What game was that?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

First, go read Chris Chinn. If you're not reading Deep in the Game, you're missing the boat.

Now, remember Godlike? Brother, I do. I ran about 20 sessions of it, most of those with a stable group of players in an ongoing campaign. We had so much fun. I was going to say, "Godlike is a fun game," but you know what? I really don't know if that's true or not. Because I'm really not sure if "playing Godlike" describes what we did in a meaningful way.

Let me put it another way. We were all looking at Godlike character sheets. And we used the game system constantly. It told us if bullets hit, and how much damage was done, and what effects the talents had, and if someone broke under the pressure of war. But the game that we were all enjoying? That was something else.

See, the system in Godlike behaves like any fine sim-supporting system should: it resolves actions taken by the characters in the imaginary world. But that's all it does. There's really nothing else in the book, other than some awesome color text and stats for all kinds of gear. But, like, what happens when we play? What's the point of the game? What are we doing together, as players? Nothing explicit about that.

So, like any good GM, I made all that stuff up, based on my own interests and the feedback of my players. We designed our own WWII simulation game, using Godlike to resolve the tasks. I know for a fact that this is what every other Godlike GM did, too -- since instructions for how to play the game are not in the book.

I can't tell you that we had fun playing Godlike. We had fun playing the game we created together, using the Godlike engine. If you pick up the manual for that engine, and make your own game for it, I can't guarantee that you will have an experience that was anything like ours.

The fun, you see, was in the stuff not in the book. The game we made together. Sure, the Godlike system supported our game, but it was not "the game." The real game was an elaborate simulation exercise, pitting the combined brain-power of the players against the German army, as portrayed by a sophisticated AI (me, the GM). I did tons of research on the real world units, and used their actual historical deployments to determine unit strengths and positions. I ran the bad guys using period fix-and-flank tactics. I was the objective, uncaring "world" around them, ready to snap its steel jaws and devour them if they screwed up.

In short, it was as close to war simulation as you can get without wearing a costume and getting rained on. And, most importantly, it was a battle of wits. The wits of the players against the cold, hard facts and some situational awareness provided by the GM.

"Godlike," as a published game, was not the game we were playing. It was a jumping-off point. A skeleton that we built a complete game on. I know that everyone in that game would agree that Godlike was important to our play, but we could have flipped coins or done RPS to check bullet hits and the overall play experience would not have changed much at all.

So... what game was that? I look at the Godlike book, and there's nothing about our play that contradicts it. Our game was certainly Godlike, as we understood it. It was also a unique instance. It's not portable. That's why I can't tell you to go buy Godlike and play it because it's fun. Only 20% of the fun came from what's in that book. The rest was me and my players, and I don't think you can purchase us at your local game store.

But what if I wrote down what the players and I did to make our game. What if I wrote out all the steps as procedures that you could follow to make your own functional WWII simulator. And what if I left out any system for determining bullet hits or morale checks and just told you to flip a coin or do rock-paper-scissors or something. Would that be a complete game that you could play to get an experience similar to ours?

I submit that the answer is yes. Which begs a question. Comment away.

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42 Comments:

Blogger Bankuei says:  

Full circle, man. You and me, thinking the same things...

Still though, it sounds like you're talking about laying out Goals, and Ammo creation, but how much are you talking about defining Input and Credibility (assuming that you'd be leaving out the specifics of Conflict Resolution, Currency, Rewards, etc.)?



Anonymous rafial says:  

I submit that you are making some broad sweeping generalizations, and are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. See, I'm currently reacting to the opposite side of the coin from you -- I've just read one to many progressive indie RPGs which give you great detail and direction about how to organize play, right up until the point of conflict, and then they break down into "roll a die, wave your hands and stomp your feet, and then make something up".

Now I submit, you hand that text to a group that is grooving on the rest of the material, and they'll eventually negotiate around and come up with something to slot in there. And if they are smart and lucky, it'll be fun. But then you've got the same problem -- if you say "buy this, play it, it was fun for us" you've got no guarantee that another group is going to play it the same way, and find it fun. So it doesn't matter what part of the rules you leave out, there is still a hole to be filled. I am reminded of the ever sardonic Mr. Jared Sorenson commenting on some tome that proudly proclaimed "Complete Game in one Book" -- "No it's not... if it was complete, it wouldn't need a GM!"

In your post, you allude to making plenty of use Godlike's resolution mechanics for tactical play. I assume part of that battle of wits you referred to played out at that level. So those mechanics to my mind most certainly had an impact, and some aspects of play would have been quite different had you, say, plopped in Trollbabe mechanics, or run it as a Matrix Game.

I think what we do agree on is that most "mainstream" RPG texts assume you already know "how to play all that stuff up until conflict happens", when in fact "all that stuff" has many different solutions, some of which are mutually incompatible. Fortunately there are games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Burning Wheel (revised), Prime Time Adventures, and Trollbabe (well sorta) that show us that it is possible to explicitly address all aspects of the "how to play" equation.



