The Challenges of Generic Game Design

edited March 2011 in Story Games
Most generic games have tended to fall flat for me for a variety of reasons I won’t list right now so as to not bias responses. I have been working on producing a story game that would function in the same niche as those generic games with the intent to fix the major structural problems I see. The problem I am faced with is limited play experience in that I am only aware of the criticisms of generics from my personal experience and a little online chatter.

This is where you come in. What are the problems with the existing task-resolution generic game systems in your actual play experience? What systems manage generic design particularly well? I want to find the challenges to ensure I address them now in early design as opposed to post-release.

Comments

  • Most of them take an existing genre specific system and just expand the list of abilities, so they end up only being good for a few things, but at the same time lose the flavour of a more specific system.

    Point based systems show up quite commonly in generic systems, and the issue is they don't do what they set out to do, so if you use a point based system you're probably going to have people pretty unhappy.

    Another thing that comes up is some of the lightweight ones don't make sense to everyone. PDQ is straight forward and makes sense to some people, but others just can't grok it, because they need more structure. I think there's a challenge in making something structured enough for one person but free-form enough for another.
  • I'm not really sure what you mean by a generic storytelling game. Traditional generic systems tend to suck because they focus solely on simulationism. They tell you how big this guy is, and how far he can carry that machine gun before he has to drink this many cups of water, but that's all pretty tangential because people don't run generic games. People don't say, "Come around, I've got this great generic system, we can simulate reality without having to follow any thematic conventions." It just seems a little weird to me. People say, "Come around, we're doing a horror session."

    So I think a good generic game would depart from raw simulationism, if only because it's been done before. I'm not sure what that leaves you with, though.

    On the structure point, I prefer things more on the rigid side. I find it paradoxically lessens pressure, as people have more focused, and less personally accountable, decisions to make.
  • Yeah, are you talking about games like Gurps (which doesn't do it for me) or games like Universalis, Geiger Counter, Microscope, Archipelago, PTA (which totally do do it for me.)

    There are some thoughtful criticisms of the latter on Anyway, which I'm too lazy to find the link to right now. (I'm on my phone.) Something like: if you have no seed content you're more likely to fall back on cliche (which hasn't usually been my experience: I usually see a mash-up of cliches that create something new, and it's not like games with strong seed content are immune to cliche either.) And that it's nice to have mechanics tied to your seed content - "my father is the sun and my mother is the wind" shouldn't have the same mechanical weight as "I have a motorcycle" ... and sure I agree with that sometimes, but othertimes what we care about is story power and that motorcyclist should be able to hold their own against a daughter of the wind.
  • Dammit, Chrome just ate my response, it was long too.

    Hopefully this one will be organized a little better.

    "Simulationism" is a red herring - it always is. Ignore all mention of it from everyone, forever. Enough said.

    The challenges involved in playing a universal RPG is similar to the challenges a game designer faces. The GM in a GURPS game must determine a skill list, which Advantages and Disadvantages, which subsystems, if any pricing needs to be adjusted, character creation suggestions and hard rules, and so on. Similarly, your local beret-wearing indie designer smoking in a coffeeshop who is trying to create a "playset", or as we used to call it, a module, about the Lower Bracket Ostrich Racing Final which took place in Kashmir on October 19, 1877, has to work out how to focus play on that particular place, time and activity. What GMs do in GURPS is more like what a game designer does than like what a player does. It's pretty awesome, it gives you a cool framework, gives you all sorts of ideas for how to go hog wild on it, but you don't have to start with a blank sheet of paper in your iPad like the coffeeshop dude, you get to start with some things already written. That's why GURPS has been successful for so long. It gives you a solid place to start.

    Compare to some generic story games. Probably the most significant in terms of its universality is, well, Universalis. One thing Universalis does that GURPS does not is that it makes the focusing of the situation both collaborative AND part of play, via its innovative economy. You might give up the singular vision of the GM-as-creative-director that a game like GURPS provides, but you're also not laboring in a tower far from the madding crowd when you create a Universalis game - you're actually playing it. That is pretty great.

