Sunday, December 04, 2016

Triptych VIII: Three separate topics in one post

(Except this time it’s four to get to a 1,000 words. . .!)

Programming is not “Integral” to Games
Pop History
Special Powers Card Games 
Virtual Reality

Programming is not “Integral” to Games
(Originally written in 2009. And we now see, with Unity, how much easier it is to make video game software than in 2009.) I don't regard video games as fundamentally different from non-electronic games.  There are tens of thousands of non-electronic games that were never touched by a programmer.  If the video game designer had some "magic" (technologically advanced) way to create the software - and as time goes on and technology improves, this will be the case - then programmers would be unnecessary.

That's why I regard programming as a necessary evil of video games, not fundamental to games.

It is already the case that someone who isn't a programmer by training or inclination can create the equivalent of Pac-Man with Gamemaker in a fairly short time.  More and more complex video games will be made without trained/professional programmers.

Ultimately, programming is "donkey work," something that ought to be done by machines.  But I could say the same about many kinds of work.  Some of those kinds of work have already disappeared or are disappearing, some will disappear.  Programming is going to be done by machines--already is, in many cases, though the machines are using software created by programmers - long before design or art is done by machines.


Pop History
I read something recently about a game covering the fall of Rome in Britain, and about incorporating Arthurian stories into it.

Yes, I included Arthur in Britannia, but that was literary license, not history.

Yes, there are lots of books supposedly about Arthur, all amounting to "well, this could have meant that, and could have been about the person we call Arthur" that then transforms into "this was Arthur".  It's a big industry of speculation with virtually no foundation, much more fiction than fact. There is NO contemporary evidence for "Arthur", almost no contemporary evidence for *anything* in this time period. ("Dark Ages",  remember? Dark because of lack of information, not a comment on the standard of living.)

A big reason why history changes so much from one generation to the next, is that so much of it is malleable rather than certain. History becomes, not fact, but fiction intended to appeal to the desires or needs of contemporaries.

"Pop" history, video history as we sometimes see on the History Channel, is a reflection of this. It's history as modified by what "the masses" want it to be.


Special Powers Card Games
One reason why Magic:the Gathering  became successful is that it was, if not the first game, one of the first games where the main interaction is between the cards of the two players, using special powers that are exceptions to the rules. That has been generalized for many card games, it's a kind of game that's easy to make, and I know several budding designers whose first game is of this type.

I am not a fan of them because they don't have anything do with reality. Some of the people who are designing the games may think so - but there's a weak grasp on reality these days. Yu-Gi-Oh is even worse because lacks the constraint of "lands".

For me any "theme" in these games is just a gloss. It's not something that actually affects how the cards are played or how the game is designed. It doesn't help people understand how the game works, either.

My name for this kind of game is "Special Powers Card Game" (SPCG).


Virtual Reality
Pundits are still pontificating about whether virtual-reality games (VR) will succeed as a business, and have been since the announced release date for the Oculus VR with the anticipation that it’s Valve and Sony competitors would be not far behind.

I have not used one of these contemporary VR systems, and I read that people who do are often converted to the cause. My experience goes back some decades when (at a convention I cannot otherwise recall) I put on a primitive VR-like device. It was suspended as a pair of eyeglasses, but with one side empty and the other side occupied by a small module. That module produced a red dot on black screen display (this tells you how old it was) that substituted for the screen display of typical computers of the time. You could see the “screen” with one eye while the other could see your normal surroundings. I didn’t try to play a game with it but I was quite impressed with how very well it substituted for a screen.

I also recall, in the early to mid 90s, watching a graphical “virtual tour” of a part of the new Womack Medical Center that was being built. The 486 computers of the day really weren’t fast enough to render the tour in more than slow motion. It was quite fascinating nonetheless.

More recently I’ve seen augmented reality (AR) games, and I understand that game developers are far more gung ho about AR than about VR, yet few of them are actually producing AR products. [Written before Pokemon Go was released! I bet a lot more are working on AR now.]

Within the past six or seven years I’ve also been in a virtual-reality chamber where three walls showed a seascape and you could walk around looking at it.

Recognizing that computing power is still advancing rapidly, and thinking about how the graphical capabilities of computers have changed from the old ASCII graphics to modern 3-D, it appears to me to be inevitable that VR will succeed sooner or later. Too many people want to reach the Star Trek holodeck stage for maximum immersion.

Whether the current products will start that progression, or fail as those of the past have failed, is subject to all kinds of chance and unforeseen factors (such as hygiene?). Remember, the best products don’t always prevail in the marketplace (Betamax versus VHS VCR for example). Timing is very important, and we have no idea, even now with products out there, whether the timing is good.


My Black Friday/Christmas sale on my online game design courses is listed on my website,

Doomstar has sold better than the average mobile game, though how it compares with other PC (and Mac/Linux) games I do not know. It’s on Steam as “Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar” but Doomstar is good enough to search. Or buy from the publisher


Tim Newman said...

I don't think there's anything inherent to the genre that means card games can't have a connection to reality. I can't see any reason why you couldn't have combat games based on fencing/judo/karate where you spend energy or tempo to play attacking or defensive moves from your hand in a way that would come closer to capturing fighting than most games manage. Or an abstract American Football simulation, where the two coaches would use cards for the offensive and defensive plays their team was using, with or without a random component for how well it was executed. They don't exist, as far as I know, but they don't seem impossible to design. Which isn't to say they'd be worth doing in terms of sales, of course.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Of course, if you want to you can do something with a game format that might be easier or more natural to do in another format. You can, for example, design a wargame with some geospatial relationships with cards (I have). The question is, what's typical, what are cards typically used for?

Charles Geringer said...

Regarding "For me any "theme" in these games is just a gloss."

I disagree, there is no reason whatsoever why a card game needs to be more independent of it´s theme then any other, how much a game´s mechanics have to do with it´s theme is the creator´s decision, just like there are board games and video games whose mechanics have little to nothing to do with their theme.

I disagree with this pretty vehemently:

"It's not something that actually affects how the cards are played or how the game is designed."

This is factually false. If one looks at Mark Rosewater´s writings, there are numerous cases where mechanics were created specifically to try and capture a flavour or aspect of the game´s theme(Innistrad in special is a gold mine for examples of this).

"It doesn't help people understand how the game works, either."

This is also not true. One of MTG´s most commom mechnaics is "flying" witch means "This creature can only be blocked by other creatures with flying".

It is generally accepted that flying is one of the easiest mechanics to teach preciselly because of the theme (In this case, the flying creature flyes over the opponent´s forces, unless the opponent has flying creatures of their own to do battle)

Have you taken a look at "Audatia" ( It is a game whose design is heavily based on it´s theme.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Charles, as I said above in another comment, the question is what's *typical*. (Yes, I have read quite of few of Mark Rosewater's writings, I think he's brilliant.) While the flying mechanic in MtG may fit the theme, it's an exception to the norm. Rosewater may try to use the theme, but my observation is that in the game in general, game considerations prevail over model ("theme") considerations regularly.

In particular, Magic is supposed to represent a conflict, a battle, but has few if any elements of maneuver or spatial relationships. And that just doesn't work for models of conflict/war.

I am generalizing about thousands of games. Of course you can find exceptions. As I said, I've made card games that are intended to be models; they are NOT Special Powers card games. Not all card games are Special Powers card games.

Magic certainly approaches theme more strongly than many of the other Special Powers card games. It's easier to make an abstract game than a model of something. You have fewer constraints.