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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignThe Purpose of Rules and Mechanics
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Demi Dawnfall
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« on: February 16, 2020, 08:58:08 AM »

This is acting as a continuation of michaelplzno and my discussion of rules and mechanics in the Character Generator thread. I hope that we could make this an open discussion on the necessity or lack thereof of rules or mechanics in games. A few questions that come to mind:

How necessary are they to the experience?
How should we use rules and mechanics to incentivize players to follow certain courses of action?
Should designers try to use rules and mechanics to lead players toward a certain type of fun?

And ideas of that nature. If this is too broad a topic, please let me know, but for now I will continue the discussion were were having in the previous thread:

Rules to me tend to get in the way of fun, and AT BEST are a necessary evil needed for fun to occur. That is: rules often stop us from doing what we want, and thus are antithetical to my own view on fun. Now rules don't always have to stop us or get in the way:





And of course some rules are for safety, which are always important. I've heard of experimental games where people were seriously injured just because the designers didn't think out bad cases.

But I categorize those kinds of rules as different than rules like "if you draw a flower you get points" which are controlling and limiting but at least lay out a reward for doing something you *might* want to do on your own, thus they create fun. Unless you hate drawing flowers, in which case that too would be a miserable rule you would try to break.

A better rule would be to give a reward for drawing something you are proud of, but again, there are flaws in that because how can we measure what one is proud of?

Again, as I wander into rule structures that are more fun to me, the rules get fuzzier and more focused on rewards and structure to encourage what the player already wants to do. If you create a really attractive button that is just dripping with juice and the visual language that says "click me" and then you reward the player for clicking that button though some scoring system would you call that a rule? I mean its not that, its more like enabling the player's true wants and enforcing their sense of self, rather than setting a rule that goes against what the player intrinsically wants. Extrinsically controlling a player and imposing a rule structure on them that rewards what the game designer wants is more like learning: oh you wrote the letter wrong, now you get an F on your homework because that's the rule: NO this is not fun.

So what do we call it when something stirs up a want or desire in you and then rewards you for acting on it in a safe and controlled way? I don't think that is the definition of a rule, it is something else. Surely such experiences are *fun* but saying fun is related to rules is like saying air is related to running. Yes, you need to consume oxygen to run, but that's not what running is about.

BTW I'm happy to break this into multiple threads or what? I'm not sure what the etiquette here is.

So if I'm understanding correctly, the rules you're indicating are getting closer and closer to an idea of 'the experience I want the player to have.' Like... I want the player to feel rewarded when they click this button, or when they score points, which reinforces the attractiveness of a certain option.

Before continuing I feel we'd need to agree upon what we're discussing. That is, I'd like to note that I consider 'mechanics' or 'rules' as 'anything that allows the game to be played.' That can include without being limited to:

1. Clicking a button while a cursor is facing toward a door allowing a certain event to fire such that a new room in an RPG is loaded in.
2. Moving the joystick sending signals to the game that are interpreted as movement
3. Navigating menus sending haptic feedback whenever a different option is selected

All of these 'rules' are things that people rarely think about, but allow the game to be played. Ideal rules are things people think through without knowing they're doing so most of the time, I think (unless your goal is a strategy game like a TCG, in which case the rules are made as explicit as possible and the reward for players is to navigate the most efficient path to victory).

So I agree that it's important to generate 'rules' that don't hold people back. How is this done, do you think?
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michaelplzno
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2020, 03:07:42 PM »

I think the biggest thing to better rule making (Which rule becomes a sort of "super word" when literally everything that happens in a game is based on a rule: for example AI which runs weighted probabilities to determine what action to perform is also a set of "rules?") is that you have to put yourself in the player's position as a game designer.

I tend to do an iterative approach that involves combining game generas and adding twists to popular game types, but you have to ask yourself: are you making a rule because it feels good to make rules, or are you doing it to help the player have fun? When I build a version of a game I ask myself constantly: "How do I want to play with this system?" And the answer to that is usually the next thing I implement. Now I don't usually think of that as a rule.

For example, I've been working on my latest quick game project "Bobble Bonanza" and I have a score system that is based on mathematical operations, and as a player I want to see the score scroll across the score area in a flashy way as I hit each peg in the game. (Its kind of like a twist on peggle or pachinko) Now is that a rule, to make the score easier to understand and cooler looking? I know the process by which I come up with a vision for how it works, iteration and measuring what I and players want, but are we even talking about rules anymore or just what the experience should be. And if rules = every line of code you add into a game, then shouldn't we say something other than rule?

I've known too many would be game designers who simply make the process of making games miserable, fighting for who is the boss, petty squabbles about who is going to get credit, unwillingness to roll up your sleeves and get work done, and when I see the kind of rules they apply to the real world I have instant doubts about if they even know what fun is. Which again, in some design teams saying the word fun is forbidden! So when it gets to the rule makers I always think of things like the game Diplomacy where everyone is backstabbing everyone and its just miserable, but then again that may be my own bias just due to unpleasant circumstances.
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Demi Dawnfall
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2020, 10:06:54 PM »

I tend to do an iterative approach that involves combining game generas and adding twists to popular game types, but you have to ask yourself: are you making a rule because it feels good to make rules, or are you doing it to help the player have fun? When I build a version of a game I ask myself constantly: "How do I want to play with this system?" And the answer to that is usually the next thing I implement. Now I don't usually think of that as a rule.