    Less formalized, but still along the same lines, is the Pitch in Primetime Adventures. You have to focus down from the whole universe of everything that can be put into a serial TV show into a single show, and because it's so freeform, the tighter you focus down in the Pitch the better things are going to go during play. I use my "blustering, ignorant Producer" role to make the Pitch session more fun and energetic, a little more like play itself sometimes, because often people playing PTA have never had to design a GURPS campaign and don't have the experience that I do in it.

    Just because generic or universal games have been done before doesn't mean there isn't room for another, unless you are talking about marketing or business or whatever vulgar thing.

    Really the generic/universal game is there to give individual groups the power to obtain exactly what they want, instead of approximating what some designer far away and long ago thought might be interesting. That is what they're about, giving tools to craftspeople.
  • And that it's nice to have mechanics tied to your seed content - "my father is the sun and my mother is the wind" shouldn't have the same mechanical weight as "I have a motorcycle" ... and sure I agree with that sometimes, but othertimes what we care about is story power and that motorcyclist should be able to hold their own against a daughter of the wind.

    If you are interested in designing a truly generic story game, Jason, you would want to give uses the option to make daughters of the wind more mighty than motorcyclists.

    FATE is that flexible. What are your thoughts on that?
  • What GMs do in GURPS is more like what a game designer does than like what a player does.

    Yes. That's the root of the "we've all been designing games for decades now" idea.

    I use my "blustering, ignorant Producer" role to make the Pitch session more fun and energetic, a little more like play itself sometimes, because often people playing PTA have never had to design a GURPS campaign and don't have the experience that I do in it.

    That's a neat idea.

    Just because generic or universal games have been done before doesn't mean there isn't room for another, unless you are talking about marketing or business or whatever vulgar thing.

    If you care about other people enjoying what you make, you'll at least be marketing. If you want to play the game with your friends, then you've got infinite expanses of good ideas. If you want to focus it to the point where someone else will get excited about it, you're doing some vulgar thing, apparently.

    Really the generic/universal game is there to give individual groups the power to obtain exactly what they want, instead of approximating what some designer far away and long ago thought might be interesting. That is what they're about, giving tools to craftspeople.

    Totally. The key is showing them what you make. No one goes into silversmithing because they like tiny hammers. They go into silversmithing because they saw an end product (or even a process) that sang to them. If you're making new tools, you'll have to teach them to use them. You can use the apprentice method (go to cons, give potential players something to get excited about, play with them to give them the tools to do that again at home) or the publishing method (detail how to use the techniques you use, write, edit, illustrate, or whatever you need to do to make it a thing), but what Jason says is true: you're making something for someone else to create with*.

    The dangers that I see are:

    • Thinking that it can do anything. Prime Time Adventures can't do anything. It can do TV-style character drama. GURPS can't do anything. It does hand-to-hand fantasy that, for some reason, takes place on a bell curve.
    • Forcing new things into your generic framework. Why would you use GURPS to do a courtroom drama? Why would you use Universalis to build vast, tactical maps of war elephants, where the strategy of battle is in tension with the objectives you wish to hold? If you want the tension of car chases or backstabbing politics where what you do has greater impact than why you're doing it, why would you use PTA?
    • Since you ask about task resolution, the question is whether or not the resolution of tasks has a reliable impact on events. Not whether you're guaranteed a particular outcome, but whether things change when a player does something. In GURPS, if you go to pick a lock and fail, it has the same effect as picking a lock and there's nothing behind the door. Make sure that there's a way to connect actions with meaningful subsequent events.

    * This is true of any game. Your game will not have infinite parameters. It will be fun for some things, tolerable for others, and insufferable for the infinite rest of things that can be done.

  • I think the counterpart to GURPS where you're taking away options to suit the specific theme you're going for (which isn't necessarily that if you buy a setting book which adds a ton instead) is something like PDQ where you make up all your abilities, and PDQ might offload that responsibility to the players, but either way you get something where there's a fair amount of work.

    Something else worth looking at is HeroQuest, which in 1st Edition was intended as a fantasy system for Glorantha. It ended up working perfectly well as a generic system though, thanks to its free-form creation. Writing a 100-word paragraph about your character and deriving the abilities from that is still one of the coolest things to me, and being able to sit down and start making your character as you go is just about as cool. They realised this and re-released pretty much the same game as an officially generic system.

