Emergent Gameplay and Role Play



All this talk about Zelda, Breath of the Wild, has brought out some great discussions of emergent game play.  I thought I would muse a bit about what some are calling “the future of rpgs”.

As a role player, I have seen emergent game play in many games, especially MMO’s, over the years that I have been playing games. I decided to do a little research to find out how emergent play is defined and I have listed the first four I found.  They are similar but some focus on mechanics and how they allow the player to create new game play and others on how the players change how they use the mechanics to create new game play.

Emergent Gameplay: A title where the mechanics afford the player to create new strategies and utility beyond their original intent or utilization.

Emergent gameplay refers to complex situations in video games, board games, or table top role-playing games that emerge from the interaction of relatively simple game mechanics.

Emergent gameplay is a game design term that refers to video game mechanics that change according to the player’s actions.

Emergent gameplay is the concept of placing tools around the player and encouraged them to explore creative strategies or interactions and exploit them toward victory or goal achievement.

The first definition, I think, defines the emergent game play you see in Zelda, BotW. There is no real story but the player is allowed to use almost everything in his environment to create new game play through experimentation. This creates a fun, casual type of game play that can change as one explores and finds new ways to interact.

The last definition seems to me to best describe a pure role playing game, where the tools are there, but the players drive the game play.  Mechanics are important, as they are what provides the tools which the player can use to create their own stories, but it is the creative application of those tools that make the game fun. So rather than using objects in the environment to create new experiences, such as in Minecraft or Zelda, BotW, the player uses events in the environment as the impetus, or force, to drive their own game play or stories.

Emergent game play is really a requirement for a role play game. Much of it can come simply through interactions with other players, or player directed game play.  As villages grow, characters evolve, communities emerge and what happens in those communities creates many stories involving many players. However, mechanics, if done well, can also create situations, maybe a crisis, a danger, or even something exciting, good or amazing like a traveling caravan entering the village.  The game mechanics might drive the environment, creating a drought that affects the village. Or it might drive the animal or npc AI that can create new experiences. The revelation of hidden resources through mechanics can drive a gold rush or cause conflict between those trying to exploit this resource.

In LoA, we are currently testing a dynamic ecosystem that will drive events. These events will in turn create seeds for role play.

An example we have tested in our game is documented below:

Our test world contains specific animals with their own AI. The woods and grasslands contain deer and rabbits. The wolves occupy the same area but have their own specific hunting grounds.

In the valley below, the villagers raise chickens and sheep as well as their own fields of grain along with vegetable gardens. The villagers enjoy a nice venison steak and rabbit stew so they also hunt the animals. They also on occasion crave a nice wolf skin.

Wolves favored food is deer but they will eat rabbits as well if they see a rabbit before they see a deer.The rabbits’ and deer’s favored foods are the herbs of the grasslands and forest. Like any ecosystem, there is a balance between food available and number of animals. So during a drought, there is less food for the rabbits, so less rabbits, and the same with the other animals. Seasonal and weather changes create certain needs for both the villagers and the animals.

Now, let’s look at this as a drive for emergent game play.

Most of the time, the wolves stay in their preferred hunting grounds, far from the human village. They happily cull the deer population and catch rabbits. However, it is fall and the humans have decided to go on a great hunt so they have extra meat to smoke for the winter. They lay out traps, get out their bows, and have a successful hunt.

Unfortunately, the wolves have a difficult time finding food after the hunt. The deer population has moved out of their hunting grounds and the rabbit population is scarce. The wolves move a bit further down the valley, looking for food. If they fail to find food there, they finally move into the village at night, seeking sheep and chickens.

The villagers awaken to find the remains of their livestock. In anger, they go after the wolves, killing some and driving the rest out of the hills above the valley. All is well for a while, but then the rabbits overpopulate. The wolves are gone and they have few other predators in the area.

The rabbits now invade the village gardens leaving much less food for the villagers.

What kind of emergent play arises from this example in a multiplayer/MMO experience? How does this drive role play?

