Saturday, November 30, 2013

Practice 2013: Designing a Legacy Game

Permanence and Balance (by Rob Daviau)
·         What are the assumptions people have when they play a game?
·         How to spend four times longer designing your game so that your players end thinking the designer is an idiot
·         Heroscape, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Clue, Risk, Axis & Allies, Risk Legacy, Seafall
·         Legacy game = actions you take in one game has effects on future games (upgrading cards with stickers, destroying cards, writing on the board), everything is permanent, it’s a one way trip
·         Make all the assumptions you can about a game or genre (obvious and unexpected), write them down, then say “what if” and turn them on their heads
·         Assumptions about worker placement (Lords of Waterdeep) = you place your own workers, your workers work for free, workers take one action, there can only be one worker per space, workers automatically come back to you, everyone has workers, your workers do whatever you say, you want to place your workers, your workers like working for you, you don’t work for them, your workers won’t quit, your worker won’t murder anyone, your worker won’t steal cash from you, the game comes with workers, you can see the workers
·         An unexpected idea from Clue = swear Mustard does it about 2/3 of the time, Why do we keep inviting him to the dinner party? Why do games reset each time we play them? What if a game doesn’t fully return to its start state every time? What if one game could affect the next?
·         Legacy game - A way to tell a story, the story of a world as told by the armies fighting on it, a way to get a group to really own their game, a way to codify “remember that time…”, a challenge to Rob himself…
·         Why permanence? If you play board games, you are doing it already. Ups the stakes and makes people care from the beginning. Changes the tone and makes the world real and unique.
·         Cardboard and plastic are not special, the experience and design is special
·         Why Risk? It’s known, it’s solved, it was a Hasbro brand, Rob had done 6Risk games before, Risk already has a metagame
·         How do you design and balance a game with permanence? You don’t. It’s about recognizing it can’t be balanced, at least not by the designer.
·         An incomplete game – legacy games are about 80% done when they ship, let the players finish the last 20% as players (not designers), the rules enable players to complete it by playing, these rules need to also allow them to balance it.
·         “You can’t predict what one person will do, but you can predict what most people will do in the future” – Asimov’s foundation
·         Risk Legacy runs for 15 games (enough to feel epic, but not long enough to feel daunting).
·         Wrong = random permanence (roll to nuke a country), every decision needs to be on the player’s hands. Right = chosen permanence (scar cards), players choose when to nuke, player controlled city locations
·         Wrong = gimmicks without a point (recording winners, naming continents, naming cities). Right = gimmicks with a point (recorded winners get one missile per win, named continents get +1 power, named cities are players starting spot).
·         Wrong = it didn’t change enough (factions didn’t change, there were few board changes that were too powerful), too much too soon. Right = locked up content that players earn by achieving things, this prevented people from using all the permanent changes in the start of the game.
·         Right = using a “solved” game like Risk, players don’t own factions, unpredictability with unlocks, introducing a draft, pulling from non-games (cliffhangers), gimmicks (do not open, ever), unboxing turned into a ritual
·         “Do not open ever” used to be “do not open until instructed” but he realized he would kill some gamers who go through the rulebooks so many times. People came up with house rules to open up the last packet.
·         Unboxing – the box is closed with a sticker (NOTE: what’s done can never be undone), you have to sign the back of the board and say you take responsibility for what’s about to happen, every faction has a choice of two powers (you pick one and tear up the other one), you must sticker the power factions at the start (you can balance the game yourself)
·         How do you balance 15 games? You can’t but players can, but players don’t always do a good job of it, some people mess it up completely.
·         Left Hasbro to start Ironfist Games, working on Seafall: A Legacy Game
·         Based on the unknown, finding islands
·         Design objective = people to find islands but not too quickly, finding islands to be a viable path to victory, more research and preparation to lead to greater but not guaranteed chance of success. Did not want it to be blind luck, to be pure skill, or a big letdown if you don’t find one.
o   Started with a Carcassonne idea where people had tiles and placed their own, but it was too uncontrolled for the designer.
o   Then made a hex based grid with only an island on each column.
o   Made a deck building game, but it was too much card counting.
o   Made a dice pool system.
o   Made a whole separate mini-game, put tokens down to “zoom in” to how the ship is doing. But the rules became so long and complicated.
o   Went back to a dice pool system, but as you go west, it gets harder to hit the number. You can play cards to get a fixed dice roll. So you can rely on luck, or some control. If you fail your roll for an island, you’ll still find something (rock, pirates, etc.)
