Errant Signal – Violence In Games

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Mar 27, 2012

Filed under: Movies 146 comments

If you’re missing Spoiler Warning this week, then allow me to hook you up with some auxiliary Chris. His take on violence in videogames is really interesting and he even touches on the Football: Total War concept I enjoy so much. (A post I wrote when this site was less than three months old.)

Link (YouTube)


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146 thoughts on “Errant Signal – Violence In Games

  1. Nyctef says:

    Monopoly isn’t all about violence? I think I might have been playing it wrong .. :)

    Edit: Wow, that was really interesting. Nice one Chris!

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      Monopoly is a good way to bring out the evil, bloodthirsty politician/businessman in us all. It’s a different kind of violence than football- more of an emotional, mental one.

      1. acronix says:

        Politics kill more than any weapon!

      2. krellen says:

        I think the reason I never liked Monopoly is that I just don’t have an inner businessman, evil or not.

      3. Blake says:

        Yeah when I play Monopoly I play to win.
        I push just hard enough and aggressive enough at the weakest player to get what I need out of them, out-negotiate the crowd and end have no qualms about forcing someone out of the game if it plays to my advantage (other times I’ll just demand a chunk of their property if I need the board position to beat my other opponents).

        1. Newbie says:

          You see that generally ruins the game for most people. By that I mean the SOB who can’t go toe to toe with the best of us and falls out early complains of being bored and the game sort of stops.

      4. MatthewH says:

        This has always struck me as making it a lousy game. It is possible to end up in a stable equilibrium where no one can win -or at least can’t win absent a string of luck. At the same time, you can knock a couple players out early, and they they have nothing to do but sit there and watch the rest of the game drag on continually.

        Not a very social activity.

        Which is too bad, because the concept is pretty good. We usually houserule a way for eliminated players to get back in just so that the group doesn’t fall apart. (Free parking getting divided among the excluded and then allowing them to bid on mortgaged properties is typical.)

        1. Nidokoenig says:

          IIRC, that’s the whole concept of the game. The creator essentially wanted to show that if capitalism is left completely unfettered, the only qualities it selects for are being lucky and being a complete and utter bastard. The reason you hate it is because you’re supposed to.

        2. Syal says:

          You mean you don’t have a rule that allows you to hire beaten players to sabotage your other opponents (by burning down their houses or rigging the card decks)?

          1. Audacity says:

            Wait… Rules like that are NOT standard? Next you people will be claiming you’re not allowed to destroy your opponent’s tunnel networks in Ticket to Ride. What is this madness?

        3. Nick says:

          Well, yes. This is where a lot of more modern board games have learned from, and so avoid this type of problem – if you’d like some better games, I recommend Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and/or Carcassonne as pretty popular new alternatives.

          1. Kdansky says:

            Except that Carcassonne is incredibly bad too. It’s boring, it’s too simple and there is little interaction.

            I’ll recommend any David Sirlin game, they are all incredibly good.

            Note that while most of them are designed to be played to win (and not fool around), they actually work well that way (unlike Monopoly).

            1. Nick says:

              Matter of personal taste I guess – my favourite game ever is probably Bananagrams, so make of that what you will…

              [well, assuming we’re discounting the L5R CCG as a board game]

        4. drlemaster says:

          To be fair, if you play Monopoly by out-of-the-box rules (no money under free parking, auction off unowned property if someone lands on and does not purchase it), it does not drag on. I am not saying it is a great game. You still have the problems of early knockouts of unlucky players. And once you know the winning strategy, it comes down to who can cut a deal to own the winning properties. (side note: this will always be my dad, should he be playing) But the dragging-on thing is a result of house rules.

      5. Smejki says:

        Yeah, muney r ewà¼hl!

  2. Jokerman says:

    What about golf? How the hell does sychronized swimming resemble war? I think your analogy sucks…and i think you're a fag

    aha…lovely. Who was that guy?

    1. Shamus says:

      That was my brother.


      1. MatthewH says:

        You have George Carlin on your side.

        1. SolkaTruesilver says:

          He is kinda right.

          Where Football is a metaphore for Warfare, Baseball is a metaphore for sexual relationship.

          The point is to take a swing, and if you hit, you gotta bring it home before you are caught between bases.

          1. Syal says:

            And usually you… need your friends to help you?

            1. Audacity says:

              Personally, I am somewhat disturb by the possible implications of the catcher and umpire’s presence.

              1. Daniel S says:

                Someone needs to make sure the protection is working.

                “… SAFE!”

            2. SolkaTruesilver says:

              If you can’t get home on your own, it’s good to have a wingman that helps you get the extra edge. Hell, if he’s a true buddy, he’ll sacrifice himself so you can reach your goal.

      2. Jokerman says:

        I have one too, i feel your pain.

  3. Lungman says:

    One thing the video didn’t touch on was the fact that guns are easy to program, all you do is draw a line from the gun barrel directly forward, and take away 10 hit points from anything it hits. things like bullet latency, bullet drop, head shots, bullets shooting through thin walls are simple additions to this. There’s also the fact that guns are intuitive to use, you press a button and it shoots, which is close enough to a real gun that it keeps immersion. When you try to add new elements to a game, like making it dialoge choice based instead of combat, you’re asking the player to suspend their immersion while you give them the options that they can choose.

    1. MatthewH says:

      Yes, I rather expected this to head in the direction of “ballistics is easy -conversation is hard.”

    2. Dragomok says:

      I’m not sure whether I’m reading too much into it or you misunderstood Chris, but – for me – that was the whole point of the video.

      He said that spatial gameplay is
      1) way easier to design,
      2) what computers can simulate the best.
      If that doesn’t scream “it’s way easier to program” to you, I don’t know what does.

