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[PATV] Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 9: Aesthetics of Play

DogDog Registered User, Administrator, Vanilla Staff admin
edited October 2012 in The Penny Arcade Hub

image[PATV] Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 9: Aesthetics of Play

This week, we talk genres and some game design theory.
Read the full MDA paper here!
Come discuss this topic in the forums!

Read the full story here


Dog on
«13

Posts

  • EgoGoneEgoGone Registered User regular
    The Cities of Heroes part KILLED me.

    God I love you, EC.

    lordhoban
  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    edited October 2012
    While highly descriptive (more so overall than traditional genre titles), the M.D.A. descriptors suffer from the same problem traditional genre titles do- they do not properly or fully describe most games with a single word.

    Portal - Platforming FPS Physics-based Puzzler
    Mass Effect - 3rd-Person Cover-based Shooter RPG
    Super Mario Galaxy - Action Platformer
    Final Fantasy - Turn-based combat Adventure RPG

    While clunky, the terms do work "properly" when combined to describe the basic experience a player will have. However, I'm all for using BOTH the mechanic descriptors with the M.D.A. titles for creating a complete picture, because here's the truth: many gamers dislike certain mechanics. Despite the overall experience or a game's radical departure from what one would expect, many gamers simply refuse to touch games that feature certain mechanics or types of gameplay. This means that describing a game's genre merely by its aesthetics (without any mention of mechanics) is going to cause a great deal of consternation among gamers who have a difficult time with, for example, 3rd-Person shooters; or who despise Turn-Based combat.

    While the mechanics are not equal to aesthetics, they do, fundamentally, define the player's experience; and will provide wildly varying experiences according to how they are combined.

    metroidkillah on
    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
  • NoradNorad Registered User new member
    Come on, guys, no love for Caillois...? It's because he's french, isn't it!

    Joking aside, interesting expansion on the classification! Two points, though:

    - I think competition isn't considered as its own aesthetics because it's kinda included in "challenge" > you express your domination over level designers or even yourself in obstacle courses and race.
    - I feel we're missing something about the Alea. I guess you would put it in discovery, or abnegation, but the core feeling of throwing a dice and "pray" for the best result (or loot in a mmo when the boss is down) has fueled casino and tons of random based games for a long time.

  • poeticmatterpoeticmatter Registered User regular
    I'm so happy they mentioned Planescape Torment in narrative. It's the first thing that popped in my mind when they said it.

    RoyceSraphimlordhoban
  • TerrafireTerrafire Registered User new member
    edited October 2012
    @metroidkillah: While I certainly don't disagree with what you say as a whole, Because I'm an asshole, I'd like to nitpick a bit, and say that several times you said "Mechanics", when you actually meant "Dynamics".

    Terrafire on
    Sewblon
  • discriderdiscrider Registered User regular
    edited October 2012
    I'm not sure why you added Competition to the list. It's simply Challenge but where the content is provided by another player.

    For example, take any multiplayer game with AI. A game against the AI would be designed with Challenge at the core, but if we substitute the AI with similar skilled humans it suddenly becomes Competition. Even if you're replaying a demo of humans as the AI in the first instance, so for all intents and purposes the gameplay is the same, we still have this strange dichotomy. This makes me feel that the two aesthetics are fulfilling the same need through the same means and are actually the same aesthetic.

    Competition provides Challenge and is merely a subset of it.

    Edit: Regretting the use of 'merely' above, since if we consider mastery of any Challenge as beating the Game Designer/Dungeon Master (at his own game), then all Challenge is Competition as well.

    discrider on
    Steam Community page: http://steamcommunity.com/id/discrider/
    Oh hey! A knife!
    Sewblon
  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    edited October 2012
    @Terrafire: You could be right, but I used the word "mechanics" 5 times- and that means (according to you) I used the word incorrectly at least 4 times or quite possibly every time. Counter-nitpicked... I think!

