Monday, March 12, 2007

Question on Emotions

At GDC this year, Peter Molyneux presented Fable 2 publicly in a talk focused on his ambitions (player feels unconditional love) and innovations ("the dog") for the game. There is plenty of coverage available in case you are not up to date with the details of his presentation, and you can get a pretty good idea of the specifics of his talk by watching his pre-GDC presentation on gamespot here (or watch it on gametrailers here).

One thing that comes up in all the coverage of this talk is the emotions that this dog elicits. What an amazing choice for emotional manipulation -- who can resist the sad whimpering cries of a dog injured to protect his master? Is there anything more heart wrenching?

...his animations were solid enough to endear him to everybody in the room. The way he limps towards you whimpering after a fight is heart wrenching and not just to those watching the game being played. If you leave your injured dog and head off for a drink at the pub, the dog will scratch its way to the front door and look pitiful as the rest of the folks at the bar react to the bloodied pooch.

...You are going to love this dog, promises Molyneux, and then he's going to die. That's right, at some point in the adventure, in service of the story, your pooch goes to the great beyond. Think about the potential rage in your own heart. - ign.

One often quoted line from his presentation: "If you care about the dog, I've got you."

Peter's ambition here is an amazing one, and I think the Lionhead team have made a very smart decision in choosing something they can 'easily' manipulate the player with. They may well succeed in their ambitions. I'm rooting for them, because I'd love to allow myself to be manipulated in games the way I have become accustomed to being manipulated with film. I like having strong emotional reactions to entertainment -- it makes it more fun.

However, my fear (and herein lies the question) is simply that in having Peter tell me that I'm supposed to feel emotion and have him explicitly state that the developers are trying to manipulate me with this dog, I will unconsciously harden myself when playing Fable2 thus weakening the experience. I'm not complaining about the over hype potential either (for which Mr. Molyneux is somewhat infamous for). I don't think this is an issue of over-exposure but rather Peter 'tipping a card' that should have remained hidden.

What do you think? When Fable2 comes out, do you see yourself being able to be absorbed by the experience and allow yourself to forget that the emotions you may be experienced were predicted and publicly communicated months in advance?

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Blogger Darius Kazemi said...

I have but one word: Dogmeat.

12:13 AM  
Blogger alimokrane said...

The problem of "How much is Too much" has been IMO plaguing the gaming industry since god knows when. It seems some developers have lost it when it comes to releasing information about their projects and peter molyneux is a perfect example of how to ruin the surprise!
Having seen his GDC presentation I was really impressed but hugely disappointed having learned about this feature prior to playing the game (and what's worse, he actually said the dog might die to!). The same thing happened with other counteless projects before and It seems no ONE is learning their lesson.
I think it's perhaps due to PR pulling in one direction or a publisher wanting to spite a competitor by pulling it in another direction with the developers stuck within.
With regard to peter molyneux, I think he mentioned something about other innovative features present in the game (for a total of 3) and I hope to god, he will keep them to himself ... knowing one of them is already more than enough!

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heya Mewk :)

Honestly, I haven't played Fables... but I have heard wonderful things about it. The 'open-ended-ness' of the game makes me hesitant to actually delve into it, as I prefer games that are a bit more linear, but it sounds like this one might be worth it.

Anyways, if executed properly, I think the addition of an in-game pet companion will really add to the game and story. Having a representative explain the purpose sort of taints the whole idea, imo, but regardless, it still has potential.

Adding any sort of emotional investment into a game is something that always draws me in. Even back in the days of Ultima Online, I'd have a small attachment to a mount- it sounds like the Fables II dog brings this to a whole new level.


1:39 PM  
Blogger Duncan said...

The efficacy of the dog, at least for us few that know what's coming, will be entirely dependent on the execution of the dog. The problem with being involved and interested in the behind-the-scenes workings is that we can more easily see the puppet strings.

But that doesn't stop the excellent from blindsiding us all the more. If the dog is irritating, or acts odd, or does anything to break our immersion, we'll see the flaws first. If it works perfectly, then we'll be just as taken in by it (perhaps even more so).