Perhaps we could call them 'subsystems' for the sake of discussion? Subsystems would help us decide what kind of rules to put in place because they give us a sense of why the rules need to exist.

For example, I've been working on my latest quick game project "Bobble Bonanza" and I have a score system that is based on mathematical operations, and as a player I want to see the score scroll across the score area in a flashy way as I hit each peg in the game. (Its kind of like a twist on peggle or pachinko) Now is that a rule, to make the score easier to understand and cooler looking? I know the process by which I come up with a vision for how it works, iteration and measuring what I and players want, but are we even talking about rules anymore or just what the experience should be. And if rules = every line of code you add into a game, then shouldn't we say something other than rule?

Sure, I have no problem with denoting rules on different levels since it helps discussion. Do you think the difference here is in how aesthetic or tangible a flashing icon or crunchy SFX is? Or is it something else?
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michaelplzno
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2020, 09:02:05 AM »

I'm being semantic, which I know is sort of persnickety, but to me there is a lot of stuff that is polish or aesthetics (art type, not in the MDA way) that aren't explicitly rules but still add a lot of fun. When you hit a bobble in Bobble Bonanza and there are particles and jucy/crunchy/pleasing effects I don't call that rules. When the score meter lights up and the numbers roll up and beep that isn't a rule.

Similarly, in BB there is a physics engine to determine what the bounces are on each bobble. Again, is this a rule? It seems a bit odd to say that "bobbles will bounce your ball with a reflected normal from the delta vector representing the difference between the position of the ball and the position of the bobble." The whole "Rule based design" breaks down at that point imo because actually saying the rule in plain English is more complicated than just coding up the damn physics engine.

So here are a list of things that I wouldn't call true "Rules" but that add a lot of fun:

-AI systems
-Physics
-Character control schemes
-Camera movement systems
-Any art assets (Cute/scary/interesting character art, impressive/flashy/insert other adjective background art or locations)
-Sound design
-Narrative

There's probably more than that. And I guess to make a game of tag in a school yard all you need are some rules. And then when you make a more complex table top D&D type game you make more sophisticated rules, but when you make a video game its not just rules. There is a lot more to creating fun than simply the "rules." It belittles what making a video game is to say "well its just a system of rules." Is Decard Cain dying in act 1 of Diablo 3 a "rule?"

Does that make sense?
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Demi Dawnfall
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« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2020, 10:29:36 AM »

I think so. Are you trying to illustrate that limiting an ideaspace to just 'rules' feels incorrect to you? If so, I think I understand.

Why are physics not rules, to you?
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michaelplzno
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2020, 11:15:38 AM »

In the abstract sense, physics are rules so I see your point.

What I'm getting at is the granularity of design work: you can't say "THERE IS PHYSICS" and consider that a meaningful rule by which you have designed something. It would be like saying "The score is displayed at the top." That's a rule, but if that's all designers do then design work is basically trivial.

Here could be the rules of Bobble Bonanza:

1) There are 3 kinds of bobbles, red bobbles multiply your score, yellow bobbles add to your score, and blue bobbles raise your score exponentially.

2) Each turn you send out your ball and get scored based on which bobbles you hit.

3) There is physics that lets the ball bounce off of bobbles.

4) The game is cute and fun looking.

5) The score is at the top of the screen.

6) There is a shop where you can buy upgrades.

7) There is a social aspect where scores can be compared and shared.

There ya go, those are the rules of the game! So I guess you are saying that that is important to the fun of the game but its about 1% of making a game. That isn't really what makes the game fun, its less than a skeleton of what the finished product is. There could be millions of ways to implement that "design" so if we are to say that rules are the key to fun, than the "funness" of a game is decided in only a few words right at the beginning of work.

I get that having those 7 bullet points have some kind of value, and impact how fun the game is, but its less than what an architect does with a blueprint, its less than an outline, its less than a painter choosing what colors they want to use in their work, its such a small part of what a game is. No?
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Demi Dawnfall
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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2020, 11:50:45 PM »

I get that having those 7 bullet points have some kind of value, and impact how fun the game is, but its less than what an architect does with a blueprint, its less than an outline, its less than a painter choosing what colors they want to use in their work, its such a small part of what a game is. No?

