08 June, 2012

The Interface between Story and Game Mechanism


I’ve been thinking about the connections between story development and game mechanisms quite a bit.

My Vector Theory of Game design was an attempt to address this issue in a more rational manner than that engaged by the “Big Model” of roleplaying game theory. But it seems to have come up a bit more lately.

For example, I just found this thread over on Story Games…


Some interesting notions are raised in the initial post and some more come up through the course of the thread.

The whole idea is something that has been convoluting and confounding my design process for Walkabout. Especially because I'm going with a token driven system rather than a traditional dice or card based effect.

How do I create a system that links the player into the fiction, helping to immerse them into the post apocalyptic scavenging of the setting, while keeping the game fast paced enough to allow a few action sequences and deep enough to ensure decision and relationships matter. I guess it's one of those balancing acts that amateur designers stumble their way through obliviously...often taking pre-designed dice mechanisms and game formats, and simply hacking them to get a new balance for their game (This is often used by professional designers among the big companies as well). Those who take risks in this regard might end up with games that truly break the mould and expand a players awareness for what can be achieved in a game, but they're just as likely to crash and burn.

A look at last year's over-hyped Freemarket shows how an innovative game can seem great but simply lose the interests of the early innovators in the indie crowd while not making it into the gaming mainstream.

I like the way that people are thinking about the disconnect between many rule systems and the narrative experiences they hope to achieve.

There's the traditional system of...roll a die against a difficulty..determine pass or failure...then the GM narrates the outcome. It seems to have a continual feedback loop in it...GM narrates -> player acts -> dice determine outcome -> GM narrates. But there are a few disconnects.

How does the player know to act after the GM narration? How does the player know what their character can do?

How well do the actions of the character translate into die rolls? Are there general mechanisms that can be used to cover a wide variety of situations? How generalised are these and do they hold up in specific situations? Are there specific mechanisms that really engage a specific type of action well? Are there enough of these specific mechanisms to cover everything you might want to do in a game? If there are a few mechanisms in effect, how similar are they? How balanced are they against one another? Does a player need to learn a few completely different sub-games in order to play the larger game?

Once the outcome is generated, does it provide an output into the narrative? Is this output so generalised (pass/fail) that a GM needs to work hard in order to reincorporate the effects back into the story? Is the output so focused that it might not fit a specific scene in which it has occurred ("you kill them even though you were only trying to haggle over the cost of a pear")?

I've seen games fall in all of these areas. In fact, almost every games I've seen has problems answering at least one of these questions.

I think I've come up with an elegant solution for my game, I don't think it's perfect but only playtesting will reveal the truth.

If anyone's interested, I'll post up the working draft of the system soon.
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