Realism?

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Lannes
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Realism?

Postby Lannes » Mon May 24, 2004 12:32 pm

This issue has come up in various threads now, so I thought perhaps it deserves one of its own.

Personally I like a degree of realism in games, however I do not consider it an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve immersion. Immersion requires a believable game environment. A believable game environment doesn’t have to be true to reality, but it has to be true to itself.

Immersion is lacking in most games because in no time you find yourself thinking of symbols in terms of the game rules that govern them. Symbols and rules become disconnected in a way not unlike is the case for chess. So, my first wish for CotN would be that this doesn’t happen. If "sandal maker" is a game symbol, then as a player I ought to deal with a sandal maker, not a set of rules that govern him. Of course those rules exist. As a player I just shouldn’t be able to reduce the symbol to its rules.

Realism is only a requirement for immersion inasfar as the game environment is presented as true to history, culture and nature. To that degree though it has to be applied with quite rigorous consistency. It's the latter that concerns me more. I wouldn't want to see equivalents of Caesar III's non-grid pattern Roman towns and commuting citizen-miners.

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Postby Keith » Mon May 24, 2004 3:31 pm

Lannes wrote:This issue has come up in various threads now, so I thought perhaps it deserves one of its own.

Personally I like a degree of realism in games, however I do not consider it an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve immersion. Immersion requires a believable game environment. A believable game environment doesn’t have to be true to reality, but it has to be true to itself.

Immersion is lacking in most games because in no time you find yourself thinking of symbols in terms of the game rules that govern them. Symbols and rules become disconnected in a way not unlike is the case for chess. So, my first wish for CotN would be that this doesn’t happen. If "sandal maker" is a game symbol, then as a player I ought to deal with a sandal maker, not a set of rules that govern him. Of course those rules exist. As a player I just shouldn’t be able to reduce the symbol to its rules.

Realism is only a requirement for immersion inasfar as the game environment is presented as true to history, culture and nature. To that degree though it has to be applied with quite rigorous consistency. It's the latter that concerns me more. I wouldn't want to see equivalents of Caesar III's non-grid pattern Roman towns and commuting citizen-miners.

Lannes

Since we won't be dealing with random and destination walkers of old, I don't think there will be the same sorts of obstacles to a certain amount of realism this time around. No artificial housing blocks, no roadblocks, etc.

I think that realism is going to boil down to a set of predetermined rules and randomness of actions and events. There's only so much you can do when modelling life on a personal computer. Sooner or later players, through sheer repetition of play, will observe what makes a individual character "tick" and the sense of realism will be less of a mystery. There is no avoiding it.

While I would like the game to be a close approximation of ancient daily life, I don't want it to be so close that there is no "game" left in it. I do not want a 100% simulation. There must be some aspect of unpredictability.
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Lannes
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Postby Lannes » Mon May 24, 2004 4:14 pm

Keith wrote:I think that realism is going to boil down to a set of predetermined rules and randomness of actions and events. There's only so much you can do when modelling life on a personal computer. Sooner or later players, through sheer repetition of play, will observe what makes a individual character "tick" and the sense of realism will be less of a mystery. There is no avoiding it.


Perhaps. In an early interview I read that the game will make use of fuzzy logic. If that applies to choices made by people in the game, that at least would make their outcome a whole lot less straightforward to predict than was the case before.

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Postby vovan » Mon May 24, 2004 5:25 pm

To rephrase an old cliche, realism is in the eye of the beholder, I think. :) It is really a matter of perception, I think, to some extent. There is a certain category of players out there that will always reduce the game to a set of numbers and equations, and try to "exploit", for the lack of a better word, these rules to their best advantage.

When I play the game, for instance, I like to think of the world in game terms. When I play Civilization, I like to think of what is best for my people in terms of how I see the real world around me, not in terms of just what the happiness formula is, and so how much more I should spend on luxuries - 10% or 20% to maximize exactly both happiness and my profit (for instance). To me, this experience is realistic.

