Game Development Reference
of times in infinite combinations, far too many to create actual speech for
every situation. I eventually settled on a solution of abstracting relation-
ships out into colored lines and shapes that appeared around people. It
worked, after a fashion, but the representation was arbitrary and had to be
learned by rote, and the in-game events often didn't make intuitive sense
because the system couldn't express most of the concepts that exist in a
real social interaction.
These sorts of problems are why so many games are about physical
conflict. A strategy game about war has none of the problems of Player
League . An image of one unit shooting at another is clear and visceral, and
requires no abstract interpretive symbols. People just get physical violence.
It supports mechanics well because it's easy to learn and understand, so it
gets used over and over.
Also, wars have lots of crates.
Because fiction and mechanics so easily interfere with each other, many
games choose to emphasize one while mostly ignoring the other.
There's a natural trade-off between focusing on mechanics and fo-
cusing on fiction. Focusing on mechanics allows the designer to create
a perfectly balanced, clear, and deep challenge. But it'll probably be very
hard to find a fictional wrapping that resembles these perfect mechanics.
For example, imagine trying to wrap chess or poker in a fiction. This is
tough because these games don't much resemble anything besides them-
selves. Chess has a fiction, but it is thin and nonsensical—real knights
don't always move two squares forward and one square sideways. Poker
resembles nothing in reality or story. These two games are great systems
of mechanics, but they don't naturally support good fiction.
Alternatively, a designer can focus on fiction, creating a beautiful,
history-charged world full of flawed characters and fantastic locales. But
all these story details make it hard to change the mechanics under the
surface. They mean that instead of being able to change any mechanic any
way he likes, the designer is required to fix mechanical problems by only
making changes that don't contradict the fiction. For example, in a game
set in the real world, the designer can't reduce gravity or make fire not
burn certain characters, even if it would make a challenge more balanced.
So the mechanics suffer.
This fiction-mechanics conflict is why some see a great debate between
mechanics and fiction. The ludologists (from the Latin ludus , for “play”)
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