Friday, March 21, 2003

Rock, Paper, Scissors Redux

Yes! A rock, paper, scissors tournament!

Some highlights:

Experienced players say winning is not just a matter of luck but strategy. On their first throw, Walker said, novices throw out a fist -- a Rock -- nearly two out of three times. So any player worth his or her salt knows a flat hand -- Paper -- will beat an amateur.
That's why, said Miguel Frutos, a 39-year-old bartender from Healdsburg, he planned a "Scissor throw" in the first round.
"There's a science to it," he said, adding that he honed his skills settling childhood fights with siblings over who had to mow the lawn. "Everyone here's pretty much not as smart as I am."
* * *
Jeff Johnson, a 31-year-old salesman from Santa Rosa, focused on sizing up the competition.
"Whenever you see a tense muscle," he said, flexing his biceps, "they're going Rock. If they look relaxed, it's going to be Paper."
* * *
Maybe there are Michael Jordans in any area of human endeavour. But this is what I think.
Part of the problem with rules for making games is that the term "game" is so broad. Do we expect to have lots of rules that are consistant across multiple types of books, for example?
I think rules and guidelines can be a useful tool so long as you've considered, and are clear about, what the proper scope of their application is. Surely Steven King could give us some guidelines for how to write horror. I'm sure some of that advice is not applicable for a fantasy author, and probably none of it is pertinent for someone writing a math textbook.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Jamie's 400

I don't know much about game design, being mostly on the coding end of things, but that didn't stop me from coming up with my own list of game design rules a la the 400 Project. Most of these I cribbed from other people.

I'm gratified to see that some people not only agree with my "Fun isn't enough" rule, they want to abandon the word 'fun' altogether. (Marc LeBlanc - and Jean-Paul LeBreton -

There have been a couple notable exceptions to my Don't Simulate A Simulation rule: a lot of people like both JunkBot, a play-with-legos game, and .Hack, a game where you're playing a game. Don't Simulate A Simulation is trumped by raw gameplay and probably a lot of other things; it's mostly a rule not for game design but for generating hype. It's harder to get people excited over paintball and legos than war and skyscrapers. (Actually, using Raph Koster's 'number of google hits' method for measuring mindshare, lego comes in at 1.5 million and skyscrapers only 350,000. Looks like I'm just plain wrong.)

Anyways, I have a new rule, or guideline, or whatever:

Don't Put A Cap On How Good Someone Can Get At The Game

This is the "Hard To Master" part of "Simple to Learn, Hard To Master", and what brought it to my mind today was reading Quake Done Naked. When a game gets enough attention, people can really get into it. And I think almost any game has the potential for infinite (if marginal) improvement, at the very least in time trials. Typical ways we tend to put caps on our games are by

- providing puzzles that can be solved in only one way

- having letter grades instead of raw scores

What's the Point of These Rules, Anyway?

A discussion with Mark Nau over whether chess is really a better game than checkers. I used to think it was objectively, formally, a better game - on the criteria that it supposedly had more 'depth' - and lately discovered that people can get arbitrarily good at checkers just as they can get arbitrarily good at chess. Mark Nau points out it's a different kind of skill: players play checkers the same way computers play checkers - by thinking as many moves ahead as possible - but chess is more of an art, using intuition and feel for strategic advantage. (Maybe I'm getting what he said wrong so he'll be forced to post to correct me and then this site will feel less like "League of Ordinary Game Developer" singular.) So, at this point, it just comes down to aesthetics. And that's a problem with game design 'rules': as much as I'd love to be able to boil games down to a nice formula that always guaranteed good gameplay - wouldn't that make our jobs easier? - it seems like any given 'rule' is going to appeal to one set of people and alienate another set.

All is not lost. If we compare game design to visual arts, then maybe game design has its equivalents of 'fine art' and 'graphic design'. 'Fine art' is the black hole of unknowns, the area where starving artists explore in the hopes of creating, well, art. 'Graphic design' is understood: you read books, you go to school, you can always do a competent job at it with training. This is why it's easier to create good-looking games than games that are fun; we use the well-understood graphic design process to do it, rather than exploring uncharted territory. Similarly, I think anyone, with the proper training and know how, with documented methods and rules, can competently make a mostly derivative title into a highly polished enjoyable experience.

Monday, March 17, 2003


I want to be the kind of guy who plays games because they're good, not because they're the latest thing with the latest graphics. So I paid $25 for a used edition of System Shock 2, a game which has now reached 'classic' and 'collector's item' status. (Buying new costs $60! For a game that old! Can you believe it?) The demo ran fine on my XP machine. The full version does not.

Black & White had the same problem. Something about Electronic Arts, I guess.

This depresses me. How am I supposed to be the kind of guy I want to be now?