·         Designing player experiences vs. systems. It’s not exactly a dichotomy. In a successful game, aesthetics and mechanics are in service of each other and integrate together to become expressive. Board games are narrative toolbox and have inherent randomness to them. Rob wants players to talk about the narrative story the next day instead of the mechanics. Risk Legacy is not an elegant game at all, but it’s meant to be unpredictable narratives with unexpected outcomes.
·         Betrayal at House on the Hill captures the sense of unknown and mystery.Seafall also captures the sense of wonder. Rob starts design from theme, and finds the mechanics to fit the thematic.
·         Legacy games don’t work well if the players swap out between games.
·         Role playing games shouldn’t have rules, they should have guidelines. Board games can’t crash if the rules were played wrong.
·         Written rules should be quick enough to get started, but thorough enough to use while players are playing. It’s very hard to find the balance between the two, and it’s not a solved problem.
·         Bernie Dekoven’s new games movement. He turns the rules explanation into a performance.
·         Digital board games have many problems. The screen is too small, you lose something when it goes completely 2D, private information is hard.
·         Was Risk Legacy playtested with people who never played Risk before? No, because it was assumed this was a hobby market game. Seafall is a much more complicated system so the rules will be introduced very slowly. Creating an advent calendar for what you discover at the island. The gambling and the unknown really engages people.
·         Emergent narrative vs. elegant game design. They’re not opposed. It’s not binary, it’s a continuum.
·         Some board games are just math covered with graphics. They are for people who like the system.
·         The rules to role playing games are nebulous. It’s about the experience.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Practice 2013: The Art of Strategy Games

Strategy Games (by Soren Johnson)
·         Soren worked on Spore, Civilization 3/4, Dragon Age Legends, founded Mohawk Games
·         Strategy games have limited options, unexpected events, disparate outcomes
·         Different from story games (The Last of Us, Spec Ops, Bioshock Infinite, Walking Dead)
·         Not talking about big budget games either (Braid, Dear Esther, Gone Home, Limbo)
·         Those games are static. Strategy games are dynamic (Street Fighter 4, NBA Jam). These games are meant to be replayed and mastered.
·         Dynamic vs. Static is a continuum. Some static games use dynamic systems (Deus Ex, Plants vs. Zombies, etc). Some dynamic games use static system (Puzzle Quest, Team Fortress, etc.)
·         Static games – the content is primary. Dynamic games – the mechanics are primary.
·         Strategy games are dynamic. The key factor is transparency (show players how the system works). Later Civilization games show exactly what happens during an attack.
·         Transparency in digital board games. Card Hunter, Hearthstone, Battle of the Bulge. Are these board games or video games? Board games are not defined by physical components, but by their transparency.
·         Memoir ’44 – battle dice, you roll a tank à a tank dies, you roll a flag àretreat
·         Shogun – cube tower, very clear and literal way to track your progress of power (now and then)
·         Power Grid – supply and demand track, as you pick up items from the track, the prices increase
·         Agricola – resource piles, as people don’t take cards, resources are added to them and pile up
·         The rules run inside the player’s head (not in the computer), strategy games should also exist inside the player’s head
System and Sauces (by Keith Burgun)
·         100 Rogues, “Game Design Theory” book, Auro, Empire
·         Deliver value as quickly and efficiently to the players. Don’t waste their time.
·         Interesting decisions are the primary producer of value in strategy games.
·         “Solution” vs. “Guess”. Solutions are deterministic and we perfectly understand (light 4 torches, hard counters, put square peg in square hold, QTEs). Guesses are random and we don’t understand at all (choose from two arbitrary paths, play one round of RPS, choose +1 attack or +1 defense at the start of a game, guess your rolls). Decisions are in the middle between solutions and guesses.
·         Interesting decisions are the source of value. Minimize everything else. Achieve elegance through determining your core mechanism (Mario’s jump, SSB’s movement and positioning).
·         Find supporting mechanisms, find the goal, and find the theme/metaphor.
·         Ultimately you’re building a gameplay system. Many games are not systems, they are inter-related smaller systems.
