Wednesday, March 19, 2008


“Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.” M. Esther Harding

Ah conflict. The root of all gaming (for me at least). It may be true that nearly all games are based around conflict, whether it be violent (blood and gore) or simply competitive (times, scores). I have to agree that conflict simply makes challenges more personal. Challenge without conflict does become predictable, much in the sense that challenge without conflict becomes boring. They come hand in hand.

As I have mentioned in nearly every post before this one, I am a fan of the violent type of conflict/competition that is found in so many games today. How boring, yes I know. I do think it is worth mentioning though that I personally prefer to play these sort of games co-operatively or with a team of people, whether that be humans vs humans, or humans vs bot/npcs. To me this style of gaming is very appealing as it forces team work and co-operation and generates positive gaming mechanics (healing a friend, covering the flag carrier, assisting the defence etc...). So far to date the most enjoyable experience I have had in this area of gaming was Serious Sam (the original) with a group of 7 friends. Epic.

Below: Serious Sam - YEEEEEHAWW!!!!

It is necessary though to distinguish other sorts of conflict and competition in gaming, lest game designers get funneled into thinking that a competitive game has to be violent. An example of non violent competition can even be seen in economic models in MMOs. Using something as simple as the auction house in WoW, you will find many users not only competing for items to bid the lowest price on, but people who wish to sell their items for less than the lowest person (known as undercutting). This is a contest involving gold and greed that is not really a big deal, but nevertheless often results in some angry customers.

Below: WoW AH - Sif undercut me you #!*$@^!

Is conflict and competition necessary? In my opinion, some form of either is necessary for a game to be a game and not simply a form of leisure. A leisure activity it is, yes, but you would hardly call sitting in a virtual rainforest listening to the rain a 'game'. Something needs to be happening. Even in a game such as Audiosurf, a recent music themed game combining elements of racers and tetris, has competition in it, as enjoyable as the game is. Online scoring of music 'tracks' generated by the game's engine are often a source of player's re-playability of the game. After all, beating 'Killer747' at your favourite song who lives in ... somewhere ... is the most important thing in the world after all. Even solitaire has minor competition in it, if you take the time it takes to complete and the tactfulness of play into account (though not many people do).

Below: AudioSurf - seizure inducing fun ftw!

About the only game I know of that doesn't have some form of conflict or competition (even in an AI or scripted sense) would be the Sims. Which is unusual because it is apparently the highest selling PC game at the moment. Is that because the majority of gamers (i.e. casuals) prefer a lack of conflict/competition in their gaming? Interesting...

I do agree however that a degree of unpredictability and uncertainty in gaming is necessary for it to be wholly enjoyable. Uncertainty, whether that be ignorance of an encounter or the skill level of another opponent, results in challenging and refreshing gameplay, even if it does turn out to be rather easy. Even games that are largely based on random number generators can have high levels of unpredictability which can still be considered skillful and not entirely random (e.g. WoW PvP). Although I do not really believe that games require complete unpredictability to be entertaining, let alone skillful. Hardcore competitive FPS shooters and strategy games are games that are both incredibly skillful and unpredictable. However, compared to games like Guitar Hero which also requires a large amount of skill, it also tends to be rather predictable even if you have mastered it on expert difficulty and played it long enough.

So what does this mean in terms of games design, and more importantly in our board game protptype entitled currently as 'King of the Hill'? There will be competitive play, that has been established. Players will compete against each other to be the best at this game which will require the reaching and holding of a priority node (in this case the top of the hill). The idea of introducing co-operative play (i.e. underdogs teaming up on the leading player/s) is still in debate. It could be entirely optional or forced when one player starts leaving everyone in the dust. Historically, King of the Hill games have been about the lone winner, beating everyone else who had teamed up against him or her. Introducing cooperative play in this sense would possibly result in interesting alliance-switching games that should be both longer and more enjoyable, as well as greater glory for the eventual winner.

The rolling of dice will fulfill the role of the random number generator, adding unpredictability to the game. Strategy can be added if the allowance on directional movement goes through, considering the environment for play is linked (circular spiral based). Ambushing or cutting off opponents could add interesting elements to the gameplay. These topics and many related issues are currently in discussion amongst our team's members and should hopefully be resolved in the following weeks to come.

"When one ceases from conflict, whether because he has won, because he has lost, or because he cares no more for the game, the virtue passes out of him." Charles Horton Cooley

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