The Illusion of Choice

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  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 21:13:03 31 posts
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    Some of the comments of Heavy Rain and it's "illusion of choice" got me thinking... so thought I would pop on the forum for debate...

    You could write a huge philisophical paper on this about real life. As a narrative unfolds an illusion of choice is all you need. Only when you re-run the narrative would any illusion be seen.

    i.e. in real life are your actions govered by yourself or unrolling a pre-determined destiny you are just unaware of? Since you can never "know your destiny" or "re-run" part of your life to see if a different decision would get you elsewhere you just don't know. It could all be one big illusion of choice.

    All you need to do is make the illusion convincing and you have a winner. As I rarely replay games I will probably never ever spot it. Mr Cage's clever move was to abandon the idea of "saving" in attempt to re-run an encounter "better" by having the story just carry on or pick up with a different character if you went badly wrong.

    I think the whole thing is facinating.

    But there are those that will want to replay over and over again so they can "see the illusion" work. These are probably the same people that don't enjoy stage magic until they know how a trick is done. I am always curious to know how tricks are done but I know i will wreck the illusion when I find out. It's give and take.

    I feel the illusion of choice is sufficient for video games - enough variance to spark discussion with other peoples' different experiences, but not the virtually unprogrammable task of "true choice".

    You only get close to "true choice" in sandbox games where any emotionally engaging narrative is weak to the point of useless. Stong narrative storylines (like ME2) tend to only be strong in "on rails" games. So Heavy Rain does represent a new medium that bridges this gap and as such the BAFTAs were well deserved.

    What d'ya all think?
  • phAge 17 Mar 2011 21:14:49 24,442 posts
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    frunk wrote:
    As a narrative unfolds an illusion of choice is all you need. Only when you re-run the narrative would any illusion be seen.
    Surely the illusion is broken the second you try to do something and the game won't let you?
  • spamdangled 17 Mar 2011 21:17:19 27,454 posts
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    Heavy Rain didn't have a strong story though. The writing was dire.

    3DS: 4055-2781-2855 Xbox: spamdangled PSN: dark_morgan Wii U: Spamdangle Steam: spamdangled

  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 21:18:09 31 posts
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    Surely the illusion is broken the second you try to do something and the game won't let you?
    Agreed, but until games can be as complex as real life (or the fantasy world you have created), this will always be the limitation.

    Heavy Rain is the game that probably takes you closer to a convincing illusion than any previous attempt - but it is certainly not there yet but it is heading in the right direction.
  • spamdangled 17 Mar 2011 21:18:13 27,454 posts
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    phAge wrote:
    frunk wrote:
    As a narrative unfolds an illusion of choice is all you need. Only when you re-run the narrative would any illusion be seen.
    Surely the illusion is broken the second you try to do something and the game won't let you?

    Or when you didn't do something and then the game retcons the scene later to support its "big reveal", like Heavy Rain did.

    3DS: 4055-2781-2855 Xbox: spamdangled PSN: dark_morgan Wii U: Spamdangle Steam: spamdangled

  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 21:22:12 31 posts
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    Heavy Rain didn't have a strong story though. The writing was dire.

    I also concur... but the first faltering steps in an attempted new medium are always gonna be rough. The "switch" is a shit trick and the dubbing was dire at times.

    But I am not trying to get into too many specifics about this particular game - more "what level of illusion" is required to create a game experience you would find fun?

    We generally have a choice between Strong Narrative vs Freedom in a game for many solid technical reasons, did Heavy Rain manage to close that gap at all? Are there other games that did it better?

    Is my "perfact game" impossible?
  • ronuds 17 Mar 2011 21:24:28 21,788 posts
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    It's hard to be convinced by video games giving me choices when it's nothing more than an if/then statement running behind the scenes.
  • Carlo 17 Mar 2011 21:30:15 18,220 posts
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    I'm with phAge on this. Nothing worse than trying to open a door to find that route is a way you cannot go and the door will not open, or a road with an invisible, or crap barrier that prevents you going along it.

    My first memory of this was Hired Guns on the Amiga. All the game docs and maps implied there was lots of worlds to explore, in reality, it was only one, and the ending was impossible without a cheat. Of course, only by cheating do you discover that you was never meant to pass along the corridor to the next level that doesn't exist. Only this time the army of enemies was the unopenable doorway.

    PSN ID: Djini

  • bladdard 17 Mar 2011 21:30:51 1,021 posts
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    @rounds

    Surely life is just a series of complex if then else ifs.
  • ronuds 17 Mar 2011 21:32:29 21,788 posts
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    bladdard wrote:
    @rounds

    Surely life is just a series of complex if then else ifs.

    Not pre-determined ones, though. :p
  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 21:32:42 31 posts
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    ronuds wrote:
    It's hard to be convinced by video games giving me choices when it's nothing more than an if/then statement running behind the scenes.

    Don't you think that the current (and next crop) of consoles and games have the power to make serious dents in this presumption? And provide the illusion that it is not that simple?

