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How Perlin's Law Makes Gaming Credible 59

Posted by Zonk
from the suspension-of-what-now dept.
simoniker writes "Veteran game designer Ernest Adams has posted a new column on 'Perlin's Law' which suggests that all books, movies, and games have a 'credibility budget'. For games, both the designer and the player decide what happens: '...the story itself can only tolerate a certain amount of improbability before the credibility budget is exhausted, and the story is ruined.' According to this new law, named after Ken Perlin, who gave birth to the concept, games should not be infinitely wide-ranging or allow the player to do anything he wants."
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How Perlin's Law Makes Gaming Credible

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday June 02, 2006 @01:41PM (#15455747) Journal
    According to this new law, named after Ken Perlin, who gave birth to the concept, games should not be infinitely wide-ranging or allow the player to do anything he wants.
    What about the the Fantasy Game [wikipedia.org] that Ender played?

    I've always secretly hoped that games would one day evolve to a point of them becoming specific to the user. This "mind game" that Ender played had seemingly limitless possibilities and also seemed to reflect the user's psyche back at them and cause them to make connections they never knew existed.

    Maybe the next step for video game engines isn't graphics rendering but instead, stimulus/response rendering? Where by the game reacts to user input using rules, heuristics and a bit of randomness and the game states are loosely defined. Why is Spore so popular? Possibly because of the number of proposed outcomes of the game.

    We're no where near this kind of game play yet but it may be possible in the future. Perlin's Law seems kind of like a restriction that I honestly wish game developers and publishers wouldn't try to adhere to. Only when people take chances and think outside of the box will we find true gems in the video games. I'm sick of repackaged games and ideas.
    • ...of course, that game he played was run by an AI smarter than any human who ever lived that had god-like abilities and nearly infinite intelligence.

      Where are we going to get that?
      • I'm free on weekends :D

        Jaysyn
      • Once upon a time there was a computer called Deep Blue....

        Computers evolve scenarios far faster than humans ever could. We just havent bothered giving them enough imagination yet.
        • Shit yeah, just need to uncomment out those "addImagination()" lines and we're good to go!

          Anyway, Deep Blue was a crock. Well, I'm sure technically it was very impressive, but as a competition it sucked. After each game, the programmers were allowed to step in and massively tweak the algorithms. I think they were also allowed to veto any "stupid" moves the computer made. If I was Kasparov, I would never have agreed to those rules.
    • Have you seen the demos? I've only seen one outcome no matter what you choose.
      Oh, by "number of outcomes" you mean: The exact same thing but now they have three arms and live in round buildings?
    • Well, Ender's AI Game on the computer wasn't exactly 'specific to the user'... The majority of the game was identical for each user, with only a few things pulled from his psyche to do whatever it was they wanted it to do. (The instructors didn't even seem to know.)

      At the end, yes, there was areas that nobody had seen another child enter, but they -assumed- that they were unique to him. There was no proof of that.

      A similar scenario could have been made by having the player enter pictures of certain figur
    • Why is Spore so popular?

      Isn't it a little early to be calling it 'popular'? It doesn't even exist yet. No matter how excited people are about the game *right now*, it can still be a flop (though the fanboy mentality is making that more and more difficult. Nobody seems to want to admit they were wrong anymore).

      I believe the term you were looking for was 'hyped'.
  • Oops, wrong law.

    What he says makes sense. I was watching my stepson play Thief 2 on Xbox last night and I knew I couldn't play the game. The thief comes across a guard who is directly in front of a burning torch. So, shoot a water arrow (yes a water arrow, there's also a noisemaker and moss arrow- which already strained my credulity) at the torch and put it out. Does the guard even notice that he's now in total darkness? No. Does he try to re-light the torch? Nope. Does he continue walking in the

    • ...there's also a noisemaker and...

      Ridiculous! In what universe would they make things whose purpose is making noise!

      I can see how this would strain the credibility. Next you'll be saying that the main character shoots the arrows using a bow rather than with telekinesis.
    • Re:First Hitler! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by caerwyn (38056)
      The issue isn't the number of possible actions that your character can take. Those are good.

      The issue is that those actions have only extremely limited and unrealistic results in the game world. What we need aren't restrictions on what the player can do (returning back to older games), but rather an improvement in how games react dynamically to unexpected user input.

      Real life is not a state machine, moving from one state to another on linear paths. Games that try to be as expansive, or more so, than real li
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Err...well...most evidence suggests that the universe IS a quantum state machine, if a rather complex one, so I don't know what you're up on about.
      • The issue isn't the number of possible actions that your character can take. Those are good.

        The issue is that those actions have only extremely limited and unrealistic results in the game world. What we need aren't restrictions on what the player can do (returning back to older games), but rather an improvement in how games react dynamically to unexpected user input.

