Life Tourism

I'm willing to guess enough gamers lead lives either too boring or too interesting to want a game like I want, but I'll lay it out right here since I have a mind to.

In Grand Theft Auto, one of the things I enjoy the most is imagining actually living in a given neighborhood. The false-fronts of different neighborhoods are everywhere, the record shops you can't get into, the specialty clothing shops that don't really exist.  I think about my limited experience in heavily urban environments, and I'm always fascinated by how neighborhoods differentiate themselves to create a distinct feel. You get local bands playing in local bars, local festivals that have a distinct attitude you wouldn't find elsewhere, all these things that add up to a specific aesthetic, and since we only live one life by most accounts, we'll never get to experience them all.

Granted, there's probably some serious overlap in what people imagine are unique attitudes, but the kind of game I think might be cool is to combine the feel of several distinct neighborhoods into a sort of life sim, trying to recreate these aesthetics without some of the hassles of real life. This game would definitely not be everyone's bag and I'm cool with that, but I guess I like the idea of moving into a neighborhood, getting a job (where you don't actually have to stand around for 8 hours-- just like any sim you can do time distortion, or have minigames or something like other games do), experiencing the local music scene (buy records, meet people in the record shop and learn about concerts, venues), meeting people from different cultural groups (get involved in soap opera stuff if you want to, or blow it all off), all with the usual game devices like loading a prior save if you screw up a relationship or whatever. Now that I'm pretty much settled down, I wouldn't mind a game that took a more realistic bent, something that wasn't about combat (or blunt satire).  Sorta like Shenmue without the hackneyed mob stuff, maybe. I dunno.

The reason I even bother to talk about this with a general audience is that Sparky_Buzzsaw reminded me of something I wanted way back during the last time I had a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator. You could fly to different airports, but I sort of wanted a reason, a game to go along with it. I imagined pretending that I was part of a courier service, and that I'd have missions to fly from X to Y, with bonuses for doing it in a reasonable amount of time, having to plan the routes, make sure the winds were favorable, that sort of thing. I never really got around to doing that, probably because I was less willing to go through the chore of learning to sim-fly if I was then going to have to imagine I was playing a game.

When imagining this expanded flight sim, it's natural to expand the idea into what you'd do on the ground in between jobs, how'd you'd spend the money you earned. When I look at this, I can't decide if I'd want it to be about idealized(?) versions of real locations, or if they should be completely fictional. Given that while playing San Andreas I got the inspiration for a lot of this, I can see a fictional city being just as interesting, but I imagine people who actually live in the real cities that might be a subject for the game might know more about the cool places to go and plug in facts about them into a game engine.  When the latter gets shared with everyone, you'll have people doing a bit more than virtual tourism or entering a random address on Google Maps and hitting street view. It'd be an alternate form of escapism from the usual fantasy, science fiction, or constant war stuff we usually get.

Real life is better when it's going your way, but I think it'd be neat to experience another life for a little while, especially since simulation doesn't cost as much time and money as actually moving to a new city, and all you have to do when you want to move on is put down the controller.

11 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

I'm willing to guess enough gamers lead lives either too boring or too interesting to want a game like I want, but I'll lay it out right here since I have a mind to.

In Grand Theft Auto, one of the things I enjoy the most is imagining actually living in a given neighborhood. The false-fronts of different neighborhoods are everywhere, the record shops you can't get into, the specialty clothing shops that don't really exist.  I think about my limited experience in heavily urban environments, and I'm always fascinated by how neighborhoods differentiate themselves to create a distinct feel. You get local bands playing in local bars, local festivals that have a distinct attitude you wouldn't find elsewhere, all these things that add up to a specific aesthetic, and since we only live one life by most accounts, we'll never get to experience them all.

Granted, there's probably some serious overlap in what people imagine are unique attitudes, but the kind of game I think might be cool is to combine the feel of several distinct neighborhoods into a sort of life sim, trying to recreate these aesthetics without some of the hassles of real life. This game would definitely not be everyone's bag and I'm cool with that, but I guess I like the idea of moving into a neighborhood, getting a job (where you don't actually have to stand around for 8 hours-- just like any sim you can do time distortion, or have minigames or something like other games do), experiencing the local music scene (buy records, meet people in the record shop and learn about concerts, venues), meeting people from different cultural groups (get involved in soap opera stuff if you want to, or blow it all off), all with the usual game devices like loading a prior save if you screw up a relationship or whatever. Now that I'm pretty much settled down, I wouldn't mind a game that took a more realistic bent, something that wasn't about combat (or blunt satire).  Sorta like Shenmue without the hackneyed mob stuff, maybe. I dunno.

