Pulsipher Game Design

This blog contains comments by Dr. Lewis Pulsipher about tabletop games he is designing or has designed in the past, as well as comments on game design (tabletop and video) in general. It repeats his blog at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/

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Recent Screencasts (9 June 2017)

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I rarely get around to posting individual links to my "Game Design" YouTube channel here, so I decided to list the most recent screencasts instead.

Departing from the standard (card game) sequence of play
https://youtu.be/sfb1aWU6Ens 6/8/2017
The standard sequence of play makes a specialty card game easier to learn. But don't "settle" for it, your game may be better with something else.

Nuts & Bolts: How to get an improvisers's game from a planner's game
https://youtu.be/juG7AfFcqas 6/1/2017
I describe how I changed Britannia, an historical Planner's game par excellence, into an Improviser's space wargame, with just a few changes. Very different experience, essentially same underlying mechanics.

Ranking Sources of Information About Game Design Two parts
https://youtu.be/MjmP1kD7Vyc 4/20/2017
https://youtu.be/JnrGy8DBOOU
The best way to learn is to make games. The second best way is to talk with (and listen to) other game designers, whether informally or in a class. After that there are many sources of learning, and I've ranked those in a two-part screencast.

Eight awful truths about game marketing
https://youtu.be/DbNlo4Jgk4A
I ran across "10 Awful Truths about Book Marketing" online, and seeing the parallels with games, I'm discussing those Truths (including the two that don't apply). Another time I'll discuss some strategies you can follow to do your best in this environment.

There's no "Secret Knowledge" or "secret Sauce" (nor conspiracies) in Game Design
https://youtu.be/bzvMFoH0Ejk
Aspiring designers sometimes believe that there's a secret formula to game design, and all they have to do is follow it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The delusion seems to be common in society these days, that there's a secret knowledge to any discipline. It's the kind of thing that helps fuel conspiracy theories.
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Wed Aug 9, 2017 3:16 pm
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Recent Screencasts on my YouTube "Game Design" channel

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I rarely get around to posting individual links to my "Game Design" YouTube channel here, so I decided to list the most recent screencasts instead.

Nuts & Bolts: How a game can derive from a bit of another? https://youtu.be/z64CmrVCYN4
It's not unusual for a game to use a system that's been successful in another game. But sometimes one game grows out of a small bit of another.

Constraints in games from a player viewpoint (two parts) https://youtu.be/p_zEo1Dt0JQ
Though contemporary gamers (especially video gamers) tend to dislike constraints, practically speaking games ARE merely sets of constraints. Properly specified constraints can make the game especially interesting. for the player(s).

Digital Game Pricing (2 parts) https://youtu.be/Zr_67zmDtWQ
https://youtu.be/1ZezRtcsnJg
Some people suppose that there's a "solution" to (over)saturation of the downloadable game market. There are lots of schemes, but I don't see any solutions in this detailed examination.

RPGs: Stifling Creativity? https://youtu.be/anLNLWX090s
It seems too many DMs are guilty of letting players push them around, resulting in a waste of time while a player tries to convince the MD that such-and-such wildly unlikely occurrence should be assigned a decent chance of happening. When you enforce the game rules (and physics) you simply the game and keep it moving along, you aren't stifling creativity.

Yes, the dead-kobold wielder actually said "You're stifling my creativity." Poppycock!

Practical vs Reality https://youtu.be/kjbHNC3nkhk
Game design is a series of compromises, and major compromises can occur when reality and what's practical in a game clash. Some "practical decisions" result in behavior that has next to nothing to do with reality.

My Patreon is at:
https://www.patreon.com/LewisPulsipher
My thanks for the support from Rossan 78.
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Mon Mar 6, 2017 6:15 pm
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Triptych VIII: Three separate topics in one post

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(Except this time it’s four to get to a 1,000 words. . .!)

Programming is not “Integral” to Games
Pop History
Special Powers Card Games
Virtual Reality

Programming is not “Integral” to Games
(Originally written in 2009. And we now see, with Unity, how much easier it is to make video game software than in 2009.) I don't regard video games as fundamentally different from non-electronic games. There are tens of thousands of non-electronic games that were never touched by a programmer. If the video game designer had some "magic" (technologically advanced) way to create the software - and as time goes on and technology improves, this will be the case - then programmers would be unnecessary.

That's why I regard programming as a necessary evil of video games, not fundamental to games.

It is already the case that someone who isn't a programmer by training or inclination can create the equivalent of Pac-Man with Gamemaker in a fairly short time. More and more complex video games will be made without trained/professional programmers.

Ultimately, programming is "donkey work," something that ought to be done by machines. But I could say the same about many kinds of work. Some of those kinds of work have already disappeared or are disappearing, some will disappear. Programming is going to be done by machines--already is, in many cases, though the machines are using software created by programmers - long before design or art is done by machines.

***

Pop History
I read something recently about a game covering the fall of Rome in Britain, and about incorporating Arthurian stories into it.

Yes, I included Arthur in Britannia, but that was literary license, not history.

Yes, there are lots of books supposedly about Arthur, all amounting to "well, this could have meant that, and could have been about the person we call Arthur" that then transforms into "this was Arthur". It's a big industry of speculation with virtually no foundation, much more fiction than fact. There is NO contemporary evidence for "Arthur", almost no contemporary evidence for *anything* in this time period. ("Dark Ages", remember? Dark because of lack of information, not a comment on the standard of living.)

