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Triptych III

Three separate topics: "Enslaved by technology", Game Design: Understanding Why, and:

Must tabletop wargames only be just as the
grognards want them to be?

I know tabletop wargamers, "grognards", who think you must have a board with hexes, and cardboard counters with numbers on them, or you don't have a wargame. Britannia-like games certainly don't meet these criteria, nor Diplomacy, nor Risk, nor many other games.

I think more fundamentally, many wargamers are people who don't like games that can involve negotiations, that is, games where talking with other players can give you an advantage (or disadvantage); or perhaps more specifically, they don't like games where you're clearly at a disadvantage if you don't talk to other players. Many wargamers are accustomed to playing solo, and I think some (who in many cases have gone into computer wargames) really don't want to deal with other people.

These wargamers tend to play battle games, games without production economies, whereas the wargames for more than two players not only feature talking, but frequently have production economies. (Axis & Allies is one of the exceptions, a two player wargame with production economies.) The object in a battle game is usually to destroy the enemy force; the object in a war game (notice the space between war and game) is to take economic capability from the enemy, and improve your own, because the best economy will usually win in the end. Which is quite often true in Britannia, for example, and always true in computer Civilization, Diplomacy, and (except for the kludge of the cards) Risk. It is *not* true in History of the World, which despite the title is a battle game, not a war game, with a variable order of battle and no production economy.

If there's a future for wargaming, other than an obscure niche in video games, it's in simpler games where there aren't numbers on the pieces, and where there are often more than two players. That will lose some of the grognards, but it should gain even more of the players who are not enamored of numbered counters and hexes.

Game Design: Understanding Why

One of the keys to being a good game designer, and to making yourself appear to a potential employer to be a good game designer, is understanding why you make changes that ultimately work out, rather than just guessing at changes until finally one of your changes works. If you're trying to get hired by a video game studio, you need to be able to articulate exactly why changes worked or didn't, and why you tried particular changes, so that they'll understand that you understand game design, you're not just using trial and error (guess and check). Trial and error works in the long run in playing most video games, but it's terribly inefficient in game production.

If you're a programmer, you may have seen lots of student programmers behave in this undesirable way: guessing at what's wrong, then guessing at a solution, instead of trying to figure out what's wrong and then find a way to fix it.

So in my "Game Design" book I try to explain WHY? It's my preference for education (understanding) over training (memorization).

"Enslaved by technology"

Some video gamers are so dazzled by tech (especially the techno-fetishists) that they cannot see the forest (the game as a whole) for the trees (the technology). They're Enthralled with "realistic water rippling" and "the play of moonlight in the leaves during a breeze." I think this appeals especially to the "Attention Deficit . . . oooooh shiny" generation.

It goes back to traditional dominance of video games by programmers, too. You had to be a programmer as well as a designer in the days when one person made a video game. And video gamer programmers still look down on designers, feeling they're just people who get ideas, and anyone can do that. (Which tells you how little they understand design.) There would be no video games without programmers, they say - mostly true even now - so they are impressed with themselves, but are not impressed by design.

Hardly surprising, then that there's techno-fetishism in the ranks of the game makers as well as the game players.

Ron Gilbert (The Secret of Monkey Island etc.):

"I think many people making games today are very tech focused. They're very excited about the technology and how they're going to model realism - "We have a million blades of grass and they are all swaying to the wind correctly!" That's interesting at some level, but I think they might be missing this whole other piece, which is creating interesting characters and creating interesting worlds and stories. It's the technical versus the creative sides of this thing." GameInformer issue 199 November 2009 p. 53


At WBC (Lancaster PA, early August), I will be talking about Designing Multi-player Games (and a lot of other design related topics) on Friday at 5 in Hopewell. This is listed as 1 hour, but I don't see anything scheduled thereafter, so as usual it will be up to 2 hours or whenever people no longer want to participate, whichever comes first.

My seminars at GenCon (August, Indianapolis):
SEM1453968 Introduction to Design of (Strategic) Wargames ( Thursday 3:00 PM 1 hr
SEM1453969 How to Write Clear Rules ( Friday 11:00 AM 1 hr
SEM1453970 Multi-Sided Conflict Game Design ( Saturday 11:00 AM 1 hr
SEM1453476 Of Course You Can Design a Game, But Can You Design a Good One? ( Sunday 9:00 AM

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blog | by Dr. Radut