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Author Topic: Art in mechanical design - has always been an awful idea?  (Read 4302 times)
Callan S.
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« on: July 06, 2009, 03:49:58 PM »

Not sure how to start this. I guess I'll just stumble into an example first - take the idea of turns. Turns seem to be a pretty good idea for supporting a group activity - ie, everyone in the group gets a turn. But what if you design to reflect a game world - ie, you inject art into the mechanics. Taking Rifts for example, a juicer several more attacks a round - so once you've finished yours, your just sitting, and waiting on his player to finish up before you can participate again. This is screwing up the idea of a group activity.

Even the idea of 'skill' and 'damage' on a 'sword/weapon' - if someones sitting there, missing over and over, or doing practically nothing when they hit, it's hardly participating (Ah, I remember once only being able to hit on a nat 20 on some monster that was brought to the canvas, so to speak - so I had my monk did flurry of blows because the minus to hit didn't exactly matter and I got two chances...to miss). And not because they made a bad move or whatever - it's just that 'swords' are just 'that way' with 'damage'.

What I'm trying to grope at is when you inject art into mechanic design - the art can effectively be wrong/fail at goals/it was a failure at design goals to bring in this art. This isn't the normal state of art. You can't normally look at a painting of cambells soup or melting clocks and say they are wrong. But if one of your design goals is it being a group activity, and bringing art into the activity effectively removes members participation (and not because they lost or wanted to miss a turn), then that art is failing the design goal.

Or, from the other side of the coin - and this makes me twitch and retch inside somewhere - is the idea to 'water down' the art to bring it in. Ie, the juicer has more attacks - but not too many more, m'kay!? Okay, that example isn't making me retch inside, it's the idea that such a compromise being advocated as an overall good thing does.

Both compromise each other, but not the sort of compromise that mutually benefits. The group game idea is just whittled down and...it's just whittled down. The art is watered down and...well, ones artistic muse doesn't need to express itself through a medium that waters it down. It can go scribble on a page, bang on a drum, whatever. There's no upside to being watered down - there's always another medium to work in that doesn't do that. Both design goals and art are compromising, but with no real benefit to each other. They are just compromised.

I suppose I'm groping at my own writers block in this as well - invent something and instantly a dozen more thoughts go 'OMG, but what if it screws up X, Y or Z in terms of design goals?' and artistic muse just says fuck it. I'm pretty sure that's the cycle. The model of designing mechanics with art embeded in their structure (like, say, a 'combat' sequence, where you get 'attacks' and a whole bunch of other stuff which is artistic ideas layed onto number and procedure) just suddenly seems really awful and something that should not be passed on as wisdom.

On the flip side, I guess the card game 'Lunch Money' and table top wargames like warhammer 40k have alot of art in their mechanics. But it seems more the over the top and silly type. It's not exactly art that's going to matter to you in a deep way on the long term. Although thinking on it now, am I missthinking on how deeply the art in roleplay is supposed to matter/how deeply it's implied that it matters, in general RP culture? I'm not sure - if I wanted to address (or even try and beat) a particular painful issue, I'm not sure I'd actually get to it with space cat girls with bling lasers and a bunch more of happy go lucky shit. Silly fiction always makes me think of happy go lucky stuff - and that isn't anywhere near actual pain. Even 40K's 'in the future there is only war'...I mean, hardly - dudes in these big chunky cool looking power armour and orcs using teleporters to fire goblins into enemy vehicles? Oh yeah, sure, that's really getting into the idea of there only being war!? Hardly! That's just one big, glorious themepark! And I'm not knocking themeparks, but it is a themepark.

In terms of getting at something a bit more deeply than a happy go lucky way, has art in mechanics been an awful idea that's been passed down from generation to generation?
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Jasper Flick
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« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2009, 11:05:34 AM »

I grappled with what you mean by "art" a bit, and I'm seeing two sides pop up.

1) Art is writing, fiction, setting.