      1. Lungman says:

        I was meaning that spacial gameplay does not need to be about combat, it can be about exploration or sneaking or really anything else that’s feasable to do in real life. I meant that guns are used a lot because they are the easier to program, and more intuitive to use, than almost anything else.

        1. Blake says:

          He did say violence is essentially the path of least resistance when it comes to making games, but no he didn’t explicitly touch upon how much easier (and cheaper) shooting is to code than even believable movement.

  4. Lame Duck says:

    The only thing I would disagree with is the idea that Braid would lose much if you stripped out all the text.

    1. X2Eliah says:

      … It would lose much of its pretentiousness?

      1. Packie says:


        I still find the music lovely, though.

    2. Zukhramm says:

      I played through the game today actually. It’d be an improvement.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Every time I play a game like that I just HAVE to read EVERYTHING. And then try, at least for a minute, to try and make sense of it.

        When I reviewed/discussed it on my blog, though, I pretty much ignored it and instead compared it to the really good/creative flash games. So that’s something.

  5. Atarlost says:

    Also forgotten is that the majority of classic board games are about war.

    Chess, Checkers, Chinese Chess, Chinese Checkers, Go. All those are about war. I would submit that all pre-industrial games are either gambling games, war simulations, or athletic competitions that, as Shamus says, are substitutes for war.

    And if you don’t think figure skating is about international conflict find a historical comparison of scores given by Warsaw Pact and NATO judges during the cold war.

    1. cadrys says:

      “…and a 4 from the Soviet judge.”

  6. Marc Forrester says:

    Which version of Space War was turn based? How would that even.. *Nerdrage*

    1. Chris says:

      I’ll cop to screwing this up. This was my bad, and if video wasn’t so damned hard to edit and correct I would have done so.

      1. Nic says:

        Technically, the CPU can only handle one task at a time, so it has to alternate rapidly between analyzing input from each player.

        So really, all computer games are turn based. The turns are simply on very very short timers.

        1. Blake says:

          Except that most computers these days have multiple cores each therefore with their own hardware thread.
          Also GPUs have an insane number of cores.

          I know our games at work have lots of the AI decisions made on the SPUs on PS3, so no not all games are turn based due to being CPU bound.

          There is however a maximum input speed for each human player however that’s true of any game ever.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            Ah but you forget, there’s the polling frequency of the interface. Any game I have programmed, you have a thread running that repeatedly asks the user interface (be it a controller or a keyboard/mouse, it still works the same) for input values, updates some variables based on the input, then waits a bit before polling again. Even if you have gobs of threads running other junk on the system, you’re still only taking input from the player and reacting to it every X microseconds.

            So still turn-based, with very short turns ;P

  7. Strangeite says:

    Very interesting. As a father and a pacifist, I would love if more developers would venture down the path less traveled.

    1. Sumanai says:

      I am neither and would love it as well.

      1. Usually_Insane says:

        What The Above poster said.

        Look at games like journey, I just as Shamus himself, lament that it’s a ps3 exclusive because it looks just wonderful.

        1. Sumanai says:

          I’ve been lamenting that also. I have friend with PS3, but I don’t think he’s interested in Journey at all.

    2. monkeyboy says:

      You know even the RPGs that allow conflict resolution through other means (“persuade” options) stil demand some combat, and require you to get points in the required skills. The best you can do is concentrate on heals while the rest of your party actually fights (a fantasy version of Desmond Doss.)
      I’m tired of always chaotic evil villains that won’t listen to reason. I’m particularly tired of being asked to convince the local lord to meet with the king and settle things peacefully, and then being required to slaughter my way to the throne room to deliver the message.

  8. GM says:

    Interestingly enough the faces in Oblivion change in the circle before you choice a option,yeah still a quite off.

    1. Hitch says:

      You still had to choose all four, which is the really off-putting part of that.

      Now perhaps someone could do a game that took the “conversation boss fight” aspects of DX:HR and combined them with the telegraphed facial reactions of TES:4 (or maybe a more subtle LA Noir type animation).

      1. GM says:

        Telegraphed facial reactions of TES:4 ,Amazingly that is in Oblivion just Really Difficult to See.

        It´s before you press any one them and yes I find it a bit annoying ,I need to click all four and what´s that the last one´s lowering the score.

        1. Maldeus says:

          Um, aren’t TES:4 and Oblivion the same thing? TES stands for The Elder Scrolls and Oblivion was the first installment.

          1. Pete says:

            Um, what about Arena, Daggerfall, and Morrowind?

            1. GM says:

              Those endless numbers,yeah my mistake.
              I have Played Arena up to 4 bits of that Orb.
              Have not played Daggerfall or Morrowind,well got out of the Prison in Daggerfall,Am playing Skyrim.
              Was playing Oblivion but shelved it for a while.

              Oblivion was the first installment. ? what does Maldeus mean?
              yeah only five Tes are counted the Redguard and Battlespire did not make it in the counting.

      2. Dasick says:

        You still had to choose all four, which is the really off-putting part of that.

        Is it really? Think back to any form of informal interaction you’ve ever had with other people (friends I suppose you can call them). Heck, think about the Spoiler Warning crew and their friendly banter.

        The guy behind Oblivion speech system (you rock buddy! don’t listen to anyone!) correctly identified four integral components of informal social interaction: joking, admiring, boasting and “coercing”(not the right word for it, but close enough). Unless you have all four of these elements, a conversation is stiff and business-like.

