Book review: Creating Emotion in games

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Mike Rozak

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Jan 9, 2004, 1:16:44 AM1/9/04
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Book: Creating Emotion in Games
Author: David Freeman
Publisher: New Riders


My rating: Ambivilent... I like the subject matter, but the book doesn't
quite deliver as much as I'd expect. However, since I couldn't find any
other books with the same subject matter, this book is better than nothing.


Pros:

- The book covers various ways to make games emotional, mostly by including
interesting characters, dialogues, and plot twists. Guidelines for making
interesting characters, dialogues, and plot-twists are talked about. Plenty
of examples are included.

An example using Floyd the robot in the Inforcom game, Starcross (?):
Freeman doesn't mention Floyd nor does it sound like he's ever played IF.
(Note: I never played the Starcross, but have read about it.) Freeman's
guidelines explain why the heroic death of Floyd is so moving. His
guidelines would apply as follows: Floyd is originally rescued by the player
(as I recall from writeups), so he becomes a dependent. Dependents
automatically have more of an emotional attachment for the person that has
responsibility for them. Floyd (as I recall) occasionally talks to the
player, which creates a routine of banter common to people familiar with one
another. (Another emotional link.) Floyd follows the player around, creating
a shared experience. (More links.) Floyd performs occasional tasks for the
player. (More links) Floyd then bravely sacrifices himself. (Heaps of
emotion here.) Many other emotional-attachment techniques are mentioned,
such as writing Floyd so he had previously experienced a tragedy (such as
his mother dying), which then induces sympathy in the player. Etc.

- I have purchased several books about writing novels. I have been
disappointed by most of the novel-writing books. However, if half this book
were chopped out and renamed "How to write emotional stories" I'd give it a
thumbs up.

- Most of his ideas could be applied to IF better than console games (his
target audience).

Cons:

- The author originally worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for TV/movies.
Many of his example plots, characters, and dialogue sound like Hollywood TV
fare. I think/hope that his examples are so cliche because cliches are
easier to get across in a short example than a non-cliche concept.

- The author continually plugs his business.

- The book is geared towards standard console game designers. Console games
(in my opinion) are not condusive to plots/emotion, other than killing. Some
of Freeman's examples can be boiled down to: Provide a cut-scene so NPC A is
liked. Go into first-person shooter mode - since games will be games. In the
next cut scene have NPC A betray the PC, creating emotional depth. Go into
FPS mode again. In another cut-scene learn that NPC A was forced to betray
the PC because his wife and kids have been taken hostage by the bad guys, so
he really isn't that bad after all. Repeat FPS mode. Etc.

- The author claims/implies there are other ways to handle emotioneering (as
he calls it) outside of cut-scenes, but most of his examples require a
cut-scene to convey the emotion. (or an amy of several thousand programmers
and animators.)


--

Mike Rozak
www.mXac.com.au


Quintin Stone

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Jan 9, 2004, 9:31:11 AM1/9/04
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On Fri, 9 Jan 2004, Mike Rozak wrote:

> An example using Floyd the robot in the Inforcom game, Starcross (?):

Actually, that was the game Planetfall, from Infocom.

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ems...@mindspring.com

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Jan 9, 2004, 3:25:15 PM1/9/04
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"Mike Rozak" <Mike...@bigpond.com> wrote in message news:<gHrLb.2121$Wa....@news-server.bigpond.net.au>...

> Book: Creating Emotion in Games
> Author: David Freeman
> Publisher: New Riders

Thanks for writing this. I noticed this book in the bookstore about a
week and a half ago, and was intrigued, but since Barnes and Noble was
charging nearly $50 for it, I only leafed through it briefly before
returning it to the shelf.

> - I have purchased several books about writing novels. I have been
> disappointed by most of the novel-writing books. However, if half this book
> were chopped out and renamed "How to write emotional stories" I'd give it a
> thumbs up.

Out of curiosity, have you looked at Orson Scott Card's _Character and
Viewpoint_? If so, how would you say it compares to this book? (C&V
is currently my favorite writing book to cover this subject.)

If you haven't read it, I don't mean to put you on the spot-- I'd just
be curious.

> - The author originally worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for TV/movies.
> Many of his example plots, characters, and dialogue sound like Hollywood TV
> fare. I think/hope that his examples are so cliche because cliches are
> easier to get across in a short example than a non-cliche concept.

Yes. As is often the case, I was disappointed in several of the
examples I saw. This is something I've noticed in a lot of
instructional and critical writing, actually: the author legitimately
critiques an existing work, then says, "this would be much better!!:
<equally awful example>".

Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book.

-- Emily

Mike Rozak

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Jan 10, 2004, 7:27:16 PM1/10/04
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> Out of curiosity, have you looked at Orson Scott Card's _Character and
> Viewpoint_? If so, how would you say it compares to this book? (C&V
> is currently my favorite writing book to cover this subject.)

Sorry, I haven't seen this one. Is it a good one to read?

--

Mike Rozak
www.mXac.com.au


Glenn P.,

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Jan 11, 2004, 9:09:36 AM1/11/04
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On 09-Jan-04 at 9:31am -0500, <st...@rps.net> wrote:

:> An example using Floyd the robot in the Inforcom game, Starcross (?):

> Actually, that was the game Planetfall, from Infocom.

Uh, "Planetfall" and "Stationfall" (the interactions with the robot Plato
in the latter were interesting, too.)

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ems...@mindspring.com

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Jan 16, 2004, 12:23:06 AM1/16/04
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"Mike Rozak" <Mike...@bigpond.com> wrote in message news:<EL0Mb.5095$Wa....@news-server.bigpond.net.au>...

> > Out of curiosity, have you looked at Orson Scott Card's _Character and
> > Viewpoint_? If so, how would you say it compares to this book? (C&V
> > is currently my favorite writing book to cover this subject.)
>
> Sorry, I haven't seen this one. Is it a good one to read?

Sorry for the delay in answering, but -- yes, I do think it's a good
one to read. It struck me when I looked (briefly) at the
emotioneering book that it was suggesting a lot of the same techniques
that Card outlines in this book: taking a cliche or simple idea and
twisting it to create something deeper and more nuanced; producing
characters with several different defining characteristics; raising
the emotional stakes in various ways. In my opinion, though, Card's
treatment of those topics was more thoughtful and less jargon-laden.

Obviously, Card is talking about writing fiction, not games, but a
great deal of what he has to say could be applied equally well to
designing powerful characters in any context, I think.

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