And keep in mind that the ones who know about this are the few and the dedicated. That vast market he is trying to hit wont know what to expect.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Steve Chiavelli said...

As Duncan said, if done well it can still work on us.

The same thing applies to movies. I know when my feelings are being manipulated, but if done correctly I don't care. If it is too heavy-handed I will get pulled right out of the immersion.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Ben Mattes said...

Some great comments so far, thanks. I'm honestly surprised that the concensus seems to be that Peter didn't 'tip his hat too soon' and that even knowing what is going on behind the curtain won't necessarily impact your apprectation for the magic assuming the polish is still there. I hope you are right.

A few points:

First, to Duncan, re: the fact that only an 'elite few' are aware of the mechanisms at work and that the mass market will experience the emotions in an unspoiled way -- I'm not entirely sure I agree for a couple of reasons: First, the press reporting on this is niche in that it is gaming related, true, but were not talking developer-only sites. IGN, Gamespot -- this is major news to them, so many casual fans will be well versed on the feature before the game launches. Second, my feeling is Lionhead is fishing for their 'mass market hook' with this feature. They'd love nothing more then to become the next 'Spore' story of a developer doing something truly innovative to being gaming to the mass market and get the cover of Time magazine in the process. Whether or not they will be succesfull remains to be seen, but my feeling is that Peter would share this information with every single potential player if he could...

To Steve, re: movies -- I purposly didn't make the connection to movies in my original post because I feel it is comparing apples to oranges. In movies, the quality of the acting and script are generally on a whole different plane then in games, and have been honed as an art form for far longer. Additionally I think Lionhead explicitly chose to have a dog (rather then a human) for this partner in order to avoid the extremely significant challenges of avoiding the 'uncanny valley'. When developers start creating characters with the fidelity and richness of Gollum, I think players will be able to forgive the advance knowledge of their emotional manipulation more.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorta with Alimokrane. Knowing in advance that the dog is the super secret missile aimed at the lynch pin of my heart is going to ruin any chance it otherwise would've had to work on me. I think the best I can hope for now is a clinical appreciation for how the dog is 'done'.

A related issue is that it sounds like this vessel (Sad dog scratching at a door while it's owner is inside, etc.) will have all the subtlety of a wheelbarrow full of pitchforks. I see that as a huge area for improvement in our industry right now. We're still not very good at telling stories subtly. Instead, we repeatedly hammer our audience over the head until even the couch that the gamer is sitting on knows that the villain is a bad man who does bad things. It's a 'Leave no man or woman behind' approach to story-telling, and it does a real disservice to our creativity.

- Lurking in my game cave, eating my tarte au sucre, avoiding TPC, waiting until mid-April, M@

8:32 PM  
Blogger kim said...

Hmm... a few thoughts.

- A dog is a smart choice. We're inclined to get attached to them, but less risk of uncanny valley.

- I don't think he loses anything in tipping his hand. The folks that attend GDC (or frequent the game-dev blogosphere for that matter) are pre-hardened anyhow. We're a bunch of cynical haters. He probably gets that he wasn't going to fool us anyhow, but now he's got us talking.

- I wish I had attended his talk. It's certainly got me thinking about it in context of Clint's talk at GDC. Hmm...

12:43 AM  
Blogger Duncan said...

Ben: I took into account that the story was picked up by major gaming portals, and that more than just the deeply interested will see it. However...

The number of people who read those sites, all the articles, or even everything on a single topic (ie Fable 2) is a subset of the total audience that the game will reach. I know a few people (my wife included) who would play the game no questions asked. They don't read game news, they probably wouldn't even be interested in the story about the dog, or reading it (or seeing the video demo) won't really affect them the same way it does us.

Unless the claims that Molyneux made get onto the box copy then most people won't care. I think it's more likely to draw more people who hear about it casually into getting the game, without significantly impacting their responses.

5:18 PM  

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