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Experienced Points: Dice vs D-Pad

By Shamus
on Friday Apr 24, 2009
Filed under:


If you ever wondered why a site called “Twenty Sided” talks so much about videogames, now you can find out.

Comments (21)

  1. Mark says:

    In D&D 3.5, the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 had a lot to say about player motivations and how to appeal to them. I imagine much of it could apply to video games, too.

  2. John Lopez says:

    The one major difference is that a RPG being played in person not only provides feedback quickly, but the feedback tends to be phrased something like this:

    DM: So, I noticed you didn’t seem to like the dungeon.

    P1: Well, it was a bit trap heavy, so the thief got all the action while we got beat up just walking around.

    DM: Hmmm, that’s true. There is more action in the next section though, so don’t worry.

    P2: But my thief had fun!

    DM: Oh, it isn’t all monsters either.

    The same interaction on the Internet:

    Game Designer: So, I noticed that you didn’t seem to like that level.

    Beta Tester: What the @#$! were you thinking with @#$!ing trapping the @#$! level with @#$! traps ever @@#$!ing inch? Are you some loser bed wetter that needs to take your inadequacy out on the player, you @#$!ing @#$!. @#$! off and die.

    Game Designer: …

    Beta Tester 2: That l0s3r has no idea what he is talking about. Take the traps out and I will send a review to every website telling everyone how awsome this game was till you caved to thel4m3r testers who can’t hack 0.175ms timing traps.

    Frankly I don’t think I captured enough venom there, but the basic problem stands: feedback via the Internet is like running the Gong Show with three Tourette’s suffering Judges.

  3. Zel says:

    @John Lopez: honestly, the Internet is not that horrible a place to have serious discussions about the failings and successes of a game. Look at this very site for example. Try going to the NWN2’s forum, or any game’s forum that developers are known to read (too rare), and you’ll see several posts which criticize the game but without swear words, unnecessary or lack of punctuation, and mysteriously placed capital letters. Not to say everything is always civil, but moderators are there for a reason and once a good reader/poster base is set, the users will cast aside the occasional flamer by themselves.

    The footnote of the article made me smile, but it shouldn’t be too hard to make a image analysis tool that can read a dice’s top number. Plug in a video recording device as input, replace the random number generator with the output of your program and there you go, computer RPG with dices. Main problem I see is how to handle cheaters who just place the dice on 20 under the camera. Maybe you could try to detect a big object (a hand) going in the scene and block further readings until the scene is cleared, I don’t know.

    Assuming it’s possible, doing that for every dice would be dull, but for important ones like special attacks, diplomacy checks, life or death situations, it could be fun. It might actually make the arbitrary random success or failure a little more enjoyable, because currently it’s like the DM is rolling every dice, and it wouldn’t be very fun to play PnP this way.

  4. Yar Kramer says:

    You know, that sort of “why players play games” dovetails nicely with the “skilled”-versus-“heroic” discussion in the earlier XP article. I think it’s worth mentioning this series of articles, which try to come up with that kind of taxonomy as well. Short version:

    Two main types of player:
    – Skill players. Should be self-explanatory.
    – Tourist players. “I don’t play games to beat them, I play games to see them,” to quote Tycho of Penny Arcade. Pretty much like the “heroic” player Shamus described, except that it implies a much wider variety of motive than simply “drama.”

    Skill players are then subdivided into:
    – Completists, who want to gain every last macguffin/powerup/Achievement the game has, whether or not any of it is required. They’re the ones who shoot for 100% completion.
    – Perfectionists, who want to show off raw skill, and play at the highest difficulty.

    I’m assuming that Tourists aren’t similarly subdivided, because you’d end up with too many categories (“Okay, he’s playing it to see the story, he’s playing it to see the cute girls, she’s playing it because she likes the music, um …”) or not enough (Tourists who want to see story, and “everyone else”).

    There is also a sliding scale based on amount of time you’re motivated to spend:
    – Wholesale players, who have all the time in the world. All other things being equal, a 40-hour game is better than a 20-hour game.
    – Premium players, who don’t have (or aren’t comfortable spending) 20 hours, let alone 40.

    I’d also like to add “introvert” and “extrovert” to the list, in terms of how sociable players are within the games — basically whether a player likes singleplayer or multiplayer better. For example, I’m quite sociable online (if not IRL), but I tend to prefer singleplayer games. (Um … partly because I multitask like hell, and you can’t just switch to another window in the middle of playing Left 4 Dead …)

  5. vdgmprgrmr says:

    From the “About the Author” section (which is oddly under the “D&D Campaign” category):

    10. I'm a massive introvert.

    I get edgy when I'm in a place with lots of people around. I need very little human interaction to keep me going. For a while before I was married I lived alone and worked in my home. I would sometimes go for several days without speaking to another person. I'd be at the grocery store and try to bid the cashier a nice day, only to find my voice was rusty. I could go for weeks without having a real conversation. I was alone all the time, and someone else actually had to point out to me that this was not normal.

    From the article:
    If I ever lost my web audience I’d probably look for passed out hobos and tell them my thoughts on how advancing graphics hardware has been detrimental to gameplay mechanics over the last decade.

    Something tells me your About the Author entry is way out of date.

  6. Henebry says:

    Technologically, roleplaying games are pretty much the same as they were thirty years ago. Paper, pencils, and plastic dice.

