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Author Topic: the island of misfit games  (Read 17284 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: June 04, 2002, 01:33:52 PM »

I need a conversation about this...

I don't think anyone will deny that The Forge is a steambath of design effort, a hothouse of creativity. But I can't help but think we're doing something wrong. We shed blood for our designs. We cast them, still smouldering, upon draped tables before our colleagues. And we hope...that someone plays them.

I could name names, easily, twenty or more playable games that have never actually been played. But I won't.

I can't help but think we need to think about this, but personally I've got more questions than answers.

If the goal of game design is to see the game played, and enjoyed, then what aren't we doing that we should be to achieve that goal? Is it something inherent in the games we're designing? Is an unconscious motivation that a game design be impressive to other designers somehow poisonous to actual play of the game? How so? Is the ratio of designs to Forge regulars too high for us to have reasonable expectations that our games will provoke play? Is there some kind of follow-through we ought to be doing to take our game design beyond the Forge, to a larger community of potential players? What's holding us back? Are we saturating or mis-using each other's attention for new designs...do we clamor to our own detriment...and if so, how do we avoid that? And if the answer is, "most/all of the above," then what do we start with from among them, and what do we prioritize?

Paul
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2002, 01:47:07 PM »

Huh?

Who is it that you think has a problem?

Mike
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2002, 01:54:00 PM »

Paul,

Fucking excellent questions. Here's my thoughts:

 - I'll start with the controversial: a major reason many of these games don't see play is because of the apathy/laziness of the average gamer/Internet person. Of course all these games could get played: there's over 530 members of the Forge here, and at least 200 of those are pretty active. I can go look on the memberlist and find clumps of them, too - people that could drive to play once a week. Why aren't these people playing? I'll tell you - it's fucking hard. I didn't play for quite a while because I just couldn't bring forth the effort to meet people, get them together in a group, beat them over the head when necessary, and prepare a game. That's not a good enough excuse, though.

 - Ok. Second most controversial point: we're making games that no one will play. I really think this is true. For example (and Christ, I hope I don't offend you, Paul), I can't see myself playing Nicotine Girls. I think it's fabulous, and a piece of art. I loved girls like these for years, and still do - your honest depiction of them with their flaws and all warmed me up inside. I don't think I'm getting my group to play them anytime soon, though. This isn't the worst thing ever, though - art for art's sake is cool. Fuck, I write short stories that I know aren't going to get published because - well, it feels good to have that burst of creative energy.

 - Third, we do need to get the word out. The Forge can be insular - a lot of times, we create a game, show it off around here, and then shelve it. We should be going to RPG.net, and RPGnews, and all that other stuff that I hardly even know about, and bashing them in the head with our design-fu.

I have a partial solution. I'm going to put forth a challenge to the members of the Forge. Every other Sunday, I'm going to go into Actual Play and post a Featured Game. During that two weeks, as many people as can should play that game and come back and post about their experiences. I think asking people if they can have a pick-up game every two weeks isn't a whole lot, and if I hear a few people say they'll do this in this thread, I'll start the program this Sunday. (And I'll get Paul to help me pick the games.)
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2002, 02:06:40 PM »

Clinton,

I think you'll get better results if you scale up that time-unit to one month or six weeks.

Paul,

1) I do think that designing games out of some misguided attempt to impress people (namely me, based on what I've heard from the horses' mouths) is a very bad idea. It means that only others' approval drives the creative ambition, and hence the likelihood of getting the thing through playtest and redesign is very low.

2) Speaking for myself, I can only shrug, regarding Actual Play. I play like a fiend, as evidenced by my posts and my reviews. I don't play each and every thing; the choice driven by my interests and by the interests of the others in my groups. I wish more people played as much and as variously as I did, simply so that we'd get a wider treatment of all the games that are posted.

However, let's compare the actual depth and breadth of play here to any other venue by which games are produced and played - and in that comparison I think that the Forge represents not only an increase, but a quantum leap over any other around, possibly over any other in the history of the hobby.

Therefore I think you perceive games to be "under-played" only in relation to your ideals, not to actual comparative units of role-playing communities outside the Forge.

Best,
Ron
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2002, 02:17:53 PM »

Ron - A month sounds like a good time period.

