13 November, 2010

Theory From The Closet

With over 50 episodes under it's belt, "Theory from The Closet" (referred to hereafter as TFTC for this post) seems to have become one of the heavyweights of unconventional/non-traditional/independent roleplaying podcasts.

After being referred to a recent episode in regard to my Game Chef entry, I decided to download the entire back catalogue. I figured that I needed a bit of context before I just sat and listened to a new podcast, and I can be a bit obsessive so I just went whole hog and downloaded the lot.

It's not like Here Be Gamers which I started listening to from close to the beginning (besides, I know Nathan from GenCon Oz, so I understood a bit more where he was coming from in his podcast)....but I digress, this post is about TFTC.
I've been plugging away at listening to the whole thing, in my spare moments and when I'm writing away at my assignments and own gaming projects. Trying to listen to the whole thing in chronological order where possible, and condensing years worth of podcasts into weeks worth of listening.

A few things stand out to me:

Clyde L. Rhoer seems like a really interesting person. I like the fact that he doesn't shy away from the mistakes he makes in the sound recording and the awkward pauses in conversation. The discussions/interviews he holds with various designers throw up a fresh perspective on a lot of the people and the games they produce.

He seems to have a bias towards the Burning Wheel team, and the IPR guys but since they're basically the heavyweights in our gaming scene it's not really surprising. They've been doing some cool stuff, I didn't realise how cool until I actually listened through the interviews with Luke Crane and his posse, and with Fred Hicks. But, to be fair he has also interviewed Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker (with Ron being especially noteworthy as he is often seen to stand on the opposite side of the indie game fence to the Story Game crowd).

It's weird being here on the other side of the world, knowing the names of the people involved and now being able to put voices to those names. There's no way I'd be able to actually head around the world and chat with these people face-to-face, but it's added a level of familiarity with them.

I guess that's one of the cool things about podcasts.

TFTC has settled into a rough pattern of interviews, with a scattering of pure theory monologues by Clyde. I don't know which of the two options I find more interesting, both certainly have their merits. I think it's actually a good thing that the show hasn't become too formulaic and polished. That really doesn't seem to go with what we're about as a community.

Independent game design is about experimentation, expression of gaming individuality, not giving in to the demands of "the man"...but I guess that's one of the reasons why we don't make any money off it either (not much anyway).

So far for me, some of the highlights have been:

Episode 12...about 28 minutes in...where the discussion seems to draw some amazing parallels to what I was trying to achieve with Vector Theory. Even the terminology gets close, but then the conversation drifts away.

Episode 59...sorry, I can't remember the time reference (it's at least an hour in)...where I think Clyde was raising a question to Vincent Baker, in it he states how the "Forge theory" and the big model aren't really about game design at all. They're about social design around a game. The rest of the conversation basically meanders around the topic that "The Forge" was designed to set up a parlance for discussing game design and it's basically taken 10 years to get to the point where a meaningful conversation can now be had. We now have a range of mechanisms, and we have a range of outcomes that various people want from their games. Now we can start the process of designing the connections between those two sides of the equation. Now we can actually start designing rather than just theorising.

And that's another point where I was trying to go with my Vector Theory. It's not about defining outcomes, it's about the minutiae of actual game design...this mechanism affects the game in this way...that mechanism affects it in that way....this affects the flow of the story, this changes the direction of the story, and that alters the characters effectiveness within the story.

It's been really insightful to get the combined perspectives of dozens of game designers. Seeing that we all share issues, and the various ways we've used to overcome them...or at least the ways we're continually struggling to overcome them.

Maybe I'll get interviewed in a podcast one day...then my thought patters can filter through the world via a different medium.

...it's too much effort to set up a podcast of my own at this time.

Anyway, if you're interested in game design, I'd recommend you have a listen to a few episodes.
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