Blog of Scott Brodie

3.17.2009

Trust Emotion in Aegis Wing

Trust was a key moment-to-moment emotion in the play of Aegis Wing, the first title I designed for Xbox LIVE Arcade.  I thought I'd post briefly on how the game mechanics were setup to support this unique experience for players.

What is it?
Abstractly, trust can be described as a feeling of confidence or certainty attributed to something else. In games, it is often expressed most intensely in multiplayer games, where some aspect of the game requires reliance on another agent.

Because games are based around choice, games require a spectrum of an emotion to be explored.  In the case of trust, this mean the game system must also allow for mistrust as an option.  Thus, a "trust mechanic" is an encounter that asks a player to interpret to what degree they have confidence in something else.

Trust Mechanics
In Aegis Wing, there were two key mechanics that involve exploring the concept of trust.
Mechanic #1: Separate management and usage of a resource - In Aegis Wing players were given the option to attach to another player's ship, which forced them to give up the management of their ship movement in exchange for added attack power. The decision to attach asks the player to make a vote of confidence in the other player's ability to manage their ship movement for them. A mechanic such as this does not need to involve multiple players, however the meaning generated from this interaction will resonate more when a human relationship is layered on top of it.

Mechanic #2: Hide or partially expose game information - Many mechanics that have hidden information ask players to make a vote of confidence in their own understanding of the current game state. The classic game of memory is a simple example, where the player makes a decision based upon confidence in their own memory to find a matching card. A more resonant example is Poker, where players must decide how much they trust the other player's betting patterns and tells.

The hidden information in Aegis Wing is a bit different, given that it is a cooperative game.  Players have the ability to communicate at their disposal.  To start, a player has little information to build their model of confidence from.  But by engaging with players, forming plans, and watching other's past successes, the player can build an imperfect but improved model to inform their decisions about who to collaborate.

Resonance Knobs
Here are some useful lessons learned that can be applied to make these types of mechanics resonate even more:

  • Make both the manager and user of the resource human players. Human relationship decisions almost always resonate more because of the built in complexity of human communication.
  • Repeat the choice cycle often so that the player has a long history to evaluate when making a vote of confidence.
  • Offer players the ability to shake other's confidence in them by offering incentives to betray. By offering this option, when players do not take advantage of it, it can build a stronger trust bond.  The point is to not ignore the sometimes negative side of an emotional spectrum.  Doing so degrades the value of achieving the positive.
What other mechanics can generate trust? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

3.02.2009

Ogre Battle on Virtual Console

I wouldn't normally point you away from Xbox LIVE Arcade, but I found a good reason to turn on your Wii again: Ogre Battle on Virtual Console. As the article points out it's pretty cheap too, given how hard it is to find a real copy.