From this angle, you're talking about mechanics failing to match the setting. Or fitting around it in a way that makes play not enjoyable. For example, the writing evokes fast-paced, over-the-top action, but in-game combat is a dragging war of attrition.

I say this is not inevitable. This is simply design without the requirement of making it fit the "art", be one with the "art", and work perfectly with the "art". There are plenty of fields where this is done really well, just look at building construction alone. It is just that for mainstream RPGs (the ones having most of this type of art), so far this isn't a requirement at all. At least, that's how it appears to me.

It's also that designing something to be in tune with another's vision is completely different than only dealing with your own vision. It's far cheaper to just slap d20 on your IP and tie it together with some strings, than to really make an effort. It's also the default risk-averse choice.

Compromising the art to fit the design might make it feel like a better fit, but would indeed be unacceptable from an artistic point of view. Unless the design came before the art, in which case it's a constrain in which to work. I don't know examples of that though. Even Ebberon, writtin specifically to be a D&D 3e setting, to me appears completely out of touch with the mechanics.

2) Art is physical, the drawings, cards, miniatures.

This kind of art is a powerful means to evoke flavor. If they're being silly, it's perhaps reinforcing the inherent idea that the whole thing is silly. If the game isn't supposed to be wacky, then bundling distracting wacky art with it is once again bad design. You just don't smile happily and dress pink on a goth party.

I have little experience with minis, but I've seen a lot of those wargame miniatures, and indeed I couldn't ever take them seriously. I don't know if it's interntional or not, but it was always over the top. If it's not intentional, there's a big disconnect going on somewhere. Aren't there minis for realistic WWII games around? Those shouldn't be silly...

I think MtG cards are a good example where it mostly works, but sometimes not. Usually, I consider the art to be really good and fit what the cards are about. Sometimes though, it's doesn't match and it's jarring. For example, a card depicting a normal bird capable of flight, but the creature doesn't have the flying ability. Another example was a collection of specific creatures, but there was one color missing. In fact, there was art depicting the red creature of the set, but according to the rules it wasn't. It was probably deemed too powerful and discarded, and they recycled the art for something else.

Does this get things moving, or is my contribution a dud?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2009, 07:29:31 PM »

Thanks for the reply, Jasper.

Welllll, your kind of playing out the 'Mechanics should match the art' arguement. The other side, though, is that mechanics are atleast in part there so everyone gets a turn. If the art - and by that I mean how the fiction goes - says someone sits there for two hours (and I've seen accounts of this and I think been in some games like that and even been the guy to sit out), then it's screwed up the game being a group activity because clearly someones just sitting there. One pat responce is that 'that's a bad GM', but I don't think it is - I think it's something deeper and the GM isn't at fault for producing fiction as he was asked to (it may even be (brain?) damaging if he's repeatedly told he's a bad GM for it, over the course of years).

Basically I'm not arguing for either side - I'm suggesting it's a lose/lose situation. Here's why I suggest that; If you try and build mechanics that are to support a group activity, when you bring art/fiction into them (like the number of attacks example from above), you start to compromise everyone participating. If you try and balance that out, then the art starts to get compromised because you know, so and so class would have more attacks, your artistic muse knows this to be so. All this, because of trying to force art/fiction into the very mechanics themselves. Just for contrasting purposes, a game which doesn't try to force art/fiction into the mechanics, as far as I can tell, is universalis. So a game without art in the mechanics has already been done before.

That's the suggestion - there just seems to be...and maybe this is just me, this conflict where any artistic inspiration is then muted by mechanical/group need, which in turn is then compromised by any further artistic inspiration (if it even comes), etc. So I've come to the point where it just appears this idea of shoving art/fiction into the mechanics, is just a bad idea.

