or will of the appropriate god to achieve the same effect. The symbolic notation used to instruct each respective computer would differ, but the effect would be the same.

Not to poke a stick into a hornets nest, but I disagree with this assertion. Modeling the interactions of the world on blessings or whatever would not have the same effect as basing the model on the underlying physics of the world. Blessings have no real-world predictive power and are not going to generate the sort of robustness and emergence that a consistent set of rules will. (NB: I'm assuming that you were referring to a primitive culture's use of gods and blessings and not the codified design of a game like Ultima. The rules of Ultima were carefully crafted to have exactly the kind of predictive power that I'm talking about.)

15.

I think these simulationist arguments are getting to tied up in the 3d graphics side of things.

The aforementioned piano sounds a lot less like stage craft and a lot more like simulation to me. At least, my understanding is that within Second Life one can dissasemble the piano into its component scripts. One then has broken up the xylophone.

I personally like the Greek analogy. There is no reason that the objects inside a VW are composed of atoms. A player of the world is likely better to conclude their composed of "intentions", "polygons", and "textures". In this sense, the player *can* break the object up and reassemble it, given the proper tools. The apple also falls, not because of gravity, but because it wants to fall (ie: the script encodes that behaviour). Teleology is resurrected.

I'm a reforming simulationist, much like I'm a reforming powergamer. I dream of a VW where the ecology reacts to the excessive hunting. But, practically, I'd much rather play in a world with a continuous spawn. Simulation should *only* be embarked upon when the user will notice it. Otherwise, it is a waste of programming time.

I find that often simulation is attractive to programmers as they mistakenly believe it is easier than cheating. They look at all the exceptions-that-prove-the-rule that are built into stagecrafted worlds and say: "Can't we just program a few simple laws and let everything fall from that?" However, the most successful games I have played that have *looked* like simulations were constructed with simulation as a tool rather than an end onto itself.

Another community outside of MUDs and MMORPGs which suffers from this tension between simulation and stage craft would be the Roguelike community. rec.games.roguelike.development often gets posts from starry-eyed simulationists that believe that a solid RNG is all you need for infinite game play. And Roguelikes are good examples of simulationist games. They usually emphasise the creation of complex interaction via simple rules that someone can understand. They create a lot of their content randomly (And with sufficient success to suggest there is hope for generating interesting worlds randomly). And, they aren't caught up with the 3d technicalities of dipping cats in honey. Merely the equally difficult issues... (If I dip my armour in oil, does it unrust?)

- Brask Mumei

16.

I'll respond at length to all the above sometime soon. Just wanted to post a cross-ref to a comment on Crooked Timber:

http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001194.html

"Noise is merely that which cannot be expressed algorithmically and there is no longer any need to refer back to signification in a discussion of it. Our signifiers can go back to pointing to themselves and we can return to a neatly Derridean conception of them. Modern computational cognitive science has simply reified the Plato’s shadow problem by positing that all cognition is algorithmic. Instead of theorising that cognition - and therefore aesthetic judgement - takes place on the edge of chaos (which isn’t true anyway), we can more honestly situate ourselves as living in the chaos directly, surrounded by noise...."

Seems a little bit relevant to the issue of simulating reality, no?

17.

Brask> However, the most successful games I have played that have *looked* like simulations were constructed with simulation as a tool rather than an end onto itself.

I couldn't agree more since the best programmers are lazy programmers :-)! In the SL example, simulation was chosen as the tool to enable users to create content that worked more easily than having to create all the stagecraft themselves. Technical wanking for the sake of technical wanking does not a great game make (e.g. Trespasser).

18.

"we can more honestly situate ourselves as living in the chaos directly, surrounded by noise...."

To force my earlier comments to relate to this, I'd say that a major problem with simulationism as an ideology is that, of necessity, there is no "noise" (in a colloquial rather than mathematical sense) surrounding the player, because such noise would have to be minutely accomodated by the server. Giving the player local noise that is still real in game terms would make for a much more convincing immersion. My previous examples were visually and technically oriented, but I mean for the idea to be taken more broadly. I'm thinking that today's MMOGs (especially simulationist) are premised on the client projecting the player into an absolutist and fully tallied shared space. But human perceptions are both more finely detailed and more subjective than centralized hardware/software can manage. Not to sound too existentialist, but maybe we could build a model where "the world" is less inviolably conceived, and rather than there being a single absolutist world which isolated players are equally subjected to, we give each player a transparent world-sphere of his own, that networks and interacts with other players' and with the non-sentient world...

