Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Drumming and PGR/Smarty Pants

I'd like to address the difference between Drummania and Rock Band, and also ask a question about the feeling goodness of achievements, and complain about PGR's medal system.

Drummania is the Drum-arcade machine by Konami that you can find in places like the Waterloo Cove. On a sidenote, I think this game is superior to the Drumming in Rockband, but we're not going to discuss that today. Today we're discussing the main difference between Drummania and Rockband (drums).

I made a term a long time ago for games like Drummania, which I like to call the "Infinite Octopus". Drummania is an "Infinite Octopus" game, and Rock Band is not. I don't remember, but older versions of DDR may also be Infinite Octopus games. I remember on one of the easier songs of Drummania, there would be a pattern that was like red, pause, yellow, pause, red, pause, yellow pause... so sometimes for fun I would play
red, pause, yellow, pause
red, pause, yellow, pause
red, red, yellow, yellow
red, red, yellow, yellow

So I'll add in an extra beat there, for fun. Or, let's pretend in hard mode, that extra beat actually exists there, but it's not mandatory in easy mode. You can hit it if you want, but you don't see it, and you won't get points for hitting it or lose points for not hitting it, since it's not there.

So basically, you are allowed to hit the drums anytime, and you won't lose points for it, but you will gain points and keep your combo up if you hit the particular notes that appear, and if you don't hit them you'll lose points and life and whatever. If you were an Octopus and you had a drumstick in each hand (minus the one hitting the footpedal), and you hit each drum an infinite # of times per second, you will be able to pass each and every single song in Drummania. That's why Drummania is an Infinite Octopus game.

I think DDR might be one too... if a left arrow appears, and you jump and hit left and right at the same time (or in that matter, left, right, up, and down at the same time), do you get the point or not? If you do, then DDR is also an infinite octopus game. I mention older versions because in newer versions there are hold-notes, which an infinite octopus can't handle.

Guitar Hero and Rockband (minus voice?) are not Infinite Octopus Games. You cannot strum notes randomly when notes aren't there. If you do, you lose your combo and life. In easy modes of Guitar Hero, you might hear 16 notes go by but you only have to (and only can) strum 2. If you try to strum more, you'll lose points and life. People therefore love hard mode and expert mode because they can play with every note they see, rather than the limited weirdness of easy mode.

The same is true for Drumming in Rock Band. At some points in medium you might hear 6 beats, whereas you can only strum 2. The opportunity of hitting those 6 beats creates a lot more fun, which is why hard mode is more fun.

But it's harder. Much harder. But the opportunity to hit those 6 notes... well, it's well worth it. So In a free-style sort of way, easier levels of Drummania are more fun than easier-levels of Rock Band, since you can hit notes that aren't there. And in that way, Rock Band is soo much more strict, you have to hit the notes that are there, and only those notes, nothing more, and preferably, nothing less.

Also, I noticed the other day there are some Xbox360 achievements for "completing the drum career on expert 100%"... hahaha, like I'll ever achieve that. Or we'll see...

Drumming is hard because of the footpedal. It does add a little bit of interestingness, since the foot does so little in regular videogames... but it's hard to use! It's a totally different limb not used too often... also, on another note, there are many songs in Rock Band that have a similar beat, so your hands and feet get into a sort of rhythm... and when another song comes along and has something totally different, it's hard to break away from the mold! and sentence over?

Anyway, more on Drums maybe later, if requested. For now, I need to post about Smarty Pants and PGR. Maybe just Smarty Pants, and PGR as a side note.

The other day my sister and I got into a small argument about Smarty Pants. So in Family Mode, you co-operatively try to answer as many questions as you can in a certain time limit. At the beginning of the game, you select how many questions you want to try to answer. If you answer enough questions in the time given, the game stops and congratulates you; if you fail, the game stops when you run out of time and it makes you feel bad, and tells you how many questions you got and how many you need more to reach your goal.

So for example, let's say in a 5 minute period, you select that you want to answer 20 questions. So let's say after 5 minutes are over, you only did 19, and then it will say "aww, you did 19, you only had 1 more to go! Try harder next time, k?"

And then you try again, and this time you do answer 20 questions, and you have 1 minute remaining (so you spent 4 of the 5 minutes) - and then it says "congratulations! you've reached your goal!"

Okay, everyone still with me? Good, because this is where the argument comes in. Now, for something like Smarty Pants, it's a petty little thing, so it's not too important, but for something as frustrating as PGR (Project Gotham Racing), it's quite annoying, and it's similar to this argument that I'm having here.

So back to the 20 questions - yay, you did it, but you have 1 minute remaining! The game just stops and brings you back to the beginning. Do you wonder about the 1 minute? Wouldn't you feel better if you did 22 questions in those 5 minutes? Because, well, you probably could've!

