The COG Philosophy

Posted by Sweep (8817 posts) -

I was reading a book the other day (Small Gods by Terry Pratchett if you must know) and I stumbled blindly across the age-old question;

Does a falling tree make a sound, if there is no-one in the woods to hear it?


Which is basically, when you wade through all the pretentious bollocks, questioning existence. Its playing with our presumptions and assumptions.

Usually I tend to avoid getting too involved with this stuff when I'm reading a book. Philosophy fascinates me, but philosophy also strikes me a way of wandering round asking stupid questions like "Is truth beauty?" while some other poor bastard is left to do all the bloody legwork. At the end of the day, its just being smart with words to make life seem better - whilst nothing physical or productive ever actually happens as a consequence. Sort of like religion.

You probably want me to start talking about computer games.

So what's the dealio' yo? Games now have to exist within their own universe. This is important because it allows them to impose fresh rules that can be broken and constructed as the game permits. Niko Bellic can heal gunshot wounds by stuffing the bullet-holes full of hotdogs and mayonnaise? Sure, why not - sounds like a logical solution. Even the more abstract of games like Geomettry Wars or Space Invaders have rules and limitation which must be adhered to.

PLAYER 1: PRESS START TO BEGIN!!


So you are now in a pretensed virtual universe. You have instructions, rules, and an ultimate goal - its a game, duh! But what else exists in your universe? How much of the universe is physical, and how much is being left to your imagination?

I love the feeling of being a small part of something bigger, when a game gives you the feeling that you are merely playing through a chunk of the universe. The old one-man-army trick is now dead to me. I want the rest of the world to feel as real as the hallway I am walking down. I love watching the AI fill in the gaps of the story. I love it when you can see other squads running off in another direction on a different mission parallel to your own. I want to know what they are doing, it creates such a wonderful sense of scale within the game. Instead of simply telling you "Alpha team secured Bravo!" being able to watch Alpha Team securing Bravo off in the distance is so much more immersive.

"Lets go find Carmine..."
Gears Of War 2 does this to startling effect. When you first drill underground you step out into the Hollow and its just stunning. As you progress you see your squadmates also dropping into the cavern in their pods - and you think "I just did that! Thats so awesome!". Watching the dust clear and other squads engage the enemy - being able to help them from your own path with Mortars and Sniper fire - everything contributes to the whole feeling teamwork, being organised, helping each other out. Every time Carmine revived me I blessed his cotton socks, every time he scored a headshot I was genuinely proud! Being a baddass is just as fun as watching someone else on your team be a badass.

What's also impressive is how much existence within the universe is implied through great scripting and sound. Hearing Marcus natter away to other soldiers like old friends makes you wonder - "How do they know each other? What's the history here?!" Watching helicopters and reavers punctuate the skyline, running past COG Soldiers on patrol, watching a Medic tend to a wounded comrade - it all contributes to the implification that there is more in existence within the universe than is immediately apparent, and that in turn makes everything seem so much more alive.

GTA4 went a similar route - but instead of just implying a huge universe, it actually gave you one. It leaves less to the imagination, but gives you more potential to experiment. Both examples are great games.

By contrast, Ryan pointed out on the Bombcast that this is a fault of Mirrors Edge. I heven't played the game, and don't get me wrong - I think it looks amazing and I WANT IT - but a frequent reviewer criticism is being unable to contextualise your awesome acrobatics. The First Person perspective may add a sense of adrenaline and allow you to relate more directly to your environment, but it leaves the landscape looking rather empty. You cannot see the awesomeness taking place, only guess at your full potential. Watching other runners bounce around you more frequently would have been nice.
 I don't want to go on about Mirrors Edge because I haven't played it and therefore any criticisms are unfairly based - I feel like a dick for not buying it already. I need more money!!

So lets wrap it up.
  1. Games take place in a virtual universe.
  2. The universe can be manipulated through directive techniques that imply its size is greater than its physical state.
  3. The bigger and more fleshed-out the universe is, the more immersive the game becomes.
  4. Being able to exist within that immersive universe is awesome.
  5. Gears Of War 2 therefore, is awesome.

Thanks For Reading
Love Sweep
Moderator
#1 Posted by Sweep (8817 posts) -

I was reading a book the other day (Small Gods by Terry Pratchett if you must know) and I stumbled blindly across the age-old question;

Does a falling tree make a sound, if there is no-one in the woods to hear it?


Which is basically, when you wade through all the pretentious bollocks, questioning existence. Its playing with our presumptions and assumptions.

