Prey


#41

All right, fair point about the “Exploration Game” term. I was picking it up from Flatfingers’ use, but to clarify my point, I was more or less thinking of the narrative aspects of an immersive sim.

In other words, the ability to advance your knowledge of the world by… examining things. Taking a stroll around the area and noticing how life has adapted here, having a friendly (?) conversation with other characters, and overall familiarizing yourself with the environment. I wanted to emphasize how the world’s narrative can be explored, and not just lived in. While it may not “further the game progress” by completing mini quests and getting to know other characters and the history of the place you’re in, it’s a core part of the experience, and I think a lot of that can be boiled down to “exploring.” I think the last time I mentioned UA was an immersive sim to someone, they said “oh, like BioShock Infinite?” and I hesitated because the two games’ core focuses are vastly different. (I still very much enjoyed Infinite, but in retrospect, a lot of it was riding a rollercoaster to the next fight.)


#42

I hope there are not too many friendly conversations in this game. SS2 didn’t have an abundance of friendly NPCs. It did, however, have one of my favorite deliveries of game narrative of all time, next to the infamous Half-life. I realize I am drawing a far comparison between the two games, but I feel all non-interactive conversations should borrow a page from HLs approach – the NPC talks to you in real time, while you in the game. You are free to maneuver around, ignore the conversation, shoot objects. That was perfect delivery. And the game never jerked you out of gameplay narrative for a cheesy CGI cutscene. Removing interactivity from players is a no-no in video games.


#43

Dawn, have you read Mahk’s classic MDA framework paper? It’s one way of describing how systems-oriented, “dynamics-focused” games are different from an accumulation-oriented, “mechanics-focused” game. (The paper actually does quite a lot more than this – it’s just one of the results.)

In other words, a mechanics-centric game emphasizes particular pleasing actions inside the game world (usually meaning tactical combat); a dynamics-centric game emphasizes discovering the systemic behaviors of the game world itself (usually meaning exploration).


#44

Read the entire piece. I’m not entirely certain mechanics and dynamics need to sit at opposite ends of a crossroads. Having more mechanics increases the amount of possible dynamics within the game. This is a good argument for why skills should fall “above the table,” however, unlike the imprecise aiming for Deus Ex; they should add–not subtract–options from the gameplay.


#45

I wouldn’t say Mechanics and Dynamics are described as oppositional in the MDA paper, and I certainly don’t see them that way.

My own view is that they’re at different points on a continuum of abstraction: Aesthetics being the most abstract, Dynamics dealing with objects as reactive systems (so still a bit abstract), and Mechanics for tangible, on-screen action (and so not very abstract). In fact, to MDA I like to add a fourth perspective of Kinesthetics, meaning the way the game physically feels to the player interacting with it (and thus not abstract at all).

The view of the MDA paper’s authors, as I read it, is that most games express themselves in all of these areas. So when you’re designing a game, it can be helpful to check proposed features against each of the MDA (or KMDA if I had my way!) perspectives to see how well it delivers value in each area.

So for example, if you’re making a fighting game and you’re working out different kinds of strikes to implement, the first thing you do might be to come up with a strike: a low leg sweep (Mechanics). Then you could think about how the player would activate that sweep, the timing of controls, the ways it might be interrupted (Kinesthetics). You might then consider how it looks, and whether it’s a good fit for a particular fighter’s personality (Aesthetics). You might then consider counters and maybe even side-effects (Dynamics). And then you could run back through all of these ways of assessing and improving the value of a feature many more times as you tweak it.

My point behind this description is not just that (K)MDA is a useful tool in game design because those are four random areas of game design. It’s because IMO those four areas align extremely well with four primary ways that humans like to play. The four original Bartle Types are one form of this, with Explorers most interested in Dynamics and Achievers focused on Mechanics, etc., but there are other models (such as Nicole Lazzaro’s “Keys”) that have very similar descriptions of four basic styles of play. (Which themselves are game-context expressions of four basic, innate personality styles, but that’s a whole 'nother conversation.)