Blogger John Harper says:  

First, my hypothetical game that lacks CR and Currency (Rewards are there, if you squint) is just that: hypothetical. I would never write such a thing, or suggest that anyone actually makes a game that way.

So OF COURSE I agree with you, Wil. It has a hole, just in a different place than Godlike's hole. And that was pretty much my point in the first place, with this addition:

Gamers are very good at coming up with their own CR (or TR) methods. Determining bullet hits and damage is something we can do in our sleep. We each have 30 books to draw from to get that kind of material. But all the other stuff? The "how to play" stuff? We resort to inventing it through trial and error for each instance of play, and I for one am tired of it. It's possiible to write that stuff down so it's repeatable, and I will get a lot more use out of that writing than I will from yet another system that resolves gun fire.

How do you determine the starting conditions for an engagement between two infantry forces? This is the most important factor in determining who will win the engagement. Godlike has no system for this. That's the stuff I need. That "hole" requires lots of work and research to fill.

So no, we did not use the Godlike system in the battle of wits between the players and me. Godlike has no systems for strategic deployment, contact and evasion, fix-and-flank maneuvers, or any other critical elements that define the parameters of an engagement. We had to do all that work ourselves in the battle of wits. After all that was determined (without Godlike's help) we could engage the system to check bullet hits and power use and such.

I also want you to name the "progressive indie RPGs" that don't tell you how to resolve conflicts. I haven't read one yet. I don't know where that rant is coming from.



Blogger John Harper says:  

I'm also waiting for the commenter that reads "... and this was bad and wrong" at the end of the post. Those words are not there. I'm just sayin'.



Anonymous rafial says:  

You are moving the pegs dude. You asked "If I wrote game with the stuff that is usually missing, and left out the stuff that usually isn't, would it be a complete game? I say yes."

And I said no. So there.

Now as to your point that "gamers are very good at coming up with TR/CR methods", I find that argument as specious as the section in most mainstream RPGs that starts with "well, you already know how to roleplay, so you are going to skip this page, but so we can imagine we might appeal to a non-gamer, roleplaying is blah blah ...impossible thing... blah blah".

I also think gamers are very good at coming up with details on how to structure play outside of conflicts. After all, there are lots of happy groups out there that have never heard of the Forge. The thing that hasn't happened as you pointed out is that the techniques those happy groups have evolved, each on there own, haven't been getting written down and spread around, because very few people until recently knew we should talk about them or could talk about them.

Whereas all the house rules that have been cooked up to resolve gunshot wounds have at some point been laid out on page with some gradeschool art and sold for $19.95 as the "Lords of Kewlness RPG".

So yes, ultimately we are violently agreeing with each other. There should be more games that fully document all aspects of what it means to play that game all the way from the protocols of play between the actual players to the resolution of conflicts or tasks in the shared imagined space.

Incidentally, I think there is a game that addresses much of what you felt was missing from Godlike, only you'll have to tack on some rules for supers. It's called ASL ;) And I hear it's very explicit on techniques of play...

So yeah, about my counter rant. I'll totally cop to throwing some hyperbole around. It's not so much that there are indie games that I have run across that leave out "how to do a conflict". Rather it's that when you actually try to do a conflict, the rules don't work. Where "don't work" means "produces results that are flat and unsatisfying" Much like if you try to apply the "how to roleplay" advice found in most mainstream texts. Producing results are flat an unsatisfying.

And okay, here I go, I will speak the blasphemy, the game that for me has been the biggest disappointment is Sorcerer. Sorcerer is full of fabulous advice on how to structure all the non-conflict bits of play that I have harvested to great profit and used with other systems, but the conflict bits? I've played multiple times and every time I've walked away with a bad taste in my mouth. The dice mechanic is crap. And when I read Ron and other people's advice on "how to play Sorcerer right" (and shouldn't that have been in the books?) it always seems to boil down to "ignore the dice and make something up". (Okay, Ron's advice usually boils down to "it didn't work for you because you are a beetlebrowed gamer, not worthy to play my game which all right thinking people instantly understand!" ;) Didn't we do the "ignore the dice and make it up" for years with other systems?

Other games I have found dissapointing in this department have included "Wyrd is Bond", and my recent bad run in with the "Shab al-Hiri Roach". Granted the latter is in playtest, but came with effusive praise from the usual suspects. "The Mountain Witch", which you have already heard me disparage, probably has a perfectly lovely and functional conflict system, buried in a mountain of droning theory. "Capes" also bored me to tears before I could find out how it worked.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it, until argued around to a different position.



Anonymous Judd says:  

Rafial wrote: And when I read Ron and other people's advice on "how to play Sorcerer right" (and shouldn't that have been in the books?) it always seems to boil down to "ignore the dice and make something up".

Hogwash.

Show me where the text of that advice is.

I've followed the dice in all of my Sorcerer conflicts and they have done nothing but make the games more and more kick-ass.

