"what video game designers and teachers can learn from 50 years of tabletop game development" "what...
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"What video game designers and teachers can learn from 50 years of tabletop game development"
Dr. Lewis PulsipherFTCC. Pulsiphergames.com18 Mar 2010
Note about the slidesSlides are provided primarily for those who want detailed notes later, not as an accompaniment to the talkConsequently, they are rather wordyAvailable at http://pulsipher.net/teaching1.htmOr just go to pulsipher.net (not .com) and look for teaching material
Who Am I?Designed my own games from a very young ageBegan playing commercial wargames in early 60sEarly video game experience: Atari 2600, DOSDesigner of six commercially-published board wargames (most recently, foreign language editions of Britannia, Nov 08)Forthcoming: Law & Chaos (Mayfair), Germania, Dragon RageWorked in computer support (programming, chief of PC/network support) at Womack medical center 9+ years, taught networking at CCCC
Teaching/WritingFirst to teach game design in North Carolina as far as I know (Fall 04)Teach game creation topics at FTCCPresently finishing a book about how to design games, and how to teach people to design gamesMonthly contributor to Gamasutra/GameCareerGuide (and expert blogger there)Contributor to books: Hobby Games:100 Best, Family Games:100 Best, Tabletop Game Design (forthcoming)Teaching is my profession, game design my avocationPulsipher.net, pulsiphergames.comhttp://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/http://teachgamedesign.blogspot.com
Some of my work
Let us ProceedLessons video game designers can learn from tabletop (board and card) game development in last 50 yearsSo we arent counting Monopoly, Scrabble, etc.not even Risk (1959)Just as well, these tend to be poor game designsWere interested in lessons from wargames and Euro-style boardgames (originating in Germany)
Brief list of lessonsMulti-sided is more fun (has broader appeal and potential)Playtesting is sovereignSimplicity prospers"Atmosphere" sells games in the 21st centuryReplayability is variety, not repetition
Lessons directly related to multi-sided gamesThe three-player problemProblems of multi-sided games:TurtlingLeader-bashingSandbaggingKingmaking
Important Distinctionmulti-player means multi-sidedTabletoppers call any game with more than *two* players multiplayer Video gamers mean more than one player In video games, a multiplayer game often has just two teams, as in Team Fortress, whereas multi-player to tabletoppers usually means more than two sides or teams So I try to use the term multi-sided, meaning more than two separate interests regardless of the number of human players.
The crux of the difference (and of the lessons)Video games traditionally are for one person, with the computer providing challenges devised by the designersTabletop games are for more than one person, with the game system providing ways for players to challenge one another, as devised by the designerMore and more video games are of the second typeIn tabletop terms, many traditional video games are interactive puzzles, not gamesSolve it and youre done. Tabletop games are rarely solved
Another way to look at itVideo games are traditionally p v e (player vs. environment)Tabletop games are traditionally p v p (player vs. player)But video games tend to be avatar basedWhile on the tabletop, some kinds of games are avatar-based, some notWhen you dont have an avatar, things are less personal
Lesson: multi-sided has broader appeal (more potential)Its more fun when you play with (and often against) othersWii games, MMOs, Left4DeadPeople can provide more creativity and variety than programmed computers can provide (though someday that may change)Memorability is much enhanced when there are other players to remember with
Lesson: Playtesting is sovereign Until you have a prototype, you only have a plan, not a designed game. To improve a game, you must have a playable prototype No game is worth much before it is playtested and modifiedIf a game doesnt work well, you can suppose it wasnt playtested sufficientlyThis is not news to the most successful companies, such as Epic and Firaxis
Playtesting is sovereignGears of War II about 40,000 playtest hoursCivilization ISid Meier programmed, Bruce Shelley tested, they talked, Sid modified, Bruce tested again, day after dayMeier said on slashdot,
"My whole approach to making games revolves around first creating a solid prototype and then playing and improving the game over the course of the 2-3 year development cycle... until we think it's ready for prime time I definitely spend a lot of time playing the game before I let anyone else look at it."