    So from that you could take Donjon, which is intended to work as a dungeon crawling system, strip out those specifics, and make it a generic system (it's CC, so you could probably do exactly that if you're not planning on selling it). The cool thing about Donjon is giving the players pretty significant ability to describe the world around them, so what sets it apart is how the play-style changes.

    Another thing to think about is that while a system might be generic, there are certain things it does well, while there are other things it does poorly. Percentile based systems like BRP work very well for wrestling, and allow you to have a detailed system in place for that, while also supporting brawling, and with minimal effort an overlay for a more detailed striking system. It's only passable for holds, however. So what it ends up working well for is anything pre-1993, or anything with such attitudes, assuming a lot of unarmed combat. That makes it quite perfect for Star Trek, particularly given how both TOS and Enterprise played out. It also works damn well for A Fistfull of Dollars (and as I'm saying this I'm just remembering that Star Trek was pitched as a space western...).

    Something like ORE works pretty well when it comes to armed close range fighting, and works very well for guns as well, particularly if you don't have plastic overlays or don't want to use them. It also works for jiu-jitsu and holds, but making it work for wrestling is pretty difficult, so instead there you've got a heavy combat system that handles a lot of things well, but the closest it'll do to MMA is Sha Po Lang or Flashpoint, which isn't a bad place to be in. You've got percentile systems in the slightly more gritty action area, and ORE in the slightly more high paced one. Both could overlap with each other, but they'd have a slightly different tone, as ORE is particularly well suited to quick draws, so if the game involves Samurai, I'd probably pick ORE, and might still for cowboys as well, although A&E would seem a better fit there.

    So both BRP and ORE cover a wide range of genres, but depending on specifically what you're going for, you'd pick a different game. Is it high budget hollywood cinematic action, or is it low budget indipendent cinemat action? Both are pretty similar, but you know you're not going to have it be as flashy in the latter, and choosing a different system for each could make sense.

    Then what if there's really no action at all, or a fight is not important for its outcome but for how it sets up something else? You might need a system that handles relationships well, which could be just as generic, but it'd be more soap opera or drama than action. Focusing a generic system on the type of game that'll be played, rather than the setting of the game (which is what they seem to focus on to date) might help get around some of the pitfalls.
  • edited March 2011
    Posted By: JDCorleyThat is what they're about, giving tools to craftspeople.
    There is a deeper thing going on here as well, I think, that doesn't get talked about much: good generic systems also give the result of mathematical analysis to craftspeople, often without revealing that they are doing so. Unfortunately, many of them also don't realize that they are doing so, so don't do a very good job.

    What I mean here is that any generic task resolution system really needs to understand the probabilities behind the system, and how to leverage them for various effect, to be any good. To be great, it usually needs to do all this without readers having to worry much about it. In other words, craftspeople want the designer to have worried and fretted about the math behind the system so that they don't have to.
  • Oh yeah, the mathematics of GURPS character creation is really under-explained, to the point where I often get extremely blank looks from GURPS-ites when I say "Well, naturally when designing this campaign, I gave everyone with a name Hard to Kill and Extra Hit Points for free."

    I think this is why a lot of generic games (PDQ, Action!, FATE, Universalis, BRP) and near-generics (Primetime Adventures) try to make things extremely light and reduce the amount of mathematics that go into a situation. As others have noted, there are consequences for this.
  • edited March 2011
    Define generic. I assume you mean that it can handle any type of setting or color you throw at it. But you will still get the same experience when you play the game, in terms of roleplaying process, regardless of the setting or color. By experience/process I mean what you say, when you say it and why, and also when you pick up dice, why you pick up dice, etc... Thats what determines what you feel about the game and how much fun you have.

    To put it another way, if you pay Dogs in the vineyard with morman cowboys or with jedi knights youre still playing dogs in the vineyard, its still the same game - the same process and experience.

    Sure setting/color can affect the mechanics to some degree, but nowhere near as much as the experience/process the designer wants the players to have.

    So in that respect, there isnt such thing as a generic game, because every game has its own experience - its own way of doing things, which is going to matter a hell of a lot more than the setting/color you throw at it.