Perhaps I'm a little cynical, but I think many other designers get around this by just not being interested in managing the group activity perse - any group management is taken, it seems, as an artistic suggestion rather than, if someones sitting there doing naught, the group management is screwed up. If pressed on the matter of everyone, like, actually get a turn, there's often a dense multiparagraph responce on how the fiction is a many layered thing and moves in mysterious ways or such and basically basks in the art of it all. I'm not trying to lay into that (well, a little, but just for fun >:) ), but to say it's perhaps a coping mechanism with what is essentially a lose/lose situation in relation to raming art into mechanics? Also I'm saying that, in case this seems an absolute non issue - in case anyones so used to soley dealing in art creation and is wondering what on earth art could compromise to? Since it might appear there is nothing else on the radar but art/fiction creation and thus there's nothing else to compromise with, let alone any need that shows up.
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2009, 11:50:39 PM »

Callan,

As a qualified industrial designer, I find it abhorrent that you would believe that art and mechanism may never work in harmony. It sounds to me like you are arguing that the two agendas are completely at odds with one another.

There's an interesting thread over on Story-games (here), where someone makes the comment that they don't like the Serenity RPG because it feels like a generic game with a "Serenity" coat of paint on it. That's exactly what it feels like, because that's what it is. It's a case of "we got the IP license to make a game out of this" and "We've got this new game engine we want to publish"...screw it if they don't go together properly, we'll just use some Firefly Universe slang in the textbook and hope that people don't notice. Hell, you can't even make a character like "River Tam" in the game because the rules just weren't designed to accomodate that sort of character...pure evidence of a system not matching the fiction and certainly not being appropriate to produce the kind of experience one would hope for.

That's not evidence that "Art" and "Mechanism" can't work together. It's just bad design from people who've been in the industry long enough that they should know better.

If you are treating the development of the art as one stream, then treating the development of the mechanism as another stream; things WILL get messy when you cross the streams. They've existed in isolation and will have diverged in different paths, trying to tie them back together will leave some awkward gaps.

Conversely, if you design a game with a single vision in mind and produce art and mechanisms simultaneously from the core vision, then I don't see a reason why the two halves have to cause issues with one another.If something doesn't feel right with respect to the core vision, then chuck it. If the art and flavour of the world doesn't support the premise then it should have a damned good justification for staying in place. If a mechanism doesn't give the desired results, then the same applies. As soon as you compromise the core vision, your lost...and the problems start.

To go back to your RIFTS example, what do the different types of augmented humans really represent in the game? It's nothing if not a kitchen sink of a game which has totally lost it's focus as far as I'm concerned. Hell, I'd argue that there was no focus in the original game...post apocalyptic world...let's just chuck everything into it. If the game focused on the Coalition and their struggles against the exotic, the alien and the horrific it could have been one thing...if the game focused on the magic users and their ability to step through rifts into alternate realities it could have been something very different. But Palladium just wanted a game that could be everything to everyone.

If that doesn't say lack of focus, I don't know what does.

Take your specific case in point...If one player has a Juicer, and someone else is playing a Vagabond, then really consider what these characters are doing together. The Juicer player obviously wants to play one sort of game (and some might say that this player favours a Gamist agenda), the Vagabond player obviously wants to get a different experience out of their game (perhaps playing a game of survival among vastly overpowered companions and enemies...or perhaps wanting to explore a world while maintaining their hope and humanity).

If the two players are working with different goals in mind, then why are they playing in the same game. Firstly, I think the GM should have indicated to the players what sort of game they were intending to run. Secondly, if the GM did explain their game concept, then any players who created an unsuitable character should shut up and quit their bitching.

As a counter example...If I say I'm running a game that will chronicle the development of a group of friends over the course of 20 years...then the player who shows up to the first session with a Juicer is a moron.

I'll agree with you to a point.

If you develop rigid mechanisms first...then try to slap on a coat of paint to pretty it up, the added artistic embellishments will probably feel out of place. Bad design.

If you develop the art first, creating a rich an elaborate world with no heed for how it works...then decide to place structure and rules to make your world work, the rules will probably seem a bit disjointed and may not reflect what the original vision intended. Also bad design.

If you develop bits and pieces...a bit of art here...a mechanism there...some flavour text later...then try and tie it together into a coherent whole...or worse still, just try to offload it as a generic kitchen-sink game. Awful design.