A point Ron made to me the other day privately just popped into my head: games don't get played until several months after they're written. He's seeing new waves of Sorcerer players as they start or finish their first game 10 months after the book was released. I think this ties in - we think of these games not being played because they go off the New Links page in the Resource Library or off the first page in Indie Game Design without any players. In reality - these games are getting played around six months later. I think we can do a lot to make sure that happens by keeping these games in mind, though, and remembering to talk about them.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Zak Arntson
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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2002, 04:52:23 PM »

I've been promoting my monthly releases. I keep all my game links on one of two pages, to promote exploration. And, incidentally, I just got a super-enthusiastic response from someone who's been playing Fungeon. So yeah, there is a delay from release to play (that I've seen, too).

- My goal isn't "everyone should play my games" or even "this game should be played at least once." I design as a learning experience, a testing ground, and something I love to do. I get no response for Divine Right and I figure, heck, this isn't something I'll promote. I'll take what I've learned and move on. The positive notes about Shadows and Metal Opera tell me I'm getting better (and I'm now working on a commercial version of Shadows). My goal: People like my games, and maybe, just maybe they'll play one and drop me a line. Not to be confused with a long-term goal: Get the skills and knowhow to actually sell something.

- It is true we're making games nobody will play. Who'd play i am a sports hero? or the Jon Morris Sketchbuk Roleplaying Game? They're more fun to read and steal thoughts/inspiration from.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: June 04, 2002, 05:43:51 PM »

The 100th refugee in line doesn't care that you gave out 99 bags of rice. Because he didn't get any damn rice. He also doesn't care that you and your colleagues gave out more rice than any other group.

Is he going to take ownership of the problem? He damn well better, or he's going to starve. If the limited resource isn't rice, but actual play, then the question is, what does a designer taking ownership of the problem look like?

Is there an undercurrent of competition among designers on The Forge? I think so. What do we gain by it? Competition is only necessary when a resource is scarce. What are we competing for? The Japanese terraced the hillsides so they could plant more rice. They took ownership of the landscape, and the community was better supported. If the limited resource isn't rice, but actual play, what does the community of designers on The Forge taking ownership of the landscape look like? Can we better support our community if we reinvent the way we think?

Are we being served by the competition we have, or hindered?

I still have more questions than answers. Why don't we confront our sociology and transcend it? Why don't we entertain the notion that we might be mis-using the land?

Difficult Question #1: A corporate team leader might have one staff member who's so skilled he can deal with any crisis that might come up. If the team leader assigns every crisis that comes up to the one staff member, he's doing a piss poor job for the company. He'll burn his goto guy out. If the guy leaves the company, the team leader is up shit creek because no one else knows how to do what the guy does. The team leader is better served by putting his goto guy in mentoring positions with other team members. What I mean by mis-using the landscape is, how about Ron mentoring a few others on doing game reviews? How about Mike Holmes mentoring a few others on doing dice probability analysis? In a corporate environment, there's always pressure to protect your skills. You don't want to work yourself out of a job. So people cultivate themselves as islands of expertise. But you can't get fired from "amateur game designer."

Difficult Question #2: Playing someone's game isn't exactly like giving them rice, because the game itself gives enjoyment back to the person playing. It's the glowing sweat of the designer's brow. So why the apathy? When I post about actual play, is it encouraging? Don't be so quick to answer. Is it encouraging in the long term? Or does it create ephemeral enthusiasm, immediate lust for play, followed by discouragement? And if so, what should I be doing differently?

Difficult Question #3: If you give a guy rice, he'll survive for as long as you continue to feed him. If The Forge disappeared tomorrow, how many of us could grow actual play of our games elsewhere?

Paul
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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
C. Edwards
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Posts: 558

savage / sublime


« Reply #7 on: June 04, 2002, 07:27:41 PM »

Paul Czege wrote:
Quote
I still have more questions than answers. Why don't we confront our sociology and transcend it? Why don't we entertain the notion that we might be mis-using the land?


Regardless of the various reasons why we (humankind) don't do these things, if we ever do manage it life just might resemble a fairy tale.

It seems to me Paul that most of the answers to your questions are grounded in basic human psychology.  I'm all for trying to wake people up, get them to take a look around and maybe take ownership of a situation.  Its certainly not an easy thing to do though as many people seem to go though life in a relatively bovine state of awareness.

Hell, maybe I'm just a cynic.

-Chris
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2002, 08:30:45 PM »

Quote from: Chris
"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams." -Willy Wonka

I found this quote eerily approriate considering the topic we are discussing.

