Monthly Archives: May 2008

Designing ‘The Player League’ Part 3: Game Models

(read part 1 and part 2 first)I actually have a designed, implemented version of The Player League on hand. Designing it has been a fun little obsession for me over the last few months. This is good, because I’m pretty sure it’s one of those inventing-the-lightbulb-filament-experiment things. The game doesn’t work as well as I had hoped, but I still think the concept is valid. What I learned is that I need to come at it from a different angle than the one I originally chose.

There is one design decision I made which was unique and made this game possible in the first place. That is, to abstract out all conversation text and reduce interactions to sequences of emotional signals. This doesn’t lose a lot of realism, actually, since emotional impact is far more important than logical content in these sorts of social interactions. Abstracting out the conversation text allows me to, for example, add an ability called ‘indicate interest’, which represents your character doing something to express attraction towards someone. That action could be a turn of phrase, or some body language signal. The point is that it doesn’t matter, because the result is the same.

The only big problem with this approach is that players might have trouble reverse-engineering what’s going on in the game to imagine how it could have happened in real life. When players describe a playsession, I’d rather they say, “I smiled at her and she blushed”, than “I indicated interest and she indicated interest”. The second version is a bit too cold.

But onto the game models. I’ve come up with several ideas, and implemented one of them. Read on.

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Designing ‘The Player League’ Part 2: The Mechanics

In part 1 I looked at reasons why designing a social competition game is difficult. This time I’m going to start the design process by listing some of the notable mechanics of real-life competitive social interaction. For example, if I was designing a war strategy game this list would include health, positioning, morale, cover, terrain, ammunition, and so on. I need to figure out what the ‘pieces’ of the strategic space are for a strategy game. The goal is to make a comprehensible, fun game design that is also at least somewhat realistic. Most other social games up to now have depended on either static conversation trees, or extremely abstracted mechanics which don’t really resemble real social interaction at all. I don’t want that. I want a dynamic strategy game which, when played, maps reasonable well to a possible real social interaction.

Before I could design a game about socializing, I had to try to figure out the mechanics of real-life socializing. Luckily, it turns out that there is a whole industry of social/dating coaches out there, with their own quasi-nerdy lingo that breaks down social interactions into a step-by-step sequence of actions and reactions. I’ve based my design off of a combination of these ideas and my own personal experience.

These social rules aren’t universal, so don’t complain if they sound a little draconian. They’re quite specific to a particular subculture and context – the sexually competitive pickup club/bar scene. I’ve also chosen stuff that I think is ‘game-izable’ – that’s independent of the text of the conversation and the cultural context.

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