Dedicated Game Facilitators

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Programs, machines, or people who perform book-keeping actions and/or control various agents to provide gameplay to players.

All games require some effort to maintain and update the game state. This may be as easy as tallying scores but may also require extensive preparing, the management of information that should be hidden from all players, the impartial judging or performing of actions, and resolving complex algorithms during gameplay. Since letting players perform these may distract from the gameplay and may be difficult or impossible to do (e.g. managing secret information) a common solution is to assign these activities to other people, giving them roles as umpires, referees, judges, or game masters. With the advent of computers, these have also been

Examples

The umpire or referees of sports are all examples of people acting as Dedicated Game Facilitators. In many cases (e.g. Soccer and Ice Hockey) these referees are supposed to ensure that the rules are being followed, but for others (e.g. Boxing and Figure Skating) the referees also have to grade performances to determine winners. Although not part of the definitions of board games and card games such as Chess, Go, Contract Bridge, the Pokémon Trading Card Game, and Magic: The Gathering, referees are used in tournaments and organizations take responsibilities of maintaining 'official' tournament rules and providing referees. The board game Space Alert uses an audio track to control the development of gameplay during its first of two phases (although the players need to do the actual manipulation of game elements), so it can be considered using a Dedicated Game Facilitator for part of its game instances.

All computer or console based games have the computers as Dedicated Game Facilitators (see the categories of computer and console games on this wiki for examples). For computerized versions of existing card or board games, these Dedicated Game Facilitators show the trans-medial nature of games[1]. The work load is shared between many computers in the case of online games, typically with one server in control of maintaining and updating the game state and many clients showing the game state to the players and collecting input from them to pass on to the server (e.g. Ultima Online and World of Warcraft]. Although this seems to put the main workload on the server (except for the graphical presentation), clients used for real-time online games such as the Counter-Strike series, the Quake series, and the Left 4 Dead series include advance prediction systems to be able to show where opponents are predicted to be in order to avoid having lag[2]. The AI and Music directors used in the Left 4 Dead series can be seen as a Dedicated Game Facilitators distinct from the game system itself even if it is part of the same code since it acts upon the game system as if it is another system.

Game masters in roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, Basic Role-Playing, and the Storytelling System are another type of Dedicated Game Facilitators. These need to be knowledgeable in both the rules of the game and the fictive world in which the gameplay occurs, as well as handle all characters and monsters not under the players' control. Computer-based roleplaying games such as the Witcher series or the Fallout series replace people with computers (quite logical since the computer already needs to be a Dedicated Game Facilitator for the underlying support such as maintaining the game state). For the complex events that can occur in massively multiplayer online games such as Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, it is typical to have both computers and people involved in the game facilitation so there are human game masters to help handle rare exceptions or social conflicts.

Using the pattern

The primary choices when designing Dedicated Game Facilitators is what functionality these should facilitate and whom should be the facilitators. From a purely economical perspective, Pay to Play may be require to support Dedicated Game Facilitators that are neither voluntary nor maintenance free.

Since Dedicated Game Facilitators can Mediated Gameplay, one very common task for them concerns how players are presented with information about the gameplay. This can be keeping track of all information of the game state simply so players' can have Imperfect Information (e.g. through First-Person Views) but it can also be keeping track of Secret or Unknown Goals. Controlling that Game Element Insertion is done properly is another possible such task. For games whose gameplay is spread over many, not necessarily overlapping play sessions, Dedicated Game Facilitators can be responsible for storing and restoring game state to provide Save-Load Cycles or to make sure Persistent Game Worlds exist. Further, the information handling can be to provide the Storytelling necessary (possibly through the use of Cutscenes) to unfold Narration Structures as planned so Surprises and Betrayals other wanted effects occur. For games where players don't have Unmediated Social Interaction or should have Limited Communication Abilities, Dedicated Game Facilitators can supply the proper Communication Channels (e.g. Chat Channels). A 'dumb' example of this can be found in the static used sometimes in Space Alert to hinder player communication.

Dedicated Game Facilitators can make more active use of their ability of have an overview of the complete game state. While they can be used to provide Imperfect Information, they can also provide players with access to otherwise impossible data, either specific data through Game State Indicators or general one through Game State Overviews. This can be done guaranteeing that what is shown is Public Information if wanted, but overall one of the most common uses of Dedicated Game Facilitators is to avoid having the complete game state as Public Information.

They can also use this to measure how well players are progressing, applying Balancing Effects to support Player Balance or Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment to help provide Smooth Learning Curves or Challenging Gameplay. On a more extreme level they have to be able to handle changes in the number of players, e.g. for supporting Late Arriving Players or Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay, which may require Balancing Effects or the activation/de-activation of AI Players. By taking care of the game components and resources, Dedicated Game Facilitators can uphold Meta Games even if the players change, and for games with Time Limited Game Instances this offers a concrete design solution for Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay.