Simply the fact that the villagers need food and furs for food or trade drives the big hunt. A change in the foods available in the winter creates a need for preservation of food. The hunt creates an event that brings together a community with a goal. The “Great Hunt” becomes a story. The interaction between the players before, during and after the hunt can seed more stories.

After the hunt, when their livestock is killed by the wolves, the players must band together to protect their stock. Again, stories are created, this time based on protecting what belongs to them. Once they realize that the ecosystem has been affected by their actions, the next story will be to solve the problem. This means seeking out solutions that will maintain the balance.

Solving problems in a community can bring out all sorts of emergent events, such as new leaders, conflict between those with different ideas or views, and possibly creative solutions that go beyond anything the developers considered.

The game play is no longer about killing for experience or eating for buffs, but about maintaining their community. It becomes personal rather than just a game.

How does this drive role play?

Let’s start with a definition of roleplay that I think embraces how the majority of players actually role play. I do not include the script type role players in this.

A roleplaying game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories.

When you consider the best sort of role play is one that emerges from the experiences the of the players, then you can see how the above example can enhance the role play. In a pen and paper game, the best moments happen when someone suddenly discovers a way to solve a problem that is unexpected, or difficult to find. The players get excited, their voices raise, and in the end a cheer erupts from the table.

The same is true in a video game environment. Experiences change the dynamics of the players’ communities. It creates villains, heroes, victims, and innovators. While the mechanics are certainly a huge part of what drives the game, the players reactions drive the role play. I can imagine all sorts of emergent play from the ecosystem example. Some players may defend the animals, fighting to protect them. Others may be angry about the loss of their own stock and fight to kill or chase away the wolves and/or rabbits. Others may use this as a way to earn money, offering to guard the sheep or the gardens from predators. Still others may become player quest givers, hiring other players to help out.

Stories can emerge from this type of game play, stories that impact more than just the tiny village. Maybe the wolves head off to find chickens in other villages. Possibly, the lost grain that might occur from a similar situation, such as an explosion of the deer population, might change the price of wheat or flour or even affect trade.  Areas with an excess of grain might be able to charge higher prices to sell to the suffering villages.

Wars over food resources could erupt. Bandits, both players and npcs, could find it worth attacking wagons carrying food or grain and then sell for more on the black market, so one might find an increase in highway crimes. Entire villages could migrate and even animal populations might migrate to areas with more resources.

This is just one example. Emergent game play driven by players’ reactions to mechanics could include all sorts of scenarios. The important thing is to make sure those mechanics are tools that encourage players to explore and interact with the world and each other instead of an impediment to creativity and innovation. As long as the players are the ones who are creating the emergent game play, the world will be vibrant and dynamic.

Not because of physics, not because of flashy mechanics, but because of mechanics that make sense and give players the ability to use them to create their own stories. Stories emerge from the game play, not like Zelda, BotW, but through the players themselves, the role players.

The video at the top of the screen is a developmental video showing the AI creating a situation where the players can react. Wolves avoid fire but will attack when the fire goes out. Players react by lighting torch to chase wolves. A story emerges.






Posted in Artificial Intelligence, Emergent Gamplay, Roleplaying | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Medieval Monday: What’s to Drink?

Another great Medieval Monday blog from Allison Reid. Hop over to her site to read it. #writing #indiedev

Allison D. Reid

Much of what we drink today on a daily basis would not have been available in the Middle Ages. Coffee wasn’t brought to Europe until the 1600s, and was met with suspicion—even sometimes condemned by the local Church. And though Britain in particular is now known for his proud heritage of drinking tea, it was not introduced until the 16th century, and did not gain popularity until the 17th.  Anything that required refrigeration was difficult to keep, and only consumed fresh, when available. So what did medieval people drink on a daily basis?

drinking-brawlThere is a persistent rumor that water was avoided due to widespread contamination of waterways by pollutants and bacteria. This is actually not the case. While plain water was certainly nothing exciting enough to sing songs about, it was regularly drunk by itself, or used to water down other drinks. Even though they had no…

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UMA Dynamic Character Sytem

During my Twitch session this afternoon I decided to show off the customization aspects of the UMA character system. This time, I remembered to record the session and you can find it on our YouTube station, below or if you prefer to check out the raw version before I cleaned up the video, you can find it at our Twitch Channel at https://www.twitch.tv/watregames.