Usually I tend to avoid getting too involved with this stuff when I'm reading a book. Philosophy fascinates me, but philosophy also strikes me a way of wandering round asking stupid questions like "Is truth beauty?" while some other poor bastard is left to do all the bloody legwork. At the end of the day, its just being smart with words to make life seem better - whilst nothing physical or productive ever actually happens as a consequence. Sort of like religion.

You probably want me to start talking about computer games.

So what's the dealio' yo? Games now have to exist within their own universe. This is important because it allows them to impose fresh rules that can be broken and constructed as the game permits. Niko Bellic can heal gunshot wounds by stuffing the bullet-holes full of hotdogs and mayonnaise? Sure, why not - sounds like a logical solution. Even the more abstract of games like Geomettry Wars or Space Invaders have rules and limitation which must be adhered to.

PLAYER 1: PRESS START TO BEGIN!!


So you are now in a pretensed virtual universe. You have instructions, rules, and an ultimate goal - its a game, duh! But what else exists in your universe? How much of the universe is physical, and how much is being left to your imagination?

I love the feeling of being a small part of something bigger, when a game gives you the feeling that you are merely playing through a chunk of the universe. The old one-man-army trick is now dead to me. I want the rest of the world to feel as real as the hallway I am walking down. I love watching the AI fill in the gaps of the story. I love it when you can see other squads running off in another direction on a different mission parallel to your own. I want to know what they are doing, it creates such a wonderful sense of scale within the game. Instead of simply telling you "Alpha team secured Bravo!" being able to watch Alpha Team securing Bravo off in the distance is so much more immersive.

"Lets go find Carmine..."
Gears Of War 2 does this to startling effect. When you first drill underground you step out into the Hollow and its just stunning. As you progress you see your squadmates also dropping into the cavern in their pods - and you think "I just did that! Thats so awesome!". Watching the dust clear and other squads engage the enemy - being able to help them from your own path with Mortars and Sniper fire - everything contributes to the whole feeling teamwork, being organised, helping each other out. Every time Carmine revived me I blessed his cotton socks, every time he scored a headshot I was genuinely proud! Being a baddass is just as fun as watching someone else on your team be a badass.

What's also impressive is how much existence within the universe is implied through great scripting and sound. Hearing Marcus natter away to other soldiers like old friends makes you wonder - "How do they know each other? What's the history here?!" Watching helicopters and reavers punctuate the skyline, running past COG Soldiers on patrol, watching a Medic tend to a wounded comrade - it all contributes to the implification that there is more in existence within the universe than is immediately apparent, and that in turn makes everything seem so much more alive.

GTA4 went a similar route - but instead of just implying a huge universe, it actually gave you one. It leaves less to the imagination, but gives you more potential to experiment. Both examples are great games.

By contrast, Ryan pointed out on the Bombcast that this is a fault of Mirrors Edge. I heven't played the game, and don't get me wrong - I think it looks amazing and I WANT IT - but a frequent reviewer criticism is being unable to contextualise your awesome acrobatics. The First Person perspective may add a sense of adrenaline and allow you to relate more directly to your environment, but it leaves the landscape looking rather empty. You cannot see the awesomeness taking place, only guess at your full potential. Watching other runners bounce around you more frequently would have been nice.
 I don't want to go on about Mirrors Edge because I haven't played it and therefore any criticisms are unfairly based - I feel like a dick for not buying it already. I need more money!!

So lets wrap it up.
  1. Games take place in a virtual universe.
  2. The universe can be manipulated through directive techniques that imply its size is greater than its physical state.
  3. The bigger and more fleshed-out the universe is, the more immersive the game becomes.
  4. Being able to exist within that immersive universe is awesome.
  5. Gears Of War 2 therefore, is awesome.

Thanks For Reading
Love Sweep
Moderator
#2 Posted by MasterSplinter (636 posts) -

I feel like I was just presented a very well constructed science fair project using the scientific method. You stated your hypothesis, clearly tested and analyzed it, and formulated a conclusion that Gears 2 is awesome because it exists in an immersive universe. Well done! A+

#3 Posted by Oni (2094 posts) -

"Immersive". Like old times :D

But yeah I agree. Sense of scope is important to me. It makes a world feel alive. Somewhat similarly, I love in Fallout 3, if you come back to a place much later, the bodies of people you killed will still be there, because it's a fucking wasteland, and people don't clean shit up. It makes the universe feel real. Fable 2 on the other hand felt much more "gamey", as there is no sense of continuity. If you kill a shopkeeper, another will pop up to take their place, and every time you go back to an old area, enemies will respawn in exactly the same places as last time.