Show me the text.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Oooops. Sorry, Wil. My last statement in the post is supposed to mean "game complete enough to re-create our play experience." Not "complete, whole game with nothing missing." I see how it could read like that.

Anyway, as usual, we are agreeing -- at least about the general points.

I like Sorcerer. Especially in the "& Sword" variety. It's quirky, sure. And the core book is *very* hard to understand in spots, but that's typical of my experience reading Ron's writing. I think the system is *great* at supporting a certain kind of play, though. But to each his own.

I may have to run The Mountain Witch or Capes for you sometime. I think they're both good games.



Blogger John Harper says:  

I forgot to answer Chris's question:

Yes, I'm also talking about Input and Credibility. Especially for a wargame, in which one character might outrank another, issue of Credibility and Input among the players are very important to nail down.

So, Godlike has Premise, TR, Currency, and Rewards. And my hypothetical game has Point of Play, Goals, Ammo, Input, and Credibility spelled out. Put 'em both together and you get a rockin' good time.



Blogger Bankuei says:  

I'm curious to see what you come up with. I think it's really hard to not have Conflict Resolution & Outcomes by the time you've nailed all the things you've mentioned.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Actually, I already came up with it. It's all the stuff we created and added to Godlike to make it fully functional. I don't think I'll be writing it all down any time soon, though.

And you're right: once you have all those pieces, CR and outcomes are easy to come by.



Blogger Scott says:  

First of all, I must correct you: I *am* for sale at your local game store. You have to look in the back, between the miniatures and the Steve Jackson games. I'm partially obscured by the life-size Han Solo cutout.

Secondly, as a player in the referenced Godlike game, I agree with you in general. You could write a book without specifying conflict resolution and still get a functional WWII simulator, and it would retain many of the things that made our game great. However, it might *still* not be the game we played.

To me, the fun of our game arose from three things: 1) the research and background info that you invested in the scenarios (consider my cap doff'd), 2) the committment of the the players and you to playing a serious(ish) WWII simulation, plus the way we worked together to achieve that, and 3) the realism of the conflict resolution system. I submit that the third item had a significant influence on the first two.

An example: the first session of the game we played was a little weird. We'd just come off playing a fast-and-furious narrative kung fu game, and one of the players was still in that off-the-cuff narration mode. He proposed something rather outlandish (I think it involved cutting off someone's finger), and it wasn't until that action was executed through the conflict system (a mental stability check was required) that we understood that this game was meant to be realistic.

Once we realized this, most of the players embraced the concept and the whole thing started to gel. But without that realistic conflict system to provide guidance on the nature and stakes of the game, it might have been very different.

For instance, you could take your hypothetical game book and mate it to a conflict resolution system that uses cumulative hit points: flip a coin to see if you get hit, and if so deduct one from your HP. In this game, a character with 1000 HP could charge into any battle without thinking. In the Godlike system, however, my superhumanly strong character can be killed in any battle just by one lucky shemp rolling two 0's, and this has a serious effect on how I approach a given situation. Not only that, but the chance of death makes the combat more exciting, and the reality of the system serves to heighten the sense of achievement after a battle. I think these are all important pieces of the game.

To put it a different way: the Godlike game designer communicated the tone and feel of the game using the conflict resolution system. This system is meant to suggest how the rest of the game should be played. He could just as easily have communicated the tenor of the game by specifying the other stuff and leaving the combat system undefined - which is exactly what your hypothetical game proposes. I think they are both valid approaches.

Valid, perhaps, but maybe not so efficient. Even more valid would be to explain both the system *and* the approach, which is what I think you are suggesting. Because In either case you still need both a combat system and a general approach that are compatible with each other. If you don't, then the game might not work well. In the example I gave above from our first session, one player was attempting to set stakes and frame his actions in a way that was inappropriate for the conflict resolution system being used, which I think is why the action felt so weird. I think that our Godlike game succeeded because our approach fit well with the combat system.

To your point, there might be lots of Godlike players out there who aren't having as much fun as we did because their approach to the game doesn't fit the system.



Blogger Joshua BishopRoby says:  

Scott speaks wisdom.

Also, John, when you talk about your hypothetical game of stuff that made Godlike work, are you talking about an itemized list of things you decided to do, or are you talking about a procedural framework for allowing other players to make their own decisions as to what to do?



Blogger John Harper says:  

Both, actually.

I created a list of activities for the opposing forces based on period war doctrine. Also some other lists regarding mission objectives and how the high command was using the talents.

But we also created procedures for play so people could make choices.

Like how to set up an engagement, for example. How far along in the process do the players become involved? Do we come in at the orders-given stage, and then let the players plan their mission? Do we start as the first shots are fired? Do we start way back at the high-command planning phase and collaborate on the strategy of the war in Europe? Stuff like that.



Anonymous tim says:  

To me if you write down every step, you're merely creating a different "point of departure" for others to start at---with likely another set of personal procedures, play style, and methods of maximizing their experience.

You cannot re-create an RPG game-session, even with the same players, same rules to be exactly the same. I'm not sure why you'd want to in fact.