A big reason why history changes so much from one generation to the next, is that so much of it is malleable rather than certain. History becomes, not fact, but fiction intended to appeal to the desires or needs of contemporaries.

"Pop" history, video history as we sometimes see on the History Channel, is a reflection of this. It's history as modified by what "the masses" want it to be.

***

Special Powers Card Games
One reason why Magic:the Gathering became successful is that it was, if not the first game, one of the first games where the main interaction is between the cards of the two players, using special powers that are exceptions to the rules. That has been generalized for many card games, it's a kind of game that's easy to make, and I know several budding designers whose first game is of this type.

I am not a fan of them because they don't have anything do with reality. Some of the people who are designing the games may think so - but there's a weak grasp on reality these days. Yu-Gi-Oh is even worse because lacks the constraint of "lands".

For me any "theme" in these games is just a gloss. It's not something that actually affects how the cards are played or how the game is designed. It doesn't help people understand how the game works, either.

My name for this kind of game is "Special Powers Card Game" (SPCG).

***

Virtual Reality
Pundits are still pontificating about whether virtual-reality games (VR) will succeed as a business, and have been since the announced release date for the Oculus VR with the anticipation that it’s Valve and Sony competitors would be not far behind.

I have not used one of these contemporary VR systems, and I read that people who do are often converted to the cause. My experience goes back some decades when (at a convention I cannot otherwise recall) I put on a primitive VR-like device. It was suspended as a pair of eyeglasses, but with one side empty and the other side occupied by a small module. That module produced a red dot on black screen display (this tells you how old it was) that substituted for the screen display of typical computers of the time. You could see the “screen” with one eye while the other could see your normal surroundings. I didn’t try to play a game with it but I was quite impressed with how very well it substituted for a screen.

I also recall, in the early to mid 90s, watching a graphical “virtual tour” of a part of the new Womack Medical Center that was being built. The 486 computers of the day really weren’t fast enough to render the tour in more than slow motion. It was quite fascinating nonetheless.

More recently I’ve seen augmented reality (AR) games, and I understand that game developers are far more gung ho about AR than about VR, yet few of them are actually producing AR products. [Written before Pokemon Go was released! I bet a lot more are working on AR now.]

Within the past six or seven years I’ve also been in a virtual-reality chamber where three walls showed a seascape and you could walk around looking at it.

Recognizing that computing power is still advancing rapidly, and thinking about how the graphical capabilities of computers have changed from the old ASCII graphics to modern 3-D, it appears to me to be inevitable that VR will succeed sooner or later. Too many people want to reach the Star Trek holodeck stage for maximum immersion.

Whether the current products will start that progression, or fail as those of the past have failed, is subject to all kinds of chance and unforeseen factors (such as hygiene?). Remember, the best products don’t always prevail in the marketplace (Betamax versus VHS VCR for example). Timing is very important, and we have no idea, even now with products out there, whether the timing is good.

***

My Black Friday/Christmas sale on my online game design courses is listed on my website, http://pulsiphergames.com/#BlackFriday

Doomstar has sold better than the average mobile game, though how it compares with other PC (and Mac/Linux) games I do not know. It’s on Steam as “Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar” but Doomstar is good enough to search. Or buy from the publisher https://largevisiblemachine.itch.io/doomstar
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Wed Dec 7, 2016 2:16 pm
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Triptych VI Three different topics in one blog post

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Triptych VI
Three different topics in one blog post.


"The game must be fun to play"


I've been looking at tabletop publisher submission guidelines and often see some form of this ridiculous statement: "Game must be fun to play"

Why is this ridiculous? Because how enjoyable a game is depends so much on the preferences of the target market that there's no such thing as a "fun game", period. I don't use the word fun at all, because I think fun comes from the people you play with, and the circumstances, and that's how people can have fun playing a dire game like Monopoly, or even a super-serious game like chess. Lots of people enjoy playing chess, but half of them wouldn't call it fun (yes, I've asked chess players).

Look at the movie reviews at Metacritic.com and you'll see how two people can have entirely opposite views of whether a movie is good. With more genres, more variety, games are even more subject to variable opinions.

So to say "fun game" is so personal that it's no guide to a designer who may want to submit a prototype.

Occasionally I'll write to the publisher who's done the "fun thing" and try to get them to explain what they like. Sometimes it's hard to pin them down, sometimes not. They all know (or think they know) what they think a fun game is, but do they consciously know?

====
Game Shops


I am rarely in a game shop, both because they're scarce and because I live "out in the country". I recently went to one for a game designers' guild meeting, and took time to look at what was on offer (other than comic books).

First, I saw lots of boxes, large and small, containing miniatures, including games using miniatures. Star Wars X-Wing, War Machine, War Hammer, and others. A 2 inch tank was discounted to $11.51! To me, never in sympathy with miniatures prices at the best of times, the prices were breathtaking. But that means big profits for the shop.

It also showed how much game shops are driven by hit games, hardly a surprise.

I also saw lots of CCGs and accessories, also providing great profit margins to the shop.

