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Is limited interaction in games actually a problem?
Is limited interaction in games actually a problem?
September 17, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

September 17, 2012 | By Eric Caoili
More: Console/PC, Design

"A game's capacity to output rich, nuanced information exceeds that of film or television, yet a player's capacity to reply with equivalently rich and nuanced statements is massively constrained by our input devices and our game designs."
- Former Ubisoft and LucasArts creative director Clint Hocking explains the "Fat Pipe-Thin Pipe" problem with games that limit the ability of players to react to the rich information presented in today's complex games.

For example, an in-game character can communicate emotions to players through subtle body language (e.g. pupils dilating, blushing), or a change in the tone of their voice, yet players often have only a limited range of actions they can respond with.

One way to solve the problem is to increase the bandwidth for players, which can be accomplished with new input devices that enable players to communicate their intentions and reactions through motion, voice, or even facial expressions.

Another way is to design different sorts of games, perhaps ones that take advantage of the analog inputs to deliver more nuanced reactions. But that leads to a variety of new challenges, such as trying to figure out appropriate interaction models, defining the goals of these games, etc.

And there's also the question of whether or not this is a problem that needs to be fixed. Maybe that inequality in bandwidth players experience with games, or the absurdity of responding to nuanced scenarios with simple reactions, is what makes modern single-player games so entertaining?

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Tadhg Kelly
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I don't think simplification of input is a problem. If anything I think it's often a boon. By constraining the player along certain kinds of action (but making sure that the outcomes are still robustly dynamic), games acquire a lot of their structure and clarity of goals. Outside of the digital arena we see this in sports all the time (example: you can only pass the ball backward in Rugby) which gives rise to interesting patterns. However more interactive dimensions often only leads to vagueness, breakable systems and so forth.

Darcy Nelson
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Complex interaction can be great if it nets complex, interesting feedback, but trying to make it meaningful and fun is the trick. The massive controller for Steel Battalion scared the bejesus out of some potential players, but to me it always seemed like an awesome idea. Personally, I think as long as there are games which can leverage nuanced input in an enjoyable way, developers will find a way to do it.

James Farmer
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The problem of constrained interactions is a technical one: there's simply no point in having that depth of interaction if we can't match it with an equal depth of emotional, intelligent NPCs that can give adequate responses. The one game I've seen to come close to this is Façade, where you are free to type/say words with a pretty adequate response from the game characters. But even for a 15-30 minute game in one room, it took 5 years to develop the depth of interaction in Façade. If there are extraneous inputs for games that doesn't have seamless response to each one of those interactions, then players will likely be frustrated with the AI or simply ignore those inputs altogether.
On the other hand, if we're talking about a multiplayer game, then increased input would actually be worth it for the sake of better communication.

Joshua Darlington
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IMO the subtext of this question is how to use the Kinect box and similar devices as game controllers. Game designers can now use CV techs like affect recognition, and/or an increasing degree of NLU as input. This is a significant paradigm shift in media tech. What are new directions for exploring this capability and integrating it into games?