In the past I've talked about solved and solvable games but today I've been thinking about what bothers me about various media and the concept.

Personally I dislike plays and stage adaptations that need to make frequent reference to events off stage. To me it feels lazy and it actively undermines my immersion in the story. The reason I feel this way relates to the fact that each medium has its own set of constraints. They can be somewhat flexible but attempting to break away from them entirely is rarely advisable.

One of my favourite TV shows is Bob's Burgers - it's a sitcom that mostly relies on banter between the existing characters and small-scale situations. Some of my favourite episodes use only a handful of locations. Some TV shows rely on novelty to keep things fresh but ultimately this becomes formulaic and tedious, at least in my view.

When it comes to games with too much scope I find myself unable to engage or confused. Minecraft is fun, for example, but unless I have something specific to work towards I struggle to find any real entertainment in it. Similarly without someone else to guide me through a story the scope of pen and paper RPGs is too broad for me. When asked to imagine something in the context of a nearly blank canvas it's hard to imagine anything at all!

Gorkamorka is a game I find very satisfying both to play and to write for. It's relatively small scale and requires innovation and creativity to come up with fun additions that fit. If one throws the constraints out then why not pay everyone in hugs and have the moon for breakfast? It's just as valid after all.

The reason I started thinking about this was because a nice chap on the YakTribe forum suggested vehicle capacities for Gorkamorka. The line of argument that appears whenever this subject comes up is that everyone's vehicles will end up with huge flatbeds in order to take advantage of the way crew capacities work (passenger capacity = however many models will physically fit).

Let's say we took away that rule and ran with fixed vehicle capacities. At that point what reason is there  to field anything but the standardised vehicle models (aside from personal drive to field odd creations)?

No longer does it matter how big a vehicle is - it might as well be as small as possible. Tactically that would be advantageous after all (and that's the line of reasoning that was originally posited).

Earlier I was talking about working within a medium's constraints. In this case the constraint in question is vehicle size. A larger vehicle is more difficult to manoeuvre and a much larger target. A small vehicle can't carry as many passengers. Both choices have their advantages and disadvantages. It creates a fixed space within which to operate forcing players to make choices and innovate.

One could even imagine it as a graph!

If one removes the capacity dimension then one might as well aim to minimise vulnerability.

Personally I prefer to encourage players to explore the medium as much as possible. I'm always happy to see innovative approaches that had never crossed my mind - it's something humans are remarkably good at!/

I've never been formally taught game design but I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of how things should work when it comes to my favourite game of all - Gorkamorka.

In order to understand this it's probably best we take a look at its sister game, Necromunda. This wonderful game was released in 1995 or so and features many similar elements. For whatever reason it was always the more popular game and received considerably more support, to the point where the models were only recently removed from Games Workshop's site. It also received an updated rulebook and a lengthy run of coverage in the form of its own magazines.

I love Necromunda but find it difficult to wrap my head around the vast array of materials available for it. The fact that such a rich base of content exists is wonderful but as with many other things in life I feel I need someone else to guide me.

There is one side effect of this - fragmentation.

Off the top of my head there's at least four versions of the core Necromunda rules. Not reprints, versions.

First there's the original set, let's call them "vanilla". Then there's Necromunda: Underhive, a newer version with some changes. Those are the two printed sets (The compiled hardback falls into the vanilla category, not a separate one).

Then there's the "living rulebook" available from Games Workshop's site, and lastly there's the Community Edition. There may well be other variants too but that's the four I know about.

So before we get into anything additional or esoteric there's four different sets of base rules. I'm sure that's not confusing for new players at all.

Gorkamorka is nowhere near as popular though and so doesn't have this problem. I don't think any of us expect Games Workshop to suddenly release a new version of the rules. As such we can have an interesting situation for game development: the core rules can be treated as immutable.

Whilst there may be fragmentation on how squigs work, for example, the core rules are unchanging. A new player can get the books and everything builds upon them.

This results in an interesting game design environment. New mechanics can be created, sure, but that means more complexity on top of an already fairly extensive system. Instead one has to try to work with the elements that already exist to create. Personally I find this a fantastic challenge and an exercise in elegant design.

The intended outcome is to create a situation where a new player can pick up any additional content and immediately have a good understanding of it. That's the goal at least!

Cheese it!

04 March 2014

Every now and then I come across one more mental tool for tackling the world around me. Sometimes this is a lens through which to examine things through, other times it's more of a handle to grasp and work from. Today it was an additional way to think about games and activities.

A little preamble - chess. Personally I'm not interested in the game. It clearly takes a lot of skill to play well, I don't doubt that, the problem I have with it is that it's not fun. I'm sure plenty of people finding immensely entertaining but sadly I do not count myself in their number. I can see how it'd be fun in a much more boring world, for example if played by post. That's not the world I live in and as such it seems intensely dull.

Listening to an episode of Radiolab I learned about "book moves":

Chess has a set number of moves. Certainly the number of possible games is a ludicrous amount but that's because each additional move drastically raises the count. As a result we have a whole library of ways to start a game. Fritz is basically that, from what I understood.

Essentially any given game will start out "in book" (a documented state) and at a certain point will go "out of book". When it reaches that state the game is unique.

My problem with chess is the fact that there's such a vast library of knowledge on how to play it. It's just a matter of time before it's a solved game. Don't get me wrong - that might happen in the next ten years or long after I die of old age, I'm not suggesting it's necessarily soon, just that it will, in theory, be solved.

If the game is solved then there's not only no point in being creative in playing it, it's actively detrimental to winning. To me that's slow death. I've felt this way for a long time but it's only today that I learn names and examples in order to be able to better explain it. What I love about Gorkamorka is that there's no risk of it ever being solved. There are combinations that work better than others but there are so many more elements in play as to make other strategies plenty viable. I love that!

Chess is not the only game that is affected by this, I feel, it's the same reason I don't enjoy competitive video games. There are a number of ways to best win and deviating from those strategies is tantamount to conceding defeat from the outset. I do not like to play games where I'm being told specifically how to play - I want to be able to be creative. Hearing strategies that have worked for others is fine, as long as they're not the way, merely a way.

For once I feel like such an adult, but in a good way.

When I was younger I listened to Lugradio and attended their annual live events. I'd overhear what people would do when coding and it all sounded so impressive. Perhaps not my cup of tea but it certainly sounded like they were achieving stuff.

Today I have that feeling for myself. I'm SSH'd into my VPS and messing around with PHP to get some accounting code to work. The code is my own, mostly written from scratch. It's polling my database, pulling data, analysing it, and giving useful output. It's doing what I want it to do.

I've been trying to learn PHP since I was a teenager. I simply couldn't do it. It was always someone else's artificial problems and masses of stuff I didn't see the point of.

This code is being broken down step by step to do what I want. I scribbled down some pseudo code first and now I'm implementing it. Before I really struggled to understand the use of loops. That isn't to say I doubted their utility just that I wasn't able to apply it. I wouldn't say I'm all the way there yet but I'm using one to do something handy - because I wanted a quicker way of doing something.

I don't intend on running away to be a coder, or whatever one does, but it's nice to know that much like with the other disciplines I'm good at this is one of those things I need to be working towards an objective to achieve something. Phew, quite the sentence.