18 January, 2018

Risks and Rewards

Not risks versus rewards, because the two are not polar opposites locked in a tug-of-war. They exist semi-independently, hopelessly entangled but able to be measured independently.

Reading through this post on risks gave me mixed feelings. I was happy that other people are doing similar things to what I laid out in The Law... I was once again upset that numerous people showered the author with adoration and praise for revolutkonary thinking, when I've been stomping around in this territory for the better part of a decade.

Different actions are flavoured by varying outcomes and varying risks. This is an inherent part of "The Law". The actual rolling of dice remains consistent, but it's the potential positives and potential negatives that lock the die roll into the unfolding narrative.

A good action result might give a benefit without a penalty, a step in the right direction where the risk has not manifested. A lesser result could go one of two ways... it might allow success at a price, or if might indicate failure it that price is not met. An even worse result might require the price to be paid as the risk manifests itself, but the action still sees no benefit to the characters.

The Apocalypse World engine kind of does this, in a crude way,  ut keeps everything on a linear track.

10+ = Success/no-Fallout ➡️ 7-9 = Success/Fallout or no-Success/no-Fallout ➡️ 6 or less = no-success/Fallout

It feels like Vincent Baker took his "Otherkind Dice" system and decided it was too innovative for the masses, so he'd dumb it down a bit. The only similar analog I can think of are the dark years of D&D 4th edition, when the dual axis system of alignment was reduced to a linear scale. Instead of offering law versus chaos searate to good versus evil, it simply followed a track of "Lawful-Good➡️Good➡️Neutral➡️Evil➡️Chaotic-Evil"... it left out the fun diversity of Lawful-Evil characters and those who were Chaotic-Good...as well as those who were straight Lawful or Chaotic. A chunk of the potential richness gone.

If we tie those concepts back to action results, perhaps saying that the "Good/Evil" axis is analogous to success/failure, while the "Law/Chaos" axis is analogous to "Fallout/No-Fallout", we can start to see one of the issues I have with the AW engine.

10+: you're Lawful-Good ➡️ 7-9: you're either Lawful-Evil or Chaotic-Good (you decide) ➡️ 6 or less: you're Chaotic-Evil.

It still leaves out all those interesting Neutral cases, but if I were going to try and add them back in, I can only think of needlessly complicated ways to do it. The system just isn't built for that level of nuance. Yes, I can hear the voices of a thousand Apocalypse-Afficionados and Bakerites  all screaming "But, mah system! He's picking on it... PbtA can do anything". No, no it can't. I appreciate black-and-white photography, but don't expect it to capture the vibrant colours of a flower. Different game engines do different things well. 

In the post I referred to above, Rob still takes this mixed binaries approach. He divides the potential risks into a few areas, and makes them mix and match to adapt to a variety of situations (which I think is good), but he still links a pair of binary yes/no results into a linear progression.

As a tool for flavouring actions, it's great. I also understand that his examples are for injecting into an existing game, in this case FAE, rather than generating a new game from scratch; so the application of these risks has to be applied in a way that won't disrupt the existing systems too much.

The whole thing maps fairly similarly to the way I run my sessions of "The Law", but by breaking the success result and the risk/sacrifice result, I was able to be more nuanced by showing varying degrees of success balancing off against varying degrees of sacrifice... rather than just binaries on a simple linear path. I went with the idea that a player chooses the obvious risk associated with an action, and then that risk might manifest into a sacrifice with a moderately bad die roll on ond of the dice, or might have additional fallout chosen by the GM if the roll is abysmal. All of these elements of fallout are derived from the story and feed back into the story, separate from the successes. I'd considered this like driving a car, where the rate of success is like the car's speed, while the sacrifices and risks determine it's direction. This works well for a non-railroaded game because it allows a full range of movement throughout the game environment. Everyone wants to get somewhere, and regardless of how fast you go, you might not get there because something might divert you the wrong way. (Meanwhile someone sacrificing speed for precision might achieve the end goal sooner, just because they were careful).