    But if you want a game that can 'handle' any setting/color you throw at it without adjusting or tweaking stuff, work out first the experience you want your players to have, and design the game such that the setting/color has no linkage to that. What software types like me would call dependencies. It wont be quite as tight as a game where the experience is tightly integrated with the setting/color, but it will be more flexible, and I think theres room for that.
  • edited March 2011
    Posted By: migo
    Another thing that comes up is some of the lightweight ones don't make sense to everyone. PDQ is straight forward and makes sense to some people, but others just can't grok it, because they need more structure. I think there's a challenge in making something structured enough for one person but free-form enough for another.
    Ah yes, the intuitive systems paradox. The more intuitive the system is for you, the more likely that those outside your play community will understand them. I think this is primarily an issue of writing good texts rather then the rule design.
    Posted By: happysmellyfish
    So I think a good generic game would depart from raw simulationism, if only because it's been done before. I'm not sure what that leaves you with, though.

    On the structure point, I prefer things more on the rigid side. I find it paradoxically lessens pressure, as people have more focused, and less personally accountable, decisions to make.
    Really the generic/universal game is there to give individual groups the power to obtain exactly what they want, instead of approximating what some designer far away and long ago thought might be interesting. That is what they're about, giving tools to craftspeople.
    Quite right. I currently have the sneaking suspicion that a system designed to reward nitpicking participants and punish unrealistic actions/framing might allow for a decent and easy simulationist generic game, but that is not my current project. Glad to hear I am on the right track!

    Now the benefit of a rigid structure to focus players and characters is a compelling one which I had overlooked to date. Thank you for pointing that out.
    Posted By: jdfristrom
    Yeah, are you talking about games like Gurps (which doesn't do it for me) or games like Universalis, Geiger Counter, Microscope, Archipelago, PTA (which totally do do it for me.)

    Something like: if you have no seed content you're more likely to fall back on cliche (which hasn't usually been my experience: I usually see a mash-up of cliches that create something new, and it's not like games with strong seed content are immune to cliche either.) And that it's nice to have mechanics tied to your seed content - "my father is the sun and my mother is the wind" shouldn't have the same mechanical weight as "I have a motorcycle" ... and sure I agree with that sometimes, but othertimes what we care about is story power and that motorcyclist should be able to hold their own against a daughter of the wind.
    I had been intending to refer to the former, since I had the impression that the later category was mostly conflict-resolution rather then task resolution. Alas, I have never read any of the later category to date despite my efforts at trying to hunt down a copy of PTA.


    My current design does support "My father is the sun and my mother is the wind" rather well. Thanks to some Aspect-ish mechanics (albeit heavily distorted), that base is covered.
    Posted By: JDCorley
    Just because generic or universal games have been done before doesn't mean there isn't room for another, unless you are talking about marketing or business or whatever vulgar thing.

    Really the generic/universal game is there to give individual groups the power to obtain exactly what they want, instead of approximating what some designer far away and long ago thought might be interesting. That is what they're about, giving tools to craftspeople.
    With regards to their "being room for another", there is a heck of a stigma that I am seeing around the concept of a generic game. Try this sentence on for size. "A new designer has published a Generic RPG that promises to be fast and easy for the GM while allowing for telling compelling stories." I wrote it just off the top of my head, but doesn't that pitch make you summarily reject the game out of hand? I read that and wince, and I _know_ that the current design is functional, based on modern theory and effective. If I hope to have a modicum of critical feedback from the community, I need to worry about marketing because bad marketing will lead to a poorly tested game in my opinion.

    You are quite right that the underlying reason for generic/universal games is to provide tools to the group to play games meeting their specific needs. I suppose a great deal of the challenge with generic games is how to determine the level of complexity of those tools and to tailor them to suit particular styles of play. Hero System is excellent if you are looking for detailed and precise tools, but it seems far too elaborate for my own needs at the table. Savage Worlds seems like the right level of complexity, but is not suiting my particular style of play. It's a solid niche to target, but I am worried that the signal to noise ratio incredibly high amongst those game systems.
  • So what does your game do well that other games don't do?
  • edited March 2011
    Posted By: epweissengruber

    If you are interested in designing a truly generic story game, Jason, you would want to give uses the option to make daughters of the wind more mighty than motorcyclists.