More than half the square footage of the shop was devoted to game playing space. I was told that on Wednesdays, boardgame night, the place was full, which would be 50 people I'd guess. The Thursday I was there, with no formal organization, there were 10 in the game area.



My experience is a little different in Gainesville, Fl, where there's one boardgame shop, and another I haven't visited that is comics and so forth (and Magic) and not much in the way of boardgames.

There are game events every evening (7 days a week) at this shop. But what dominates the shop's revenue is Magic: the Gathering, and many of the events are Magic tournaments or casual play.

Not surprising about Magic, it is much more than half the CCG category, and CCGs are much more than half the tabletop game category, in the US (by revenue). Magic is about a third of the whole.

****

Instant Gratification, Generational Differences


I can record a hockey or basketball game and watch it a day (or two) later; as long as I haven't heard the score, it's just as "real" as at the time it was actually played. Many people absolutely don't understand how I can do this. It's because I have an imagination, and because I'm not wedded to Instant Gratification. But also, I don't rely on social media for my enjoyment of the game; I have other things to do during a game, if I'm not going to just watch it.

I always hated ABC for those NASL soccer games interrupted by commercials. Not the interruption, but the fact that they didn't tape delay so that you saw the entire game. Instead they'd come back occasionally and say "while you were away a goal was scored" and show the replay. DUMB! I didn't care if it wasn't quite "live", I did care not to be told what happened "before" it happened!

Life in general isn't a matter of what's new, it's a matter of what's new to you at the time. Yes, the hockey game is "old news" to some, but to me it's new at the time.

The game Stratego is new to someone first playing it even though it's been around for more than 70 years, and its nearly-identical predecessor (L' Attaque) has been around for more than a hundred.

The whole notion of “innovative mechanic” or “innovative game” is so wrapped up with what players have known before, as to be mostly-useless.
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Thu Feb 11, 2016 2:48 pm
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Triptych V: Three different topics in one blog post

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Really Old Commercial Wargames

One of my favorite games before I encountered Avalon Hill wargames was American Heritage Broadsides. It was non-random; the only uncertainty in the game was in where the defender placed his cannon, some of which scored hits and some of which did not, information not available to the attacker until one of his ships passed the gun and took the consequences. At the other end of the spectrum we had Conflict, a game with planes and armies and ships (all metal miniatures), but which was mostly a dice game. You rolled two dice and moved two of your pieces the distance of one of the dice. When you moved over an opposing piece you eliminated it. The game amounted to putting yourself in the right position and hoping to roll doubles, which would let you roll again.

Along with the Avalon Hill games we had Risk and Diplomacy. Risk is a game that depends strongly on dice and on the luck of the territory cards. Diplomacy is a game with no overt random element but with simultaneous movement, so that sometimes, intricate tactics and possibly guessing or trying to divine the intentions of the enemy were involved. Of course in both games you had the potential for negotiation - more or less a requirement in Diplomacy - because each player was outnumbered heavily by the other players in combination. You had to talk to people to try to change those odds.

“Holes” (Plot and Setting) in Military Novels

In David Weber's well-known Honor Harrington military SF series, the space battles are quite detailed. But as with most novels I read nowadays, there are holes you could drive a truck through, sometimes holes in setting, sometimes in plot. In this series, for example, missiles are the long-range space battle weapon. But in the books, battles often hinge on missiles having finite range because they burn up all their fuel, then "go ballistic" so that they can't maneuver (maneuver is particularly important).

Why not burn up some fuel, continue indefinitely at whatever velocity one reaches, then burn the rest of the fuel for maneuver when they reach the enemy? So simply obvious. Weber seems to somehow be thinking in earthly terms, where a missile that isn't burning fuel, slows down and eventurally crashes. Doh!

“Wave Your Hand” History

We have always had “pop” (popular) history as now embodied in The History Channel, though in the past it was in books and not in video. We’ve also had speculative history, and it has to be said that most historians have to speculate at one time or another because there is no way to know the truth.

I’m not sure how much in the past we’ve had what I call “wave your hand history”. By this I mean history where the “historian” collects a series of bits of history and links them all to one particular thesis by saying “well, this could relate to” whatever topic he or she is pursuing. At some point this “could” becomes “does” and pure speculation turns into “history”. For example, there is no contemporary evidence for the existence of “King Arthur,” whether as King of the Britons or as a war leader. But there’s an entire industry of book publishing (and public speaking) revolving around the supposed existence of Arthur. The epitome of this is the book “The Historic King Arthur” by Frank D. Reno, who has evidently made a career of getting paid to speculate about Arthur. He takes little bits of information that we have about various shadowy people and presumes that all relate to someone named Arthur, and ends up with a “history” of the “real Arthur”. To me this is somewhere between disingenuous and just plain dishonest. This period really is the Dark Ages with very little written information available, and not much archaeology.

The fundamental premise in Da Vinci Code (Mary Magdelaine) feels much like this. (I have not read the book, only watched the movie.)

***

Bits of news:
I intend to be at the UK Game Expo in 2016.

Sea Kings is less than $40 at coolstuffinc.com.

Black Friday will see a sale on my online classes - see pulsiphergames.com Thanksgiving Day. This is the only time of the year that I give discounts beyond the standard discount.
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Fri Nov 27, 2015 3:36 am
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The Stages of Playtesting: the Nature of the Testers, or the State of the Game?

