Monday, January 25, 2016

Video (screencast): The Video Game Notion of “Bosses”, and Why it Doesn’t Apply to Tabletop

The Video Game Notion of “Bosses”, and Why it Doesn’t Apply to Tabletop

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

A Little History
Jeffro Johnson asked me if I’d used the monsters I contributed to the Fiend Folio back in the 70s, as “bosses”
Most of them were minor monsters, but the Princes of Elemental Evil are the most powerful, and most lasting
Recently for D&D 5e, an entire large adventure module was titled after these guys
I told Jeffro that no, my campaigns were never high enough level for the Princes
Though I ran into them once as a player – and we 9th-11th level characters “fled posthaste”

Made Me Realize . . .
I have never thought in terms of "boss monsters" in tabletop D&D, that's a video game mentality. 
I tend to use numerous monsters (with several different kinds) at a climax rather than one super monster "boss“
It varies, of course. 
But in tabletop D&D, unlike video games, if you die you don't have a "save game" to go back to
Video game bosses are designed to kill you many times before you succeed.
You can't play tabletop  RPGs that way.

No Save Game?!
So a video game “boss” tends to be much tougher than the monster(s)-met-at-a-climax in tabletop RPGs
Video gamers would be disappointed if, almost every time they hit a climax, they won first time
They’d feel cheated

It’s a matter of expectations, as much as of game functionality
Of course, there are many ways that tabletop RPGs are unlike computer RPGs, because of the lack of Save Games
So “bosses” are really a video game phenomenon, too dangerous for tabletop RPGs.  You can’t lose a computer RPG, thanks to save games, but you can “lose” a Tabletop RPG, by dying.

Additional note: Much of the disagreement about game design in general can be laid to semantics, as people say the same words and mean different things. It's very common.  We cannot even agree on the definition of the word "game".

For me, the boss is "the bad-ass monster at the end of the level."  That's common in video games, and while less common in tabletop RPGs, that may be because the level-orientation (even though it came from tabletop RPGs) is less strong on the tabletop. I suspect that I'm influenced by level-oriented shooters as well, which may be more extreme than other kinds of video games.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Video (screencast): Confusions of Game Design: Game Design is NOT "Mind Control"

Here is the text of the slides. The presentation includes more, of course.

Confusions of Game Design Series: Game Design is NOT “Mind Control”
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Why this topic?
Title occasioned by a recording of a GenCon presentation, “Game Design is Mind Control”
Though I never got around to listening to much of it!
Perhaps because the title is absolutely antithetical to my views about tabletop games
In single-player video games, the “mind control” idea makes somewhat more sense
Though there’s lots of disagreement there, too

A Live Presentation
The idea came up again as a result of presentation I attended at a recent convention
Essentially, the speaker wanted to tell beginning designers to get rid of anything that didn’t contribute to the core loop of a game
Good advice, usually
But English isn’t his first language (though you’d never know it)

So he used the word “manipulate”
This sounds too much like “control” or even “mind control” and got a negative reaction from some listeners
The speaker, when he later found out exactly what “manipulate” means, decided to use a different word such as influence
Manipulate: “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.”
Not the only meaning, but the negative one for sure

The speaker is an engineer, so he may naturally tend to focus on elements he might control
Many engineers tend to neglect the “human component”
Engineers tend to think in scientific/highly logical ways, where most people think of game design as an art
To me, it’s 90% science and 10% art, but that 10% is very important
Especially in days of soul-less “design by metric” in the video game world

Manipulation or Mind Control Implies Passivity
Are you making a movie rather than a game?
Then your audience is passive, not active
Games are active, they’re about doing and thinking
“Horns of a dilemma”  (assume player wants that, that it’s a desirable tension)
I want to give players significant choices in a game, not lead them by the hand to where I want them to go.

Addictive?  No!
Another way to express the “control” idea is to say you want to make the game “addictive”
No, no, no!  Addiction is BAD.  People don’t want to be addicted.  It indicates a loss of control by the person who is addicted.  Why would a decent person want to get anyone addicted?
Is that something you want to do to other people?  Do you want to treat people that way?  I sure don’t
Would you like to be treated that way, as someone to become “addicted” to a game?
Perhaps if you have an addictive personality you wouldn’t mind; I’m the opposite

There’s a general principle . . .
The “Golden Rule,” in some form, should apply
E. Kant’s non-religious version is: Treat no man as a means to an end, but as an end only
I think game designers have to treat players as ends, not means
Good customer service, too treats people as ends, not means
“Mind control” is the opposite of this, it treats people as mere means to your end (“addiction”?)

End of Part 1
Part 2 of Confusions: Game Design is NOT Mind Control: - this is the other side of the arguement

Where a single-player game is conceived and created as an “experience”, what is the designer doing?
Not “controlling” a player’s mind, but certainly influencing the player’s feelings and perceptions
It can be more like a novel, where the author clearly controls all that happens
Once you get to two independent players in the same game, “mind control” doesn’t make much sense for the designer

Traditional story forms are linear and passive
Stories work better with puzzles (where there’s an always-correct solution, a route or line to follow) than with games that provide lots of choices and alternative ways to succeed
Are you a game designer or a story-teller? 
For many they are opposites
Though some game designers are frustrated story-tellers

“Create a feeling”
The idea that games always start with what feeling you want to engender in the player . . .
The implication is the designer wants to control the player, more or less  
I'm of the "what happens next" school, I set up a situation and let the players make of it what they will (notice, players, plural - the “create feelings" folks are often about one player, singular).
They start MDA at A.  Others are more interested in interplay of mechanics and players, the Dynamics

Players want Control
Many serious game players want to feel “in control”
And many do not like obvious manipulation
OTOH, some of those who like stories are happy to be “led around by the nose” (as I put it)
But others want to make things happen themselves
If your target market is people who want to be in a story (but not really affect the story), then you’re closer to “mind control”

But playing Within the game...
Negotiation inside a game does have an element of “mind control”
You want the other players to do exactly what you intend for them to do
Though you’d never expect them to do exactly the best thing for you

Think of game design as providing opportunities for players to enjoy and express themselves
Not as opportunities to control players
Though strict control is easier to arrange – as in many puzzles
The more your “game” is like a novel or movie, the more you’re likely to want to “mind control” the players.