2007/06/28

Why Hasn't Anyone Thought of This Yet?

Okay, this needs to happen: A marionette fighting game for the Nintendo Wii. The PS3 could work too, with its motion-sensing controller.

Admit it, this is a brilliantly obvious idea. Haven't you ever picked up a Wii Remote and wished there was a frightening, battle-ready puppet suspended beneath it? No? Well, neither have I, probably because I don't have a Wii, but still, I'm sure you can see the connection.

This idea arose as a possible solution to the problem of physics-based avatar control. In most games, you move around a character, like Mario, for example, who is represented by an animated image moving around on the screen. But there are some games where instead, your character is made up of many physically simulated parts. You then have a direct control over the movement of these parts, whether you are individually controlling each joint or moving a ragdoll's head around with the arrow keys. This freedom allows players to develop their own playing style within the physics of the game world, but also tends to result in games that are very difficult to learn.

As Matthew Wegner of Fun-Motion said in his review of Toribash,
"Other games have attempted to implement full body, physics-based control mechanisms. The problem lies in the complication of movement. As a designer, you either need to simplify the control mechanism, automate some aspect of the process, or rely on convoluted controls. It’s a very hard problem to solve for a real-time game."

That's the problem. If you want a game that lets players do realistic, physics-based kung fu, well those players are going to have to be real kung fu masters. Either that or you're going to have to take some control away from them or simplify the game until it isn't really like kung fu. The ability to distill a complex activity into something controlled by a few buttons, while still retaining that interesting complexity, is central to the art of designing physics games.

So anyway, how about taking a ragdoll and rather than strapping a jetpack to its head (basically what Ragdoll Masters does), try attaching virtual strings to its arms and legs? I originally envisioned this as a way to combine individual control of limbs with an analog input device like the mouse. But it would work even better with a 3D motion-sensing controller like that of the Wii.

Puppetry also provides a wealth of inspiration for the visual style of a game. Tons of different cultures around the world each have their own puppet traditions from which one can steal ideas. And they all look really freaky. It's quite relevant to games because puppetry is basically the oldest form of virtual reality. Puppets are not just pictures, they are virtual actors, not made for their own sake but as part of a larger production intended to convey a story, to create the illusion of an imagined world (yes, that did need to be italicized). As a result, they offer a long history of approaches to representing people and things within restrictive technical limitations. Puppets are not "photo-realistic" and neither are games. It might do us games people some good to take a look at how stylization has been done in the past. I think puppets make a better example than animation in this respect.

And yeah, that's my idea. I'm sorry for the lack of activity on my blog. There is much to write about, and little time or motivation with which to do it. Not that I'm just too lazy, necessarily, but when I get a great idea of what to write, I usually don't have the time, and once I do get the time, I'm just not feeling it anymore. But occasionally those two occurrences coincide, like now. Though this has taken way longer than I expected. Oh well. Thanks for reading. :)

2 comments:

Aaron Miller said...

I like it.

I would probably adapt it in some ways though. Realistically loose puppet movements could be fun, but realistically weak impacts wouldn't be. Also, I would add some sort of stat or skill system to differentiate the puppets by more than just size and shape.

It would be a good setting for comedy, too. It might be funny if the puppets talked trash to each other.

Alex said...

Thanks.

Of course the basic concept would need tweaking, and weak impacts could potentially be a problem. But it could be dealt with the same way Ragdoll Masters does it, with a constant damage and recoil force whenever to parts touch. Any physics-based concept will require lots of adjustment and experimentation.

I guess comedy could fit pretty well, though I had been imagining something a little darker. But yeah, the whole idea came from the "fight scene" in Team America in the first place. :p