14 January, 2018

Coding and Recoding

To ensure something runs according to plan,  you need to establish a distinct set of procedures that cannot be varied from. In web design this means creating pages that display consistently, regardless oc the user's browser or device set-up. In boardgame design (or most other game design), it means writing a coherent and logical rule set that functions effectively with a range of different players and play styles. I'm probably over simplifying things here, but it's what I aim towards in my designs.

At the moment, I haven't been updating the blog much...maybe getting two posts in each week, rather than a post every day or two. That's because I've been focusing on my map tutorials, and getting the website stuff done for the new LARP. I want to tell people what I'm doing, but it's more important at the moment to just do it.

It doesn't help when I'm trying to do both the web design and game design work on a computer over a decade old and a tablet that really wasn't designed to do such things.

Anyway, back to work, because otherwise those projects will never be completed.

13 January, 2018

Meta - Game - Design

There's an adage in writing that you should write what you know. Some take this literally, saying that no--one should be writing fantasy, because no-one lives fantasy...but that's a bit silly. If you read a lot of fantasy, and know the tropes, how they work, know how to modify or subvert them for your own work, then you know your stuff.

If you know art theory, then you could easily add elements of this into your work, alluding to colour, shape, and tne psychological way these impact on characters or readers. If you don't know these things, tnen trying to add them in will ring false. I guess it's a bit like that old "cultural appropriation" bugbear, if you add stuff in from  another culture just because "it's cool" then it won't seem authentic... if you add stuff in and really connect it to the other things you've got going on then it will add depth to the final product.

That brings me to some discussions I've been having with other designers recently. I've been at this for a while, whether I'm any good at it is a matter of debate, but people read my blog and buy my stuff, so I can't be too bad. I bring decades of art practice to my work, along with studies in sociology and teaching methodology/pedagogy. I don't have to turn every game into a sociological study, or a carefully tailored learning experience, but the tools to attempt this are in my repertoire. It's what I know, and I'd like to think my studies in linguistics help me adequately describe these elements when I do decide to incorporate them.

But what does a designer do, when the knowledge they bring to the table seems not to mesh with the process of game development?

That's what I've been thinking about lately. Especially in the Game Design Masterclass, and at today's Unpub playtesting session. In both cases I talked extensively to designers with backgrounds in music, both wondering how that musical instinct could be applied to the process.

Personally, I think anything can inform the design process. It's just a case of taking a step back and looking at the similarities between the activities at a meta level... perhaps using each as a metaphor for one another, or comparing both to a third activity.

Music often has a beat, a rhythm, a tempo, maybe a melody, vocals, key changes, motifs... all of those could have analogues in game design. There are probably other elements where comparisons could be drawn, but I don't claim to have expert knowledge in music, so I'll just focus on those...

Beat - What is the turn sequence that provides the foundation for the play experience? Does this change over the course of play? If so, why? Is it a syncopated rhythm that feels a bit off kilter to give an edge to the experience? Is it a common plain rhythm that lays solid groundwork for other game elements to add their flavours?

Tempo - Does it change during the game? Does tension build? Does tension ease off at any point? How should this make players feel?

Melody - Is there something on the surface to draw participants into the experience? How does this interact with the deeper levels of the play mechanisms? Does an understanding of those deeper levels change the way the surface melody/mechanisms are percieved?

Vocals - What is the obvious message in the game? Is it spoken? Screamed? Are there harmonics when two people are singing, or conveying their experience within the game?

Key Changes - In music these can set dramatic changes in mood, but what could be done in a game to get this effect? Adding new rules, pulling rules out when threshold events occur, completely shifting the dynamic in some way?

Motifs - what elements can be added into a game as regular signifiers of future events, character archetypes, or tropes?

How are these concepts used in interesting ways in music? How can those ideas find analogues in game design?

I could probably do something similar using analogues to baking a cake, but I haven't been talking to any pastry chefs who dabble in game design lately.

