Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Why Things Are Different Now

I'm gonna pull my classic move: quote a different blog. Know why I like it? It's easy! Someone else bothered to be all thoughtful and stuff, and I can just quote them. Ding!

Vincent Baker said this:
"The biggest reason that rules are different now than they were ten years ago is that we've stopped treating fictional causality as the be-all. Instead we're looking at the actual causality in tabletop roleplaying - the human beings playing the game and the things they say. If you want cool stuff to happen in your game, you have to get the people to say cool things. The RPGs of ten years ago - and the vast majority of today's too - have no earthly clue how."

And I'm going: Hell yeah! I often question why I bother to design games. That's the stuff right there.

Read the whole thread here: http://www.septemberquestion.org/lumpley/anycomment.php?entry=207

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Urban Arcana: The TV Series (?)

As reported on Sci-Fi Wire (and linked above), the SCI FI Channel is developing a number of new series, including this:

Urban Arcana, an action series inspired by the Hasbro/Worlds of Wonder role-playing game which follows an undercover detective who must protect the human population from the influx of chameleon-like, mythological creatures from a parallel world. Aron Coleite (Crossing Jordan) will write, with Gary A. Randall and Rockne O'Bannon (The Triangle, Farscape) executive-producing in association with Fox Television Studios.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Roleplay vs. Game Duality

This is in response to Tony's post below ("Mechanics vs. Narrative in Strategy Games"). Instead of ranting on and on in the comments, I decided to simply post a link to an identical rant given by someone else on the Forge. The first post in the thread perfectly outlines my feelings on the matter.

Roleplay vs. Game Duality

(I'm making this a separate post because I want the link to be part of the blog archive even if we lose the comments)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Mechanics vs. Narrative in Strategy Games

I want to talk about a game which I have come to admire a great deal, Fantasy Flight's War of the Ring (WotR) board game. What really impresses me with this game is the degree to which gameplay and narrative have been successful merged. The game does have some drawbacks, but that's not what I'm interested in talking about here.

The designers of this game knew that narrative is as essential as geography to Tolkein's setting, set out to make a game that captured what they loved about Tolkein and succeeded. The mechanics of the game reinforce the central storyline (and, notably, some key alternatives, such as reinforcing the Ring in Minas Tirith, or even rousing the Rangers and the Shire to sack Angband).

Narrative is a sadly neglected aspect of epic strategy games. In Civilization, for example, a nod is made to the "storyline" of world history, but the narrative is eventually subsumed in the mechanics. The tech tree, for example, is meant to reinforce the historical storyline but ends up reducing the most interesting aspects of that storyline to a bare mechanic.

In a recent game of WotR I found myself contemplating a retreat to Helm's deep in the face of an Uruk-hai onslaught. Only after the fact did I realize that I had re-enacted Theoden's reasoning in Lord of the Rings. In WotR, a player may move two armies with an army dice, or commit one attack. In many cases this forces Rohan to choose between consolidating its armies in Helm's Deep or being forced to attack Orthanc with only a portion of its forces. I strongly suspect that the designers constructed the map to make just such a situation possible. This is just one example of the subtle ways in which WotR encourages the narrative aspect.

Contrast this to Civ which, in making a general stab at all of history, makes only a mediocre job of imaging the race to nuclear power, and a poor job of everything else.

As an aside, Europa Universalis II does a great job of capturing the narrative of history in a strategy game, as does their WWII game, Hearts of Iron II.

The trade off is that you need to be prepared to sacrifice consistent mechanics to achieve a strong narrative. Civ is weak in narrative precisely because its mechanics are so consistent. Sure, there are unique wonders and interesting historical technologies, but because they must be available to all players and somewhat balanced, their narrative power is diluted. In Europa Universalis, by contrast, there are hundreds of historical events and contingencies (and their "non-historical" alternatives hard coded into the game), often effecting only one nation, religion, or region.

This is an issue I'm struggling with right now in the creation of my own strategy PBEM Sea of Stars. On the one hand I want a consistent wargaming experience to be available, on the other hand, I want a strong narrative. What I want to know is how much of the one do I have to sacrifice to get the other.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Miracle Workers

And to think this all comes from an obscure Eastern European country.

I wonder what sort of films and film-makers they would produce there?

And how did Phil get his picture in there?