analytics code

Monday, January 26, 2009

design deconstruction

Possibly because of my short stint in academia, I believe that a lot can be learned from analyzing the design of existing games. I'm primarily interested in the mechanics of the game and how they work together to create an enjoyable game. Therefore, I am going to start posting a series of design "deconstructions" where I rip the game apart to inspect the individual pieces of the game.

I honestly don't know if anything fruitful will come of this, but my hope is that a better understanding of the "fun" elements of some games may bring light to design challenges I encounter in the future.

If nothing else, I personally will enjoy the exercise, and I hope that it may promote interesting discussion.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

NFL OT solution - no coin toss

This is a bit off-topic, but I wanted to record my thoughts on how to make overtime in the NFL better.

The primary complaint is that a coin toss determines who gets the ball first in a sudden death overtime. From what I've heard, no one is interested in prolonging the game by guaranteeing each team gets the ball once, or playing an entire quarter, etc. So I was trying to determine a better way to determine who gets the ball first.

My solution is that the team who scores last in regulation has to kickoff to the other team. This gives the team that is tying the game the opportunity to be in control of their own destiny. Do they go for the tie and go for the stop in overtime? Or do they try to score more than their opponent and end the game in regulation?

The only time this wouldn't be an option is if the team is down by 8 and needs a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie. Other than that they have the option of going for a two-point instead of a one-point, or a touchdown over a field goal.

I think this would create more interesting decisions at the end of the game. It also takes the chance out of overtime -- you know exactly who will get the ball if the game goes into overtime. In general, I believe this would improve the current overtime rules without changing them drastically.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

opposing progress with sub-goals and multiple actions

In (American) football, it's called "field position".

I grew up a fan of baseball, basketball, and football, but I never really appreciated the intricacies of the third until the past few years. The more I watch it, the more I understand, and the more certain subtleties become obvious to me.

Field position is one of these subtleties. The primary goal of the offense is to score points. However, if the offense is unable to score points, it does have a secondary goal of creating poor field position for their opponent. When making the appropriate play call, the coach has to take in to consideration a myriad of factors, field position notwithstanding. This is probably most evident in "3rd and long" situations where obtaining a 1st down may be a long shot. In some cases, it may be more desirable to make a safe call that will gain a few yards than to take a risky shot at a first down.

I've been thinking of this as a mechanic of the game of football, and am curious how such a mechanic could be implemented with a board game. Abstracting it out of the game of football can be a bit of a challenge because of all the different factors that play into the significance of the mechanic.

The integral part of the mechanic is opposing progress. This is when one player's progress reverses the other player's or players' progress. This can be anything quantifiable. In football, this is the distance to the opposing team's goal line. This is also seen in Othello, where turning over an opponent's piece results in the player gaining a piece of his own.

However, in Othello the progress is towards the final goal of having more pieces at the end of the game than your opponent. In football, the progress moves you toward a sub-goal of the larger goal of having more points at the end of the game. To make it more interesting, there are actually two sub-goals: the field goal and the touchdown. The latter is more desirable as it generally results in more than twice as many points than the former, but the former is easier to obtain.

Finally, in an oversimplified view, there are two ways to progress in football. One is to run the ball, which is generally a more sure way to gain a few yards (less progress, less risk). The other is to pass the ball, which may not gain any yards, but tends to gain more yards than running the ball when you do gain yards (more progress, more risk). This is an important dynamic in the situations described above; the player must decide which action to take to not only maximize his own progress towards a sub-goal, but which will also maximize the backwards progress of the opponent.

In summary, these elements should be present to replicate the "field position" mechanic in football:

  • Opposing progress - One player's progress negatively impacts the progress of the opposing player or players.

  • Sub-goals - There should be multiple sub-goals where the ease of obtaining a sub-goal is inversely related to the reward for obtaining the sub-goal (i.e., the touchdown versus the field goal). The progress described above should move the player closer to the sub-goals.

  • Multiple actions - Each successful action should progress the player, but actions that progress the player further should carry a higher risk of either no progress or negative progress (i.e., the run play versus the pass play).

  • Progress punt - The player should be able to "punt" (for lack of a better term) their ability to progress to drastically reduce their opponent's progress. Implementation of this element is easiest when only one player can progress at a time, and the progress punt ends their turn at progressing.

While it is possible to implement a portion of these elements, I do not believe that you can create interesting decisions similar to the "field position" decisions on a football field without at least implementing the first three elements. The final element, which I did not discuss in detail, would create a more complete analogy, but it could also be eliminated if it proves difficult to implement or creates an imbalance in gameplay.

I also did not mention an important part of the mechanic in football. The teams are limited to the number of plays they can run because they must progress ten yards within four plays. In the case of a game where players take turns performing actions, this would not apply as the player would be slowed by the progress of the opposing player. However, if they were to take turns progressing with multiple actions (as it is in football), they would need to be limited in the number of actions they can take before their turn is over. This way, there would be a reason to use the riskier actions instead of only using the low-risk actions.

In a future post, I hope to mock up an example implementation.

Friday, January 2, 2009

a record of thoughts

A couple years ago, I started a short-lived blog. I was bored, and I thought I'd try it out to see why so many people insist on writing blogs. To me, it wasn't an interesting use of my time, and so it now sits unused, unread, and mostly forgotten.

Here I am again, starting a blog. But this time is different! This time, I have a purpose! I am starting this blog to record my never-ending, incoherent, and marginally useful thoughts on games and game design. In case it is not clear, this is almost entirely a selfish purpose, but I am making this blog public in the off chance that someone gleans some useful information from it.

Two years ago, "game and game design" would have been almost exclusively a discussion of video games.  As my priorities have changed, I find that board games fill up more of my leisure time. Additionally, board games take significantly less time and technical expertise to design and prototype. These are primarily the reasons why I have embraced the limitations of board games, making board games my new primary hobby.

This may be short-lived, but my passion for game design has not waned in 15 (or so) years. Even if I ever become bored with board games, I will probably not cease having the kind of thoughts that will be recorded here.

That is to say, I hope that this blog lasts longer than the last one.