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Author Topic: Signs of poor game design  (Read 3403 times)

Spike

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Signs of poor game design
« on: November 22, 2020, 02:00:13 pm »
I've been out of reach of good local game stores for years now, but a recent foray into civilization allowed me to pick up a bunch of new stuff... and while I have thoughts about the current state of the gaming industry (too much reliance on licensed 'engines' and generally poor design all around, papered over with culture war allegiances or great art, or both), what I'd like to comment on, and solicit commentary on, is the Red Flags of a bad game. I'm sure people have their own things they notice first when evaluating a new game.

Dice pools; This isn't a deal breaker for me, more a nuisance, but it tells me that the focus of the designer isn't on making a sturdy 'engine' to run the game but on just slapping some shit out there to bolster his amazing setting (or what have you).  To me Dice Pool games show a distinct lack of interest in emulating a world, or to grudgingly use highly fraught language, an utter disinterest in 'simulation', which is something I tend to value highly.   Obviously, using an existing 'engine', such as White Wolf's or the now very popular Mutant Year Zero engine may reflect a loyalty to a system more than an unwillingness to engage in the setting as simulation, and old, legacy Dice Pool systems (such as Shadowrun)  don't necessarily reflect that ideal, as the limitations of the mechanic weren't fully known when they were designed.

Katamari Damancy Talents:  This seems to be the predominant design philosophy of the modern game, and I can blame Savage Worlds for it, I suspect.  I refer, of course, to the idea that 'Talents' under whatever name you give them, are the primary mechanism of character growth, and you just keep sticking on more talents until you are a star.  Among other problems, these games, with their never ending quest for long lists of talents, inevitably wind up making things like... aiming a gun... into a talent that presumably requires lots of experience (level equivalents!) to master.  I can show you thirty seconds of Old Yeller, where a ten year old boy demonstrates 'Aiming', and certainly he hasn't fought a hundred orcs to master that shit.  That's not the only problem.  At low levels, you can actually wind up with deeply incomplete characters who lack basic competencies, simply because they don't have enough talents to even do 'their job', as defined by the game (See again: Old Yeller), and at high levels have so many talents that it becomes easier to start a new campaign than keep track of every exceptional 'thing' that they've learned along the way, most of which will be minor nuisance buffs that may often be forgotten in the kludge of having to remember (and find on a character sheet that inevitably only has room for ten or so Talents, yet might have to accomdate fifty or more in a decently long campaign), that you have a +2 to Endure when walking more than a mile.  Um.. yay?

Meta-Tech/Vidya Gaem Loot: The grand daddy of all RPGs, despite levelling Heros to the point where tossing planets becomes a mathematical possibility, never fucked this one up (though some of their decendents did, and recently too!).  A sharp pointy thing is a sharp pointy thing, no matter what you make it out of.  At the end of the day, while their are real and important reasons to use steel over bronze, the affect on a person stabbed by such a sword or knife, (or clubbed by a mace made of stone even...) is pretty much the same regardless of what metal you make it out of.  Technology, to be blunt, is not something that 'levels'.  Starfinder is not hte first game I've seen, nor Witcher even (though that one is close...) to use video game leveled weapons as a real feature of the setting, but it is ridiculously bad.  It is STUPID, and frankly, I wasn't that impressed by the mechanic in Video Games either. Now note, I am aware that magic weapons are a thing, and they tread up to the border of this ridiculousness, but what did I just call them? That's right: Magic.   Star-finder and the Witcher, and any other games I am currently forgetting or are blessedly ignorant of, are literally declaring that a norse battle ax is a tier leveled upgrade from a francisca, and That.Is.Just.Stupid.    A fundamental failure to understand technology indicates the game is designed by a moron and might well be unplayable as written because clearly only stupid people would write such nonsense.   If I had an earlier example of this entry (I don't, but if I did) it would probably be the more primitive and shockingly common 'One Gun to Rule them All', where a piece of equipment in any given catagory is clearly better than all the other entries, to the point where you wonder why anyone bothered listing all the vastly inferior equipment at all (or alternatively, said item costs so damn much you could buy a small army to do your adventuring for you if you could afford one, utterly making a mockery of hte notion of economics...)

