Game Design Discussion

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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby warp9 » Wed May 04, 2016 10:33 pm

Bob Whitely wrote:Because there is only so much time in the day, when I do have time to play a game, I far prefer to play tabletop. When playing console games, I very quickly get bored of the lack of a sentient behind all the people I talk with in the rpgs. I love the fluidity of a GM, the endlessly original things NPC's can say and ways they can react that is so vastly superior to anything I've seen even in the best console games. All that said, they do have it when it comes to the visuals! It is fun to walk by while my son is playing Fallout 4, Halo, etc.

Yep. I agree with all your points above. That is one of the reasons why I've always wanted to develop some kind of turn based multiplayer game, where the GM controls all the NPCs. That way you have the features of a computer game, but with all the originality of a human GM.

That being said though, I still think that games could be made more flexible, and with better AI, if that was really a priority.
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby warp9 » Wed May 04, 2016 10:36 pm

Bob Whitely wrote:I find creating character sheets both therapeutic, a bit like putting a puzzle together, and also helpful design-wise. As I'm trying to sort out where everything should go, I'm constantly thinking also about what everything means, determining if I'm presenting it well—both the game mechanic and visually.

That is an interesting observation.
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby Bob Whitely » Wed May 04, 2016 11:36 pm

warp9 wrote:That being said though, I still think that games could be made more flexible, and with better AI, if that was really a priority.


Even though I'm not a big console gamer (well, I really like them, but not nearly as much as tabletop) I seriously hope they do indeed focus much more on making better AI. I was completely unimpressed with the latest Star Wars game. Sure, it was a gorgeous game, but was very lacking in creativity and story. They should have hired you or me. We could have made it a much better game, of that I'm certain! They must have figured between great graphics and major IP that they could skip creativity and story. Bad move!

Well, I'm off to bed. Been staying up too late recently. Cheers my friend!
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby warp9 » Thu May 05, 2016 8:53 am

Bob Whitely wrote:They must have figured between great graphics and major IP that they could skip creativity and story.

I believe that is exactly the problem with a lot of modern games.
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby Bob Whitely » Sat May 07, 2016 9:00 pm

Some games are still being done properly, I'm told. Fallout 4 is a game I wouldn't mind playing. I hear it's very fun and I do have a heart for post apocalyptic adventure, among others. But of course as we've discussed, the AI is still not remotely good enough to sway me even a little away from tabletop gaming. With a creative GM and/or creative players, you can still do amazing things that are impossible to find in the shallow, mechanical roleplaying pretty console games can provide.
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby warp9 » Sat May 07, 2016 10:38 pm

Bob Whitely wrote:Some games are still being done properly, I'm told. Fallout 4 is a game I wouldn't mind playing. I hear it's very fun and I do have a heart for post apocalyptic adventure, among others. But of course as we've discussed, the AI is still not remotely good enough to sway me even a little away from tabletop gaming. With a creative GM and/or creative players, you can still do amazing things that are impossible to find in the shallow, mechanical roleplaying pretty console games can provide.

Yes, Fallout 4 is interesting, although it could be better (I like the format of Fallout 1 and 2 better since they are turn based and isometric view, rather than real time and first person camera).

On a related note : I watch a lot of "Let's Play" videos for various game, so I can see how other people play (since I watch the youtube videos, I don't have to buy the games, and there is less investment of time on my own part). Here is a link to a series of Let's Play videos about Fallout 4, if you are interested. . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlVxb7h ... I2&index=1

And again, I agree with you about the benefits of having a human GM. No games today are close to matching that kind of intuitive flexibility.

But I still think that, even a game like Fallout 4, which is better than some games, could still have a more reactive environment, and a better AI.

On an unrelated note, I was recently thinking about the Game Design Documents which are often used by video game designers, and specifically about how useful they really are. There is an article I found which calls the usefulness of the GDD into question : http://www.develop-online.net/opinions/ ... nt/0195381

This subject was on my mind because I'm working on a game, and people were bugging me to write up a Game Design Document. And, while I think we need to have some idea of what we are doing, I tend to agree with some of the points in that article. My view is that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, so it is best to have a general plan, but stay loose and flexible and react to the situation as it develops.

