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Subject: How does one avoid thematic disconnects? rss

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Tim Freerksen
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Ok, I've stated before I'm an ideas guy more than a DIY guy. One thing that paralyzes me how is how do you avoid thematic disconnects? Can you even do that? Do the players throw that into their experience or not?
 
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First suggestion - don't worry too much about it when you're starting the design. When you get into playtesting, if the disconnect exists and is noticeable your playtesters will point it out and you can deal with it then.

Second suggestion - start your design with a design statement. The statement explains what you (initially) want your game to achieve, and any time your design strays from that you make a conscious decision whether to rein the design back in, or change the design statement. That way, you start with a clear decision about whether theme or mechanic or something else is the deciding factor, so if there is a disconnect between them you know which one you want to take control.
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Nick Stables
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Interesting question. For me personally the only way I can get any immersion passively is via possessions, the best example being the newspapers, directory and map in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective; or the gambling mechanism in Agents of Smersh.

I find the immersion gets shallower when moving from first person perspective (in view) to miniatures, floor plans etc (overhead view). It takes familiarity with the narrative (unhindered flow of thoughts/feelings) and effort of imagination for me to invest a sense of being one with the mini/meeple, much like a child playing with action figures or director being in the shoes of the actor. I'm not entirely convince I can do it unless I actually put the shoes on.
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KC Schrimpl
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I think the lingo you use during gameplay is huge for thematic purposes. But you must also find a healthy balance between common game terms and thematic terms. You can easily cross the line and be obnoxious.
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marc lecours
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pusboyau wrote:

I find the immersion gets shallower when moving from first person perspective (in view) to miniatures, floor plans etc (overhead view).


This is very interesting. I had never thought of this in a boardgame context.
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marc lecours
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Fairly early in the design process, you should write a statement that explains who the players represent (or what the players represent...but "who" is better for immersion).

Then during the whole design process, keep going back to that statement. Each action, each movement of cubes, each manipulation of cards that does not relate directly to who the player represents breaks the immersion. For example if a player represents a monster in a combat game, then shuffling a deck of cards breaks the immersion...when have you ever seen a monster shuffling cards (exception would be a monster playing poker within the game).
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Nick Stables
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rubberchicken wrote:
pusboyau wrote:

I find the immersion gets shallower when moving from first person perspective (in view) to miniatures, floor plans etc (overhead view).


This is very interesting. I had never thought of this in a boardgame context.


Thankfully, it means I can distance myself from some of the Hotness
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John duBois
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copcopps wrote:
Ok, I've stated before I'm an ideas guy more than a DIY guy. One thing that paralyzes me how is how do you avoid thematic disconnects? Can you even do that? Do the players throw that into their experience or not?


Here's what I've found effective: When working on the core game experience, design one or two things that are explicitly and obviously theme-driven and aren't often found in other games.

For example, when designing a game about a workers' sit-down strike, the core game elements that linked the theme to mechanisms were (1) The game objective: to occupy factories a set amount of time (this one shows up elsewhere, but it really nailed this theme/experience mix), and (2) The idea that part of the core loop for players was to place workers to *stop* the game from taking actions, subverting the general worker placement genre.

Every time I show the game, players get more into the theme when I highlight those two mechanisms first and foremost in the game description.
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bruno faidutti
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One of my favorite tricks is to have very rough prototypes, almost abstract looking, with only a few cliparts as illustrations. This way, the theme cannot be carried out by the graphics, it has to get through the mechanics.
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Tim Freerksen
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faidutti wrote:
One of my favorite tricks is to have very rough prototypes, almost abstract looking, with only a few cliparts as illustrations. This way, the theme cannot be carried out by the graphics, it has to get through the mechanics.


Oooh that's very insightful and clever
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marc lecours
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faidutti wrote:
One of my favorite tricks is to have very rough prototypes, almost abstract looking, with only a few cliparts as illustrations. This way, the theme cannot be carried out by the graphics, it has to get through the mechanics.


Just as a thought experiment. If all artwork, names of things, names of actions were eliminated from the game, would you still feel its theme? Would a newbie be able to guess the theme just from the mechanics?

In general rail games (connections between areas of the board) would appear to be rail games because of the connecting mechanism. Though Power Grid might look like a train game also.

Wargames (objects moving around the areas of the board and causing other adjacent opponent objects to be removed from the board) games would probably be detectable.

A game like Jamaica would evidently be a race game but the pirate aspect may or may not show.