Rules, procedures, and players (the people) are all part of the experience. But so too is the invisible elements that impact your players, the choices they make, the day they had that leads to them playing a certian way, their cognative processes, and even non-verbal cues.

If you plan for the invisible, you won't achieve anything as alive as what you had and the experience will suffer, not only that in planning for it, you destroy what makes it invisible elements of play work the way they do.



Blogger Bankuei says:  

Hi Tim,

John's not talking about locking everything in, he's talking about a set of procedures that people can repeat to get a similar experience. Any game that has a GM's section on "How to make an adventure" does the same thing.

You might want to take a look at my Analysis post, he's talking about Design level issues, and not talking about restricting Creative Input, as you're worried about.



Blogger John Harper says:  

What Chris said.



Anonymous tim says:  

Bankuei,
And that in no way changes my point. You can sit down, write up all the procedures you like for play--and you merely create a different starting point for people to diverge from.

You in no way guarentee a remotely similar play experience.

In trying to do so your spending more time, effort, and actually fundamentally trying to re-create certian things in play, that are intangible. They can't be "re" touched to work the same way.


"Any game that has a GM's section on "How to make an adventure" does the same thing."


Yes, and people always differ as to how valuable that information is: the reason is because YOU the writer/creator can only examine one point of view. Your own (and various aspects of it.), you cannot truly examine things from within someone else perceptions--we can pretend yes, but thats creating what we "think" is their perceptions. Not accurately creating an empathic perspective (I see what you see the same way..)

So its a tool--not a bad one, but I'm simply pointing out that its only going to be as good a tool as many others, and in fact be a bad tool for some.

The fundamental aspects though I think is we used tools an analogy--but are examining the wrong craft.

We examine say, House building, using tools.

Not Sculpting, painting, drawing, poetry.

In each of the above crafts they are all ART--yet each uses different tools as best befits the persons skills, talents, and medium to work in.

We gamers work in much the same way--we don't necessarilyeven share the same medium. It just looks that way from the outside.

That's why some people can play D&D for decades and it fulfills their game needs--their medium is touched with the tool of D&D.

That's why some people adore PTA--it is the best tool for the medium they want to work with.

Your proposing a new improved handle for an old tool--but the tool only is going to work as well as the person who utilizes it can. I can draw a little, but I can't sculpt.

Giving me a sculpting tool isn't useful for drawing.

Giving it a new handle, doesn't change the tool to make it more useful to me as a person who draws.

I am not saying it isn't good to explore, examine, or even test the new handle--but its value is limited to who can best make use of that tool.

Not all gamers share the same artistic talent.



Blogger Bankuei says:  

Hi Tim

You said:
You cannot re-create an RPG game-session, even with the same players, same rules to be exactly the same. I'm not sure why you'd want to in fact.

And what I was saying is that neither John nor I are talking about doing that. He's talking about setting down a type of play.

For instance- most people get a certain kind of game experience from playing Toon, Paranoia, or Dogs in the Vineyard, respectively. That is, you can go to from one Paranoia game to another group, with roughly similar expectations.

It's not that these games are trying to recreate a specific exacting session- they're trying to create a type of play.

Could people flip up the rules and procedures and do whatever the hell they want? Sure. And following your analogy- there's no reason for people to hold hammers by the handle instead of the head, except that it works better for hammering that way. But nothing stops people from doing it. And yet we still build hammers with handles!

Designers are only responsible for helping support people in using their rules- not for not using the rules. The few games I named above are clear examples of successful design in producing similar gameplay, and that's all we're talking about here.

Chris



Anonymous tim says:  

Bankuei,
The problem is that the 'few examples' you give are ones YOU percieve as producing successful game-play.

Yet others get succussful game play for them from D&D.

What I'm trying to point out is you can create tools, you can give them to someone, but re-creating a type of play is only as reliable as the PERSONS involved.


I've seen Paranoia played dark, straight and out and out more dark dystopia than humor (which is how others play it.) Given the same tools, two people arrived at different outcomes for style and type of play.


The problem is that there is a presumption that you create successful play by recreating the feel/style of past successful play.

I don't find that an inherently valid assumption of how things actually work.

In fact I've watched people struggle for years with games trying to re-create past "play style" experiences and finding it doesn't hold up when you change some unseen dynamics of the group and choices.

To me, encouraging people to find their own "voice" that works for their current group is more ideal, than trying to encourage recreating the same type of play.

Succussful play is a good design goal.

Succusful play "exactly the same style for everyone" is not.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Tim, I'm not sure what you're advocating. Are you saying that games shouldn't tell you how to play because everyone will just "do it differently"? Should game books be blank? What point are you trying to make?

I think you'll find that, around here at least, the suggestion that "system doesn't matter" won't go over very well.

This essay by Ron nicely sums up my opinion on the matter. Maybe you could give that a read and see if we're still at odds or not.



Blogger Joshua BishopRoby says:  

As I'm nodding my head as I read what tim wrote, I'll pitch in my two cents.