Another common task for Dedicated Game Facilitators is to handle as much Excise as possible, in the sense of removing if from players. For some games this might simply be practical, but it may be necessary for Massively Multiplayer Online Games and other games which need to do excessive amount of updates regularly as well as keep track of very large game states. This may be all the updates that need to be made as a new turn, phase, or round begins in Turn-Based Games, but it may also be keeping track of when those update should be made as is needed in Real-Time Games and Tick-Based Games and thereby ensuring that The Show Must Go On. Related to this is the storing of planned player actions; keeping track of these are necessary for Asynchronous Gameplay and Tick-Based Games and typically require the use of Dedicated Game Facilitators. Dedicated Game Facilitators may also be necessary for Synchronous Gameplay, especially those mediated over computer networks. Resolving evaluation functions are another form of Excise that Dedicated Game Facilitators can perform. This can be to let players not have to be aware of all rules through making some of them into Hidden Rules, but it may also, for computer-based facilitators, be to avoid Downtime when making complicated or numerous calculations (examples include Combat resolutions in Turn-Based Games such as the Hearts of Iron series or the update of physic engines in the Half-Life or Deus Ex series).

Controlling Enemies and Non-Player Characters to provide opponents in Conflicts or Combat situations is another frequent task for Dedicated Game Facilitators, especially in Single-Player Games. Although from a technical perspective this may be the case (as for example in the Need for Speed series and the Left 4 Dead series), game designers may wish to design the Enemies and NPCs so that they appear to be independent Agents.

As a non-player, Dedicated Game Facilitators are in the position of being trusted third parties. This allows them to function as safe sources to store resources involved in Betting,w ithout bias apply Enforced Agent Behavior, and be impartial when generating results using Randomness (as is typically the case for Roulette). The last requires the the action is done publicly however, otherwise players may perceive results as effects of cheating rather than Randomness.

The possibility to be trustworthy keepers of Gameplay Statistics also allows them to provide services between game instances, e.g. statistics to inform how to use Handicap Systems or keeping track of Achievements, High-Score Lists, and Speedruns.

One high-level aspect of Enforced Agent Behavior is to control when or how players can perform actions. While this may simply being to force player's to have Downtime (e.g. having to wait after dying in the Counter-Strike series rather than Respawning) or Lull Periods, but for Multiplayer Turn-Based Games this can also include hindering players to act out of turn, thereby guaranteeing Turn Taking is done according to design.

Both Game Servers and humans can used as Dedicated Game Facilitators. Additionally, the workload can be shared between many Game Servers (as for example in online games such as the Quake series and World of Warcraft), many humans (most common for Live Action Roleplaying games such as Prosopopeia), or a combination (as for Ultima Online or World of Warcraft). While Game Servers can easily handle large data amounts and complex calculations, the use of humans can allow Events Timed to the Real World, Evolving Rule Sets, Fudged Results, improvised Storytelling and Never Ending Stories. Human game facilitators are also a way of providing Creative Control to people who are not players. While humans can both create new things to apply Game Element Insertion on and determine when they should be inserted, Game Servers can handle the execution of the insertion.

Game Masters are one specific form of Dedicated Game Facilitators. These are used in Roleplaying games to describe the Game Worlds as the Player Characters can perceive them, to decide the actions of Enemies and Non-Player Characters, and to resolve all Agents' actions and provide Effect Descriptions for these. They also have the responsibility of storing information about the specific game world instances so that Persistent Game Worlds can be maintained. For computer-based Roleplaying games, the distinction between these tasks and the others common to any computer-based game is typically not done and therefore the mention of Game Masters becomes redundant for them. The exception is when people and computer share responsibility of facilitating the games (e.g. DragonMud, Kingdoms, the Neverwinter Nights series, Ultima Online and World of Warcraft), in these cases Game Masters are people responsible for adapting the Narration Structures to unforeseen events and resolving conflicts regarding rules or social interactions.

The use of Dedicated Game Facilitators is required for Zero-Player Games since the absence of players make Self-Facilitated Games impossible.

Diegetic Aspects

Dedicated Game Facilitators can be instrumental in presenting the Non-Player Characters and Diegetically Outstanding Features of Game Worlds to players. While computer-based variants easily can maintain Diegetic Consistency if using content design to be such, they may only be able to ensure Temporal and Thematic Consistency as well as the rules do. It may be especially difficult to have rules ensuring Thematically Consistent Dialogues in those Roleplaying game where players have great freedom of expression and for these it may be necessary with human facilitators, i.e. Game Masters.

Interface Aspects

Providing a game interface is one possible task for Dedicated Game Facilitators - this may be most apparent for computer and console games but tabletop Roleplaying games have talking with Game Masters as the prime interface for the players. One aspect of this is that they can support Anonymous Actions. One part of game interfaces is the presentation of Game Worlds, and Dedicated Game Facilitators are often need to provide the rendering or description of First-Person Views or those that Cameras give in Third-Person or God Views; all these can also be used to create Replays, and in some cases Cutscenes.