Good job Sweep, you got me thinking about something I previously paid little thought to (about Fable 2)!

#4 Posted by Tylea002 (2295 posts) -

Nice blog sweep, I agree with what you say, though I remember it more from Ace Combat 6, seeing giant battles taking place without you, loads of radio chatter and missions within missions. Its very immersive like that.

#5 Posted by Sweep (8817 posts) -

fucking firefox spellchecker stopped working =/ stupid letters

Moderator
#6 Posted by Tylea002 (2295 posts) -

Happened on my latest blog too, its annoying.

#7 Posted by crunchUK (5963 posts) -

the COG philosophy is shoot first, cheesy quip during/later duh.

#8 Edited by Claude (16254 posts) -

I'm playing Fallout 3 and I'm telling a story in my head as I play. Sometimes my story doesn't match up with the dialog, but in a lot of cases, I was given the opportunity to use dialog options that directly correspond with the story in my head...

I play sports games and after a game, I'll have an interview with the coach and the players, again in my head...

When I go to bed and I'm thinking about a game or reliving the being of "in game", those are the good ones, moment by moment and when done, the ones I'll miss, until "next" fills my head...

#9 Posted by L (1681 posts) -

I like is a cup half full or half empty - although I figured that one out.

#10 Posted by lordofultima (6208 posts) -

I don't think watching other runners scale the environment in Mirror's Edge would really help anything. It would have probably taken away from the atmosphere.

#11 Posted by albedos_shadow (1485 posts) -

I like number 5 the best.

#12 Posted by Torb (551 posts) -

Yea dude. I definitely love being able to feel like I'm playing a major role, not like I'm the whole story in a game. Noticed the same things while playing Gears. It felt huge!

#13 Edited by Rowr (5478 posts) -

Mass Effect is a good example of this. They make up so much back story/setting and then put you in a small part of it.

"But what else exists in your universe? How much of the universe is physical, and how much is being left to your imagination?"

A good example of this is Assassins Creed, rather than reproduce my thoughts im copy pasting straight from m review :P

"At first i spent alot of time being inconspicuous, blending into crowds of monks, gently pushing past people, avoiding guards like the plague. Which was all well and good and added much to the games atmosphere, as it was more exciting feeling the guards eyes on me and when i did actually piss off the guards having to haul ass in exhilirating chase. This was conclusive to those feelings of being badass. Unfortunately these were limits i was putting on myself with the use of imagination. As i progressed i found it was actually terribly easy to evade the guards, and even if they did catch me, they didnt stand much chance against my blade"

The illusion of scale is definitely a big factor of Gears 2 being successful as a sequel and being seen as bigger better and more badass over the original, really there isnt a hell of a lot they did different with it over the first other than presentation, and it works.

#14 Posted by Blinck (185 posts) -

Amazing writing once again Sweep!
And I really agree with you, the one man army thing doesn't work so well anymore, specially with the technology we have today.
What you talk about here is what made Call of Duty 1 one of the best games ever in my book. I can still remember playing the demo, rushing in with the computer AI, and looking to the side and seeing some of my teammates getting shot and dying right there, others jumping fences and killing enemys....it was so amazing, so much energy, and the best is that it wasn't scripted, they didn't have to die right there, I could actually avoid it.
This is also why MMORPG's are so compelling to many people, you really feel like a part of a living universe that is constantly changing, specially because you know there are no AI limits since the people you are playing with are real, and this can make some really exciting and epic moments.
Although, some games are indeed able to emerge you even if it is a solo play with no friendly AI, an example of this is Bioshock. This one of those games that make you wonder, that push your imagination. You are given details about Rapture, but it also keeps you guessing on allot of things, this is what made the game so compelling at least to me - It actually made me stop at times and imagine. You always want to find out more, and in this case you don't really need an active friendly AI to make you feel like a part of something bigger, the amazingly well written story is able to do that, at least in my opinion. It's hard to explain so I might not be making much sense :P

Anyway great blog man...let me tell you something. You are gonna be one fucking great game director if you keep this drive with you!

and by the way
"At the end of the day, its just being smart with words to make life seem better - whilst nothing physical or productive ever actually happens as a consequence. Sort of like religion."

Seriously, this is pure Win.

#15 Posted by Foil_Charizard (345 posts) -

Your blogs are really good man. Probably the best on the site.Keep it up!

#16 Posted by Cogito (174 posts) -

Good Article, now I need to write one.

Also, good on you, Terry Pratchett is awesome.