    In all seriousness, I hope I still got the point across, despite my literary ineptitude. It seems "traditional" game genre titles don't always and only describe the mechanics (which is another thing the good folks at EC forgot to mention), therefore it stands to reason that the gaming industry is already doing something similar to what was suggested in the video. Again, though, more and better descriptors can't possibly be a bad thing.

    metroidkillah on
    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
  • JakeThePirateJakeThePirate Registered User new member
    What about puzzle? You mentioned T.I.M. and Portal in here and I find the joy in thinking about and then overcoming a puzzle one of the greatest in any game. While I suppose this could be seen as a version of challenge but really almost every game is challenge in some way or another. Perhaps Challenge should be split depending on what it's challenging (skill, mind, reaction time etc.)

  • Maz-Maz- 飛べ Registered User regular
    Another fantastic episode, guys.

    It's true that (some of) the genres we use to label games don't really fit, but I think it'll be hard to get rid of those, simply because we've been using the terms for so long now.

    Add me on Switch: 7795-5541-4699
    Sewblon
  • sessilenomadsessilenomad Registered User
    discrider wrote: »
    discrider wrote: »
    I'm not sure why you added Competition to the list. It's simply Challenge but where the content is provided by another player.

    For example, take any multiplayer game with AI...

    I think a game where you best AI would still be Competition. The difference between competition and challenge would be in what you are besting. So for anything actively opposing you, this would include AI and humans, we would say Competition. Whereas if what you are besting is the level design(so in things like portal or braid), or purely the physical demands(such as singleplayer DDR) then it would be Challenge.

    So while challenge might describe a game like Braid, it wouldn't be interchangeable with competition, since there there isn't anything actively working against the player. It's just the player and the levels. Games like Dota or LoL would be purely competitive, since it is only other players opposing them. It's not like the game itself is providing any difficulty for the player to overcome, all difficulty comes from other players.

    Thats how i see it anyway, I think its a fair distinction.

    What about puzzle? You mentioned T.I.M. and Portal in here and I find the joy in thinking about and then overcoming a puzzle one of the greatest in any game. While I suppose this could be seen as a version of challenge but really almost every game is challenge in some way or another. Perhaps Challenge should be split depending on what it's challenging (skill, mind, reaction time etc.)

    I think It's important to remember that while all games may be challenging in some way, unless it is a core aspect of the game, Challenge wouldn't really be used in a descriptive way.

    So it's obvious a game like portal definitely has challenge at its core, I think a game like Bastion doesn't. Even though bastion can be a pretty difficult game at times, especially if you're turning on lots of the idols, it isn't a core aspect of the game. I think it would be weird to hear "Dude you need to try out Bastion, its such a difficult game!", it might be, but thats not what draws people to it, Bastion is more about Narrative and Visuals.

  • 435435 Registered User
    As a long time City of Heroes player, I appreciate the call out to the soon-to-be sunsetted title with a pour-out pic.

    catsig.jpg
    twiktwok
  • LoganProwerLoganPrower Registered User
    Are any of the extra credits crew going to Gamer Camp in Toronto?

  • mcgreenhalghmcgreenhalgh Registered User
    Wow, after catching up with every previous episode (serving notice at work, plenty of free time), I finally made it to being able to comment on something why it's still relevant. Yay, me.

    Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I find it odd you often suggest films as a medium that has classification sorted out. In some cases yes, there's not usually much confusion between a comedy, drama or horror. But people still use terms like "sci-fi" to describe films as diverse as Galaxy Quest, Star Wars and Alien. Or even within "comedy" you can have Anchorman, Dr. Strangelove and The Royal Tenenbaums. Every classification system is flawed. All we can do is use the system responsibly based on what we're talking about.

    Oh, and love the show etc., etc.

    Sewblon
  • teknoarcanistteknoarcanist Registered User regular
    @Mcgreenhalgh Right, but that's where sub-genres come in. Galaxy quest is a "sci-fi comedy". Star wars is a "sci-fi adventure" or even "space opera." Alien is "sci-fi horror."

    ran88dom99Sewblon
  • tgrahamtgraham Registered User
    Thanks for the episode and link to the paper! This is a great resource for students who are writing their theses on games and game design. I've forwarded it onto the school I graduated from. Hopefully they'll find it to be as useful as I have!

    twiktwok
  • fodiggfodigg Registered User regular
    So what are the genres? The core aesthetics? I mean, saying something is a "challenge" game or a "fellowship" game doesn't tell me that much about it.