On the other hand, there are other people who think exactly the way I don't like to think about games - they like to figure out formulas that govern the game world, and adjust their strategies accordingly. There is nothing wrong with that approach, of course, but it just defeats all realism, no matter how much of it the developers put into the game. Going back to the Civilization example, for instance. There is a game concept called culture flipping, where basically if a small town is close to a large and influential metropolis of another nation, it can "envy" that other nation so much that it will flip under their control. Now, from my point of view, I say okay there is one small town of mine surrounded by four huge metropolises of my enemy, so it will probably flip out of my control sooner rather than later. That is realistic to me. A number-crunching person, however, would instead think: okay, my town is 30 squares away from my capital, its size is 2, there are four enemy's cities next to it, 5, 6, and 7 squares away, of sizes 10, 11, and 12, the enemy's total culture is 10000, and mine is 1000, hence the total probability of my town flipping out of control is 95.135%. All of a sudden, the whole idea of culture, and influence, which is there to add realism maybe, is reduced into a set of numbers, which are to be onverted into an optimal strategy.

Similarly with citybuilders. My hut is not evolving, and the advisor says that's because the neighborhood is ugly. As a person that loves realism, I would try to act as a real mayor and say, okay, let me just plop down a status here somewhere and see how it goes. A person who likes to crunch numbers instead, would say: okay, the statue provides 5 "beauty" points, and its radius of influence is 5 squares, where the influence decays with distance as exp(-d / a), where d is the distance from the statue in squares, and a is a proportionality constant equal to ... (contrived example naturally :) ), hence I need to put the statue 3 squares away from the hut to maximize beutification, and minimize the expense. Here, again, the whole "realism" of beautifying a city, whereby a certain amount of guesswork is naturally invloved, is reduced into a set of numbers and formulas. And such approach to gaming is quite widespread - look at Emperor Heaven, for instance - there are scores of tables listing the numbers for you. Hence, however much the developers might try to reproduce realism, they will always fail for some people.

And that will always be the case. After all, computers are inherently mathematical tools (hence the name :) ), and thus all of the gameplay can always be broken down into a set of numbers and formulas, hence the number crunchers will always find a way to expose those formulas and optimise their strategies using that knowledge.

Phew long rant. :) So, my point is, if anyone's forgotten, that realism cannot be implemented in modern computer, only faked, and hence it only depends on your approach to gaming, and certain role-playing skills whether you will see the realism in the behaviour of agents on your screen, or just a set of formulas governing their actions, which are inevitably there somewhere.

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Chris Beatrice
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Postby Chris Beatrice » Mon May 24, 2004 7:11 pm

Sometimes I'm truly stunned at how on target the discussions are on this forum (and I certainly don't mean that as a back-handed compliment).

The issue of organic and "realistic" behavior vs. ruleset-driven behavior is fundamental to the CotN concept - this is not your grandfather's city-builder! (hey, maybe that would have been a better tagline than "1st 3d city-building game...).

-Chris

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Postby Keith » Mon May 24, 2004 8:21 pm

Chris Beatrice wrote:Sometimes I'm truly stunned at how on target the discussions are on this forum (and I certainly don't mean that as a back-handed compliment).

The issue of organic and "realistic" behavior vs. ruleset-driven behavior is fundamental to the CotN concept - this is not your grandfather's city-builder! (hey, maybe that would have been a better tagline than "1st 3d city-building game...).

-Chris

You'll have to work that tagline in on future advertising. ;)

We will all certainly be waiting to see CotN changes our concepts of citybuilding. :D

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Postby Azeem » Tue May 25, 2004 5:09 am

Realism is of my least concern. Personally, I have a growing disdain for the obsession with realism. Reality is reality and a game world is a game world. Thus Zeus easily became one of my favorite city-builders. :) The only thing that should be of concern is how the game plays. Immersion into the game world should be left to the imagination (assuming people in these times of 3D graphics still have one ;) :p :D ).

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Postby Jayhawk » Tue May 25, 2004 8:22 am

As vovan says there seem to be (at least) two large group of player types playing the city builder type games. Borrowing the terms used by one of our forumers competing in our Emperor contest, there are the Confusianist and the Zen (buddhist) players.