#17 Edited by RenegadeSaint (1523 posts) -

I'll ignore the dig against religion and agree with the other points you make.  Gears really does a great job of immersing the player in the storyline; constantly conveying that sense of  "something bigger."  Ever since I sat awe-struck, watching the Patton-esque sequence that follows the prologue, I've been overjoyed to fire up the game and find out what comes next.  It is beautiful.

#18 Edited by TWiesengrund (5 posts) -

I agree that immersion happens in believable or at least imaginable fictional worlds. The more believable or imaginable they are, the easier it is to be drawn into the experience and to suspend your belief that the game you are playing is just another fictional work of art. But the line between being absorbed by narrative and rejecting it isn't drawn only by the size of the world you're supposed to dive into. Nor is authenticity necessary.
Take the Super Mario series, for example. As soon as Super Mario Sunshine tried to elaborate a more realistic storyline, a more or less adequate representation of a real world problem, it became quite ridiculous. Some games simply just dwell on their gameplay structure and an abstract take on reality. Some others don't even have to come up with narration at all to be immersive. Maybe you didn't want to rule this out, but to me it seems that the system of rules in a game, its simplicity or comprehensibility is an integral part of immersion in games. The free transformation and abstraction of reality is another.
But ultimately, Gears of War 2 is awesome :D ...

#19 Posted by OmegaPirate (5523 posts) -

God i love terry pratchett :D good blog mate

#20 Posted by TekZero (2663 posts) -

After reading this, I've decided I have to start playing more mainstream games.

#21 Posted by Torb (551 posts) -

Wrong.

#22 Edited by JamesM (201 posts) -

Re: The tree thing

It strikes me that there are two ways of looking at it. You can either see it as a comment on the utterly (and understandably) human-centric way we view the world (a universe in which life never even emerged is a weird and slightly scary concept to me, yet it would be functionally almost identical to this one -- what do rocks and clouds of gas care about organisms; indeed, caring about anything or assigning any kind of value or meaning to anything relies on there being life in the first place). Or you could see it as a question about the nature of sound, and experience in general, and whether the experiential element (the quale) is separate from the essential element (the raw physical "stuff" of the universe). It seems as though the latter should be the case, but is that just the legacy of Descarte's dualism? Does it make sense to separate the mental realm from the physical? I think that it does, in as much as one is subjective and the other is objective, but the subjective elements are emergent phenomena of objective physical processes and configurations.

Of course, it's silly of me to act as though those are the only two interpretations of the purpose of the statement, if indeed there is one at all, other than to encourage meditation. I'm seeing things from a modern Western standpoint, and my own particular version of one, at that. How arrogant of me.


What? Games? You make some interesting points, which I agree with to a point, although I think they're more a matter of where you're at at the moment, rather than a universal statement (not to imply that you stated otherwise, or that you will necessarily ever move from that place). I personally don't find the lack of people in Mirror's Edge particularly bothersome. I can definitely see why it would, but for me it sets the tone. Running through an office full of people would be cool, but I'm not sure that that sort of cool would sit well with the rest of the game, unless the whole thing was changed to be a rather different beast. Then again, perhaps it would be a nice dichotomy -- I'm thinking something like Portal's behind-the-scenes portions. Still, I'm not sure. I'm more concerned with the fact that, more than most games, to really feel satisfied you have to have a near-perfect run, which rarely happens without much moment- and freshness-destroying practice. Still, I enjoy it.

I like what you said about scale giving you a sense of place in the world, although I wouldn't say largeness or multitude is actually necessary for this -- they're just tools. But it is great to feel, at least to a small degree, like the game's universe is a functioning whole, with interacting parts, none of which is given entirely disproportionate treatment or ability. Of course things will generally be weighted somewhat in your favour, but it's good to feel like you're operating under more-or-less the same rules as everyone else. I find it a little jarring that in World at War your enemies can blindfire whilst you cannot, for example. Without a cover system you can't have blindfiring, but it's indicative of the larger problem of inconsistent ways of moving and interacting with the world. Then again, I'd probably rather they didn't fix that, as it would mean changing the gameplay too much, and as much as I like cover mechanics, I'm not sure I want them in every single game just yet.

On the subject of immersion, I would contend that immersion need not be narrative; being immersed into any sort of experience can be enjoyable and satisfying, and more abstract ones can be particularly interesting and exciting. I got really into Rez while I was playing it (not that that was for long or I was good), and I was barely aware of the story. Regardless, the audio-visual experience sucked me in, and I was enjoying the whole much more than I would have enjoyed any of its parts.

I need to stop saying "experience". I'm not sure how much this all really relates to what you posted, anyway.