·         100 Rogues, started with roguelike model, boiled it down and focus on tactics, resource management is not a source of interesting decisions in roguelike. You can’t add interesting decisions to a system, interesting decisions are a property of a well-designed system.
·         Auro – boiled down roguelikes until there was nothing left, single actor moving on a grid, permadeath, created new system called bumping (knock enemies back), can bump enemies into water, use spells to change tiles
·         Empire – boiled down 4X games, core mechanism is managing diminishing resources, has some deck building mechanism (your deck gets bigger and bigger, but has less value because it’s being put into an increasingly larger pool)
·         Boil down something to its core mechanism
·         Sauces mask the system – mass content (mini-games, locking content, iron-lung game design), labor (grinding, fiddly processes (breaking bills inMonopoly), walking), spectacle, high execution and high randomness (people asking “can I do this?” instead of “should I do this?”
·         The substance is a system, a contest of decision-making.
How Double Fine Approaches Strategy Games (by Brad Muir)
·         Double Fine, Alter Echo, Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Iron Brigade, Brazzen
·         Current project is Massive Chalice, play as an immortal ruler, fight demonic creatures on a tactical human scale, strategy layer of managing the entire kingdom (spending resources, technology to research), cadence will attack every 10-20 years and your heroes will age throughout the time, you need to retire heroes and marry them together so they’ll have children who will defend the kingdom
·         Inspiration – XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics
·         Goals – character attachment through mechanics, permadeath, generational component inspires self-reflection, original fantasy world (no orcs, elves, dragons)
·         Open development – forums, blogs, team stream every 2 weeks, 2 Player Productions
·         Designing in the open is super weird, tons of feedback, difficult to sort, dealing with vocal minorities, beware of local maxima
·         Case Study: Relics, consolation prize for embracing permadeath, if your hero has enough prestige when he dies, he’ll become a permanent relic to equip a later generation. Avoid the design space of researched equipment, became an avenue for ancestor attacks (ghost dad attacks), can be like Catholic relics, but many fans were unhappy with it.
·         Relic redesign – lean into the flavor of generational weapons, human weapons are relics, when a hero dies, his weapon may become a family relic, relics continue leveling up over generations, relics are bound to a hero for life (can’t be used even if they are retired from the battlefield).
·         Leaves the door open for lots of research options (demonic weapons).
·         Critical hits are non-contextualize aspect of fantasy games, critical hits can be ancestor attacks.
·         Takeaways – don’t get too attached to your beautiful designs (the search for elegance and streamsline), a little inelegance is okay, remember your audience, obey the rule of cool
·         Designer’s responsibility to lead the player into wanting better things, not just the things they want now. Ultimately, it’s down to your choice about what goes in the game.
·         Facebook seems like the perfect place for strategy and board games (resource management, social aspects). But the things that board games do so well are endings, and that is non-existent in many video games. Losing a game is more palatable the shorter it is (Super Meat Boy), but when it gets longer and longer, the decisions have more weight in them (Neptune’s Pride).
·         Competitive strategy games are less compatible with business in the free-to-play model. “Magic the Gathering doesn’t have much of a system... it requires a max influx of content to survive.” – Keith Burgan.
·         What makes a game not transparent? When there’s too much complexity that the player is lost, when there’s too many choices with granularity.
·         Dynamic system “fetishes the system as an object” as opposed to the ineffable experience of the player. Does making a system elegant and super streamlined make it any more fun?
·         Dear Esther, Proteus, Gone Home… to Soren, these things are orthogonal to dynamic systems.. they’re not polar opposites.
·         League of Legends and Dota’s rules create a very negative experience and generate violent communities.
·         A game like Go is its own aesthetic experience.
·         Keith doesn’t use the word “fun,” he uses the word “value.”
·         MDA – designer created the mechanics, which creates the aesthetics. With music, we can start with message first or the melody first. With games, we can start with mechanics first or aesthetics/theme first.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Practice 2013: Choices Have Consequences: Creating the Immersive Simulation

Sim Rules = Sims Rule (by Warren Spector)
·         A word about terminology (two types of interchangeable terms)
o   Emergent gameplay, rules-based design, systemic design, player-driven, simulation
o   Special-case design, emulation-driven, pre-scripted design, hard-coding
·         Some recent games (GTA, Spelunky, Dishonored, Saints Row, Fallout, Tetris, FTL, Minecraft, Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Versu, Papers Please) all exploit the power of emergent gameplay.
