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Author Topic: Art in mechanical design - has always been an awful idea?  (Read 3894 times)
JoyWriter
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also known as Josh W


« Reply #15 on: July 12, 2009, 06:36:04 AM »

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 :)

"End users" aren't the only people who re-purpose mechanics! Game designers do it, with their own games or other people's, finding elements of old systems that can fulfil new purposes. Reread my comment with that in mind and I suspect you'll find something more in it!
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otspiii
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« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2009, 10:09:20 AM »

Huh, the way I see it there are three main topics of interest to me brought up in your initial post: making sure the objective gameplay resembles the fiction, making sure the individual player experience suits the fiction, and the fiction telling you to sit down and shut up because it's not your turn to have fun.

I haven't played Rifts, sadly, but I have experienced the same thing in Shadowrun, so I'll use that as my example.  I remember the first time I played the game with a bunch of more experienced friends.  I was pretty familiar with the rules, but I didn't really understand the consequences of a lot of them; I had book knowledge but no play experience.  I threw together a mage character that was decently effective and everyone started playing.  The problem I had with the game cropped up pretty quickly; whenever a fight broke out everyone else was taking 2-4x more actions than I was and I just kind of sat around for half an hour (there were a bunch of players, too) between every turn.  Everyone else was a fun enough roleplayer that the game stayed fairly engaging even when I was just watching, but it still struck me as a little painful that just having a good initiative made such a gigantic difference in how much of a contribution each person got to make to combat in the game.  Is this pretty much exactly the same as your example in your first post, Callan?

Here's my take on how each of the three topics of interest tie into my experience.

Making the objective gameplay fit the fiction:  I think this is what you mean when you say art in mechanical design?  It's trying to make the rolls and actions in the real world mimic the events going on in the game world as accurately as possible.  It's the idea of 'well, he has all this weird bioware that makes him see the world moving way slower than other people, I guess he should take two turns to represent this'.  It's a desire to make the dice the physics of the game world, to make it so that a 3rd party person watching the game unfold could easily see the connection between the rolling and mechanics being used and the actions going on in the imagined world.  This seemed to me what you were focusing more on in your post, the idea that inserting 'art' (this character punches more times in a second than other characters) into the 'mechanics' (so the player gets to take more turns per combat turn to represent this) is dangerous and can really screw up player enjoyment.

I don't see the point in making this a design goal at all, although this is something I have butted heads with people over this issue in this forum before, such as in the Disabling Pawn Stance and Enforcing Character Beliefs on Action thread.  That said, I think you're making a mistake in assuming that this is just how the fiction and the mechanics always interact.  It's true that this design goal has no regard for player enjoyment or experience, but there's a really similar way of approaching the mechanics that is entirely built around the player experience.

Making player experience fit the fiction:  On the outside this looks a lot like making the objective gameplay fit the fiction, and when viewed from the outside gameplay designed in this way will probably look very similar to gameplay focused on objective play, but the focus is entirely different.  It should also be made clear that this is a design goal rather than a type of mechanic.  It's designing the rules to make the player feel like the character they're playing.  It's having mechanics that make you really feel nimble and quick when you build a acrobatic character, or really feel like a powerhouse when you roll a gigantic handful of dice for damage when you connect with your gigantic destructive axe.  Delta's D&D Hotspot had an interesting post on "Games Within Games" that might clarify what I mean a little.

The multiple rounds per combat turn that wired reflexes give a character in Shadowrun fit both objective play design goals (he punches twice;roll twice) and player experience design goals (his speed is overwhelming;take an overwhelming number of turns), and I's day that most rule-sets for games are the same way.  If you approach from an experience rather than action based perspective 90% of the rules you'll write will be the same, but those 10% will really change the tone of your game.  Also, by staying in a player-experience based mindset you become more mindful of avoiding the third issue.

The fiction justifying not having fun:  The thing about designing to make sure player experience mirrors the fiction is that by itself it doesn't assure that the players will have fun.  Even without playing, I know that Rifts is a good example of this.  If everyone comes to the game with glitterboys and you come in with a vagabond it pretty much means that whenever a fight breaks out you can just kind of go lay down on the couch until the fight gets resolved, because you really just do not matter.  To connect it to my Shadowrun experience, my character thought/perceived/acted so much slower in the imagined game world that it made sense that I wasn't getting to do things for half-hours at a time, but that doesn't mean it still wasn't lame.