As it stands now, no player in a VW will turn to his neighbor and say, "did you hear that?". No one will see a fleeting shadow in the forest which every other player isn't technically able to see just as clearly. No player 'hears' a song in their head. I suppose this could be interpreted as giving the avatar a rudimentary sensorium not directly managed by either the player or the game world...not exactly what I was thinking of, but interesting. Maybe we really won't figure things out until our avatars tell us to bugger off while they build their own implementations :)

19.

Not a new idea--text muds have done that for a while. And just this week John Beuhler proposed it as a new concept on the MUD-Dev list. On LegendMUD, those who can see through illusions and those who can't perceive the world differently. A graphical implementation of such was planned for UO was but scrapped for time...

20.

Raph,
What you mention still sounds like the server granting different players specific twists on the game world. Text muds by definition aren't capable of my rambling notions, because they are dumb clients. I'm talking about content being generated locally by the client. There's no reason why the server has to be aware of everything the player sees or does, and no reason why those actions still can't affect others--letting content flow from client to server mutually, rather than the one-way model. No reason, except that under current paradigms, it would be very difficult to implement...

21.

Euphrosyne,

Seems like what content the client is allowed to generate independent of the server must necessarily be limited for no other reason but to mitigate the effects of exploits. :/ Someone will inevitably find entertaining ways to retard the rules of your VW, so I'm not sure offloading some aspect of the game onto the user's computer (and proceeding to trust those computations) is practical or wise. I'm imagining a situation where a modified client sends data that says 'i'm adding branches to the tree' or 'i'm scaling this tree down to fit inside my backpack'. Of course the reality of whats possible depends specifically on the game and to what extent you trust the client to generate some world-changing result.

Mithra

22.

I think when we have VW designs that allow the situation Mithra mentioned, Picassos and Rothkos of virtual world design will begin to predominate.

Because the designs will be inclusive of exploits as part of the VW. Whereas bugs are still problems of design, exploits will be an integral part of the “simulation” instead of a design flaw that needs to be eliminated.

Because the design focus is not on creating a replica of the real world, but is on creating a symbolic/stylistic representation.

I think developers will pursue Newtonian physics in VW till the Grand Unified Theory is discovered, which Valve may have coded in Half Life 2 (http://bbspot.com/News/2003/12/valve_unified_theory.html). Then the design pendulum will fall back towards a more symbolic/stylistic perspective. If you plot the course of this development on a graph you’ll get to see Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect :)

Frank

Quote from Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science on cubism (http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/40/):

This style was in revolt to the traditional artistic expressions. These traditions followed many rules or elements that artists were strictly tied to. This included the use of paint to accurately depict texture and color, play of light on a form and shape, atmosphere, and the illusions derived by following the rigid, scientific laws of perspective. To break away from these traditions, the cubists fragmented the subject (usually into planes) and reconstructed it into an interlocking pattern. This is evident and perhaps most popular in many of Picasso's portrait paintings in which the front of the face and the profile of the face are interlocked, usually along the ridge of the nose. The cubist revolution in visual artistic expression spurred much controversy and an alternative way of thought throughout all artistic expression, including poetry, dance, theater, and sculpture.

23.

Don't forget to make the disticntion between ralism and reality. I'm a big fan of both.

24.

Raph< appproaching it as a system means that vast swaths of the net game content can be "consumed" at once, because once you recognize the underlying rules of the sim, you essentially have cognitively consumed the entire system. Individual instances of the sim appearing are no longer interesting. > Raph

And that could be said of entire MMOGs in my experience. I think the problem with simulation to date is we haven't the computer power to drive really deep emergent effects. Where knowing the underlying rules will not betray surprise. After all, I have a good understanding of the underlying physics rules of the familiar world, but it doesn't allow me to predict the large scale emergent effects.

25.

Cory, I was actually thinking about the UO piano example in your paper when I was reading Richard's chapter on assemblies of objects.

