Different contexts of game design

edited August 2010 in Story Games
Elsewhere, I said:Can we also agree on (1) designing a game for other people to play being pretty far removed from (2) designing a game for you and your friends to play and (3) tweaking an existing game to do what you want?
Either everyone considered this too obvious to comment on, or Levi Kornelsen was voicing the opinion of the silent majority when he disagreed. This thread is about these different degrees and contexts of design -- the ways they are the same and the ways they are different.

Obviously the similarity of "having to consider game design issues" is huge, but I see equally huge differences as well:

* As opposed to #1, in #2 and #3 the end result does not have to be a text that another human being can understand. In #2 and #3 pretty much all communication involved is direct and personal.

* #2 and #3 are much more contextual. Since you know your group you know the social dynamics that are working both for and against you. You know the prevalent culture, so you know what is accepted practice and what is exotic and new. You know the strengths and weaknesses of the people involved (including yourself!): you can both play to them, and challenge them appropriately. You have infinitely more knowledge to work with -- but of course this knowledge is so specialized as to be worthless outside your immediate circle.

* #2 and #3 can happen both during play and between individual sessions. Just like you don't need to (and probably should not...) plan a huge campaign in excruciating detail ahead of time, but bit by bit as play proceeds and different things fade in and out of relevancy, you don't need to design the whole game or ruleset beforehand -- only as things become relevant. (Of course a specific homegrown ruleset should be pretty well thought out before play, but tweaks in particular can be retweaked as they prove themselves functional or not -- and a huge part of game design is setting design, which most certainly can be done between sessions or even on the fly instead of ahead of time.)

Comments

  • edited August 2010
    I agree that these things are different.

    I don't agree that the things are distinct, or that the difference is especially significant.

    Also, I doubt I'm in a silent majority. Typically, I only speak for myself.
  • I'm with Levi.
  • Having done all three...I'd say they are about as different creative endeavors as painting is from sculpture. By that I mean they both fall under the general category of art, but being good at one says nothing about how likely you are to be good at the other. Some artists excel at both. Most don't.

    Designers who don't allow for the difference between #1 and #2 is why there are so many rants about games that are underplaytested and rules that you can't actually use to play the game unless you've been taught by the designer or just happen to channel his spirit. They are drastically drastically drastically different things. Consider: #1 requires a professional editor to do properly. #2 does not. If that difference seems trivial, then I submit you underestimate the importance of a professional editor for communications aimed at people who aren't you.

    #2 can be done with notes written in jumbled order and only half complete thoughts in a composition book and you can still play it with your friends. To do #1 you really had better start thinking about the order your rules are presented in, how to integrate examples, how to effectively cross reference and introduce concepts to build understanding, and how to lay all that stuff out so its easy to follow. If that difference seems trivial, then I submit you underestimate how difficult it is to communicate ideas in a clear, concise, and compelling manner to people when you aren't there to explain it to them.

    It is entirely possible to be amazingly good at #2 and not very good at #1. It should also be possible to be very good at #1 and not at #2, and I suspect those people most likely tend to focus on the production end of design over the conceptual end. They are very distinct skill sets.