If you work to a core vision and goal, develop art and mechanisms from that vision and aiming toward your intended goal. Create images that point toward your intentions, develop text that gives a feel for your aim, write rules that show someone how to achieve the type of experience you are trying to share. Good Design.

Just some thoughts (based on years of study in the field of design, and experience with some very bad design in numerous areas, not just gaming)...

V
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Jasper Flick
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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2009, 02:40:31 AM »

Callan, I think your definition of art here is too broad. It appears to range from art products, to what emerges during play, to how to make sure everyone has a good time. You're also specifically focusing on a specific mechanic: turn-based combat, but is this just an example, or is it your main point of interest?
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Daniel B
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« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2009, 08:44:55 AM »

I think of game design like building architecture. The 'art' and the 'design' cannot (and should not) be expressed separately, or either the building collapses or fails to achieve it's artistic goals. You cannot start with a beautiful building, only worrying about the mechanical structure at the end, nor should you start with a neutrally-designed, purely functional building, only to throw art on top of it at the end and expect it still look pretty.

I believe it necessary to work in the intersecting domain of both, in tandem.

Daniel
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Caldis
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« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2009, 09:59:19 AM »


How does something like Hero Quest fit in with this?  Where attributes can be anything and they're all equal as long as you can find a way to apply them?  So if you were playing Rifts using a Heroquest like system the Juicers "rapid machine gun fire" is equal to the Psi Stalkers "Pack of mutant dogboys"  (sorry it's been awhile since I've seen rifts dont remember the correct terms). 
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2009, 02:25:24 PM »

Hi Michael,

Conversely, if you design a game with a single vision in mind and produce art and mechanisms simultaneously from the core vision, then I don't see a reason why the two halves have to cause issues with one another.If something doesn't feel right with respect to the core vision, then chuck it. If the art and flavour of the world doesn't support the premise then it should have a damned good justification for staying in place. If a mechanism doesn't give the desired results, then the same applies. As soon as you compromise the core vision, your lost...and the problems start.
There doesn't seem to be a reference here to it being a group activity and maintaining an equal number of turns (or certain amount of turns). I mean, "If the art and flavour of the world doesn't support the premise" - the premise is just more art/fiction. Your talking soley in terms of what art supports what art - which is fine if your only looking at art. And a mechanism that doesn't give the desired results - which desired results? The results the artistic muse wants, or the group activity desire wants? Atleast to me, your just addressing what art supports what art - which is something to think about. But atleast to me your haven't addressed the issue of this thread.

Quote
If the two players are working with different goals in mind, then why are they playing in the same game. Firstly, I think the GM should have indicated to the players what sort of game they were intending to run. Secondly, if the GM did explain their game concept, then any players who created an unsuitable character should shut up and quit their bitching.
I think this is defaulting back to 'it's the GM's fault', which I mentioned earlier (with 'it's the players fault' not being much different, as the GM is a player).

How do you take it?
1. The GM and players just play the game, as much as they might play a boardgame without adding/designing anything in mid play. They just follow procedure, even if that procedure (as written by the author) is ass. Eg, it asks the GM to produce some fiction that will also affect turn order - he does so and it drops someone out of play for an hour. Is the GM at fault for following the procedure, or the author for having handed such an option to the GM where he asked him to produce art rather than play human resource management? (Or perhaps no one is at fault - this art in the mechanics situation is always a lose/lose - but I'm spoiling the example now).
2. The GM (and prolly to an extent, players) are acting as designers and simply drawing on the material in the game book, to construct something. It's a design toolbox.
3. Something else?

I'll say I'm not really talking about #2, as I'm talking about taking responsiblity as game author for the entire end experience (not for small, singular parts of it that the group might use). Talking about what the GM should have done but didn't, or what the players should have done, but didn't, is just shifting blame onto them. This thread is about the games (original) author keeping that responsiblity.