        Think about the Spoiler Warning cast for a second. If you look through the comments when Mumbles first joined the show, you’ll notice how people joked “You’re officially a part of the crew because Josh is making fun of you in the after-credits”. Also, over time the crew became less concerned about accidentally offending Mumbles, and the show gained more of the “friends playing a game on the couch” flavour we all love and know. This “hostility” (“coercion”, if you will) was minimal, but it was necessary to lose the stiffness of the conversation.

        Same thing with Rust and his puns, or “jokes” if you will. Yeah, they’re awful, but if they were gone? Would be a totally different show altogether – more businesslike and “colleague this” and “how is that stick up yer arse doing today?” that.

        So yeah, normal human interaction only happens when you have all four of those elements.

        (Side note: DING, writing this post has given me enough xp to level up my “dialogue writing” skill. Now, which perk do I pick?)

        As for “having to choose all four”… well, it’s a game. I think the difference between “storytelling” and “reporting” is that the latter is concerned with getting as much detail right as possible, while the former aims to capture and refine the essence. As I said, all four elements have to be present in a friendly interaction, and I think that each round represents a full conversation or exchange. And also, if you think about it, a phrase/monologue needs to have all four elements present in order to feel like “friendly banter”.

        Another point I want to stress is that the Oblivion speech wheel represents a step in the right direction, in terms of dialogue design. You can praise games like Planescape all you want, but their dialogue system is still nothing more than “choose your own adventure” style gameplay. Very well crafted, I admit, but still…

        And Oblivion does something very few games try to do – it tired to codify a conversation in terms of gameplay. I consider this an overall win, and I am sad that so many people couldn’t see it that way, and Skyrim didn’t refine and improve upon the foundation laid in Oblivion. Because IMHO, that’s what Oblivion’ system was missing – presentation and implementation. But the core concept… hell yes.

        1. MaxFF says:

          I will give you credit because you made a good point and I never thought about the conversations like that before, but as you mentioned in your comment those are elements of informal conversation. If you just walk up to random NPC who are basically strangers, it probably makes sense to be more formal rather than informal.

          The coercion part you interpret as a sort of hostility, more like a playful competitiveness or friendly rivalry if I understand you correctly. That sort of thing might go over pretty well with friends, but again, making hostile comments goes over completely differently with strangers.

          Even if it did correctly identify 4 main components of a conversation, I still say its a mistake for every conversation with every NPC to have all 4, and it is really strange to talk to strangers in that way.

          1. Thomas says:

            I disagree that all conversations, or even all casual conversations take this form. (Ignoring the fact you said that leaving them aside makes a conversation dull, or business like, which not only is a very valid type of conversation, but actually the type of conversation you’d be having with most people in this particular situation)

            Evidence to support is: You didn’t really boast in that lovely piece of text (and if I’m honest, you’re joke would have been ommitted by many people having the same conversation)
            This conversation
            lacks joking, and to be honest misses on boasting aspects too for the larger part.

            There are large sections of conversation types where a joking, or boastful or admiring stance would be inappropriate. If i were delivering bad news to someone it’s basically never appropriate for me to make a joke unless they are making a lot themselves. [email protected] not boastful when I’m feeling shy around someone, I’m not admiring if I’m having an angry conversation with someone I really don’t get on with.

            You are right, there is a surprising amount of variation in a normal conversation with friends, but depending on the person and situation I wouldn’t even say the majority of conversations go like that. I guess maybe you’re a pretty good speaker and are very relaxed around people, but I would hardly ever joke or boast with someone unless I really had got to know them, I clam up a bit and stay fairly serious or factual or just don’t say much at all

            EDIT: Although I guess if you’re being persuasive and you’re good at it it would be more likely to use them all. Still there are people who take offence to jokes, or a boastful attitude or who are suspicious of an admiring one and for all of those a person who could see that would try to avoid these things. If I was talking to quite a set in his ways old man who places a lot of stress in order and place it would be wrong of me to try and joke because he would take that as disrespect for his age and position

            1. Dasick says:

              My point was about informal, largely pointless, “talking for the sake of talking” conversations that you have with your friends. I.E. informal social interactions, which is what I identified it as in my Wall o’ Text up there. And yes, this doesn’t apply to many other aspects of conversation, but it’s never meant to.

              The example you’ve provided isn’t “informal interaction”, it has a point, these are people discussing a review of … something. I don’t know. It’s hard to get what they’re saying without clicking any additional links, or is that what you were counting on, you bad, bad person?

              Actually, all the examples you provide are examples that fall outside the scope of “informal social interaction”, which isn’t what the persuasion system was trying to model.

              1. Thomas says:

                I think that may be the weakness in the start, but if you’re trying to persuade someone, there are people who you shouldnt use humor with as an example. And if it’s just an informal conversation, I have informal conversations with lots of people where I’m too shy to very my speech enough to fit all four.

                But on balance I think you’re right that if you’re good at persuading people you will generally using a lot of all of them. For average people

        2. Kdansky says:

          I still find it weird that people hate so much on Oblivion because of its speech-minigame. Granted, it’s not the best game ever, but not because it’s too hard, or too weird, or too complex.

          But because it is too easy.

          It is so easy, in fact, that I can get maximum disposition in less than ten seconds, for any character in the game, with no points put into speech.

          1. Figure out which quarter gives which reaction. All NPCs have four different faces, which are ++, +, – and —
          2. The four coloured shapes have an effect strength that correlates with their size: 100%, 60%, 40%, 10%. Which means if you use the 100% on a ++, you’ll get +10 rep or so. If you use the 40% on a -, you’ll get -1 rep, and so on.
          3. Click the 100% on ++, click the 10% on –. Try to match up the middle ones too, but that only hastens the inevitable if you can get these two to align.

          About two seconds per wheel-turn, and with three to five turns, you can get the stat maxed. It’s boring, repetitive and pointless, because it’s bloody easy.