10 January, 2018

Signature Pieces

I've now drawn up about 30 pages of tutorials, so to break things up I'm now drawing up a few complete maps that incorporate elements reflected in the instructions.

More details coming soon.

08 January, 2018

Adding map details

I'm working on a couple of signature pieces for my mapping tutorials. These signature pieces combine elements that will have been brought up throughout the tutorial lessons... showing how they can be combined into something interesting.

07 January, 2018

Game Design Masterclass

Friday night. I attended a three hour class on game design by Steve Dee from Tin Star Games. I've known Steve for years on social media, and vaguely remember meeting him at one (or both) GenCon Oz convention(s) about a decade ago. Back in those days there weren't many of us designing games in Australia, and in the intervening years, Kickstarter and Patreon have changed the game design landscape dramatically. There are numerous design groups, playtest groups, podcasts and reviewers, new conventions, and expanded gaming space in wider pop culture conventions. It was appropriately described as a renaissance in gaming at the beginning of the class.

Steve began things with an introduction to himself, and to gaming before launching into the design process. There were nine of us (and Steve), and we were divided into four groups. I was happy to see that four of the nine participants were female (almost half). One student asked that there be a female in each design group, which felt a bit like tokenism to me... we ended up with a group of three (two males, one female), and three groups of two (male/male, male/female, and female/female). It really doesn't matter, we had nine game designers with various degrees of experience.

(Yes, that's me in the male/male group at the front, with the female/female group behind us... it's just the way things worked out)

The theme for our games was "a new year".

The games were brainstormed and given preliminary development...enough to develop a rule set, mock up components enough to play the game, and then do a sample run through.

Then we had another group playtest our game as we answered questions and took notes. Then we playtested their game (while they watched and took notes). The young ladies in tbe group behind us played our game based on random (and hopefully funny) new years resolutions, while we played their game about collecting Chinese New Year animals. They both seemed fun games, with good potential for development.

After round one of playtesting, we all had the opportunity to refine the design, improve the mocked-up components.

Round two of playtesting. We play the game of the male/female pair (a cross between "Once Upon A Time" and "Pictionary"), and they played ours. Some of our tweaks were improvements, some just seemed to confuse things. Obviously more work to do.

(The mocked up components of our game)

There is far more work to do, and I'll post more details soon... probably once I get a computer working again.


Wow. It's a week into the new year, and this is my first post for 2018. It's been pretty hectic.

First, Vulpinoid Studios has begun to live up to its name. We have a visitor in the house who has seen to that.

Second, we've had a friend over for the holiday period. He's an old friend who has shared the Solstice-Christmas-New-Year weeks with us every year for the past decade, more a family member than a friend, he's helped us out in hard times, and we've done the same for him.

Thirdly, my computers are all dead to me... I'm typing this up on a Samsung Galaxy tablet which has become my primary computer, because my main laptop died, the back-up laptop is erratic at best (with no battery, and a dodgy power connection which means it drops out completely when bumped too hard), the second back-up  runs on Windows XP, and was good but just can't handle the desktop publishing I've been trying to work on and I can't source drivers for it now that the OS is obsolete. 

Fourth, most of my free time has been focused on getting the "Can of Beans" post apocalyptic LARP structure in place. That's seemed more important than blogging, because it has 30-odd players waiting to play it.

Then, two nights ago, I took part in a "Game Design Masterclass", and figured I needed to tell people about it using a platform more detailed than the standard social media channels. I'll provide those details in my next post.

This is shaping up to be an intense year, I'll finish my uni degree, which means there will probably be a major move of house to a rural community, and I'll have started my new career as a teacher of Industrial Arts (Woodwork, Metalwork, Design, etc.) and Visual Arts (Drawing, Painting, Sculpting, etc.). I have no idea where I'll be at the end of the year, and it's a bit daunting, but it's what I've been working towards for five years.

Anyway, Happy 2018 to everyone.