    Sewblon
  • frorunner9frorunner9 Registered User regular
    I would love to see someone build a game recommendation engine based upon this system.

    Basically, games are added to the site and ranked (either by skilled moderaters ala pandora or by averaging user input) based upon how well they engage on each of these aesthetics.

    Then, users could log in and create a library of all of their games, complete with rankings of how much they enjoy them. The computer could then calculate how important each of the various aesthetics are to the user, and recommend games that have similar aesthetics.

    I know there are already game recommendation engines out there, but I find they hit pretty heavily on either genre or popularity.

    OldSchoolChickenZazu YentwiktwokSewblon
  • RoyceSraphimRoyceSraphim Registered User regular
    So I understand now. I like Bad Company 2 and the battlefield series in general because their multiplayer focuses on fellowship compared to the Modern Warfare series who's multiplayer advocates competition.

    twiktwok
  • thenameless685thenameless685 Registered User regular
    dat sure was really informational

    twiktwok
  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    @teknoarcanist: But wouldn't those "sub-genres" simply be more specific descriptions created by combining other genre titles? I think EC missed (or skipped over due to time restraints) something important by implying:
    1. That the M.D.A. system can succeed where tradition has failed: accurate one-word genre descriptions, and
    2. The current system is broken or bad, when it's merely incomplete.

    In truth, saying a game is "competitive" is equally informative as saying it's an FPS. However, combined, those two descriptors give a far better idea of what a player can expect.

    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
    Sewblon
  • ExindivExindiv Registered User new member
    As a gamer this quantifies so much of my seemingly nebulous personal gaming preferences. My mind is completely blown. This actually helps explain so much about my gaming experiences and the constant and elusive search for a satisfying game. Brilliant!

    twiktwok
  • sithyssithys Registered User regular
    Another satisfying episode of extra credits. I am addicted, and have been for a long time. Now if you will excuse me, I am going back to being frozen in a cryo tube until next Wednesday.

    twiktwok
  • Mr.FunSocksMr.FunSocks Registered User
    Mmm, I like. Very good way to think about game types, rather than the usual genre. Another great example you could easily have used: Soldat. Constantly brought up in discussions about FPS, and most people really didn't have words for why. But it uses the same competitive and sensory aesthetics. It has the same sense of visceral excitement, and the same competitive edge, that virtually all FPS have.

    I like cheese.
    twiktwok
  • KurosambeiKurosambei Registered User
    It's funny: I'm a film student, and this is my favorite show on the Internet. I have this nagging feeling that it's going to be extremely useful to me in the future.

    And you guys reading this who are worried about the whole video games as art thing? Well, about fifty-to-eighty years ago the film industry was exactly where the video game industry is now. All of these same sorts of questions were being asked and discussed. It's gonna turn out fine.

    I don't wanna call Extra Credits the Cahiers du Cinéma of video games, but you guys, the rest of Penny Arcade, and the folks at the Escapist are shaping up to be just that.

    twiktwok
  • Father TimeFather Time Registered User regular
    Please make an episode on the difference between challenge and difficulty, I don't get it.

    twiktwok
  • hellfirebmhellfirebm Registered User
    So, I get that you can't just use mechanics, for example, to lure in consumers. Nevertheless, does this mean there has to be an attempt by developers to equally distribute their resources in nearly EVERY aspect of video game design that you mentioned? Then it seems like the team is trying to focus on too many variables and being everything at once. I'd like to know if there are extremes to addressing the aesthetics of play.

  • RoyceSraphimRoyceSraphim Registered User regular
    @discrider part of the appeal of competition with people is that you can take advantage of their being human. Humans can be manipulated and tricked in ways that AI can't. AI will always spot a stray foot or rectangle. Humans, humans get tunnel vision and keep aiming at that sniper on the hill. Humans flood their team with snipers to fight one guy while your sniper switches his mosin nagat for a tommy gun and closes the distance in the trees and quickly arms a charge at both objectives while fire teams charlie and Delta catch that team full of snipers in a kill zone on the main road.

    I love fellowship and I love Bad Company 2.

