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October 2013 Miscellany

Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

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I was reading a free RPG ruleset recently. " features a long and exciting list of rules that are outside the normal scope of today‘s top most role-playing games." How many gamers get excited by the rules? The rules are only a means to allow a game to be played. It's the play of the game, if anything, that should be exciting. *Shrug*. Perhaps the domination of the tabletop market by D&D/Pathfinder frustrates RPG designers who want to do things "differently".

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Looking at the analytics for my free game design class, I'm astonished that Chrome is used more than twice as much as Firefox. (Top 2) Internet Explorer is even behind Safari (MAC).

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How reliable are reviews of games and game-related materials? One thing you can do is compare reviews from different sources. Of course, if you look at Metacritic you sometimes see a wide variation in the number ratings for particular games.

But here's a striking example. GameInformer rates the Alienware 14 gaming laptop 8 out of 10 (very good), and in particular "loved the gentle feel of the systems soft-touch rubber keys" (which, I confess, sounds bad to me as a typist or a gamer). PC Gamer gave it 56 out of 100 and heavily criticizes the trackpad on that same keyboard. Five laptops in that review got much better ratings, only one worse.

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For all of its colorful presentation, Magic: the Gathering is an abstract game. Only by the greatest stretch of the imagination can you say that player actions, or occurrences in the game, correspond to something that happens in a (fantasy) reality. There's no "analgousness" to any real (or fictional) reality. Nor do I believe the designers think in terms of modeling something, they are thinking about how to improve (or just change) an abstract game. The atmosphere is tacked on.

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Gamer Psychology can be really odd. There are many (most) people who always want to know what they need before they roll dice, when they could save time by rolling first, then figuring it out if it isn't obviously too low or easily high enough. (One person says, well it's good practice to become familiar with the mods. But most people do it even when they know all the mods. ) It's as though the player subtly thinks he can influence the dice roll. Sure wastes time, though.

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Some articles I've recommended through twitter:
Warren Spector: Industry must recognize both good and bad effects of games http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-10-07-spector-industry-must-r...

Game Developer Magazine complete archives: http://gdcvault.com/gdmag?goback=.gde_59205_member_275507544#

James Mathe lists Facebook groups that may be helpful to game designers and publishers: http://www.jamesmathe.com/facebook-pages-groups/

Some thought-provoking insight on games and stories from Chris Crawford: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/200989/Whats_Next_Chris_Crawford_says...

Eric Zimmerman's How I Teach. (prologue): http://ericzimmerman.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/how-i-teach-prologue/

Warren Spector's "commandments" of game design
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-09-04-warren-spectors-command...

Ian Bogost What are MOOCs good for? For proving that MOOCs might be good if they were good. http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/lessons-learned-from-a-freshman-c...

Parody of game design school commercials (stick with it) :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0o9AflX7yg

Most Dangerous Game Design: Scaffolding Choice: Ease Players into a Game's Choices. http://www.mostdangerousgamedesign.com/2013/09/scaffolding-choice-how-to...

Extra Credits: Game Schools. (The Truth.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmdGZk-fF98

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Occasionally I encounter people who are absolutely convinced that there are no generational differences, even though businesspeople widely recognize and account for such differences. Think about this and then ask yourself why my point of view as a Baby Boomer is very different from the point of view of a Millennial (30 and under, more or less):

When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, if you were lucky you had three black and white television networks to watch instead of two, there was no Internet and consequently no e-mail, no cell phones, slide rules not personal computers (or printers, CDs, or DVDs), no World Wide Web, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. A long distance call of any length cost real money. We had a "party line" phone shared by four households, which was common, so you listened to the ring to determine whether the call was for you or another party with the same line, and if you picked up the phone while someone else on the party line was having a conversation, you heard it all. If you had an emergency and someone else was already using the line, you'd have to ask them to get off so you could make the emergency call.

I first saw color TV in a person's house when I was 10 (trick-or-treat: the owners let the kids come in and see their cool color TV). Books and magazines and newspapers were the major sources of information, not radio, not TV, not the Internet. (Though if you wanted the most up-to-date news, you listened to the radio.)

Music was on 8-track tapes and vinyl LPs (33 and 45 revolutions per minute, though older 78 still existed). If you wanted to watch a movie, if on TV you stayed up after 11 (old movies only), or you went to a theater, there was no way to record a movie other than film. If you wanted a single song after its initial popularity you had to luckily find an out-of-print 45 or you bought an entire album. Or, once cassette tape became available (but by this time I was an adult), you recorded it from the radio.

There was no instant replay on sporting events because videotape had not been perfected. There was no three point shot in basketball, dunks were illegal for a few years, and high school women's basketball was played six a side with only two allowed to play both offense and defense. There not only was no Superbowl, the NFL championship game was not televised until several years after I was born.