Raph, I wasn't really thinking about the simulationist/stagecraft division -- and I'm not sure I quite understand it. At times it seems you're speaking about the difference between deep v. surface modeling and at times you seem to be talking about constrained narratives and dynamics vs. more open-ended systems. I get the relationship between those two things, but they do seem meaningfully different. E.g., in the Game NeverEnding, I think you've got a lot of potential for open and emergent social activity, but no effort at deep realism. (I haven't done that MUD-Dev search, though...)

I agree with Cory, though, that the MUD-Dev post seems to me more about user-created content than anything else.

I guess what surprises me about contemporary MMOGs (WoW is an exception) is the extent to which there is still an attempt by designers to push toward realism. In most game genres, we can find settled conventions that limit the scope of potential actions in the same way they always have. But formal conventions are not uncommonly seen as contraints in VWs. There are certainly a *great* number of repetitive conventions in the MMORPG genre that are derivative of prior games (inventories, stats, health bars), but I think we do see (more than I would expect) a greater degree of striving for "realism" not just in graphics, but in potential actions (emotes, etc.).

In a way, I think 2L, like a MOO, is the actually the most "simulationist" thing one can get in a VW -- if you let participants see and shape the code of the environment, you really are letting them see the "atoms" of the VW. Bending the code to emulate molecules would be stagecraft. To draw this back to the art analogies, the goal of the Abstract Expressionists and Color Field painters was to get people to see the paint on the canvas for what it was -- paint on canvas. If a VW lets you see the workings of the code, you're piercing the veil...

Originally, when I was wondering about Picassos, though, I was just wondering at what point we'd move toward more stylized gestalt "languages" for virtual worlds, such as we do for games. I think what the two Richards said were pretty much the most direct answers to that question -- the fact that the "player" in a VW brings RL expectations to the table is a large part of what gives realism a strong appeal for designers. The reason the honey drips off the apple in a certain way is because that is likely what the "player" expected would happen. When the expectations the player attaches to actions are validated by the environment, this is generally the most satisfactory design -- both in terms of making the player feel capable and powerful, and maintaining immersion.

Richard pretty much says that in the book, though as he says above, there may be a turning point some day when the potentials of a new kind of space, and new kinds of actions, start bending VW spaces away from realism...

26.

Greg, simulationist approaches are not at all necessarily tied to "realism." They are tied to "consistency" far more strongly.

An example of stagecraft: in NiftyWorld there's a locked door that can have its lock either picked or it can be bashed down. It is, however, the ONLY door in the entire game that has those qualities, because it's stagecraft. It's a special case, created because some quest demanded it. It is not generalized to other doors, other locks, other objects made of wood, because it's the equivalent of a special-case prop.

In a simulationist world, you'd try to abstract the qualities of doors and make sure that all doors could be lockpicked or bashed.

Now, this is a spectrum. Most worlds do do some abstraction. But the degree to which things are currently special-cased is very very high. The most obvious case is everything remotely narrative--it's all special-cased. Most everything you see that gives text is special-cased. In many combat muds, the combat AI for any higher level creature is special-cased, custom-crafted for thatcreature.

The flipside of this is that emergent behavior doesn't appear from special-cased content. It's specified to a T. You might be able to reuse aspects of it, but it's not designed to be generally used throughout the game.

As far as the push towards realism--in pretty much all the visual arts, the turn away from realism doesn't tend to come until the forms of realism are pretty thoroughly mastered. We've got a ways to go.

27.

Raph,

It appears to me that the cost of realism via simulation vs. stagecraft seems to be the current barrier. If WOW is successful in their stylistic stagecraft approach, we may start seeing the majority bypassing the pursuit of realism.

However, I do concede that if the Grand Unified Theory of physics can be squeezed into four lines of code, we should start the R&D on 3D monitors.

Frank

28.

Raph>appproaching it as a system means that vast swaths of the net game content can be "consumed" at once, because once you recognize the underlying rules of the sim.

Emergent effects aside, the players would still have trouble "consuming the system" if they can't figure it out. Make it sufficiently complex, and then even if you don't have any phenomena that are classifiably emergent most players won't be able to beat the system. Even further, if it's well done, players that do beat the system may admire it for what it is and not care that they have beat it. For example, once I was able to defeat an RTS's hardest difficulty, I still often found it enjoyable to play against it many more times.

Frank: speaking of 3D monitors, I heard they already have some commercially available (and yes I'm talking no 3D glasses). I don't know if I saw it on Slashdot or in PopSci though.

