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Level 1: Overview / What is a Game?

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Garage Gamer
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Level 1: Overview / What is a Game?

Intro

And we are off! Welcome everyone to the BGDF Game Design Concepts Course. I am the moderator/organizer for the course Garage Gamer. I am glad to start this adventure with everyone and hope we get a lot out of it.

Format (aka whats going to happen?)

Each week I am going to post a thread just like this one for the discussion of the course content. Here we will be able to discuss any thoughts or questions about the course content as well as the "homeplays". My suggestion is to try and write at least one paragraph about something that do did learn or might not have know or found interesting (even if you don't share it here). For discussion on the design task(s) that are given each week, I will make a separate thread.

One last thing about the format, when there is a task that involve groups, I will let you guys find your own partner(s) but I will also make a separate post called: "Level X: Looking for Group" for the unassigned.

Content

There are two posts to read this week:

Syllabus and Schedule

Level 1: Overview / What is a Game?

Please note that the times and dates for the scheduled as listed are not correct. Week 1 will be from the 15th of December to the 21st of December. Week 2 will start from the 22nd through to the 28th etc.

I would really like to hear what you guys think about the "homeplays" and the other content covered this week. Discussion ensues bellow (I will be posting after we get a few replies).

xenosus
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I haven't had a chance yet to

I haven't had a chance yet to check what the "homeplays" entail, but there are several games here if we need to play anything together that is available in the site.

[edit]
Ok, just read it, homeplay is really just homework. But still, if we need to play something together, that site is nice.

DifferentName
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Homeplork

Haha. Yeah, disappointing to see that homeplay is just homework, right? Maybe in other weeks it will have more play in it.

I read the course (but not the readings linked in it). So there's a lot of talk about what is a game. I think i'm pretty inclusive about what I consider to be a game, but I kind of don't include the simplest of "race to the end" games, like candyland. When all you do is roll a die or draw a card, then do what it says, no decisions are being made.

Maybe the key is if the activity includes some kind of challenge. For a young enough child, it could be a challenge to simply move to the correct color, or move the correct number of spaces. A challenge just to follow a simple rule. The choice of a child is whether to follow the rules or not. But as you grow up, there's no more challenge, and no decisions being made, so it kind of ceases to be a game.

DrFro
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Costikyan Article

I just finished reading the Costikyan Article (the first article of our "Homeplay"), and found it fascinating to read his perspective on gaming - especially considering that the article was written in 1994! (It helps that I can clearly remember what gaming culture was like back then...not to date myself or anything...) A few interesting points:

• His definition of "cooperative game" seems quite different than how we define it today. I believe he is referring to the 1970s movement that was trying to remove all elements of competition from a game (damn hippies! lol), rather than today's games which pit the players against the game system itself. There is still plenty of competition in today's cooperative games - just not between the individual players.

• He appears to be quite the prophet when discussing the advent of online gaming as a vehicle for socialization! I wonder what Costikyan would say about XBox Live or World of Warcraft?

• He makes an offhanded remark about Candyland, and how it does not meet the "game definition" of providing decisions - same as DifferentName's comment. It seems that "race to the end games" frequently test the common definitions of games.

I enjoyed the read for the most part. I personally don't have much of an issue doing the "Homeplay," but then again I am a professor...so maybe I'm simply happy not having to grade the homeplay! Also, it does look like future modules will have us actually designing games, rather than just readings. Things to look forward to!

DrFro
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Understanding Games Episodes

Just a quick follow-up - the "Understanding Games" modules are a ton of fun, and provide some pretty good examples to follow. Don't dismiss them - you will definitely miss out!

EDIT: Admittedly, a few of the lessons feel far more geared towards computer games than board games - especially lesson 3 - although the principles discussed can be applied in certain situations.

let-off studios
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Costikyan article

STRUGGLE
One of the stand-out segments of the article for me was the notion of Struggle: the idea that there are goals to attain, and the player will not simply have the goal handed to them. This filters into many decisions as a designer, and for me one of the critical components to whether or not I think a design is well done.
- Ensuring that all decisions the player makes are worthwhile, engaging, and meaningful ones. Decision points that aren't are automated or take much less time.
- Applies to how a theme adds meaning to the mechanics of a game: why choose one tactic over another? Why go through these motions?
- Develop the 'dynamics' (to use the term described in the Challenges for Game Designers text) to facilitate interaction and cooperation/competition between players and/or the game system
- Designers must gauge the levels of Struggle when in playtesting, balancing mechanics and tactics, and settling on a specific challenge level for players
- Player engagement drops if the struggle becomes too great or too easy
- Focus not on just theme or visuals, but on the level and nature of player interaction/action within a game

I think it's easy for a designer to simply rely on randomness to make a game challenging. But to me, Snakes and Ladders isn't very fun because it's ALL struggle with no decision making. To me it seems like a "pachinko" board, where eventually one player shakes out before the rest. To become a worthwhile design, Snakes and Ladders would need critical decision points added, not just a reliance on chance to grant players success.