And that is a specific way in which I think that the design of video games is very different from paper-and-pencil games. In a paper and pencil game, what you document on paper pretty much is the game, in a video game, the design-documentation is something that can be very separate from the actual game (at least that is how it seems to me).
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby Bob Whitely » Sun May 08, 2016 5:39 pm

Thanks for your thoughts, Rob, and for the links. The only tricky thing with regard to watching the youtube videos is that the guy is biased. You are hearing what he thinks is good. What he approves of, and this can easily skew one's own feelings about something so you have to be careful. For example, if I told you Cosmothea is awesome and point out all the cool things about it, you would not get as clear a picture or as neutral a picture as if you actually played it yourself. I sat and watched someone making a character and playing the early parts of Fallout 4 and they had a very different opinion than that guy did. They had a blast and spent like an hour making their character. And they liked and disliked different things than that guy, but were overall very positive. Doesn't mean they were anymore accurate that that youtube video, only that the same situation applies. You aren't actually experiencing it.

Now I could say the same thing about tabletop rpgs. I buy way, way more rpgs than I ever play with my friends. Frankly, they are happy with 3 games as their go-to rpgs: Cosmothea, D&D 3.5 and Mutants & Masterminds. One also kinda likes Traveller. So, I read a lot of rpgs, a whole lot of rpgs, which costs me money (something I don't have a lot of). I also watch some people play tabletop rpgs on Youtube, but it's their experience, not my own, so neither reading the rules nor watching other people play them is quite as effective as me playing them, but yeah, it does help some!
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby Bob Whitely » Sun May 08, 2016 5:40 pm

I largely agree with the article, however I think he should have noted how critical it is to document certain aspects of a game's design, not just treat it like a guide. A guide doesn't tell you the ins and outs of key elements. A GDD might, depending on how in-depth it is, but as he said, that can only be so useful and it's time-consuming.

If only 1 coder knows how a certain thing works and then gets sick, fired, etc. the game is somewhat crippled. They don't just need a guide, they need design details, the basics of how the code is communicating to itself. Otherwise, future coders have to go through code line by line to figure out how the game was made so they can work on it. That's because there are lots of ways to code things. You can read a line of code and understand it perfectly without having any notion as to how it has been implemented. Without not just a guide, but a concrete infrastructure, granted a simple, clean one, the results could be disastrous.

Although I'm not a coder, I've had first-hand experience with this. I once worked for a company that was designing digital products from 2 offices and they were somewhat competitive with each other in the sense that both of them wanted to look good to the Admin and be the one with all the answers. One office designed the basic code, but not everyone on their own coding team was even privy to how the code worked. Even the coders at that office didn't communicate to each other! There was no GDD at all!

Think job security - you know they can't fire you because only you know how a segment of the product works. If anyone else wants to know, they have to analyze tens of thousands of lines of code. To compound matters, that office was slow to communicate with my office because they wanted to look better than our coders, so our coders were left scratching their heads trying to fix code that seemed broken because it was slapped together so haphazardly without any GDD and with exclusivity built in. Our guys had to study the code and analyze it and stumble along—these coders were veterans in their industry, but nothing was spelled out. (To clarify, both offices used the code on different products, so they didn't have to be compatible, but since the core code was the same in each, our office was churning out product way slower because we were left to interpret with no GDD what we needed to do to implement their code and mesh it with out own). That's an extreme example, I know, and a very frustrating one.

I think perhaps a closer analogy with tabletop game design might be writing novels. As a fiction writer, I use a detailed outline, but I don't start with a detailed one. It's easy to change outlines as you find problems or come up with better solutions, etc. and it's much easier than a GDD. Just like when I design a roleplaying game, I start with broad strokes. I think GDD's could learn a thing or two from outlines, perhaps.

