World items are items possessed by the game world, not a player. They can be used to define the state of the game world and have it respond to players. This makes ARIS far more capable as a multiplayer engine.
This post is an intro to world items: how they might be useful, how to use them, and the ARISjs you need along the way to get the most out of them. We will do this by looking at the design of a concrete example, The Button, an experimental game Jim Mathews put together for the recent ARIS Global Game Jam.
Jim’s game is relatively simple and can be played (or could have been—it’s over) from anywhere in the world. There is a button which, when pressed, destroys the world. If it has not yet been pressed, when you start the game you are presented with a choice: press the button OR don’t press the button. If you press the button, the world ends and you are told how long it lasted, i.e. how many people played and chose not to press it. If you don’t press it, you get the same information, but the world doesn’t end. If the button has already been pressed by someone before you log in to the game, you see a message to that effect, how long the world lasted, and who pressed the button.
Besides being a nice demo to understand the mechanical details involving world items and ARISjs—the main purpose of this post—the game explores new ground in the design of ARIS games. Your decision as a player has consequences for every other player of that game but not especially strong consequences for you. It is sometimes easy to break things which cannot be fixed.
The strangeness of incentives, collective property, and decision making could be relevant to many of the content ares common to ARIS games. This small example could be used as is to begin discussions, or altered and expanded to help players get inside complex issues that involve similar dynamics. Concepts like “tragedy of the commons” or “the prisoner’s dilemma” can be hard to understand in the third person—beyond all-too-easy vilification of the participants—and might be an area where gameplay is an ideal avenue for learning. It feels different actually being placed in a situation where your interests are directly pitted against another’s and everybody’s in an asymmetric way than it does to criticize someone’s selfish actions from the outside.
I believe Jim’s short game could be a great tool to explore these ideas through play, and I’d like to help give potential authors the insight to make use of it themselves.
How The Button Works
The new thing that the button described above accomplishes in the world of ARIS games is to determine a player’s experience not just in terms of what that player has already done, but also what other players have or haven’t done. The main mechanism for this is world items.
Previously, at certain points in an ARIS game,
- Conversation lines
- Quest notifications
the author could choose to give or take items from the player, and then any part of ARIS that is lockable could be locked or unlocked based on how many of certain items a player had. What’s different now is that you can give items to the game world itself instead of the player. It works in all the same places. You can think of this as one player’s actions changing the world in which they are playing.
World Items in The Button
The Button makes use of four items, two of which only ever are given to the world.
- Game Over Marker
- You Killed the World
- You Played the Game
- Someone Played the Game
When you see the introductory plaque, it gives you “You Played the Game” and gives the world “Someone Played the Game”. Next you come to a simple conversation with two choices.
Note: Technically, it is not making the choice that changes the world. Items that are given out in conversation lines, not choices.
- If you choose to press the button, you see the line “You hear a small click”. The world is given “Game Over Marker” and you get “You Killed the World”.
- If you choose not to press the button, no items are given out.
The presence of various items in your inventory and in the world then determines what you see next. Some of these work as you would expect and do not require world items.
There is a plaque, “You destroyed the world”. Can you guess what lock is on its trigger?
Player has at least 1 "You Killed the World".
Note: There are options for this lock. For example
Player has seen conversation line "Press the button"
would have worked too.
World Items in Locks
Just like the rest of ARIS, Locks are the key to creating interaction with world items. Let’s look at this by continuing our dissection of The Button.
Most people won’t see the “You Killed the World” plaque and it doesn’t require world items to work. Where this design shines, and where world items are indispensable, is in the game being able to respond to the two following situations:
- Someone else has already destroyed the world. When you log in, you don’t get a chance to choose the button or not.
- Many people have played and no one has yet pressed the button.
In the first case, there is a lock on the introduction plaque keeping the player from seeing it:
World has less than 1 "Game Over Marker"
There is also a “Game Over” plaque with the lock:
World has at least 1 "Game Over Marker
so that the player sees it instead of the intro.
In the second case, when you choose to not press the button, this unlocks a plaque “You Saved the World” (no screenshot here—we missed it; the world is dead).
Finding out about world items with ARISjs
One drawback of world items is that there is no readily accessible way in the ARIS Editor for an author or player to directly see the state of the world. In The Button, you know whether the world is alive depending on what plaques have been locked, but neither the player nor the author can know the current value of “Someone Played the Game” held by the world. But it just takes a small bit of code to make world items directly visible. Again, let’s see how this works in Jim’s game.
The above plaques not only tell you the state of the world, but also how many people have played the game and, like you, chosen to let it live.
Note: Assigning blame and the time for the world’s end is not done with code. It may be possible, but I don’t know how yet.
To use this code in your game, you just need to change the value for item_name at the top and customize the text inside
to fit your story. Then paste it into the text field in a plaque in your game. That’s it.
Design Implications for World Items
The Button is a compelling design. Playing it reveals something about us, and the design instantly evokes the possibility of other designs: maybe a spinning plate that requires periodic attention from multiple players, or a tyrannical dragon that requires a large number of people to kill. In a game engine where making decisions are a major mechanic, we now can look at the consequences of individual decisions with far-reaching consequences.
World items have a lot of potential to unlock new interactions with local place through designed experiences in ARIS. They allow authors to create worlds that extend further, both to other players and through time. It will take some time for these consequences to emerge.
Please share your design stories, and join us in finding out what world items will be good for.