So when I talk about analyzing a feature in terms of its dynamics, or its mechanical aspects, those things don’t contradict one another. I agree completely with you that mechanics and dynamics should reinforce each other. In fact, I’d say that a good game designer looks for ways that the mechanics and dynamics (and aesthetics and kinesthetics) of a feature can build on and enhance each other.

The argument I’m making is one of focus. If you design a game (maybe using the MDA model) to be mechanics-heavy and light on system dynamics – because that’s the kind of game you want to make – then I don’t think it should be surprising when that game appeals mostly to the kinds of gamers whose primary preference for fun is applying mechanical rules for logistical gain, and not so much to the gamers whose main fun interest is perceiving systemic patterns for strategic comprehension.

Similarly, if you make a game that emphasizes systemic, pattern-perceiving fun – maybe it has something called an Improvisation Engine :wink: – then you don’t want to undercut delivering that kind of fun, to the players who particularly enjoy that kind of fun, by implementing mechanics or restrictions on experimentation that interrupt this kind of smart-creative fun.

I don’t expect any of this has persuaded you. :smiley: I’m just laying it out here so that it’s clear my opinion doesn’t come from left field; it’s something I’ve thought carefully about for a long time. I could still be wrong… but I’d need to see a similar “here’s why” in order to conclude that there’s something broken about “if you’re making an exploration-friendly game, don’t add mechanics or restrict capabilities that interrupt exploration.”


#46

Why are aesthetics abstract? You’d think the way things look would be as concrete as it gets.


#47

Think of this question in terms of “what matters more?”: what a thing looks like, or what a thing actually is?

In this light, the appearance of a thing is more ephemeral than than its nature.

But “aesthetics” is more than just appearance; this encompasses the story and character and deep theme of a game. And that stuff is more abstract than the concrete, rules-based mechanics of a game.


#48

Hmm, but more abstract than game feel? Er… kinaesthetics?


#49

What’s in a name?

I considered calling it “Kinetics,” but that doesn’t do as good a job of capturing the idea that this is about the physical, tactile feel of playing the game.

Actually, in retrospect, “what matters more” isn’t really a good way of putting it, either; aesthetics do matter. More on this in a bit.


#50

I guess you could say realistic mechanics such as hunger and thirst limit exploration in games aspiring to realism, and serve to create ‘constraints’ on the player which create resulting gameplay tension. I don’t necessarily agree, and I don’t necessarily disagree. You’ll have to win me over on this one, Flatfingers.


#51

Looks like something new might be coming to the Prey universe if this tweet is anything to go by:

https://twitter.com/PreyGame/status/969702812912320514?ref_src=twcamp^copy|twsrc^android|twgr^copy|twcon^7090|twterm^3

DLC set on the moon base?


#52

As much as I dislike DLC, I genuinely find this exciting.

I was amazed at the apparent photorealism of the Moon in Prey 2017. If Arkane has some DLC in mind that leverages this feature, I freely admit I’ll be interested in purchasing it.

And if something freaky happens to be set in the Clavius crater per Kubrick’s interpretation… well. That would be fun. :smiley:


#53

Now that the Moon-based DLC for Prey has happened, and I’ve tried playing it… OMG, my command of the English language is insufficient to describe how much I loathe, despise, and hate this thing.

You die, no matter how unfair the challenge of the mimics they throw at you. Repeatedly. And every time you fail, you restart at the initial point for the character. You have to replay everything. From the beginning.

I can’t even begin to describe how abusive this feels to me.

I’ve been reading some of the reactions. Everyone else seems to believe this is awesome. Rob “Xemu” Fermier has nice things to say about it. He thinks it’s better than the original game. I want to know what he’s smoking, because this to me this is the diabolical opposite of fun: it imposes challenges that can’t be overcome, then wipes away my progress for failing to overcome them. Certainly there are people who react to this kind of thing in a positive way – I can’t understand them. To me, this is a game developer slapping me in the face and screaming, “HA HA, YOU LOSE AGAIN, LOSER!”

