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Re: (TFT) Abstraction in game design - rpg design.
To clarify my point regarding computer games: I’m merely suggesting
that the idea of a game as a story-telling device that forms story from
the combination of (multi)player input that is ‘resolved’ by game
mechanics so that there’s a concrete final form to the story that has
some sense of reality that is universal to the audience can be applied
to both tabletop games and to video games. Tabletop games certainly do
have more player input, at least in their inherently easily customizable
But when I play (for example), Mass Effect, I’m at least given some
slight ability for player input (dialogue choices, my physical action
with the controller in combat and the like) which are then interpreted
by the game’s mechanics (dialogue trees, combat rules) to give some
clarified result (depicted almost entirely visually in this case) that
any audience member (usually just the player in a single player game—
but the popularity of sharing Let’s Plays and stories from games that
have common dialogue tress suggests this is not always the case) will at
least sort-of agree about. You never really reach the point of
universally shared interpretation in any story, of course, but at least
the book is the same.
I bring it up only because I think applying this sort of logic to a
wider genre of games creates some interesting questions about game
For instance, pretty large amounts of abstraction in a hypothetical
battalion-level command game makes sense. But a lot of existing games at
approximately that level abstract the position of the officers/players
even more than combat. Things like command dice, a lack of
communications rules, or completely random fog of war elements arguably
are examples of “bad” abstraction if the objective is to tell a
story from the perspective of commanding officers that everyone at least
kinda agrees about— at least if they aren’t explained narratively in
the rules in some way. (“Command Dice” are an easy one to explain;
they represent officers putting particular effort into coordinating the
actions of a particular unit, usually. Good officers could be said to be
giving orders more efficiently, or have better connections with
sub-commanders and so have more efficient chain of command in the first
place, or might just need less time to be sorting themselves out before
getting to ordering others around.)
Of course maybe this casts some doubt on the entire idea that this is
the objective of our rules. Many tabletop war-games are probably more
focused on providing interesting decisions and exciting results to
players than in telling a story, particularly one based on the RPG-ish
notion of showing a particular set of perspective rather than something
more third person. I don’t think there’s one ‘right’ objective
for games, though, so…
> On Dec 7, 2015, at 2:14 AM, Rick Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Hi Joseph,
> As a professional designer of computer games, I can say that the art
> is highly limited by design constraints. I prefer face to face RPG's
> because the players have far, FAR more freedom to do weird ass
> things than in a CPU RPG.
> Your point about abstraction is dead on. The war game "War in
> North Africa" had an immense amount of detail. Rescuing downed
> pilots from aircraft, complex rules on water (Italians needed more
> water because they wouldn't give up their pasta), etc. etc.
> You could say, "This game details the decisions that the commanding
> Generals (Rommel and various Allied generals) had to make. But
> the level of detail, actually worked against this fantasy. Rommel
> not worry about hunting down individual pilots. Some levels of
> are not only less playable, but actually break the fantasy that the
> designer is trying to create.
> Abstraction is a key (perhaps the key) element that designers have
> to get right.
> Warm regards, Rick
> On 2015-12-07, at 12:02 AM, Joseph Beutel wrote:
>> I don’t know that this is necessarily distinct, though. I’m not
sure that RPGs are unique in being story-telling games that use
mechanics and various models (maps, miniatures, images, etc) to help
resolve a common vision from several separate creative minds. I’m not
sure that video games aren’t doing the same thing but using a much
more clear visual representation to resolve at least the physical
components of imagination— and even then I’d say only certain video
games (modern “show everything,” highly graphical video games) even
attempt that in a way that is any different from tabletop games.
>> That said I think the overall point is accurate— even if it is just
accurate to a wider range of genres than you have suggested. But where
does abstraction come in?
>> I think the key is that abstraction must serve the purpose of the
story-telling. While any abstraction inherently hurts ‘common
resolution’ of the story, the concession can be made when it allows
the story to be told more effectively overall. The most common example I
see cited in game-design discussions would be designing a higher level
skirmish game— say World War 2, battalion level— where players are
meant to be the officers leading a battalion. While one could use a
highly detailed set of rules to accurately resolve all of the combat
that takes place at a 1:1 level, it would actually hurt the
story-telling. It does this mostly through perspective; our officers
don’t know what the 2nd squad of the 3rd platoon of Bravo company is
doing at a man-to-man level at all times, and so abstraction is actually
necessary here (and not just desirable from a ‘playability’
standpoint) to make the story work properly.
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