Son Of Sun Tzu blog

Son Of Sun Tzu blog

They keep saying my audience will find me…

22 Mar 2023

Game Design Manifesto

version 0.5

Something I’ve been thinking on for quite a while, but reading this manifesto on the Trick’s Tales blog finally got me to write this up… version 0.1 anyway. And, of course, this is a personal manifesto that influences my commercial work, but isn’t a limit to my commercial work.

Game Design Manifesto

  • Fight the difficult problems. For example the execution and resolution of simultaneous moves is very difficult, especially in person, but that’s why this is a personal manifesto. I need to try and go where others haven’t, to avoid competing over the same ideas, or to illustrate and document what cannot work.

  • When possible all games have online and/or hybrid and/or solo options by default.

  • IGOUGO1 is easy to adjudicate but it is both unrealistic and reduces player engagement while the inactive players wait for the game state to change. Designing “We-Go” methods is more challenging, but has many benefits and is more realistic.

  • Dispensing with “turns” is next, different actions require different levels of commitment to removing other options, a game should reflect that.

  • The speed of decision making is a factor in real world success, games should reflect that.

( I’m hardly the first to think this ).

  • Other players should be unidentifiable outside of the game when possible, preventing any kind of communication or signalling outside the game, or being able to intuit their mood or ability. Gaming against known opponents should be an option not a default.

    • This means communication should be carefully managed.
    • This also, combined with an emphasis on text based interfaces, should enable AI and “centaur” ( computer-assisted human ) play more easily.
  • A situation should be imagined, then the game mechanics should reflect that situation. Try to avoid standard mechanisms such as only having five options this turn because these are the five cards you’ve drawn, not the five actions the game state limits you to.

  • Games should only be as complex as they need to be, but shouldn’t be kept simple because that meets ideal conditions for available time or players. Also avoid limits due to the preferred way of working by the available playtesting networks. This should always be communicated clearly, and as early as possible in the player’s engagement with the game.

  • These two are stolen directly from Trick’s manifesto, although I infer our greater aims are entirely different:

    • “I’m about deconstruction, finding the limits of the hobby and pushing on them. I’m about experimentation, breaking the norms of my own manifesto.”
    • “I’m about deeply-considered worldbuilding.”
  • Rob Grayston once responded to one of my ideas with “ye gods too avant garde”, I should aim for this reaction with every design. We only learn where the boundaries are by stepping over them and looking back, and potentially discover new methods in the process.

  • No figures or toys unless they’re a literal one to one representation.

  • And finally, that this not quite as pretentious as it sounds, and suggested or realised designs are partly created to use Cunningham’s Law to learn from others.

Megagame Design Specifically

  • Online or hybrid first, with those formats seen as a part of the game, not an obstruction. If most players are in-person, with a few remote… are those remote players gods, or distant commanders, or far-flung aliens, or….

  • Casting is everything, both in how the game will run, and in making it clear to players what their role will involve.

  • When possible, games should be simultaneously playable by a variety of skills and personality types, in appropriate roles. The bubbly extrovert who’s made friends across the entire game room or server by the end of turn one should need the studious introvert hunched over the rulebook and team’s resources to tell the extrovert what edge the team has; and vice versa the extrovert can feed intelligence on opponents into the introvert’s calculations. All to give their team the best outcome.

  • Games need breaks. Either enough time for players to take their own time-out, or scheduled or spontaneous breaks that fit into the game’s theme or mechanisms. Megagames should be a test of a wide variety of skills, we do not regard endurance as a skill.

  • Player documentation needs rethinking:

    • Whenever possible players should learn through play, say a solo game before hand, or an extended turn zero.
    • Players should be given, and expected to read, the absolute bare minimum for their role.
  • Formats should be experimented with:

    • Players should be able to join and leave, some roles needing eight hours, some needing thirty minutes.
    • The same game could be played twice - at least - in the same day. To demonstrate the value of replaying scenarios.
  • My games shouldn’t need me, any suitably experienced professional should be able to facilitate them.

Current Designs

Just a list of what I have half-formed, that needs to be finished in some way. Many of these names are “preliminary names”:

  • Arctic Blockades - an overly simplistic introduction into the near-future of the Arctic Circle, a relatively short online demonstration game to introduce non-gamers to the medium.
  • Chess variations - We-go2 multiplayer chess variations.
  • Chorvs - a multi-player space colonization rogue-like or something.
  • Cyberkill - A game of variable length actions, subverting the concept of turns, as multiple cyberpunk cyborg assassins and bodyguards fight each other, and cognitive overload, in a split-second battle over their target/asset.
  • Dungeon Hideout - one or more player controlled groups hide within a procedurally generated dungeon from pursuers, and potentially its existing inhabitants.
  • High Fantasy Football - a We-go medieval fantasy sports simulation that keeps growing.
    • BesiegerBall - a variation of the above for one or more popular TTRPG systems.
    • Football Run - a very simple variation of the above.
  • Liberty and Aviation - a mashup of two existing games, combined with the question of “what situation would need the Continental Army to take over the British invaders’ airports during the American Revolutionary War?”.
  • Market Forces v1 - a spreadsheet based We-go2 decision making game for online participants based around competing Market Square Coffee Shops.
  • Market Forces v2 - a Theatre of the Mind matrix game as part of the “Wargames and Lego Serious Play Experiments” series.
  • Multicity Monopoly Megagame - distributed city management and trading game designed for hybrid play.
  • Multiverse Time Travel Diplomacy Megagame - can your country win, both everywhere, and everywhen?
  • Smashbeef - a We-Go area map game of superheroic combat.
  • Uplifted Goose Game - this must live.
  • A very simple online games platform for one or more of the above.

Notes and Tasks

  • I must get hold of Peter Williams’ presentation from Connections UK 2022. This was excellent on maps. And while I favour irregular sized areas, he makes sense for the intelligent use of squares.

  • Start a list of things to subvert: IGOUGO, fixed and mutual turn lengths, players knowing the absolute strength of their own units and the outcomes of dice rolls ( is that unit elite, or did they just get lucky, or is your strategy superior? ), outcomes being statically relevant to a single skill level.

  • Indented unordered lists are underwhelming in this template, consider more titles and sub-titles.

  • I must reply to this tweet when this is finished.

  1. Stands for “I go, you go”, meaning that players take alternate turns. There’s a good explanation here as well as great points on why and when it is useful. ↩︎

  2. Simultaneous actions for all players/pieces. ↩︎ ↩︎