Tuesday, August 17, 2010

(empo-plaaybizz) Sleep is death - the "fight club" of games

I joined Amplify over the weekend, but currently am reading it more than posting to it. I found this item from Kol Tregaskes, which led me to a Randy Smith blog post which asks, "When Is A Game Not A Game"? When I play Starfleet Commander or Sudoku, I play within a defined set of rules. An Atlas can't overpower 5 Ares, and I can't place 9 one's in a row. Smith describes another reality:

The only strange thing about this talking wolf is the high quality of its conversation. “I could shoot you, you know,” I threaten the wolf, having already established that my daughter might still be alive inside its belly. That wasn’t picked from a dialogue menu; I typed it in. Without missing a beat, the wolf responds, “I’m afraid you’ll have to.” Sentient characters and interactive dialogue have been common this entire play session. Impressed? The game’s responses are driven by game designer Jason Rohrer.

Yes, I do mean that he designed this game, Sleep Is Death, but I also mean that he’s controlling the world I’m exploring and typing in the responses for each character I speak to. It’s through the magic of this ‘man behind the curtain’ solution that Sleep Is Death is easily able to bring players to places few videogames are capable of, meaningfully exploring stories about family, euthanasia and coming of age, to name a few.

This is nothing new, at least for those of us who played Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. For those who never played the game, a Dungeonmaster would set up the initial world in which the players roamed, but the Dungeonmaster could always interject a level of personal control, or change things around to meet the situation of the players. And until computer artificial intelligence becomes much better, and games learn much more about the people who play them, the personal touch of a game "master" will provide a much richer experience than something that was programmed by a staff of people.

Now games such as baseball, basketball, and football (whatever flavor) have entire books of rules. A simplified rule set can be frightening, but it can also be liberating. I'm not a movie person, but I'm well aware that "Fight Club" has few rules:

Welcome to Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! Third rule of Fight Club: if someone yells "stop!", goes limp, or taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: the fights are bare knuckle. No shirt, no shoes, no weapons. Seventh rule: fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at Fight Club, you have to fight.

Compared to the rules for other games, that's nothing. And while it's a stretch to apply it to Microsoft's attempted takeover of Yahoo in 2008, there are certainly some possibilities to use "fight club"-like tactics to score a business knockout.

More details about Rohrer's game can be found at http://www.sleepisdeath.net/.
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