Actually, I think Exalted is the game that most exemplifies this problem that I've seen, although it has less to do with mechanics and more to do with setting.  It's a game that's all about being an amazing god-like hero who can do anything. . .but the fiction is all about these countless enemies who are all impossibly stronger than you and will smack you down in a second if you draw any attention to yourself.  There's this weird tension between the fact that the whole concept of the game is that you can do anything, and the fact that if the ST runs the game's fiction to the letter the moment you do anything you attract the attention of a bunch of people who can and will kill you effortlessly.  The fiction is telling the players to shut up and keep their heads down in this game of exalted heroic action.

Just mixing mechanics and fiction/art isn't a bad thing, but you can't build them separately and expect them to reinforce each other.  That path does just lead to huge amounts of "shut up, I don't care that you aren't having fun, this is how things REALLY ARE".  Both the fiction and the mechanics need to be built around each other, making sure at every step that both of them raise the other to greater heights, rather than just kind of putting them near each other and hoping they get along.

To bring this back to Shadowrun, for the person taking the 4 rounds a turn the mechanics and the fiction work great together.  He's flying all over the place, getting a ton done, being absolutely terrifying.  Taking a bunch of rounds a turn is great for him and really helps him get in the mindset of a over-the-top killing machine.  The problem is that this experience comes at the cost of the other players' fun.  Rather than having the mechanics tell them that they are competent mercenaries, as the fiction claims, they're just telling the player that they're bored.  The rules didn't properly account for player experience, and although they hit spot on at times they are in no way reliable at doing so.

Interestingly enough, I think this is the big strength and weakness of games with more universal resolution mechanics, like HeroQuest seems to have.  The fiction and the mechanics aren't really related, so they don't get in the way of each other at all.  On the other hand, the fact that they're so disconnected means that they don't re-enforce each other at all, either.  You're guaranteed not to break the player experience, but you don't really do anything with the mechanics themselves to add to it, either.  The Games Within Games blog post I linked to earlier is all about this.  I say it can be made up for to an extent with non-mechanical means of engaging the players, but there are a lot of people who feel like a game that doesn't use its mechanics to reinforce immersion is like a dog with three legs.  It can walk, and even run, but it's still just not as elegant or quick as one with four.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #17 on: July 12, 2009, 04:01:32 PM »

Joywriter,

I don't understand? I'm talking about having a design goal of making a group activity. I'm not talking about having that as a design goal and then for some reason repurposing it? That would be giving up the group activity design goal. I think your sort of arguing a point which is based on throwing out(repurposing) a design goal I talked about at the start. If so, no. Atleast for this thread a design goal is that it's a group activity and it doesn't get repurposed into something else. Indeed the very thread is talking about trying to add design goals which then fail/compromise that group activity goal, without granting any actual benefit to either goal in doing so.


Hi Misha,

I think you've looked past the design goal of it being a group activity (people get mostly the same amount of turns) and your looking at forfilling 'player experience' or as you directly put it latter, immersion. It seems to be just ignoring the original design goal of it being a group activity and looking at another goal entirely (player experience) instead, and your point is based on whether player experience is forfilled?
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otspiii
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« Reply #18 on: July 12, 2009, 04:29:54 PM »

I think you've looked past the design goal of it being a group activity (people get mostly the same amount of turns) and your looking at forfilling 'player experience' or as you directly put it latter, immersion. It seems to be just ignoring the original design goal of it being a group activity and looking at another goal entirely (player experience) instead, and your point is based on whether player experience is forfilled?

Wouldn't the group aspect be a part of the individual experience?  Multiple individual experiences and the way they interact with each other are the building blocks of any group activity.  I only touched on it briefly and indirectly with the bit about favoring one person's experience over another's by letting one player take a bunch more turns, but it's just one of the uncountable different considerations you have to make when designing a game experience.  You do have a good point in that it's, by far, one of the most important ones, though.