Playtesting is sovereignThe rules for a tabletop game are the equivalent of the programming of a video gameBoth represent the mechanics of the gameProgramming must be precise and is very time consuming (even with game engines)A playable set of rules can be much less precise, relying on the mind(s) of the designer(s) when theyre present, and (inevitably imprecise) notesAnd thats a major reason why learning to design starts with tabletop games.
Lesson: Simplicity Prospers Tabletop games are more easily focused on the essence of the gameYou cannot hide behind the computer
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery
SimplicityIf something doesnt work, lose itIts much easier to alter a tabletop than video game, especially for beginnersPrototypes don't have to be prettyPaper prototyping saves time and moneyXbox Live Shadow Complex (3D side-scroller with exploration) prototyped all levels on paper
Lesson: atmosphere sells games in the 21st centuryAtmosphere (sometimes called a skin or incorrectly lumped in with theme) is the supposed setting/purposeTheme must influence how the game is played, atmosphere does notAbstract games are hard to marketVideo game example: Puzzle Pirates?
AtmosphereEuro-style boardgames are often abstract, with an atmosphere tacked on; but the box back describes the atmosphere, and that (along with the art) strongly influences who buys the gameShooters are usually about shooting and blowing up stuff, but the atmosphere can be quite different (and occasionally becomes a theme when it affects gameplay)
Lesson: Replayability is Variety, not RepetitionTraditional video games, as interactive puzzles, can be solved, and then theres no further reason to playGames involving other people usually have no solution. Variety, mixed with different players, can provide near-infinite replayabilityBritannia as an examplepeople play 4-5 hour game 500 times and more
ReplayabilityAt the other end of the spectrum, so many video games (especially on Facebook, and MMOs) thrive on repetition, effectively training people (Skinner style) to do the same thing over and over againAchievements are busy-work, not gameplayThis is mind-numbing if not actually evil; replayability implies stimulation, repetition is the opposite.
Lesson: the three-player problem
Three sided games either:1) No time limit, two gang up on the one whos ahead, game never ends2) Time limit, petty diplomacy problem where one who thinks hes losing can decide who wins Solutions:A race or multi-sided solitaire; players cannot do enough to hinder/harm another to make a significant difference in the end portion of the game
Three player solutionsSolutions:Sudden victory that can frequently be forecasted and prevented, with changing victory conditionsEquilibrium, no side can drastically alter the situation in a single turnA game that is almost entirely positionalExtreme uncertainty about who is winning and losingSee forthcoming article in Tabletop Game Design book
Multi-sided conflict games: TurtlingSitting away from the action in order to let others wear themselves down/out fighting one anotherAkin to camping, but the camper is trying to kill people; the turtle just wants to avoid getting involved at allEven a poor game like Risk has mechanisms to discourage turtling
TurtlingSolutions:Positive rather than negative economy (more gain than loss as the game goes on)Zero-sum game (one players gain is another players loss)Extreme uncertainty about the situation: the turtle then cannot know when its time to come out of his shell and winPoints that are scored continuously: even if others wear themselves out, they can score enough to win by the game end limit
Multi-sided conflict games: Leader-bashingWhen it is too easy to attack (hinder) whoever is ahead without harming yourselfSo, most everyone attacks the leader (why not?)Hence no one wants to be ahead even as the game draws near an end
Leader-bashingSolutions:Make it harder to hinder other players (a map game can often do this, because of location)Make it uncertain who is ahead (Britannia example)Make it harder to attack the leader without harming yourself (Britannia again)
Multi-sided conflict games: SandbaggingThis is the reverse side of leader-bashingEveryone wants to be behind rather than ahead, so they wont get bashedAlso a strategy used by turtlesavoid looking dangerousSolutions:Tend to be the same as for leader-bashing
Multi-sided conflict games: KingmakingThis is the general case of the petty diplomacy problemA player who thinks he will lose can determine who wins (or at least, who doesnt win)Negotiation: if you attack me Ill throw my forces at you and another person will win
KingmakingSolutions:As with leader-bashing, reduce the capability of players to attack every other playerUncertainty about who is losing/winningThe more sides/players