And yet all the comments I read are “Gosh, this is so much fun!”

Are they all insane? Or masochists?

Or is there something wrong with me?


#54

They probably just take joy in the act of playing, rather than finishing game content. It’s the same type of stuff a lot of roguelikes are built on. In these types of games, failure is fun, cause there’s always the next time and you never know how things will play out.


#55

I’ve not had much chance to play the moon DLC yet as Arkane have borked the controller support so I can’t play it. Yes, yes, I know I should be on KB&M - PC is currently hooked up to the main TV as we’re in the middle of redecorating!

However my understanding was that it didn’t wipe your progress - don’t you keep your upgrades and stuff when you die so it’s a case of improving your odds with each run? It does feel like a bit of an odd fit for the game but it’s not that an unusual of a gameplay mechanism.

I think it could work well if it acts as a way to encourage more varied playstyles from the player, and also if it pushes you into a wider variety of scenarios than the original game - it felt to me like there were some missed opportunities to throw some different combinations of enemies together to get some more interesting encounters!


#56

Jenuall, so far I’ve been killed a couple of times, and each time I wound up back at the starting point of the level with no weapons.

If this is Arkane wanting to stretch a bit, I can’t really fault them completely for that. But I am honestly surprised that this kind of thing is what they think the longtime fans of their immersive sim games wanted: not immersion, not systems-simulation, not exploration, but a simple action-shooter.

Of course I know that there are folks who enjoy really hard roguelikes. And as always, I support their enjoyment of this kind of game, and I support developers making these games. That I myself find them abusive and the opposite of fun is strictly a personal reaction… but it’s also true that I’m genuinely surprised that this is what I wound up buying from Arkane.

So now I have to move Arkane off of my very short “buy anything they make” list and onto the much longer “read the description, and maybe wait for reviews, before spending a single red cent on anything they make” list. Sigh.


#57

On the contrary, it is precisely the hardcore/roguelike elements that are amplifying the former aspects tenfold for me. I am adoring the DLC so far, and essentially for the reasons you say you despise it – permadeath ensures that threats are actually threatening since I know I can’t just go back in time to a quicksave from ten seconds ago, and this general fear for my own survival immerses me in the role of my character far more than I ever felt in the base game. It also gives room for the systems to breathe – since things can actually go wrong with real consequences, you have to think on your feet and react with the tools available to you. This works in tandem with resource scarcity, encouraging organic improvisation more than any reward system ever could. After all, Immersive Sims were never pure strategy games; much of the fun is improvising when your plan goes wrong. This is why you don’t get a game over when you’re spotted in Thief – they want you to get scared and make a quick decision about whether to hide and pray they don’t find you, stand and fight, or throw a smoke bomb and run, potentially finding yourself in some new part of the level that’s unfamiliar to you. Prey’s trauma system is case in point – traumas are not supposed to be a death sentence, they’re supposed to be another emergent challenge to be creatively overcome. Finally, exploration and knowledge of your environment is made all the more important by the roguelike design, rewarding you for understanding the layout of the moon base and tactics for getting around tough encounters, especially when a bad fight has left you low on resources and in a bad spot. It seems you’re convinced the game is trying to end your run at every opportunity, while in fact it’s trying to encourage you to react with novel strategies and actually put that stuff you’ve been scavenging to use. Most things will not kill you in one hit, there are plenty of recovery strategies available, and Prey’s entire combat system is practically built on stunlocking enemies to avoid damage. This isn’t a “lol get instakilled by a random spike trap, noob” sort of experience, it’s in fact a fuller realization of the System Shock ethos than we’ve seen in years (hell, it even has a timer!).