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Typically, the stages of game play testing are divided into Alpha and Beta and sometimes other names. But when people use these terms, they often mean quite different things. I’m going to discuss some of the different views of the stages of playtesting, and the “new” stages that can come even after release of a game.

It doesn’t really matter what we call the stages, what matters is what’s happening, and that’s what we’ll focus on.

I have always thought of playtesting in terms of who is doing the playtesting and what their relationship is to the creation of the game. But some people focus on the state of the game rather than who is doing the testing. That’s where much of the confusion arises.

In my book Game Design (McFarland, 2012), I briefly discussed the stages of playtesting:

There are three stages to playtesting: solo playtesting (also called "alpha"), local playtesting ("beta"), and "blind" or “external” playtesting (often spoken of as part of the "beta" stage). While there are various ways to name these stages, the stages certainly exist, although sometimes video game companies leave out the “external” testing stage.

Of course, in single-player video games all testing will be solo for a single player game. I might have said instead of “solo playtesting,” “playtesting by the game developer(s).” The difference between Alpha and Beta is that the Beta testers are not among the developers of the game, so they have a completely different point of view. Developers often have worked with the game so long and so closely that they cannot see it objectively, and they have learned over time to cope with problems or peculiarities in the game that an ordinary player would regard as seriously detrimental.

I emphasized who is doing the testing, because historically video game studios often failed to playtest beyond the game developers themselves, that is, never got to the Beta stage. And their games suffered severely for it. This failure is much, much less common today.

Since I wrote the book I’ve added the third Greek letter, “Gamma,” to represent testing after a game is released. This is especially common in video games where a free-to-play game is often released in an unfinished but functional state so that the developers can discover whether there’s “something in it”. If there isn’t, they stop development and they’ve saved themselves a lot of time and effort (and that equals money). If there is something in it (if enough people enjoy it), they can continue to develop the game and continue to benefit from user feedback, which is after all what playtesting is, user feedback.


In contrast to judging playtesting stages by who is testing, Alan Paull, designer of many published games and lately of games for his co-owned company Surprised Stare, thinks of testing in terms of the state of the game. In the Alpha stage the game is not stable (is changed frequently), whereas in the Beta stage the game is fairly stable.

When judging from the state of the game, at some point the game is regarded as entirely stable, that is, ready to publish. In this context I’m reminded of the Microsoft term “release candidate,” where software is tested, and if no additional problems are found it is released, even though there are still lots of known coding problems in the software. (No large computer application is ever released without lots of bugs, both known and unknown.) In tabletop game terms the nearest equivalent would be a game distributed for testing by a publisher who has committed to publishing the game.

“Blind testing” is quite different in the video game world than in tabletop, because video games are intended to work without requiring the player to read a rules manual, whereas blind testing in tabletop requires the tester to read the rules and learn the game from the rules. It’s really hard to find people who will follow through with a blind tabletop playtest, unless the game is a “release candidate.” In tabletop the presumption is that at the blind testing stage you have a “release candidate.” The other assumption is that the playtesters have had nothing to do with the development of the game.


Recently some terms have been adopted in the video game world that further differentiate (and also confuse) the matter. Alpha and Beta stages can now be “open” or “closed.” Closed means that only certain select/privileged/lucky people are able to participate. For example, World of Warships has gone through an Alpha stage, a closed Beta, and soon an open Beta. In all of those stages virtually all players have had nothing to do with development of the game, so these terms relate to the state of the game - what I would three years ago have called Beta.

On Steam (video game distribution for PCs) we have “Early Access” games where players are already paying for the game even though it is still in playtesting. Playtesters paying to play? That’s a good trick if you can manage it. (World of Warships has achieved it, by selling “Premium” ships that give people access to play in the otherwise-closed Beta.) "Early Access" testing is possible primarily because there is no cost in making another (playtest) copy of a software game.


Furthermore, as publishing and re-publishing becomes easier, “playtesting” becomes part of publication. Video game patches fix programming bugs, but they can also fix gameplay problems. In effect, they’re changes to the game resulting from the “Gamma” testing, testing after publication. Even for some tabletop games this kind of thing can be done. “Living rules” (rules posted online that can be revised) are the result of testing-after-release of a tabletop game. Or imagine you’ve published a Print-on-Demand (POD) game, e.g. through DriveThruCards or theGameCrafter.com. If a problem arises, you can change one or more components so that every subsequent buyer benefits from the testing-after-release. Gamma testing is a reality for many kinds of games.

In any case, the accompanying diagram is an attempt to graphically show what’s happening. As time passes, the game is improved (shown by black line), but improvements come more slowly as the game approaches completion (also shown by the blue rate of improvement line). As the game improves, the testing usually reaches a wider audience (shown by red line). Late in the testing process this audience may contract (tabletop games blind testing), or may expand (video game “release candidate” testing), shown by the two branches of the red line.

As for the names of playtesting stages, I think Gamma (post-release) needs to be recognized, though some might want to use Gamma to designate "release candidate" testing, and Delta for post-release testing. I don’t think we’ll have any agreement about Alpha and Beta, as some people continue to emphasize who is testing, and some emphasize the state of the game.





****
I've recently opened a brief (one hour?) online course, "Prospering at Game Conventions and Conferences" on Udemy.
This is officially $5, but FREE to you with this URL-coupon:
https://www.udemy.com/game-conventions-and-conferences/?coup...