I'm sure I have others, but frankly, reminding myself of these horrors is raising my blood pressure...  :P


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Ghostmaker

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2020, 03:49:01 pm »
Poor editing and indexing. If it takes me an extended period to nail down a specific rule in your book, chances are good your game system sucks.

Overcomplication. Two words, folks: Phoenix Command. There's a reason why the best games have relatively simple mechanics at heart.

HappyDaze

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2020, 04:33:26 pm »
When the core example of your licensed property can't be recreated with the core of your game: FFG's Star Wars game took three core books (each released a year apart) to let us play a pair of smugglers, a Force-sensitive farmboy, and an up-and-coming Rebel leader all joined together to oppose the Empire.

Kyle Aaron

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2020, 05:22:26 pm »
Spike's stuff is essentially levelling. If you take the concept of levelling a character - so that a 3rd level character fights as well as 3 men, or whatever - then it's natural to apply that concept to skills (or talents, or feats, or whatever they're called - the name changes, the concept is the same) and to gear.

Players enjoy two things: having an adventure, and levelling up. Many are content with just one of these. Computer games are not as good at offering an adventure as DMs are, because computers are stupid. Thus the Insurmountable Three Foot Wall Problem and the like. But computers deal with numbers, and levelling is a change of numbers. And there do exist players who are content to ignore all adventures and just level up. If they find an exploit in a computer or tabletop game which allows them to do some trivial repetitive task and make the numbers on their character sheet go up, they will happily spend hours "grinding" making it all change.

It's natural for tabletop game designers to aim for this target market, especially if they're an age where their first exposure to games is computer games. They think the repetitive grinding to level up is just normal. The problem is offering a challenge to the levelled-up character. And so computer games have a lot of Schroedinger's foes - you don't know their level until you enter their cell and they encounter you, and their level is always a fixed proportion of yours. And so we get 88th level bandits and 3rd level dragons, depending on when you meet them. On the tabletop this was called Challenge Rating. All part of "game balance", you see.

The issue, then, is that computers are dumb, and people are copying dumb. "Who is more foolish?" asked Obi Wan Kenobi, "the fool, or the fool who follows the fool?"
« Last Edit: November 22, 2020, 05:32:19 pm by Kyle Aaron »
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rytrasmi

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2020, 06:08:54 pm »
Anything borrowed from computer games is generally a bad sign, such as leveled weapons, like you say.

Mechanics that are too clever by half. This would include dice pools. If you have a low roll session, like down time or just role play, what's the point of a clever mechanic to sort a couple of random events? If you have a roll heavy session, like a couple of combats, the mechanic gets in the way. We need to introduce an element of chance, that's it. We don't need to roll 10 dice for that. Plus, a lot of mechanics that are based on clever statistics fail to recognize that the idea of statistics is only valid for large number of samples (n=100). I like rolling dice, but not that much.

Prerequisite lore. I love learning lore but I'd much prefer to learn it during play. I'll read your rule book and get the basics of the lore, but I don't want to have to read a novel just to run a game and I don't want to ask my players to read anything. It's a game and it should be played, not read. Give us small doses and let our imagination fill in the rest.



David Johansen

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2020, 06:50:36 pm »
Treating things that exist in the setting as game objects.
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Shasarak

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2020, 07:25:32 pm »
Anything borrowed from computer games is generally a bad sign, such as leveled weapons, like you say.

Leveled weapons were a thing before computer games.
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jeff37923

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2020, 07:47:09 pm »
One System To Rule Them All: The idea that you only need one game system to emulate a bunch of different genres. Sometimes you need a different set of rules to emulate a different genre best.

Charon's Little Helper

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #8 on: November 22, 2020, 07:47:29 pm »
I'll put down the two that are top of mind for me.

1. I'm big on a game's fluff & crunch meshing well, so a big one for me is when the game's mechanics don't reflect the world much if at all. It wrecks verisimilitude for me, which is one reason I'm not a fan of setting generic systems - they never quite mesh with the setting.