        However, there are limits to what is practical to do in the interests of making a game playable, particularly with MMORPGs. For exam

    • Re:First Hitler! (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Health packs!

      Sooo stupid and inconsistent with the rest of the universe. Also, enemies never pick up powerups.
      • Health packs!

        Sooo stupid and inconsistent with the rest of the universe. Also, enemies never pick up powerups.


        Well, have you ever heard about suspension of disbelief? [wikipedia.org] Now, a guard completely ignoring sudden darkness requires too much suspension of disbelief for the game to be pleasant, in this example. This is what this law tries to express.
    • My .sig already summarizes this...

      Game Design is about the unholy trinity: Realism, Logicalness/Consistency, Convenience
      Unfortunately, far too mamy players are argueing about the wrong thing, usually the red herring of realism.

    • I was watching my stepson play Thief 2 on Xbox last night and I knew I couldn't play the game. The thief comes across a guard who is directly in front of a burning torch. So, shoot a water arrow (yes a water arrow, there's also a noisemaker and moss arrow- which already strained my credulity) at the torch and put it out. Does the guard even notice that he's now in total darkness? No. Does he try to re-light the torch? Nope. Does he continue walking in the same pattern as if nothing as happened? Yep.

      A few

    • Games by their nature are escapist.

      They can be "simulations" of real life or they can be simplified or fantasy versions. All the different genres of game show this too - today I might want to play an RPG, tomorrow it may be some kind of sport or racing, FPS, strategy, etc.

      But I agree, poor AI by in-game characters can spoil an otherwise good game, but maybe in the game the guard is an authentic simulation of an idiot.
  • True for TV? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Friday June 02, 2006 @01:44PM (#15455785) Homepage

    '...the story itself can only tolerate a certain amount of improbability before the credibility budget is exhausted, and the story is ruined.

    The story might be ruined, but the public will still pay you money for a totally incredible story. Just look at the lasting popularity of X-Files, which drastically changed its plotline every couple of seasons (first greys, then black oil, then super-soldiers), and the current hype about Lost, which appears to be doing the same (first mystery island, then DHARMA, then Widmore, now according to producer podcasts it's soon to be previous inhabitants).

    • Except you have named shows which feature episodic, as well as seasonal, content.

      Is the credibility budget exhausted with each show? If not, then the story in each show is not ruined, and as long as each show itself is credible in of itself, in conjunction with the other shows then the story of the season, and then the entire series remains credible.
    • Re:True for TV? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      The story might be ruined, but the public will still pay you money for a totally incredible story. Just look at the lasting popularity of X-Files, which drastically changed its plotline every couple of seasons (first greys, then black oil, then super-soldiers)

      You pretty well just proved that you missed the whole point of this theory. X-Files bounced around, but greys, the black oil, and the super-soldiers all fit very nicely into the same universe. X-Files requires you to suspend disbelief, but only s

      • You pretty well just proved that you missed the whole point of this theory. X-Files bounced around, but greys, the black oil, and the super-soldiers all fit very nicely into the same universe.

        No, they didn't. The show had characters working with a "grey embryo" after they had already established that greys are the adult version of the savage creatures born from the black oil. None of it fit together in the end.

        • No, they didn't. The show had characters working with a "grey embryo" after they had already established that greys are the adult version of the savage creatures born from the black oil. None of it fit together in the end.

          Sorry, I didn't watch every episode... but what's wrong with the black oil being the seed and there being an embryo later?

          • Sorry, I didn't watch every episode... but what's wrong with the black oil being the seed and there being an embryo later?

            If you didn't see every episode, then why do you feel you can claim the show was self-consistent?

            The black oil, as established in the movie and in the season six opener "The Beginning", infected humans and, after a gestation period, caused large bloodthirsty alien creatures to pop out of their chests a-la-Alien. "The Beginner" established that these savage creatures, when exposed to

            • I don't see any reason it couldn't work both ways, perhaps with there being two kinds of black goo. I kind of got bored with TV though, and I was too busy downloading anime to download X-Files :P
              • I don't see any reason it couldn't work both ways, perhaps with there being two kinds of black goo.

                You found a way to resolve it (though, no offense, it's rather lame), but the show's writers never did. They just abandoned the whole black oil/grey thing and started concentrating on super-soldiers since they felt it was easier to start afresh than resolve the contradictions they had created.

    • Re:True for TV? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Total_Wimp (564548)
      I never realized until this article, but this is the exact reason I tend to avoid games with a highly developed story lines. If you're "playing" a story, then you have to be restricted and, usually, you'll end up being restricted in some arbitrary way.