Quote
If you work to a core vision and goal, develop art and mechanisms from that vision and aiming toward your intended goal. Create images that point toward your intentions, develop text that gives a feel for your aim, write rules that show someone how to achieve the type of experience you are trying to share. Good Design.
Point toward - instead of the author just implementing it? A feel for my aim - instead of the author just implementing it? I think you are talking about #2 from above? And I think the RPG market is glutted with toolbox 'games'. Indeed, getting off topic for a moment, if they're being the designer, why would they care about the authors intent or aim "Here was my intent or aim - but I didn't bother implementing it - do that for me". Though perhaps in terms of creative denial that makes sense. Where the group makes something then says that's exactly how to play the game (even though another group with the exact same book play it in a way that's incompatable and say exactly the same thing - that they play the game exactly as intended).

Okay, semi off topic, semi on - I'll clarify that I'm not talking about supporting creative denial in this thread.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2009, 02:52:03 PM »

Callan, I think your definition of art here is too broad. It appears to range from art products, to what emerges during play, to how to make sure everyone has a good time. You're also specifically focusing on a specific mechanic: turn-based combat, but is this just an example, or is it your main point of interest?
I've probably blured it with that two hour example. The number of attacks/turns per melee is art baked into mechanics. The "attack skill" and "damage" are art baked into mechanics. You might be familiar with the turn order dysfunction of 'whiffing' where essentially your turn comes and you affect absolutely nothing. You effectively didn't have a turn. The idea/design goal of it being a group activity has been compromised. Turn based combat is just one area I'm interested in in terms of this topic. But if you want to focus on it for clarities sake, feel free to focus.

My example of the GM deciding you sit out for an hour isn't such a great example, but it does show the idea of turns/a group activity being compromised. Can I adjust the example? Say your PC is classed as 'unconcious', and your out for an hour of gameplay. That's baking art into the mechanics. Why bake art in and leave turn order integrity up to the end user/GM interpretation of 'unconcious'? I know traditionally we all blame the GM in this case, but he only had the capacity because the author gave it to him. The author was facing a trade off between the fiction as he saw it and turn order. A trade off that I'm suggesting, is always a lose/lose situation.

Actually I'll water that down - if you don't concern yourself with turn order and just sort of make the game as you see the fiction should go, then it's win for art, complete lose for turn order. By chance turn order might be in there, but it's on the monkeys flying out of my butt principle.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2009, 03:07:50 PM »


How does something like Hero Quest fit in with this?  Where attributes can be anything and they're all equal as long as you can find a way to apply them?  So if you were playing Rifts using a Heroquest like system the Juicers "rapid machine gun fire" is equal to the Psi Stalkers "Pack of mutant dogboys"  (sorry it's been awhile since I've seen rifts dont remember the correct terms). 
Well that's an interesting question! Because if attributes, by the book, can be anything, then there's no art prebaked into the mechanic. There's just a blank field (like a spread sheets blank field) where an attribute can go and numerical connections to that (though the idea it's an 'attribute' is some fiction, but that might matter about as much as 'coin' in universalis - ie, not at all). So that's avoiding the fiction in mechanics issue.

In terms of them all being equal as long as you can find a way to apply them? Well, mechanically equal, so again there's no fiction baked into mechanics that makes one/some numerically superior to others.

In terms of actually applying them, this gets into the fictional restraints either of the player or the group and what restraint he/they put on an attributes use. But that's all a result of people in the group/group, it's not that one attribute has better stats because the authors artistic muse says so. So again it avoids fiction in the mechanics issue.

So yeah, good question! It sounds like, atleast in terms of attributes, hero quest is fictionless mechanics like universalis is. Also, atleast in terms of spiritual attributes, riddle of steel has *relatively* fictionless mechanics (they are named stuff like "Love" and "Destiny". But there's no art baked in that says one is more powerful numerically than the others, so it may not matter in terms of this thread)
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2009, 05:46:46 PM »

I mean, "If the art and flavour of the world doesn't support the premise" - the premise is just more art/fiction. Your talking soley in terms of what art supports what art - which is fine if your only looking at art. And a mechanism that doesn't give the desired results - which desired results? The results the artistic muse wants, or the group activity desire wants? Atleast to me, your just addressing what art supports what art - which is something to think about. But atleast to me your haven't addressed the issue of this thread.