At the same time I've opened an "Introduction to (Tabletop) Role-playing Game Design"
More than four hours long, but it IS an introduction.
This is $15 on Udemy, with this URL-coupon it's $12:
https://www.udemy.com/intro-to-tabletop-role-playing-game-de...

I will soon start a Patreon campaign for support for my Game Design channel on YouTube, as well.
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Mon Jun 8, 2015 6:12 pm
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July 2014 Miscellany

Lewis Pulsipher
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Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

**
I'll be giving a talk at WBC in early August, and four at GenCon in mid-August.

**
I am all for using games in education. But not for what so many "experts" mean by "gamification". *Shakes head*. The bandwagon for "gamification" (which I call scorification) is immense. I would not want to be associated with the word. Use "game-based learning" when you're using actual games for learning. Leave the word "gamification" to applications that don't use actual games.

**
GenCon now clearly as much a story convention as a game convention: writer's panels displaced the independent game seminars from the convention center.

**
Recipe for disaster? An English-language Kickstarter pitch for a Dutch game, but they haven't finished the English translation of the rules. What about testing them?

**
Can you call something a "block game" if it doesn't use steps (rotate)? If it doesn't use dice? Is Stratego a "block game"? No, I'd say. What seems to characterize block games is hidden identity and the rotation to show different strengths.

**
Why do people pay $4 for a coffee, not for a mobile game? Maybe because there is no cost to making more of the video game, while there is a cost to making more coffee.

**
Games often show a typical misunderstanding of pirates. Pirates used small ships full of men to board, not guns, lousy for commerce. Pirates were NOT merchants, nor could they profitably live as merchants using those small ships.

Moreover, piracy tended to be a democracy, not highly disciplined. And pirates did NOT like to fight, by and large.

(Vikings had that fame and Valhalla thing about fighting, but mostly they avoided fighting, as well. And when they did fight a pitched battle, they lost as often as they won.)

**
Narratives - accounts of what happens - are often NOT good stories, not interesting unless you're the person it happened to. If I were a professional story-maker I'd never call myself "narrative consultant."

**
I’ve never seen a plastic meeple. Surely when mass-produced they’d be cheaper than wood. (What brought this to mind was the idea that plastics are cheaper from China, wood cheaper from Germany/eastern Europe.)

**
I suspect there's a pretty strong tendency for new publishers to prefer unknown designers to someone who is well-established/well-known. First, they'll pay them less. Second, the new designer will be less demanding/have lower expectations. Third, the publisher will be the most prominent part of the package, not the designer.

**
I keep reading about photo-realistic video games that nonetheless sound more and more abstract in actual play. . . So many gaming conventions (that's things typically done, not gatherings of gamers) that have no correspondence to reality (such as weapons and med-kits lying all over the place, switchable skills).

**
"Replayability is a primary quality of the greatest games. Product sustained by the cult of the new only has to be good for a few sessions." -Jeff Johnson, http://jeffro.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/my-hobby-is-not-about...

**
Odd email request: someone making a game for his girlfriend. Asked for the astronomical photo I used as background for a prototype, minus the grid etc. So I sent it to him.

**
TV/fiction tropes: Interesting reading for aspiring writers (and, sometimes, game designers): tvtropes.org

**
There's more to designing games than the activity of designing games, especially for video games. Usually video games are created by groups, and the designer must clearly and accurately communicate with the programmers, artists, and others making the game.

For tabletop games it's more solitary, but you have licensing, marketing

**
The heart of a novel is characterization, though there's more to it than that (plot, dramatic tension, etc.). The heart of a game is gameplay, though there's more to it than that (interface, appearance, sometimes story, etc.) We might add here, the heart of an interactive puzzle (such as many one-player video games) is challenge, though there's more to it than that.

Quoted from my "Game Design" book (McFarland 2012)

**
“Gamification” in practice amounts to scorification of *contests*, not use of actual gameplay techniques. There is no game. . .
Contest: each competitor does something separately, without being able to affect the other competitors through gameplay. Compare results.

**
I see people designing lots of tabletop fighting games an even shooters and equivalents of MMOs.

Just because it's a game, doesn't mean it's suitable for the tabletop.

Lots of fundamentally repetitious video games don't translate well to the tabletop. Those video games are quite long or don't have a well-defined end at all (fighting games are an exception). And most of those games are essentially athletic contests, sports. Neither of those characteristics translates well to the tabletop. Moreover, the computer can keep track of details, and provide "fog of war", that are very hard to reproduce in tabletop games.

**
When I need to change something to improve a game, I look for an historical/modeling reason first, rather than simply look for a good mechanic. Those accustomed to making essentially abstract games, even if they have a so-called "theme", think of mechanics first, not modeling.

**
Morgan Freeman on art :
"I don't think that anything where you start off with something is an art form. If you start off with a blank page or a blank canvas or a blank slab or a blank stone, you're going to create something."

Games certainly qualify by that definition.

**
At a tabletop game club meeting earlier this year, there were 55 attendees. Many of them did not appear to recognize Axis & Allies . . .
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Triptych III: three separate topics

Lewis Pulsipher
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Three separate topics: "Enslaved by technology", Game Design: Understanding Why, and:

Must tabletop wargames only be just as the grognards want them to be?