          The only thing even more pointless is crafting in MMOs.

  9. Arvind says:

    It’s an interesting problem – if you had to design an input device for dialog, how would you do it (short of handing the player a microphone to speak into). How would you design an NPC in a game that can deal with all the responses a player can throw its way?

    Speech is one thing where there can be almost an infinite amount of inputs possible. I guess this is one area where computers are still way behind compared to humans.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      He responds ‘Hello’ to you.
      He whips out his portable console and says ‘Wel c ab0ut taht!’

      1. Arvind says:

        Text based interfaces are okay, but then you could be saying “U R FAG” ironically (or sarcastically or something like the above example), which is even more hard to judge.

        Then there can be several layers of irony or sarcasm in something, and I’m reminded why it’s easier to just kill monsters for loot ;)

        1. Sumanai says:

          Personal experience with people I don’t know well indicates that it’s safe for the simulation to always assume you’re being serious. Unless it’s the truth, but it’s hard to understand (sounds unlikely). Then they’ll take it as a joke or assume you’re an idiot.

    2. acronix says:

      I think the problem isn´t just the infinite ammounts of possible inputs but the infinite ammounts of possible dialogue you´d need to write (or you´d need a massive quantity of code to let the game build dialogue procedually). It also would kill voice-acting until we perfect voice synthetizing. And you know what current generation gamers think of non-voiced dialogue.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Is it really current generation gamers who are addicted to voiced dialogue? Or is it game developers who perceive that they need fully voiced dialogue in order to count as a real game these days?

        I really don’t know the answer because I don’t know enough gamers in their teens/twenties (which I presume is what is meant by ‘current generation gamers’).

        I do know that if they asked me I would say voiced dialogue is all very well but make sure your gameplay is polished and your story deep before you allocate any budget to voices!

        1. Klay F. says:

          I’d tell you to visit the Escapist forums if you needed proof of what gamers think of non-voiced dialog, but really, I wouldn’t send my greatest enemy to the Escapist forums.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            As one of those gamers in their teens: I can read just fine, though it’s been a long time… wait a second.

            When was the last time I played an RPG that didn’t have voice acting for most/all the NPCs? *wracks oldest RPG memories from like 5 years ago* KotOR did… NWN2 did… Diablo II doesn’t count…

            Remind me to get Planescape: Torment sometime. And Baldur’s Gate. (1 + 2) :/

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Those two also had voices for the major npcs.

              1. peter says:

                only for the first few lines though. it added to the feel, but didn’t mean you could just not read the text.

              2. acronix says:

                Their sparsely but cleverly voiced lines also meant the player would read the next lines with the NPCs signature voice still resonating in their mind, which added to their personalities.

            2. ehlijen says:

              Not sure KOTOR should count given that almost every third spoken line was ‘rhondatee hotunda, devonopada’ or something like that.

          2. Sumanai says:

            If only because he might make friends there.

        2. Irridium says:

          Well, one of the main complaints of Origins was how your character wasn’t voiced. At least from most reviewers. Not sure about general fan reaction.

          Wait, why did this comment need moderation? I didn’t say anything bad.

          1. Johan says:

            Dammit I felt exactly the opposite way. I much prefer unvoiced characters. In large part I felt like the voicing of the characters cut down on the amount of actual dialogue. If you have a character speaking to an unvoiced PC, you need X number of lines read. If the PC has a voice, you need 2X, and if they have 3 options during each conversation, you need 4X.

            Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I felt this as a huge difference between DAO and DA2/ME2, I felt like in DAO I could genuinely give different answers which (in true Bioware form) only deviated from the script a bit, but they did deviate. In the others it felt like I was always saying the same thing but in a different tone. And likewise the person I was talking to seemed to always say the same thing in response, whereas different responses in DAO seemed to at least change the script by a few lines.

            It felt like giving a PC a voice made the dialogue more about hearing the PC than the interaction between characters. In essence it all felt like it was there so you could hear yourself talk

            1. Arvind says:

              I like non voiced dialog too, especially since most of the time I skip the dialog anyway as soon as I read the subtitles.

              1. Hitch says:

                We may get an interesting test case for this study this summer. Apparently Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition will basically just be the original game(s) with prettier, higher definition graphics and a UI designed for today’s screen resolutions. Perhaps that will get current generation gamers to try a CRPG with mostly text-based dialog. We can see how well or poorly they respond to that.

          2. acronix says:

            The problem of DA:O was that it mixed a non-voiced character (who happens to be the player) with a full cast of voiced characters.
            Another fact that not helped at all was that all the conversations had a “cinematic” camera, so you are always seeing a characters face from a close distance. Not voicing them wasn´t an option: why bother doing a close-up if you are just going to show their unvoiced, most probably unanimated faces? Of course that, taking out the camera close-ups for conversations would have fixed that, but then we must remember Bioware was trying to make the game more cinematic than Baldur´s Gate.

            1. Dasick says:

              Bioware was trying to make the game more cinematic

              Cinematic: movie-like.

              Boo. Games aren’t movies. Game designers should take pride in their work.

    3. cerapa says:

      I think it would only be feasible if you were to go with the meanings of what you want to say, rather than specific sentences or somesuch. Trying to understand what the player is actually saying would be really hard.
      “Tell DUDE about SCARY STUFF in an ANGRY tone”
      “Demand information about SOME OTHER STUFF from DUDE”
      “DUDE feels SCARED because of SCARY STUFF and tells you about SOME OTHER STUFF”
      “Thank DUDE for information about SOME OTHER STUFF”

      1. Arvind says:

        I think this is definitely one route that is viable.

