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The Designer’s Dilemma: Picking Up the Pieces

Game design, like writing, can be a lonely job. At least that’s my experience. It makes a certain amount of sense, as I’m the type who concentrates on the single-player experience. In that sense, solitary design is just as empowering as solitary writing, though it falls prey to the same obstacles, especially when it comes to ideas. When you’re at a loss for words, you call it writer’s block.

When you’re at a loss for rules, though– well, you can read the title of this article, can’t you?

Now, over the break I set to work on putting together a game that wouldn’t have to kowtow to an audience of sheltered children– I agree with the criticisms from last time, and I’ll admit those were the first things I wanted to correct this time out. A lot of the design problems of “Dental Asylum” were pretty much dictated by the constraint of making a game you couldn’t lose, which necessitated a frustrating excess of the whole “cul-de-sac” mechanism of gameplay– namely, talking in circles. I believe in using that mechanism in speech-tree games, as I believe it’s something that happens much more frequently in our own day-to-day conversations than we’re aware of, but only as far as it serves in channeling the flow of the design, rather than standing in the way. Therefore, for this new chapter in the Designer’s Dilemma (or should it be the Player’s Paradox?) I’ve done my best to restrain those cul-de-sacs, and reserve them only for the moments where endless frustration makes the most amount of sense.

It really shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that the best cure for writer’s block in this case turned out to be a nice, healthy argument and some very unhealthy thinking.

As for the rule-set itself, there’s more of an attempt to concentrate the end-game conditions in a more cohesive manner. I don’t want to say too much, as I am genuinely curious to see whether or not they can make sense on their own. Central to this game, though, is knowing the difference between closed and open questions– Choosing “Yes” or “No” before “Question” lets you ask a yes-or-no query, while choosing “Answer” before “Question” results in a who-what-when-where-why-how inquiry. Granted, this is the sort of thing that shouldn’t be spelled out ahead of time– I’m a firm believer that good games teach you how to play them, rather than force you to look up the instructions– but that’s something I’ll just have to keep in mind for the next prototype.

As always, constructive criticism is appreciated and looked forward to. Apologies in advance for anybody who can’t open PowerPoint. Until next time, pleasant dreamers, keep hope alive!


  1. Charles Joseph wrote:

    Your early pieces were actually stronger. The frequent use of cul-de-sacs made me actually feel helpless, the same way I would in those types of authoritarian situations.

    The problem with this piece is that I’m presented with many more options, but most of them result in me shooting myself in the face, with no clear reason for why my choices led to that outcome. This means that for the most part I’m not acting, but simply re-acting, and I’m only willing to do that so many times and not get the result that I want. Choices shouldn’t come between the player and his character, they should make the connection stronger.

    Also, a little advice: don’t underestimate the value of a good foil.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 5:43 am | Permalink
  2. Bob wrote:

    Anybody else? This stuff is what I’m doing for my thesis, folks, so the more input, the merrier (even if it is of the pessimistic variety, as seen yonder above).

    Nash, perhaps? This isn’t exactly the most perfect prototype in the world, but after your narrative discussion, I’m curious to another perspective.

    Anyway, as for acting/re-acting/choices-between-the-player-and-character– that’s pretty much how I feel every single day of my life, so par for the course.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 4:31 am | Permalink
  3. Charles Joseph wrote:

    Hmmm, then you might get more mileage out of presenting these as autobiographical, in the way that Passage is for Jason Rohrer, rather than a new way to do interactive dialogue in games. I mean, I’m not so interested in playing you as a character, Bob, but if it was about exploring the psyche of another human being, then that’s intriguing.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

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