    FATE is that flexible. What are your thoughts on that?
    Done. I am a big supporter of FATE and if I had realized it's existence ~3 years earlier I likely wouldn't have begun the design work on a generic. That said, I now have some solid work in place and some innovations which will bring something to the table that FATE only partially implements. The main take-away from FATE in my books was that player-defined character traits can be excellent tools to allow for player-narrative feedback. It ensures that players can easily present Flags and shape the overall story from character creation onwards, let alone the expenditure of Fate Points. I used my Feather light fingers aspect to pilfer the aspect technology from FATE.
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. Newman

    * Thinking that it can do anything. Prime Time Adventures can't do anything. It can do TV-style character drama. GURPS can't do anything. It does hand-to-hand fantasy that, for some reason, takes place on a bell curve.
    * Forcing new things into your generic framework. Why would you use GURPS to do a courtroom drama? Why would you use Universalis to build vast, tactical maps of war elephants, where the strategy of battle is in tension with the objectives you wish to hold? If you want the tension of car chases or backstabbing politics where what you do has greater impact than why you're doing it, why would you use PTA?
    * Since you ask about task resolution, the question is whether or not the resolution of tasks has a reliable impact on events. Not whether you're guaranteed a particular outcome, but whether things change when a player does something. In GURPS, if you go to pick a lock and fail, it has the same effect as picking a lock and there's nothing behind the door. Make sure that there's a way to connect actions with meaningful subsequent events.

    You are quite right that no system can do everything tolerably, let alone excel at every type of game. Games should try to focus on what kinds of conflicts they encourage and devote the most resources toward those particular conflicts. That said, a good system can cope with a pretty wide range of situation and setting. You reinforce one particular element that I had been occasionally touching upon, which is the need to clearly state what the system is _not_ suited for.

    Now, specialist games will almost invariably be more enjoyable and effective then generalist ones in pretty much all cases. Trail of Cthulhu (Gumshoe) will obviously outshine Savage World in an investigative noir game. The merit of the generic is that it can serve to satisfy groups when there is no specialist game currently in existence. During the long development cycle of the Dresden Files RPG for instance, groups that wanted to poke around the never never had to hack something or use a generic. There are so many worthwhile ideas and IP's that have yet to earn their own specialist games, that I think generics can be of great value despite being more broad in scope.

    Eliminating the Wiff factor is certainly a challenge of task resolution systems. I am glad that I _think_ I have maneuvered my way around that particular hurdle in my design. That might be worthy of a spin-off thread if that has been insufficiently discussed in the past?
    Posted By: migo
    So both BRP and ORE cover a wide range of genres, but depending on specifically what you're going for, you'd pick a different game. Is it high budget hollywood cinematic action, or is it low budget independent cinematic action? Both are pretty similar, but you know you're not going to have it be as flashy in the latter, and choosing a different system for each could make sense.

    Then what if there's really no action at all, or a fight is not important for its outcome but for how it sets up something else? You might need a system that handles relationships well, which could be just as generic, but it'd be more soap opera or drama than action. Focusing a generic system on the type of game that'll be played, rather than the setting of the game (which is what they seem to focus on to date) might help get around some of the pitfalls.
    Yes, you are exactly right. While it is possible for the system to have a few toggles that might alter the system slightly (between low budget and high budget forex), I see that focus on the type of gameplay is essential. You have some very good examples presented there with ORE and BRP. Focused gameplay, independent from setting seems to be the key in my analysis to day.
  • Posted By: stefoidDefine generic. I assume you mean that it can handle any type of setting or color you throw at it. But you will still get the same experience when you play the game, in terms of roleplaying process, regardless of the setting or color. By experience/process I mean what you say, when you say it and why, and also when you pick up dice, why you pick up dice, etc... That's what determines what you feel about the game and how much fun you have.

    To put it another way, if you pay Dogs in the vineyard with mormon cowboys or with jedi knights you're still playing dogs in the vineyard, its still the same game - the same process and experience.

    Sure setting/color can affect the mechanics to some degree, but nowhere near as much as the experience/process the designer wants the players to have.

    So in that respect, there isn't such thing as a generic game, because every game has its own experience - its own way of doing things, which is going to matter a hell of a lot more than the setting/color you throw at it.

