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How a theme is used well in game

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cloa513
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For me, good use of a theme is having mechanics and components in the game that are explainable. Not everything has to be justified but at least the major parts of the game. It is not adding a bunch of jargon or even a lead in story. What is it for you?

Gabe
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I think it's when the

I think it's when the mechanics "make sense" so to speak. It's when a game gives players the feeling that they're in some way actually doing what the game is about.

let-off studios
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Thoughts on Theme

TL;DR: Theme is part of marketing a game. Only in the hobby games market do I think it's essential.

...I think 'theme' is there to give players a reason to participate in the game. It's not required, but is usually one of many draws to a game, if it's there at all.

There are plenty of games out there where one could argue that their theme is "abstract," and therefore is a legitimate theme. However, my view is that in an abstract game there are other reasons players choose to play: typically, this other reason is "test of skill" or puzzle-solving.

If you're talking about the hobby games market, then theme is almost always an essential aspect to the game. It is the reason the player interacts with the game in specific ways: movement, conflict resolution, "winning" or succeeding in their game-specific task.

I can't offer much in the way of poor examples of theme, as many of them don't make it to market, and/or are short-lived. I remember a curious game about tennis called 15 Love that came out in the early 70's that I bought used from a local game store. It's a game that, after playing a bit, I attempted to come up with an alternative that used cards instead of dice. But that's a rather obscure example.

Effective examples include Forbidden Island , a game I feel did a much better job that either Pandemic or Forbidden Desert in terms of helping players along with thematic links to the mechanics in play. Acquire is a clever, thematically-linked game that has stood the test of time - and for good reason. Other recent games that I think did this very well would be Weapon Merchant and Sheriff of Nottingham, the latter so much so that I'm not a fan of the game because of how it made me feel while/after playing it.

Theme becomes a way the players connect what they're doing - playing a game - to justifying why they chose that particular game off the shelf. When offered so many choices about what to play when one is in a game-playing mood, the reason to bother with a hobby game at all better be compelling. "Creating a world" via the game's theme is what hobby games must do to have even a snowball's chance at being purchased, and then later being picked for playing.

lewpuls
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"Theme" is a slippery word

The many meanings of "theme" http://youtu.be/eq-vnHFG00k

I think I probably discuss theme as model among other things.

questccg
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Dear Dr. Lew

When I think of the word "theme" and apply it to Game Design, it means the game's "context" (not model). If it's "Medieval Merchants" or "Space Pirates", to me my interpretation is the "what are we playing". And to me the word "context" seems the most appropriate. Or perhaps the term "setting" could also qualify.

I would have never known that "theme" is directly equal to "model". I don't try to "model" my games after anything. It's more like: "Okay I have this game idea - it's about Wizards, Tiles and dungeon delving" ... Ok so that's the "theme" for that game. I don't feel as if I am "modeling" anything especially things that are "fantasy" which are not real (Fiction).

But great presentation... At least my interpretation of "theme" was also included in the presentation. Good stuff!

cloa513
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Clarification please

Could give an example what model means as against context?

What presentation do you mean?

lewpuls
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"Theme"

questccg, that's the problem with using "theme", it means different things to different people. So use "context", or "model" instead. Just say "no" to use of the word "theme".

I'd say a context provides a frame of reference that may help people understand what's going on, but does not make a difference to how the game is actually designed and played.

Cloa513, questccg is referring to the screencast I cited above.

questccg
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model -> context -> decoration

cloa513 wrote:
Could give an example what model means as against context?

As per the presentation that Dr. Lew made, "model" is a actual simulation of some subject matter. "context" is more about a "setting" for a particular game. It's model -> context -> decoration. Things get less "representative" (or accurate/precise) as you go further away from "model".

cloa513 wrote:
What presentation do you mean?

See the presentation YouTube link in Dr. Lew's previous comment...

http://www.bgdf.com/forum/game-creation/theme-design/how-theme-used-well...

X3M
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I have a bit of trouble,

I have a bit of trouble, understanding this as well.

Can it be explained with examples from a war game?

questccg
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2 out of 3 ain't bad!

X3M wrote:
I have a bit of trouble, understanding this as well.

Can it be explained with examples from a war game?

@Ramon actually a "war game" which is a simulation of some historical battle is therefore a "model" of that particular situation. The "theme" (or model) is to be as accurate possible in describing what is going on in the game and how it relates to the real war.

Having a fictitious battle on some moon is part simulation part creativity and I would say that this type of "theme" is a "context" or "setting" for a non-realistic "war game" (because of the fictitious nature of the game).

I cannot give you an example of "decoration". Maybe Dr. Lew can answer and provide an example of a "decoration"...

Mosker
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Specific questions, (with a preface on terms)

(I don't mind the word "theme" as it is used in board game design, in part because there's little chance of it being conflated with the concept in literary criticism and undermining what--marginal, but still valuable--use that term has.

[Z-d I hope my rulebooks don't read like the sentence above.]

Contrast this to decimate...

And those familiar with my designs, or even my avatar understand my unease with referring to changing a theme as "reskinning")

Specific questions for the designer to ask about the design as it relates to a theme's value and implementation in the game.

1. Does someone intimately familiar with the theme object to your implementation--especially if that person is not a gamer. (Yes, your playtesters are probably not Cthulhu worshippers, but one may have a familiarity of Lovecraft, similar authors and implementations.) In a different thread recently, there was a discussion of military terminology. Some of my games are based on animal rescues and even the diction matters.

2. Can someone who cares or knows little about the theme still have an engaging experience with the game? If not, your mechanics may be too weak, you may need to rethink your target audience or even the medium. (Consider an RPG.)

3. Does the theme flavor and facilitate the decision making process? Think of sacrifices one has to make in cooperative games and especially semi-coops.

4. If your mechanics are successful and engaging (define both as you will), does the player at some point think about the theme more deeply or from a new perspective, or at all? (And on the flip side, if they only want to think about your theme or talk about it, it may be time to take a harder look at your mechanics or toning down your implementation. Ever bring a prototype to the table that people were so engaged with that they didn't want to play again...?)

Raising hand and posting the comment.

Corsaire
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The Player Experience

For me theme works to improve the player experience.

Here are some of the ways:
- Provide a base for a player's internal storytelling
- Leverage existing knowledge around the theme to bootstrap learning
- Provide some starting strategy directions
- Frame out the game

For the designer:
- Theme provides a filter for trimming the fat
- A motivator to "finish the story"
- An easier way to think into the player's experience
- A mini "holy grail" to make theme and play tightly coupled

I've used storytelling concepts professionally in software development for years. Done right it provides similar benefits. Read some product design books and this shows there again.

If I were to broaden the language, I would stick in the storytelling playground and add terms like "Setting."

cloa513
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Theme is simple

It is just a few words that are general descriptors- e.g. pirates with more specific-

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