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Virdingholm Feud Progress Update 2

I turned in my bachelor project today. Even assuming it’s passed, I still lack 45 ECTS before I have my BA, which I will attempt to acquire during the next semester (three exams! It’ll be fun!). I can’t say I’m entirely happy with how this project turned out – the module is probably perfectly fine for university standards, but it’s the smallest game project I’ve ever done and it still has some annoying bugs – most of which I think are related to changes made in Storm of Zehir, the second expansion pack to NWN2. In any case, if I do ever release this module, I’ll want to touch it up first, flesh it out a little, and fix the last annoying bugs.

The paper was alright. It’s a pretty thin cup of tea for a university paper, and for a bachelor project it’s woefully underequipped with references and the syllabus is barely adequate. But it’s done, and that’s all that matters to me right now. I stayed up ’till 5:30 last night rendering, encoding, and burning the video walkthrough, so I’m just happy it all worked out in the end. Of course in the chaos of everything that went wrong at the last possible minute, I forgot to include my executive summary. I sent it to the exam secretary by mail when I got home, but I haven’t received a confirmation yet so I have no idea if he’ll help me out by printing it and adding it to the paper for me. Fingers crossed.

Just because I finally got to write something in English for university, here’s my executive summary (faux-academic hyperverbosity warning):

Executive summary

The aim of this project is to examine and test the practical application of game theory on actual game development. By using a combination of practical design theory and more academic literature, I have analyzed an existing game (Neverwinter Nights 2) and subsequently developed a custom story (a module) based on the conclusions from my analysis. In doing so, I wished to demonstrate how a game analysis can act as a foundation for an expansion of the object of analysis or the development of similar games.

My analysis is focused on the structure of Neverwinter Nights 2’s gameplay and narrative. I’ve chosen to examine the core gameplay according to the MDA model of game analysis (LeBlanc, Hunicke & Zubek, 2004), identifying Challenge, Narrative, and Exploration as the game’s three primary aesthetics and deconstructing them into their constituent dynamics and mechanics. Following this, I’ve moved on to the structure of the game’s world and narrative, analyzing the implementation of its space, time, and characters with a special eye for the specific design decisions behind these aspects of the game.

Based on my findings, I’ve constructed a module for Neverwinter Nights 2 with the aim of recreating the gameplay and structure of the original game with a new story in a new setting. The module, which may be found on the attached DVD, takes approximately 45 minutes to play through and features 3 different endings. My production report summarizes the process of developing the module, describes the choices I’ve made, and explains the departures I’ve chosen to take from the original game.

It is my conclusion that many projects can greatly benefit from a thorough theoretical foundation, and that an analysis of existing games with similar aesthetics can streamline the prototyping process during the preproduction phase of a game project or even render prototyping unnecessary. Games that are explicitly based on existing products (such as expansion packs or sequels) will undoubtedly benefit more directly from applying the methods herein, but even the development of new intellectual properties can be focused more effectively by analyzing games based on similar concepts.

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7 Responses

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  1. EER says

    Executive summary of your executive summary:
    This is my mod. Enjoy. ;)

    I really can’t follow your video game theories today, must be tired.

  2. Jonas says

    Well it does actually mostly talk about the paper, but yeah that’s the gist of it.

  3. Mads Tejlgaard says

    The executive summary is short and sweet.

    I agree with the general thesis – you need to study the past. Thoroughly. And you need to steal the good bits.

    But having said that, I think there’s plenty a caveat to doing away with practical prototyping altogether… =P

    One that strikes me right up front is the possibility for independent audit that is inherent in prototyping…I think you need normal or academic gamers to judge as many of your concepts as possible, and if you do away with prototyping in favor of digging through old games, you should try to replace that aspect somehow. It might mean you have to get a class of game design students to play system shock 2 just to see their reaction to certain concepts you want to know wether are worth exploring.

    It should be done in addition to cultivating a broad taste in games in yourself, of course, and in addition to playing a lot of games. But I think independent audit of features is an important tool, so that aspect of prototyping should be maintained even if you don’t design proof of concept models =]

  4. Jonas says

    I do agree. I think prototyping is very important and very useful. My concluding comments were more meant in the way that if you’re in a position where prototyping can’t be done for some reason, or can only be done at a much later stage after you’ve already spent a lot of money on development, you can at least make up for it by making sure you base your preproduction on solid theoretical ground.

    That’s just a postulate though – the only thing I actually demonstrate in the paper is that it helps to understand what you’re working on if you’re making a game mod. But then I knew that before I began – TNM taught me the hard way.

  5. Mads Tejlgaard says

    I think you’re right…but how do you combat groupthink though? By only having one guy being the decider, and then making sure that one guy is a Warren Spector equivalent? =P

    Let me elaborate a bit…

    I find that the more you rely on theory in a group design setting, the more rigid you have to be when deciding wether something is a good idea or not…because it can be very difficult to convince people by means of theory unless you have some sort of process worked out :-O

    And that’s when conflict resolution becomes a problem…I did a little work on project open engine (@, back when I had more time on my hands, and we were generally unable to resolve about half of our design decisions without actually implementing a number of different possibilities in some form or another, because people were avid gamers that tended to disagree on what they really liked. And people were quite stubborn too. But not in a bad way, of course.

    So if you wanted to propose a different mouse movement control scheme, fine – you were free to try your hand at implementing it, convince somebody else to, or convince half the people pressent that it was worth it and have it added to the official feature list, which was to be obeyed…

    This was a very ad-hock manner of going about it, and if you were good at agitating for your cause, you would have a much higher degree of influence on the feature list, even if you were a bad game designer…but then, prototyping is very easy when the only people working on the project are 20 programmers and the codebase is an open-source c++ engine that everybody knows.

    In fact, prototyping was easier than everything else. So it worked really well for combating groupthink and stubbornness…do you have any ideas on how to get 20 grumpy programmers to accept decisions founded in game theory instead ? =P

    Because the only one I can think of is “do as I say, I’m the designer/decider, now leave me alone or you won’t get your afternoon snausages!”.


  6. Jonas says

    What’s wrong with that, actually? That’s why you pay people, so you can threaten to fire them if they don’t do as you say!

    (I think I just destroyed any possibility of ever getting hired by Valve :P ).

    No but seriously, groupthink can happen even if you prototype, the only way to truly combat that is to always bring testers in from the outside – and more or less the same effect can be had by asking designers outside the team for advice and input. I think.

  7. Mads Tejlgaard says

    Heheh yeah, a hierarchical structure does help alleviate the problem, but programming, being a creative profession, you really sortof have to regard programmers as snooty french-parisian “my ellusee or chance d’ellusee” artist-types…they often respond poorly if you don’t allow them to do what they’re excited to do.

    So I really am looking for any tips you might have for getting programmers to respond to literary game theory =P

    But to be fair, if you hire the right people who don’t mind assuming roles where they have less of a say in the actual play experience (…there were people at the openengine project who were happy to write networking code…), that does help a lot, because then they’ll invest their creative energies into something they’re really good at =]

    - That’s not to say that programmers are generally poor game designers, but I feel you need a strong understanding of the humanities to be a really good designer, and not many programmers have that.

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