"All right action flows from the breath"
- Hajakujo

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Excess Revelry - too much fun

"What sour unkind movement stirs the heart of me?
Some dour fecund fruit from excess revelry,
love's labours lost, staunchless gush and - puuaaaggg*!"


Sometimes real work is just not worth it, when the toys are so much fun.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Games as Information Systems Q&A

Since I have had no time to post in a month, and there have been no replies to my last post, there is a happy opportunity to segue straight into a little Q&A on the topic of games as information systems, derived from some response to the topic over at onlyagame.

So, onto the questions:

- How would one measure the bits of information in a game situation (and is it worth even trying)?

Answering the second part first - why measure the bits of information? - I think it is clear that no matter the graphical fidelity, games are still component systems designed from the top down. Therefore a reductionist approach to analysis can still work. And reductionism is a powerful tool. I think the idea is not that we want to break down gameplay to the point where we can say: the player has just interacted with information bit x, and is being presented with bit y.
I think rather that we want to be able to say that the stream of information coming in to the player has X profile at time T.

The how is quite difficult. The first step is to reduce the dimensionality of the measurement to the 2 dimensions that the player sees. But you can't lose the relational information between what is in the viewport frame and what may be around it (and the viewport frame is itself information bearing, especially in games where it represents the player's view). Thats the really hard part.
I think that I would have to hand-annotate a game with information before I could answer this in the general case - i.e. familiarise myself with my own proposal!
But to start with, everything in the game has a relationship with the player and a novelty to the player. Under these two headings, one could imagine a framework for assigning bits to in-game elements based on their relatability and novelty. I often think of FPS games like Battlefield here - there is so much detail in one of those worlds, but a player only assigns a little attention to terrain, because no matter its appearance it all behaves the same way. On the other hand, other players require a deal of attention, because despite a certain uniformity of appearance* they can all do quite different things (to kill you!). Roughly, the idea is: how can we measure the (potential) attention budget of the player?

*Which would be a personal gripe with Battlefield games - if they skinned them in Warhammer 40K designs, then you'd have a game :D

- Can game information be considered comparable? Consider the analogue information in the state of a snowboarding game versus, say, the positions of the players on the pitch in a sports game.

Very pertinent - possibly the hardest problem with this approach. Could this be gotten around by considering the possibility space of the game, and comparing on that basis? In this sense, the possibility space of a sports-like game is more dispersed (softer) than that of an analogue game. But the essential nature of the information is still the same - probability weighted relatability and novelty. Its just that that tree down the slope at time T has a much higher probability of still being down the slope but closer at time T+1, than that player down pitch has of still being in the same spot a second later (but consider the beautiful game - the goalkeeper has a pretty high probability of being in roughly the same spot! Its all degrees).

- Are information and time the only factors influencing game difficulty?

Well, novelty is very important, and is kind of assumed in the information approach. But novelty can only be judged by known play history of the player. Who can only be identified on a profile sign-in basis. Which system can only be trusted to be valid, not known. So thats a problem.

In fact, its the same old problem with player modelling again - after a certain point, without biometrics we really can't be sure that the person playing is the same one we've been modelling all along. The fields of concept drift and concept shift have methods for dealing with this, but again its all a matter of probabilities.