29.

Tek,

I just found out that it took a team only one day to recode Quake for 3D monitors, so maybe R&D is not necessary. It'll probably be a feature for some first-mover.

Frank

30.

Found this which may help clarify.

http://gamestudies.cdis.org/~rocketship/ionstormterms.htm

Simulations Vs Emulation

A simulation is actually trying to represent the way a system works with consistent rules that are universally applicable. An emulated event is not as likely to be predictable to the experienced player (unless he has played through the area), since it is not repeatable under laws or operating parameters within the context of the game. Once the player learns the rules, events in simulated systems can be predicted.

Example 01: In the (heavy-emulation) game NOLF, there is a combat encounter that allows the player to fight and kill sharks with a speargun. Later in the game, the player is trapped on a (retracting) bridge above a shark tank. If the player enters the water and attempts to kill the shark with his speargun, the shark is unaffected. (To get past the shark, the player must have earlier knocked a guard into the water--the shark will then attack the guard, allowing the player to move past.)

Example 02: In the game System Shock 2, one player reported (on the web) a combat encounter that is the result of the game's simulated environment. The player-character was out of ammo and fleeing a hostile mutant. The PC ran into a room and was attacked by a turret. The PC hid in a corner, protected from the turret fire, trying to decide what to do. The mutant moved closer, searching for the PC. The PC then used his telekinetic psi ability to pull an explosive barrel toward him from the other side of the room. As the barrel passed through the stream of turret fire, it exploded, destroying the turret and killing the mutant.

31.

Raph,

Are you still playing Devil’s Advocate against simulations?

I don’t think Harvey Smith’s descriptions are good and I don’t think your arguments are convincing. My immediate reaction to Example #1 is WTF! As for Example #2, at least I can apply my RL logic.

I agree with…

“An emulated event is not as likely to be predictable to the experienced player (unless he has played through the area), since it is not repeatable under laws or operating parameters within the context of the game.”

…because I will be playing drawing-by-numbers without the numbers to guide me. This forces me to figure (rather predict) out the necessary steps or go to fansites to find the steps. Examples: linear RPG puzzles, FedEx quests.

But I disagree with what…

“Once the player learns the rules, events in simulated systems can be predicted.”

…implies because, as Tek stated before, the simulation can be complex enough that players would need good third-party tools to do forecasts. I use the term forecasts because unless players have the seed variables for the complex simulation they can not predict (even with the rules), they can only forecast to a certain degree of accuracy. Example: simulated stock trading game. The rules are well known, but the dynamics are very complex.

Of course at this level of complexity, you’ll probably have to throw out the concept of balance (very important factor in today’s games) and settle for equilibrium. The quickest example is Harvey Smith’s concept of Rock, Paper, Scissors gameplay:

“In this game, each unit has exactly one other unit against which it wins and one other unit against which it loses. There is no overlap. Each 'move' in the game is unique and specialized based on its function. Example: Archers defeat air units, air units defeat ground troops, ground troops defeat archers.”

Well, it is not quite the best example. The next best & quick example is the development of trading in VWs. Most trading systems are now simulations because if you have emulation as described above you can exploit it. There’s lots of movement and the ever-present Mudflation, but players have internal and external tools to deal with new equilibriums.

The trading gameplay is one area that counters the argument that

“approaching it as a system means that vast swaths of the net game content can be "consumed" at once, because once you recognize the underlying rules of the sim.”

Because the players are happy to consume it again and again, experiencing the journey differently each time.

Frank
Devil's Advocate

32.

Raph,

Thanks for that link -- my impression is that about 5 or more of the other terms on that page might be particularly helpful when applied to theorizing VWs (e.g. possibility space, intentionality, abdication of authorship).

In particular, I think the attempt to break down "fun" into various dynamics is highly relevant to TL's question from last week. And very Bartlesque, I might add. (btw, if no one else does, I call dibbs on coining "Bartlesque"!) But maybe I'm more Aristotelian than TL -- I usually find lists/species/taxonomies as interesting as grand unified theories... :-)

As to the simulation/emulation issue -- I get the general idea of where you're going with it, but it would seem to me then that you could argue:

simulation = bumper cars
emulation = roller coaster

Which really transforms those words into terms of art. (This probably needs a new thread, since we're buried under a post about "realism")

33.