It's not about "System Doesn't Matter" it's about not starting the RPG equivalent of a platform war over how games 'should' be made, what elements they 'should' include, and how those elements 'should' be related to each other. Or saying that Tool X is the best tool possible.

We all know that these are silly things to say, but we (and I should not I'm looking right in the mirror, here) get so excited about things that worked really well for us doing one specific thing that we often forget to tack on 'for this purpose' to the statement 'This is an excellent tool!' At our worst, we fail to recognize the idiosyncracies of what we're building and think that we're somehow mining the primum mobile of gaming when we've just found a little corner of it that we like.

John really liked what that Godlike game turned into, and he thinks that it would be useful to systemize the decision-making process that got he and his group there in order to allow other groups to experience a similar kind of play. Now, he did not take it the next and fatal step forward and say that all games should consist of such things, admittedly. In fact I think his point was to put those decision-making processes on the same level as roll-to-hit processes. I find that a very healthy viewpoint, and it increases the number of tools in the shed. But as tim points out, if you use those tools instead of the tools you already had, you're 'only' creating a different point of departure. Other players will not necessarily recreate the same game that John so loved, but perhaps the starting point will be a little closer to that goal than it would have been under the published Godlike rules.

Different points of departure are awesome things. They are not everything, but they are potent and wonderful tools to offer players.



Anonymous tim says:  

I've read Ron's essays. I didn't find much value in them, some is common sense, some is contradictory to my experience.

I don't think system matters/doesn't matter, is a valid argument.

Because its too binary. The system matters, to a point.

People involved matter more. I've taken systems of all kinds, and played them with many of the same people for years at a time. From D&D to Story-Engine, to Otherkind. I've noticed--in playing, the systems only changed play, they didn't make the experience better (nor did they make it worse, usually.)


As Joshua says: perhaps the starting point will be a little closer to that goal than it would have been under the published Godlike rules.

My feeling is that's accurate. For John, for his group.

Give to my group? And you may end up with a different set of procedures that move play to create what WE feel is best for us.

You can write game systems with flexibility to allow this shift.

It is possible. The best way is to describe multiple options for getting back certian kinds of play.

In the back of Godsend Agenda 2E, a bunch of writers gave some ideas on how they would do Godsend Agenda, its contradictory, sometimes from my POV plain bad advice if you have players like mine--but what it is if you read them all is ideas for options, options that differ, but may reach someone whose style is different than the Jerry D Greyson (the primary creator), different than me (who ran a game for a review playtest.) and so on.

It is possible to present options.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Well, like Joshua said, I didn't say the things that Tim seems to be arguing against. So I guess I still don't really understand his point.

Tim, what IS your point? Should anything be written in game books? Are you actually saying that nothing a designer writes matters because a group will just "do it their own way" anyway? I think that's what you're saying, but I want to be sure.

If so, my only answer is: Thanks for stopping by. We'll carry on talking about design without you.



Blogger Matt Wilson says:  

Should anything be written in game books?

Man, that would make things easy for me. "This is a game about space adventure. Get some dice and roll them and just make stuff up. You might want to come up with some falling damage rules, because that happens sometimes. The end."

1 page. $19.99 plus postage. Rock.



Blogger Joshua BishopRoby says:  

Oh hey Tim? When you say 'System' do you mean the rules as published in the book, or the means by which a playgroup makes decisions?

Matt -- when will your fine product be available? ;)



Anonymous Tim says:  

I believe games, to a certian extent, should create a consensus of play--the most versatility for the most people. So yes I believe that they need rules,
often they need rules which don't constrain potential choices of the game group.

Yet rules alone aren't the issues. I pointed out Godsend Agenda offering different views of how it COULD be run (for good or ill) so too could another game--create a core rule structure that fits the most typical version of play. Then provide ideas, information, and suggestions on how more things can be done, more things can be adjusted. It doesn't have to be specific rules as mechanism.

Let's take an example: Horror.

You decided to create a real game of personal horror, using procedures, rules and impementations of those things that has worked for you in the past. It might ALSO be a good idea to talk to other people, who know horror, and get there feedback on OTHER ways, proecedures, rules, that might help THEM create personal horror. Do this for a few times, and be flexible in your approach, and thinking, and you create a game that will not only show people how to evoke horror in the same structure as your own, but also give them options beyond that---the more options means the more foundation the game has for being a useful resource to play.

One game groups version isn't as useful as ten versions: Because people will deviate from the "system" (procedures, guidlines, etc) in order to follow the direction the group wants to take it--while, rather than writing and selling something that presents ONE groups view, and creating a chute to launch people at the games "play goal." you provide instead a track which one can shift along the lanes finding the right one to run the course.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Thanks for explaining your design philosophy, Tim. This discussion has been interesting.

I think my philosophy is pretty much the opposite. Instead of options to support every style, I believe in providing very clear support for the specifc goals of the game, as I have established them.