No, you're just not thinking outside the box, and certainly not understanding how these issues address the questions.

I'll clarify my definitions.

Design is not art. Design is not mechanisms.

Design is the attempt reach quality. Where quality is the best possible outcome for a desired product (whether that product be architectural, mechanical, industrial, literary or even a game). Some may find quality for a certain design is easier to achieve through artistic expression, really defining their world, carefully crafting their output. Others may find that quality for a design requires intricate mechanical attention to detail, and finely tuned mechanisms. Virtually all designs require a degree of both. That end product is given to a user, and the user puts it to their own purposes. 

There are often mechanisms inherent within art, to give it structure and form. There is often artistry within mechanisms to make them more pleasing to the eye, and graspable by the mind. This may seem overly generic as a statement to you, but that's just an excuse to ignore the statement in context with your question.

Unless a game author is going to run every session of every game, there is going to be some GM latitude in the rules. It's just the "Chinese Whispers" syndrome; I believe that expecting everything to fall back on the responsibility of the GM is just a very naive perspective.

Quote
...I'm talking about taking responsiblity as game author for the entire end experience (not for small, singular parts of it that the group might use). Talking about what the GM should have done but didn't, or what the players should have done, but didn't, is just shifting blame onto them. This thread is about the games (original) author keeping that responsiblity.

Let's push this hyperbole to the next level...If I design a microwave, am I accountable for the idiot who kills kittens by sticking them in that microwave? The opening is the right size...and I didn't specifically say in the instruction manual "DO NOT PUT KITTENS IN MICROWAVES".

Quote from: Callan S.
You might be familiar with the turn order dysfunction of 'whiffing' where essentially your turn comes and you affect absolutely nothing. You effectively didn't have a turn. The idea/design goal of it being a group activity has been compromised.

You claim that the person who 'whiffed' effectively did nothing. You can't state that they did nothing. The player took a futile risk, and knew full well that theye were taking this risk that might not pay off. Again, I refer back to my point that this was the player's decision, if they needed a 20 to hit, and they missed, then it would be immature to complain that "things weren't fair"...the character had plenty of other options available. Perhaps they could have used some other skill to construct traps/obstacles or generally cause their opponent other issues. The character doesn't need to attack directly, and even in a game like Rifts, everyone is either good at something, or has a huge range of options at their disposal.

The group activity hasn't been compromised, it's just that the players aren't playing as a group. The example you cite seems to show one Juicer player who dominates the combat sequence, and the player of a less combat worthy character who just wants to sit around and bitch that they can't do anything rather than thinking for themselves and getting the job done by unconventional means.

If you're going to keep harping on about Rifts, take note of what several people have said after returning from various Palladium "Open House" days. Kevin Simbeida has written most of his games taking a lot of things for granted about his own GM style, I even heard one person state that he basically ignores most of the rules in his own games and plays a very fast freeform style of game (Note: by freeform, I mean the American RPG definition of the term and not the Australian RPG definition of the term). 

It seems that you are holding aloft a poor example of a twenty year old kitchen-sink game, based on a cobbled-together assortment of concepts which were at least a decade old when the game was released. Then you seem to be claiming this to be the pinnacle of game design.

Plenty of games have moved beyond the concept of turns and task resolution, and in my experience games of this ilk allow much better group functionality.

I'm actually working on a 3:16 hack for Rifts. Instead of space commandos fighting against aliens, the game is a very cut-down version of Rifts focusing on teams of Coalition commandos wandering the outskirts of the Coalition states eliminating D-Bees and other threats to humanity. Once someone suggested it to me, it seemed a really nice fit because it blended the background story with the mechanisms reasonably well, with only a couple of gaps that needed some jury-rigged rules (such as the various OCCs and Rifts specific stuff like "Horror Factor").