While I did want to show off how one could customize a character, I also wanted to show developers who might want to use UMA how to create a base character recipe and a wardrobe recipe.

Those of you following Ryan’s ICE videos will soon see a Twitch on ICE where he shows the AI working with the UMA characters as well as how he put the character into the game. So stay tuned!

Hope you enjoy the video!


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The various versions of Unity…Why we use the free version

I was reading some posts on the Unity forums today and thought I might explain to people following our game why we use Unity Personal. I am sure you will see it pop up in our test builds so you may have some questions or concerns.

When Unity 5 was released, a decision was made by the company to make some changes to the free version of Unity. Unity 4 had a very under developed version of Unity 4 with some server limitations. Shadows were hard, render to texture was not included, image effects did not work with the free version, there was no profiler to optimize, etc. While it was a great tool for learning Unity, it quickly because very limiting as our game development needs grew.

With Unity 5, the company decided to provide for free the fully featured engine, with every single feature included in Unity 5 Pro, except for a few services, some which are available to us as a separate purchase.

Unity did make the unfortunate decision to name it Unity Personal Edition, which provided fodder for many jokes on the Unity forums but also caused many players of games made with the free version to think the games were made with a non-commercial version of Unity. Unknown to them, Unity Personal Edition is a commercial version and can be used by companies who make less than $100,000 in revenue from games/applications created with Unity.

Obviously, most of us in the development mode, unless we have previously used Unity to create very successful games, have less than $100,000 revenue with Unity. Over $100,000, we will be required to purchase Unity Plus and over $200,000, we will be required to purchase Unity Pro. Again, the differences are minor.

For a small team like ours, using a paid version of Unity would actually limit us more than using the free Personal Edition. We now can add or subtract team members easily, without any licensing issues. Since teams cannot mix licenses, with Pro or even Plus, we would have to purchase a version for a new team members or ask them to provide their own. At $125 a month for Pro, that can add up. The only thing we would get that we don’t have now that could really affect our game would be a custom splash screen, which honestly, we can do without until we publish.

I see Unity forum posts every day where new Unity users complain about the high cost of Pro and honestly believe that the free version will limit them. It makes me sad, because I am so sure some walk away without realizing the potential of this free, fully featured option. Even worse, some risk legal action by pirating the Pro version for a splash screen…and a game that could be removed after months of hard work because it is using an unlicensed copy of the engine.

Every business needs to make decisions that impact their viability. For our company, using Unity Personal during our development period makes sense. Unity has been generous in their efforts to democratize game development for all, solo developers, small teams, hobbyists and professional studios who are just starting out. By putting our money into new assets, hiring artists and programmers, and upgrading our technology instead of paying for the same engine we can get for free, we feel as though we are maximizing our chances of finishing our game. Unity doesn’t require royalties, like some engines and if we make over $100k from our game, we will be more than happy to share the wealth with Unity.  In my opinion, it is a win-win situation for both companies like ours and Unity.

So, when you see Unity Personal Edition on upcoming builds, know that we are making good fiscal decisions with the best potential for the development of our game.

Small Update: We are finishing up our cooking skill and it is awesome. We are starting on the weaponsmith skills and I think you will like the unique mechanics we are adding. The character system is ready to go and we will start making new clothing for the less medieval-looking cultures. Terrain is becoming more and more amazing, with a future update adding growing fields that can be harvested, trees that can be chopped down, and beautiful terrain textures that should increase immersion.

I have volunteered some time to help a little bit with the UMA project before it’s release. Those amazing developers have given so much to an open source project, I feel at least I can give a bit back..even though it is a fraction of what they do. I do love the Unity community. 🙂

I will post more soon, but in the meantime, Enjoy!


