09 January 2008

Metaplace dev blog fundaments #2 response

So, I'm trying to grok game design. I've been reading RPG theory off and on for five years at the Forge and diaspora sites. I read stuff written by board game designers off and on and I know several of them in person. And recently, I've been reading computer game design stuff. Several blogs -- you can see some of them in my sidebar at the right. I'm in line to buy Raph Koster's book pretty soon. And I'm watching his new project, Metaplace eagerly.

This morning I read part two in a series of game design fundamentals on the Metaplace developer's blog written by Raph and I thought about it and did some background reading and then posted some questions to the Metaplace forum.

I'm writing this mostly to myself -- under the assumption that no one is reading this. :) If that's not the case, feel free to respond to me either here or at the Metaplace forum. Here's what I wrote:

Do you have to prepare for the challenge?
…where prep includes prior moves? …and you can prep in multiple ways?

Does the topology of the space matter?
…does the topology change?

Is there a core verb for the challenge?
…can it be modified by content?

Can you use different abilities on it?
…will you have to in order to succeed?

Is there skill to using the ability?
…or is this a basic UI action?

Are there multiple success states?
…with no bottomfeeding? …and a cost to failure?

You have to answer yes to all of these for your game atom to be fun. And yes, we mean every atom in the game has to meet these criteria.

There's a lot of this that I think I get, but could be wrong. There's some of it that I just don't. First, I'm just going to ask some questions and then I'm going to try to analyze something using this framework.

Are 'atom' and 'challenge' synonomous to the extent that they bear a one to one relationship?

I sort of understand the basics of mathematical topology -- is that what we're talking about? Or is it being used more generically to suggest some kind of state change? Does the opening move of a Chess pawn change the topology of the board? And is it because of the seperation of the front of pieces or because it changes the way in which the next player can engage the situation? What is the topological significance of the fact that that pawn's move is not reversable? Any? Or does topology in this sense only care about loci of in-game actions and how they're connected?

I'm pawing through Raph's blog archive looking for game grammar stuff to understand core verbs. I found this presentation there (which helps me with topology a bit, too). So I see that e.g. Chess pieces are verbs. Cool. I get that. But uh, "each has associated topology?" Does that merely mean that each verb potentially interacts with a different subset of the game's topology and acts differently (rooks travel from node to node on different paths than do bishops) or is it something more essoteric? Also, what's the significance of a core verb? Am I right in expecting that many atoms will use several verbs?

Are abilites verbs? Is the following true: skills belong to the player and abilites belong to the game (or the player's presence in the game).

What's bottomfeeding?

Then I think that Raph's saying every atom should answer yes to each of those questions. But I think that's impossible and even inconsistent with stuff like "fundamental atoms will be ones demanding no skill, providing no risk of failure" from that same link above. So what is really meant regarding the scope of the application of these questions? Also, how fun is fun enough? How do you account for niche games where people obviously think it's fun but lots of others do not? Are you saying that at whatever the appropriate scope is, failure to meet the above criteria will result in a game that isn't fun for (almost) anyone? (This is what I'm guessing.)

I think I understand atoms. They occupy many different scopes/scales. Double-clicking the armor in a vendor's shop to tell the game that you're buying it is an atom, right? Maybe a "fundamental" atom? Also, the game of knowing which armors work well against what opponents is an atom. Right (I'm less sure about that one)?

So in the case of just using the mouse to buy the armor: Are you getting yes or no to those questions? Are you preparing for the double-click by looking at the screen and figuring out what coords to settle on? And I'm not sure on sophisticated topologies in examples like this -- are there nodes, per se involved? I guess there must be but it's awfully big to grasp. What's the core verb and how can it possibly change? What's the challenge even? What is an ability at this scale? Are multiple in use during this purchase? And I think there's only one success state unless I'm more confused than I'd have guessed. Is the cost of failure the quarter second to redo the double-click?

But it all seems easier in the bigger atom (where analysis should be much harder): There are lots of preparations -- gathering knowledge through experimentation or social means. I guess topology is turning out to be the hard thing for me. Topology must matter in as much as it effects e.g. information gathering, access to armors and enemies using various damage types, etc. But where the information exists in the player's head (or notes) I don't see how it can change the topology (unless we claim that topology can extend out of the game -- which might be useful, but I'm unprepared for. :-). Is the core verb combat or social networking or the avatar or something else entirely? You can, and possibly must, use different abilities to get a complete understanding (the way I'm envisioning things). There are definately skills involved in this kind of analysis. I'd say that there are a very large number of success states if there are even several armor and damage types in this game as incomplete understanding can result in nearly infinite states of grasp. And certainly there are costs of failure even if they are transparent to the players prior to their realization that this atom/game exists.

So, I think the first atom can't be fun but can be necessary to a fun game. The second atom, if sufficiently large, is quite likely to be fun (if not crazy-fun).

Are these analyses along the lines of what the article is suggesting?

thanks a ton,


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