Narrative Aspects

As mentioned above, Dedicated Game Facilitators can hold track of how Narration Structures develop, either the unfolding of Predetermined Story Structures or continually creating them as part of supporting Never Ending Stories. They can also do the actual presentation through Storytelling, including making use of Cutscenes.

Consequences

Dedicated Game Facilitators support, especially so for computer-based variants, Replayability on a low level simply because they lessen the amount of Excise players need to perform as the setup or setdown of game instances. They can completely remove the need of knowing the rules for the game state to be updated correctly and can modulate the need of Memorizing rules and other gameplay information. This and removing Excise are forms of Non-Player Help. In addition, they can, with the control of the game state, easily enforce Ultra-Powerful Events as well as allow players to engage in Anonymous Actions and support Unsynchronized Game Sessions. They can also function as Communication Channels and through this support partially or completely Mediated Gameplay that can provide the Possibility of Anonymity or have Enforced Player Anonymity. Replayability can also be caused by the Dedicated Game Facilitators introducing new rules or gameplay content as well as adjusting that which already exists; this is in fact a form of Extra-Game Input since it is changes to the game state and how game states can occur not predetermined by the game.

Dedicated Game Facilitators serve an important role in the games that make use of them, and through this they may provide Role Fulfillment in the cases when people have this role. Although they do not direct cause it by their mere presence, they often are vital to creating Tension. They can allow for Complex Gameplay without making it necessary for players to update complex game states, interpret complex rule sets, or to a certain extent even know the actual rules to play.

By definition, Dedicated Game Facilitators are difficult to combine with Self-Facilitated Games. While mechanical and computer-based game varieties of the pattern can objectively ensure Irreversible Events they do not naturally provide Free Game Element Manipulation - this has to explicitly be supported through intentional design. Besides upholding Persistent Game Worlds and making Save-Load Cycles possible, they can also support Reconfigurable Game Worlds and Expansions. As soon as Dedicated Game Facilitators make players actions more difficult they are part of creating PvE gameplay, although this is most obvious when they are controlling Enemies in Combat situations.

Since having them is a requirement for being able to play, Dedicated Game Facilitators work against Ubiquitous Gameplay. This can also work against Social Adaptability but Dedicated Game Facilitators can work against that pattern in other ways also. Most commonly, Dedicated Game Facilitators ensure that rules are followed and this makes it difficult for players to bend or ignore rules for reasons other than wanting to cheat - examples include modifying the gameplay due to unexpected outside factors, wanting to set up examples, and allowing novice players to reconsider actions that have just been taken.

Relations

Can Instantiate

Anonymous Actions, Achievements, Agents, Asynchronous Gameplay, Balancing Effects, Betrayal, Cameras, Challenging Gameplay, Chat Channels, Communication Channels, Complex Gameplay, Creative Control, Cutscenes, Diegetic Consistency, Thematically Consistent Dialogues, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Downtime, Drop-In/Drop-Out, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Effect Descriptions, Enemies, Enforced Agent Behavior, Events Timed to the Real World, Evolving Rule Sets, Expansions, Extra-Game Input, First-Person Views, Fudged Results, Game Element Insertion, Game State Indicators, Game State Overviews, Game Worlds, Gameplay Statistics, God Views, Hidden Rules, High-Score Lists, Imperfect Information, Irreversible Events, Late Arriving Players, Limited Communication Abilities, Lull Periods, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Mediated Gameplay, Meta Games, Never Ending Stories, Non-Player Characters, Non-Player Help, Persistent Game Worlds, Player Balance, Public Information, PvE, Real-Time Games, Reconfigurable Game Worlds, Replayability, Replays, Role Fulfillment, Save-Load Cycles, Secret Goals, Smooth Learning Curves, Storytelling, Surprises, Synchronous Gameplay, Tick-Based Games, Temporal Consistency, Tension, The Show Must Go On, Thematic Consistency, Third-Person Views, Turn Taking, Ultra-Powerful Events, Unknown Goals, Unsynchronized Game Sessions, Zero-Player Games

with Meta Games and Time Limited Game Instances

Drop-In/Drop-Out

Can Modulate

Betting, Combat, Conflicts, Game Element Insertion, Handicap Systems, Memorizing, Narration Structures, Predetermined Story Structures, Randomness, Roleplaying, Single-Player Games, Speedruns, Turn-Based Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Game Servers, Game Masters, Pay to Play

Can Be Modulated By

Game Masters

Possible Closure Effects

-

Potentially Conflicting With

Downtime, Excise, Free Game Element Manipulation, Public Information, Randomness, Self-Facilitated Games, Social Adaptability, Ubiquitous Gameplay, Unmediated Social Interaction

History

A revised version of the pattern Dedicated Game Facilitators that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[3].

References

  1. Juul, J. (2005). Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. The MIT Press. ISBN 0262101106.
  2. Wikipedia entry for Lag.
  3. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.

Acknowledgements

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