Communication satellites came into use when I was a teenager, before then our foreign news came onto TV only with voice, via telephone undersea cables. The biggest recent events in the minds of adults were World War II, the Korean War (I was born during the Korean War), and the continuing Cold War. Nuclear Annihilation was on everyone's mind, an ever-present danger. (When I was 11 I walked home from school a few miles, alone, to test the possibility for sending everyone home that way if the Cuban Missile Crisis turned into a war.) Terrorism was something that happened far, far away.

My mother had grown up during the Great Depression. She would do things like collect the little bits of bar-soap left after use and melt them together to make new multi-colored bars for us to use. Waste not, want not. How many people do anything like that today, even the officially poor people?

I remember at age 9 watching the United States Army ensure a black girl could go to school in Little Rock, Arkansas - because the local National Guard couldn't be trusted to do it. I was 17 or 18 the first time any man and woman, one black, one white, kissed on national TV. No one expected we'd have a female or black president in our lifetimes. Same-sex marriage was impossible. "Made in Japan" was a bit of a joke. The Japanese were former badguys seen on war movies (and adults all remembered "the war"), not the objects of near-worship by young people that they sometimes seem to be in the age of anime.

In that era, as for generations before, a book was a treasure trove of information, something to be read carefully and absorbed as much as possible.

Nowadays people are much less impressed by books because there's so many other sources of information, but if you really want to learn about something in depth a good book is a really good way to do it.

Makes for a quite different point of view. Yes, I know what Plato says that Socrates said about young people. This is not "oh, old people always say that", this is a result of real differences in life and culture, which change much faster than they used to.

Comments

Dat Google!

I'm not surprised by Chrome's dominance of the browser market. It's fast, and beautiful. You've got all the girls on board right there. ;)

I agree with you 100% about rules though. If you're advertising your rules as fun and exciting...something is wrong. Rules are the structure and foundation of the game, not the fun part. Never has anyone said after a game, "Man those rules rocked so much. They made that game." The best rules are the rules people forget are rules. If your rules make so much sense they blend right into the theme of the game, the rules STILL aren't the exciting part, it's the theme.

Lastly, there is such a big difference between generations and I see it between myself (I'm in my 20s) and my younger brother's generation (He's in his teens). I'm already old fashioned for my generation as well and the difference can be startling. I get a real blast out of telling telemarketers calling about cable service that I don't have cable/satelite tv. They ask if we use streaming and when I say no, they are at a loss for words as if I was from another world (I do have a TV, but it's only used to watch the occasional movie). Soon you'll get similar reactions if you respond that you don't have a tablet in your home.

Regarding dice rolls...

I see a game as a complex narrative constructed through the narratives of the game and the individual players. The narrative is a combination of large and small arcs. Together they are the story that is that game session(s). A die roll with a target number known is a player owned arc (no target, no conflict) shared by multiple players if the other players' stories are affected by the outcome.

To my mind I want to maximize the richness of the play experience and practice my telekinetic powers.

Tension is a must

I agree Corsaire about die rolls. Knowing what you need to roll before you roll it adds tension to a game. If I know I need a roll of 18 to hit that big ol' beasty in front of me to avoid death, and I roll and get a 1, critical failure, it really adds some tension. (Btw, I was killed once by someone who rolled a 1). The same is true when you do roll that 18 or even better when you roll that 20 and take down that monster. Knowing what you need before you roll it also allows for players to start their luckly die rolling rituals to help build up some excitment. Now not all rolls are like this, but some are.

" If you're advertising your

" If you're advertising your rules as fun and exciting...something is wrong. Rules are the structure and foundation of the game, not the fun part. Never has anyone said after a game, 'Man those rules rocked so much. They made that game.' "

Well, now that you mention it, in some cases people do say that, in effect, when they talk about how good or innovative the mechanics of a game are (the rules are the mechanics, in this sense). But that crowd, though prominent in some forums, is a tiny minority of game players.

"and practice my telekinetic powers." Yep, that's what it looks like to me.

The highest and lowest rolls (critical success or failure) are known without calculation.

A well-known video game design book (Rollings and Adams) states that hard core players don't care about the trappings of the game, they just want to know what they can do to win. I tend to play games that way, and calculating beforehand a roll I know I'm going to roll, is a waste of time, that is, it gets in the way of what I need to do to win. If I don't know whether to take the chance, of course I do the calculation.

Hedging!

Ok, I'll have to hedge here after what Lewlpuls said.

One should generally not speak in absolutes, which I did, and so yes there will be a small number of people that will rave about the rules. The point though is that you don't look at the back of a box and see written there, "This game features awesome rules that will amaze and astound you!."

Here is where I must explain how I distinguish between rules and mechanics. A mechanic in the game is the basic process through which you play the game and in ticket to ride they can be summed up in less than a minute. You draw cards, then play those cards to place trains, and complete routes to complete tickets. There, we have the basic mechanics of the game. What are the rules though? You draw three tickets, but have to keep one. You can only place one line of trains down a turn. You can only draw one card if it is a faceup locomotive card, etc. These are what I'd call rules. The mechanics are basically the game concept. Rules are the manner in which the mechanics are integrated into a game.