Oh yeah, Pratchett's pretty good, too. In fact, one of the best things about Discworld is that it works as a believable whole with inhabitants with a sense of place and purpose. Coincidence?


Woah, way too long for a reply. Sorry everyone.

#23 Posted by Sweep (8817 posts) -
JamesM said:
"Re: The tree thing

It strikes me that there are two ways of looking at it. You can either see it as a comment on the utterly (and understandably) human-centric way we view the world (a universe in which life never even emerged is a weird and slightly scary concept to me, yet it would be functionally almost identical to this one -- what do rocks and clouds of gas care about organisms; indeed, caring about anything or assigning any kind of value or meaning to anything relies on there being life in the first place). Or you could see it as a question about the nature of sound, and experience in general, and whether the experiential element (the quale) is separate from the essential element (the raw physical "stuff" of the universe). It seems as though the latter should be the case, but is that just the legacy of Descarte's dualism? Does it make sense to separate the mental realm from the physical? I think that it does, in as much as one is subjective and the other is objective, but the subjective elements are emergent phenomena of objective physical processes and configurations.

Of course, it's silly of me to act as though those are the only two interpretations of the purpose of the statement, if indeed there is one at all, other than to encourage meditation. I'm seeing things from a modern Western standpoint, and my own particular version of one, at that. How arrogant of me.


What? Games? You make some interesting points, which I agree with to a point, although I think they're more a matter of where you're at at the moment, rather than a universal statement (not to imply that you stated otherwise, or that you will necessarily ever move from that place). I personally don't find the lack of people in Mirror's Edge particularly bothersome. I can definitely see why it would, but for me it sets the tone. Running through an office full of people would be cool, but I'm not sure that that sort of cool would sit well with the rest of the game, unless the whole thing was changed to be a rather different beast. Then again, perhaps it would be a nice dichotomy -- I'm thinking something like Portal's behind-the-scenes portions. Still, I'm not sure. I'm more concerned with the fact that, more than most games, to really feel satisfied you have to have a near-perfect run, which rarely happens without much moment- and freshness-destroying practice. Still, I enjoy it.

I like what you said about scale giving you a sense of place in the world, although I wouldn't say largeness or multitude is actually necessary for this -- they're just tools. But it is great to feel, at least to a small degree, like the game's universe is a functioning whole, with interacting parts, none of which is given entirely disproportionate treatment or ability. Of course things will generally be weighted somewhat in your favour, but it's good to feel like you're operating under more-or-less the same rules as everyone else. I find it a little jarring that in World at War your enemies can blindfire whilst you cannot, for example. Without a cover system you can't have blindfiring, but it's indicative of the larger problem of inconsistent ways of moving and interacting with the world. Then again, I'd probably rather they didn't fix that, as it would mean changing the gameplay too much, and as much as I like cover mechanics, I'm not sure I want them in every single game just yet.

On the subject of immersion, I would contend that immersion need not be narrative; being immersed into any sort of experience can be enjoyable and satisfying, and more abstract ones can be particularly interesting and exciting. I got really into Rez while I was playing it (not that that was for long or I was good), and I was barely aware of the story. Regardless, the audio-visual experience sucked me in, and I was enjoying the whole much more than I would have enjoyed any of its parts.

I need to stop saying "experience". I'm not sure how much this all really relates to what you posted, anyway.


Oh yeah, Pratchett's pretty good, too. In fact, one of the best things about Discworld is that it works as a believable whole with inhabitants with a sense of place and purpose. Coincidence?


Woah, way too long for a reply. Sorry everyone."

Best. Comment. Ever.

Thanks dude
Moderator
#24 Posted by TWiesengrund (5 posts) -

Maybe we can agree on the point that immersion demands a certain coherent leitmotif. Some games resort to a comprehensible or surprising narrative, others focus on gameplay structure or the audio-visual experience.

As for the trees:
Another interpretation of the sentence could be that it refers to the problem of validation in empirical science and, as JamesM already suggested, the possible divide between the world and our experience of it. The question at hand is what we actually refer to when we talk about the world. And how could we ever possibly validate that our answer to this question is the right one? And more importantly: what if there is no way of telling if the world is out there or just holistic experience? Would the question be pointless?
Furthermore, the sentence could refer to our understanding of the concept of causality, a concept, again, deeply based in experience. But like with all these koans, there is not just one way of interpretation. They are designed to bring up many different topics according to the subjective point of view.

#25 Posted by Rowr (5478 posts) -

TO MANY BIG WORDS FOR ME.

*goes back to playing Gears of War 2.*

#26 Posted by dsplayer1010 (2227 posts) -

Well said

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