An auction game like Modern Art would appear to be a game about auctions. There the theme and the game have a one to one correspondence.
 
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Jonathan Challis
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faidutti wrote:
One of my favorite tricks is to have very rough prototypes, almost abstract looking, with only a few cliparts as illustrations. This way, the theme cannot be carried out by the graphics, it has to get through the mechanics.


I have to say that I'm not interested in any theme beyond graphics...
 
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Micheal Keane
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faidutti wrote:
One of my favorite tricks is to have very rough prototypes, almost abstract looking, with only a few cliparts as illustrations. This way, the theme cannot be carried out by the graphics, it has to get through the mechanics.


I've found sticking to Wingdings or emojis is helpful for quickly getting something symbolic without giving myself the chance to get distracted by obsessing over artwork or designing icon shapes.

The bonus is that they're vector-based so they'll look nice at any size.
 
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James Naylor
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Personally, I tend to think of thematic disconnect as rather like the concept of "suspension of disbelief" in theatre, TV or film.

All of it is fake. But only certain things "throw" you out of the experience; because they stretch your suspension of disbelief too far. Whereas some unrealistic things do not break it because either they are conventions we are so used to, seem true to character or context or just "feel" realistic for some other reason.

I reckon even theme-hungry players will accept some degree of "stretching" of the theme in places if you execute enough of other thematic elements well.

What's the particular problem you're having OP? If you are comfortable sharing?
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Tim Freerksen
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jamesDN wrote:
What's the particular problem you're having OP? If you are comfortable sharing?


Ok I'm trying to make a game where you're trying to create costumes for superheroes but I'm trying to think of a mechanical way of doing so instead of just writing down nonsense sci fi words to get people into theme. Art is one way of immersion that one can say is easy as is just writing stuff
 
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copcopps wrote:
jamesDN wrote:
What's the particular problem you're having OP? If you are comfortable sharing?


Ok I'm trying to make a game where you're trying to create costumes for superheroes but I'm trying to think of a mechanical way of doing so instead of just writing down nonsense sci fi words to get people into theme. Art is one way of immersion that one can say is easy as is just writing stuff

So you are essentially playing Edna from The Incredibles and making costumes that can handle the extremes of the superheroes who wear them?

If that's the case, the game would get a lot of its theme simply by using the terms and the design process used in the fashion industry with a smattering of terms from various superheroes tossed in. I could see how the materials used would presumably be Sci-Fi based or at least based on some terms currently used in science (carbon nano-fibers), but the materials aren't particularly part of the mechanics.
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You could give the player bonus points for costumes seen as appropriate for the superhero's powers: tight fit shirts for strong heroes, eye wear for heroes with xray eyes, shoes for fast heroes, etc

With a few symbols representing the powers of the heroes as well as the strengths (weaknesses?) of the items, this makes for a simple mechanic directly matched to the theme.
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Tim Freerksen
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adularia25 wrote:
copcopps wrote:
jamesDN wrote:
What's the particular problem you're having OP? If you are comfortable sharing?


Ok I'm trying to make a game where you're trying to create costumes for superheroes but I'm trying to think of a mechanical way of doing so instead of just writing down nonsense sci fi words to get people into theme. Art is one way of immersion that one can say is easy as is just writing stuff

So you are essentially playing Edna from The Incredibles and making costumes that can handle the extremes of the superheroes who wear them?

If that's the case, the game would get a lot of its theme simply by using the terms and the design process used in the fashion industry with a smattering of terms from various superheroes tossed in. I could see how the materials used would presumably be Sci-Fi based or at least based on some terms currently used in science (carbon nano-fibers), but the materials aren't particularly part of the mechanics.


Yep and thanks, I just know that sometimes people just can't feel superheroey in some games like DC Deckbuilding and even Marvel Legendary.

Note in this game I already have my own superheroes made, so the license and IP isn't an issue.

Cervantez wrote:
You could give the player bonus points for costumes seen as appropriate for the superhero's powers: tight fit shirts for strong heroes, eye wear for heroes with xray eyes, shoes for fast heroes, etc

With a few symbols representing the powers of the heroes as well as the strengths (weaknesses?) of the items, this makes for a simple mechanic directly matched to the theme.


I was thinking that along with you playing a different company that caters to certain powers. One company specializes in speedsters the other bricks, ect.
 
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Ideally you want to merge the gameplay and the theme by making your players physically do exactly what their characters would do in that world/situation the game is about or least similar things.