The reason I even bother to talk about this with a general audience is that Sparky_Buzzsaw reminded me of something I wanted way back during the last time I had a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator. You could fly to different airports, but I sort of wanted a reason, a game to go along with it. I imagined pretending that I was part of a courier service, and that I'd have missions to fly from X to Y, with bonuses for doing it in a reasonable amount of time, having to plan the routes, make sure the winds were favorable, that sort of thing. I never really got around to doing that, probably because I was less willing to go through the chore of learning to sim-fly if I was then going to have to imagine I was playing a game.

When imagining this expanded flight sim, it's natural to expand the idea into what you'd do on the ground in between jobs, how'd you'd spend the money you earned. When I look at this, I can't decide if I'd want it to be about idealized(?) versions of real locations, or if they should be completely fictional. Given that while playing San Andreas I got the inspiration for a lot of this, I can see a fictional city being just as interesting, but I imagine people who actually live in the real cities that might be a subject for the game might know more about the cool places to go and plug in facts about them into a game engine.  When the latter gets shared with everyone, you'll have people doing a bit more than virtual tourism or entering a random address on Google Maps and hitting street view. It'd be an alternate form of escapism from the usual fantasy, science fiction, or constant war stuff we usually get.

Real life is better when it's going your way, but I think it'd be neat to experience another life for a little while, especially since simulation doesn't cost as much time and money as actually moving to a new city, and all you have to do when you want to move on is put down the controller.

Edited by overbyte

Great writeup. I think what you're getting at is some sort of what the social aspects of MMOs are catering to since the places are very much alive. Granted it's not set in real-life world locations, but the patterns can be carried over to a game like that. Are you thinking of something like a third-person open-world version of The Sims maybe? People put in their stuff, others can download it and experience these creations for themselves.

Posted by Akrid

Any particular reason why this game isn't just an expansion away from the Sims 3?

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Akrid:  Sims keeps you distant from your "sims", and lacks any sort of authenticity. It actually bugs me how it sort of dehumanizes the sims into making them pitiful puppets that shit themselves to death. I guess if people like that it's there for them, but I don't see the sims as having the sort of grit and verisimilitude (holy crap, that's the first time I spelled that right without looking it up) that I'm looking for.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@overbyte:  Very astute. I was sort of thinking of MMOs a bit as I was typing it, although I imagine this as a more single-player experience since I'd want everyone else in the world NOT to be as meta as I could be. But yeah, the social stuff that doesn't have anything to do directly with hitting monsters on the head for pelts sort of shows up naturally in a lot of community games because human beings like to trade and talk.

My feelings about the Sims, as I perceive them having not played it, is complicated, but I don't feel the tone is at all what I would be looking for.  It more has you as a god looking down on them, and they act in exaggerated ways that seem to satirize human behavior, rather than approach it sympathetically. I see this thing as a bit more tunnel-vision, looking through my eyes at a slightly grimy world that's still not nearly as messed up as the real one. I also see dialog as being important, something a bit closer to the dialog trees of Mass Effect or whatever, where you can talk about real life topics,  and other human beings, and not just nonsense with symbols.

As I'm sure others will point out as well, the Sims could be a model, but for me it'd be a model of what I'd want, at least as a complete package, to sort of avoid, or given a more serious alternative to.  I definitely see it as a ground-level-looking-up-at-skyscrapers thing, and I'll probably stick to the real places angle for now just to help differentiate it further from the Sims games.
Posted by Sweep

Love reading your blogs man, so well written and interesting. Your writing has a wonderful fluency to it that makes it really easy to enjoy. Keep it up!

Moderator
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Sweep:  Hey, thanks :) It's funny, I used to tell myself I was neglecting my writing after my short stories and essay production slowed down until I realized my writing had just moved into emails and blog entries. GB has been a good home for my game-related thoughts.
Posted by Claude

I often think of playing a game like this. Even in a game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I really enjoyed going up Grove St. and playing pool or going shopping at the clothing store. But I always wanted more. The game always got in the way of how I wanted to live in that game, live in that world. In Oblivion, picking flowers and just wandering the countryside was a favorite pastime of mine. I thought, wouldn't it be cool in Oblivion to have some kind of relaxing moment where you play bocce or something. As it is, I pick my moments so the game becomes more than the developers intended. Those are the moments I remember most.