  • dejavu,againdejavu,again Registered User regular
    @hellfirebm: Much like the juxtaposition of safety, cost and functionality inherent in any physical engineered product, or the multitude of responsibilities and burdens necessary to be a mature adult, game design is a tricky balancing act.

    That's why it's hard.

    Sewblon
  • Zama174Zama174 Registered User regular
    @hellfirebm You will notice how they touched on the fact that most games only deliver in 3-4 of these as there core aesthetic. I do believe that most games feature 6 or 7 as part of there game, but it those facets that they chose to make the very core of the experience define what it is that game will be. And any developer that tries to cram them all in and make them all a corner stone of there game will most likely fail to delver on all fronts.

    Sewblon
  • Zama174Zama174 Registered User regular
    @father Time The best way I can describe it with Legos. If you have all the pieces and the manual to make a replica starwars toy or a wwII plane or something of that nature, its not a very difficult task. However it is the challenge of putting the time and effort into completing that object that makes the experience worth while. Its like the satisfaction of finishing a project you've been working on, or mowing the yard if you are the type that likes work with your hands. The jobs are not hard, but they take time and effort to be done well none the less.

    In video games, think of it like getting level 80 on World of Warcraft, or making your golden temple to the pig god with lava coming out of its nose in minecraft, walking all the way across Morrowind, or just getting to the flag pole at the end of a level of mario. While yes these tasks will probably take some skill, its not going to be near the effort of pro level football or a starcraft tournament. Part of the great draw of games that feature challenge as there core aesthetic instead of difficulty is the fact that they are approachable by nearly everyone, and that's why games like Kirby's Epic Yarn, and Super Mario Bros, or even Portal, have been received so well. As a designer balancing the barrier to entry for your game, and the difficulty curb is what will make or break your entire game. And its an art I hope more designers learn how to master.

  • Titanium DragonTitanium Dragon Registered User regular
    The problem with your highfalueten idea is that it is bad.

    Mechanics, dynamics, AND aesthetics ALL define end-user experience in important ways, and the idea that somehow, magically, aesthetics are the most important is terribly flawed - its actually a two-way street. While players will viscerally engage with aesthetics, defining genres by aesthetics leads to grouping games together that don't belong together based on just as superficial similarities. Choosing a first person view as opposed to a third person view, for instance, makes a big difference in how the game plays and what can be done with it.

    The truth is that your approach is just as confining and actually far more nonsensical in many ways, and we can see why this is such a big problem when we look at film. Take The Cabin in the Woods and The Host. What genre do they fit into? The Cabin in the Woods uses the aesthetics of a horror movie, but it certainly is NOT a horror movie.

    Indeed, your entire comparison to film is off in the first place because film doesn't have the same underlying structure. You experience a movie, but it is not an interactive experience. The mechanics and dynamics are what seperate games from other sorts of entertainment, so the idea of defining games based on aesthetics is just stupid - its yet another "I wish I was Hollywood" thing. Games aren't actually defined by just aesthetics, so making game genres based on aesthetics is ridiculous.

    The fundamental issue is that mistaking aesthetics for the core content is just as much of a mistake as mistaking mechanics for it. A first person shooter can deliver on a variety of aesthetics, but that doesn't mean that they do not all share a lot of fundamental similarities, and defining them by the end aesthetics will lose a great deal of that.

    I will also note that Portal is not actually a FPS, whereas Fallout 3 is. While Portal uses an interface which is superficially similar to a FPS interface, it lacks what makes a FPS a FPS - namely, combat, as FPSs are all about shooting enemies to solve your problems. Conversely, Fallout 3, while it adds RPG mechanics, is still fundamentally a FPS as well, as conflict resolution in the game is via violence. Borderlands is even more so than Fallout 3, with "RPG mechanics" without the actual roleplaying part.

