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Compulsive autonomy

Posted by Michael on May 1st, 2007, in Development

It seems that, in my efforts to create variation in the behaviour of the Drama Princess Actors, I have created a new form of repetitiveness. When an Actor does something, he loses Interest in doing that for a while to allow him to do something else. That something else is more or less the next best thing on the list. After having done that, he loses Interest in that as well. Etcerea. He basically goes through the whole list of things to do until Interest in the first thing on the list has risen enough to allow the Actor to start over from the top.
This is not a complete deadlock because there is some randomness involved in the selection process, but it is definitely a pattern that is clear and that reduces the believability of the Actor. Especially when this Actor is interacting with the Avatar of the player.

One of the things that leads to this situation is that behaviours are the only way in which an Actor can express their autonomy. And their autonomy is about the only thing that we allow them to express. So they have to do something. Because otherwise they would not be autonomous.
I now think this reasoning is flawed. It is perfectly acceptable for a character to do nothing at all for a while, to just stand there. Especially in certain situations.
This is why we introduced the “Hang Out” behaviour at some point: it allows Actors to choose to just be near each other, without doing anything special. Hang Out probably needs to be expanded. One of the things that we could add to the Hang Out behaviour is Imitate. When one actors goes and sits down, the other one does too. When one actor looks in a certain direction, the other does too.

Using Drama Princess in the context of The Path has confronted us with some serious omissions regarding the player’s avatar. The other Actors were treating the Avatar as just another Actor. The behaviour between two autonomous Actors is allowed to be a bit random because the viewer can make up a story about the interaction. But when the autonomous Actors interact with the avatar of the player, there is not so much room for imagination. As a player, you tend to have a fairly good idea about what the situation means and what you want to do in it. If an Actor starts doing things that don’t fit the situation (like walk off to pick a flower while you were standing there begging to be hugged), believability sinks (along with entertainment).
As a solution, we have been considering reducing the autonomy of Actors as they get closer to the avatar. At first we thought of this as a hack, disabling Drama Princess in favour of more compelling gameplay. But perhaps this solution can be useful for Drama Princess too.

Not that we want to turn off autonomy, but it does need be limited by the situation. Especially a situation created by the interaction between two Actors. The interaction between two Actors creates certain expectations in behaviour.

The first expectation is that you do not randomly break off the interaction to go off and interact with something else. Starting and ending the interaction needs to be more significant than that. The solution may be to remove all opportunities for interaction with other objects until the Actor explicitly choses a “Walk Away” behaviour to end the interaction.

The next expectation is that you do not do things that don’t fit with the state of your relationship. While this has been one of the focus points of Drama Princess, our attempts at reducing repetitiveness and our insistance on the Actors doing something has lead to a situation where the Actor, after losing Interest in all suitable interactions, may end up doing something completely unsuitable. This can be prevented by being more strict about which behaviours Actors are allowed to choose with regards to their Affection for the Object and by allowing them to do nothing (i.e. “Hang Out”).

It’s kind of ironic that in the end, autonomy can only be expressed by doing nothing. But it seems to make sense. And perhaps we can making “doing nothing” more interesting by creating Behaviours for the Actors that are a lot “smaller” than the usual ones (go to object, use object, etc). Looking in each other’s eyes, nodding at each other, going to stand in certain formations (with proximity and direction of the body expressing the relationship), pointing things out to the other, talking and telling jokes, of course (though not so suitable in words-free universes such as those created by Tale of Tales). All these behaviours would only be available when that Actors are “officially” interacting with each other, i.e. when everything else in the world has disappeared and they only have eye for each other.

everything else in the world has disappeared and they only have eye for each other

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Posted on May 2, 2007 at 11:40 pm

[…] Still thinking about “doing nothing“. […]

Comment by Jordan S.

Posted on September 11, 2008 at 12:07 am

This has most likely long been sorted out by now, but one way by which characters could express their personality is that some can be more easily distracted than others – a particularly child-like person with a low attention would be more likely to peruse a pretty flower that they notice nearby, even if they’re in the midst of a conversation. However, that’s quite an extreme example and so the other participant in the interaction needs to be considered – they most likely won’t be as easily distracted and so the “walking away” from the conversation/meeting will be one sided, and the other person may try to persuade the distracted one to join in with them again.

But, of course, all of this is optional and dependant upon the kind of world and mood that one seeks to give rise to.

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