On to business.  I agree with most of what has been said, and I think that Clinton's suggestion is moving in the right direction.  Role-playing is about actual play.  There is a rumor going around on other (here to remain unnamed) web sites that Forgites are all for talking theory and game design, but never get to the actual play.  If you ask me, the Acutal Play forum should be blazing with content.  I'm not saying it isn't, but I think we could do more.  As a whole, there have been some innovative mechanics to come out of Forge influenced games, but do we really see people posting innovative methods that are not mechanics to increase the enjoyability of actual play?  Yes, the mechanics should facilitate better role-playing... if they are applied correctly, and all the players understand them and use them enthusiastically.  But are there "other things" besides mechanics that will lead to better role-playing?  Are there yet uninvented "other things" that will lead to better role-playing?  Should we be talking about these things?

The Forge is a powerful tool that brings designers and their ideas together.  It's a place where rpg theory lives and gets applied.  We talk about our play sessions, but are we talking about the right things?  Most rpgs have a section telling you how to role-play and most are useless, but those that aren't are like a rare gem.  More of that kind of advice needs to be discussed in detail, just like the many discussions on rpg theory that got so detailed.  I guess what I'm really suggestioning is some better nuts and bolts type threads.

I think this post has gotten slightly off-topic, so let me try to tie it together.  The question reamains: how do we design games that will get played?  Activism is certainly a great tactic, but I think that if we all played more and developed better ways to play then we would all be open to more games - a sort of expanding you horizons type of philosophy.  I still think that many gamers are stuck with a few genres/gaming styles that they feel comfortable with and don't feel that games outside of their box are playable to them.  I love space opera, how could I ever play a game like Soap?  Well, once I started playing more games, and playing them better I began to see the fun in it.  And yes, conversation here on the Forge got me interested initially, but that conversation didn't give me the tools I needed to play the game.

My argument in a nutshell: More quality play = willingness to play more games, and more games that seem unplayable.  So what we need to do is start talking about how to facilitate quality play and more play... and then go play.

Quick thought: maybe we just have a lot of niche designers here on the Forge and not a lot of people to fill all the different niches.  Just a thought.
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Seth L. Blumberg
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Posts: 303


« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2002, 07:41:10 AM »

Clinton, I agree with Ron: "featured games" are a great idea, but increase the time period to at least a month.

Paul, I think you underestimate the effort involved in putting together an actual play session. Look at how challenging the WFD playtest you want to run for me, Vanessa and Mike has become!

In order to Actually Play a new game, I have to (1) get buy-in from other players, (2) create a scenario, (3) schedule time when all of us can play. Any of these steps can become an obstacle.

For me and my usual play group, all three steps are difficult, because we all have Simulationist roots, and we're used to thinking of an RPG in terms of "one night every other week for the next three years" rather than as a casual pick-up kind of experience. I've tried to run pick-up games, but they always fail, partly because explaining the rules and generating characters consumes an entire session (and if the first session has no payoff, player buy-in evaporates and the second session never happens), partly because I am no good at thinking of one-shot scenarios--my GM style is very much about Intuitive Continuity.

Ron, you're the expert at facilitating Actual Play. How do you do it?
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2002, 08:17:37 AM »

I still don't get it.

OK, I'll try harder. There are some good games that don't get played? That's the problem? Let's see, we have a limited resource, Actual Play time. So, presumably the games that attract the gamers here the most are the one's being played (or are you suggesting that people ar playing the 'Bad' games). Which means the ones not being played are not quite as good. Competition? Well, of course, we all want to make a better game, else why bother?

Sounds like "survival of the fittest to me", which I think is just fine. What do you suggest, that we make games that do not surpass others in quality so that they all have a fighting chance? Sorry, not buying it. People deserve whatever they get for the effort and quality they put into it. Remember, unlike the rice analogy, a person who's game is not played will not starve to death. There is no moral imperative to engage in more entertainment activities.

Should there be more play by the nebulous "We" here at The Forge? Well, I just drove to Chicago this last weekend to play in what were actually three demo games (including one of my own games). I'm supporting both Sorcerer and InSpectres with supplements. I'm not feeling at all guilty, I'm holding up my end of the bargain. And there are people here who do way more than I do.

Is this just a plea to those who don't play much to play more? I've been through Ypsilanti, Michagan, and it's amazing that Seth hasn't yet been killed in a "deerhunting accident" for playing RPGs. I think that people aren't refraining from play all that much, and if they do, it's their business. Again there's the Quid Pro Quo, and you get what you deserve from that.

