On Queuing

As I’ve continued to do battle with the code for my “queuing simulation” I’ve found myself trying to convince myself that queues are somehow important things. Well, obviously they serve a key purpose in organising society (into nice orderly lines!), but perhaps even in video games they’re of some relevance? Because if so, then I would be working within a tradition, or something, and thus I would be less wasting my time, and more training like a diligent karate kid.

I suppose that one central relationship we have to queues in video games is… we don’t wait in them. Even where queues exist – most obviously in the traffic simulations of urban games – we tend to avoid them. It’s novel to play GTA or L.A. Noire for a while by obeying the traffic rules, but it’s very hard to maintain. There’s no real penalty for skipping the queues, so why would you? Police Quest, that favourite touchstone of mine, is one of the few games I can recall where you pretty much had to queue in traffic or die. Queue or die.

Even if we don’t queue ourselves, though, queues take shape in games. Again, this is mostly visible when we’re driving in a virtual city and watch as cars form a queue at the lights. Or, of course, if we stop our car in the middle of the street and create a queue behind us. And this queuing can be well or poorly executed. I was surprised at how minimalist the queue code was in L. A. Noire for instance. If you stand in the street, the cars will just quietly wait in a long queue forever – there’s no sense of people becoming impatient and driving around (or over) you. Just epic, very computery waiting.

Queuing is, then, almost a form of Turing test. Only a computer would be content to wait indefinitely without taking action. Those placid cars in L. A. Noire were far more jarring than the creepy-as-hell facial contortions of the characters, in terms of betraying the digital nature of the world. Queuing is both very human and, extended just a little too long, inhuman.

One aspect of the game I’m making is queuing. I like to think of it as “making queuing unfun again!”

6 thoughts on “On Queuing

  1. I like queues, especially in games like Transport Tycoon (could spend hours playing OpenTTD if not careful… hopefully writing this comment doesn’t result in that activity).

  2. BTW, surprised, no, horrified actually, that you haven’t played Frozen Synapse (or at least blogged about it). What’s wrong with you, man?!

  3. Pippin, I played with the idea of writing a simple game based on queueing about a year ago. The one thing that stopped me, apart from the horrendous lack of time obviously, was exactly those problems you were talking about.

    Queueing appears to be a highly digital process but, when you get into it, there are all these grey, analogue moments that mar it: yes, you can stop your game characters doing “illegal” things like trying to steal the same spot in the queue, but you have to allow the player to do that.

    And I realised my simple project wasn’t so simple after all. Next!

  4. @HM Interesting you were going down that path! The only other one I immediately think of is Narthex by Gregory Weir, though that’s more about free-style *waiting* that queuing.

    Like you say, there’s a bunch of behavioural stuff in queues you find yourself wanting to include and it complicates things (as does my lack of giftedness as a programmer). The current approach is to largely go with a “Platonic Queue” where I don’t give a lot of expressive freedom, but where the avatar has to conform to the rules of the queue or be pushed out. Largely it all comes down to the waiting mechanic of the game and trying to second guess ways a player might avoid having to “actively” wait (e.g. a weight on an arrow key or something).

    We shall see!

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