For example, you are designing a game about archeology where players discover and dig for artifacts. You may want to use layers of cards/tiles representing sand/soil/dirt/whatever or some other unique components to achieve that "digging/discovery" feel. Your designer goal is basically to create such a gameplay to make people feel like they are doing this what their characters do and then they would be like "the theme of the game could be nothing else but this one".

Pretty much all live-action and dexterity games do this really well. And toys. You can take a barbiedoll and play her as if she walks or talks. However a game is not a toy. A game is always an abstract entity. a system of mathematical/logical interdependences. As a boardgame designer you can only try to recreate a live action feeling with specific mechanisms or components but it'll still be a game underneath all the pretty artwork and fancy descriptions. Most modern boardgames people love so much for their "strong" themes can be easily re-themed into something else while the game itself will remain absolutely the same because what players do isn't what their character actually do. You could play Magic:The Gathering even if it had no theme at all, just colors and numbers.

Decide for yourself how connected you want your gameplay and the theme to be condering that a theme is just a packaging for the actual game in almost all board games. Maybe, your game doesn't even need a theme at all.
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marc lecours
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To me the key to a game being thematic is to have thematic game play (not just art or flavour text). A game has thematic game play if the player can use knowledge of the real world to play better. In other words can you guide your game strategies by using real world knowledge.

Example: A war game is thematic if you can use real military tactics and strategy from the period to guide your in game tactics and strategy.

For a game to have thematic gameplay in the case of superhero costumes a player should be able to use knowledge from the real world of costume design and superheroes. Knowledge of the property of different fibers. Knowledge of how difficult it is to get into and out of different apparel. Knowledge of how to make camouflage. Knowledge of electronics and various mechanical devices. The more realistic things are the better. When you have imaginary powers or technology make it very clear what it does and be consistent. Etc etc.
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Kelanen wrote:
faidutti wrote:
One of my favorite tricks is to have very rough prototypes, almost abstract looking, with only a few cliparts as illustrations. This way, the theme cannot be carried out by the graphics, it has to get through the mechanics.


I have to say that I'm not interested in any theme beyond graphics...


I used to think that chrome was enough to convey theme and that was enough for most. Perhaps it still is, though I've crossed over to the thinking that it would be nice if a game had at least 1 mechanical tie to the theme. It's more immersive and it might help your game stand apart. (E.g: Without the railroads, would it have made a difference if Great Western Trail was set in Middle Eastern folklore (like Five Tribes)?

That said, with how especially successful abstract games have been lately, perhaps the hobby is starting to drift away from needing mechanical ties to theme or even a theme at all.
 
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Interesting stuff!

I think this was already kind of said by Caroline Berg (wonderful reference to Edna from the Incredibles!), but building on that to me an instant thematic concept for me would be the way materials behave.

Something has to be fireproof to work for a "human torch" type but it has to be stretchy for Elastigirl type. I can see a cape being bullet proof but providing wind resistance that could present other challenges. Rather than just creating your own system of balancing using sci-fi names, as you suggest, you could look to a little real world physics as inspiration for why materials behave in different ways. I am pretty sure you will find there are already natural advantages and drawbacks of materials for you to riff on that will likely feel natural because it already fits in with people's expectations of the world.

I think trying to solve those problems as a superhero's tailor could be really fun! Forgive me if you've already had these ideas all along or repeats anything already in the thread.

Good luck with your game!
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Tim Freerksen
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jamesDN wrote:
Interesting stuff!

I think this was already kind of said by Caroline Berg (wonderful reference to Edna from the Incredibles!), but building on that to me an instant thematic concept for me would be the way materials behave.

Something has to be fireproof to work for a "human torch" type but it has to be stretchy for Elastigirl type. I can see a cape being bullet proof but providing wind resistance that could present other challenges. Rather than just creating your own system of balancing using sci-fi names, as you suggest, you could look to a little real world physics as inspiration for why materials behave in different ways. I am pretty sure you will find there are already natural advantages and drawbacks of materials for you to riff on that will likely feel natural because it already fits in with people's expectations of the world.

I think trying to solve those problems as a superhero's tailor could be really fun! Forgive me if you've already had these ideas all along or repeats anything already in the thread.

Good luck with your game!


Thanks it's been a long road for me to wonder what should I do with making a story about basically fashion/costumes involving superheroes from a normal person's side.
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Corsaire
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I'd want that game, but I'd also want it to include Colorforms!

.
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