Better Than Dialogue Trees: The Interface of Human Interaction

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

For nearly as long as we have had video games, those games have tried to emulate the experience of talking to (and developing a relationship with) a human being.

100% of those efforts (including the ones that I have built) have produced experiences that do not at all resemble actual human interaction.

But this problem runs deep. Dialogue trees are so much the default design for human interaction in games that when I have proposed to many designers that we need a better interface, the largest hurdle has been overcoming the assumption that there simply cannot be a better design for this; that nothing else is possible.

I believe there are other possibilities, unexplored. I believe that we will find them. We must! If we imagine a future, 100 years from now, where we are still playing video games, do we believe that those character interactions will still use Mass Effect-style dialogue trees?

I do not believe that, in part because the modern design of dialogue trees is so fundamentally inhuman:

  1. Dialogue trees assert that NPCs should say one thing in response to the player’s choices. That design puts the power of choice for the NPC’s response on the shoulders of the players. In effect, the player is the one who chooses the NPC’s reaction. Modern NPCs are verbal vending machines.
  2. In modern games, there are generally only a very few (usually one) relationship spectrum being measured (often, how close are we to having sex with the character). Yet, real human beings track a wide variety of statuses in their relationships: trust, admiration, desire, intimacy, rapport… it is the multiplicity of values that make human relationships rich. We do not reflect this richness in our game designs.
  3. Context matters. It is strange for a person to unpack their heart to someone they just met–yet, this is so common in video game design as to be a trope.

The list goes on. Current NPC interaction systems do not produce interactions that feel like interacting with a person.

So: how might we do that? What is a better interface and a better design for interacting with an artificial human? How could we turn the player’s attention in an NPC interaction towards the same types of things they think about in a real-life conversation with a real person?

What kind of interface might better capture something closer to the true emotional & experiential nature of human relationships?

This group will not discuss the promise of neural networks, or of big data analysis, or of other magic-wand black-box approaches to this problem. We will deliberately keep the conversation out of the “technology will save us” domain. That is not to say that such advances are not coming; they clearly are. But there are lots of groups out there focusing on those approaches to this problem.

Instead, this group will focus on interface, on character data model, and on how we might generate meaningful gameplay, all around the subject of interactions with artificial humans, using today’s technology.

Let’s build a better relationship interface.

Ethical Monetization

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

We now have at least a decade of design experience building free-to-play game. Mobile F2P is maturing rapidly and Mobile Premium is shrinking. Both PC and console have adopted IAP within their top selling games. It isn’t hyperbole to say the majority of financially successful games would not be so if it weren’t for their IAP monetization designs.

Sometimes these systems do bad things to players. Gambling is a popular topic in the press. At the very least many of the practices can be deeply dehumanizing to players.

For me, I spend about 80% of my time designing and balancing the F2P systems outside (and inside) the core game loop. This is independent of The Man breathing down my neck. It is simply the world we live in.

Given this reality, how do we:
1. Make games that are profitable. Especially given maturing markets and intense competition.
2. AND Make games that are a positive addition to the lives of our players.
3. AND Find the joy in monetization design. It seems like there are some wonderful system design and multiplayer design challenges.

Cozy Online Games

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

There’s a growing sub-genre of ‘cozy’ games that focus heavily on tend and befriend-style gameplay. They try to make the player feel comfortable and safe vs stressed and competitive. Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, Hidden Folk, Neko Atsume and others fit this mold. However few have any focus on multiplayer. I just released one experiment, Beartopia, multiplayer Animal Crossing style game for VR, but it is a topic I’d love to explore more.

– What are cozy multiplayer interactions?
– What does cozy play with strangers look like?
– What sort of business models would work for such a game?

Can we crack the echo chamber?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

The rise of social networks promised to connect us, but a little over a decade since Facebook opened to the public, these networks are dividing us more sharply along political lines, amplifying the spread of fake news, and possibly allowing foreign interests to intensify these problems to our detriment.  Does analyzing this problem through lenses of game system design, gamification, and/or behavior incentivization suggest any realistic methods for softening the walls of the online age’s echo chambers?

Let’s Build a Game Designer!

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I mean, it’s obvious, right? Eventually we will all have to become game designer designers.

Procedural content creation is all well and good, but what would it take to build a non-human designer that can design an entire game?

What atoms, rules, models, systems, and methods will we need?

What can be done today? Prototyped this weekend?

What do we see as the road ahead in machine-assisted game design?

Join me in embracing our future of automated creativity!