All of this gives the DLC a huge boost in tension and engagement, and the successful escape of a character all the more rewarding as a result. In my first real run (past the introductory sequence), I had two moments where death seemed like a real possibility – once early on when I was chased by a Voltaic Mimic whose electrical field rendered my GLOO gun useless and caused me to run into yet more dangerous enemies and fight for my life; and once right before I was about to board the shuttle to escape when half of my health was taken off by third degree burns and I had to make quick use of a Typhon Lure to slip by. This is the feeling of peril, excitement, and unpredictability that was so missing from Prey – unlike in e.g. System Shock 2, where I felt in constant danger and it was a genuine relief to find some more anti-personnel bullets or a med hypo, I always felt more or less safe in Prey. The run I just finished with the Survival Mode options was a bit better, since I turned the difficulty down from Nightmare to Normal and relied entirely on autosaves, but I still never felt like I had to worry too much about dying or things going really wrong on a space station infested with paranormal aliens with psionic powers! Talk about a hit to immersion. I must heartily applaud Arkane for this bold new direction – not only do I think it’s a vast improvement on the base game, but I also think it’s some of the first genuine innovation we’ve seen on the Immersive Sim formula in over a decade, due to the sort of creative genre mashing we saw in the old days. I’m proud to have paid full price for this thing (something I rarely do), and the whole affair has only increased my level of respect for the studio. To me, this DLC signals a return to making hardcore games uncompromised by concerns about accessibility and targeting a wide audience, which I felt ruined Dishonored and made Prey half the game it could have been.


#58

RoSoDude, what can I say to that but “thank you?” That’s an outstanding analytic description of what absolutely is a real and valuable way of having fun in a computer game. (These aren’t just empty words, either; I’m a collector of experiences like the one you described specifically because I believe that people are motivated by different interests, including in the kinds of entertainment experiences they find most satisfying.)

The first thing I’d note is that we agree: the Mooncrash DLC offers a substantially different kind of fun than the base game. Setting aside for the moment any better/worse analyses, I think it’s fair to ask whether this kind of fun is intended to, and will successfully, appeal to the folks like myself who enjoyed the base game specifically because it emphasized letting players explore at their own speed. If Arkane wanted to change that up in their first DLC, I don’t consider that entirely wrong – as I said, I can respect trying different ideas. For that matter, maybe it makes sense as a business decision; sales numbers for ImSims over the years suggest that there are more people who prefer Exciting Challenge over Thoughtful Exploration.

But I do still wonder: what about the people who bought Prey 2017 because they prefer Thoughtful Exploration over Exciting Challenge? How should they react to DLC that is so radically different from the kind of fun they like, and that they might reasonably have expected from DLC for such a game?

That’s the real question I’m asking, which is separate from the “why are high-risk challenges so much fun?” question that your comments answered so well.

But to poke a little bit at the differences between exploratory and exciting fun, I’ll bet you can guess how I feel about timed challenges. (Think “hatred exceeding the glare of a thousand Type Ia supernovae” and you’ll be in the ballpark. :smiley: ) I’m joking a little here, but there’s a serious point behind this: I’m convinced that time pressure works against exploratory fun. It’s a powerful tool for promoting exciting fun. But it is highly counterproductive if you’re trying to deliver exploratory fun.

(I should probably mention here that I’m not suggesting most games are all-or-nothing between exploratory and exciting fun, or for that matter between emotionally satisfying fun or rules-following accumulationist fun. Most RPGs have some amount of all of these. The question is one of balance: the features the developer chooses to implement to give priority to one of these play interests will often operate against other kinds of fun. So it’s important to understand the interacting effects of these design choices with respect to the type-of-fun expectations of a game’s likely players.)

I put the value of a timer mechanic down to whether you want to prioritize the fun of thinking quickly or the fun of thinking deeply. Both of these have value, but in specific contexts… and in the context of exploratory fun where you’re trying to grok the nature of a seemingly complex dynamic system, it’s forkin’ irritating to keep having your Deep Thinking interrupted by some artificial/arbitrary timer expiring. Deep thinking (primarily a strategic function) and quick thinking (primarily a tactical function) are not fungible, and that needs to be understood when designing game challenges because people normally prefer one over the other and will have less fun when served the “wrong” kind of challenge for the game they thought they were playing.