The only thing is, well, you don't know! You THINK you could've done 22 questions, or 24, since you had a whole minute left - but you just don't know! In other words, you had 1 minute left, but you did not do anything with it. 20 questions was not your highest potential, and I think that would make you feel bad.

So let's say you try again, this time you choose your goal to be 22 questions. And at the end, you fail, and you get 19 questions after the 5 minutes. Does that mean you can't get 22 questions? No! Maybe you could've gotten 22 questions last time, but you couldn't, because your goal was 20 and you've reached it, and the game stops there. Let's say you get a medal for having done 22 questions... but more on that later in the PGR argument.

So, I think my sister gets her pleasure from knowing she reached the goal, or she gets the pleasure from the process as she reaches her goal. "aww, you were 2 away, try harder!" "aww, you were 1 away, try harder!", ... "yay, you did it, you reached your goal" - of course, she had 20 seconds left, so there's some potential that wasn't used up. My sister would be happy that she reached her goal, I would feel bad because we didn't use up all our resources to the best of our ability.

And that's my problem - whenever you reached your goal, it means you didn't use up your fullest potential. For me, I would rather have messages like

"Aww, you only got 21 answers, you need 879 to go!" "Aww, you only got 22 answers, you need 878 to go!" "Aww, you only got 23 answers, you only need 877 to go!" "Aww, you only got 24 answers, you only need 876 to go!" So, my sister doesn't feel happy about this, because she never gets her achievement of reaching the goal, and it's quite discouraging looking at such high numbers. like "1 more to go" and "2 more to go", those are achievable and gives her a sense of purpose and a challenge, but "879 to go" - well, she might as well just give up, she'll never reach it.

But, each time you go, you'll keep getting higher. I'd rather have "Aww, only 24 answers, 876 to go" than "congrats, 23 done, but 20 seconds left". And that's what we argued about.

Onto the PGR argument, which follows the same principle. Let's say there's this event, where you had to rack up a certain number of points in a time limit. There are 5 medals, um, copper, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Okay, the PGR system really sucks, which is why I'm complaining about it. Moving on... so let's say you need 10,000 points for silver and 25,000 points for gold. Usually in any other game, you'd do the event, and based on the number of points you get, you get a certain medal for it.

In PGR, you choose the medal which you want to go for first, and then you do the event. So, let's say it's my first time doing this event, so I play it safe and I choose a Silver Medal, so I'm going for 10,000 points. Anyway, so I do the event, and I'm racing the course, drifting, doing some awesome precision work, and I end up with 26,000 points.

So of course, PGR being retarded, gives me the silver medal, because I got over the 10,000 points that I needed. So, I say, "umm, I'm good at this, let's go for gold" and I go for Gold, since I exceeded the 25,000 points I need for gold. So I do the course again, this time a bit more sloppy, and I get 19,000 points. And of course, I don't get the gold medal.

Which is totally retarded, because I so deserve the gold medal! I got the 25,000 points, which means I deserve the gold medal! Yet the game doesn't give it to me, which is totally retarded, and I totally hate the PGR system for that. The next 10 times I try, I get 18,000-24,000 points, which is so frustrating because we all know I deserve this gold medal.

And that's what I hate about PGR.


Blogger transcendent said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your comment regarding the strictness of Rock Band (and Guitar Hero). It's the very antithesis of musical expression. Boo to Harmonix!

2:35 PM  
Blogger Ambrose said...

Hm...what's the difference between "23 right, 849 to go" and "20000 pts, 5000 away from gold"?

You seem to like one but not the other.

For achievement based things, yeah it's annoying, but we all know there's usually a bit of beginner's luck in these things. If you can only accomplish a task 10% of the time or when you get lucky, I don't see how you deserve a designation saying you did it.

Or, why not change your approach? Start w/ Platinum and work down. That way you never waste your points.

1:46 AM  
Blogger Bao said...

heh, I had a feeling someone would bring in the 'consistency' idea. I generally disagree - I think if you got perfect on a lap or song or whatever, it counts as you did it - first try or second try or any other try.

I mean, if PGR measured consistency, that miight be their way of doing it... in which case I would argue against that.

And the starting with the platinum thing, it might yield in the same kind of results. instead of picking silver first, I would pick platinum first (which requires 150,000 points?) and then I'd get the 26,000 and still complain that I should deserve the gold.

And the first thing you said, comparing the two... it's not really the same. I mean, if the 20,000, 5,000 away will give me the silver medal, then that's good... if that makes sense.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Ambrose said...

