The difficult conglomeration of ideas I keep bumping my head into run thusly:
- Good interactive media emulates the pattern of ‘massive simulated systems’ interacting with other ‘massive simulated systems’ manipulated by players to produce effects on the colliding edges of the simulations that produce unique stories the players can appreciate and manipulate – with the idea that the situations created would be unique and emergent enough to transcend the purposes of the design itself. There are a few examples of this idea being implemented in separate contexts:
- SimCity in a general way. It uses economic forces and incentives to simulate population density, growth, decay, etc. based on economic environmental factors such as taxation, prevalence of viable employment opportunities, abundance of local amenities (healthcare, education, law enforcement), and the attraction of tailored gardens. You can create a poverty stricken, crime-ridden, pollution-heavy suburb and then wreck it with tornadoes and earthquakes and aliens. Or you can try to balance all the spinning plates and grow the population as high and as happy as you can.
- Dwarf Fortress, obviously, but this isn’t as well-represented because the majority of the simulation happens in the generation without player interaction and it almost feels as if the world is only directing itself in action towards the player rather than with itself (so the world feels a bit static until you touch it). Maybe I have that wrong and the clocks tick all over the world while you play, but that seemed to be my impression.
- Many triple-A games attempt this with generic physics simulations – i.e., allowing the players to perform strange feats simply through the imperfections and quirks in their systems (see: bunnyhopping in CS:GO or the speed boost hacks in Ocarina of Time). Minecraft has a lot of these too, allowing players to make computers or automatic melon farms.
- A lot of Paradox Interactive games play with war and politics on an extremely macro scale in this way, but it’s turn-based, deliberate, and, to me, a bit stale-feeling. I want to interact in a way that is real-time, skill- rather than strategy-based, and specific rather than representative and general.
- Prison Architect has a lot of interesting simulated dynamics with the prisoners and the general prison ‘state’ – i.e., high turmoil, lockdown mode, etc., and the emotional states of the prisoners govern a lot of how their behaviors play out.
- The contexts in which these methods are used are preposterously limited (i.e., extremely generic economics in the case of SimCity and its clones, widely representative politics and economics in Paradox games, and universally implemented physics engines that all have similar annoying and immersion-breaking quirks and failings). There needs to be more variety. I want to try to brainstorm some ideas on the types of variety:
- The Sims had a lot of strengths in what it was obviously reaching for: in-depth representational interpersonal and inter-personality simulation on the specific individual scale. Ultimately, yes, an interactive dollhouse, but also a sort of proving ground for concepts related to the simulation of human personalities and their interactions with one another. Granted, it barely got beyond the point of need-satisfaction and rote like/dislike clashes between Sims (despite all of the added ‘traits’, the simulation remains largely the same – and stale), but the original idea was an interesting first step into the arena of baseline personality traits informing a central character’s decision matrix to create whole individuals that interact with each other and affect each other.
- I need to study how politics play out in Paradox games in more detail, but, inevitably, it will largely be a product of the combined forces of a few individual leaders in their respective countries (I’m mistakenly cribbing calculation on this idea from my knowledge of Civilization, but Paradox games – Hearts of Iron IV in particular – have far more potential for political complexity what with the larger internal hierarchies in each political domain (demesne?)).
- Individual, multi-dimensional simulation (that also finds compromises between inconsistencies or contradictions) would be a worthy goal: which dimensions to use, though, and how to establish a dynamic environment for interesting behaviors to play out in? Interactivity in a largely dynamic environment would obviously make small waves that would effect things; am I trying to set up a sort of Westworld situation? (I.e., standard storylines play out, but player interaction can throw them widely off course?)
More brainstorms later…