I think this argument applies to games in general: features that deliver a particular kind of fun often reduce other kinds of fun. So what does that mean for immersive sims? What kind of fun is that kind of game, by its nature, mostly about?

I believe the central entertainment experience of ImSims – the kind of fun that a subset of gamers wants – is mostly about careful (deep) thinking to perceive the behaviors of dynamic systems in a complex game world, and the creative generation of theories to explain the rules that generate those world-behaviors, and thus to be able to cleverly overcome or bypass or exploit the systems expressing those behaviors. Shooting monsters, and reading audio logs for story, and collecting piles of loot, are also fun, but they’re secondary to the fun of systems-comprehension. For these gamers, the immersiveness comes from a world having interesting behaviors to figure out – not improvising under time pressure (even if that does happen occasionally for spice), but carefully devising a clever plan to test the accuracy of one’s perception of system-dynamics.

If that’s correct, then features that instead emphasize quick, adaptive thinking to immediate high-risk tactical challenges are going to interfere with delivering the core fun of ImSims. Players who like having time to think about possible solutions before being forced to implement them will bonk into “go back to the start repeatedly until you git gud” gameplay and wonder what just hit them. This does not mean tactical fun is “bad” or “wrong.” Millions of CoD/TF2/Fortnite players say otherwise. :wink: It’s an argument that implementing features that emphasize tactical fun is a sub-optimal design pattern in the context of designing a game whose players are more interested in thinking their way through challenges than blasting or talking or persevering through them.

So all this isn’t an argument that Mooncrash is inherently a badly designed game. Your description persuades me that’s not the case. It’s an argument that this DLC is very different from what most of the people who prefer ImSims were probably expecting. Whether that’s OK or not is something I guess the green-eyeshades folks who study sales data (and maybe sales of Arkane’s next DLC, and next games) will have to decide.

I don’t expect you’re persuaded by this viewpoint, any more than other folks here who dig tactical challenge in their games (including ImSims) have been convinced when I’ve expressed this view over the past several years. That’s fine – I’ve enjoyed the exchange of views, and I hope we’ll hear more from you in these forums.


#59

What a lovely reply; I had worried I had come across as overly abrasive/accusatory and this was going to go nowhere. I’m happy that I was able to communicate something of value, and I assure you that the exchange is mutual. I’ve lurked on the forum from time to time and found there’s a diversity of opinion to be had among passionate fans of the genre (such as myself) on all sorts of major and minor issues, but this one really cuts to the heart of things so maybe some ground can be made on either side.

We’re in agreement that the Immersive Sim is situated uniquely among game genres for what it can provide. I can fully get behind what you wrote of the “central entertainment experience” – but only for the first playthrough. See, we agree that the thing that sets Immersive Sims apart, namely the depth and complexity of its simulation, naturally lends itself towards more slow-paced exploration as the player becomes acclimated with the systems and available strategies. Where my opinion diverges from yours is in that eventually, systems mastery is achieved and the game needs to start testing the player to maintain engagement and continue to provide that elusive “fun”. That challenge can take many forms, and we can talk about it as well. But I think crucially, more than many other game genres, there’s a shift in priorities that occurs between or even within playthroughs of these games that is naturally suited to the design – hence the Rickenbacker and The Body of the Many in System Shock 2, which I will gladly defend as brilliant levels for testing the player’s abilities and forcing them to put all of those scavenged resources to good use. This is why I greatly enjoyed my first playthrough of Dishonored, but was too bored to continue my second past the halfway point – the game’s power fantasy and abusable systems are not so egregious when you’re still coming to terms with them, but neuter any challenge (beyond self-imposed) on subsequent playthroughs when you know the levels and how to exploit them.