"And that's my problem - whenever you reached your goal, it means you didn't use up your fullest potential. For me, I would rather have messages like

'Aww, you only got 21 answers, you need 879 to go!'"

So say Smarty Pants used the PGR system, it lets you keep going until the time's over and your target is the no. of questions answered at the end of the limit. You aim for 10 questions, and you get 30. So then you aim for 30 questions, but then you keep on getting 25, 26, 24 right, can't seem to get 30 again. By above, you'd prefer to have "only 25, need 5 more to go!" No?

And as far as recognizing achievements go, consistency is a very good indicator of performance. If the system awarded you medals just on score, then both people who got lucky and those who are actually good will be rewarded the same. I think the PGR system was designed so that it rewards both skill and consistency. It's more similar to real world rewards systems. You wouldn't give an Investment Manager who had 1 year of 20% return the same salary as another who had 10 consecutive years of 20% returns. Or, a person generally does not get into the "hall of fame" of their profession just by having one good achievement. It's usually the culmination of many good achievements.

Of course, these are reward systems in video games, so they can be more flexible. I suppose you're saying that you want a more "casual play" reward system in games?

7:02 PM  
Blogger Bao said...

Yes... I prefer my games to be fun rather than frustrating. I like my games to all use the system that ALL games minus PGR use, the ones that reward you based on your performance.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the very antithesis of musical expression.

In the spirit of Alan, let's debate!
um, on one hand I can see why you say that such strictness is so unmusically expressive.

But on the other hand, such strictness in some cases /does/ mesh quite well with some musical contexts. When playing so-called "art music", for example, it is frowned upon to put in notes that weren't there before, etc. In this sense, Guitar Hero is asking you to play an "official" version of the song, just as your piano teacher will want to hear an "official" version of a Mozart piece, etc.. .

That way, when Guitar Hero enthusiasts (for example) compare each others' performance on the same song, everyone is on the same page..?

Does it have much merit, my argument defending Guitar Hero's strictness from a musical expression viewpoint, do you think?

2:16 AM  
Blogger transcendent said...

such strictness in some cases /does/ mesh quite well with some musical contexts

You are absolutely right with that statement, but GH/RB (i.e. rock music) is definitely not in those contexts.

Many of the tricky parts of GH, i.e. the solos, are actually supposed to be improvised in real life, so making the player follow the strict pattern for those sections totally misses the point.

Granted, from a game design perspective, you can't really give the player that kind of freedom and still have a level playing field. If people want to express themselves musically, a video game is probably not be the ideal outlet.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many of the tricky parts of GH, i.e. the solos, are actually supposed to be improvised in real life, so making the player follow the strict pattern for those sections totally misses the point.

You know, this reminds me of some options that other rhythm games have, where you can choose to go into "freestyle" mode (I think that's what it's called), which basically gives you the freedom to improvise, etc.

Granted, from a game design perspective, you can't really give the player that kind of freedom and still have a level playing field. If people want to express themselves musically, a video game is probably not be the ideal outlet.

this raises interesting questions about the context of gaming. It seems that when you take guitar from a musical instrument into a gaming context, the purposes trying to be achieved shifts.. .

it's funny that when i try to play GH, I (personally) still am still enjoying a musical experience, but the drive is to acheive a score. When I used to play my horn, on the other hand, it was the reverse: acheivement was a mere side affect to the craving to further a musical experience.

In light of this, I'd say that a brilliant person /might/ be able to develop a game "in the spirit" of improvisation/freedom in rock and roll, but for this game they opted to go the direction of that "Mozart" context that I was talking about earlier.

I suppose I see both as valid.
But from what I hear you say, the restrictiveness in a rock and roll game still rubs you the wrong way and frusterates you?

5:56 PM  
Blogger transcendent said...

It would be totally awesome if there is a game in which "music" is more than just hitting the right notes at the right time. If only you could distill musical nuances into a set of rules a computer can understand. I actually believe this is possible, but would require a lot of research. I'm sure people have tried.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, Wen, I have had the VERY same thoughts many times before! Right down to the "but, boy, that woudl require a lot of research and would game companies be willing to put so much work into artificial intelligence that seems so "invisible" in a game?".

But there was ONE game which I played which actually seemed to judge musicality -- though its algorithm was probably kind of silly, it seemed to work. In Um Jammer Lammy, it outright explicilty encourages you to not follow the rhythms and buttons on the screen -- the only way you can advance to the highest rating is if you MAKE YOUR OWN STUFF UP!

And it was at least somewhat intellegent. It felt like I only got high points when I improvised something that musically seemed both creative and sensible ... and it gave me massive negative points when I "improvised" rubbish that sounded really non musical!

i really loved that game :-)

5:37 PM  

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