    What does this mean? It means that genres are defined by multiple levels of MDA, not just a single level, and mechanics and dynamics play a VERY big role in determining genre. Portal isn't a FPS because, despite its visual similarities, it isn't actually about FPS gameplay at all - you don't resolve your conflicts in the game via violence, which is an integral part of an FPS.

    twiktwokAurichSewblon
  • RodHynesRodHynes Registered User new member
    What is up with the felowship pic lol

  • Strangebrew71Strangebrew71 Registered User
    I laughed so hard at the City of Heros bit

    zerochosen
  • TerrafireTerrafire Registered User new member
    @fodigg: The point is, telling you "it's a Challenge-Abnigation-Fellowship game" is a lot more informative than saying "It's a MMO". You know EXACTLY what you're getting from the first one, and only a vague idea of what you're getting from the second one (Well, unfortunately, MMOs are all freaking identical. Hurray for companies that cannot take risks.) (But the POINT was that the fact that I deliberately didn't include.... say, Competition, should tell you a lot about the game, despite the fact you have no idea whether it's even sci-fi or post-apocalypse or what.)

    Sewblon
  • TerrafireTerrafire Registered User new member
    Saying something is a "FPS" should be about as important as saying it's "Fantasy", or "Sci-fi". No more, and no less. (Which, of course, is very important, but not the MOST important thing you need to know.)

  • ApartheusApartheus Registered User new member
    @Titanium Dragon: While I agree that the mechanics and dynamics are a integral part of any definition regarding the gaming medium, I think you are missing the thrust of the argument in this episode.

    It was stressed that a narrow focus on mechanics from the developers' hands would usually conflict with how the actual "feeling" or dynamics of its application in the game was as mechanics and dynamics are not equated. Thus the argument seemed more to be in favor of a reversed approach to the game, which would emphasize the aesthetic categories they outlined. That would in turn make the various ideas, e.g. Fantasy and Challenge, appear more clear as goals instead of the constraints imposed by the narrow focus on mechanics. The point seemed to be more akin to that of raising a finger to developers to think about game design differently in order to make more successful games with a clear-cut view on its aesthetics rather than making "clones".

    In addition, there was placed an emphasis on how Portal was not a FPS, so I am not sure what your argument there seems to be pointing at. They emphasized its puzzle nature rather than its FPS aspects as being the defining characteristic.

    Sewblon
  • discriderdiscrider Registered User regular
    @Sessilenomad: After reading the paper that this episode was based on, it's pretty clear that the author of the paper agrees with you. They classify Competition as competition against AI or human as well. However, I still feel that the distinction between Competition and Challenge has no fundamental basis. I mean, at what point does a weak AI go from being an obstacle to a competitor? Is there suddenly competition in a game that has challenge if we include a score mechanic? Are the enemies in Braid competitors because they kill you if they walk into you?

    Two good examples of the somewhat frivolous nature of this boundary are Chess and Portal 2. If you go out and buy any robotic or electronic chess set, you will usually get two modes. You'll have your classic competitive beat the AI mode, and some sort of "puzzle" mode. Both use the same rules and the same AI. All the mechanics are the same. The only difference is, in the puzzle mode you'll start in a far superior position to the AI and you can force a checkmate if you see the solution to the puzzle. Does this make the puzzle mode "Challenge" and the full game mode "Competition" even though the puzzle mode can be reached by the player through the full game mode in the late game stages?

    Similarly, Portal 2 is a classic Challenge game. However, if we bring in the Perpetual Testing Initiative (the integrated puzzle builder within the game), suddenly we have players building devious puzzles for other players. The motivations of the puzzle builders aside, if the puzzle solver comes across a puzzle with the two words "Beat this!" in the description, does it suddenly become Competition?

    @RoyceSraphim: You can do this with AI as well, it's just that tricking an AI is generally easier and will work 100% of the time compared to "exploiting" a human's errors, where the other player may learn to counter-attack in some way. You can always close doors in Thief and slaughter guards through doors, they're not going to learn not to clip through them. You can always make the ball ricochet as fast as possible in Pong so that the other paddle cannot just track it, and it won't learn to predict where it needs to be instead. But you can't rely on a human enemy not turning around at the wrong time, or ignoring your ploy entirely, or doing something entirely different.

    If anything, Competition is an amalgam of mostly Challenge but also combined with the multiplayer forms of Expression and Fellowship. Expression of the form: Did you see how I just beat that guy/you? And Fellowship wherever fighting solo takes a back seat to team play. Everything else is establishing a strategy to use the tools at hand to defeat obstacles, which is the essence of Challenge, and it doesn't matter if those obstacles are inert walls, moving platforms, uncaring rolling barrels, heat-seeking missiles, or player-killing machines of destruction with AI hearts or controlled remotely by other players.

