Tag Archives: design

Analyzing The Offer in Fallout:New Vegas

Analyzing The Offer in Fallout:New Vegas

Continuing from my post on The Offer, I looked at Bethesda’s wonderful post-apocalyptic RPG, Fallout:New Vegas and their treatment of offers from the start of the game.

A game that flows well responds to the player’s actions which are motivated by what information the game ‘offers’ to the player.  This is important in story-based games especially ones that are non-linear where the player can respond in different ways.

Below is the listing of the offers, responses and honors in Fallout’s first opening minutes.  Offers are in PURPLE; a player’s response to the offer is prefaced with the offer they’re responding to (e.g., MURDERER is a player’s response to the offer of ‘Find out who tried to murder me’);  RED indicates an offer that is not honored (i.e., the player’s action results in no new offer); GREEN indicates an offer that is honored (i.e., the player’s reaction to an offer leads to something else usually another offer).

There is a lot of information conveyed in the opening, but key items that I recall are:

  • The game is set in post-apocalyptic Las Vegas
  • A guy in a check suit executes me in a graveyard with a water tower nearby
  • A doctor patches me up who tells me to find Victor who found me and Sunny at a Saloon
The opening then gives me offers that I can respond to: 
  • Find my MURDERER
  • Find VICTOR
  • Find SUNNY
As soon as I exit out of the doctor’s house, I get a great visual offer of a water tower in the distance on a hill.  I respond to this offer by traveling to the water tower to find clues about my assailant.  When I get there, I find a clue.
MURDERER: I find distinctive cigarette butts.
This is a weak offer as I am not sure what to do next but at least I am rewarded for investigating the execution scene and I have hopes that this clue will lead me to the man in the checkered suit. But I have 2 remaining offers of talking to Victor and Sunny.
En route to the saloon, I meet with Victor and talk to him.
VICTOR: While the honor of speaking with him is honored, it does not lead anywhere.
I go to the Saloon to talk to Sunny.
SUNNY: After she gives me a tutorial on shooting, she advises I talk to TRUDY in the saloon.
TRUDY: She tells me that the man in the checkered suit was with a group called the Khans and that they went north through Quarry Junction taking Route 93 to the Strip. This provides me with a new offer related to finding murderer, QUARRY.

And so the game continues with offers, responses and new offers.

So many times in story-based games, the next goal or means to achieve a goal is not well communicated.  It’s even more frustrating when a player is not rewarded for following an offer.  At times, offers may not lead anywhere as in the case of talking to Victor, but at least the player is given the option.

The Offer

The Offer

Improvisers have a wonderful term called ‘The Offer’.  Essentially it is any content that informs the audience and other improvisers about the scene, its characters and environment.  Offers are treated like a precious treasure, a tiny delicate baby, a new lover and all efforts are made to maintain and develop that offer.  And those efforts in turn become offers themselves.

A good improvised scene contains offers that are clear and connected.  One of the many sins an improviser can indulge in is to ignore an offer.  Doing so confuses the action, stops the flow of the scene and enrages the improv gods.

This “lens” of the offer, as Jesse Schell might call it, is useful to whip out to examine game design.  What offers in the game narrative are not developed or never used?  Is there something tantalizing that is offered that players can never interact with? How are offers emphasized in game content?

And offers are not just limited to game content. Look at your game packaging and marketing materials.  What do they offer the users?  Is there sufficient support for these offers in the game? Or does your game, Age of Zombies, only show the living undead in a cut-scene at the beginning and then one in a dungeon 5 hours later?


Alternative to Begging in Social Games

Alternative to Begging in Social Games

A hackneyed mechanic used by social game developers to increase and maintain their user base is to require current players to solicit their friends to participate in the game.  Players are then given rewards for each friend that they solicit.  But the end result is that the transaction feels slimy and players can become annoyed with all of the ‘begging’ for help.  Another result is that players may be intrinsically motivated to help their friends but the extrinsic motivations could extinguish one’s inner need to assist.

One alternative would be to allow players to choose who they assist and when.  A board could show ‘friends in need’ and the player would have the option of helping or not.  The developers could also provide greater rewards for helping out a friend who is a highly active user and less rewards for players who are ‘deadbeats’ and are not particularly active.  Random strangers could also be listed on the board thereby expanding the reach of volunteers and facilitating greater social contact.

However, this approach would only work with installed users and not help increase the number of new players.

Satana Ex Machina

Satana Ex Machina

A couple of years ago when I was developing a game concept for a big brand, I came up with the idea of a satana ex machina.  While a deus ex machina provides a solution to resolve a conflict, the satana ex machina would provide the initial problem of a story.

Of course, a deus ex machina is a weak narrative element and its counterpart probably wouldn’t be any better since these figures are completely removed from the story and don’t have any stakes in resolving or creating conflict.  Still in all, I found the idea of an infernal imp creating havoc for the protagonist intriguing.  And I think that a satana can be more palatable than a deus since the audience wants to see the protagonist solve a conflict, but the source of the conflict isn’t as important to understand.

But a villain whose motivations is understood is always meatier.

Our Gamificiation of Foot Bag

Our Gamificiation of Foot Bag

Many years ago, Ayu Othman introduced our office to the wonderful art of foot bagging or Hacky Sack.  The general goal was to keep the bag in the air without using your hands but very quickly, the group began to modify this simple rule of play.

The goal of a round was changed to either have everyone make contact and keep the bag aloft for as long as possible (i.e, a Whozit as in Who is it going to go out on?) or to propel the bag between someone’s legs (i.e., a Wicket).  It is interesting to note that these two goals are in conflict.  The Whozit is more of a communal goal with everyone pitching in to try and ensure that the foot bag stays in the air, but a wicket usually stops the game.

Additional rules began to surface such as clarifying what constituted a wicket (e.g., if the foot bag was flicked between a person’s leg while the footbag was stalled on the ground, it was a flicket) or RLR, the Right Leg Rule which defined who would be responsible for kicking the foot bag if its trajectory was between two players.  When we first starting using wikis we created a hacky sack wiki in part to maintain these rules but also as a way to get people familiar with the tool.

Recently we’ve adopted a ritual whereby the person who received the last wicket displays a clump of feathers on their cubicle as a mark of ‘shame’.

I proposed a rule to give those players who wicket someone who already had the feathers some additional mark of shame.  My inner designer felt the current rule was too heavy-handed with weaker players and that the stronger players needed some governance.  But we have not yet adopted this rule as the process is much more organic and ad hoc.

I just hope I don’t get wicketed as a result of my proposal…