        For example, I coded a system where the player’s reply is divided into 3 parts – body language, tone and opinion (screenshot). Though I think I still ended up simplifying, making the system a little obtuse and focusing too much on the end result than the actual dialog.


    4. swimon1 says:

      Well sure you can’t perfectly recreate a conversation but that’s not really any different from a combat focused game. No game simulates everything, the idea is to convey the feeling by simulating the essential parts but all simulations are abstracted in some sense.

      I think an interesting take on a “social interactions” based game is Dangerous high school girls in trouble (love that name ^^). It uses different mini-games to convey the challenges and the feeling of different social situations. For example trying to figure out what someone is hiding plays out sort of like hangman and the flirting game is about guessing what the other person likes and dislikes so you can completely rearrange your personality for them (well it’s about high school girls so maybe it’s fitting that their amorous relationships are creepy). It’s actually quite elegant and it manages to both mimic the feel of a lot of these situations while commenting on them at the same time.

      I’m not saying that they made a perfect system or anything. The game still sort of portrays social interactions in a rather competitive manner with a clear winner or loser (the flirt game is an exception). I guess that’s the biggest problem with basing a game on social interactions. Good games need clear goals and win/lose conditions which social interactions rarely have.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        By stunning coincidence, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! is currently on sale for 66% off on Steam for about the next 14 hours.

        Some weeks, I think Gabe has elves prowling Shamus’ blog for mentions of things in Steam’s inventory to put on sale.

  10. False Prophet says:

    How about god games, or ever better construction set games like Minecraft? Building, creating and real-time management are activities that can also be governed by complex rules and can be rendered in a compelling audio-visual manner exploiting spatial relationships. (And like violence, they’re also traditional interests of young men.) Are they the potentially non-violent alternative? We now have the technology to make them visually compelling.

    1. X2Eliah says:

      Minecraft has killing. (of beasts and blocks)
      Sims has it all – sex, torture, death, etc.
      SimCity and their ilk have mass destruction options.

      1. Lord Nyax says:

        Well yeah, SimCity had the mass destruction disaster options. And they were fun. But they, for most people at least, weren’t what the game was about. It wasn’t what made it fun. Building your city up from single highway to a bustling metropolis was the best part, and the less violence the better. Otherwise you’ll have to increase the police budget again and recalculate the entire budget to make up for the expense.

        1. Klay F. says:

          I will say that I’ve never built a city in SimCity that I didn’t eventually destroy with disasters, and I’ve played every SimCity except the original.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Also.. was it just SimCity 4 that did this, or were highways always horrible? I … hate… cloverleaves. IRL and in games. Just saying.

            1. Klay F. says:

              You just had to have it all planned out in your head beforehand. Otherwise, trying to wedge a highway into a city whose roads were all already overcrowded always ended up being a clusterfarg.

      2. Alex the Too Old says:

        Heh, I’m reminded of this Dilbert strip:

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But are they as interesting?Most of those games are quite hard to get into,because of all the different variables.Thats why they have a smaller audience.

      On the other hand,we have casual games,which are often non-violent.

      1. Thomas says:

        But even with casual games not many break the spatial box in interesting ways. And 50% + are violent or implied violence. Even platformers tend to get in on it in small ways.

        I guess things like Bejewelled and Teris beat it completely. I wonder if there’s any way to expand that? Or would an expansion just turn into something Professor Laytony?

  11. MatthewH says:

    I think I’m in ultimate agreement -violence isn’t going anywhere and so we should instead look for ways to make it meaningful.

    What I’m wondering is whether this is unique to videogames. An earlier commenter mentioned the number of boardgames which are based on war. Conflict is central to literature, theater, and film and so there is a great deal of violence there too. For that matter, you can create a great deal of back-room warfare too (see ME3’s galactic readiness bar for a recent example) So I think I’m unconvinced it is our game engines and not our nature driving the violence.

    1. Thomas says:

      Whilst I think humans find violence/conflict interesting, so it’s well represented in all mediums (after all it’s basically the fallback human interaction. Stop being bad. Stop being bad. Stop being bad. *pepper spray, handcuffs*)

      But as a percentage games have a lot more and the non-violent areas explored by the other mediums don’t really have gaming counter-parts. Romances, a pretty darn large genre, don’t really have _good_ gaming equivalents

      1. MatthewH says:

        Given time and inclination, I think I could reverse that to “Dating sims don’t really have good literary counterparts” and make it funny.

        Alas, the punchline basically boils down to: “my opinion of the romance genre is not high to begin with, so it hardly counts.”

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I shall agree with that last statement… Stories need conflict of some kind, and romances… don’t count.

          1. Thomas says:

            Romance was an easy stab, I have a lot of books in front of me now and I can read off title after title that aren’t violence based. Quite a few Discworld books actually feature zero violence. We’ve got Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Humour/Fact books. On Flew Over the Cuckos Nest doesn’t really focus on violence. Apart from the murder most Agatha Christie’s are violence free. Heck 1984 doesn’t have violence in the form of combat.

            Most books don’t actually focus on violence, many in all sorts of genres don’t mention it and those that do mention it normally have it as one short aspect, often not meant to be enjoyed in itself. Then you do have your standard action books, but even those chase other things.

            Games aren’t like that. Violence isn’t bad, I enjoy an action book. It’s just books do so much more and so many different things, whereas games are very narrowly focused and focused on something which I probably won’t really experience in my life. Catherine was a nice exception to that

            1. MatthewH says:

              I am unwilling to concede that most books don’t have violence in them. I don’t know for certain. And there are analogous games: The Sims, The Dig, hell, the entire genre of Adventure Games.

