Randomness and Game Design

For thousands of years, we’ve relied on randomness of various kinds to help our interactive systems work. While there will always be a place for randomness of all sorts in some kinds of interactive systems, I believe the current assumptions with regard to randomness in strategy games are largely wrong.

The major point I’d like to make is that noise injected between a player’s choice and the result (here referred to as output randomness) does not belong in a strategy game.


What is “randomness”?

For the purposes of this article, randomness refers to “information that enters the game state which is not supposed to ever be predictable.” The process by which random information is generated is designed to be something that humans can never figure out. Classic examples of random systems are rolling dice, shuffling cards, or random number generators. Continue reading

News: I’m writing a second book. Also, Auro!

I wanted to write a quick post to let people know what I’ve been up to. I haven’t been able to really update the blog with a new article in some time, and I might not for the next month or two. The reasons for this will become obvious in a moment.

I recently signed a contract with CRC Press to write my second book! This one, like the last, is about game design, however this one is much more of a practical “textbook” affair, while the last one was more of a philosophical treatise. In this book (which doesn’t yet have a title), I will go through my suggested process of designing strategy games, starting with concept, core mechanism, finding supporting mechanisms, goals, etc. There will be lots of exercises and I think it will generally be a great book for the game design classroom.

I’ll be spending most of my writing time in the next few months (not ALL of my writing time, though) writing this book, which means I won’t be able to write too many blog posts in that time. I will have news items and such though, still.

Speaking of news items – the other thing I’ve been doing like crazy is Auro! Just today, I created a new commercial site for the game (still a work in progress). What do you think? I didn’t have to do much; Blake’s amazing art kinda carries the whole thing.

But beyond that, I’ve actually been programming on the game myself a lot, which is kinda crazy, because I’m not a programmer. My struggle with trying to learn to program over the last 20 years has been extremely arduous and fraught with doubt. But recently, with Auro so behind schedule, I’ve just decided to DIVE IN head first. And weirdly, it’s kind of working out. I mean, I’ve read the first 3 chapters of about 20 programming books over the past couple decades, so something just must have stuck I guess.

Tons of features have been added recently. The game now tracks wins and losses, and doles out XP. There’s a whole records system that keeps track of everything you’ve done, and a records screen where you can reset your records, etc. Not to mention just a ton of polish to the messaging system (character portraits slide in and out all nice now).

So that’s what’s been going on. I want to write an article soon about slow real time games, maybe I’ll have time to do that at some point.

Smash Bros: Decapitated

Editor’s Note: Today I’m happy to release the second guest article for keithburgun.net!  This piece is written by lead artist at Dinofarm Games, Blake Reynolds.  Frequent visitors might also know him from the Dinofarm ART BARN articles or from the Game Design Theory Podcast, where he’s a regular.  Enjoy!

psall1I know I’m late to the party, but considering the subject matter, I suspect many have already left anyway.  The party I’m talking about is a rousing discussion about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.  I think the reason so many have departed is because the game was boring and forgettable, but many of these people might not have a full grasp as to what made it so boring and forgettable. Those who are still playing and are trying their very hardest to like or justify this product won’t last much longer, and I’ll explain why.

Most of the flak this game has caught in the past number of months has been quiet little suggestions that it is, well, a little bit similar to Super Smash Bros.  It has features such as Smash Attacks like SSB, directional tilt-attacks like SSB, rolling like SSB, air dodging like SSB, blocking like SSB, double jumps and recoveries like SSB, “A” attacks in four directions on the ground and four in the air,  “B” attacks in four directions, grappling from SSB, projectiles like smash, spiking, items… you know… every single mechanism to the last minute detail.

This complete thievery alone is enough of a blatant, cynical display of utter disrespect for the basic intelligence of the average consumer, and that’s enough to be insulting.  But hey – people re-skin a set of mechanisms all the time. Re-theme it, tweak a few rules, and voila!  “If you liked original idea X, you’ll love cynical cash-grab Y!”

But plagiarism is not actually the point of this article. A game can technically be a ripoff of another game and still have longevity, if it’s ripping off something really good and keeping what made the original thing good intact.  The point of this article is to explain why will nobody be playing PlayStation All-Stars next year, yet even Super Smash Bros. 64, the oldest game in that series, is still going strong. The reason this game will be forgotten in another year is because of what they changed, not what they stole.   Continue reading

14 Points on Randomness

My last post, Game Placebo, got a lot of good feedback – more positive and constructive than usual, I’d say, which is nice. I also sent the article to DanC, who responded to me directly about it. He then wrote a G+ article about the topic of randomness, which led to a Lost Garden article. I feel happy to – at least partially – have been the inspiration for a Lost Garden article, being that that blog was my primary inspiration to begin writing about games almost a decade ago.

My position is that output randomness should not be a part of ideal game design. Right now I’ll try to break down my reasoning into discrete blocks that should help conversation about it.

Output randomness is randomness that affects a game after the player’s decision that decides the outcome. So, I decide to attack, and then there’s a dice roll to see if it worked or not. That’s output randomness. Input randomness, on the other hand, would be something like map generation or some face-up market cards that are available to all players. Although there can be improper implementations of input randomness that cause it to have similar problems as output randomness, input randomness is not what I’m talking about in this article.


The Points

I’ve put this in a list format.  Please read each point, and let me know which point does not work for you, and why (if any).


  • Point 1:  The act of coming to understand something is of value to human beings.  It is both enriching and entertaining to us, by our very nature.
  • Point 2: Games are valuable to human beings to the point that they allow us to understand them. If a game leads us smoothly to understand its lessons (accessibility / easy-to-learn), yet also has a very long, seemingly endless set of lessons to teach (depth / difficult-to-master), then that is a game that has great value to humans. Continue reading