190: By the Book

By the Book

Videogames often contain rule sets as complex as those of pen-and-paper RPGs. But sometimes it's more visible than others. Tom Endo explores how developers have changed their approach to communicating the rules of their games.

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Really fantastic article. Oh, the nostalgia... I'll always feel like something's missing, but these days, it's a fine line between "something's missing" and "this is too complicated; I'm not young enough to memorize all this anymore!".

I might miss those giant manuals the most!

Maybe someday we really will bridge the gap. Or is it enough to realize, like Tom did, that Metal Gear Solid 4 and Sins of a Solar Empire aren't really that different?

We guard our nostalgia jealously and fearfully. It's hard for me to see my brother spurn Dragon Quest and hop instead into Wii-mote waggling shovelware, but I guess transition periods are always something like this, and we'll meet somewhere in a happy medium.

I'll always love games that still go along with the old style of gaming with number crunching (Should I use this bow or this mace on those skeles? Whats the damage ratio? Crushing damage does extra damage to undead right??)

However, once in a while I do like just getting out of it and going for broke. Shoot it up and the guy drops, halo or Gears of War style!

But, I know (because I keep going back to games like Baulders Gate!) that those games with the strict number rules will always have a place in my heart! I hope that they make some newer ones like that, but with updated graphics! (Baulders gate 3??? XD)

Anyways, great article! Keep up the awsome work!

PS: I still read all the game manuals, including the old ones that i've read before! (If it has a good story built into the manual, it's great!)

A very nice article that I'm forced to disagree with, for various reasons. I will always consider the "slower" method of doing things on pen and paper greatly superior to digital imitations because a computer and a number generator will never match the innovation of your friends or dungeon master or the experience it provides.

I always had mixed reactions to games like Baldur's Gate, which had a little dialog box that showed all of the D&D-style 'rolls' that were made to determine outcomes. On one hand, I appreciated the transparency and detail. I liked having access to the inner mechanisms of what made the game world tick, even if I never personally saw a dice rolled and was pretty convinced that the computer was baldly cheating me from time to time.

On the other hand, I didn't much like the fact that my fantasy adventure was roped-in to some pretty archaic standards of game design. If something went horribly wrong, it was because of a 'bad roll'; not a bad decision on my - the player's - part. This was liberating (you could say "F this game!" instead of "F, I suck"), but rather strange as well. You need luck to mediate live-action games. Luck shouldn't play much part, if any, in a game where it's just you versus the computer.

Really liked the article. In my opinion less and less gamers are willing to make a real commitment to games. I usually have the deepest bonds wit games that I put a lot of effort and careful planning into, the wasted time is easily rewarded through watching the growth of my hero.
Modern gamers might look at MGS4 and criticise the slow pace or uneventful gameplay, but for those that understand how much effort is needed to succesfully beat a level on hard will appreciate the game's craft.
Oh yeah and i do miss the awesome manuals, too. You can really show the heart that has gone into the games that way, and get lost in the art and world of them.

let me just say: dwarf fortress

A very nice article that I'm forced to disagree with, for various reasons. I will always consider the "slower" method of doing things on pen and paper greatly superior to digital imitations because a computer and a number generator will never match the innovation of your friends or dungeon master or the experience it provides.

You've missed the core of the article. While Tom did open with a mention of tabletop gaming, he was referring to video games that have more overt exposure of the underlying mechanics, which appeals to those sorts of gamers that like that sort of thing, and games which go to great lengths to mask their mechanics for a heightened sense of immersion.

I think better modern examples of games with exposed mechanics are Puzzle Quest, and Patapon. I mean, really, Puzzle Quest is only an ASCII theme away from becoming a spreadsheet.

One review of Black & White I read pointed out that all management sims were essentially spreadsheets, but one quality of the game lies in how well that's masked by the gameplay and graphical dress.

The old GDW RPG adaptations were cool in that gave you an actual character generator, and let you print out your character sheet so you could play one of your CRPG characters in a tabletop game. It would be cool if Champions Online offered this.

Am I right in thinking that KotOR II was the last CRPG to be a direct adaptation of a tabletop system?

I would love to see a new RPG property developed as follows:

First, develop the CRPG, with whatever system and setting, and target it for a holiday release date. Then a short while before release, say at GenCon, publish the core RPG system rules as a free PDF for tabletop play. Also, make the CRPG character generator useful for creating tabletop PCs, and release that at the same time as the PDF rules as a marketing teaser.
No strategy guides. Instead, sell worldbooks and sourcebooks for tabletop play, but make sure that it's consistent with the CRPG setting, so that knowledge gleaned from the sourcebooks will be useful in-game.

I love those set rules in video games. It makes it so that you're able to learn how to play any game of the same kind.

The quote "Bottomless inventories and piles of menus have been replaced by characters who can only carry two weapons at a time and whose physical appearances indicate their health" can only be said by someone who apparently didn't have their fill of years of such game mechanics. Instead of pining for the old days with the same rose colored glasses most use for the games of their youth, better to understand and appreciate why the new thing can be as good, and some ways, better than before.
Each method brings something different to the table. Neither are better than the other, simply different paths to the same destination.

I think complex rules and mechanics make games more interesting, but some games like Far Cry 2's simplicity and a low inventory makes it more realistic, adding to the immersion and quality of the experience, but I would hate having to carry 2 weapons in Fallout 3.

I think that while video games take a more skill to complete, tabletop games have a flexiblity to wrap an ever expanding story around the dice rolls. But in the end, it comes down to personal choice. In my opinion, I would love to combine the two and see what happens.

As an English major and someone who's followed the trends of literature, it strikes me after reading this article that the world of gaming is going through radical changes, and since no one views it as an art form yet, there isn't a whole lot of people willing to analyze all of this. I want to praise Tom for this reason: he has presented an albeit very brief history of interactive art.

As pointed out, there has been a shift from detailed rules to context sensitivity. This trend has greatly shifted the way videogames are played, and it's almost like the split between pre- and post-modernism literature.

But then again, I've been drinking too much tonight and this is neither the time nor place. So let me just surmise by saying good job Tom, and keep looking at the evolution of this fledgling art form.

I'm split when it comes to agreement with the article's author on the concepts of transparency and complexity in video games. I love complexity as depth and learning are of paramount importance to my enjoyment.

My second love is the feeling of immersion which requires that when able the literal mechanics be hidden behind the thickest layer of simulated reality possible.

For example my Far Cry 2 jeep gets shot up and I have to repair it via a complex assemblage of diagnoses, parts, and actions which satisfies my requirement for depth and complexity but I shouldn't have to contend with "My repair level is 27.2 and this is damaged at a level of 29" which is a breaking of immersion by seeing the raw machinery.

Who wants to read about how many hit points it takes to kill a dragon when you can just ignite your flaming sword with one button and swing it with another in a spectacular display of cause and effect? Quite a few of us, I imagine.

I don't consider myself a casual gamer but that doesn't mean I'd rather pretend a calculator is the next installment of Dungeons and Dragons. :p

Great article Tendo.

The biggest problem I have lately is the divisive view of stat based games versus skill based games. Fallout 3 had some creative ways of marrying these two different gameplay styles however the stat aspect of VATS was very apparent (unless your guy ducked too low firing into a cement slab). In all honesty, a simple gun range stat and range to target indicator combined with the obvious angle to the target would have been enough for me to determine if a shot was optimum. I didn't need that percentage nonsense.

I know it is common for FPSs to change the dilation of the on screen retical accuracy dependent upon running, jumping, etc... but has any game based the retical size on skill sets?


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