I know tabletop wargamers, "grognards", who think you must have a board with hexes, and cardboard counters with numbers on them, or you don't have a wargame. Britannia-like games certainly don't meet these criteria, nor Diplomacy, nor Risk, nor many other games.

I think more fundamentally, many wargamers are people who don't like games that can involve negotiations, that is, games where talking with other players can give you an advantage (or disadvantage); or perhaps more specifically, they don't like games where you're clearly at a disadvantage if you don't talk to other players. Many wargamers are accustomed to playing solo, and I think some (who in many cases have gone into computer wargames) really don't want to deal with other people.

These wargamers tend to play battle games, games without production economies, whereas the wargames for more than two players not only feature talking, but frequently have production economies. (Axis & Allies is one of the exceptions, a two player wargame with production economies.) The object in a battle game is usually to destroy the enemy force; the object in a war game (notice the space between war and game) is to take economic capability from the enemy, and improve your own, because the best economy will usually win in the end. Which is quite often true in Britannia, for example, and always true in computer Civilization, Diplomacy, and (except for the kludge of the cards) Risk. It is *not* true in History of the World, which despite the title is a battle game, not a war game, with a variable order of battle and no production economy.

If there's a future for wargaming, other than an obscure niche in video games, it's in simpler games where there aren't numbers on the pieces, and where there are often more than two players. That will lose some of the grognards, but it should gain even more of the players who are not enamored of numbered counters and hexes.

***
Game Design: Understanding Why

One of the keys to being a good game designer, and to making yourself appear to a potential employer to be a good game designer, is understanding why you make changes that ultimately work out, rather than just guessing at changes until finally one of your changes works. If you're trying to get hired by a video game studio, you need to be able to articulate exactly why changes worked or didn't, and why you tried particular changes, so that they'll understand that you understand game design, you're not just using trial and error (guess and check). Trial and error works in the long run in playing most video games, but it's terribly inefficient in game production.

If you're a programmer, you may have seen lots of student programmers behave in this undesirable way: guessing at what's wrong, then guessing at a solution, instead of trying to figure out what's wrong and then find a way to fix it.

So in my "Game Design" book I try to explain WHY? It's my preference for education (understanding) over training (memorization).

***
"Enslaved by technology"

Some video gamers are so dazzled by tech (especially the techno-fetishists) that they cannot see the forest (the game as a whole) for the trees (the technology). They're Enthralled with "realistic water rippling" and "the play of moonlight in the leaves during a breeze." I think this appeals especially to the "Attention Deficit . . . oooooh shiny" generation.

It goes back to traditional dominance of video games by programmers, too. You had to be a programmer as well as a designer in the days when one person made a video game. And video gamer programmers still look down on designers, feeling they're just people who get ideas, and anyone can do that. (Which tells you how little they understand design.) There would be no video games without programmers, they say - mostly true even now - so they are impressed with themselves, but are not impressed by design.

Hardly surprising, then that there's techno-fetishism in the ranks of the game makers as well as the game players.

Ron Gilbert (The Secret of Monkey Island etc.):

Quote:
"I think many people making games today are very tech focused. They're very excited about the technology and how they're going to model realism - "We have a million blades of grass and they are all swaying to the wind correctly!" That's interesting at some level, but I think they might be missing this whole other piece, which is creating interesting characters and creating interesting worlds and stories. It's the technical versus the creative sides of this thing." GameInformer issue 199 November 2009 p. 53



Courses.PulsipherGames.Com

At WBC (Lancaster PA, early August), I will be talking about Designing Multi-player Games (and a lot of other design related topics) on Friday at 5 in Hopewell. This is listed as 1 hour, but I don't see anything scheduled thereafter, so as usual it will be up to 2 hours or whenever people no longer want to participate, whichever comes first.

My seminars at GenCon (August, Indianapolis):
SEM1453968 Introduction to Design of (Strategic) Wargames (https://www.gencon.com/events/53968) Thursday 3:00 PM 1 hr
SEM1453969 How to Write Clear Rules (https://www.gencon.com/events/53969) Friday 11:00 AM 1 hr
SEM1453970 Multi-Sided Conflict Game Design (https://www.gencon.com/events/53970) Saturday 11:00 AM 1 hr
SEM1453476 Of Course You Can Design a Game, But Can You Design a Good One? (https://www.gencon.com/events/53476) Sunday 9:00 AM
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Triptych II

Lewis Pulsipher
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Conventions and classes
I'll be at PrezCon in Charlottesville this weekend (beginning Thursday night). I'll be giving a talk about strategic wargame design (Strategic Wargame Design Sat  20:00 (8PM) J. Madison room). If you care to talk with me (which is why I'll be there), I am about 6'6", unfortunately over 300 pounds, glasses, mustache, balding on top (or wearing a cap), and over 60. Can't miss me.

I will soon be offering my online audiovisual classes on my own as well as through Udemy. They'll cost more through Udemy. News at pulsiphergames.com.


"Intuitive"
Quote from a comment on BGG: "Unintuitive rules are rules that don't make sense given the game's setting, goals, and components. It has nothing to do with previous gaming experience (otherwise every new game that strays from a known formula would be unintuitive)."