Compare to a game with fewer moving pieces like Doom, and you can see that the progression in what sort of encounters and hazards they throw at you is gradual, with no obvious turning point where you’re expected to really step up to the plate – it’s immediacy and action from the word go. Moreover, there’s a direct continuity between difficulty levels, scaling up the degree of challenge between playthroughs without substantially changing the experience. In an Immersive Sim, I submit that a shift here is optimal. Thief’s lower difficulties give you plenty of leeway in completing the levels, requiring less stolen property, fewer objectives to complete, and allowing you to kill enemies if things go off the rails. Subsequent playthroughs on a harder difficulty don’t just crank up the numbers, they enforce new stipulations on gameplay to challenge the player who already knows how the systems work. System Shock 2 does just “crank up the numbers”, but does so in a manner which meaningfully changes the player’s possibility space due to decreased survivability, increased resource scarcity, and higher upgrade costs. I’m a huge proponent of the Give Me Deus Ex mod’s Hardcore mode for altering the rules of gameplay, such as real-time menus, new AI behavior around cameras, and restricted checkpoint saving (among other things), all of which I feel bring the experience to a whole new level, and one that I wouldn’t have wanted in my first playthrough when I was still learning the ropes (for full disclosure, I’m such a fan that I’m actually working on my own fork of the mod, haha).

This is where Mooncrash comes in, for me. I had a good enough time in the early parts of Prey tinkering with stealth knockdown wrench hits, explosive canisters, GLOO interactions, turret strategies, different ways of stunning enemies, and so on. I liked that the game gives you space to explore at your own pace, with Mimic jump scares here and there to keep up the tension and lone, unaware Phantoms stalking major rooms to give you the opportunity to tackle them in your own way (Arkane Studios likes to describe moments like the latter as fostering “player intentionality”). My engagement started to wane past the halfway point, however, as the abusable nature of quicksaves came to a head and I felt the game had exhausted most of its variations on the same basic challenges (this was all somewhat improved by my most recent run with the new Survival Mode options and no quicksaving, but it could have been more). Mooncrash pushes the game in a new direction, one which tests me in the ways I discussed before and thus takes my engagement to new heights. Is it the same type of enjoyment that I get during the learning period? No, and I’m grateful for the parts/modes of these games that are more “Thoughtful Exploration” than “Exciting Challenge”, as you put it, for engendering player experimentation and emphasizing player expression. But that can’t carry an experience for me indefinitely – Harvey Smith has stated that these games really come alive during second playthroughs after the player has achieved system mastery, which to me brings a whole new range of possible experiences motivated by deep (and potentially fast-paced!) challenge. That payoff is essential, and it’s more than just providing replayability for its own sake.

There may have been a version of a Prey expansion which could have offered more of both types of experiences, perhaps modulated by difficulty level (which I claim should be the goal for such in an Immersive Sim, for the aforementioned reasons), but I’m happy to see Arkane break new ground in the genre at providing the latter variety, especially for players like myself who were craving an Exciting Challenge after they’d already more or less figured the game out and had been left wanting. I feel like there is actually some wiggle room already in Mooncrash – you only need to worry about one objective at a time until you unlock and build your characters up to prepare for your final escape attempt – but I take your point about the conflict in design goals at work here, even if I think it’s managed quite deftly. Your point about an apparent friction between “deep thinking” and “quick thinking” (interchangeable with long- and short-term decisionmaking or no?) is interesting, but I feel a strong urge to disagree based on my own experience. Perhaps a worthy discussion for another day.

In any case, I appreciate that we have not been merely talking past one another and can both gain something from the other’s perspective. I’ve been slowly figuring out this issue in the back of my mind for a few months prior to this discussion, and a lot of my disparate beliefs and opinions on design and my own experiences are coming together as a result. Thanks for the conversation, and for the warm welcome.


#60

These replies are all very insightful. Prey still doesn’t interest me enough to play, but only because SS2 ruined all future “horror in spaceship”-type games by being so perfect.