The game actually seems to be coming together nicely, and I'll send Gregor a copy in homage (I'll do the same to Palladium, but I only expect legal letters back from them, based on previous reports).

If this still doesn't address you're point I have to second the questions of an earlier poster...

Callan, I think your definition of art here is too broad. It appears to range from art products, to what emerges during play, to how to make sure everyone has a good time. You're also specifically focusing on a specific mechanic: turn-based combat, but is this just an example, or is it your main point of interest?

V
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2009, 07:44:46 PM »

Hello,

I think the word "art" is causing more trouble than it solves. Callan, your points in response to HeroQuest were the most interesting to me. You're identifying that design - in which 20 in ability A is equally effective as 20 in ability B, period, no matter what A and B are - as not having the "art in design" problem. I think I see your point quite well and agree with what you're saying there. Yet I can see a perspective, and probably tapped into that perspective myself while playing that game, from which that precise design maximizes the art of play itself. So from that perspective, HeroQuest is arguably vastly more artistic in design than most games.

I raise that point not to argue for "art or not art" in HeroQuest, or in Rifts, but to illustrate how the word "art" is making everyone jump up and down like mechanical monkeys. And it doesn't have to!

To everyone in the thread: c'mon, let it go. You don't have to protect "art" from someone who uses the term differently from the one you cherish and nurture. Let's talk about what Callan is saying and not what his chosen term means to you.

I think we should focus on that precise distinction: HeroQuest abilities in action, and Rifts in action. With real play. Let's talk about what it's like to use the exact rules we are talking about, and let "art" take care of itself. I've got a whole lot of HeroQuest (well, its first form, Hero Wars) to use, and one of the first points I can make is that although 20 (or 15, or 15w, or 1w2, for HeroQuest people) is the same from ability to ability, utility of ability to ability is a very finely-honed in-game and in-play thing. Close, in fact, to the Traits issue that Markus raised a few months ago. I can anticipate that discussion raising points which I for one cannot predict and would like to see.

Best, Ron
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2009, 11:42:07 AM »

Callan,

You suggest (if I'm correct) that the turn has a defined purpose structuring social interactions. Right? And that using it to mean something, to tell you something about the setting, can interfere with that purpose. If I extend that, perhaps you could say that if people implement turns to give everyone a chance to contribute fiction, then if another game element stops that happening it actually makes turns pointless?

I'm not sure I agree; people re-purpose things all the time, from people using online games as chatrooms to people recycling old tyres into reinforcement for earth walls. So people using turns in a weird way is totally fine so long as they keep account of why they were put there in the first place. Why should people? Because the person who uses his tyres for walls better have another way to get to work, or the person who uses the game as a chatroom may be annoyed when they get PvP killed randomly. Those are two angles on the same idea, either you miss out on a function that it is no longer doing, or extra functions you forgot about jump out of nowhere and kill you!

Now in contrast it may be that it doesn't matter about the functions they are missing; they may not need to drive, or they may be happy to wander about as "ghosts" still chatting. In one case the extra function is unnecessary, and in the other it's additional effects can be compensated for.

Bringing this back round to structuring social interactions, if a rifts game blows up the turn structure, then maybe you never needed it, but if you do, you'll now need a replacement. You've suggested what exactly those turns are supposed to be there doing; insuring each player has an opportunity to contribute within a certain time period, and maybe even that they will contribute equally. Now that is not a universal design constraint; some games actually have an audience! In other games, mario galaxy is specifically designed to have a pretty unimportant but helpful second player role so someone can play with a much lower skilled friend.

Lets not get in a loop; just cause you can do the replacements and fix rifts to make it a better game, doesn't mean you're crap for not doing it, or that it might not be better to start with new rules! Suggesting rules to fix it is actually a step towards that. In case it wasn't clear, V's concrete suggestion was that the setting of rifts seems to contain areas that are compatible with good social dynamics around the table and that he might have a mechanical core to implement that.


