I’m reading (via Critical Distance) some pieces about the new “Call of Duty” and its already infamous ‘funeral sequence’, in which the player is prompted to “Press X to Pay Respects” to a casket. It is considered by most people to be a catastrophic attempt to make something different, ‘deeper’ in a “Call of Duty”; mourning, they say, cannot be dealt with or simulated like that, because it is much more complicated than pushing a button.
The underlying assumption or remark, I guess, is then that pushing a button only ever performs a simple action, like jump or move right, and that you have to combine those basic, atomic blocks, in order to make more complicated ones. Which also implies you have to learn how to combine those actions, by trying it yourself or by being taught by the game (by a tutorial, or by clever level design, cf Egoraptor’s analysis of “Megaman X”). Another thing that comes to mind is, of course, “Hadean Lands”, where you combine individual actions from recipes to craft objects, and upon completion you’ve ‘learned’ it in the sense that the game won’t make you go through those steps again.
And yeah, IF is a very interesting medium for this, because you can toss away things like time and representation and make a high-level action have direct, immediate (‘one-turn’) consequences in the world - for better or for worse. Ex: in parser IF, “>forgive emma”, “>mourn cat” ; in choice-based systems, “You start a relationship. Do you: love him unconditionally, or stay cautious because of past experiences?”. I guess it also has ties to the question of ‘granularity’: what is a high-level action, is ‘high-level’ only relative to your game or your type of game, and when and how do you use it in a game.
I’m also thinking this may be a barrier to learning the “language” of parser IF; I don’t think the concept of “low granularity actions” is evoked in any tutorial for newcomers, and I don’t know if it is a very obvious one either. I think a lot of times, if you tell someone “You can do anything in parser IF!”, they may think that >lie is as well-understood as >steal (or >take), which leads to confusion. More effective would be “you have basic building blocks, ‘go’ ‘take’/‘drop’ ‘open’/‘close’ ‘ask’/‘tell’ ‘unlock’ ‘switch on’, and you may need to combine several of those in a row to solve a puzzle, unless we tell you you can just >ransack or whatever higher-level verbs”. But then, that also means you have to teach high-level verbs to all players to make it playable.
I haven’t played as much IF as some people here, but I haven’t seen many games use high-level actions as core parts of the gameplay, or even just effectively. The only example that comes to mind is the final sequence of Will Hines’ “Harold Night (2003)”, where improv theatre’s principles/techniques (stay committed, raise the stakes of the scene, stay true, justify what is going on, etc.) are reframed as verbs you have to use to create a good improv scene and win the game; I thought it was quite novel and very well-done, but it would probably be too hard to extract as core mechanic (too much work for the author).
So I guess that’s what I’d like to talk about with everyone here: if we say “atomic elements of gameplay correspond to simple actions”, several questions arise: is it always true (can you think of examples of games with higher-level actions?), is it something interesting (can we achieve more or different things with those? Or can we, on the contrary, achieve less things, because less simple/atomic actions don’t combine very well?), is it manageable (will the player understand? will it be a pain for the author?).
Apologies if that subject has already been done to death, and a good Sunday to you all