    At one point modelling physics was impossible in games - but now "slap in havok" - that is one step closer to creating a convincing illusion of the real world in a very "mechanical way"... i.e. each playthrough can lead a simple action into a a chaotic array of different outcomes.

    Don't you think there can be a new generation of games that can take this further by offering smarter AI and autogenerating storylines to do similar with the narrative?
  • spamdangled 17 Mar 2011 21:32:50 27,454 posts
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    I still think that, in terms of presenting players with the illusion that any choice they make was accommodated, Deus Ex is king.

    3DS: 4055-2781-2855 Xbox: spamdangled PSN: dark_morgan Wii U: Spamdangle Steam: spamdangled

  • phAge 17 Mar 2011 21:34:47 24,442 posts
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    Give me a ME2 with slightly more conversation options, and a more refined Paragon/Renegade-system, and I shan't ask for more. I'm finding sandbox-games less and less fun these days.
  • ronuds 17 Mar 2011 21:36:04 21,788 posts
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    frunk wrote:
    ronuds wrote:
    It's hard to be convinced by video games giving me choices when it's nothing more than an if/then statement running behind the scenes.

    Don't you think that the current (and next crop) of consoles and games have the power to make serious dents in this presumption? And provide the illusion that it is not that simple?

    At one point modelling physics was impossible in games - but now "slap in havok" - that is one step closer to creating a convincing illusion of the real world in a very "mechanical way"... i.e. each playthrough can lead a simple action into a a chaotic array of different outcomes.

    Don't you think there can be a new generation of games that can take this further by offering smarter AI and autogenerating storylines to do similar with the narrative?

    Most certainly so - technology is a mysterious thing that can evolve in ways we never imagined. As of now, though, it's very transparent.
  • chopsen 17 Mar 2011 21:41:46 16,290 posts
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    darkmorgado wrote:

    Or when you didn't do something and then the game retcons the scene later to support its "big reveal", like Heavy Rain did.

    and that's bad because.....?
  • chopsen 17 Mar 2011 21:43:59 16,290 posts
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    You can only understand life backwards, but we must live it forward
  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 21:45:04 31 posts
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    ronuds wrote:
    bladdard wrote:
    @rounds

    Surely life is just a series of complex if then else ifs.

    Not pre-determined ones, though. :p

    How do you *know*? :p
  • ronuds 17 Mar 2011 21:45:48 21,788 posts
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    True... true. ;)
  • Deleted user 17 March 2011 21:46:32
    darkmorgado wrote:
    Heavy Rain didn't have a strong story though. The writing was dire.
    Is there where you say Dragon Age had a strong story? Plot holes or not the story in HR was brilliant. And very, very well told.
  • chopsen 17 Mar 2011 21:46:41 16,290 posts
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    frunk wrote:
    ronuds wrote:
    bladdard wrote:
    @rounds

    Surely life is just a series of complex if then else ifs.

    Not pre-determined ones, though. :p

    How do you *know*? :p

    Are you saying there is no such thing as cause and effect?
  • ronuds 17 Mar 2011 21:49:39 21,788 posts
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    Chopsen wrote:
    frunk wrote:
    ronuds wrote:
    bladdard wrote:
    @rounds

    Surely life is just a series of complex if then else ifs.

    Not pre-determined ones, though. :p

    How do you *know*? :p

    Are you saying there is no such thing as cause and effect?

    No, I'm saying that in normal life we typically don't know what effect an action will have. That isn't to say we 'never' know, but even when we think we know sometimes we don't.

    I can put the right amount of change in a soda machine, and I may or may not end up with a soda, which is determined at the time I press the little button for the soda I want. In video games, it knows if you're going to get the soda well in advance.
  • Carlo 17 Mar 2011 21:49:55 18,220 posts
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    If only the FIRST action is the choice, but everything else is a consequence, is that predetermination?

    PSN ID: Djini

  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 21:51:33 31 posts
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    Chopsen wrote:
    frunk wrote:
    ronuds wrote:
    bladdard wrote:
    @rounds

    Surely life is just a series of complex if then else ifs.

    Not pre-determined ones, though. :p

    How do you *know*? :p

    Are you saying there is no such thing as cause and effect?

    Nope - I am saying that the next choice you make in life may be pre-determined and written in a big book which you can never see.

    To all intents and purposes you are making a free choice, but in reality you are not. This starts getting into deep philiosophy and not the real intent of this thread.

    The intent is to explore - how far you need to go in this direction to provide a convincing illusion of choice for a videogame? And is that possible in the next geenration of videogames? And did David Cage manage to get anywhere close with HR?
  • staal2005 17 Mar 2011 21:52:04 63 posts
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    Imho, in games the choice should be in gameplay. If you let the narrative part be part of the choice, you are ultimately let down by that game. A narrative game will always have a limited and finite number of consequences, otherwise it would be impossible to create the game (non-narrative games, such as Civilization are different beasts).