I think that we have a very supportive community here. I still must be missing the problem. Which behavior is the destructive part?

Mike
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2002, 08:23:02 AM »

Oh, for those who want to know how to do probability calculations, here's where we posted several of the most useful:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=875

I'd be very glad to have others able to do such calculations. But I don't mind anyone asking me, and have only turned down requests when they were over my head.

Mike
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2002, 08:24:10 AM »

Okay, I started a new thread at http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=22948#22948 on post-game design Actual Play issues. Because we, as designers, can't control a lot of factors.

But what can we do to encourage Actual Play? Providing a game playable "out of the box" is my opinion. You give a group a mechanic, they have to work hard. You give them a setting, well, where's the system? Instead, you make things as easy as possible for the gamers.

It's like Monopoly or Street Fighter. Everything's in the box. Playable as-is. Why can't RPGs be like this? InSpectres covers everything from PC creation to running the adventure to ending it all. d20 Cthulhu does the same. Too many free RPGs (I'm guilty of this, too) are just "here's a neat idea with an interesting system attached. You've got to do the rest!"
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2002, 08:36:40 AM »

Hey Seth,

Ron, you're the expert at facilitating Actual Play. How do you do it?

I think you're on an eminently productive line of inquiry with this question, despite how simple-seeming it might be on the surface. And I'll tell you why. In the past year, I've played Theatrix, Sorcerer, The Pool, Mage, WYRD, Whispering Vault, Chalk Outlines, InSpectres, Nightwatch, SOAP, and OctaNe, and have posted in some fashion about them all in Actual Play. I posted my heart out about Theatrix. Did that effort provoke anyone else to play Theatrix? No. I posted about WYRD. Did it provoke anyone else to play? No. Any of the games I've played in the past year that others have also posted about playing are games that Ron reviewed or discussed playing prior to me having played them. When Ron reviews and posts about The Pool, people play it. When Ron talks up Riddle of Steel, and Dust Devils, people play them. I thought my posts about Theatrix were encouraging and empowering, but upon re-assessment, they're clearly not in the same ballpark of encouraging as Ron's reviews and posts. So how do I get from point A to point B? Is it my presentation? Am I just not picking the right games?

I've been thinking about the game of the month idea since Clinton proposed it. One of the things I think occurs at The Forge is a lot of, for lack of a better phrase, redundant processing. If I spend my lunch break at work reading Paladin, and taking notes, and then when I get back to The Forge with the idea of posting my thoughts I find that Ralph has already pretty much covered what I had to say, then from the standpoint of the community, my effort was wasted.

My concern is that a featured game of the month promotes more of the same redundant processing, with everyone focused on the same task, when I think what we want is to distribute our energy better. But I'm not quite sure how to provoke that. Like I said earlier, I have more questions than answers.

One thing I've noticed about threads on The Forge is that they tend to even themselves out over time, in that if I only have time in between meetings or something to read the thread, but not post my thoughts, that it's pretty damn likely someone else will make sure the important stuff gets covered in my absence. The rate of my posting has decreased over recent months as I've learned to relax my own urge to be significant. It makes me want to propose that any user with more than 300 posts hold off for 24 hours before posting to a newly announced game in Indie Game Design, as a way of making room for newer users to contribute productively to discussions. Even more radical would be a 48 hour moratorium, except during that time if you have more than 300 posts, your role is to private message someone with less than 300 posts to evoke their thoughts about the game, during the time when they can post.

Anyway, that may be an entirely unworkable notion, but it's the kind of stuff I've been thinking, ways without regard for practicality that The Forge might become a higher performing community.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Seth L. Blumberg
Member

Posts: 303


« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2002, 08:48:55 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
I thought my posts about Theatrix were encouraging and empowering, but upon re-assessment, they're clearly not in the same ballpark of encouraging as Ron's reviews and posts.

While learning to review games as well as Ron does is a goal worth pursuing, it's not what I had in mind when I was talking about "facilitating Actual Play."

Ron runs a lot of games. He runs a lot of different games, he runs them for short periods of time (one or two sessions, judging by his reviews and Actual Play posts), and he never seems to have trouble with getting player buy-in or coming up with short scenario ideas (at least, if he does have trouble with these things, he does not share his anguish with the rest of us).

Part of the secret of his success probably lies in being faculty adviser for the DePaul U. gaming club, but there may be some more portable techniques for creating a high level of Actual Play of new games.
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the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
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