Three types of bad randomness, and one good one

A few years ago, I wrote an article about randomness in games. It was far from my first time taking a stab at the subject, but it is the most recent big, singular effort at describing the relationship between randomness and game design, as I see it. In this article, I'm going to talk a bit about randomness in games—ways to describe it, why it's important, how to use it, and how not to use it. There are four types of randomness, three that are bad and common, and one that is good and rare.  

Types of randomness

The basic points I would make about randomness are these:
  • Good strategy games require randomness to avoid being just calculation, or a "look-ahead contest". So randomness can not only be good, but it's crucially important!
  • Not all randomness is equal, however. Some kinds of randomness (actually, most kinds that are used, in practice) are damaging.
  • Randomness has to be used very carefully. But instead, it tends to be used frivolously and without much consideration/knowledge of the costs.
In short, while randomness is basically a requirement for good game design in my mind, I have a real problem with the way that we use randomness in games today. Mostly, we are using randomness as a cheap and easy way to get shallow systems to produce variant outcomes. (more…)

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Naomi Clark on systems thinking and social responsibility

[caption id="attachment_2677" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Art from Naomi's new game, Consentacle[/caption] Today I'm super-excited to have Naomi Clark on episode 45 of the Clockwork Game Design Podcast. Last year, Naomi ran a super-successful Kickstarter for her two-player social card game Consentacle, which in addition to having beautiful, memorable artwork, is also trying to use systems to explore human communication and connection in new ways. Naomi is also the co-author of A Game Design Vocabulary (written with Anna Anthropy), which is easily one of the best design books of its kind, and she teaches game design at the NYU Game Center. She also has a thoroughly awesome Twitter account. Some of her activity on there feels too good for Twitter; it feels like it needs to be catalogued into We had a pretty wide-ranging conversation that touched on meta-rationality, social responsibility in game design, providing off-ramps for players, addiction, and more. You should also go check out Naomi's GDC talk here (it's the last talk in the clip). Oh, and follow her on Twitter. Enjoy! If you thought this conversation was one worth having, please consider contributing to my Patreon!

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Against Tactics and the Connect-Four CCG

How did you become a game designer? What was the path you took, going all the way back to your childhood, that lead you to want to design games? I expect that most of us can at least loosely define some "stages" of our game-design-development, and while we all have our differences, I think it's probable that many of us reading this article (and who therefore are more likely to be systems-design-oriented) have had something of a similar path. Like most, I started in videogames - Street Fighter, Doom, Final Fantasy, Zelda, and later, WarCraft 2, Starcraft, Fallout, Super Smash Bros. and Final Fantasy Tactics. And of course, I played Chess. From the vantage point of a videogame player, it's natural to see the ancient abstracts as these untouchable titans of history. We see games like Chess and Go like the classical music to our modern pop songs, or like the ancient Greek philosophers. Maybe they weren't entirely applicable to today—for as much as I talked a big game about how great these games were, I never found myself enjoying them the way I enjoyed modern videogames—but they always maintained this air of "brilliant design" and even a kind of perfection. At some point, probably around 2010, is when I dove deep into the world of designer board games, which really opened up the field for me in terms of what I think of as possible in games. Around the same time, Rogue-likes also took off somewhat and entered into the public consciousness. I have come out of this big soupy not-very-designed world of videogames, and entered into a world of highly abstract, usually grid-based, procedurally generated systems, with designer boardgames as an inspiration, but always with the great gods Chess and Go looking down on all of it. It is in that environment that I developed much of my theory and created my games.  

Indie Games on a Small Grid

In the last decade, we've seen the rise of these small, often solo game designers. And I don't mean "designers" to say "developers"—I mean designers. People like Michael Brough, Brett Lowey (I interviewed him on episode 36 of my podcast), Happy Snake, One Man Left, myself, and others. I call these the interactive merit chasers: people deeply involved in the problem of "how do I make a deep, semi-evergreen, elegantly designed system that's fun to play just because of its rules alone?" Recently, I would also add the FTL developers to this list, with their release of Into the Breach, which is part of what really spurred me to finally write this article. (more…)

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Art is People Too

In this episode, I struggle with, and mostly reject, a lot of the formalist ideas I previously held about art. Art - whether it's games, music, movies, or anything else - is largely about connecting with other people. When you like something, it's largely because of a lot of subconscious processes that are largely informed by a specific language of art that you personally have developed for yourself, based on your own personal experiences that aren't the same as anyone else's. So just as I would be a pretty bad judge of West African music as someone who has very little exposure to it, I am also a bad judge of someone who makes puzzle platformers, or someone who makes death metal music. These are specific aesthetics, or languages, that I just don't really have the cultural capital or emotional connections to connect with. But the point is, I should try. Just as I am open to meeting and having relationships with new, different kinds of people, I should be the same way with new, different kinds of art. Art is a reflection of people, and I think it's probably healthy to look at it that way. Also, some Push the Lane updates! Don't forget, you can become a patron over at http://www.patreon.com/keithburgun. Enjoy the show! Special thanks to Aaron Oman and Jean-Marc Nielly for their generous support! <3

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Single Player Competition: Strategy Games You Can Live In (my Indiecade ’17 Talk)

Hi everyone! As you may know, I did a talk at Indiecade '17 last month. It went really well, so I thought I'd piece together a lot of that talk into a podcast episode to share with you guys. It's about the special problem of avoiding toxicity, violence, and hostile feelings in strategy games, and how single player games are part of that solution. I was originally going to put together a video version of it as well, but I don't think I'll have time to do that because I've really gotta get back to Push the Lane. Expect some streams of that soon. If you'd like, you can follow along somewhat and/or check out this PDF of the slideshow. Not all slides worked with the audio, so for the podcast I had to delete some sections, so beware that it might be a little bit confusing. In other news, there should be some big exciting site announcements for keithburgun.net coming really soon. As always, you can support this show by visiting my Patreon page. Thanks as always to supports like Aaron Oman and Jean-Marc Nielly.

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Interview with Greg Street, Lead Designer at Riot Games

This week, I have an interview with Riot Games lead designer, Greg Street. A few months ago, the League of Legends YouTube channel posted a "Dev Diary" video. A few people who follow my work alerted me on social media about this video, telling me that it sounded a bit like theory I often advocate was being expressed in the video. I often watch Riot's dev-diary type stuff, but I had been a bit out of the loop at the time, so I missed it. But once I checked it out, it did feel kind of familiar! And it's true that it does sound a lot like me. For reference, when you Google "input randomness" I'm pretty much all of the top results; the only other people talking about it are people referencing my work, with a couple people referencing the Ludology Podcast (which is where I originally got the terms from). It turns out that Greg was aware of my stuff, so probably that is where he got the terminology, if not the theory. Anyway, I got a chance to chat with Greg about the theory and how it maybe should, or could apply to League. I think it went well! Let me know what you think in the comments, and thanks for listening. As always, you can support this podcast over at www.patreon.com/keithburgun.

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