    But if you want a game that can 'handle' any setting/color you throw at it without adjusting or tweaking stuff, work out first the experience you want your players to have, and design the game such that the setting/color has no linkage to that. What software types like me would call dependencies. It wont be quite as tight as a game where the experience is tightly integrated with the setting/color, but it will be more flexible, and I think there's room for that.
    I am actually doing the opposite of what your proposing, though I do so in the name of story. I am currently designing so that each different setting will contribute as much to the process/experience of gameplay as any character. From a narrative perspective, the Setting is about as important as one PC. This allows for some baseline of narrative direction (to keep a noir game, noir for instance). It's an easy tool to make a new setting or procedurally define the most important narrative aspects of an existing one. An essential character of the experience is the contribution, but not domination, of the setting on the narrative.
  • Posted By: Paul T.So what does your game do well that other games don't do?
    My quick elevator pitch is that my game (Spark RPG) will be a generic that produces compelling, interesting and memorable stories. I aim to do so by tying every conflict either directly or indirectly to the essential aspects of the Characters or the Setting they are acting in.

    Reference time. Effectively take the aspect mechanics from Fate and limit them down to three per PC + 3 for the setting. Important NPC's are built out of the existing selection of Aspects (Pillars) which are in play. This heavily focuses the game on conflicts pertaining to individual characters or the larger setting. The question is not, will you succeed, but rather if your character is forced by circumstance to reconsider the essential aspects of their beings. Yes, it's the game of existential crisis made flesh.

    Oh, on the side it also happens to fix most of the problems with mind control in games, fear of character death, social conflict, rewarding puzzles and mental conflicts.
  • That sounds like it has some potential.

    I, for one, believe that this kind of "generic" design can be quite successful. Many indie/story games can very easily work in this fashion if the Colour is stripped off, and the players create their own setting/genre each time they play.
  • edited March 2011
    Posted By: Jason PitreTry this sentence on for size. "A new designer has published a Generic RPG that promises to be fast and easy for the GM while allowing for telling compelling stories." I wrote it just off the top of my head, but doesn't that pitch make you summarily reject the game out of hand?
    I don't care and have never cared what a game promised. But I would still give your game a chance even after that sentence, because most promises are merely meaningless on this fallen, degraded Earth, they don't hurt anything though.

    By contrast, I like your description of Spark and would be interested in it.
  • Posted By: Jason PitrePosted By: stefoid
    But if you want a game that can 'handle' any setting/color you throw at it without adjusting or tweaking stuff, work out first the experience you want your players to have, and design the game such that the setting/color has no linkage to that. What software types like me would call dependencies. It wont be quite as tight as a game where the experience is tightly integrated with the setting/color, but it will be more flexible, and I think there's room for that.
    I am actually doing the opposite of what your proposing, though I do so in the name of story. I am currently designing so that each different setting will contribute as much to the process/experience of gameplay as any character. From a narrative perspective, the Setting is about as important as one PC. This allows for some baseline of narrative direction (to keep a noir game, noir for instance). It's an easy tool to make a new setting or procedurally define the most important narrative aspects of an existing one. An essential character of the experience is the contribution, but not domination, of the setting on the narrative.

    Something like an apocalypse world hack, per setting, but with less work involved?
  • Posted By: stefoid

    Something like an apocalypse world hack, per setting, but with less work involved?

    Closer to the Dresden Files City Creation process or World Burning; something that is simple enough that it could be done at the table or it could be done ahead of time by a GM.
  • I like the sound of this too. Generic games that blandly advise me that "all" I have to do is pare down some massive list of skills, powers, bonuses, and pains in the ass, are really selling short the effort that takes. Some kind of career-path system, but instead a genre- or world-path, sounds very inviting. Then the design process is also a fun game on its own, instead of homework.

    Even better is if that process can bring its own surprises, a la the cluster system in Diaspora.

  • I think the only generic story telling system is language, art, dance and song. and even then mostly just language.

    So your the guy that took the name spark... your game sounds neat, please include a few pre-burned worlds and characters.

    but really I'm not terribly interested in "generic rpgs"

    I will tell you what I do like and what a number of other people like. Take for example the board game Risk. Many editions of risk have been made that adapt the basics of the game to various settings, some of these games are actually fantastic, modern masterpieces even. These variants seem to have a number of recurring mechanics mixed in with a few new things that give each game it's own flavor, while still playing on the risk brand and basic rules.

