03 January, 2010

Vector Theory #1: A New Weekly Blog Series

Last year it was all about mechanisms, how they interacted with one another, what they've been used for in the past, why they sink or swim, and where I'd like to take them in the future. It was a series of components.

This year is a series of processes; observing the way mechanisms link up into interactive storytelling media.

Just like last year, I'll be casting my net far and wide. I've already had thoughts about live roleplaying, computer gaming, miniature wargames and tabletop roleplaying.

My aim here is to generate a clear and precise terminology for the description of games. I'll draw on the concepts of many who have gone before me, but I'll try to avoid many of the loaded terms that hamper discussions about roleplaying game design.

In this regard I'll also generate a few of my own terms, linking more closely to the gaming vector theory being developed.

Just like last year, I encourage comments from anyone who might be reading; I'm certainly not infallible. I truly believe that no single person has the truth and it's only through collective endeavour that an accurate approximation can be established.

On with the theory...

Axiom 1: Traditional narrative is linear.
Axiom 2: Games involve choices.

Corollary 1: Story Oriented Games follow a linear narrative until a choice is required, at which point the narrative can divert in multiple directions.

To expand on this we need a better term for "roleplaying games" or "story games". The system in question will often be compared to the concepts of narrative, gaming, immersion, or other frequently used pieces of terminology. For the purposes of this blog series, the actual game will be referred to as a "vector" (while the effects that manipulate the vector will be referred to as a "vector system", the "vector path" will be sum of the final direction and the twists that occured along the vector's journey from start to finish.)

A "node" is a point where a vector might change direction, such a node may be a decision point on the part of the players, or it may be a point where the system intrudes on the proceedings. Like atomic particles dividing up into protons, neutrons and electrons, which are then further split up into quarks, muons, gluons and stranger fragments, nodes can be split into subnodes (and can be further split and analysed). Different types of nodes will be explained in the upcoming weeks.

Those vector systems that lean more toward the narrative side of things tend to allow the players fewer meaningful choices, this ensures that the story progresses toward on of the predetermined endings provided by the author.

Those vector systems that lean toward the game side involve far more choices, often with an ending that cannot be predicted by any of the parties involved in the process.

Diagramming a vector system can be simple or complex, choices can lead along different axes. A simple 2D cartesian chart could be drawn with time along one axis and a simple "Success/Fail" across it (with the possibility for varying degrees of success). Perhaps 2 axes could be drawn to explain different methods of task resolution within a narrative, Combat vs Diplomacy, Active choice vs Reactive Choice. A vector path across the first chart would always progress in a single direction (in accordance with the flow of time), while a vector path across the second might criss-cross all over the chart.

I'll stop there for the moment. I don't want to lose everyone when I'm just starting to establish the ground rules.
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