The Confucianist player does not play the game as such, but plays the rules. He goes for what makes the game ticks and calculates the best strategy to get the maximum effect with the minimum (game) effort. He's like the reductionist scientist that tries to work out the Theory of Everything (which in the game space, he can ;) )

The Zen player has a more holistic view of things and doesn't really work ate knowing the actual formulas that rule the game. He aims for the larger picture, a deeper submerging in the game, looking on the features that emerge from the game's complexity, rather than the exact rules than govern them.
In the scientist metaphor he's looking at emergent features and dynamic systems, rather than the underlying detailed structures.

Personally, I'm more of the Zen type player than the Confucianist type and I hope that CotN rather than on simple rules works on more complex dynamic systems and as such will cause a deeper emergence in the game because it's much harder to reproduce the actual rules guiding the game features.

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Postby Lannes » Tue May 25, 2004 8:30 am

Azeem wrote:Reality is reality and a game world is a game world.


The player inevitably brings reality along upon entering the game world. I don't think that immersion requires that games should be true to reality in every respect but I do think it requires a correspondence between game symbols and their counterparts in reality.

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Postby G-Force » Tue May 25, 2004 9:57 am

Realism can also be tied to house evolution. It's 'real' that if you provide more the citizens will upgrade their homes. It is 'unreal' however that if a house looses water access, the habitents will reduce their house to a hut and leave. If your dying of thirst you're not going to reduce your home first. You would simply leave it as it is. Have you ever seen someone undo improvements to his own home?

I realise (no pun intended) ofcourse that the house devolution is required to tell the computer how much people he can allow in a house, but it could be handled better.

After having said all this, remember that it has not yet been said that CotN will have house evolution. See the housing thread for more discussion.

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Postby Ineti » Tue May 25, 2004 1:26 pm

Great explanation, Jayhawk. By your definition, I'm definitely a Zen player. I played Pharaoh by throwing cities together as best I could, very organic. I was always impressed (and a little intimidated) by the players who posted their materials online, showing the exact math behind building, but unless I followed their city plans to the letter, I didn't get the same results. I managed to finish Pharaoh with my Zen-like style, perhaps not as efficiently as others.

I hope CotN has room for both styles, and any others we're not considering here.

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Postby mouse » Tue May 25, 2004 2:57 pm

Another Zen player peeking into this thread :D

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Postby Keith » Tue May 25, 2004 3:02 pm

Ineti wrote:Great explanation, Jayhawk. By your definition, I'm definitely a Zen player. I played Pharaoh by throwing cities together as best I could, very organic. I was always impressed (and a little intimidated) by the players who posted their materials online, showing the exact math behind building, but unless I followed their city plans to the letter, I didn't get the same results. I managed to finish Pharaoh with my Zen-like style, perhaps not as efficiently as others.

I hope CotN has room for both styles, and any others we're not considering here.

I am more of a empirical style (Zen) player myself. I learn by observing, rather than the reductionist ("bean counting" or Confucian) method.

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Postby Niempie » Tue May 25, 2004 3:23 pm

Seems that I'm also a Zen player! When I'm playing I don't want to calculate what to do next for the best results :)

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Postby Azeem » Tue May 25, 2004 3:28 pm

Jayhawk wrote:As vovan says there seem to be (at least) two large group of player types playing the city builder type games. Borrowing the terms used by one of our forumers competing in our Emperor contest, there are the Confusianist and the Zen (buddhist) players.

The Confucianist player does not play the game as such, but plays the rules. He goes for what makes the game ticks and calculates the best strategy to get the maximum effect with the minimum (game) effort. He's like the reductionist scientist that tries to work out the Theory of Everything (which in the game space, he can ;) )

The Zen player has a more holistic view of things and doesn't really work ate knowing the actual formulas that rule the game. He aims for the larger picture, a deeper submerging in the game, looking on the features that emerge from the game's complexity, rather than the exact rules than govern them.
In the scientist metaphor he's looking at emergent features and dynamic systems, rather than the underlying detailed structures.

Personally, I'm more of the Zen type player than the Confucianist type and I hope that CotN rather than on simple rules works on more complex dynamic systems and as such will cause a deeper emergence in the game because it's much harder to reproduce the actual rules guiding the game features.