This is the essence of off-topic, but re dibs, it would seem I should have said "bags I" given Richard's nationality:

http://www.takeourword.com/Issue097.html

>It is suggested that this expression derives from a very old children's game called dibstones. This game, played with sheep knuckle-bones or pebbles, dates back at least to the 17th century (well, that's when the name first pops up in the written). The object was to capture one's opponent's stones, and when a stone was captured, the victorious player would call "Dibbs!" with the meaning "I claim [the stone]". It soon came to be used outside the game but with a similar meaning, and there you have it. Interestingly, that usage outside of the game isn't recorded until 1932 in the US. The UK equivalent is bags I, which means "I bag (capture)" whatever it is the speaker wants.

Actually, when my wife and I lived in Turkmenistan, the kids there still played that game with sheep knee-bones (ashyk) on the stoop of our apartment building...

34.

Greglas>it would seem I should have said "bags I" given Richard's nationality:

Yes, we do say that where I come from; the word "baggy" will also work (at least in the North of England). I've seen enough US TV programmes to know what "dibs" means, but I'm not sure whether "bags" can be translated directly as "dibs". Example: if you wanted to go first on a ride or a pinball or something, you might say "Bags I go first". Would "Dibs I go first" work? Similarly, whereas in the US you might say "I called dibs on that", in the UK wed'd say "I bagged that" (or "I baggied that", or even "I bagsed that").

I don't believe any of these are enforceable in law.

Richard

35.

Perusing the full Oxford English Dictionary it tells me that ‘bags’ is a vulgar form of ‘says I’. It gives 1866 as the first usage and references Brian Sutton-Smith. It seemed to think that Dibs is a game played with stones.

>I don't believe any of these are enforceable in law.
Not so fast there, we still have some pretty bizzar laws on statue.

ren

36.

Yeah, I am still playing Devil's Advocate to a degree. I'm a firm believer in simulationist approaches over the long haul. I've just been tilting at the windmill long enough to want to make sure that people understand the (sizable) obstacles there are to overcome.

Example #1 is the default state of the art. I think it's important that you realize that.

Trading is, I think, a poor example of the triumph of simulationism. In fact, most VR economies are emulated. Prices are fixed by developers and do not fluctuate, supply and demand is explicitly cased out of the system, and the AI doesn't attempt to deal with the reality of the economy. This is again, the default state of the art. Generally, what happens is that players use these static system as mere money faucets, and there's no real semblance of an economy. The result is typically mudflation.

Alternate currencies is a common side effect of this. The mud community noted the use of alternate currencies as far as 1985 in Habitat, and it was reinforced quite a lot during the early 90s.

The approaches these days tend to go for either this sort of centrally managed faucet-drain economy (which DOES reach an equilibrium point, btw--it just may not be one you expect) or to shift towards a more fully-player-driven approach. But it's worth noting that the player-driven approaches don't tend to have heavy simulation behind them, and instead rely on simply facilitating low-friction exchanges between users. There's generally little to no attempt to simulate a larger economy operating behind the scenes. As a result, the economies tend to be (by real-world standards) relatively small. Examples of this approach would include SWG, 2L, and There.

37.

Ralp,

While example #1 is the default state of the art, more are moving towards a mixed model: simulation in principle, but emulations where effective.

I agree that VW economies are not great examples, but they are the most prevalent form of simple simulations. The prices of NPC vendors may be fixed, the inflow and outflow of goods may be explicitly cased, and the developer may not have coded the economic ‘invisible hand’. But, these are the internally consistent parameter seeded in the world.

What goes on after that is a simulation of an economy based on the current parameters. And the economy keep getting new equilibriums whenever something new, like alternative currency, gets involve.

However, I stick with the position that trading is a good example. Facilitating low-friction exchange is easy to code and is independent of inputs and outputs. It may look like a simple function, but it is a small and elegant simulation. Now with micropayment systems, the elegant simulation gets interesting.

What I love about trading is that the rules are so consistent and universally applicable across different VWs and RL that you have inter-World exchanges like you would have inter-country exchanges in RL.

Ultimately, I think the ultimate test for realism is “does it feel real?” You say “dibs” and I say “bags.” Maybe we should talk about compression methods: are the pictures simulated or emulated? What compression method are you using? Hmm, are they DVD quality?