    What you never see is a large box that says "play risk in any setting with this box!" it would have figures and rules for everything and ask you to decide what you played with. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it would be a neat box and probably find a market but it would ultimately be of use to fewer people. my experience tells me most people want to play a game, they hardly want to learn a game, few people care enough to question the rules, and only the truly sick want to write them.
  • edited March 2011
    My tuppence on game designing is:

    First of all, don't focus on creative agendas. Simulationism, etc. That only brings in confusion. Rather, think about what your game is about. What is generic about it and what sets it apart from other games?

    For the purpose of my explanation, I will simply ignore anything that is traditional in being incoherent. With this I include all GURPS, Storyteller, Basic, etc. games. What makes them incoherent won't be explained here, but if you think you need such explanation, please let me know. It's pretty straightforward but it takes a little time to explain.

    The question "what makes the game generic" is not banal because you may be aiming at creating a system with no setting, thus playable in virtually any setting, but still give the game a precise direction, i.e. "i want to create a game about how characters' choices make them evolve". Or "i want to create a game that focuses on relationships between people".

    But if it's not about the setting and you want to provide a toolbox, that's also possible. Of course the stats and crunch you're going to create will influence the gameplay, so there is actually a limit to how much generic your game can be. Think about a choice: "do I want characters in my game to have hit points?" That is going to change the gameplay. "Do I want them to have beliefs or values?" that also changes the way players play the game.
    FATE and the Solar System are generic. They don't stick to a setting, you can create any type of story from them. But these stories will have a certain flavor and characters will go towards a certain direction. That direction is what your game is about, and also determines why it's different from FATE, Solar System, etc.

    So the first step is answering this question. And forget about creative agendas. That's a talk that has caused more confusion than it has solved doubts in my experience. Besides, the CA of your game will come in naturally once you've determined the answer to this question.
    Hope this helps.
  • Posted By: Jason PitreAlas, I have never read any of the later category to date despite my efforts at trying to hunt down a copy of PTA.
    You can read http://norwegianstyle.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/archipelago-ii/and http://bleedingplay.wordpress.com/geiger/ right now, as we speak. You are right - conflict rather than task (which is my bag, baby) but they're worth a look.

    I like this thread. Particularly Tazio's post just now. It has made my thinking clearer.
  • Posted By: jdfristromPosted By: Jason PitreAlas, I have never read any of the later category to date despite my efforts at trying to hunt down a copy of PTA.
    You can readhttp://norwegianstyle.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/archipelago-ii/andhttp://bleedingplay.wordpress.com/geiger/right now, as we speak. You are right - conflict rather than task (which is my bag, baby) but they're worth a look.

    I like this thread. Particularly Tazio's post just now. It has made my thinking clearer.

    Thanks for the links jdfristrom!
  • Posted By: Suna
    The question "what makes the game generic" is not banal because you may be aiming at creating a system with no setting, thus playable in virtually any setting, but still give the game a precise direction, i.e. "i want to create a game about how characters' choices make them evolve". Or "i want to create a game that focuses on relationships between people".

    But if it's not about the setting and you want to provide a toolbox, that's also possible. Of course the stats and crunch you're going to create will influence the gameplay, so there is actually a limit to how much generic your game can be. Think about a choice: "do I want characters in my game to have hit points?" That is going to change the gameplay. "Do I want them to have beliefs or values?" that also changes the way players play the game.
    FATE and the Solar System are generic. They don't stick to a setting, you can create any type of story from them. But these stories will have a certain flavor and characters will go towards a certain direction. That direction is what your game is about, and also determines why it's different from FATE, Solar System, etc.

    So the first step is answering this question. And forget about creative agendas. That's a talk that has caused more confusion than it has solved doubts in my experience. Besides, the CA of your game will come in naturally once you've determined the answer to this question.
    Hope this helps.
    I do see a fundamental division between the style of play and the content of play. Many story games aim to lock down both of those elements and are able to achieve a remarkable albeit overly restricted game. Many of the traditional games tended to mandate certain content of play such as setting, with little attention played to the details of the style of play which would ensue. I am aiming for the inverse, to support a style of player-focused conflicts for a variety of different settings.
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