Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Fiddling with variables

A lot of the vital design stuff on my games is coming ton conclusions about cause and effect that are simple enough to work inside the context of a PC game.

Take alcohol. What are the effects of alcohol? Well they are many and varied, according to scientists and doctors, low levels of some alcohol can actually be beneficial as a prevention against heart attacks. High levels will ruin your health, and we probably agree that alcohol will give you a higher level of confidence, and relax you.

But… does it make you happy? This is a complex question. In my experience, alcohol exaggerates moods, so miserable people become more miserable, and happier people get more happy. The problem is, this is a bit of a personal opinion, and not easily explained in game terms. In the simplistic fashion of a sim game, alcohol makes you happy, albeit at the cost of reducing your concentration, and having potential health effects.

So I find myself wrestling with how to set the numbers in Kudos 2. Right now, you get a confidence and relaxation boost automatically from all alcohol, but only deliberately chosen alcohol in restaurants directly makes you happy. The happiness associated with alcohol from a bar or a wine and cheese evening is factored in with the other effects. If this seems slightly woolly, and not 100% accurate, it isn’t, but that’s game design. The problem is, you could add more and mroe complexity until the game took 20 years to make and a manual like a phone directory to play it. The trick is making the effects in the game seem just real enough to suspend disbelief, whilst still keeping it as just a game, and not an exercise in statistics.

Tis a fine balance…

4 thoughts on Fiddling with variables

  1. Though choice.

    But in the end, isn’t it more important just to check what kind of message you produce by associating values with alcohol? So if you tweak the game in such a way that alcohol is beneficial your game will “say” that alcohol is generally a good thing. If it has devastating effects you will “say” that people shouldn’t be drinking alcohol.
    Note that all the “scientific” research behind the various alcohol studies (both postive and negative ones) obviously always serves such a purpose.

    It’s just like violence and videogames. Researches aren’t really keen on finding out the “truth” because the very premise behind the research (for example comparing CRT scans of mass murderers with CRT scans of gamers) is already based on a presumption. It has to be, otherwise they would have too many variables. Likewise, small amounts of alcohol might reduce the risk of heart attacks but so do many other substances, I believe. The other substances might be even more effective. Those weren’t tested though. What the “truth” or “realistic” is we will never know. Maybe there is no such thing. Just different interpretations and different points of view.

    So I guess it boils down what your point of view is. This is also what your players will expect from the game. They would rather want a game that is consistent with the authors vision then one that is anally backed up by research but skewed and broken.

  2. the way i see it,

    It depends on the style of game. If it is supposed to be educational you want things as accurate as possible. If it is light, relaxing, open ended entertainment, sim games style, you want to be on the side of easy, positive, less taxing.
    If its a game where you compete with scoring, high score tables, lots of statistics on who did what best, then you want to favour making it challenging, difficult.

  3. The huge boost in confidence that alcohol gives you really only lasts until you sober up. I’d have it raise happiness and lower stress if you drink alcohol as a group, and lower happiness & stress if you drink alone (if that’s an option). One should also look at where the alcohol is being drunk. If at a restaurant as part of a meal, one is just having a glass or two and not getting totally plastered, unlike if the drinking was done at the bar.

    Perhaps a random event on drinking where you’d had too much, you’ve thrown up all over yourself (if you have some for germs, this would go up), you have a hangover the next day resulting in a decrease in happiness, and either poor work or being forced to miss the day.

    If you want full complexity (perhaps for Kudos 3), then you can have an addiction meter, where as you drink it fills up, and goes down slowly over time. Have too much of an addictive substance in a short time, and you’re addicted. You need to keep having it or suffer from bigger penalties. This idea might even sound familiar to you, I think you know where I got it from :)

    If there were a serious potential downside to alcohol (say through either addiction or random event), then having it give you a boost in confidence would produce a real choice, since confidence isn’t always the easiest thing to raise, alcohol could be a cheap way to raise it, but at a risk.

    Kudos 1 didn’t have enough of an alcohol presence to make addiction to it a viable possibility, since you can only do 1 activity a night (2 on weekends), and most things don’t even involve alcohol, there just wouldn’t be a place to put it. Now, if you had alcohol as an option in more things, like drinking beer while playing tennis, that opens you up to more possibilities of the benefits and disadvantages of these kind of substances, resulting in the expansion pack Kudos: Drug Addict

  4. Kudos 1 DID have alcohol addiction. you got to go to Alcohol anonymous meetings and allsorts :D And it’s present in Kudos 2 as well. The new alcohol related thing for K2 is that it boosts confidence and relaxation, and that if you have a hangover and drive to work you can get done for drunk driving.

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