Thursday, December 01, 2011

December Miscellany

I've posted a long piece about teaching game design in my blog about teaching game design ( )   I decided it was not exactly suitable for this blog.

I recall reading about someone who claimed to have invented the game Battleship.  That "inventor" was raging at Milton Bradley for stealing his idea.  The only problem is, Battleship is a traditional game that existed long before MB's plastic version.  I read about it in a book when I was a kid (more than 40 years ago), a game you played with graph paper.  And we did just that.

Monopoly, I understand, is another game with some "traditional" origins.    Parker Brothers claimed they bought it from a designer named Charles Darrow,  but finally we learned that it was a game that had kicked around in many forms for many years before PB published it.

Stratego is another game derived from something older.  L'Attaque, patented in 1909 in France (by a woman, which makes it even more of a rare bird), is identical to Stratego except for having one less column of squares and four fewer pieces per side.  It was published in 1909 by H. P. Gibsons in England (and may also have been published in France).  Several other games were designed in England using the same system (Dover Patrol, Tri-Tactics, Aviation).  After World War II a Dutchman sold Stratego to publishers Jumbo, who licensed it to the original American publishers (now owned by Hasbro).  And quite recently Hasbro lost the license, which was sold to Spin Master.

But it's all derived from a game that is long out of patent.  It's the name "Stratego" that might be protected by trademark. The game idea cannot be protected by copyright, of course.

Little-known fact: I am one of the few people to have had a Stratego-like game published.  Swords & Wizardry was published in Britain around 1980 by the same company that published L'Attaque and its derivatives, H. P. Gibsons, also the original publishers of Britannia.

What's important in a game is not what the context (theme, atmosphere) says is important, it's what you need to do to succeed (to win, for most people).  But what sells the game off store shelves is the context, not what you actually do.  This reminds me of the old maxim, probably still true, that a good novel with a poor cover will sell poorly, while a poor novel with a good cover will sell better.

Game design is "what happens next. "  You can watch movies or read novels to find out what happens next, you can play games to find out what happens next, and you can also design games to find out what happens next.

Puzzles have a "saddle point" or dominant strategy.  A solution.  Games don't.

Formal puzzles usually involve no chance element, making it more practical to have a saddle point.  When you introduce uncertainty/chance elements, whether in the system or through players, you get further away from puzzles and more towards games.

In-game "minigames" (not uncommon in video games) are a mark of the easily-bored nature of young people in our culture, and of the repetitive nature of many video games.  The players are given something else to do (the mini-game) because the ordinary gameplay is likely to become boring!

Wargames are models of reality (even if that reality is fantasy or science fiction).  Euro games are "artificial constructs."

Sooner or later, game consoles (wannabe computers) will become impractical to manufacture, because computers will offer an equal or better experience on one hand, and mobile platforms will offer nearly equal with more convenience on the other. Consoles will be squeezed out. The next console generation will be the last, I'd guess.

Businesses "immune" to the "digital Tsunami":
(that's the coming dominance of digital formats in games, books, already seen in music; which also tends to make people expect to get such things for free, and pirate them if they're not free)

Library book business.  Not so much immune as well behind, libraries are now getting into lending digital books, but it may be quite a while before the library as a place to go and browse books goes away.

Tabletop game business.  Yes, they can be played online, but that takes a lot of time and work, and can be shut down by publishers.  And it doesn't provide the play and social interaction of face-to-face games.

I'm not a typical boardgamer.  I'm interested in the game, not in "being there".

Command and Conquer Ancients advertises: "You're in command".  I don't care: I'm playing a game.

(And as I explained in Against the Odds magazine, people who think they're in anything like the situation of a commander in a real war are fooling themselves big-time.)

For me, "you are there" is Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs.  But RPGs aren't as precisely-defined as boardgames.  I recall one person who likes the "You're in command" idea say he didn't like RPGs because they're too loosey-goosey (his phrase), he wants to know exactly what he can do.

Hardcore video gamers concentrate on the game, not on the story, when they play, but it's the game (the wish-fulfillment, actually) that tends to draw them to playing in the first place.  Is story for casual video gamers?

This should all fit together somehow, but I haven't put it together yet.

I'm trying to model something, in most of my games, so I don't mind using the same mechanism again as long as it works for the model.  Euro gamers generally aren't modeling something, they're throwing mechanisms together, so they want to use new ones.  There are exceptions, of course.

 Is there something in video gaming that worships "thousands (millions) of possibilities" even though you're not going to use even a tiny fraction of them?

Kind of like the advertising about "your MP3 player can hold 10,000 songs" even though no one has 10,000 that they like pretty well.

So if this focus on number of songs is "sound bathing", what's the former: "option bathing"?

When does the desirable variety of replayability become option bathing?

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