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Author Topic: Pinball comparison  (Read 3293 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: April 18, 2003, 07:32:52 AM »

After reading through the Monopoly: The Most Popular Roleplaying Game? thread, something occured to me about that whole discussion. Rather than muddy the waters further in that thread, I'll post it to it's own thread.

I had described this pinball comparison before. I am describing it again because I don't think I quite understand it. Maybe you can help.

Striped of the paint and sound effects, most pinball games are pretty much the same. They have the plunger, bumpers, ramps, drop targets, etc. They may be laid out differently. They may be missing certain features or have unique one, like a magnet under the table that screws with how the ball rolls. Man, I hate that thing. But this is a game with a ball bearing rolling around hitting targets for points. And it is playable with the paint, decals, and sound effects.

Put the paint on and now it's Black Knight or Addams Family or Dr Who or Space Cadet which came with Windows XP (and some of the earlier versions of Windows or the Plus upgrade). This is mere color adding to the enjoyment of the game. But, the game itself is playable without this color. I was going to refer to this as the Contraption and call the layer of color the Metaphor.

So let's look at Monopoly. Is the game playable after you strip away all of the color of real estate dealing in Atlantic city (or wherever for those who don't live in America)? Yes it is. The same goes for Clue, which I think is more roleplaying than Monopoly. Sure it's not the same without the color. I can't imagine playing Clue without having typical quips from classic mystery fiction like "The game is afoot!" or "Bite me, Watson old chap!" But it is still playable without it.

Let's look at D&D3e. Combat is very playable, I think. It may seem a little pointless. I roll, he rolls, this costs a resource, etc until one of us runs out. Or if you try to use the miniatures while also stripping the color from it, it will be hard to not imagine that is it a combat situation and not a abstract game. But it is still playable without it.

It does bears noting that the layer of color in all of the above games is a very necessary element of the game and the enjoyment thereof. I recall from the featurette on the Jaws DVD (sorry. I love that movie) where the producer talked about an initial screening of the movie where they had much of the principle photography and editing done but other elements were not in place. The reaction was lukewarm. The producer comments, "Of course it was only OK. It didn't have Johny William's music yet." So you can strip the color off of Monopoly or Clue or Space Cadet or D&D, but it will be only OK without it. Without the Metaphor it lacks a reason to want to play it.

I appear to be running out of steam at the moment. I invite comments.
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clehrich
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2003, 07:40:09 AM »

I'm not quite sure what you're saying.  Are you saying that games and movies and so forth all require color in order to be fun?  Are you postulating some difference between pinball, Monopoly, Clue, Jaws, etc. and RPGs?

Sorry, I understand the post in terms of the reference to color, but I'm not sure what's at stake for RPGs.
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2003, 07:55:22 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
Sorry, I understand the post in terms of the reference to color, but I'm not sure what's at stake for RPGs.

I am not certain, either, as I had said earlier. Ther may be many applications of this. What of those elements of playing D&D that have no Contraption behind them? What of game, like GURPS for example, that attempts to have a Contraption behind those elements? I wonder, are the overcomplicated games out there that are so because of a preoccupation with "realism" focused on the Metaphor while forgetting the effect on the Contraption?

I'm not sure where to take this, so I'll await further feedback.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2003, 11:22:00 AM »

Hi Jack,

I think I understand where you're coming from.  There once was very old pinball machines with just a bunch of holes in them, and it wasn't very different than a wood-grain pachinko machine.  Those were entertaining for about a decade, then fell out as new stuff(paint, lights, etc) moved in.  

The key point of the pizzazz is to capture the imagination.  It is Color, sexy Setting, but I tend to call it the Hook.  Was it the rules that originally drew me to D&D?  No, it was the picture of the lone warrior facing this gianormous dragon, all by his lonesome.  This Hook can be described, drawn, or implied.  Whatever it is, its the part that gets your imagination going and hyped to play the game.

Bringing this back to roleplaying games, this is the reason that universal systems just don't tend to have as much "pull" as the same system packaged for a particular setting.  The universal system usually doesn't throw down the color, the lights, the fancy stuff, but the same system "painted" with all that does.

Some stuff you might want to look at as useful lights, bells, and whistles:

Artwork
-Cover
-Layout and presentation
-How characters are presented(to identify with, as sexy chainmail bikinis, what?)

Rules
-What is "standard" or familiar
-What is different
-Charts, tables, diagrams, examples

"Selling points"
-The bulleted "About this game" on the back cover
-Thematic statement in the beginning(White Wolf is notorious for this)

I'm sure you can think of other fun stuff as well.  All of them contribute to telling you explicitly or implicitly "what this game is about" and what you should be imagining as well as doing during play.  At its best, its a means of supporting the creative agenda.  At its worst, you get incoherence and troublesome play.