I'd say that it's more than just immersion, though.  It's a sort of mix of immersion and creative agenda.  What emotions/ideas do you want to inspire/explore with your game?  I was confused at first by your use of the word 'art' because that's the definition of art I use in my mind: any form of expression that communicates an emotion or idea through indirect means.  I see things like the fiction just being a tool you use to help that emotion or idea connect to your audience better, not as being the art itself.  I'm not calling your definition wrong, though.  It's one of those horrible words where everyone takes it to mean a different thing.  I had figured out what you meant by the end of your post, so there's no need to worry over semantics.
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Hello, Forge.  My name is Misha.  It is a pleasure to meet you.
Danny2050
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« Reply #19 on: July 12, 2009, 09:37:50 PM »

I think you've looked past the design goal of it being a group activity (people get mostly the same amount of turns) and your looking at forfilling 'player experience' or as you directly put it latter, immersion. It seems to be just ignoring the original design goal of it being a group activity and looking at another goal entirely (player experience) instead, and your point is based on whether player experience is forfilled?

Wouldn't the group aspect be a part of the individual experience?  Multiple individual experiences and the way they interact with each other are the building blocks of any group activity.  I only touched on it briefly and indirectly with the bit about favoring one person's experience over another's by letting one player take a bunch more turns, but it's just one of the uncountable different considerations you have to make when designing a game experience.  You do have a good point in that it's, by far, one of the most important ones, though.

I'd say that it's more than just immersion, though.  It's a sort of mix of immersion and creative agenda.  What emotions/ideas do you want to inspire/explore with your game?  I was confused at first by your use of the word 'art' because that's the definition of art I use in my mind: any form of expression that communicates an emotion or idea through indirect means.  I see things like the fiction just being a tool you use to help that emotion or idea connect to your audience better, not as being the art itself.  I'm not calling your definition wrong, though.  It's one of those horrible words where everyone takes it to mean a different thing.  I had figured out what you meant by the end of your post, so there's no need to worry over semantics.
I think group experience can be directly built in, rather than have it "emerge" from parallel individual experiences. The best example of that I have seen is not from an RPG but from the board game "Battlestar Galactica". Each person plays an individual with different abilities and opportunities for helping the humans achieve their goals. Many "tasks" are team tasks that each parson may contribute to, by playing cards secretly into a pile that represents group effort. The cards are shuffled and revealed to determine if the group as a whole succeeded. This allows opportunities for the traitors in the group (cylons) to chuck in detrimental effort without revealing who did it.

Anyway, my point is, the mechanic is aimed at group interaction. There are times during play where individual effort and experience is highlighted, but short lived so 80% of the game is group time, with lots of interaction and negotiating.
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JoyWriter
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also known as Josh W


« Reply #20 on: July 13, 2009, 06:27:31 AM »

What a mechanic does can be different depending on context, and moving a mechanic from one game to another means repurposing it, even if it is something "obvious" like turns.

I'm talking about having a design goal of making a group activity. I'm not talking about having that as a design goal and then for some reason repurposing it?

I'm going to answer this in a nitpicky way, to show the difference in language, and hopefully jump right on the misunderstanding: You don't repurpose a design goal, a design goal is the purpose! What you repurpose is the old mechanics your game inherits from another game. In shadowrun and rifts, the turn structure (or initiative passes in the case of srun) is being used to show the characters off, not to insure everyone can contribute (if that is what you want, although I'll get to this later). In fact they are using the "you can't talk; it's someone else's turn" thing as part of the point of the mechanic! The mechanic is in that case totally not doing what you expect it to be doing! The same mechanic is being used to do something else, to fit a different design goal, of structuring contributions (in the case of shadowrun) so that that player can play out a fast character, but has to make them work in a certain way (I won't go into how srun does this for now).

So if it's not doing that thing you want it to be doing, what part of the game is? Well to work out that you'll need to explain what it is you want it to be doing. It's not objective or obvious, it's what effect you expect the game to have, and you feel many of these games are missing:

You've repeated the idea of people "getting the same number of turns", but I would suggest that what you actually want is more fundimental than that. Do you just want equal numbers of turns? Or do you want interactive participation? Or do you want equal spotlight time for different players? Or do you just want to insure that shy people get air time to talk at least every __ minutes? Because giving people turns to do unrelated things, and making those turns contain different amount of actions, and different amount of actual time, well that fulfils the narrow criteria, but probably not everything you want!

So please expand your idea of a group activity, you may know something we don't, or just saying it in a way that's not communicating what you feel is so important.

