A treatise on game design – Part 2

See part 1 here.

The effort that goes into creating a game set aside, the sheer amount of theory testing that you have to do can deter many people from undertaking such a project by itself. Personally, I don’t even really have the time to do it, but it’s a pet project of mine so I try to fit it in. That has made finalizing many of the new ideas that I mentioned in part 1 more difficult than I’d like, but at the same time has set me up to produce a pretty solid game once I am able to finish the details.

To recap – I’ve redesigned magic use, set some customized skill selection and create unique Characteristics and Secondary Attributes for players to use to inspire more realism in the game. This sets me up for a survival horror, post-apocalyptic setting with ease.

In order continue driving that realism, there are a few other factors that I felt had to be set in motion, but more on the game end than the character/player side of things. Creating an environment that felt familiar-yet-alien, a scarcity that continued to demonstrate the essence of survival throughout the game and the right atmosphere in NPCs and world interactions that would make the players feel like they were struggling to survive, let alone thrive, in this setting.

Fallout InventoryFrom my experience there are few tabletop RPGs that do this successfully. I’d love to hear about any systems that do. However, there are plenty of video games that succeed in this area with flying colors – most notably Fallout, Wasteland and DayZ. These games capture the essence of survival without making it seem over worked or boring – although some might argue that the obsessive inventory micromanagement needed in the more recent Fallout titles detracts from the game.

To convey these ideas I decided to take another look at items and equipment. There are three primary factors that I think contribute to the right ideas that I’m going for with these areas of the game – scarcity, durability and wastefulness. Making the player feel the scarcity of food, ammunition, water and helpful items like armor would generate the survival feeling quite well. At the same time, adding a durability score for weapons and armor would help encourage players to think twice before charging into combat, with something other than hit points to consider losing. If one’s armor is at low durability, two hits might make it fall off and then you have a much larger problem. And finally, the idea of not wanting to waste items. If you have a few scraps of leather and rivets to repair an item, is it more important to fix a breastplate or create a new pair of gloves? Which will provide more value over time? These factors have to be introduced to the players in a way that doesn’t make the game seem overly complicated, but drives the… necessary hoarder mentality for a survival situation.

Perfecting these areas of the game is the next step (and where I am currently at), but I need to actually test them with players. I feel like once these aspects are perfected in a way that makes them a pertinent part of game play but doesn’t detract from the game as whole by being too much of a focus, I will be able to finalize the game rules and focus more on the setting again.

The easiest way to set durability is with a percentage system, much like anything else in BRP. Scarcity can be controlled in game by affecting characters hunger and hydration attributes over the course of a session with no food or water to be found. The real trick I feel will be imparting the importance of using resources wisely without simply using trial and error. This will be the next step, and hopefully I can perfect it soon and offer some more data and insights into this process.

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About Ian E. Muller


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