Here's what I think is the big secret; it's not about mechanics on the same side as social/competitive concerns, and colour/fluff/art on the other: Mechanics sit slap bang in the middle with these constraints on every side. As an example, imagine mechanics as the blocks in this picture; they have to be made so that shining light on them from the different directions still fulfils what you are after.

Now you could get into a monster conflict between two visions of the social interactions you want in a game, I know I've done that, so I had to split the game, with the potential for putting them back together at a later date as a sort of progression from one to the other. It could be a conflict between two parts of the setting tone, that you feel just don't mesh, like the differing tones of orks vs nurgle in 40k. The problem is just the old design-classic of more than one simultaneous constraint, it's just that you find it tricky to get those two particular sets of constraints into one single vision. That is particular division is personal to you, although other people may share it.

The core vision for a game must be centred on people playing, by some phantom mechanics you have not yet designed, and then filling in that blank so that it fits that concept. If you can fit all those constraints in your head as one thing, then you are a good way towards designing the game, if not, then yep, you're going to bounce around from one to another. Getting closer and closer to fulfilling one picture while mucking up the others. You can lessen that by trying to make "Pareto superior" changes, that are better from one angle but the same from all others, but I know of no substitute for getting a design clear in your head as a single potential object.

Hopefully the heroquest examples will show one way to do that. 
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Callan S.
Member

Posts: 4268


WWW
« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2009, 09:42:22 PM »

I think the word "art" is causing more trouble than it solves. Callan, your points in response to HeroQuest were the most interesting to me. You're identifying that design - in which 20 in ability A is equally effective as 20 in ability B, period, no matter what A and B are - as not having the "art in design" problem. I think I see your point quite well and agree with what you're saying there. Yet I can see a perspective, and probably tapped into that perspective myself while playing that game, from which that precise design maximizes the art of play itself. So from that perspective, HeroQuest is arguably vastly more artistic in design than most games.
I think I understand you, Ron, and agree with you. Take it I wanted to paint an elephant and I have either a paint brush or a small statue of an elephant to paint it. What I'm saying is that the absence of art built in the paint brush makes it better at making art/maximises art creation (or supports it better) than the elephant statue (which has art built into it already). Or is the analogy making you draw a blank, which you've mentioned happening before (I think?). Arguably heroquest is more artistic (as in supporting the creation of art) as it has less art in it(s mechanical components/the attributes are blank, like a paint brush lacks art in it's components).


Michael, does that address anything for you, at all?


Joywriter,
Quote
I'm not sure I agree; people re-purpose things all the time
I'm talking about game authors and their design goals (specifically how a certain pair compromise each other to no benefit) - specifically about making new designs and how drawing from the old idea of baking art into mechanics might be a bad idea to learn and practice. End users taking the product and using it for some other purpose isn't an issue here :)
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Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1159


« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2009, 10:04:24 PM »

I'm of the opinion these days that a well designed RPG is an incredibly well designed tool, like a good paintbrush and a set of good paints.

The kinds of RPGs I like are tools designed to prompt creativity on the part of the players.

This doesn't mean there is not artistry in an a good RPG design.  Just the the artistry is focused on serving the creative agenda of the Players. 

HeroQuest, as an example, is an elegantly and artfully designed game that let's the players at the table use it as a tool to create memorable moments of fiction and long beats of narrative.  It does its job very, very well.  There is artistry in the design.  But, again, like a well made paintbrush, it's job is not to be the focus of the work, but to be utilized by others.  It focuses options (a paint brush is good for painting, but bad for writing a novel), but serves those focused options well. 

Games like Sorcerer, InSpectres and Dogs in the Vineyard (off the top of my head) are also very good at this, in this regard, though each is designed to serve as an excellent tool for the players in different ways. Each of these games, like HeroQuest, is purposefully designed to serve the needs of players will.  There are games that are artlessly designed -- which impedes the ability of Players to use them successfully.  This implies that as much care need to be put into making a good brush (paints, canvass and so on) as in the act of making a painting itself.  It's just that the focus of the design/art concerns are different.

I don't know if this hijacks the thread, but I have been thinking about this a lot and thought I'd toss it in. 
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