In the Nordic countries version of ticket to ride, they change a rule for a set up mechanic. In Nordic Countries you are dealt five tickets instead of the three you draw when playing the american map. This is a rule change, but it doens't change the mechanic at all.

Thus I still believe in the end, most games are enjoyed because of their mechanics and/or theme, not the rules. Good rules can make or break a game, but for the majority of players, it's just the mortar that helps fill in the cracks to give you a sturdy game that will withstand all the huffing and puffing of the big bad wolf.

lewpuls wrote:Thoughts about

lewpuls wrote:
Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

**
I was reading a free RPG ruleset recently. " features a long and exciting list of rules that are outside the normal scope of today‘s top most role-playing games." How many gamers get excited by the rules? The rules are only a means to allow a game to be played. It's the play of the game, if anything, that should be exciting. *Shrug*. Perhaps the domination of the tabletop market by D&D/Pathfinder frustrates RPG designers who want to do things "differently".

Rules get me excited. If your game frustrates me, I won't play it. i want to play a game I can reasonably anticipate.

lewpuls wrote:

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Gamer Psychology can be really odd. There are many (most) people who always want to know what they need before they roll dice, when they could save time by rolling first, then figuring it out if it isn't obviously too low or easily high enough. (One person says, well it's good practice to become familiar with the mods. But most people do it even when they know all the mods. ) It's as though the player subtly thinks he can influence the dice roll. Sure wastes time, though.

I've noticed this too, but I see it in players who are unsure of their actions. They want to do the best they can and do this to double-check if they took the right step.

lewpuls wrote:

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iew. Yes, I know what Plato says that Socrates said about young people. This is not "oh, old people always say that", this is a result of real differences in life and culture, which change much faster than they used to.

I totally agree there are generational differences. Even if I convinced my parents or grandparents to play half of the game I play now, they wouldn't be as interested. Gaming (and I guess entertainment in general) seems to have had a huge surge in the past few decades.

And for what it's worth, nothing can replace a book for me. I've grown up with computers, tablets, smartphones, and the internet, but I will prefer to read on paper if given the option.

Generational criss-cross

Oddly, there was a different world if you lived in a traditionally German area. My grandparents were from mid-state Pennsylvania, and on half th nights of any given week there would be a dozen houses in a few block area that had an open door gaming night. Uncle Pete always had Pinochle. Mrs. Lubbitz had some bookcase game. My grandma's house was the dealer's choice gambling den. It was a surreal and magical place when I'd visit as a kid.

Hamburger Pizza...:P

This is so true. I grew up in Southern New Jersey, and for those who don't know, Southern New Jersey and Philidelphia have a good sized italian population (or italian descent). I grew up on good old New Jersey pizza. My family then moved to Nebraska when right before high school. There I ran into the strangest thing of all time...hamburger pizza. I told friends back in Jersey about this anomoly and they all retched in disgust. When I tried this foul creation it was abhorently bad, yet it's the most popular type of pizza out here in beef/corn country.

Reading about this German area reminded me of the heavy Italian influence where I grew up!

Quite right, you not only

Quite right, you not only don't read about "great rules" on the back of a box, you rarely read about any rules at all, the back of the box is all about the "story" of the game even if it's a tacked-on atmosphere that has nothing to do with actual play. That's marketing (and tells you how shallow the average buyer must be, but we can say the same about novels, good covers sell poor novels, poor covers stifle good novels).

There's very little difference between the rules and the mechanics, in my view:
Game descriptions, rules, and mechanics: what are the differences and similarities?
http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120109/90875/Game_descriptio...

I love hamburger pizza! (Grew up in Ohio-Michigan.)

lewpuls wrote:Quite right,

lewpuls wrote:
Quite right, you not only don't read about "great rules" on the back of a box, you rarely read about any rules at all, the back of the box is all about the "story" of the game even if it's a tacked-on atmosphere that has nothing to do with actual play. That's marketing (and tells you how shallow the average buyer must be, but we can say the same about novels, good covers sell poor novels, poor covers stifle good novels).

Oh so very right. I can understand why someone [strong]might[/strong] be interested in an rpg based on rules that are simpler. DnD can be very convoluted. In fact I'm interested right now, but the thing about DnD and rpgs is...the rules are there as a guide and the DM has all power to just say, screw the rules, this happens. So in the end, the rules [strong]still[/strong] aren't a real selling point.

lewpuls wrote:

There's very little difference between the rules and the mechanics, in my view:
Game descriptions, rules, and mechanics: what are the differences and similarities?
http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120109/90875/Game_descriptions_rules_and_mechanics_what_are_the_differences_and_similarities.php

Actually he explained it just about how I envision it!

lewpuls wrote:

I love hamburger pizza! (Grew up in Ohio-Michigan.)

You sick fiend! ;)

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