Broad Strokes: These are the major principles like theme and tone of game, resolution method, class/ classless approach, levels v. skill-based, GM/Gmless, dice/diceless, etc. the stuff in bold. All this comes after tons of brainstorming, of course, but you know that. So maybe something like . . .
1. Post Apocalyptic gritty

2. Dice Pool mechanics

3. Skill-based resolution

etc.

Then I put in the sub points. The A. B. C.s as I develop the novel/game I go deeper and deeper. a. b. c.s, etc. Some may use more sub points than others to suit their writing/designing style. While writing a novel, if I see that a scene isn't working right, I adjust the outline - it is meant to be "mostly" a guide, but some principles should never change. For example. If I suddenly say it's not Post Apocalyptic, that's pretty major. In some cases you'd need to start over since it was a major point that means that many of your decisions were based on it. it's like tearing out the foundation of your house. You aren't making the same novel/game any longer.

The outline isn't meant to be a straight jacket, but is meant to improve and speed up game design (or novel writing). There's more than one way to design a game, of course, just as there is more than one way to write a novel.

Outlines are tried and true and can be a boon. In fact, they can tell you when and where you've strayed off course. Then you can review it and see if the new course is better or if and where you need to go back and fix things. In a novel, it can even give you a solid idea as to how many pages the novel will be. I can easily go and jump to Chapter 5 or 23 and start writing intelligently and confidently knowing that everything that comes before and after works together and makes sense because I'm following the outline I designed. I'm not writing/designing in the dark. In game design, the outline lets me jump all the way to space combat even if I haven't sorted out how melee combat works yet. And the beauty of outlines is that they are fast to alter to accommodate an improvement. They are much easier to alter than actually altering the product itself.

For example: Back in the 70's I didn't care for the concept of hit points and made up my own system for Cosmothea 1.0. I separated health into Life Points and Battle Points. Life points (LP) represented what your body could handle on its own without your direct intervention. i.e. if you were asleep and someone tossed you off a cliff or poisoned you, being an amazing sword fighter shouldn't make a difference like it does with HPs. You would suffer LP damage. Whenever it was something you could actively defend against, the potential incoming damage would go against your Battle Points (BP). Every gaming group I've ever played Cosmothea with has liked the system.

I've been using it largely unchanged for well over 3 decades. Other games, including D&D, have since proposed somewhat similar systems (I think D&D did one as an option in an Unearthed Arcane book, if I'm not mistaken. Can't recall the name. But I think I've seen something similar in other games over the years). Anyway, in 5.0, I changed the system. I still have the two concepts divided, but implemented them in a completely different way. Changing it in my loose outline took seconds, unlike those poor coders messing with a detailed GDD. But changing even just the name of the system throughout the rules (like the coding) does take time. Every time I change a term, it can take quite awhile to change it throughout the game. It's getting easier now that I'm making a playtest pdf (I've always used online rulebooks in the past, which take way longer to update).

So a general document tackling all the key points and how it all comes together is a must, especially when working on a team like I did for Cosmothea 4.0. As with novel outlines, they are not a straight jacket, but are liberating. They teach you about your own notions in your novel or game design. They remind you of your own goals and how they work and you can quickly see if you are contradicting your own design if you add a point (a new rule) that doesn't fit into the outline because it uses a contradictory concept (like using a dice pool system and trying to squeeze in a percentile system. You'd notice). And they can point out holes in your design over time or areas where maybe you've been making it crunchier than you meant to and other areas that need more love.

Using an outline is a powerful tool. It's when you over-document a GDD that it can cause problems like that guy was talking about. Why spend all your time on a GDD when you could spend it on the game? But if done right, it's a beautiful thing, just like knowing how to run a team. But for a tabletop game, as you said, the game is the GDD, to some degree. So, I guess we have it easier than they do, not having to worry about both the code and the GDD! I would suggest an outline though for game designers.
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Re: Game Design Discussion

Unread postby Bob Whitely » Mon May 09, 2016 10:42 pm

Think of it as a very detailed Table of Contents if you would, but it's far more than that. Anyway, I don't know everything, nor do I have time to learn everything, but I'm always looking for and open to tips on how to improve in my own game design. :D
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