              Short of an actual count (which I’d be interested in doing, but haven’t the time), we’re in availability heuristic land when we argue that games are “more violent” than other forms of art.

              I think the case is unproven, and for that matter, unargued.

              1. Thomas says:

                Okay how about this, Amazon UK, bestsellers
                Books: 8/20 non-violent, 12/20 contain violence (I chose a bad week, 7 of those are The Hunger Games :D) but still 40% of books non-violent and from what I remember ‘The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives’ isn’t a violence fueled book, but it’s about detectives so I counted it

                Games: 9/20 non-violent, 11/20 violent. Okay I’ll give, the evidence is with you that neither are particularly violence focused. I’ll take one more round of stats excluding repeats (so only 3 hunger game books and only one copy of FIFA 12) and see if they change things, but otherwise I’ll concede point.

                Books: 11/20 non-violent, 9/20 violent. 55%
                Games: 8/20 non violent, 12/20 violent. 40%
                Okay I think you win, even if I restrict to the PS3 it’s still 5/20 non-violent. (All the non-violent games have been sports games bar Mario Party mind, so we’re still lacking something on the happy side of human emotion :D )

  12. JPH says:

    I suppose Rock Band would be one of those games that doesn’t fit into either category Chris described. Of course, Rock Band is very simple and straightforward — that doesn’t stop it from being exceedingly fun, though.

    1. Tse says:

      Well, rock band is just one long sequence of Quick Time Events. QTEs should get a category of their own.

    2. Alex the Too Old says:

      Anecdotally, if you’re actually a trained musician who has learned to play “around” the beat rather than just metronomically on it, Rock Band and the like are pure torture. (And even worse if you’re accustomed to any sort of improvisation or interpretation in your performance.)

      1. JPH says:

        It’s odd you say that, because I’ve been a trained musician since I was very young.

        And yet I ended up being better at it than everyone I knew.

  13. rrgg says:

    There’s the old argument about “Oh, you can have conversations and debates with people in real life so why would you want to play a game that primarily does the same thing?” But I think there’s quite a bit of truth to it. If computers can’t even come close to really representing human conversation then there’s no way in heck that they’ll present them in a way that is more fun or interesting then real life or even online forums.

    1. Johan says:

      And also the fact that ESPN is more popular than CSPAN might indicate that we greatly prefer physical conflict to conversation and debate even in real life

      1. Thomas says:

        There is something to the idea though that lots of fighting games and even shooters (especially the originals) don’t come close to simulating the act your doing. I mean when it comes down to it, most fighting games involve tactically pressing buttons with the correct timing.

        Maybe we can start from there? You have a conversation with !Objection, Oh crud I’m sorry and Mhmh I think you might have something buttons. Someone is speaking to you and instead of turn-based DX:HR, you’ve got to press the right button at the right time. With some good scripting, careful pathing and a little bit of effort you can soon trick the player into thinking they’re holding a conversation, once they’re over the shock at actually having to work out conversation timings themselves.

        So that would be the Space Invaders of the ‘talking about stuff’ genre. To expand we now add the bumpers as modulators. R1 is enthusiasm, R2 is anger, L1 is sincerity and L2 suspicion (high=+ve, right=extreme).

        Finally we let the analogue sticks control the pace of the conversation. The further anti-clockwise you’ve travelled the quicker you’re trying to say what you want to say, the further clockwise the more you’re trying to slow the conversation down. Of course actually you’d just be measuring certain degrees, a certain high speed will add + points to the opponents mood, otherwise it will have a negative affect. But because that’s all under the hood it will feel like you have a huge amount of control of the conversation and are being tested in real-time in a non QTE manner.

        It would take a huge amount of scripting, we’re looking at about 24 options before we even begin to take timing and the other playes mood meter (which under the hood would be controlling their responses, as opposed to what you directly say. IE if you were in the right junction they’d always say ‘I want a pizza’ next, but how they say it would be very different. Pathing would eventually occur but wouldn’t be as important) But then we’re talking about all that as opposed to creating an entire 3d world with bullets and explosions and particle effects, so I think it might be manageable

        1. Syal says:

          I refuse to play a game about conversations if it doesn’t have particle effects.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I disagree because Im a firm believer in say it,dont spray it.

            1. Irridium says:

              Human Revolution’s pheromone dispenser would have been much better if, when used, dispersed many particles from your armpits.

        2. Dasick says:

          There is something to the idea though that lots of fighting games and even shooters (especially the originals) don't come close to simulating the act your doing. I mean when it comes down to it, most fighting games involve tactically pressing buttons with the correct timing.

          Games aren’t about recreating the experience (that’s what simulations are for), but rather capturing the essence of it, through the decisions you make and how you interface with the keyboard input device.

          I wonder if your system would capture the feeling of conversation flow?

          1. Thomas says:

            I’m not sure. I really want to mock it up but I don’t know how to put a sound file in something so it can be timed accurately and terminated at will.

            I was thinking that when people speak the first decision you make is much more about timing and emotion than content. You think ‘I’m angry about this’ and then put words to fit that but I could see it not working as well

  14. Christopher M. says:

    One of the most successful “translating algorithms to visual things you can feel” genres is the city-builder. Mentioned here is SimCity, but that’s really only the beginning of where this genre has gone. The Anno games are both simpler in their details and more compelling in their moment-to-moment gameplay than SimCity – to the point where they’re extremely compelling to play – but the real king of the genre as far as I’m concerned is still Children of the Nile. By simulating individual people, it manages to be both compelling and interesting at a simple granular level and transparent in its algorithm-based higher functions. In short, it’s everything a city-builder should be.

    It’s telling, then, that the new SimCity, which does approximately the same thing, is so hotly anticipated.

