Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Cry For Abuse

Returning to The Laws I made reference to a few days ago, the one that worries me most is this:

"If your game is narrow, it will fail.  Your game design must be expansive. Even the coolest game mechanic becomes tiresome after a time. You have to supply alternate ways of playing, or alternate ways of experiencing the world. Otherwise, the players will go to another world where they can have new experiences. This means new additions, or better yet, completely different subgames embedded in the actual game."

The inherent problem with game-testing is that it is usually done in far too short a period of time.  The idea looks good, it gets tried out on various groups and through a number of sessions ... and then comes a time when everyone feels a bit exhausted by the process.  "Why bother," goes the refrain, and the system is shelved and forgotten.  A year later you come back to it and think, oh yeah, thisWow, that went nowhere.

Avoiding that without a time machine is pretty near impossible.  Some games are meant to die ... or, in the very least, to be played by a small number of hardcore players whose personal neuroses and psychotic breaks placed there by parents and peers naturally graft them to a system no one in their right minds would touch.  As a designer, you can think your game is expansive.  You can think it won't get tiresome.  You've tried to create new angles and multiple angles and side angles and so on ... but you don't live in other people's heads, and you don't know what they will think, really.

Problem is, you can parade your game out for other people and you will get responses that are positive and encouraging, puffing up your courage and your resolve ... never seeing in reality that it's all been bullshit from the beginning.  People don't say the truth.  Or conversely, people who are astounded and amazed today won't be tomorrow, but they won't tell you because they like you and they know how important this is to you.

So, in reality, you can't trust yourself, and you can't trust anyone else.

Welcome to the world of artistic creation.

What keeps you moving ahead is not the certainty that you're right, but the certainty that you want this thing you've conceived of to be put into existence.  The certainty that you are right will happen when you ARE right, and everyone loves it, in which case you will lie and tell everyone that you knew you were right from the beginning and that you knew everyone would eventually know it too.

Of course, if it happens that you were wrong, you will not mention it again, or you'll protest that others are blind or myopic stupididons living in the protozeric age who wouldn't know forward thinking if their peewee brains blew it backwards through their nasal cavities.  This sort of rhetoric, incidentally, goes very well with fruit loops and milk in getting you started for your new job, 'corporate drone.'

The actual success of anything is not in your hands, and it never will be.  And this is a dreadfully frightening concept, since you're the one doing the work, struggling with the quality control and basically birthing the thing through previously mentioned nasal passage.  Unfortunately, like any mother, chances are you'll see your progeny grow up to be a street thug ripping off other games for tables, or - worse - dying of an axiomatic disease after 18 months.  Still, don't worry about it.  Your job is to birth the thing and do your best.  Your control over the universe's response is negligent, at best.

The gentle reader may have grasped at this point that I am a bitter, frustrated creator who hasn't had a hit yet.  They'd be correct.  I take great comfort that a great many other creators of all ages also haven't had a hit, and that we are all in this wonderful Pink Floyd inspired meat grinder together.  Let's just have fun and move forward.

Something that doesn't come up often on these blogs is any reference at all to lingering boredom with a previously suggested system.  By and large, someone comes up with a table or a procedure, posts about it and everyone beats the drum for its obvious genius.  Most times, that is the last time the blog will ever mention that particular 'genius' idea.  Still, others will pick it up, run with it, talk about the genius idea on their blogs ... and then, predictably, they will never mention it on their blogs again, either.

In the nearly three years of writing this blog (the anniversary is 16 days hence, and I'll probably forget to note it), I have seen hundreds of different ideas for various ideas ... most of which are based on the same tables of the various books, some of which are the precise same "insight" previously seen before.  I have yet to see anything fully formed appear on anyone else's blog that made me think, "Hey, I'll use that!"  I have had some spectacular collaborative sessions with people that led to collaborative or individual changes to my world.  But generally, what I think is, "oh, again?"

This is not to say that others haven't come up with interesting things ... and just because I haven't wanted to use something, doesn't mean someone else didn't get excited and isn't right now thrilled that it's been incorporated into their campaigns.

But I'd be more interested in hearing about things people labeled as "genius" that turned out to be less so once implemented.  I'd like to hear about the dismal failure of my experience system, or my dropped & broken weapons system, or why the trade concept really, in fact, has it's head up its own ass.  Because, you see, I'm working on this damn new Conflict! system,  and I am looking for holes in it.  Holes can be hard to see, harder still when there's no convenient material around the hole to show just where the hell it is.  And maybe - just maybe - if I had the holes in other things I've proposed shown to me, in the practical sense, I'd have a better idea where I tend to make mistakes.

Yes, I know, I'm this stupid bastard who doesn't like criticism (I delete every comment that disagrees with me, everyone knows this), but that's not actually true.  I certainly don't like self-perpetuating crap spewed out like sludge on my blog, true (unless I do it) ... but I'm very much in the market for some honest-to-hardcore criticism that says exactly why: "this piece of shit you offered, Alexis, is a piece of shit."



Carl said...

Alexis, you and I have discussed this over the last couple of years, and I think I've been pretty open about my criticism.

I'll say this: your stuff, the stuff you publish, is quality. The criticism I offer is that it's not easily adaptable to a game. Your material makes me think more about the depth of my game and how to improve it. I get ideas from you about what to do to make my campaign world better, but I don't get a lot of plug-and-play stuff from you. I'm pretty sure you do that on-purpose,though.

I feel a little bad saying this, but I find your combat system unweildy. I really prefer the 1-minute round, highly abstracted AD&D OEM combat. It's a lot less overhead for me. On a personal note, I tend to shy away from systems that get any where near simulation of actual combat.

As to your economic modelling, I have to date failed to effectively implement it in the two campaigns I've attempted to do so. I like the idea of it. I'm fascinated by the possibilities of it, but implementing it is a lot of work. It requires a lot of data to make it interesting and allow me to derive a list of prices for stuff that characters want to buy. When I figure out how to get a computer to do it for me (still requires data) I'll let you know.

I have enjoyed your "Alchemists" maps/dungeon/module so far. I've used it for the last two sessions and my players are hooked. I've had no trouble integrating it into my game at all. I guess this stands as an example of something you did publish that was plug-and-play.

Regarding your Conflict! system, I've had some rather interesting discussions with my players about the theories behind it. They are presently arguing that they are the Id, Ego and Superego of their characters. As such, they are sovereign and outside of Charm or Compulsion they can choose to do whatever they want, regardless of who or what is telling them to do it. I think they have a point and I think the argument works well with the argument that a sandbox game should allow the player to vicariously experience the campaign world 'as' their character rather than 'through' their character.

I read everything you post here, but I don't comment a lot. I don't like writing "me too" posts. They don't really contribute to the discussion and I'm no fig-blabber. The other problem is that when I do comment, I end up writing mini-theses like this one.


Alexis said...

But it's helpful.