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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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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Push the Lane: Loot in a Strategy Game?

Since Push the Lane entered this latest phase back in mid-2017 (basically after the failed Kickstarter version, which was much more puzzle-game-like), it has become much more videogamey. By that, I mean, it has focused a lot more on fighting, monsters, items, special abilities, moving around a big map and such. I have been thinking of it more like "a Rogue-like DotA" recently; a turn-based, single player League of Legends. With that thought, I always kind of had it in the corner of my mind somewhere that it would be pretty cool if the game had "loot" somehow. My general feeling and belief about loot has been, for years, that it has really no place in strategy games. But maybe there's a way? First, let's define the term.

What is loot?

I think most of the time the word "loot" is used, it refers to randomly dropping items. For me, the classic version of "loot" is item drops in Diablo, or a Rogue-like. More recently, it's popular to have "loot crates" in games like Overwatch, which give the player some random metagame items, such as skins. (more…)

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CGD Podcast Episode #19: The Process, and Designing Games Like Applications

cgdplogo_400 In this episode I talk about my process of five major stages in game design. I also talk about how game design is not a guaranteed thing. We tend to think of game design in terms of "designing lots of games", sort of "churning them out", when in fact, we should be thinking of it a lot more like how we think about apps. Are you going to "design" another word processor or banking app? Probably not, unless you're going to solve some major problem that exists with those. Yet with videogames, we feel comfortable doing just that because our word processor app has a green logo instead of a red one. What's your design process like? Support the show here! Thanks for listening!

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CGD Podcast Episode 16: A Conversation About Rogue-likes with Black Shell Games

iHYsPK I had a conversation with the main developers at Black Shell Games - Daniel Doan, Raghav Mathur, and Thomas Espinoza - on the topic of Rogue-likes, a design pattern that has appealed to both of us. In the episode, we cover topics like the relationship between Rogue-likes and gambling, grinding, difficulty, replay value, and other related concepts. Check out Black Shell Games on Steam. Here's Black Shell Games' - which also acts as a publisher - complete list of games. (Side note: apologies about the audio. There were four people on the conversation total and there's a bit of noise, but I think it's easy enough to hear.) Enjoy!

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