I think all great creative work comes from having a clear vision and then supporting that vision. If you make what you love, other people will love it too. If you make what you think other people want, it can become a diluted mess, without focus or direction.

This is certainly a matter of taste, though. For instance, I think GURPS (a game that provides endless options) is terrible in terms of game design. But there are many people who like it. My own taste is for games like Primetime Adventures, Trollbabe, Dogs, and Polaris -- games that have a clear vision of play and then support that vision with rock-solid procedures to create it.

My options come from choosing which game to play, rather than trying to get every kind of play experience from a single game.



Anonymous tiim says:  

John,
I think designing what you love is important, don't mistake what I'm saying. I'm not saying write a game that does EVERYTHING, but right one with more options.

Because I don't just love one thing, one theme, one focus, in a game.

I also don't buy games just to play one campaign and never use it again.

They aren't so disposable economy objects for me.


Hence I want something that holds up under repeat play, and DOESN'T attempt to regurgitate the same kind of exact situations every time.

A focused game is good. (A Track, is still a track.)

A Too Focused game is not good (A chute is a chute.)

An Un-focused game is also not-good (the Universe is the universe --too many possibilities.)


You seem to take a black/white binary operant here:


My options come from choosing which game to play, rather than trying to get every kind of play experience from a single game.


Which I never said anything about a single game doing everything.

I eveng ave the example of a Horror game--one doesn't expect it to do classic fantasy, or even "traditional" horror monster movies--it had a focus "Personal Horror" but with options for doing different personal horror than just one person's vision.

But I think this is probably moot, you see things as either/or at the moment: It is either focused exactly your way, or its "too broad" rather than a compromise somewhere in the middle where you have a focus, but not one so tight it doesn't allow for other groups to get some enjoyment from the game without mimicking your own style identically.

Let me give you an example you might be familiar with: Prime Time adventures gives you tools to create a "TV show game" but it doesn't REQUIRE you to make that show a cop drama, or cowboy series, or etc.

It does quite well by presenting a way to present the material, and yet not be specific to a single vision.


Dog's in the Vinyard is very much the opposite--it has one way to play, and produces with its core rules a very specific style.

Now neither of those are bad games, they are both quite good.

But PTA is more useful to more people IMHO as a game because it isn't so focused on being about ONE thing, but instead on one STYLE of thing.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Casting my argument as utterly black/white is not terribly accurate. Of COURSE there are shades in between. There's a whole spectrum of "focus" in game design. That's obvious.

Yes, PTA let's you decide many things about your show before you start. It gives you options, of a sort. But the system supports one kind of game experience: Thematic play, focusing on character issues. It's is super-laser focused on that kind of play and does nothing else. See what I mean? You're seeing the options in the color and situation of the game and of course it has that. And Dogs does too, for that matter. The last chapter lists 4 or 5 alternate color and situation options and suggests creating your own.

But I'm talking about system design here. Not "It's a game about Cops" but instead "It's a game system that supports exploration sim with lots of player-authored color."

Both Dogs and PTA have game systems that focus and support single, specific game play styles.

For contrast, take D&D. It has a system that supports hardcore gamism pretty well (not great, but good) and yet also tries to support other game styles (exploration sim, mainly) and through this split-personality design it loses focus and gets muddled in many ways.

Does that make more sense?



Anonymous Anonymous says:  

John,
Not really.
It's the same argument to me of focus. I find Dogs in the Vinyard unusable to my playgroupe, I do not find PTA unuseable. DITV assumptions about its type of play is driven to a specific kind of conflict. One kind of drama, which I didn't get from PTA. I got "drama" but can create the flavor I want of that. DITV focuses on a single flavor of drama from my reading of it even if you change the backdrop.




Imagine if you will you are searching for something lost behind the bed--its dark, so dark you can't see.

You've a choice of three identically sized objects: A laser pointer, a lamp, and a flashlight.

The laser pointer creates a fine dot of light. Not useful for illuminating anything but the direct spot its on.

A lamp is so bright you you can't see past it INTO what its illuminating.

But a flashlight is just enough diffusion to allow for searching within the dark.


I'm advocating the flashlight. To me your advocating a SINGLE set of procedures, is like advocating a laser.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but that's the perception I get of a single person, or single groups vision of "how things are done" (FOR your group that's great and wonderful but when you try and sell that to others its becomes less versatile, yes useful at illuminating the dark.)

When I game I want a variety of story based conflicts: Man vs Man, man vs self, man vs environment. (and shows likee Firefly, Star Trek: Original, Babylon 5, Buffy, Bonanza, Rawhide, etc..) tended to address not just a singular dramatic theme.

Inspite of being focused on characters--they weren't just about interpersonal conflicts.

I think we just differ to greatly on what makes games useable.

But I've watched games in development, I've played some of them, and slowly saw the creator remove every spark of playability in trying to reach some mythic focus that no one but they seemed to want.

Most of those games now lie lamentably dead with the creators burned out.



Anonymous Tim says:  

Darn it, I put my name in..;/
That anon is me..