Frank

38.

Raph> As a result, the economies tend to be (by real-world standards) relatively small. Examples of this approach would include SWG, 2L, and There.

What exactly do you mean by real-world standards? Obviously this back of the envelope, but if you annualize SL GOM sales and expand our population to that of the US, you get a GDP of ~$20 trillion, which is 2 times the US GDP for 2002. Given that economies grow faster than linear, one could argue that this is a conservative estimate. The same analysis of UO eBay sales gets $4 trillion, so in the ballpark of the US.

OK, sure, expanding a virtual world to the size of the US is somewhat forward looking, to say the least, but it is clear that for the size of their populations, virtual worlds can generate powerful economies.

In terms of whether SL is simulating a "real" economy, allowing sites like GOM to operate and to provide efficient monetary exchange and to establish value seems to be even better than a simulation, right?

39.

I notice that Gamezone are reporting a new land rush in UO. Houses that haven't been used for 90 days start to decay. 5 days later, they disappear and their contents are available for anyone who wants them. The land they were standing on also goes to the first person (or, presumably, first commercial organisation that thinks they cn make a quick buck from resales) to stake a claim.

http://www.gamezone.com/news/01_27_04_05_29PM.htm

Would this count as simulation or emulation?

Richard

40.

Richard -- AFAIK, you can't say "Dibbs I go first" (in southeastern Pennsylvania, at least) -- you need to say "Dibbs on first."

Ren -- Between that website and the OED, I'd probably trust the website. And in terms of the legal effect of "dibbs", I don't think you could even call it constructive possession. Between merchants, "dibbs" might be binding, though, in some situations. (I don't have the UCC & case refs handy).

Raph -- I don't have time to post a new thread on this simulation/emulation thing today, but aren't we just talking about degrees here? The ultimate emulation must be where the player presses the right button & sees the victory animation. But the ultimate simulation must be reality. Everything short of reality must take shortcuts and thereby limit potential player actions, which seems to be the characteristic of emulation.

There does seem to be another dimension on the sim/em difference that you highlight, and that is the universal behavioral equivalence of equivalent objects. So the ultimate sim objects would be Legos and the ultimate em objects would be Bertie Botts Beans.

I'm still grappling with how that plays out at the level of fine detail. By suggesting we're just talking about degrees, I don't mean that it isn't a valid distinction. E.g., "hot/cold" is a degree distinction.

But I guess I'd be more interested in the reasons why you're in the sim camp -- I get the sense (correct me if I'm wrong), that you think the sim path holds more revolutionary potential for VWs as a medium?

41.

Cory--

What I meant was that the economies tend to be less diverse, include far fewer participants and goods, and far fewer variables. Real world economies are simply more complex and have all sorts of backwaters and tentacles to them. What we've made are

Mind you, I don't think that the sorts of economies that we see in SWG, 2L, and There are simulated OR emulated. I think there's enough simulation of economic structure to allow REAL economies to manifest within the structure, in the case . I oppose this to cases where there is an emulated structure that cannot really support an economy because of its lack of detail, and which therefore results in a parallel economy being created.

Imagine the economy as a fluid. We're building pipes and tubing. An emulated system builds some wood pipes and fake faucets, and it looks just like a framework for a real economy. But it leaks. It spills water all over the floor--which is to say, you get alternate currencies and so on, players finding alternate paths for the economic waters to flow through. A simulated system actually builds pipes and faucets. We're making very SIMPLE plumbing at the moment, but at least it's plumbing, and not stagedressing.

Richard--

Again, not sure it is either. The distinction I am making is primarily one about how content is created, not one about player behavior. Emergent player behavior given a system is, well, emergent player behavior. Interesting stuff happens either way--whether they are dealing with an ecological simulation spawninig system, or with zonewide resets from the days of yore.

Greg--

When are we NOT talking about degrees? :) I was always accused of binary thinking when I was in graduate school, but what I am really attempting is to define useful axes on which to consider common practices.

I think that by saying,

The ultimate emulation must be where the player presses the right button & sees the victory animation

You're missing the point a little bit; that's why I prefer "stagecraft" to "simulation." It's not about the player, it's about the authorial choices in how to present the setting. There's a difference between an early Jackie Chan flick and most Hollywood action movies; the fights are far more simulated in the Chan movies than the Hollywood ones, where camera tricks are used to hide the fact that mostly, the fight didn't really happen. Some directors wait to shoot at night; others use a blue filter.

