21 September 2006

Where is games' Alan Moore?

all my best work
falls in the no man's land
between robot and wisdom
science and literature

and i've learned patience
regarding recognition

(there's a loose inverse correlation
between how highly i rate
any given page on my website
and how many inbound links
it's managed to attract)

but the general topic
of psychological semantics
now grows perceptibly in popularity
year by year
(eg especially with The Sims
and the Semantic Web)

but when an A-list brainiac
like Quinn Norton
asks the very basic question
Where is games' Alan Moore?
it forces me to recalculate
the yawning gap remaining

and seize the opportunity
to sketch my analysis
of gap-bridge engineering...

we're long overdue
(last i checked)
for a website about game-semantics

that reverse-engineers
for every important game
what internal variables it deploys
to map the changes in its
state of play

especially those variables
describing players
and NPCs
(non-player characters)

so most all games know
players' X and Y positions
and probably their state of health

and possibly some of their
strengths and weaknesses

and adding new variables
is one important way
game designers can innovate

because each such variable
allows a small set of new subplots

verbs that increase its value
or decrease its value

powers that emerge when its value
crosses a hidden threshold

and even Alan Moore
could do little or nothing
of enduring literary value

with the impoverished palette
of variables and verbs
so far understood

one of the grandest virtues
in game design
is orthogonality

in which a limited palette
is milked to its utmost
by exhaustive combinatorics

(X-com was outstanding
in this regard)

and it's instructive to explore
the possible plot-combinatorics
of (eg) a familiar variable
like health:

friend-recovers or friend-dies




but implementing any of these
in a game
in a dramatically effective way
normally requires
many new supporting variables
which may or may not
contribute an orthogonally

and when these
foreseeable subplots
are weighed
for literary impact
against, say,
Polti's 36 situations

or any more-recent
inventory of subplots

it becomes clear
that we just don't yet know
where to start
adding literary depth

which variables to choose
to encode which basic set
of stories

More: Representing stories in Web2.0