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There's still a good deal of Stardew Valley going on in the… - Notes from a Medium-Sized Island [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Jason

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[Sep. 28th, 2016|09:35 pm]
Jason
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There's still a good deal of Stardew Valley going on in the apartment; 1.1 update beta came out, so K is on it.

It makes me think really hard about what 'realism' means in simulationy sorts of games, and I'd be interested if anyone wants to chime in on what any of what I'm going to say connects with the game-crit literature has already said in any interesting way. I assume it's said lots of things on the topic --- I'm largely naive of it and just talkin' out of my butt here.

The main comparisons I tend to keep thinking about are to minecraft, which I've played plenty, and dwarf fortress, of which I know a little second-hand. One thing about minecraft that is charmingly wonky is that if you want villagers to breed, obviously what you need to do is build doors with dirt on top of them --- because the game engine tries to achieve homeostasis between the population of a village, and the size of the village in terms of number of buildings. And clearly what a 'building' is a thing with a door and a ceiling, so the primal urges of villagers get riled up when the doors-with-minimum-viable-ceiling-lumps-to-villager ratio gets high enough.

This is not... "realistic". This is not how actual humans who live in villages --- which at some level of abstraction appears to be how we're meant to read these ambling rectangular cuboids --- behave. But it's a mechanism which interacts with a bunch of other game mechanisms that add up to a "realistically complex" or at least sufficiently complex, fun game.

Let's consider dwarf fortress then; the famous story I know about it is that the specific gravity of Sagauro wood, unlike other woods, couldn't be easily found online by the creators, so one of the fans of the game actually went and got some and measured it, and bam, ~430 kg/m^3.

So this is... "realistic" in a way that stardew valley is not, generally.

And yet stardew valley farming, and fishing, and shopping, and most of the mechanisms that don't traffic in explicitly fantasy elements do feel realistic in as much as I don't feel like I have to laugh at their absurdity when trying to explain them to someone, as I do pretty often with minecraft.

And somehow this basic level of plausibility smooths over even the existence of things that have no real-world counterpart at all: ancient seeds grow sensibly into ancient fruit, and void eggs turn, obviously, into void mayonnaise when you put them into the mayonnaise machine. As of the 1.1 update, at, least; thank god they fixed that obvious oversight.
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2016-09-30 12:19 am (UTC)
Aha cool thanks will give it a read!
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2016-09-30 01:21 am (UTC)
that feels quite right when you put it that way --- much like how good music always seems like it has to ride a very subtle fractal boundary between 'enough surprise' and 'enough anti-surprise'.

The other thought I had in the shower this morning was that my feelings about the triad of minecraft and stardew valley and dward fortress specifically have to do with the distinction between design choices that end up being perceived as
(a) doing a thing the real world does ("realistic")
(b) doing something the real world doesn't (overtly "unrealistic")
(c) not doing anything at all ("neutral" or "abstract" or "covertly unrealistic")

And I'm cherry-picking examples to exemplify (a) with dwarf fortress as regards density, (b) with minecraft villager mating habits, (c) with many aspects of stardew valley; like, there *is* no notion of how heavy wood is, except very abstractly in the sense of it having a maximum stack size, and your inventory having so many slots. But even that isn't necessarily about weight... it could be about volume, maybe.

And I think that makes the point even clearer to me: in the information poset, stardew valley keeps many of its systems well below where the real world is situated. It's possible to imagine filling in the unanswered questions with a more refined simulation that looks more realistic --- maybe in several different ways. And DF physics feels like it is the product of going somewhat farther down this route. But minecraft-ecology has the frisson of weirdness it has because it's made commitments to mechanisms that seem irreconcilable with reality. You can't really explain away "build doors to breed villagers" as a simplification of a believable system the same way you absolutely can think of "click to plant seeds and click to water them and then blueberries will grow" as a caricature of how blueberry growing works, since it ignores out temperature variation, and sunlight, and water pH, and pests, and genetics of different blueberry strains, etc. etc.
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2016-09-30 01:22 am (UTC)
not sure how the competing phrases 'factors out' and 'ignores' in my brain yielded 'ignores out', but now I kinda like it.
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From: eub
2016-09-30 09:03 am (UTC)
I think it's even two different levels, "unpredictability" and "surprise" -- unpredictability can be approached in terms of information theory and handwaving, but surprise is built on top with human psychology. Even if you do try to maximize surprise, you'll build that out of unpredictability and predictability. Because yeah, surprise requires that you have an expectation to violate. Maximal unpredictability is just &shrug;.

(And in a lot of narratives, the climax is surprise but the closure is unsurprise; in puzzle games the payoff is usually getting some chance to exploit your understanding of what had surprised you.)
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2016-09-30 12:21 am (UTC)
I confess my "I'd be interested if anyone wants to chime in" was pretty much PA announcement of attention attention chrisamaphone to aisle 5 plz
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