Blogger John Harper says:  

Tim, you clearly need your own blog. That was quite the rant. Lamps, lasers, flashlights! Oh my!

But wait! Maybe you're Tim Kirk? That would explain it. We've already clearly established that Mr. Kirk and I are from different planets and do not speak each other's crazy moon languages.

Aaaanyway... I don't think we're going to be convincing each other of anything at this point. We've made our points. The other readers (if any are left now) can make up their own minds.

Should games have system support for one play style, dooming them to death and creator burnout as Tim predicts? (Just look at DitV! Total failure. No one should make a game like that!)

Or should options be introduced (not too many, not too few, of course) thus securing the game its rightful place in Tim's RPG library?

ONLY YOU CAN DECIDE.



Blogger Bankuei says:  

Hi Tim,

But I've watched games in development, I've played some of them, and slowly saw the creator remove every spark of playability in trying to reach some mythic focus that no one but they seemed to want.

Most of those games now lie lamentably dead with the creators burned out.


I've also watched many people rip out the soul of what made their game good, in the hopes of appealing to greater gamer-dom. In fact, I can point to several games hold on, but would thrive much better if they focused their play a bit better.

For example- L5R works great as a card game. You have factions, and the factions work against each other. As a roleplaying game- it assumes the opposite of that- that the factions will always be working together and gives very little in the way of support to make that happen.

Suddenly, being afraid of alienating people who all want to play different factions at once (and keep the party mentality), you end up cutting the legs out from what makes a "samurai story", which is basically what L5R aims for.

If anything, it sounds more to me, that you're concerned about games that pre-establish too much Creative Input- Dogs sets you up very strongly in that regard, whereas PTA does not.

What's interesting though, is that if we take John's original post- he's not presupposing that it HAS to be WW2, or produce lists and lists of specific details("This kind of tank goes this fast...")- he's talking about setting up procedure for creative input.

In the same sense, the movie Aliens highlighted a lot of problems about our modern war machine while being a sci-fi story.

If we look at it that way, his procedures might be able to produce exciting, tense, war stories whether we're talking WW2, Middle Earth, or the Rebels vs. the Empire- it depends on the specific mechanics and how tightly it's nailed to the setting.

Of course, John will have to decide if it's worth his time to write up, and only then can we really say much about it.

Chris



Anonymous tim says:  

John,
How many narrow focused games are successes compared to the others?

How successful is DITV compared to Shadowrun? Mutants and Masterminds? Buffy The Vampire Slayer?

It may not be a failure in the sense of someone being proud of the work, and it acheiving its aims. That's a good thing.


I'm not even speaking of sales, but /play/. How many people actually PLAY the game? I can nearly guarentee I can pick one of the above and find people to play WHO don't know my Gming. But Dogs In the Vinyard I can't find players for if I depart from my group who happily plays whatever.


The above games have numerous players to draw from, if you've an established group that never changes then DITV may work wonderfully for you.

But if you don't and have to find players?


Bankuei,
And as I mentioned if the procedures only come from one source--a personal campaign, they are not necessarily useful to anyone but the people who played it in the first place and want to revisit that style of play.

If they come from several sources they may offer more playability and in the long run more chances to play with others.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Tim, you are seriously misunderstanding both Chris and me. I don't know why. I guess we haven't figured out how to say it in a way that you can understand yet. Maybe we'll get there, but to be honest, I really doubt it.

This business about sales and number of players and such is SO IRRELEVANT I can't bear to type out the response to it. Anyone else who has the patience is welcome to give it a shot. I'll be over here hitting myself with a hammer.

I'll just respond to this bit:
If they come from several sources they may offer more playability and in the long run more chances to play with others.

This is something we call a design goal. You clearly care about this design goal a lot. Any game you design will probably try to meet this goal of "please as many people as possible." It is not, however, one of my design goals. It is not a "better" design goal, nor is it necessary for a good game. It is a choice. I can point to successes and failures that followed that route, and vice versa -- as can you. And neither of us knows if this particular design feature had anything to do with their success or failure, or even what "success" or "failure" mean in this context.

Does that make sense to you? Can you understand why this design goal you keep harping on is a matter of taste and not quality? Can you understand why someone might not hold this goal as sacred the way you seem to?

These are not rhetorical questions.

Here, I'll put it into a nice, neat statement of belief. Can you agree to this?

Games that cater to a wide audience are not intrinsically better designs than those that do not.

Yes?

Finally, that business about Tim Kirk? That was your cue to tell us who you are.



Anonymous tim says:  


Does that make sense to you? Can you understand why this design goal you keep harping on is a matter of taste and not quality? Can you understand why someone might not hold this goal as sacred the way you seem to?

These are not rhetorical questions.

Here, I'll put it into a nice, neat statement of belief. Can you agree to this?

Games that cater to a wide audience are not intrinsically better designs than those that do not.


1)I understand what your saying. I don't agree with it.

2)It is a matter of taste. but its also a matter of practicality, if someone can't find people to play the game with, then what was the point?