Chris
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C. Edwards
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Posts: 558

savage / sublime


« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2003, 12:56:13 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei
Whatever it is, its the part that gets your imagination going and hyped to play the game.


Color is like the 'Miracle Grow' for 'imaginary space'. It sets a framework that our own imaginings can grab on to and grow upon. At least, that's how I see it.

I've played a hella lot of pinball and I think the same principles apply to pinball game design that appy to rpgs. Beautiful, wonderful color is great, but if the Contraption seems to be lacking in fluidity and responsiveness all that color doesn't mean squat. It's the equivalent of an rpg that sucks you in with a snazzy cover and interior art and you only find out the mechanical aspects of the game are crap after you've sunk in a few quarters.  Color can hook you, but it's a well designed Contraption that keeps you coming back.

-Chris
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2003, 01:05:42 PM »

Here's what I got, real simple.
    You can play Monopoly without the Metaphor on the Contraption.

    You can't play a role-playing game without it (well, outside of some combat systems).[/list:u]Pretty simple.  Sounds like the line I'm still struggling with from Mike about how role-playing games have these rules that deal with stuff that isn't listed in the rules (and Monopoly doesn't).  A role-playing game stops working without the 'Metaphor on the Contraption' because you can't synthesize any of the stuff the rules don't list.

    I guess this is why some role-playing games' combat systems play more like board games and therefore seem like a whole entire different game (giving Mike a chance to standardize his rant at that).

    Anyway,

    Fang Langford

    p. s. That means 'for it to be a role-playing game, the Contraption isn't required.'  And the problem many designs get caught up in is trying to 'build the perfect Contraption' when it isn't what makes it a role-playing game.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2003, 01:30:37 PM »

Right on,

I'm with you guys on that contraption alone doesn't cut it, after all, System matters.  I think the issue is similar to the ones raised regarding the Game Design forums when folks drop a setting idea without anything to back it up.  It does wonders for the imagination, but little for the execution and solid play.  I'm only pushing that Contraption is a wonderful way to support and enhance your mechanics.  

I find that many games either focus way too much on it("You know, this is just GURPS with dragons, dude"), or not enough on it("Here's game system X, you can do anything").  Too much Contraption, and the game has severe incoherence.  Too little contraption, and it's a tool without a purpose given to it.

Chris
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2003, 10:06:39 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
You can't play a role-playing game without it (well, outside of some combat systems)

I feel I should note that it isn't always the just combat system, but yeah. As a for instance, I'm currently toying with a sexually explicit D&D clone. The focus and the main contraption would not be combat.

Actually, Fang, thinking on it now, I think that it's just that the Contraption is a lot looser. How it works in say, Monopoly, there is some very strict if->then statements governing what can be done and when. RPGs have rules for what can be done and when, but there is room to move with it. Some people do play Monopoly with room to room, now that I think about it. The only way to borrow money from the bank as per the rules IIRC is to mortgage property. I played with one guy who run the bank with zest. He would offer loans at reasonable interest rates but you had to make payments when you pass Go or he would foreclose. This wasn't in the rules, and he would also show leniency to those who could grovel well.

OK, I lied. I just made that up, but doesn't that sound fun?

It seems that in RPGs there is room for improvisation, for attempting things not directly covered in the rules but implied, perhaps heavily by the color.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2003, 11:41:27 PM »

Hey Jack,

Allow me to expand...

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
You can't play a role-playing game without it (well, outside of some combat systems)

I think that it's just that the Contraption is a lot looser. How it works in say, Monopoly, there is some very strict if->then statements governing what can be done and when. RPGs have rules for what can be done and when, but there is room to move with it.

Actually, I was thinking about what I wrote for a while.  It occurred to me that we're actually talking about different kinds of contraptions.  Just the way that a magneto is a little electrical generator in your car (one contraption within another), the combat systems like you mention are within the larger role-playing games.  Furthermore, we've been talking awhile about how the role-playing game is a contraption within the larger 'social contraption.

Now this 'middle-sized' contraption has a few important features, many of which arise from 'how we always play' rather than 'da rules.'  'There's this guy, called the gee-em.'  And so on, not every one of these occurs in the book, but you play that way out of habit.  This contraption is very 'soft' in that there are no hard and fast rules (like your "if -> then statements"), just lotsa advice.  I've been attributing this to Mike a lot now, but I think it bears repeating; this contraption has a lot to do with what you do with 'things not mentioned' in 'da rules.'