      In Unreal Tournatment, Battlefield2, etc, the restrictions are static and well understood by the players. Even though they have a "story" behind every map in BF2, I couldn't tell you what it is because it's wholly irrelevant to gameplay and I never bothered
    • I can't comment on X-Files, which I always found unbearably dumb. But your criticism of Lost seems poorly considered. They did not "change the plotline" from season 1 to season 2. The characters are still on the mystery island. They've simply answered some mysteries, brought in new ones, and changed the story emphasis accordingly. Did you expect every episode to be about hunting wild boars?
  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If a gamer can run rampant with power, there'd better be an equally powerful enemy to come in his way. For every mushroom he can eat to grow in size, there ought to be a poison mushroom to bring him back down.
  • Take the cheats from just about any game. How often does playing with cheats 'take the fun out of it', and how often does it 'improve the experience'. Given a cheat that lets you go anywhere and do anything in a game, it's been my experience that more likely than not, it ruins the experience (unless the game is obsenely hard, which is relatively rare). That also lends itself to a game balancing issue. The more open-ended you make a game (e.g., Oblivion/Morrowind), the more chances you have for both bug
    • Meh, it depends on the game, and the gamer. I'll just take GTA for example. I did not find the missions to be particuarly fun. Some of them were, but some of them(particularly the ones with time limits) were very boring to me. So I stopped doing them. But I still had many hours of enjoyment of the game, just through exploring the huge city they had created.

      The cheat codes really made that aspect of the game more fun for me. I got to enjoy parts of the game that never would have become available to me otherw
    • Depends what the cheats are, and what you call destroying gameplay. Some people play Oblivion like Nethack, restarting completely when they die. Some people eschew the fast-travel system, preferring to visit every piece of virtual landscape directly.

      I on the other hand don't have the ability to concentrate closely enough on every dungeon wall and have been killed a few times by traps (I play with deadlier traps - oncoming spiked logs should HURT) and have merely reloaded. Is it a cheat, or much more fun? I
      • To me there's a huge difference between cheats and a lower difficulty level. If you really are having problem playing a game, nowadays there's almost always some way of 'lowering' the difficulty level with most decent quality games. I think this is a much better approach than just using cheat codes to whiz through the game.
  • by CyberLord Seven (525173) on Friday June 02, 2006 @02:24PM (#15456245)
    It's called suspension of disbelief. Science fiction and fantasy stories start out with a lot of it. Romance novels have much less. Traditional literature gets even less.

    No matter how much you start out with you must never cross the line and have a character do something that is inconsistent with the world in the story. You cannot have a character from The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter leap into the air and fly. You MIGHT be able to get away with that in a Star Trek story.

    • I think you're being unfair- this article poses several tangible extensions to the "suspension of disbelief" concept:

      1. Credibility can be treated as a quantifiable substance that can be codeified in a game

      2. In interactive fiction, both the developer and player draw from a common pool of credibility, making it unique from other fiction

      3. Players can destroy their own enjoyment of the game by using playing strategies that lead to wins but hurt the story telling element- Telling a story and beating a game
  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday June 02, 2006 @02:45PM (#15456445)
    '...the story itself can only tolerate a certain amount of improbability before the credibility budget is exhausted, and the story is ruined.' According to this new law, named after Ken Perlin, who gave birth to the concept, games should not be infinitely wide-ranging or allow the player to do anything he wants."


    This seems to conflate two very different ideas, one of which is obvious, the other seems misguided. Clearly, if there are no constraints at all on what players can do, that's going to strain credibility, in and of itself (at least, if complete freedom isn't limited to a special distinct mode designed for editing the environment rather than intended for "playing the game").

    But I don't see how an increasing scope is countradindicated, so long as items in the game are designed for credible behavior and reaction. Sure, infinitely wide ranging requires infinite programming to create credible behavior, but its a nonsense limit anyway, since you'd need an infinitely powerful computer to run the game, and infinite media capacity to deliver it, anyhow. "You shouldn't do things that are impossible" isn't really a necessary warning.

    • Yes, but we're talking about stories here, not just video game programs. Without restrictions, there are no conflicts. Without conflict, there is no story.

      On the flipside, without restrictions there are no goals or rules. And a game without goals or rules is not a game; it's a utility program or a toy, depending on whether it is useful or not.
  • by rodentia (102779) on Friday June 02, 2006 @02:55PM (#15456560)
    . . .how do we balance the player's desire for freedom with the designer's desire to tell a consistent, coherent story. . . .

    This tension is an essential element of classical (Freudian) phychology. Substitute the terms Id and Ego for player and designer, respectively. Indeed, in a post-structuralist view (informed by Lacan), any discourse structured as a narrative (that is, nearly all, internal or external), Perlin's Law offers interpretive value. For example, a measure of the bounds of normativity for an internal discourse (whether you consider yourself crazy) is a function of Perlin's Law over the constituent terms of that internal narrative.