Get some people together who almost never play board games, and try to teach them some light (but not family) board games. What "makes sense" to gamers often does NOT make sense to the non-gamers. "Make sense" depends heavily on previous experience.

The effect of prior experience is especially obvious in user interfaces in video games. Players expect things to work a certain way because that's what they're used to. There may be a more sensible way to do it, but if you write your game in that more sensible way you've created a barrier for those used to the old way of doing it.

"Intuitive" frequently ends up meaning "what people are used to", not "what is most natural or sensible." Which is why I won't use the word in game design context.

Let's go further. We might think that photographs and maps are "intuitive", but take an aborigine who has never seen such a thing (no longer likely, but it's been done in the past) and they cannot make sense out of either. It is too far beyond their experience. They can be taught to recognize photos and even use maps, but to them there's NOTHING "intuitive" about it.

"Intuitive" as used in games is still a synonym for "easy to use" or "easy to learn", but it comes from what people are already familiar with.

Now on the other hand, there are things that may be natural to humans. For example, when moving a mouse, it's a lot easier to point at something at the edge of a screen, where you cannot overshoot it, than if it's away from the edge. In this respect, buttons on the screen edges are "intuitive", if anything is.

Twitter
I am @lewpuls on twitter. Some of these references from recent tweets may interest you:

Understanding Choice: 3dtotalgames.com/understanding-… (http://t.co/tDkm0EBxO1) It is written primarily with math-style games, often solvable games (puzzles), in mind.

Some games require software. Others (e.g. most tabletop) don't use software, just "brainware". (Term courtesy of my wife.)

Contest: each competitor does something separately, without being able to affect the other competitors through gameplay. Compare results.

“Gamification” in practice amounts to scorification of *contests*, not use of actual gameplay techniques. There is no game. . .

An articulate and fascinating look into a budding game designer's head: jeffro.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/how… (http://t.co/TgYM0AYkkK) #gamedesign (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23gamedesign)

Jakob Nielsen's advice about on-screen instructions for mobile apps should apply to mobile games too: nngroup.com/articles/mobil… (http://t.co/t9DfDqORj4) #gamedesign (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23gamedesign)

KS: "A service that lets you customize your perfect miniature using our web UI and have it 3D printed just for you!" kickstarter.com/projects/herof… (https://t.co/E9YEejaob5)

Avoiding player elimination in multi-sided games: youtu.be/Eu5C941Jjs8?a (http://t.co/gT0pvMe4YS) via @YouTube (https://twitter.com/YouTube/)

"Tech wars and talent shortages." How recruiting and working conditions have changed in the video game industry. gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-… (http://t.co/xPTer4OoPM)

"Player count and scalability" gamesprecipice.com/player-count-s… (http://t.co/9jvF0j8YAb)

Learning from backer cancellations in Kickstarter stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-le… (http://t.co/mZwtqOnUSN) Anyone planning to run a KS should read Jamey's lessons.

Unusual, often artsy, dice: shapeways.com/games/dice?li=… (http://t.co/w2SNRCjeUT) And on KS, kickstarter.com/projects/tinde… (https://t.co/RjLiQBmbJO) kickstarter.com/projects/15847… (https://t.co/QWbfhDtuXk) kickstarter.com/projects/33900… (https://t.co/e5BfgsmPEk)

Today is the 6th anniversary of Purple Pawn, a site for all kinds of non-electronic game news, BROAD coverage. purplepawn.com/2014/02/happy-… (http://t.co/EW8wd86pJC)

What makes my Game Design book unusual or unique: youtu.be/x20MqWdpkOM?a (http://t.co/mgIE7E4fGI) via @YouTube (https://twitter.com/YouTube/)

Sherlock Holmes: the Card Game, second edition kickstarter.com/projects/excal… (https://t.co/E9hl3gnIGF)

For those who have run their own studios this states the obvious, but not to newbies: gamasutra.com/blogs/RobinHum… (http://t.co/GopjrlC1pf) #gamedesign (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23gamedesign)

Diatribe against F2P games (with a couple of very interesting comparative videos by Nerd3 - beware, strong language): baekdal.com/opinion/how-in… (http://t.co/gjE0iQXUiQ)
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October 2013 Miscellany

Lewis Pulsipher
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Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

**
I was reading a free RPG ruleset recently. "<Game name> features a long and exciting list of rules that are outside the normal scope of today‘s top most role-playing games." How many gamers get excited by the rules? The rules are only a means to allow a game to be played. It's the play of the game, if anything, that should be exciting. *Shrug*. Perhaps the domination of the tabletop market by D&D/Pathfinder frustrates RPG designers who want to do things "differently".

**
Looking at the analytics for my free game design class, I'm astonished that Chrome is used more than twice as much as Firefox. (Top 2) Internet Explorer is even behind Safari (MAC).

**
How reliable are reviews of games and game-related materials? One thing you can do is compare reviews from different sources. Of course, if you look at Metacritic you sometimes see a wide variation in the number ratings for particular games.

But here's a striking example. GameInformer rates the Alienware 14 gaming laptop 8 out of 10 (very good), and in particular "loved the gentle feel of the systems soft-touch rubber keys" (which, I confess, sounds bad to me as a typist or a gamer). PC Gamer gave it 56 out of 100 and heavily criticizes the trackpad on that same keyboard. Five laptops in that review got much better ratings, only one worse.

