Thursday, July 9, 2009

Game Rule Goals, part 3

Continuing my discussion of the various possible goals of game rules. The truth is, the goals which I've really thought about and considered for a long time and wanted to describe are those of realism, genre simulation, and entertaining game mechanics. But as I started writing this series of articles, I felt I needed to try to give fair coverage to the goals of games which seem to be trying to meet goals which were not one of these 3.

The next possible goal of a game rule or game mechanic is novelty. One of the reasons to create a new game mechanic for a game, rather than reusing a game mechanic used in older games, above and beyond any specific benefits the new rule might be trying to achieve, is just the fact that the game mechanic is interesting purely because it is new and distinctive. Making your game seem new and distinctive could be valuable in marketing a game.

Another aspect of game rules is consistency with other rules. I'm not sure whether I should classify this as a goal or a constraint, in fact I'm not sure I've made a good distinction between the two. It is a generally good thing in games to make elegant and consistent game rules. But it certainly comes to mind that I've seen games which place an extremely high value on the goal of "universality", of making sure that every possible situation is covered by an extension of the basic universal game rules, with as little possible modification of these rules to fit the specific situation. The idea of having some universal rules that cover everything might seem similar to a minimalist approach, but the examples I'm thinking of are quite different. In the old game DC Heroes, practically every object or situation was giving a measurement in terms of AP’s. In many cases this seemed unnatural and made the corresponding rule seem more complex and harder to follow. But ensured that every situation could be described in a way that it was covered by the basic universal rules of AP’s.

Finally, while I’m on the subject of purposes of rules, one of my favorites is game balance. Certainly when I make game rules, game balance might not be the overall purpose of the game, but many of individual rules have the purpose of making sure the various aspects of the game are correctly balanced with each other, with no options that are excessively good or bad.

So in summary, the game rule goals I've covered are:

1. Realism
2. Genre Simulation
3. Self Simulation
4. Entertaining Game Mechanics
5. Minimalism
6. Atmospheric Game Mechanics
7. Novelty
8. Universality
9. Game Balance

I don’t really claim to be putting together a conclusive list here, and my criteria haven’t really been rigorously thought out, but I wanted to put some ideas up for discussion and refinement.

Now, my own great passion is for making game rules with the goal of genre simulation, with a secondary focus on making entertaining game mechanics and maintaining game balance.

What I often find interesting is the interplay between the various goals. When trying to make a perfect game, the “simulation” goals (realism, genre simulation, and self-simulation) are somewhat exclusive - you need to decide what it is you are trying to simulate, if reality and fantasy work differently you can't simulate both at the same time. But genre simulation, entertaining game mechanics, and game balance are things I would all want at the same time, but in many cases it is very difficult to make a rule which optimizes one goal without interfering with other goals.

For instance, I think fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons has really ramped up the entertaining game mechanics and game balance, but at some cost in terms of believability (the simulation aspect). For instance, consider the paralyzing touch of a ghoul. It is very difficult to create a convincing mental picture of why a partially paralyzed character is unable to move from his space but maintains his full agility and combat prowess. But it sure is a whole lot more fun for the player than having his character rendered totally helpless for the entire combat. I think it was overall a good change, but I'm still tempted to think that, ultimately, I'd like to create a rule that is also fun and balanced, but which makes more sense as part of a fantasy story.

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