Personally, I fit in none of these two categories.

But what of the more "Daoist" player who goes along at a slow (almost snail's) pace and builds accordingly to maintain a sort of flow and harmony? Similar to this sort of "Zen" psyche, the "Daoist" is one who is not entirely interested in the actual mechanics but is nonetheless inclined to work with them when he or she discovers them. The "Daoist" does not look at the "larger picture," but does not focus on calculation either. Instead he or she is one that is in-between, having a bit of the aspects of both the Confucian and Zen player. He or she is one who prefers simplicity and simply goes along with whatever works, thus is not one prone to experiment very much.

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Postby Pecunia » Tue May 25, 2004 3:57 pm

Azeem wrote:Personally, I fit in none of these two categories.

But what of the more "Daoist" player who goes along at a slow (almost snail's) pace and builds accordingly to maintain a sort of flow and harmony?

I also don't really fit in those two categories. I'm a Confucianist type in the sense that I enjoy finding out the numbers behind the game and calculating a bit with them, but I don't do too much with them in 'normal' play (= non-contest): I like to take my time (in game-years) to get my city going, don't calculate how much appeal I'll need to get those houses up while not spending a single drachma/deben/denarius too much. I do plan my city: like, "where do I put my industry?", and "which housing block will be suitable?", but I'm not interested in playing the game to the limits, except in competitions, and even then I usually don't bother with too much 'bean-counting'.
I think I fall right between the Confucianist and the Daoist Azeem describes.

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Postby G-Force » Tue May 25, 2004 6:11 pm

My planning stage of the game is pausing it the beginning and looking at the map and available resources/buildings. Zen player it is :)

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Postby vovan » Tue May 25, 2004 10:52 pm

G-Force wrote:My planning stage of the game is pausing it the beginning and looking at the map and available resources/buildings.


I believe that is one of the more common ways to start a map in a citybuilder. IIRC, in Emperor Multiplayer, many people even agreed in advance to pause for a few minutes to evaluate the map and plan out the city.

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Postby Nero Would » Wed May 26, 2004 12:37 am

What a great thread!

Those who know me will surely agree when I admit to being an extreme Confucian when it comes to playing citybuilders. I not only prefer to make use of the hidden rules to play the game, I enjoy studying the game in order to tease out and define those hidden rules.

But for me to get the most enjoyment out of the game, the rules still have to make sense in the context of the game. I think Lannes said it very well.
Lannes wrote:Personally I like a degree of realism in games, however I do not consider it an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve immersion. Immersion requires a believable game environment. A believable game environment doesn’t have to be true to reality, but it has to be true to itself.

This is what Tolkien calls "suspension of disbelief". If the environment is logical within itself, then even if it is not strictly true to life, you can suspend your disbelief and become immersed. By this argument, even a fantasy game can be "realistic" if it is internally consistant.

Still, in my own case, I prefer games that are historically based. It just fascinates me to think that the cities I am building, in some way, correspond to their ancient counterparts.

Finally, I was interested to see Chris Beatrice comment on how our discussion. It sounds like Tilted Mill had similar discussions of their own. Now if only they would tell us a bit more about their conclusions ;)

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Postby Bradius » Wed May 26, 2004 1:14 am

Hum, Jayhawk, you are right on about the two types of players. I guess though I can fit into both camps at different times. Lately I have become more of a Zen player myself, if for no other reason than just a lack of time. Because of this I like both aspects, and my prayer to the programmer gods is that COTN will be able to appeal to both of us. Unless most people can cross roads, I am still thinking that the bean counters can still allow for some artificial game manipulation by disconnecting roads. Even that aside, my guess is doing things like turning buildings on and off to maximize production or some such event, may still allow the bean counter to gain some edge. Certainly, doing things like complex bartering and favor gathering might also create edges for players. I am honestly not looking for realism. I am looking for an game that can engage me mentally in a challenge to build an amazing city (with some difficulties - it needs to engage me mentally). Frankly, I like being god in city building, and I like building a city my people like to be in.


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