Of course, the task we're taking on in a simulationist endeavor isn't so much waiting to shoot at night as it is attempting to model planetary rotation. ;) Often the answer is "don't be dumb, it's far easier to just put in day/night cycles than to model planetary rotation. It'll look the same." That's good stagecraft. And it's all wonderful until you need an eclipse. Then you add in more stagecraft, etc. The more demands you put on your night sky, the more difficult the stagecraft becomes, until you say "maybe I should have just built a virtual orrery," which is a simulationist approach. It's not attempting to actually replicate reality--it's still working at a level of abstraction. But it's trying to make a good toy model of reality that follows the general principles.

Yes, I am in the sim camp, and have been struggling uphill with it for years. This despite the fact that given my background as a writer, as an artist, and so on, my formal training is in stagecraft. Why? It boils down to this:

Players always exhibit emergent behavior. Stagecraft never does. Systems sometimes do.

And that matters to me because I feel the medium hitting a wall, a wall on its ability to stage-manage entire worlds to the level that the audience now demands. It's not an insurmountable wall, it's one of cost and return on investment. Back in 1996, Jessica Mulligan used to be bemoan the fact that production values were about to shoot sky-high with UO, because it meant that the innovative but lower budget shops were going to find themselves unable to compete. What I am echoing is the same dilemma, except that I am saying that the big budget shops are against a wall too.

42.

Whoops--

"Real world economies are simply more complex and have all sorts of backwaters and tentacles to them. What we've made are..."

... good toy models, with enough of the variables and behaviors that we see behaviors we recognize as classically economic occurring entirely within our framework, rather than escaping our framework.

To paraphrase something I wrote elsewhere:

Players are a plant. When a plant escapes a trellis, it's a credit to the plant, not to the trellis designer.

43.

Richard> "Would this count as simulation or emulation?"

Neither. People lining up to grab free stuff is reality.

Raph> "Players are a plant. When a plant escapes a trellis, it's a credit to the plant, not to the trellis designer."

In this case, I think the trellis might be worried about loss of monthly fees when the plant discovers a new supporting surface :)

I agree with you that the stage-managing is approaching a wall. But I disagree by thinking that the wall is going to prove insurmountable with current methods. Stage managing includes more than visualizations and physics; it's also being done with economies and the intellectual property/copyright barriers. There will be a system that hits a certain point of complexity, and when it does, it will necessarily either grow beyond the control of the orignal designers and owners, or be artificially bound in a cage and diminish...allowing another system or particular VW its chance at evolution.

Simulation, emulation, and stagecraft can all coexist in such a system. There is no purity of form. Consider 16th century Earth as a VW: within a loose framework of 'simulated' physical laws, Michelangelo was bringing emulation to new heights while the Alchemists built an elaborate stagecraft around an imagined reality that trumped their simulated physics. I think that the true value of 'emergence' in VWs will eventually come less from their ability to combine simulated laws than to rewrite and integrate local realities.

44.

I agree with pretty much your entire last paragraph.

Note that I am not saying that the wall is insurmountable. I am saying that we may hit business realities that alter the way the market gives access to VW creators.

45.

I also agree with Euphrosyne’s last statement. The only thing I would add is that current artists have to juggle all three disciplines at the same time.

Using Raph’s movie example, the design choices are Jackie Chan’s action, Hollywood stagecraft, or Matrix FX team’s simulated environment (burly brawl scene).

---

Thinking back on the post mortem on Neverwinter Nights posted on gamasutra.com, I recall their need to build as much simulation systems and tools as possible while giving users the ability to emulate or craft what is not included. Users can use the door object, or create an object that looked like a door but have different effects, or create a façade of a door.

Moreover, the section on their reputation system shows how difficult it is to create a workable simulation. Whenever they change something, they have to re-test the effects on the rest of the game world. The system was despised :) Emulation or stagecraft could have been a cheaper solution, but it would not be useful in the design.

---

Cost is the current barrier and I think we have reached near the maturity stage for current subscription business models. This fact does not limit access; it only makes it difficult for VW developers to make blockbusters under the current model.

Frank

46.

Raph>Again, not sure it is either. The distinction I am making is primarily one about how content is created, not one about player behavior.