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Need Diverse Games has launched Game Devs Against #MuslimBan on teespring

I usually leave my politics elsewhere, but this touched me. GDC offering refunds to those who cannot attend the conference due to the Muslim ban. We have a vibrant and diverse community and it makes me sad that so many are being affected.

I Need Diverse Games


Gaming is a global industry, and the immigration ban, better known as the #MuslimBan is affecting the industry. This ban means a lot of developers will have to skip the annual Game Developers Conference Feb 27-Mar 3, 2017.

Others cannot leave the country out of fear of being refused re-entry despite having Permanent Residence (Green Card) or possibly being questioned with a US Passport and a “suspect” name or appearance.

GDC has already stood with those affected, even offering refunds to those who can no longer attend the conference. We could do no less to help. Funds raised will go to the ACLU and other organizations fighting this illegal & unethical immigration ban.

Buy a teeshirt, sticker, mug, hoodie or tank for the next ten days via Teespring

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Reblog Allison

I love to re-blog these tidbits of medieval life. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. If you go to Allison’s blog, you will find many more! #writers @gamedev #indiedev

Medieval Monday: Horses

Sadly, my hit the reblog button sent it to the wrong blog and can’t get it back so just posting a link today. Read it if you can!

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Medieval Monday: Travel

Love this! Medieval travel! #gamedesign #writing

Allison D. Reid

travelTravel in medieval times was a challenge to say the least. In and between rural areas, there might not be more than a narrow, beaten earth path. Overly wet or snowy weather could make such roads impassable for long stretches of time. Bandits, weather, and wild animals all added to the hazards of the road. Though main trade routes were larger and better maintained (better guarded as well) they were far from comfortable. Wagon tires were primitive, made from flexible sapling wood, and transporting anything heavy was fraught with difficulties. When possible, pack animals were used by merchants who needed to get their goods from village to village. Travel by sea was no safer than travel by foot or beast, and the sea claimed many a historic figure, including the son of King Henry I.

heraldic-regaliaHowever, history shows that in spite of the dangers and discomfort of travel, it remained…

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Our new Twitch TV Channel


We have some exciting news. Yesterday, I gave my very first presentation on our new Twitch TV Channel, https://www.twitch.tv/watregames although sadly, I forgot to record it! Oops!  I guess we can call it a beginner’s mistake. I do plan to redo it and record it this time as I think it is something everyone would love to see.

I presented a walk through of the system we are using to create our character system. Followers were able to watch me create a character, make changes to the body and face, add hair, clothes, and change colors. I was so nervous but it really was fun. 🙂  I look forward to the next one and this time, I will record a video and embed it here.

I am hoping later tonight to showoff a build we made of a prototype city with characters walking around and engaging each other using our AI system.

We hosted Ryan, one of our programmers, as he showed viewers how to use ICE Creature Controller, which is the AI we are using in our game. Since he barely scratched the surface of this complex AI, I am sure he will have more. By request, he will show us how to make herds of animals and flocks of birds, or maybe butterflies.

Just in case you want to see a little of how it is done. 🙂 Enjoy and thanks, Ryan!


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Testing Facebook

Want to see if my blog posts are showing up. 🙂

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Medieval Monday: Pottery

I really enjoy Allison Reid’s medieval Monday’s. This one is about pottery and fascinating.

Allison D. Reid

Ok, yes, I know it is now Tuesday. The last few days have been very busy and time got away from me. A day late, but hopefully no less interesting, here is my Medieval Monday post for the week.

potter-at-wheelI mentioned last week that one task medieval people could do in January was dig for clay along river beds, which was used for pottery and tiles among other things. At least in the early medieval period, making pottery was mainly a rural activity. It was easiest to set up a workshop and kiln at or near the source of the materials needed. Large supplies of not just clay, but sand, wood to fuel the kiln, and water were needed. Access to a road or boats for transportation was also required.

potter-at-wheel-2Pottery making was typically handed down as a family industry among the peasantry. Though pottery was valued as a necessity…

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