    My examples would be GTA4 and Hitman: Blood Money. In GTA4, you had freedom and choice in the sandbox world to do whatever you want, within the limits of money and time. However, the narrative missions were highly structured and could usely only be done in a specific manner. In a mission where you needed to take someone down, there were 2 entry points and only one route to get to that person. There is no choice in this case (aside from the some tactics in the shootout in that specific route). This breaks down in repeated gameplay.

    In Hitman, you had a fixed story with missions to complete where you had to kill specific targets. Those missions took place in small, specific and finite settings. In these settings all the characters had their actions and responses to the world and to you as an outsider. The point is that you had a large set of possibilities/choices to achieve your goals. The variety does not easily break with repeated gameplay.

  • frunk 17 Mar 2011 22:01:51 31 posts
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    staal2005 wrote:
    A narrative game will always have a limited and finite number of consequences, otherwise it would be impossible to create the game

    I largely agree with your sentiment... but what about going forward...

    A mere 5-6 years ago... in a video game if you needed to burn a wooden pole to collapse a stone structure it would be hand animated and be very pre-determined.

    With physics engines this can spontaneously happen in emergent gameplay as you come up with the idea mid-fight.

    Surely the "next big thing" for videogames would be to try and push this emergent gameplay into the narrative. This "narraitive engine" is the "ideal world" and still a long way off. But at least HR offered some type of illusion to this.

    Somewhere between now and the emergence of a "narrative engine" we will find an array of games like HR - some better, some worse which will strive towards it. But how far would be enough for you to be briefly convinced and provide a more interesting gameplay experience?
  • chopsen 17 Mar 2011 22:02:25 16,290 posts
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    frunk wrote:
    Nope - I am saying that the next choice you make in life may be pre-determined and written in a big book which you can never see.

    To all intents and purposes you are making a free choice, but in reality you are not. This starts getting into deep philiosophy and not the real intent of this thread.

    The intent is to explore - how far you need to go in this direction to provide a convincing illusion of choice for a videogame?

    There is no big book, and in reality you are making free choices, so there :p

    But re videogames. There are multiple aspects to that. One point is what you culturally (in terms of videogame culture) have in terms of expectation ifor freedom. You would not expect a game to enable you just to go "you know what, fuck it, I can't be arsed. I'm just going to go on another completely unrelated quest on a different continent and then work in a bar" and expect that the be honoured by your game's provision of freedom. In sandbox games, you still only have freedom within very tight confines. But your expectations are tuned to that, so that's ok.

    Really effective immersion I think works giving you *unexpected* freedom. I was blown away by the GTA III, but the subsequent GTAs left me a bit cold because I could see the pattern. If I went back to GTA III now, I'm sure I'd find the experience really restrictive.

    The other aspect I think is not giving you the chance to really notice where the limits are. Keep throwing stuff at you, new moves, new characters, new plot developments, you're not going to notice the limits on what you *can't* do, because you want to do what you *can*. I don't notice how linear ME3 is because I'm having too much bloody fun, quite frankly. Bit like your magic example. Shut up and watch the show.
  • krushing 18 Mar 2011 09:42:32 777 posts
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    GTA is a good example - a lot of people refer to its gameplay style as "being able to do whatever you want". What can you actually do in terms of gameplay? Shoot stuff and drive cars, plus some extra-curricular activities to enhance the illusion that you're not just shooting stuff and driving cars but "doing whatever you want".
  • spamdangled 18 Mar 2011 09:47:49 27,454 posts
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    mowgli wrote:
    darkmorgado wrote:
    Heavy Rain didn't have a strong story though. The writing was dire.
    Is there where you say Dragon Age had a strong story? Plot holes or not the story in HR was brilliant. And very, very well told.

    No, the story in DA was generic pap of the highest order.

    3DS: 4055-2781-2855 Xbox: spamdangled PSN: dark_morgan Wii U: Spamdangle Steam: spamdangled

  • frunk 18 Mar 2011 16:24:13 31 posts
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    Don't you think many new "amazing games" of each generation are just offering you a better illusion of choice?

    PC: Half Life 2 gave you a very linear path, but dressed up in such a way that you felt you *could* do anything. i.e. right at the beginning when you argued with the guard about picking up the trash. It was a lovely element

    PS2: GTA3 and the beginnings of the sandbox genre for the mainstream.

    This gen we have the beginnings of physics based emergent gameplay. And the first stabs at a very flexible narrative: Heavy Rain. We also get games where all content is user generated - which is another fascinating avenue (a different direction perhaps) where you feel that "you can do anything" - Minecraft and even LBP2 are good examples.

    Don't you feel the emergence of true choice or a good illusion of choice is what makes a genre defining game?

    Don't you think that this is the major drive behind the games industry? Cracking this tough little nut?
  • Deleted user 18 March 2011 16:32:29
    darkmorgado wrote:
    Heavy Rain didn't have a strong story though. The writing was dire.
    Says the person who uses his PS3 as a blu-ray player ^_-

    Heavy Rain is one of the best games I've played in years even enjoyed it more then Uncharted 2 which is saying something.

    If anything it was refreshing to play especially after the amount of shooty shooty bang games.

    darkmorgado go back to playing Call of Duty.
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