2. I hate it when a mechanic spotlights a single character for an extended period of time and the rest of the players might as well go off and make sandwiches or something. IMO, a mechanic should either include everyone (even if some are inferior at it - like the tech/mechanic character barely pulling their weight in a fight - but they're still there popping off shots and trying to stay alive) or it should be done quickly. Probably the most blatant examples are the hacking minigames in many systems like Shadowrun & Cyberpunk, or games with starships where only 1-2 PCs are doing anything but a brainless skill check each round, though I'm sure that there are plenty of other examples.
(In the space western system I'm working on I addressed these two specifically hence my thinking of them off the top of my head. Hacking is a single risk/reward choice followed by a single roll, while starship combat is mostly done the pilot with maybe the gunners helping, but it's designed so that boarding the enemy ship is the alpha tactic for the PCs and the starship combat itself is over in 5-8 minutes and the action gets back to the infantry/mecha level ASAP.)

Spike

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2020, 08:07:17 pm »
Honestly I feel I've done poorly in recent posts in getting my points across, but I'm loving all the comments you guys are putting out, so its worth it.
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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2020, 08:11:42 pm »
One System To Rule Them All: The idea that you only need one game system to emulate a bunch of different genres. Sometimes you need a different set of rules to emulate a different genre best.
No, you don't really need different systems. However, it's OK to want more than the minimum that we need and I do agree that some systems are better suited to certain genres.

RandyB

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2020, 08:37:16 pm »
One of my pet peeves: The publishers' pet NPCs are superior to anything the players can generate or attain through play. (FASATrek, I'm looking at *you*.)

Ratman_tf

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2020, 09:29:48 pm »
Star-finder and the Witcher, and any other games I am currently forgetting or are blessedly ignorant of, are literally declaring that a norse battle ax is a tier leveled upgrade from a francisca, and That.Is.Just.Stupid. 

I had a similar response when I first read the rules for Starfinder.
But I find, in play, it's not very noticeable. When you're on the cusp of getting a better laser gun, 2d4 isn't that much crazier than 1d4. By they time you've mad it to an 8d4 laser pistol, you've gone through all the "tiers" one by one instead of jumping from 1d4 to 8d4.

In practice, I find it no dumber than the idea of levels and stacking HP.
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rytrasmi

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #13 on: November 22, 2020, 09:54:20 pm »
Star-finder and the Witcher, and any other games I am currently forgetting or are blessedly ignorant of, are literally declaring that a norse battle ax is a tier leveled upgrade from a francisca, and That.Is.Just.Stupid. 

I had a similar response when I first read the rules for Starfinder.
But I find, in play, it's not very noticeable. When you're on the cusp of getting a better laser gun, 2d4 isn't that much crazier than 1d4. By they time you've mad it to an 8d4 laser pistol, you've gone through all the "tiers" one by one instead of jumping from 1d4 to 8d4.

In practice, I find it no dumber than the idea of levels and stacking HP.

Well, if you're going for simulation, levels get tossed out, too. It works well in non-heroic games designed for it. You might get better armor and weapons, and your skills increase, but you're always just a couple of solid hits away from death. I find in leveling games, I much prefer the hardscrabble early levels anyway, when it really matters if you stumble on some great gear. It's a matter of preference and not bad design, either way.

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Re: Signs of poor game design
« Reply #14 on: November 22, 2020, 09:55:08 pm »
Designers adding complication for the sake of complication. Instead of any real benefit to the game.

This is a complaint from my Hero System days. Mid-4th Edition. When Steve Long did his Ultimate series of books that added nothing but further complexity to the game system.

And it got worse in 5th Edition Hero. Once he and his partners bought the company.

I find it curious these days that Champions 4th Edition is coming back into physical print. That 4th edition is what the people want. Instead of 5th, 5th Revised, or even 6th.

I had a player back in the day with internet access that wanted me to bring Steve Long's (as of that time) unprinted Lightning Reflexes rules into the campaign I was running at the local comic book shop. I told him no. Because I didn't want extra complication added to an already more than a complex game system for him to abuse. He was insistent to the point of holding up the entire group over his tantrum over not getting his way. And I had to have that player forcibly ejected from the game group because of his bullying and refusing to take no for an answer from the GM.

That particular player did not typically last more than a month in any game group before he started causing major problems. So this wasn't a "me thing", This was a case of a player so obnoxious that he never lasted in any game group he was a part of for very long.

I have a dozen stories about this one player alone shitting on everybody else's fun. He was that exasperating.