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How Perlin's Law Makes Gaming Credible 59

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 [] 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.
  • True for TV? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> 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).

  • Re:First Hitler! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caerwyn ( 38056 ) on Friday June 02, 2006 @02:04PM (#15456037)
    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 life need to also not simply be state machines.
  • Re:First Hitler! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 02, 2006 @02:15PM (#15456149)
    Health packs!

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

  • 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.
  • 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 are two separate ideas and interactive games struggle to accomplish both.

    4. The developer can minimize this problem by stratifying the cost of player actions based on the storytelling arc, based on the rules of the law.

    I think this is an incredibly interesting new idea!

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