Posted by StaticFalconar
@ahoodedfigure said:
" @overbyte:  Very astute. I was sort of thinking of MMOs a bit as I was typing it, although I imagine this as a more single-player experience since I'd want everyone else in the world NOT to be as meta as I could be. But yeah, the social stuff that doesn't have anything to do directly with hitting monsters on the head for pelts sort of shows up naturally in a lot of community games because human beings like to trade and talk.My feelings about the Sims, as I perceive them having not played it, is complicated, but I don't feel the tone is at all what I would be looking for.  It more has you as a god looking down on them, and they act in exaggerated ways that seem to satirize human behavior, rather than approach it sympathetically. I see this thing as a bit more tunnel-vision, looking through my eyes at a slightly grimy world that's still not nearly as messed up as the real one. I also see dialog as being important, something a bit closer to the dialog trees of Mass Effect or whatever, where you can talk about real life topics,  and other human beings, and not just nonsense with symbols.As I'm sure others will point out as well, the Sims could be a model, but for me it'd be a model of what I'd want, at least as a complete package, to sort of avoid, or given a more serious alternative to.  I definitely see it as a ground-level-looking-up-at-skyscrapers thing, and I'll probably stick to the real places angle for now just to help differentiate it further from the Sims games. "
Thing is, nobody has really created a good enough Ai that does really feel real. So not having it be some MMO or have the world not be populated by people like say second life but with a more structure gameplay wise, is going to destroy the immersiveness of it immediately. Yes, one can argue the dialog trees in mass effect and such are really immersive and site big living worlds like fallout / oblivion as being fully functional in a pure single player experience. However, all dialog trees run out of branches eventually while a human player can always talk. 

Perhaps the trick/goal is to have a long enough tree that will only last until the point where the game dev feels like its time for the player to complete the game. That however is the other problem; unless you die somehow I don't see a way to conclude living. Sure you use the world life tourism which can signify a getaway for a set amount of time living life that is not your own, but how does that make for an interesting game? The only closest game I could think off that does that is "This is Vegas" which based off the trailer below and the stereotype of just living life in vegas is the closest thing you'll get. And even then, that game was cancelled. Also, Vegas living isn't exactly regular living lets just say. 

  
  
So a game of "life tourism" without the actual real world meta (multiplayer) game of say second life or mmo involved? That is a real tough order to fill since the closest being Oblivion, Fallout, Mass effect, etc all cost really big money to make so any publisher that green lights those projects expect huge sales to make up for it; also they all have plenty of action that is only solidified by the living functional world (which is the real selling point for the mass market audience). So pure day to day living with no real objective or overall meta game to encompass all of it, probably won't work when it comes to making a final product that would sell compared to the cost involved in making it. 
Posted by Dalai

I think what you might want is some kind of GTA/Sims hybrid... without the micromanagement of keeping your Sims clean and not shitting their pants. One of the best things about the Grand Theft Auto games is sightseeing and checking out the hotspots, but because of the type of game it is, they have to keep the restaurants, clubs, and shops you can actually use to a minimum. One of the best things about The Sims is having the ability to check out any establishment you want, but unfortunately it's limited in scope due to the sizes of the neighborhoods and its inherent suburban feel. There's gotta be a workable balance somewhere that can be feasible today, but I don't know if it can ever be a single player experience especially since it would probably be best suited as an MMO.


I'd probably buy this game you've created in your mind even if it's not the game I imagined you wanted it to be.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Claude said:
" I often think of playing a game like this. Even in a game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I really enjoyed going up Grove St. and playing pool or going shopping at the clothing store. But I always wanted more. The game always got in the way of how I wanted to live in that game, live in that world. In Oblivion, picking flowers and just wandering the countryside was a favorite pastime of mine. I thought, wouldn't it be cool in Oblivion to have some kind of relaxing moment where you play bocce or something. As it is, I pick my moments so the game becomes more than the developers intended. Those are the moments I remember most. "
You and I are on a pretty close wavelength on this. I do that sort of thing in Morrowind too, sometimes, although I imagine the more detail a world has, the easier this is to do. In Morrowind I was always afraid of crashing the game for leaving too many things on the ground so I never tried to rearrange stuff in a house, but even in old Daggerfall I get this sort of regional feeling when I stick in one place long enough. I customize it a bit, and feel ownership over it, even though if I really assess what's going on, it's more me doing it than the game.

And I'd do the same thing in GTA:SA, just hanging around in the neighborhood and imagining what even a little more detail might mean for that feeling.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Dalai said:

I guess MMOs have that modular, growing structure that allows for this sort of thing. I mean, when people say "MMO" the things that leap to mind, static quests, harvesting and all of that have no place in what I imagine this thing to be, but as has been pointed out further down/up, people tend to naturally create these sorts of community environments in MMOs, assuming the MMO allows for that level of flexibility.