·         Different from tightly script adventures (Uncharted, Heavy Rain, Walking Dead)
·         Highly-polished linear games aren’t bad. Offering limited pre-planned choices can be a good thing.
·         Warren is more interested in emergence than in scripted adventures.
·         “The Quark & The” and “Emergence” by John Holland
·         Emergence definition – much from little, more than you put in, building blocks, program is fully reducible to the rules that define it, nothing remains hidden, behaviors generated are not easily anticipated, its rules can surprise the programmer, ever-changing flux of patterns leads to perpetual novelty
·         Harvey Smith – games of the future will rely on high fidelity world representations
·         Emergent game designers = Harvey Smith, Randy Smith Doug Church, Richard Garriott, Bioware, Rockstar, Lionhead, Maxis, Arkane, Bethesda
·         Simple rules = rules-based interaction
·         Flexible objects = objects allow dynamic interactions, interactions are determined by players.
·         Player choices = result in novel situations
·         Future of game design is tied to our awareness & exploitation of emergence, we can generate player-driven experiences
·         “A good metric for analog interactivity vs. discrete interactivity is to what extent the designer is able to predict the players’ experiences.” Total predictability is a bad thing.
·         Fail-Learn-Retry isn’t good game design. Share the spotlight.
·         X-Wing vs. Star FoxDeus Ex vs. Half LifeSkyrim vs. Bioshock Infinite = very emergent gameplay vs. very scripted story-based games
·         Emergent games give players the tools to discover or create, provide context in which players act, bound the player experience but don’t determine the player experience
·         Deus Ex = multiple solutions to problems, didn’t care how people solve problems, let players make their own plans and try different behaviors
·         The most interesting games let players devise personally meaningful goals, formulate and execute plans, and use the information. Plans must be devised by the player.
·         Old-fashion game design – team discusses missions in general terms, specific plans for specific interactions left to designers, properties of game elements exist per instance, “what will I make players do here?”
·         Single-solution puzzles – “manually setting up solutions to game problems requires a lot of work on the part of the team, can result in inconsistencies and generally only equates to a small number of possibilities for the player.” – Harvey Smith.
·         When people play these types of games, you aren’t playing the game. You are playing the designer.
·         Sources of frustration – arbitrary force foils the player, behaviors change instance-to-instance, environment inconsistent or incomplete, plans often fail for inexplicable reasons.
·         Pros of emulation – always get exactly the behavior you want, player comfort
·         Cons of emulation – time to develop, player frustration, changes must be made individually and may create bugs
·         New emergent game design – teams still discusses mission fiction and general gameplay, plan types of interactions but not specifics, define game elements with globally defined characteristics, craft game systems that define behaviors and interactions globally, “where will players express themselves?”
·         Global systems design – create global universal rules, interlocking systems, classes of propertized objects
·         Simulation – types of interactions, object-oriented design
·         Theory to practice – consistency of cause and effect, unpredictable but logical outcomes, interlocking rules/systems
·         Old Memory, which game has crates earliest?
·         Pros of sims – game elements behave consistently, players can intuit behaviors, players can make plans.
·         Cons of sims – need for definitions for all objects, need art and sound, testing, metrics, players will break your game, feedback is everything, requires players to think, making a plan is hard, decisions are scary
·         Emergence and business – financial success (GTA, Skyrim), easier content generation, easier game-tuning and bug-fixing, replayability, more play time per development money spent, easier learning curve, supports a broader range of players
·         Emergence and art - games become more game-like, more complex AI requirements, larger possibility space, richer-looking environment matched by better interactivity
·         The highest form of respect is thoughtful criticism.
·         Queer games movement, it’s important for designers to express their point of view and empower the voice of the designers.  Simulation games are much more like dialogues.
·         Is there room for an author’s presence in a game? It’s disingenuous to say that simulations are devoid of authorship and the designer’s voice.
·         Simulation and emulation exist in lots of areas of games
·         Warren’s dream is to start a small indie program to explore more simulation games
·         Emergent communicative behavior like Journey?
·         Emergent behaviors that happen in the players’ mind? Speed runs, Olympic badminton players who were disqualified, kingmakers in board games. It’s okay, let players make their own play and exploit the system. Encourage exploitation and consider your bugs as features.