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A spectrum of approach to game design, in simplest terms

There are two fundamental ways to approach design of games (and of RPG adventures).

One approach is to set up an interesting situation and let the players cope with it as best they can, "write their own story", and in this case each group of players is likely to write quite a different story from the same situation.

The other approach is to establish a linear course, a story, for the players to follow. The designer writes the story, not the players. Each play of the game/adventure follows roughly the same course.

And there's everything in between those extremes. But it's a spectrum from one extreme to the other. Most designers are some of one and some of the other.

Whether you call this "rules emergent vs progressive", or "open vs closed" or "sandbox vs linear" or "ludology vs narratolody", or something else, it amounts, in every case, to "how much does the creator want/try to control what the players do?"

I suspect many who haven't actually created games and adventures don't quite see how clear the choice is, in the end.

I am very much of the "let them write their own story" side. For me, a designer gives players the tools to enjoy themselves, doesn't impose upon them. ("Are you a Game Designer or a Fiction Writer?" ) But many take the other extreme, or something close to it.


Interesting premise


As always, I find your posts informative and hopefully a catalyst for discussion. As a developer, I certainly take my direction from the designer, but with the designers for whom I've worked, they've definitely been from the "here are the parameters, go tell a story variety."


Ya ...

It seems like everybody nowadays is expecting some kind of NARRATIVE. They want more than just Euro games... If it's Ameritrash, they want a solid theme and they expect elements which will immerse them further into the game.

If my "games" don't sell... I'll go into "World Building"... Creating a universe for the sake of telling stories.

It's either going to be a work of FICTION (Sci-Fi) or FANTASY (D&D like). I am already leaning towards FICTION - because I have several games that are futuristic in theme.

Adding on a story about how Megacorporate Monarch ruled some distant Galaxy has an appeal to it! :)

Comment on comments

You can have a solid theme - if by theme you mean good modeling - and still go either way, hands off or control.

Yes, "narrative" is a magic word these days, even though the word itself is misused because most people mean "story". A narrative is simply an account of what happens, which is part of any and every game.

Stories are used to sell games, even when (as with Euros) the game rarely has gameplay that directly connects to the story.

I don't use "Ameritrash", as it's too broad, to me, to be useful. It was and continues to be a pejorative term, as well.

I think many video game designers are frustrated fiction writers. If they did (could?) write a novel, they'd be able to entirely control what happens.

Its easier to make a game that imposes a story, than to make one that lets the players make the story.

Our take on "narration"

I hired a professional writer to write nine (9) distinct storylines about four (4) Megacorporations and their intertwining struggles for supremacy.

Of course the "storylines" are NOT sequential. If you want to read each storyline, you need to order your cards by "resource". This unnatural order puts the creative writing together.

And none of the stories are complete - since we plan to ADD the remaining portion of the story on the FIRST "Expansion"... Which was something that was part of the original game - but got removed when streamlining the game.

Some "storylines" have 12 parts, others have 8 and the shorter ones only have 5. But it's cool because the cards tell a story... Even if you don't read them in the correct order - the "blurbs" are better than "flavor text" which is irrelevant to the game (mostly).

And the person who really LIKES the game - will take the time to put together the storylines in the correct order based on each resource. Furthermore, he/she is probably the type of person who will want to ADD the FIRST "Expansion" just so that they can complete the "storylines".

It's how I have designed the game - streamlining as much as possible - to lower the both the investment and cost to produce a version of the game that is both functional and attractive (art + price point).

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blog | by Dr. Radut