    The difference between #1 & #2 and #3 is the difference between being a hot rodder and being a automotive engineer. The difference between those two things and the relative skill set they involve should be clear to anyone who has watched such shows as American Chopper or Pimp My Ride or Monster Garage.
  • There is a process by which you can get from 3 and 2 to 1. And it's a lot of work, requires specific writing skills, and is not all that rewarding to most who attempt it. But it's mostly about writing and producing and not about design, I think.
  • Well, yeah, they're different. Even if you design a game only for yourself, when you write it down to get other people to understand it you're doing a pretty different thing.
  • edited August 2010
    #1 is more different from #2 than #2 is from #3. I have done #2 and #3. I will likely never do #1, as it requires a level of ground-pounding (running play tests, pimping, possibly navigating the publishing world, etc.) that simply doesn't interest me. Sure, I could (and probably will) make a game and just throw it out into the ether without doing that ground-pounding but, as a consequence, such a game is likely to be pretty bad.
  • Posted By: HalfjackThere is a process by which you can get from 3 and 2 to 1. And it's a lot of work, requires specific writing skills, and is not all that rewarding to most who attempt it. But it's mostly about writing and producing and not about design, I think.
    I get the impression this is right. It's a lot easier to get an idea in your head, talk about it, and even implement it in play than it is to write it down in a way other people can understand.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, I think Ralph nailed it here. One thing to remember though is: just because someone has published mind-blowing games, it doesn't mean their home campaign is any better than yours. Yes, there are differences in people's abilities to do things -- based on levels of experience, practice, and natural gifts -- but being better at one type of design doesn't make you better at all of them. And each particular instance of design is judged separately, on its own merits, not based on a designers' past works. I've designed some really great campaigns, for example, but sometimes I design one that is just good or even mediocre. It happens.
  • I can make a game for me and my friends to play in two minutes. I can hack an existing game to make it do what I want in a day. Making a game for others to play takes months or years.
  • Am I game-designing when I work out how to play my wuxia game set in the land of Oz, called "House of Flying Monkeys", with Feng Shui, or maybe Wu Xing?

    Is there any conceivable world in which that question is worth even the faintest glimmer of attention?

    The real questions are:

    - what the fuck?
    - how is that working out for you?
    - is the system working well?
    - how so?
    - what's going wrong?
    - what do the players think?
    - why do they think that?

    and so on.

    I'm sure someone who wants to make money at this might have some other priorities, but those who steal my purse steal trash.
  • I think it's important to understand the category of choices a game expects people to make and the skills required to make that choice.

    [2] happens anytime someone makes a game from a system that has most play resources determined by the gm, the game is expecting the GM to make game design choices. these are not highly structured choices like building a tcg deck or miniatures army, unless the game gives the GM a highly structured format, and at that point the gm is no longer determining the resources just spending them.
    [3] happens when someone changes a provided rule in pursuit of [2]

    [1] is the worst possible choice, you can make way more money if your simply willing to work on TCGs
  • Posted By: TylerT
    [1] is the worst possible choice, you can make way more money if your simply willing to work on TCGs
    [1] Can easily happen without the intention to make (a lot|any|some) money. I think the desire to have other people play ones own construct is actually pretty strong once a certain amount of energy has gone into it. It's just that making it function in that role (design + delivery system) is a different business than designing it.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyAm I game-designing when I work out how to play my wuxia game set in the land of Oz, called "House of Flying Monkeys", with Feng Shui, or maybe Wu Xing?
    Must .... play ... House of Flying Monkeys ... immediately ...
  • The ninja fortress of Cuttenclip has been attacked by Emerald armies many times over the years. Always it has resulted in two things:

    1 - a much depleted army
    2 - an Emperor or Empress of Oz with a pair of razor sharp scissors jammed in their neck.
  • Posted By: JDCorley2 - an Emperor or Empress of Oz with a pair of razor sharp scissors jammed in their neck.
    This wouldn't have much effect on the Scarecrow...
  • How about a little THOUSAND FLAME KICK?!
  • Posted By: JDCorleyHow about a little THOUSAND FLAME KICK?!
    Yeah, that would work swell. :) But then, the Scarecrow -- "the wisest man in all of Oz" -- would probably have too much sense to attack Cuttenclip in the first place.
  • Posted By: Brian MinterMust .... play ... House of Flying Monkeys ... immediately ...
    This is the best thread drift ever accomplished.
  • Wow, wuxia Oz is an amazing idea. Might I suggest Mist-Robed Gate?
  • I'd absolutely be interested, but I don't know much about it. Hit me up with a link. This is something I've been noodling over for some time.
  • Thanks very much! Too bad the print version is out of stock, I been on a buyin spree lately.
  • It's only out of stock because Shreyas and Elizabeth have been planning to do a text revision (though the rules will be the same, just making it easier to grok) once they sold out.
  • There is something seriously screwy with #1.

    It includes commissioned games, gift games, and properly published games. Speaking from personal experience, you don't follow the same design/production path for any of these. But in all these cases, you are designing for other people to play your game.

    - Mendel
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