    Further study: Can we apply the concept to shared narratives like normative social behavior or political formation? Is the concept redundant with the contributions of the Frankfurt School?

    Extra credit: Does this idea offer a description of the development of political reaction in response to sharply divergent, even orthogonal, shared narratives (q.v.--the Bush team vs. *the reality-based community*)? Is it persuasive?

    Indeed, credibility has been a consistent focus of Rhetoric since the inception of the Western cultural tradition. Perhaps Mr. Perlin's own modesty should prevail over the enthusiasms of the geek community in general and Mr. Adams in particular?

  • by vhold (175219) on Friday June 02, 2006 @03:07PM (#15456702)
    I think there is a certain amount of usefulness to this notion, however what I think it needs to clarify is that when the player is what causes the improbable action, it spends far less of the 'credibility budget' then when the game seems to be the impetus.

    When I drive off a ramp, flip over and cause a 15 car explosion in GTA, it doesn't really affect my notion of the game as a vaguely believable caricature of America. However, if that happened all around me constantly it would bust that and I'd feel like I were in crazy stunt world or something.

    I think that the difference in credibility effect between player impetus and game impetus is so great that the mere suggestion that player freedom is a bad thing is almost entirely busted.

    It certainly makes it more difficult for the -game- to respond to the player in credible ways, but it isn't directly what the player did that hurts that credibility.

    I'd say that arbitrarily limiting a player's freedom has a credibility damaging effect as well, since you feel like you are in an invisible straight jacket whenever there exists a mind numbingly obvious solution to a problem that can only be dealt with in the circuitous manner decided by the game developer.
    • It's not so much that you can do that in GTA since you could actually do that in real-life. But you are right, if stuff like that was occurring constantly it would use up the "credibility".

      The part that uses up the credibility is that unlike in GTA, doing that in real-life won't result in you appearing outside the nearest hospital with less money in your pocket.
  • Many, many games don't even have a plot.
    • Exactly, you don't need a plot to have a great movie / game, but it usually helps.

      i.e.
      Baraka
      Tetris

      --
      Game Design is about the unholy trinity: Realism, Logicalness/Consistency, Convenience
      Unfortunately, far too mamy players are argueing about the wrong thing, usually the red herring of realism.
  • "games should not be infinitely wide-ranging or allow the player to do anything he wants."

    Because we said so. And it's a law now so you have to follow it. pfhhhh.

    I'm gonna go play some Grand Theft Auto and Spiderman 2 now...
  • Let's be honest about it. With books, movies, and games that involve a fictional setting such as sci-fi or fantasy, you have a "reasonable suspension of disbelief" factor. Once you cross that line, things start to bog down. The problem is, that line is different based on people's education on the areas around the disbelief portion.

    I have a fairly good knowledge of medical areas, from my time working in a pharmacy and studying to be a paramedic. I can already tell that the new TNT network show "Saved" is
  • '...the story itself can only tolerate a certain amount of improbability before the credibility budget is exhausted, and the story is ruined.'

    Because I, for one, don't like there to be any improbability whatsoever in my games. They should be exactly like real life, diverging in no way whatsoever. Escapism indeed! Gaming should be sheer drudgery and nothing more or you won't truly appreciate it.

    I've had nothing but the worst experiences of my life killing Hitler armed with twin gatling guns, wiping out every
    • Sure, but let's say you were playing the real GTA, the one where hookers don't dis you. You've seen a ton of hot cars rolling by on the street, so you enter a mission to steal one, and all of a sudden there's only one in the whole city, in a locked garage with a guard.

      I mean, maybe all the 'vette owners in the city did just decide to leave the state for a day, a rally or something, sure...

      Things don't have to be like real life, but they need to not be arbitrary and change based on the designers convenience.
  • All interesting behavior happens at the fringes of systems.

    In this particular case, I believe the author is incorrectly connecting two different factors;
    1. Giving the player consistent purpose
    2. Deciding how or whether they move towards that purpose

    Elder Scrolls has been a fine example, although a little short and unclear on criteria #1 (furthermore, earlier ES's lacked a a form of internal consistency such that the player could, in effect, get trapped outside of plot due to stupid bugs). The player truly
  • It is interesting to consider video games as a form of art ; dynamic art to be more precise, a lot like movies. Then we can refer to aestetics, which is a branch of philosophy that has been studied for centuries. Tryings to determine formally what is good and bad, in any art form, has always failed. There will always be a counterexample. And if there is not, interestingly, a counterexample can arise from the analyse of "what's bad", which will likely be original and really good. Breaking such laws in some

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