STRUCTURE
Regarding Costikyan's remarks on Ultima Online vs. EverQuest... I wonder if this was written before or after Richard Garriott's avatar in UO had been assassinated. I don't think it changes his arguments about dynamics and Endogenous Meaning (that is, things being worth what they're worth only within the context of the game, and worth something different - if anything at all - outside of it), but it was an interesting "time capsule" moment for me while reading.

LEBLANC'S TAXONOMY
Useful for certain, and seem to clearly have given Costikyan the fuel for the preceding content of the article. As long as someone knows what the eight metrics are, they ought to be able to run each of their designs through this "grinder" and do a lot of their own work in solo playtesting before any other players set their eyes on it.

DifferentName
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Costikyan article

I feel like he gets a little aimless and rambles later in the article.

I really disagree with his position on Sim City. His argument is that you take this entire program, with all it's rules and resources and challenges, and as a whole it is not a game. But if you add a single line of code that says, if you get a population of 1 million, display a message that says "You Win", now all of a sudden the entire thing is a game? This is a completely useless definition.

The exact same argument he uses for why role playing games are games can be applied to Sim City. While no goal is explicitly stated, players find their own goals within the game. Whatever you want to do in the game, the game introduces challenges to you in reaching your intended goal. You are constrained to playing within it's rules. This isn't a quality of a toy.

I think his use of the word resource management in games is misleading, and is essentially pointless. It's like you can take any example of a game, then just find anything in it that you can call a resource, like the single piece that you control in the game, or simply yourself in a sport. With a term so broad, what wouldn't be a resource? If it can be anything, how does that help to define a game?

*Update* I guess I'm reconsidering my earlier statement that a game with no decisions is not a game. I think the quality of interesting decisions is one of the primary things that make a game good, not a prerequisite to define something as a game. So a game where you make no decisions, simply rolling some dice and seeing who gets better rolls, can still be a game. It's just likely to be a bad one.

xenosus
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All this talk of Candyland is

All this talk of Candyland is making me nostalgic. I used to love the game when I was a child, up until I was 5 anyways. Then I got inventive with my games. Hell, I even made a game using those battle planet toys from the 90s. It was basically warhammer 40k except you only could attack with the spring launched missiles. Ah, good times.

Anyways back on topic.

I think DifferentName is confusing tokens with resources because the author was referring to resources as anything to be used by the token in order to achieve the goal. The token in this would be a representation of the player. Without the player on the field how could he play the game?

DifferentName
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Resource

No, I understand. My first thought was tokens, but then he went on to define resources as "anything". It seems like first he used the term "Managing resources" to describe certain kind of games, then realized that definition is too narrow and changed his definition of it to include ANYTHING. Saying a game is a thing with anything doesn't really help much with the definition or understanding of games, but by using the word "resource" he makes it sound more gamey.

I guess it bugs me because "Managing Resources" is a specific thing you find in certain games, and he's attempting to redefine it to mean almost nothing. I would be disappointed to get a game that includes managing resources, only to find they meant a roll & move game.

SLiV
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Silly definitions

A definition of "game" where Sim City is not a game seems rather pointless. As you say, DifferentName, if adding one little thing is all it takes to let something fall inside or outside a definition, the definition is not worth much. Similarly I don't think decision making is a key defining property of games. Most of the gameplay in a first-person shooter is based on dexterity, for instance.

I feel like a lot of times when people are trying to define games, they already have preconcieved notions and just pick a definition that best suits that notion, regardless of it being useful. Calling something "not a game" as a synonym for "it's bad", that kind of thing. Seems a bit silly, just like debating whether GIF is pronounced gif or jif.

I'd rather use the term game as broadly as possible. Snakes and Ladders is a game, just a really uninteresting game. Telltale's games are games, just very narrative-driven games. It's definitely still worth pondering what makes games 'gamelike', though, and I really enjoyed reading the article for it.

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