Would it make a difference if instead of merely saying that houses would spontaneously decay after 90 days of unuse, a back-story had been provided to explain precisely why the houses were decaying? It wouldn't be hard to put together such an explanation ("houses are built quicker than in our world because magic plays a part in their construction, however magic requires the proximity of life forces to sustain it, and ..."). Would the nature of the explanation itself make a difference (ie. are there simulationist v emulationist backstories?).

Richard

47.

Richard,

Based on the info found on GameZone, the action falls under deus machina. No attempt was made to mask the action with the notion of “magic” or a plausible backstory. Furthermore, no attempt was made to simulate the destruction of the houses based on existing game mechanics, nor attempt was made to create an emulated structure for the destruction. Change the decay rate and presto! No need to spend money on this praised content!

It could be a simulated action if the reality of UO is that magic can do anything and there are gods that do anything. But somebody better be paying the god NPC and casting an actual spell stored in the spell list database.

It could be an emulated action if the reality of UO is that magic can do anything, but the devs skip the part of actually playing the god NPC casting the actual spell.

It’s deus machina because the devs changed the decay rate.

Lee Sheldon praised Horizons in MUD-Dev for maintaining immersion when introducing new lands. I, like him, prefer the Hands of God to be subtle.

Frank

48.

Fyi -- Dave has some comments about the value of realism over at Skotos

49.

Franck>
While example #1 is the default state of the art, more are moving towards a mixed model: simulation in principle, but emulations where effective.
----

While I agree this is a raising trend, maybe paying a closer attention at the opposite approach would be worth the effort.

On a grand scale, the simple fact of persistent player presence in games turns them into "simulations" in the sense that the inhabited virtual universe doesn't play accordingly to prewritten stagecraft-type script, but by the utterly complex and chaotic rules of online human societies.

Hence the postulate any VW that leaves the players with even minimal room for manoeuver is, in actuality: "simulation".

...on to design and implementation:

Providing we restrict the scope to consumer-oriented VWs (as opposed to say, paid users or volunteer guinea-pigs in some academic research), whith a clear goal to provide enjoyable and entertaining experience to their users, the single biggest issue with systemic/simulationist design is to generate enjoyable and stimulating content.

A key skill in entertainment is precisely to be able cut on the boring/tedious parts and expose the consumer to stimulating experiences/opportunities.
...a discriminating task that is hard to code in the context of a rich and complex simulated world, yet is the traditional field of expertise of "stagecraft" entertainers.

Hence the second postulate that "stagecraft" is a more likely way to provide enjoyable experiences than systemic design, provided stagecrafters are provided with powerful and handy emulating tools to shape the experience of players.

This is where systemic/simulationist design becomes relevant again, by providing macro/meta-level tools and levers to shape player experience and on-the-fly manipulation of semi-autonomous props, beyond the smoke and mirror level.

So we end up with a model where simulationist modules are used in a stagecraft fashion to build and shape worlds emulating a systemic model, albeit an entertaining one.

That would indeed redefine the job of gamemaster in the context of widescale commercial games, which would become much closer to that of a DM a la MU*.

TTFN,
Yaka.

50.

A simple list of why Artificial Christmas Trees are better than real Christmas trees.
Artificial Christmas trees last longer than real trees.
Artificial Christmas trees are safer than real trees because they are not a fire hazard.
Studies show that plastic artificial Christmas trees are thrown out after ten years.
There is no hassle in buying artificial Christmas trees because they are found in many shops around Christmas.
Artificial Christmas trees can be decorated with tinsel or foliage coloured tinsel.
Artificial Christmas trees are generally inexpensive, because they are made out of cheap inexpensive materials whereas many cheaper live trees are of poor quality as well as they deteriorate quickly. Shop around to find a tree that you like within your price limit!
Artificial Christmas trees don't litter the floor with pine needles like real trees do.
Artificial Christmas trees don't bother you if you don't like the smell of pine or have allergies.
If you happen to like the smell of pine you can buy a special pine spray for your artificial Christmas trees.
Artificial Christmas trees can't rot like real trees can.
Artificial Christmas trees are easy to assemble and easy to store away.
Artificial Christmas trees don't weigh much.

51.

I'm convinced. Artificial Christmas tree as just so much better than real Christmas trees.

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