**
For all of its colorful presentation, Magic: the Gathering is an abstract game. Only by the greatest stretch of the imagination can you say that player actions, or occurrences in the game, correspond to something that happens in a (fantasy) reality. There's no "analgousness" to any real (or fictional) reality. Nor do I believe the designers think in terms of modeling something, they are thinking about how to improve (or just change) an abstract game. The atmosphere is tacked on.

**
Gamer Psychology can be really odd. There are many (most) people who always want to know what they need before they roll dice, when they could save time by rolling first, then figuring it out if it isn't obviously too low or easily high enough. (One person says, well it's good practice to become familiar with the mods. But most people do it even when they know all the mods. ) It's as though the player subtly thinks he can influence the dice roll. Sure wastes time, though.

**
Some articles I've recommended through twitter:
Warren Spector: Industry must recognize both good and bad effects of games http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-10-07-spector-ind...

Game Developer Magazine complete archives: http://gdcvault.com/gdmag?goback=.gde_59205_member_275507544#

James Mathe lists Facebook groups that may be helpful to game designers and publishers: http://www.jamesmathe.com/facebook-pages-groups/

Some thought-provoking insight on games and stories from Chris Crawford: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/200989/Whats_Next_Chris_C...

Eric Zimmerman's How I Teach. (prologue): http://ericzimmerman.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/how-i-teach-pr...

Warren Spector's "commandments" of game design
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-09-04-warren-spec...

Ian Bogost What are MOOCs good for? For proving that MOOCs might be good if they were good. http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/lessons-learned-from-...

Parody of game design school commercials (stick with it) :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0o9AflX7yg

Most Dangerous Game Design: Scaffolding Choice: Ease Players into a Game's Choices. http://www.mostdangerousgamedesign.com/2013/09/scaffolding-c...

Extra Credits: Game Schools. (The Truth.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmdGZk-fF98

**
Occasionally I encounter people who are absolutely convinced that there are no generational differences, even though businesspeople widely recognize and account for such differences. Think about this and then ask yourself why my point of view as a Baby Boomer is very different from the point of view of a Millennial (30 and under, more or less):

When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, if you were lucky you had three black and white television networks to watch instead of two, there was no Internet and consequently no e-mail, no cell phones, slide rules not personal computers (or printers, CDs, or DVDs), no World Wide Web, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. A long distance call of any length cost real money. We had a "party line" phone shared by four households, which was common, so you listened to the ring to determine whether the call was for you or another party with the same line, and if you picked up the phone while someone else on the party line was having a conversation, you heard it all. If you had an emergency and someone else was already using the line, you'd have to ask them to get off so you could make the emergency call.

I first saw color TV in a person's house when I was 10 (trick-or-treat: the owners let the kids come in and see their cool color TV). Books and magazines and newspapers were the major sources of information, not radio, not TV, not the Internet. (Though if you wanted the most up-to-date news, you listened to the radio.)

Music was on 8-track tapes and vinyl LPs (33 and 45 revolutions per minute, though older 78 still existed). If you wanted to watch a movie, if on TV you stayed up after 11 (old movies only), or you went to a theater, there was no way to record a movie other than film. If you wanted a single song after its initial popularity you had to luckily find an out-of-print 45 or you bought an entire album. Or, once cassette tape became available (but by this time I was an adult), you recorded it from the radio.

There was no instant replay on sporting events because videotape had not been perfected. There was no three point shot in basketball, dunks were illegal for a few years, and high school women's basketball was played six a side with only two allowed to play both offense and defense. There not only was no Superbowl, the NFL championship game was not televised until several years after I was born.

Communication satellites came into use when I was a teenager, before then our foreign news came onto TV only with voice, via telephone undersea cables. The biggest recent events in the minds of adults were World War II, the Korean War (I was born during the Korean War), and the continuing Cold War. Nuclear Annihilation was on everyone's mind, an ever-present danger. (When I was 11 I walked home from school a few miles, alone, to test the possibility for sending everyone home that way if the Cuban Missile Crisis turned into a war.) Terrorism was something that happened far, far away.

My mother had grown up during the Great Depression. She would do things like collect the little bits of bar-soap left after use and melt them together to make new multi-colored bars for us to use. Waste not, want not. How many people do anything like that today, even the officially poor people?

I remember at age 9 watching the United States Army ensure a black girl could go to school in Little Rock, Arkansas - because the local National Guard couldn't be trusted to do it. I was 17 or 18 the first time any man and woman, one black, one white, kissed on national TV. No one expected we'd have a female or black president in our lifetimes. Same-sex marriage was impossible. "Made in Japan" was a bit of a joke. The Japanese were former badguys seen on war movies (and adults all remembered "the war"), not the objects of near-worship by young people that they sometimes seem to be in the age of anime.

In that era, as for generations before, a book was a treasure trove of information, something to be read carefully and absorbed as much as possible.

Nowadays people are much less impressed by books because there's so many other sources of information, but if you really want to learn about something in depth a good book is a really good way to do it.

Makes for a quite different point of view. Yes, I know what Plato says that Socrates said about young people. This is not "oh, old people always say that", this is a result of real differences in life and culture, which change much faster than they used to.
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Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:59 pm
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