Now, back down at the 'small-sized' contraption, you get lotsa "if -> then statement" rules.  These contraptions are very like those that make up the entirety of games like Monopoly.  Heck, before there was GURPS, we played Man to Man.  No role-playing, no magic, no psionics, just pure me versus him with medieval armaments mayhem.  It even said it wasn't a role-playing game, yet.  I remember the buzz back then (it was a lot like what The Riddle of Steel gets today) about how 'real' it was; for the times, it was.  The Society for Creative Anachronism was involved, I was lead to believe.  Anyway, the point was, Steve Jackson games had come out with just the small contraption and had sold it separately.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
It seems that in RPGs there is room for improvisation, for attempting things not directly covered in the rules but implied, perhaps heavily by the color.

The point I've been trying to make here (there and everywhere, lately) is that a role-playing game has parts that don't work in the smallest contraption.  Lotsa 'em.  What sets Monopoly and role-playing games apart is that Monopoly (and its ilk) only have the smallest contraption.  They only have the "if -> then statements" and nothing more.

That's what I feel is the most potent division between these examples.  There is a lack of something to tell you (or authorize you) to go beyond the scope of the rules.  You can't buy a pizza 'in game' of a game of Monopoly, yet role-playing games are tailored to exactly that kind of improvisation (and how to handle it with a 'larger contraption').

Now am I making any sense?

Fang Langford

p. s. I'm cutting this short an unedited because of the incoming electrical storm, sorry.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2003, 06:00:01 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
That's what I feel is the most potent division between these examples.  There is a lack of something to tell you (or authorize you) to go beyond the scope of the rules.  You can't buy a pizza 'in game' of a game of Monopoly, yet role-playing games are tailored to exactly that kind of improvisation (and how to handle it with a 'larger contraption').

I think I get what you're saying. It seems to be the scope of the rules and what it is trying to do. In many RPG that I have dealt with, there is some heavy simulation or computer modeling-like goals like they are trying to build a virtual reality. This is part of what I was thinking about with this whole contraption/metaphor thing. The metaphor is what the contraption, or elements thereof means. So it's not just a space on the board, but the electric company in Altantic City. More to the point, it is a potential property for investment.

So the difference, if I'm following you here, between Monopoly and RPG is the scope. Monopoly is focused completely on real estate investment abstracting it a bit perhaps, but focused on it and actions outside of the buying and selling of property are not available to the players.

RPGs are not so focused on any one activity or groups of activities. So it is loose. Sort of like Bruce Lee's description of his martial art, it is formless so it takes on all forms.

Now, let me pose this: what of these RPG that have been coming out, including a few on the Forge with a more definable goal for play, unlike the mostly Simulationist living-the-dream games I am familiar with?
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John Kim
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« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2003, 08:54:54 AM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
 So the difference, if I'm following you here, between Monopoly and RPG is the scope. Monopoly is focused completely on real estate investment abstracting it a bit perhaps, but focused on it and actions outside of the buying and selling of property are not available to the players.

RPGs are not so focused on any one activity or groups of activities. So it is loose. Sort of like Bruce Lee's description of his martial art, it is formless so it takes on all forms.

Now, let me pose this: what of these RPG that have been coming out, including a few on the Forge with a more definable goal for play, unlike the mostly Simulationist living-the-dream games I am familiar with?

As I understand you, this last part is exactly the point I made elsewhere about Baron Munchausen...  It is a role-playing game, but it has very narrow scope. By the rules, you can't change the scope to be about anything other than telling a story.  Similarly, http://www.123.net/%7Eczege/nicotinegirls.html">Nicotine Girls has a very narrow scope.  PCs can only use one of three methods: sex, money, or cry.

Going with the definitions thread, I think what makes the most sense is simply to invent terms to make distinctions like broad-scope RPGs (like most table-top RPGs which have open-ended options of story and focus) and narrow-scope RPGs (like Baron Munchausen and Nicotine Girls).  It doesn't make sense to me to narrow what the term "RPG" means -- especially here at the Forge where the focus seems to be on trying new things and broadening the range of what RPGs do.
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- John
Le Joueur
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« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2003, 09:14:11 AM »

Hey Jack,

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
So the difference, if I'm following you here, between Monopoly and RPG is the scope. Monopoly is focused completely on real estate investment abstracting it a bit perhaps, but focused on it and actions outside of the buying and selling of property are not available to the players.

Uh...no.  Now you're getting all caught up in the metaphor.  See, it's like this; strip off the metaphor (the real estate stuff) and you can still play Monopoly (though 'white board' Monopoly might be a tad boring).  If you strip the metaphor off a role-playing game, you can't keep playing it.  Well, that's not exactly true; with GURPS you could only really play the combat system, as I described with Man to Man.  It's that 'rest of the game' that separates role-playing games from games like Monopoly.  Games like Monopoly need no 'rest of the game.'