    1. Stellar Duck says:

      I’ve never played Children of the Nile. I’m curious, do you know how it compares to Caesar 3? I seem to recall that having, in a primitive way, individual people as well. I really loved that game a lot back in the day.

      *sigh* I know where this is going. Off to to redownload Caesar 3. Goodbye evening.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I’m like 90% sure that the one SimCity I played (SimCity 4?) had rudimentary people as well…

        1. sab says:

          It did, in as far as they had a home and a job etc. But the people that you saw on the screen were just… noise. They weren’t constantly (visually) simulated and were fading in and out all the time.

    2. Simon Buchan says:

      SimCity 4 and Cities XL both simulate representative people (Cities had multiple per household, I think): to the point of their travel route from home to work and it’s traffic effect (so they can compute commute times), at least. I think there was some more stuff about likes vs. surrounding commercial buildings, but it’s been a while since I played either.

      Re Ceaser 3: Plebs are needed! God damn that game was great

      1. Bubble181 says:

        “Plebs are needed!” is actually Caesar 2’s calling phrase, not Caesar 3 ;-)

    3. Bubble181 says:

      To be honest, I’ve played many, many city games in my life (all SimCities from the first to 4 (heck no “societies”), Caesar I-IV, Zeus, Pharaoh, Rise of Rome, and so on, and so on…
      I never got anywhere in Children of the Nile. I own it, and the expansion, but jsut never got into it. I played the tutorials, and one or two starting missions, and lost interest. I dunno why.

  15. Cybron says:

    Excellent video. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before.

  16. LunaticFringe says:

    Bah, I’ve already seen and made sweet love to all of Chris’ videos…and still you taunt me with my Spoiler Warning withdrawal…

    …Suppose I could work on those essays for school now…damn you for making me productive.

    /all sarcasm and bad wit.

    To be fair the ‘Football: Total War’ theory existed even back at the origins of American football, Walter Camp wrote a lot about how football represented nationalistic military training (which is largely consistent with Roosevelt’s “If you don’t want to mess around with Central American countries you’re not a man” logic from the same period).

    1. Thomas says:

      In actuality they really did encourage some sports in times where war was more immediately physical. On the other hand football (real football) got banned in places because people were playing that instead of archery.

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        Yeah that was English law right? Up until the 1720s or something? I know what you’re talking about but I don’t recall the actual historical dates. I don’t blame the English though, the longbow was the fastest reloading weapon until the introduction of bolt rifles.

        1. Syal says:

          Of course if they hadn’t banned it, we would almost certainly have more foot-propelled weaponry available today.

  17. Johan says:

    “Harder to grok”
    Ok, I’ve heard friends and enemies say this

    Just what does it mean?

    1. decius says:

      “Grok” is a synonym of “understand completely in every notable way through hard study”. Contrast “zen”, which means “to understand completely in a single flash of intuitive insight”.

      “Grok” was coined by R.A.H. in ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, to refer to a Martian concept analogous to human comprehension.

      1. Blake says: defines to grok as to ‘understand thoroughly and intuitively’ which is how I tend to use the word.

        Not needing any study, just really understanding and getting something.
        I was first introduced to the word when reading an article by the Lead Designer of Magic: The Gathering, he talked about needing to make all the different parts of the card work together to make it easier for people to grok.

        1. anaphysik says:

          MaRo was also probably where I heard it first too.

          IIRC, in ‘Stranger’ it’s an alien word literally meaning ‘to drink up’ which then absorbed it’s metaphorical meaning.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            and now I need to read that one. I’m pretty sure we have it… somewhere on our bookshelf. sigh.

      2. Strangeite says:

        Juball is my hero. It is my goal in life to be able to yell “FRONT!” and have a beautiful woman appear, listen to my ramblings, and then turn them into a coherent article.

        1. Dragomok says:

          What would happen if he yelled “FRONT!” while being on fire and screaming in agony? Would she make a hands-on review of being burned alive?

  18. Amstrad says:

    In regards to the Football: Total War thing, at one point I dreamed up an interesting take on the strategy genre in which instead of building armies you managed a fantasy team sport of some sort (I’ll admit here that Blood Bowl played a part in this inspiration) and that all conflict within the world was decided by the results of matches between rival teams. Want to take over the world? Well build up the best team and utilize the best strategy to conquer it city by city. It’d have all the stats and details of your standard sports team management sim, combined with the world map and resource management of a Civilization style game.

    I thought it’d be fun?

    1. Aldowyn says:

      This sounds really familiar… wait a sec.

      the M.Y.T.H series by Robert Asprin. Which one was that…oh, I dunno. There’s this one dimension where there’s two main countries that fight every year in this ridiculously violent game for this trophy, and it determines which country is dominant for that year. So yeah, fairly similar.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        Myth Directions, where the Big Game is played between Veygas and Ta-Hoe.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      There’s also the episode of Star Trek: TOS with the two war computers simulating the whole war and having the “casualties” report for execution, but that’s stretching the definition of game.

      It’s also what the plotline for things like Yu-Gi-Oh, Bakugan and Pokemon seem to inevitably boil down to. Also Inazuma Eleven, which is the first thing I thought of when I saw the words “Football: Total War”, since it uses the DS touchscreen to give it a very RTS feel.

    3. Syal says:

      I’m imagining a technology tree for steroids.

  19. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I wonder if it means that Role Playing Games (the real, Tabletop RPGs) are automatically more oriented toward social interaction because they are the easier to simulate…?

    Or not, actually. If you think about it, the point of a RPG system is to impliment a simulationism. Since social interaction will mostly rely upon player-GM interaction rather than a die roll (usually), people will have less ease having a system that impliments social interaction..