I think suburban is, you're right, not the tone I'm aiming at; as someone who grew up, in part, in a suburban environment there's a sort of bland interchangeability there that I don't think would work. Even in some small towns, college towns, cities, and touristy places you'll get a bit more self-consciousness, and so people will try harder to make their little part of the world more distinct.

It's one of those things where I can *sort of* see it happening now, but there's a lack of a strong precedent, so it's hard to encapsulate without writing a thesis or a design document. Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.

@StaticFalconar said:

 Thing is, nobody has really created a good enough Ai that does really feel real. So not having it be some MMO or have the world not be populated by people like say second life but with a more structure gameplay wise, is going to destroy the immersiveness of it immediately. Yes, one can argue the dialog trees in mass effect and such are really immersive and site big living worlds like fallout / oblivion as being fully functional in a pure single player experience. However, all dialog trees run out of branches eventually while a human player can always talk. 

Yeah, that's something that I dwell on more than anything else when I think of this sort of thing. I do think, though, that enough research on a macro and micro sociological/psychological level has been done to give at least a patina of immersiveness and sensible reactions to character behaviors, but this would require more R&D than what most companies, small and large, would be willing to put into this sort of thing, so I imagine that even though it's within our grasp to have believable reactions that are based, in part, on AI (and that term has a nest of difficulties in it when we ask just how intelligent a machine can really be), and in part on warm, writerly responses to player behavior.

It's not as if the player will meet a completely random citizen and have them be a plethora of interesting reactions, either. A bit of the old illusionist's tricks will make a city seem a lot more heavily populated with interesting people than it really is, and that's based on a player's own approach to the world.  Here's a little theoretical framework to illustrate:

Say you move into a neighborhood, and there are several people there who catch your eye as interesting enough to talk to. You start chatting with person A who runs a local record store, person B who is a regular in a nice cafe, and person C who is a coworker who shares your interest in films. You could talk with even more people if you want, but you feel that if you spend too much time just meeting people, you'll never get to know anyone in any great depth. Talking with A, B, and C over the course of a game month you might get into a heated disagreement about whether or not Tarantino is a good filmmaker, so that relationship (friendly or otherwise) doesn't go anywhere, and some of the stuff you said wound up causing you trouble at work. You get to know A and B pretty well, when you get the chance to talk with them (it doesn't always work out).  Record store owner A hears you mention trouble at work, and offers you a job at A's store.  If you take that, you'll spend more time with A and get to know him or her better.  Cafe dweller B agrees with you about Tarantino and you wind up going to films with B instead.

These events are more modular than they might seem to the player, and the amount of depth and personalization you find depends on the choices you make. The game will sort of sneakily end friendships and start new ones to keep you from juggling too many people, and the more time you spend with an individual, the more you'll get to know things you never would have known if you'd just had a lot of surface relationships. But because you can't do both, the game actually has only a few solid, in-depth people you can know.  Over the course of expansions, though, you'll get more guest writers and regular writers to construct personalities and reactions, and write interesting one-off conversations.

Then the limiter will be that you'll eventually die, so you won't likely see the whole game the first run through. There will be some interchangeable things that'll make, say, A be more brusk, run a grocery store instead of a record store, and a bunch of little things that are different, but will affect the dialog choices (of which there are a limited number that ever show up). And enough in-depth relationships will be there that it takes some work to get to know people well.


So a game of "life tourism" without the actual real world meta (multiplayer) game of say second life or mmo involved? That is a real tough order to fill since the closest being Oblivion, Fallout, Mass effect, etc all cost really big money to make so any publisher that green lights those projects expect huge sales to make up for it; also they all have plenty of action that is only solidified by the living functional world (which is the real selling point for the mass market audience). So pure day to day living with no real objective or overall meta game to encompass all of it, probably won't work when it comes to making a final product that would sell compared to the cost involved in making it. 
"

I do see this as either being a big dollar project, or being very modular and broken down into bite-sized chunks for either independent developers or people who can plug in facts about the venues in real places, and then writers (both regular and mercenary) who create interesting people. As far as the business questions, if I always worried about the end business result before I even came up with complete ideas in the first place, I'd never get anywhere. For me, it's more a matter of how you market a good game.  As surreal and insidious as this may sound, a lot of marketing has to do with convincing people they want something they didn't know existed, and that includes good old video games as an entire industry.

If some smoke-and-mirrors techniques, like the ones I talk about above, are used, I can see this not being a very big project at all, though. It's just different, and without precedent, so I imagine it might be a bit freaky to contemplate.