I also suggested that there was a 'larger contraption' that moderated both the 'combat contraption' and the 'rest of the game.'  This 'larger' kind of contraption is never present in 'not role-playing games' like Monopoly.  (Mind you, there are things that do have this 'other contraption,' but they're not games - at least not like Monopoly.)

I kinda like the way I think Mike put it; games like Monopoly only give you a 'menu' of options.  You can only buy, sell, rent, collect, auction, develop, and take liens against the real estate; everything else (and it's a short list) that can happen is also completely spelled out by the game.  To continue what I think Mike has said, role-playing games give you rules that let you 'convert' anything you can think of (this is what comes from having a metaphor, per your sub-definition) into in-game action.

I've been calling 'menu-driven' rulesets 'Additive' because you can't do something unless it's been 'added' to the rules.  I've been calling 'conversion-driven' rulesets 'Adaptive' because they adapt to what ever you choose.  Nothing in my experience prevents Adaptive rulesets from having Additive 'chapters,' but it seems oxymoronic to try to put much of an Adaptive 'chapter' into an Additive game (except then it becomes an - at least vestigial - role-playing game).

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Now, let me pose this: what of these RPGs that have been coming out, including a few on the Forge with more definable goals for play, unlike the mostly Simulationist living-the-dream games I am familiar with?

They aren't getting any more Additive, because even though they are limiting the metaphor (your sub-definition) more and more, they still aren't switching to 'menu-driven' rulesets.  I really like your separation between metaphor and contraption, it really makes this point easier to make.  The challenge is keeping them separate in your mind, not thinking that a focused metaphor means the 'smaller contraption,' because it's still very much "looser" as you put it.

Does that work?

Fang Langford
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Jeph
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Posts: 338

Jeff Schecter


« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2003, 09:30:28 AM »

Hate to interrupt, but you can play an RPG without the Metaphor--It's just no longer an RPG. It is, however, still a game.

An example . . . mind if I bring up Criminal Element? The mechanic in this game is Blackjack. That's the Contraption. The gangsters, the guns, that's all Metaphor. Take away the Metaphor, you're left with just the Contraption. Just Blackjack. And Blackjack is very playable without all the gangsters and guns, no?

Okay, let's look at, say, some heavy sim mainstream stuff: Gurps. Take away whatever Metaphor you're currently using, you're left with a simple game. Roll the dice. If they're low you win. If they're high you lose. No one would play that! It's pointless! But, uh, how about War? It's pointless and requires no strategy whatsoever, but people still play it.

DnD 3e. Take away the monsters, you're left with another game. Roll the die. If it's high you win, if it's low you lose. Same for the Pool. Roll the dice, If there's a 1 you win. Same Feng Shui. Same for every other game I can think of (except Freeform, but that's a whole other thread).

Therefore, I shall ask: how is this a difference between, say, Monopoly, and RPGs?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2003, 10:36:30 AM »

Quote from: Jeph
Gurps. Take away whatever Metaphor you're currently using, you're left with a simple game. Roll the dice. If they're low you win. If they're high you lose. No one would play that! It's pointless! But, uh, how about War? It's pointless and requires no strategy whatsoever, but people still play it.


I get what you're saying, but as I think Fang pointed out, there is more to an RPG than the contraption that makes it unplayable without the metaphor.

Let's examine Clue just for a fresh perspective and consider a white board metaphorless version of it. There would be no characters, all pretense of a murder mystery are removed and the clues are broken down into three categories, letters, numbers and colors. By moving around the board, the players enter certain areas and attempt to guess which cards are in the envelope.

The point is, stripped of the metaphor, Clue remains playable in its entirety.

Take GURPS, then, and remove the metaphor. It's just roll 3d6 under these numbers. The why? and what for? that you are rolling are no longer present without the metaphor. The mechanics of Clue can work fine by itself. Gurps has just a bunch of numbers and a dice rolling technique with nothing to tell you when to roll those dice or what the results mean without the metaphor. This is what Fang means by the Everything Else of an RPG, if I am not mistaken.

There is the combat rules as in Man-to-Man, the old pre-GURPS product IIRC. This portion, especially the more detailed advanced combat rules is very much a contraption, but aknowledging this is clouding the issue a bit.

With many if not most, if not all RPGs the metaphor is an important part of the game because without it, the game cannot function. In most cases you will have numbers on a sheet and a dice rolling mechanic (roll low or roll high) but nothing telling you when to roll those dice or which number to compare it to or then what happens now that you've rolled dice and compared. As you had said, it's pointless. White board Clue, Monopoly, and probably many other games we could name would not be so pointless, albeit not as much fun without the metaphor.
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