Gamasutra: Ben Serviss Blog-Discomfort Zone: Valve’s Hidden Possibility ?? s AI Director

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left 4 Dead?? You are very likely to do so.Its 2008 release was with lots of fanfare $ 10 Million Marketing Cost It showed that Valve means business.Push was rewarded – as of October 2012, the game, its 2009 sequel, and additional DLC won the series. 12 million sales..  So why did this particular zombie game work so well in the era of endless zombie games?So why did this particular zombie game work so well in the era of endless zombie games? More interestingly, why hasn’t Valve released new installments since 2010 after the rapid development of sequels and multiple DLC packs?

The obvious answer to the first question is a sense of genuine cooperation created by the mechanics of the game. This is not a little provided by the acclaimed AI system “Director”, which produces random encounters with enemies. Encourage changes in the environment. Adjust the placement of items found by the player. All are based on each player’s calculated “stress level”. For the first time in the game, AI entities can change multiple elements of the level on the fly for a customized experience each time. Perfect for zombie games, right?

Wrong. It’s perfect for everything.

“We set out to create a first-person, four-player game whose actions change with each play. In a multiplayer environment like this, a more linear, scripted approach wouldn’t give the same approach. I felt that I wanted to use the step-by-step instructions to simulate the story. “– Gabe Newell

There’s a reason Gabe calls AI directors telling procedural stories, not procedural zombie spawns.As part of a PR push throughout the work he wrote for Edge L4D, He widely suggests implications for all types of cooperative games, not just single-player games. This promise was already recognized within Valve long before the game debuted. The rest of the industry never caught up.

But back to L4DEspecially the use of it. One thing to keep in mind is that the AI ​​director’s approach is not a dynamic difficulty. Dynamic difficulty has been around for some time and is primarily based on the idea that the system fine-tunes existing values ​​to increase or decrease the difficulty of the game. For example Max PayneThe system fine-tunes the enemy’s health and degree of aiming support based on how well / poorly controlled / wrecked you are. As a result, the game was tight and never too easy or too difficult. But they were all the same and each playthrough was the same.

“This makes procedural stories more like storytelling devices than, for example, simple difficulty mechanics.”-Gabe Newell

Apparently a similar tact was used in Half-life 2: Episode 1 And 2, Depending on your health condition when you broke it, you will receive different items from the crate. Again, above all, this kind of on-the-fly adjustment helps level the playing field without significantly changing the experience. The core experience is the same. This is why AI directors are different. Use the player’s activity data to engrave a dramatically different experience that perfectly fits the player’s abilities and attracts the player at key levels. L4DThe focus is on survival / action / horror hybrids.

Max Payne
Max Payne’s dynamic difficulty system helped to strain the fight, but they were always the same.

However, removing zombies, health packs, and cliché apocalyptic scenarios leaves us with the core truth of what the system offers: immediate eviction from the comfort zone. The comfort zone is a great place to hang out, both in life and in games, but returns quickly diminish due to unlearned interruptions.

That’s why, despite the number of Marines exploding, particle effects, and screaming to fill the screen, games that should be exciting and thrilling on paper turn out to be boring. The confusion of expectations when you are pushed into a new experience and enter the discomfort zone is ultimately responsible for you learning more about the system, your line of trust, and your abilities, and you Helps you play the game better. It’s stressful at first, but it turns out that this dynamics will be more fun in the long run.

“From now on, I’ll definitely use some of what we’ve learned: what worked and what didn’t. left 4 Dead Not only in multiplayer, but also in future single player games. – Gabe Newell

So why aren’t more games using this principle? After all, it’s been almost five years since Valve debuted as a director. The only reason I can think of is the exorbitant complexity and simple laziness of creating such a system. Perhaps do you think this system is really only suitable for horror games? How can I implement a similar system in other games? Let’s see!

Racing..Create a course with dynamic events like For a moment – However, instead of scripting the event into a track, enable the event on the fly to accommodate the player’s performance.

shooter.. Consider a widely open shooter with the following single player components: Hello Or battlefield.. Instead of a scripted wave of enemies attacking from the same direction each time, you can stop by through parachutes and dropships, attack vehicles from the horizon, or spawn mini-bosses that normally expect a battalion. why do not you?

For a moment
Split / Second track destruction is scripted. Imagine if it is dynamic based on the player’s stress level.

RPG.. With a dialogue-focused story-driven RPG, why not drop a conspiracy bomb that threatens your relationship as you approach a particular NPC? Even better, do you do it during the climax battle? Deus ExIn style sandbox games, do director-triggered EMP events temporarily block access to certain extensions and need to adapt to different power combinations that wouldn’t normally be combined? Remember that the director knows the combinations you use on a regular basis. Super hexagonIn a style reflection / puzzle game, why not just replace components from a pool of prefabricated barriers and engrave your players with deliberate obstacles based on what they have just overcome?

Side-scrolling action God of WarWould you like your enemies to switch between attack patterns and weaknesses, depending on your style of hand-to-hand combat and the proficiency of the player sending a particular type of enemy?

Of course, there are subtle differences between pushing a player into a discomfort zone and unfairly screwing a player in as a way to increase the value of a replay. In any of the above examples, the key to creating a real “discomfort zone” dynamic is to make sure that there are many options available to the player under new circumstances.

If the goal is to encourage improvisation through immediate and unexpected constraints, this will fail if the player does not have the appropriate options to deal with the new problems that are suddenly imposed on them.

“One of the fun theories we use is that the more ways the game recognizes and responds to player choices, the more fun it looks.”-Gabe Newell

Secret sauce L4DThe reason it was (and continues to be) such a hit is to balance it with such a system. It’s a way for players to worry about the following by making momentary actions more important in a true way than purely scripted sequences.

For both developers and designers, it challenges you to think about how similar directors can change your experience, fully involve players, and keep the value of replays unlimited.

Ben Serviss is a freelance game designer working in commercial, social, educational and indie games. Follow him on Twitter. @benserviss..

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