    Steam Community page: http://steamcommunity.com/id/discrider/
    Oh hey! A knife!
    Dorkmaster Flekran88dom99
  • meiammeiam Registered User regular
    I think the movie analogy is wrong here, or rather misused. I think a better way to compare them would be to say that "first person shooter" would be the equivalent of "movie" under this comparison, the equivalent for "video game" would be "watching a story". If I say I'm going to "watch a story" it could mean many different things, theatre, TV series, movie and so on. But almost everyone is familiar with the term "movie" so that you can say it. But if you say to someone who's unfamiliar about video game "I'll play a first person shooter" it's like going back in ancient greece and saying you'll go see a movie. In time, as video game get more and more mainstream, we'll be able to say simply "I'll play a puzzler" and then we'll start adding more qualification, just like when two gamer speak to each other, they don't specify there talking about video game, they go right away genra--> core experience.

    Sewblon
  • AristotelesAristoteles Registered User
    πλὴν οἱ ἄνθρωποί γε συνάπτοντες τῷ μέτρῳ τὸ ποιεῖν ἐλεγειοποιοὺς τοὺς δὲ ἐποποιοὺς ὀνομάζουσιν, οὐχ κατὰ τὴν μίμησιν ποιητὰς ἀλλὰ κοινῇ κατὰ τὸ μέτρον προσαγορεύοντες· καὶ γὰρ ἂν ἰατρικὸν ἢ φυσικόν τι διὰ τῶν μέτρων ἐκφέρωσιν, οὕτω καλεῖν εἰώθασιν· οὐδὲν δὲ κοινόν ἐστιν Ὁμήρῳ καὶ Ἐμπεδοκλεῖ πλὴν τὸ μέτρον, διὸ τὸν μὲν ποιητὴν δίκαιον καλεῖν, τὸν δὲ φυσιολόγον μᾶλλον ἢ ποιητήν.

  • sessilenomadsessilenomad Registered User
    discrider wrote: »
    I mean, at what point does a weak AI go from being an obstacle to a competitor?

    This seems to be the million dollar question. What is AI and what are its limitations. I'm not sure I can think of a particularly compelling reason at the moment. It might be the case the competition only makes sense in terms of besting other people.
    discrider wrote: »
    Is there suddenly competition in a game that has challenge if we include a score mechanic?

    Definitely. This is the whole notion behind these communities that speedrun games. Add a timer to SM64 and now its competitive and has rules and different run types. Dustforce is competitive(as well as challenging) solely for the reason that it has a timer. Without the timer, its a merely challenging.
    discrider wrote: »
    ...Chess...Does this make the puzzle mode "Challenge" and the full game mode "Competition" even though the puzzle mode can be reached by the player through the full game mode in the late game stages?

    Yeah i would say it does. How we play a game seems to greatly change the core aesthetics. Back to my speedrunning example, the people playing metroid prime for the narrative and fantasy and visual aspects of it could be said to be playing an entirely different game from those who are speedrunning it, despite the fact that both players might experience the same mechanical circumstances.

    So even though the puzzle mode is mechanically possible in the regular mode, you aren't playing them for the same reasons, so the core aesthetics do actually change.

    This is where i think the fundamental distinction between challenge and competition lies. The difference is establishing betterness over another person(or AI, although I'm feeling iffy about it) versus establishing betterness over mere level design.
    discrider wrote: »
    Similarly, Portal 2 is a classic Challenge game. However, if we bring in the Perpetual Testing Initiative (the integrated puzzle builder within the game), suddenly we have players building devious puzzles for other players. The motivations of the puzzle builders aside, if the puzzle solver comes across a puzzle with the two words "Beat this!" in the description, does it suddenly become Competition?

    No I don't think under these definitions this scenario would change portal from challenge to competition. If the goal is to "Beat this!" they are doing exactly that, beating 'this', that is to say, a level, not a person. In beating the level it doesn't really make sense for the player to say they bested or did anything better than the creator. If you said "Beat this!" and added a timer however, things would certainly change.


    ran88dom99
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