Finally I'm not saying that any random game will necesseraly have that function, some people mistakenly imagine that just cos they put ___ mechanic in they will be able to import some experience or group dynamic from another game:

Say you like other games with ___ in it, but you don't like the new one. I'm suggesting it's because the other games used ___ to do what you want, and the new game doesn't, it uses it for something else or just as pointless dead weight. This is a big reason that people like us need to encourage people not to just grab mechanics just "cos that's what these games have" but because they do what they want, and are proved in testing to fit to their criteria, "artistic" or otherwise.
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otspiii
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« Reply #21 on: July 13, 2009, 08:07:11 AM »

Anyway, my point is, the mechanic is aimed at group interaction. There are times during play where individual effort and experience is highlighted, but short lived so 80% of the game is group time, with lots of interaction and negotiating.

And I guess my argument is that group time is multiple individual experiences interacting with each other simultaneously.  This is turning into a bit more of a derail than I meant for it to be, my basic point was 'Design for what the players experience, not what a third party auditor would see, because otherwise it's easy to start putting fiction in the mechanics that needlessly brings down the quality of gameplay.'  I said 'individual' experience because in my mind that's breaking the issue down to its component level.  A group experience isn't some mystical melding of the minds, it's a bunch of individual people interacting with each other.  The other players are probably the most engaging tool you have to enhance a person's individual experience, so I'd say it's absolutely important to put a heavy focus on the interactions and negotiations between them.
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Hello, Forge.  My name is Misha.  It is a pleasure to meet you.
Callan S.
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« Reply #22 on: July 14, 2009, 02:42:53 PM »

Well, in terms of the title, I've refered to the general idea amongst roleplay culture as a whole. Certainly many traditional games seem to include art in the structure of their mechanics, typically the combat rules.

To me, group activity means everyone just gets a turn. For myself I'm okay with some fluctuation - perhaps someone gets 10% more turns overall, in the game.

The thing is, I've refered to the idea of a group activity, roughly how I've described it here, as if it's one that is pursued in roleplay design culture on a general basis. I've sort of made that assumption because...well, roleplay is a group activity? Am I wrong and no one else carries this as a design goal? That would seem...conflicting? Also if it's the case, it means my thread title doesn't make much of a point given that it's pitting something off against a design goal nobody actually shares.
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otspiii
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« Reply #23 on: July 14, 2009, 03:36:39 PM »

Well, in terms of the title, I've refered to the general idea amongst roleplay culture as a whole. Certainly many traditional games seem to include art in the structure of their mechanics, typically the combat rules.

To me, group activity means everyone just gets a turn. For myself I'm okay with some fluctuation - perhaps someone gets 10% more turns overall, in the game.

The thing is, I've refered to the idea of a group activity, roughly how I've described it here, as if it's one that is pursued in roleplay design culture on a general basis. I've sort of made that assumption because...well, roleplay is a group activity? Am I wrong and no one else carries this as a design goal? That would seem...conflicting? Also if it's the case, it means my thread title doesn't make much of a point given that it's pitting something off against a design goal nobody actually shares.

Why would you think it wasn't?  On my side, I only nodded to it on my first post, but my last two posts were largely about how it IS an important design goal, it's just one that should flow naturally out of other broader design goals.  "Have a method for resolving conflict" isn't one of my primary design goals either, but it's absolutely one of the most important parts of any role playing system.  It's just something that naturally gets built in the process of following larger goals.

At this point I'm not really sure what this thread is about.  Is it about the dangers of letting some people dominate the play-time by giving them more 'turns'?  Is it about the importance of factoring group dynamics into your mechanical system?  Is it about the interactions of fiction and mechanics, and the dangers involved?  I feel like everyone's on kind of different pages here, and like we need to sort ourselves out and clarify our intentions before we can really interact in any meaningful way.

I'm also not 100% sure we're on the same page when you say 'art', yet.  You just mean the fiction, right?  Or is it the fiction and some other additional concepts?
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Hello, Forge.  My name is Misha.  It is a pleasure to meet you.
Callan S.
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« Reply #24 on: July 14, 2009, 04:21:23 PM »

Misha, I think if it's not a 'larger goal' (as you put it), then you don't have it as a design goal (as I'd put it). Your coming to this thread with an entirely different set of priorities than myself (I say as the original poster and guide of what the thread talks about)

Even on art and fiction, we don't seem to match - how you've divorced fiction as a delivery tool rather than being art delivering yet more art, I don't know. But we don't seem to match here, either.