    Damn, I’ve gone crossed eye. I am not sure if I have a point anymore..

  20. Alex the Too Old says:

    Chris’s original post on his own blog, from the beginning of the month, has nine comments. This post, from less than 24 hours ago, has over 100. I’m not sure whether that means that Shamus should have directed people to Chris’s OP to discuss his video there (and risk flooding the site’s bandwidth allowance), or that he should change TwentySided from a personal blog into a full-fledged video game discussion portal and hire Chris as a videoblogger. :-)

    (I reject the term “vlogger” because it so completely does not trip lightly off the tongue. Well, maybe it does for people whose grew up speaking a Slavic language… :-) )

    1. Chris says:

      My website is a desolate wasteland. I feel I need some sort of home base of sorts, especially if I ever wanted to do more written work instead of videos (or, god forbid, try my hand at making games again), so I ostensibly keep the site alive and up to date with the latest videos.

      But I simply don’t have time to do the daily, formal, well written, intelligent blog posts like Shamus or the really well edited Let’s Plays Josh can produce. And I’m not sure I’m comfortable with making it a Live Journal with random off-the-cuff rants and blog posts punctuated with occasional videos. The result is that I have a once-a-month trickle of content, no community, and very few views through my website (for a brief comparison, the video Shamus posted here has around 32,000 views on YouTube versus 538 views on Blip).

      Ultimately the website is in this weird nether-realm – I can’t create enough content to justify it given my day job and other obligations, but I can’t bring myself to just be “a dude with a YouTube channel,” either.

      1. Alex the Too Old says:

        Well, once a month is a hell of lot better than where I’m at, i.e. “never”, and when you do post something, it’s worthwhile and speaks well of you. (If your current videos are less well edited than Josh’s, I can’t tell – you’re both operating well above the point where anyone who doesn’t do video editing of their own would see the seams, IMO.)

        I hesitate to tell somebody who’s farther along in the content-generation game than I am what to do, but doing at least a weekly link-based blog post between videos might make the site feel more regular. You could do what Scott Adams does and solicit ideas from readers… :-)

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Did you try getting on blistered thumbs?

        “or that he should change TwentySided from a personal blog into a full-fledged video game discussion portal and hire Chris as a videoblogger.”

        You know,that might actually be a good idea.Sites that merge content like that are very popular these days,and Im confident Shamus would get enough donations if he asked for them in order to do such an overhaul to turn this blog into such a network.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          No doubt it would work, but I wouldn’t like to see it happen. I’ve seen many places go down the road to crap.
          Halforums was a forum set up by the community of the PvP forums when Kris shut them down; slowly it’s evolved into a gaming-and-webcomic- and-stuff-forum with several webcomics and some video posts and whatnot. Plenty of content that could interest me, but the atmosphere and the community suffered for it.
          The Escapist was an interesting site once upon a time.; directed squarely at being “different than IGN and Gamestop and crap”. It was basically an indie gaming site, with some very good icommenters. Even today, a lot of the actual *content* is interesting – but the community? Yeah, no comment.

          Anyway, what I’m saying is – I love Josh’s Shogun II posts; though I don’t watch Spoiler Warning I do find the comments (by both the authors and down-below here) intersting; I’ve started reading some other blogs because of posts people posted here. I’m sure I’ll like Chris’s posts, if he makes them: his comments seem well-thought-out and so on.

          However, there’s a big difference between a blog with occasional guest posts, and a full-on community site. It might work out great and Shamus might becaome the next Zuckerberg – good for him – but I’ll probably be gone. Once you go bigger, you lose the personality, candidness, freedom of a private blog.

          1. Syal says:

            I would agree that it would not be good to turn this site into a group site. However, I wouldn’t be against someone making another site and pooling people’s content on it, though I’m not sure if that fixes anything.

            1. Thomas says:

              I guess if you conglomerated in a more personal way it wouldn’t have to change the tone, say if you weren’t so much motivated by money and you only added people who you knew/read loads of their stuff and really liked. I’m not very familiar with it but people on That Guy With The Glasses all seem pretty chummy and I haven’t heard about the community massively changing (although that doesn’t mean the original community were lovely people, I don’t know either way)

              But what is more important here is that Blip is a lovely site and one the prettiest video dispensing site on the internet with some neat ideas and it only gets 500 views to Youtube’s 30 000 :(

  21. Smejki says:

    Well in the end the more simple the mathematical model is behind some aspect the more probably you’ll see it in a game. There is no mathematical model for speech as form of meaningful interaction yet but there are almost perfect ones for kinematics, geometry of any kind, materials behaviour, fluid kinematics (though you need huge amount of computing power). There is also resemblence among all game that in core mechanics are of same game theory type (zero-sum, non-zero-sum)

  22. froogger says:

    Thanks for posting. Been awhile since I heard some new arguments in this oh-so-tired old debate. Plus, he’s got a good voice for presenting his insights. Loved the footage btw.

  23. Volatar says:

    This is the first episode of Errant Signal I have ever seen. It was amazing and made me think as well as amused me.

    You have at least one new fan :)

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    So, is “the feel of virtual movement” why I can’t watch any modern games for more than 3 seconds without feeling sick to my stomach, and why I can never tell what’s going on?

    And I don’t see why people think it would be difficult to have 24 different conversational options at any given time. Most games have conversations that jump around in incredibly stupid ways, and even visual novels seem to be incredibly shallow and un-fun. Providing actual shades of meaning and choices of topic would be a vast improvement.

    But of course, the real fun would be in some kind of competitive poetry composition game, where the players would learn hundreds of different poetic forms from thousands of years of human culture while learning to choose good lines to express their feelings! And then you could do literary mini-puzzles!

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