3)I don't hold it sacred per se, I do think if your talking about creating things for sale that A) it should please you but B) ALSO be capable of allowing others make use of it as best fits them. Not everyone wants to write games. Not everyone wants to make 30 pages of houserules either to get it to that point. Not everyone wants to have a different game for every conflict or potential conflict.

4)Games that cater to wide audience are better*--as a matter of practical use. Again--if you have no players willing to play then you haven't really created a game. You've created an art peice you want to call a game.

Games only work if played.

If you want to reach an audience, ANY audience. You have to reach out to them. That is the fundamental rule of writing, of movies, of telling stories, and of gaming. You have to reach out to the audience, you have to speak to them.

Which seems like you have no interest in doing, and that's fine, but why do you want to sell something, IF you aren't at least considering the people who might be interested in its potential views and choices?


*Better in one axiom. It isn't a white "better" or black "worse" in all ways situation. But in the respect of being worth paying money for it is better.



Blogger Matt Wilson says:  

How successful is DITV compared to Shadowrun?

What was FASA's budget for Shadowrun compared to Vincent's? Note the number of competing games at the time of release, and what's it been now? 15-16 years since it was released during which it could build up a fanbase? How many people, like me, bought it but never played it? How many copies were put in actual game stores on shelves, where people had access to them? What awards did Shadowrun win? How often do people post about how cool their Shadowrun game was compared to how it totally sucked and they had a crappy time?

There's just no easy way to compare the two in terms of "success." I bet you'll find thousands of people who say Shadowrun sucks ass, and a much smaller number who don't like Dogs. And what would that prove?



Blogger Phil says:  

Not everyone wants to make 30 pages of houserules either to get it to that point. Not everyone wants to have a different game for every conflict or potential conflict.

You may be astonished to realize that that is exactly John's point in the first place. Instead of making up lots of house rules for managing player input and expectations, the game could actually include that as part of the system; which is exactly what Dogs in the Vineyard does, and Shadowrun, for example, does not.

As for "not being able to find people to play the game with", surely that's your failing, not the game's. Your immediate group of players may just disinterested in trying new games, but others are not. The fact is, people are playing Dogs in the Vineyard, and enjoying it. The game has succeeded exactly on its own terms. And neither that game nor any other has to beat out Shadowrun, or White Wolf's series, or Dungeons & Dragons, in number of sales in order to be a success.



Blogger John Harper says:  

What Phil said. Seriously. Read that twice.

You ARE Tim Kirk, right? I asked you point blank in the previous message, and you ignored it. But it's clear to me now that it must be you.

I can tell because our last long discussion went exactly this way. You started posting messages that just re-stated the original point of my argument, as if they were contrasting ideas.

I just don't have the energy to do this all over again, Tim. I went back and looked at our last discussion, and it's a mirror image of this one. For some reason, you just can't understand what I'm saying. You claim to understand, but your messages clearly show that you don't. The house rules thing that Phil points out is a perfect example. That is not a counterpoint to my argument. It's support for it.

I think the problem is rooted in deep assumptions about games and design and one or both of us just can't see them clearly enough to have a useful conversation. It's just boiled down to this:

"Water is wet!"
"I know! But it's water! So it should be wet!"

Those people are not both talking about the same thing.

I'm going to drop out of this discussion (like I did with our last one) and I really don't think I'm going to engage you in one of these long conversations again. Anyone else here is welcome to give it a shot, but given our last long discussion, and now this one, without any real communication taking place... well, I'm not interested in any more of that.



Blogger Matt Wilson says:  

But the thing is, to have water, you have to have hydrogen.

See what I'm saying? Hydrogen.

Two of them, in fact. You can't just have one.



Anonymous jon says:  

Tim wrote: If you want to reach an audience, ANY audience. You have to reach out to them. That is the fundamental rule of writing, of movies, of telling stories, and of gaming. You have to reach out to the audience, you have to speak to them.

Actually, that's only one way of doing it. There is no single fundamental "rule" of creation that must be followed. It's also valid to just create what you love, without consideration of the audience or of "selling" -- as John seems to be saying. There are many "successful" examples of this in all media. Many things have been created that had no audience in mind, and then found one later.

The point is, your "rule" is not a rule. It's your opinion, is all.



OpenID wandrin wizard says:  

Yes, that is what makes Godlike and its ilk an awesome game system: because it is the canvas which gave you the canvas off which to create the campaign which you remember so fondly.

Now, not everyone is looking for a canvas. Some people want a paint-by-the-numbers where all they do is color between the lines. The indie game scene has some awesome game systems that do just that. Some people want a trainer who will guide their hands and ensure that everyone paints exactly the same way, and again, the indie game scene has some wonderful game systems just for that.

But some people are looking for a stimulus to our creativity in our gaming systems (those of us who never used an official campaign world but always homebrewed our own) which provides a canvas without telling us what to paint or how to paint it, and for us, game systems such as Godlike are awesome.



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