I'll totally grant perhaps I have some alien set of priorities that I've brought here that I've assumed most other people shared. But this thread is much like the premise of the impossible thing before breakfast idea - that base premise being if you have A as a goal and B as a goal, they just don't go together. In terms of this thread, if you don't have A and B as goals/priorities, then the thread doesn't address you, as far as I can see?
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otspiii
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« Reply #25 on: July 14, 2009, 08:52:24 PM »

Misha, I think if it's not a 'larger goal' (as you put it), then you don't have it as a design goal (as I'd put it). Your coming to this thread with an entirely different set of priorities than myself (I say as the original poster and guide of what the thread talks about)

Even on art and fiction, we don't seem to match - how you've divorced fiction as a delivery tool rather than being art delivering yet more art, I don't know. But we don't seem to match here, either.

I'll totally grant perhaps I have some alien set of priorities that I've brought here that I've assumed most other people shared. But this thread is much like the premise of the impossible thing before breakfast idea - that base premise being if you have A as a goal and B as a goal, they just don't go together. In terms of this thread, if you don't have A and B as goals/priorities, then the thread doesn't address you, as far as I can see?

I really think that most of the perceived gap between us is the result of misunderstanding.  Yes, I understand that our working definitions of art are different, and that two people using the same word with different definitions can lead to some big weirdness.  This is why I asked you what your definition was.  I know that it encompasses the fiction at this point, but is that all or is this an even wider issue?

I do not understand why you refuse to believe I care about group interaction.  I see it as something that you naturally need to consider when thinking of individual experience, you think of it as its own design goal, whatever.  It's still important to both of us, however we classify it in our design cosmologies. Just telling me "you don't care about what I'm talking about, get out" doesn't help either of us.  I understand now that the topics I addressed in your first post are not entirely focused on the topics you were hoping to elaborate on in the thread.  That's fine, I think they're still somewhat relevant, but I'll keep my points within the topic as well as I can with my understanding of what you're trying to achieve here.

Okay, so your core idea in the thread that you want to pursue is that if you have both thing A and thing B as design priorities they get in the way of each other.  Err, specifically in this thread you're talking about injecting art/fiction into the mechanics and having a good group dynamic, right?

I came at it from a really weird angle, but I guess my main relevant point was contained in my third section about the fiction justifying not having fun.  Basically, if you have two potentially conflicting design goals like wanting the mechanics to reflect the fiction/art and wanting a good group dynamic you should integrate the two.  Make your design goal to have a fiction that encourages the kind of group dynamic you want, and then use the mechanics to reinforce the art and the group dynamic simultaneously.  D&D's fiction involves the various types of adventurers who join up together to go have adventures and the roles they all fill, and the rules guide you into mirroring that fiction by choosing from a list of synergistic classes.  Shadowrun does more or less the same sort of thing, although the distinction between classes isn't quite as hard-coded in.  As for issues like your example with multiple attacks ruining the group dynamic, it's just a matter of asking yourself "does this reinforce my goal of having my fiction and my group dynamic both resemble each other and be fun?"  If it doesn't, in the way that giving one player more turns/attacks doesn't, then just don't put it in.

Even the stuff I posted before that is semi-relevant, I think, in that the focus of the rules should be on capturing the attitude of the fiction rather than the description of it.  When I posted it I just kind of assumed that the group dynamic was covered under the blanket of individual experience in other people's minds as well as in my own, and that assumption led to a lot of confusion, for which I apologize.  Really, though, what I meant was that you should write out a fiction that would be fun to be a part of, and then make rules that let the player on some level enter the fiction.  Make sure the fiction encourages a fun group dynamic, and then use the mechanics to try to encourage that group dynamic, as opposed to just writing a fiction based solely on concepts you find interesting and then trying to model those concepts in the game without regard for the group dynamic.

I'm sorry, and I assure you that my heart's in the right place, but I didn't completely connect with your topic in my first post due to an incomplete understanding of the core issue you were trying to explore.  Whatever impression I may have given previously, these are issues that are relevant to me and I do think you're moving down an interesting and potentially fruitful path of thought.  I'm desperately trying to connect with you and understand exactly what your goal for the thread is.  I've done my best to connect to your topic with this post, although I won't pretend that I'm 100% confident I fully understand the subtleties of what "A as a goal and B as a goal" mean on a practical level, but I do hope that I've come a little closer with this post than with my first.  If my understanding is still incomplete I apologize and await clarification.
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Hello, Forge.  My name is Misha.  It is a pleasure to meet you.
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