I agree, rules are 'less' especially individually. Metal is just metal. Words are just words. Brushstrokes are just brushstrokes. And I agree, a blueprint guides your material choices, an outline guides the words you write, a colors inform the moods you paint. But the human-friendly choices have to be fleshed out eventually. Materials must be understood. Small mistakes can cascade to serious repercussions... some good, some bad. Sometimes you end up with a failed product. Sometimes failing to execute the blueprint can lead to a happy accident. Supposedly, that's how potstickers came about:

Quote
Potsticker Origins
The Chinese have been enjoying potstickers since the Song dynasty (960 to 1280 A.D.). The exact origins of potstickers are lost to history. However, according to a charming legend, they were invented by a chef in China's Imperial Court, who accidentally burnt a batch of dumplings after leaving them on the stove for too long. The overcooked dumplings were burnt on the bottom only, and not on top. With no time to prepare a new batch, the chef served the dumplings with the burnt side on top, announcing that they were his own special creation. Fortunately, court members loved them!

So, I agree, rules hold less information individually. And I agree that designs are important; how else do we pick what rules are needed? And yet, steel beams still facilitate the building's existence. Outlines still need words to make books. Paintings still need strokes. And I'm sure engineers agree there are better composites for certain jobs; writers, better words for different tones; painters, better colors for different moods.

Ideas or goals are necessary guides. Absolutely essential. And rules are, indeed, constraining. But they are so because they are attempting to carve idea into reality.

I don't feel it's productive to say one is more valuable than the other in the creative process. You can improve your design (idea-design), you can improve your technique (rules-design) and both are valuable uses of time for a creator, imo.

On a different note:

4) The game is cute and fun looking.

Why do you consider this a rule?
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michaelplzno
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« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2020, 01:29:14 AM »

I know a lot about cooking and rules. There once were a group of people who's bread didn't have enough time to cook as they fled from an oppressive slave master, so they let it bake on their backs. And when they got through it, their society descended into chaos, worshiping idols and whatnot. So someone had to come in and give them a set of laws... thank god they had Charlton Heston!





So as much as pot-stickers are a lovely aphorism I'll do you one up and say I answer to a higher authority, not to be a hotdog or anything.

If we see the act of creation as rule giving in order to create a reality, can we even do it if we haven't tasted the freedom of chaos?

I'm not sure I see the split between idea-design and rules-design as an analogy for design and technique. What do you mean here, as I see design technique as something much more complex than just being really suave when you lay down the law. (Heston didn't even brush his hair!)

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Quote from: michaelplzno on February 17, 2020, 11:15:38 AM
4) The game is cute and fun looking.

Why do you consider this a rule?

I'm sure you consider it a rule as well, it is a statement of how things must be. Are you differentiating between rules that are designed for the creative team vs rules that are for the player to experience. IF SO then you are once again trivializing design work. Under what you seem to be advocating, and also under what the MDA thesis affirms, 4 likely does not count as a rule and thus Bobble Bonanza could be implemented with ugly pieces of garbage as the bobbles as long as the colors are correct and their mathematical operations are in tact.

But then, why *is* it a rule to say "Red bobbles multiply the score" when that is simply an arbitrary rule of implementation. In fact there could be a ton of ways to differentiate the bobbles, so I should likely change rule number 1 to "There are 3 kinds of bobbles, one multiplies your score, one adds to your score, and one raises your score exponentially"

But then why do I even get to say there are 3 kinds of bobbles, as that too is an arbitrary choice which commands the implementation?

So I continue my dissent: if game designers are rule givers of only rules that affect the dynamics and thus the aesthetic experience of the player, then there is a BIG hole in what a game can be. Who decides what the bobbles look like? Who decides what things are shown by the score indicator and how it updates? Who decides how many points each bobble gives? Again, as I've said, the designer comes in and says a few words at the beginning, and then lets the whole thing just play out? I guess it puts into perspective that taking 6 whole days to design something and then having to rest for one would be the most design work any being has done.
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Demi Dawnfall
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« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2020, 04:27:11 AM »

I feel you are misrepresenting my points to humorous effect and that hurts.

I do not wish to continue discussion as it appears to have largely turned into an argument. Arguing prevents seeing each others' points--of which you have many good to say--but if you cannot admit where what I say has value, then we cannot really continue.
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« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2020, 07:42:22 AM »

I'm sorry if I belittled you. From my upbringing I was taught that an argument is the best way to get to the truth.

I can admit there is some value to rules. Without them there is chaos, despite how much I hate that truth.

I enjoyed talking to you, I understand that you don't want to talk anymore.

Edit: I Feel bad about having hurt you, as I only meant to show you respect. I'm already biased against MDA and I figured I would let you argue why it is a good idea. This was more about me expressing myself against some of the rule makers I've really despised and not really about you. There's no reason why MDA can't be a helpful tool to a lot of people, my reaction was just because I'm biased against that kind of group. I'm sorry.
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Demi Dawnfall
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2020, 02:10:13 AM »

I appreciate the apology. I just prefer to avoid argument where I can; it has a time and place, but it didn't feel like we had to disagree. I try not to stand too hard behind any one opinion, because if I've learned anything, it's that standing behind one perspective too hard, in almost any case, prevents me from seeing good points that other people are making. I've been wrong plenty of times before. xD

That said, it's good to recognize your biases. Perhaps we could discuss another time. Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2020, 04:00:40 PM »

Yeah, I'm still trying to find my non-grump way of doing forums, we can talk about it later.
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