Friday, January 6, 2012

Stealing a page: Game Design

I'm going to steal a page from my friend Stu and start using this blog to save links to neat gaming articles I find on the web. I would have used Reader once upon a time for that; however, the share function is dead, so it is too much a pain to add a single article and then add to Facebook.

Fred Hicks (of Evil Hat) linked to article which I found useful for two different concepts. The first is game design. I am a system monkey and every so often, generally when work is slow, tinker with a concept or three. No real reason behind it, just for the joy of tinkering. I generally call this my Artemis project because it'll definitely me shooting the moon if it ever goes anywhere.

But I digress. As I do. Let's get into the actual piece.

Anyways in The Beat Sheet of Game Design, John Adamus, a consultant about writing, discusses game design from the perspective of five questions, and then the construction of a story arc. At least that's what *I* get out of it; he writes it all from the perspective of game design; however, the second half only seems to work if you are writing a short, tightly focused game that is supposed to be played in a short arc and then finished.

And that's just not how I roll. It takes me a few sessions to get comfortable, and play around. With a biweekly at best schedule that means I'm looking at an investment of 2-4 months and usually even my bad games can last sixish months.

What can I say? I've been blessed with good players.

So, Part 1: Designing a game, which could easily be design a campaign, centers around 5 core questions:
  • Question 1: Is this game about Character or about Plot? (Are you creating a linear game where people go from one place to another and do a single task to 'win', or is this a game where you create a character and they're pretty free to do whatever, within the confines of the world, and this game is their biography?)
  • Question 2: Is this game a single serving or can this be a long-term game? (Is this a game I can get into for a few hours on a rainy evening with a few friends, or is this game something that I can play over the course of many weeks and months?)
  • Question 3: Does this game get easier/better/more enjoyable by using previous knowledge or can anyone pick this up? (Is this a game where I have to know about something else going in, or can someone whose never seen a particular show, read a certain book or had a certain game experience still get the same level of enjoyment as someone who is better read/experienced?)
  • Question 4: Do the characters matter in this world? (If players eliminate or disempower a major quest-giver or chain of events, do their actions resonate 'locally' or'globally' or not at all? Or are the characters fighting a Sisyphean battle, with huge odds stacked against them?)
  • Question 5: Is this game about the experience or about winning and losing? (Does this game have specific 'winning conditions' or is this game to be played just to play and enjoy the company of your friends and have a specific experience along the way?)
Question 2 is sort of a give-me for me, because well I suck at running short games. And once again these questions are focused on game design, which is one of those things I flirt with. So let's discuss my "ideal" game:

  • Question 1: Character or Plot? Characters. Definitely the characters, I'm a lazy GM, plus I want the players to have ownership and want things.
  • Question 2: Short or Long Game? Long game, which means there needs to be room for improvement and growth both in power and ambition.
  • Question 3: Do I need to do my research? Ideally the answer is no, even in a game written in a canon universe, as long as the basics are understood, the research will add flavor. I've given up on players being as obsessed with me with background and history.
  • Question 4: Do characters matter? Preferably eventually they should matter. The more power I give them to start off, the more they should cause waves. The downside is that causing waves causes people to become a target.
  • Question 5: Is it about the destination or journey? Once again ideally, it is about the journey and the adventures and not a win condition; cause generally my players will win out, it is just a matter of whether they choose to win with the costs that it entails. Preferably known costs.

So there are my answers - any surprise I'm looking forward to my Dresden Files game starting up?

I'm going to break out the second half of the article into a separate piece. This is already getting unwieldy long. Mostly because I want to capture everything.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote the post so as to lay out different tools people could use throughout design at either a micro-level (a one-off adventure) or a macro-level (the big sweeping campaign), since the tools are the same, just applied differently.

    Because there isn't (I don't feel) a distinction to be made between a "game" and a "campaign", the tools of design work fairly universally - what matters is the order you apply them, and keeping focused on the intention and ultimate evocative goals you have for the players.

    I do appreciate the links, by the way.

    Also, I'd be happy to detail or explain anything that you find unclear.