Monday, January 31, 2011

Game Development – Part 3: Complexity

Relaxing Pastime
Surrogate Religion?


The prevailing bias has been in no way concealed, and anything useful gleaned from the following would be implemented at your own risk. There may also be dabbling in hyperbole and sarcasm. You have been warned.

This is not a slam against "serious" gamers or even "serious" games. May you continue to enjoy quoting chapter and verse form your collection of amended and cross-indexed rulebooks during the third day of the first turn of a game that sprawls over several groaning ping-pong tables. There was a time I would be standing right beside you. Well, maybe not that close, but within polite arguing distance.

When I started “gaming” back in the summer of AD1977, it opened a whole new world of responsibility avoidance and addictive escapism that is only now being experienced by the great unwashed with online games like World of Woecraft and it’s trendy, yet short-lived, competitor of the moment. All RPG’s were “tabletop” and the only limits were your imagination sparked by whatever cool fantasy/Science Fiction book, movie, comic or TV show recently experienced. All true wargames were complex because they were “simulations” of supposed real-life events, be they ill-documented past, misunderstood present or highly implausible future. We reveled in the esoteric knowledge imparted by these verbose tomes, steeped in eldritch charts, mystic lists and the typically all but useless table of contents. There was a kinship, a brotherhood amongst the gamers as they congregated to perpetuate their chosen game(s) and indoctrinate willing converts. These tended to manifest at schools and colleges, and involved pilgrimages to regional gaming conventions. And, amazingly enough, all this happened before there was a PC hooked up to the Internet in every bedroom across the First World.

I was 11, and gaming was serious business.

My first game was D&D. Just “D&D”. Please note the lack of an “A” at the front. Then there was Metamorphosis Alpha, which eventually became Gamma World. The RPG explosion that was the 1980’s produced many games like Traveller, Top Secret, Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, Mekton, Space Opera, Bunnies and Burrows, Villains and Vigilantes, Bushido, and Space: 1889. There were also the wargames of the time, by such companies as Avalon Hill, FASA, SPI, Yaquinto, TSR, GDW and Task Force Games. Then there was the phenomenon of the mini- or micro-game: wargames that were fun, fast, portable and reasonably priced. Having always used miniatures with the RPGs, it was a very short stumble into the world of miniature wargaming. In the 1990’s, patient zero was diagnosed with what would become the “collectable game” pandemic.

I was, and still am, a bit evangelical about gaming, with a website AND a blog devoted to it. Sad, but there it is. I’d like all of these types of games to become as mainstream as watching televised sporting events while trying to get drunk, just so I can stop hiding behind the story of being a model railroad enthusiast every time I enter a craft store, feverishly looking for that elusive bit to finish the latest project. Not holding my breath, though.

As I grew older, switching from one set of rules to another every session became tiresome, as it could be months until we came around to any particular game again, forgetting enough of it to be annoying. Even using my razor-honed skill at making FAQ and summary sheets, it became tedious. I grew to appreciate :gasp: simpler games.

Yes, I could still build an 80-ton mech in my head using Mekton II, but how often did I play it? Meka Tac’s rules were nowhere nearly as “robust” as Battletech or Mekton Zeta, but it only took a few minutes to build a force of mecha and a couple hours to play a decent-sized robot battle to its obvious conclusion. Folks who were not gamers but have played Trivial Pursuit could easily enjoy that ideal gateway drug: Settlers of Catan. From there 'twas but a short, slippery slope to Kill Doctor Lucky, Bitin Off Hedz, Munchkin, and Plague & Pestilence. One Page Fantasy Skirmish was quick to grasp and fast to play, and introduced many of the fundamental miniature wargaming concepts like LoS, initiative, movement and range while still being fun. G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. gave us a desperately needed Victorian Science Fiction fix, and Where Heroes Dare! would let players Pulp to their heart’s content. I think my next RPG will be run with Action Squad.

Being much, much older, I view “gaming” as gathering friends together, old and not yet met, to push toys around a table and rolling dice while laughing. And I'm not alone in this philosophy.

I’m still a gamer, and will continue to be so as long as I’m able. I haven’t lost the faith; just no longer possessed by the desire to master the mysteries of rules written like tax law.


  1. That SFB diagram looks painful! I wonder if anyone has actually attempted to play a game using that ship.

  2. Probably. It's got secondary shields and weapons that ignore all non-temporal defenses. It's also one of those wacky multiplier SSDs, where every box counts as x number of boxes. I think. It's been a while since my last game of SFB.