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Rickard Elimää (This is Pulp)
An imaginative game designer
An imaginative game designer


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The Game Process in Pictures
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My previous two posts talked about how the game designers goal should be part of the interaction for the player, and how the game pitch is a part of your game system. This post is going to be about how a game (or any activity, to be honest) creates engagement through a loop. I'm only going to briefly touch this topic, as there are tons of underlying theory behind it.

The initial game state, when the game is just about to start, consist of the player's expectations, hopefully colored (in blue) by the game pitch. You don't want a player to sit down with some Rory's Story Cubes and expect chess. The player also has a basic understanding of the game mechanics, or will learn through the process new elements of the game. Last, but not least, the game will also present the goals for the player.

The game process lets then the player make a decision, based on the knowledge of the game mechanics, the goal, and the initial game state, of what kind of action the player would want to do. That person goes through the procedure for that action, which will take effect in the game world (operant space) and spawn some sort of feedback through the interaction with that game world. The player then needs to take that feedback into account for the next decision, and so the loop continues.

That's the game process, seen from above (the right circle in the picture). But when I think about a game process, I picture a glass of water. Someone then adds the color yellow, and starts to stir; the water turns yellow. Add blue to the mix, and the water will turn ... not blue, but green, because it has to take the previous information into account.

If we look at the game process from the side, we will see how it will take the form of a spiral, where all the previous information in the loop is important for the current action. As we loop through the same process, as we get more and more feedback from the game, we get more and more information to take into account, and as the process of the game grows, so does our engagement in the activity (which is shown by the arrow in the bottom left area of the picture).

Side note: a game can have several different loops, either triggering each other, or several loops going on at the same time.

It doesn't matter if you're after spatial immersion, where the player forgets about the world around itself and instead gets devoured by the game world, if it's a high tense game of Guitar Hero, or if the game is having the character's emotions bleed into the players: the process is the same, although HOW to interact and with WHAT to interact can differ. It depends on what medium the game designer is using - if it's movies, games, art ... whatever - and it depends on what the game designer wants to achieve with the game.

The feedback, HOW we interact, and WHAT we interact with, are all parts of WHY we play.  The game pitch should tell the player WHY to play the game. The player itself will bring expectations - often by preferring a playstyle over another - to the game. When all of these come together, a great gaming experience is to come.
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I guess most of you know how dribbling came about in basketball, where the rules says that you cannot run with the ball but nothing states that you cannot pass to yourself.

Here's an amazing Youtube channel that brings up people that bent the rule systems in sports so much that the rules had to be changed.
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Why Your Game Will Fail
Timrus "FTL" Wick goes through nine game design mistakes, and while he's talking about video game design, it's applicable on tabletop roleplaying games too:
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Creating Drama Through Consequences of Choices
We want uncertainty when we play. Most of the times, we get this from conflicts, dice rolls, and game master preparation – we're uncertain of what will come from those situations. However, the key aspect of all these and multiple other methods is change.

Consequences promise a change; change of situation; change of relation; change of setting; change of mindset. As a simple example: a Pick Lock attempt will render a door unlocked, but nothing will change if the roll fails. Instead, introduce a consequence for the fail state – the character will get noticed.
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Tabletop roleplaying games are actually game engines.

Adventures are games made to a game engine.

When reading about (general) game design, like I've done the past ten years, this is more and more what I come to realize.

I think it helps a) creating games and b) writing adventures, if you look at it from that perspective. The game master is actually a game designer.

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Loot Boxes
What made me react was the comment about the jingles, and I instantly thought of commercial and how hearing something repeatedly without having a negative feeling about it makes humans think it's something positive.
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Here is a great free online course for novice and intermediate game designers. It goes into the basics of what you need to know to design games, and please be sure to follow all the links and check up all the resources. I would honestly say that you're an veteran game theorist after you done all that.
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Avoid incremental advancement
The article talks about CRPG but this sentiment applies to tabletop RPGs advancement systems too:

"Just slapping numbers onto equipment or having a skill tree doesn't make your game an RPG. /.../ The worst offenders of using this design think that higher numbers make everything better.

Without meaningful growth or choices, the player is forced to play a numbers game when they want to play an action game."

This is something I really disliked in DnD4 - how the numbers just increased. Sure, we got new powers too (but where the feats mostly gave increased numbers), which is good game design when it comes to advantage systems but the number increase was uncessesery. The only thing it did was making the math for high level characters harder.

Also, DnD4 had two ways of incremental advancement in the combat system. Damage/hit points contra skill level/AC. Why two? Made no sense, especially in a game where you can describe the dodging freely.

If you're an amateur roleplaying game designer, try to avoid raising the numbers when characters get better. Give the players instead more options to play with.
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Reading tip of the Week
Almost all articles by Josh Bycer over at Gamasutra are really interesting, enlightning, and brings their own perspective on things.
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What is roleplaying games?
I think this blog post that categorize different parts of roleplaying games is close. Half of it is in Swedish, but not the important stuff. I do think "setting" should be broken out from Gamer into a category of its own - Explorer.
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