    I couldn’t disagree more. Pen and paper RPGs are in a very exciting place right now. The technology of a game is its “gaming engine”: i.e. the way that it uses rules in combination with dice to create an entertaining, interactive simulation. And there have been quite a number of revolutionary developments in RPGs just recently.

    Traditional RPG gaming engines are reality simulators. The designer begins by asking, “how far can a man jump?” and uses that to develop rules that can answer “what are Murgo’s chances of leaping a 10 foot chasm if he’s wearing plate mail and encumbered by loot from the Goblin King?”

    Traditional RPG gaming engines also often make claims of genre independence. After all, if the game simulates reality, and we’ve agreed that a fireball spell does damage akin to a flamethrower, then you can repurpose rules that you developed for a fantasy setting for a campaign set during the Vietnam War. In this way, the Champions superhero RPG became the Hero System. You might say that GURPS takes reality-simulation about as far as it can be taken and still have a playable game. I have friends who swear by GURPS, but a lot of recent games have moved away from reality simulation as a goal.

    Some really radical innovations have come out as part of the Indie Game Revolution (a revolution made possible by internet publishing, but driven to a considerable extent by new ideas), though I’m told that the White Wolf system laid some of the vital groundwork. Story Games like Sorcerer and Primetime Adventures aim to simulate stories, not reality. In fictions, when a door closes in the protagonist’s face, other possibilities open up “” though they may be very bad news for the character. In the real world (and in D&D, all too often, if your strongman can’t open the gate, you’re stuck.

    Story simulators tend to be genre-fixed. Annalise which aims to simulate vampire stories like Bram Stoker’s Dracula is necessarily limited to settings in which vulnerable, needy characters try to save themselves from a dark power which preys upon their desires. Yet sometimes the story structure of one genre has a lot in common with another. I was recently able to successfully repurpose (skin) the samurai adventure of The Mountain Witch as a Spy vs. Spy James Bond adventure.

    Mainstream rpgs have also given up ground on the reality simulation front. The highly popular Savage Worlds system (developed from the Deadlands rpg of the late 90s) is advertised as offering Fast! Fun! and Furious! combat, and doesn’t simulate reality but rather pulp settings. For example, long before D&D introduced special rules for minions with 4e, Savage Worlds had a system that made minions drop after taking minimal damage.

    Many critics of D&D 4e have accused the system of being a WoW simulator, which suggests priorities have shifted even in the world’s most mainstream rpg.

    The Story Game movement has introduced a second innovation worthy of notice. Most core mechanics assume that players act in the world from the perspective of the character they’re playing. This is the origin of all sorts of problems and debates, as memorably chronicled in the DM of the Rings and Darths and Droids. Meanwhile, the GM or DM is left with responsibility for the rest of the world. Story Games often change this dynamic, though different games do it in different ways. One common move is for players to periodically assume “director perspective” rather than “character perspective”. In Primetime Adventures, the core mechanic only comes into play when there is a disagreement between GM and player as to the direction of the story. All sorts of things can happen without dice being rolled, so long as everyone is in agreement. But at some point (usually not too far into an interaction with an NPC) the player and the GM will disagree, at which point the core mechanic is employed to determine which of two distinct paths the story follows: “I’d like to see Mary Jane get the information from the custodian threatening to tell his supervisor about the kickbacks he’s getting from suppliers,” says MJ’s player, to which the GM replies “I’d also like her to get the information, since it’s vital to the story, but I’d like to see her get it by finding papers on the floor of the refuse room after the custodian gets through roughing her up for threatening him.” Often times, players come to see misfortune as adding interest, and will propose the bad outcome for their character, not the good one.

    So there’s a lot going on. The problem with tabletop rpgs is that you need a local group. You can’t pick up a controller and find an online community like the one you’ve been forging recently with Left4Dead. And new game engines unfortunately force players to abandon old habits and learn new rules. Fortunately, most of the games I’ve listed here are far simpler than 4e, and the rules can be learned quickly. The tough part is changing how you think about gaming.

    • Shamus says:

      Henebry: When I said “technology” I was specifically referring to the tools used, which I would say is different than the underlying system. You could call that ANOTHER sort of technology and I won’t argue, but the point is that both have evolving gameplay, but only computers have rapidly evolving tools that re-shape the game.

  7. Henebry says:

    I apologize if you perceived this as an attempted thread hijack. Looking back over my post, I’m shocked at how long it is. The small font used in writing posts is so different from the eye-friendly font you use for displaying them.

    But I want to stick by my original claim: the sorts of changes I’m talking about have altered the experience of tabletop RPGs. D&D 4e focuses on battle simulation, with a lot of emphasis on player position; PrimeTime Adventures is a different experience entirely, and it’s one you should check out.

  8. vdgmprgrmr says:

    Well, unless you count the addition of computers into table-top gaming recently…

    Now there’s a weird thing to think about in the context of this little debate.

  9. Allen says:

    Oh hell, I’m reading EP with Shamus’ voice in my head. Help me. D:

  10. Kotenku says:

    Fine article, but I’m not terribly sure I got the point. It seemed rather meandering and I couldn’t really see what specifically you were going for.

    “Developers have a hard time pleasing everyone because they can’t adjust the game during development”, therefire

    “Developers should take into account the different types of players to better cater to a chosen audience, rather than try to please everyone”?

    I guess it’s just ’cause you’ve beaten this topic to death on twentysided already.
    Hopefully constructive criticism (albeit unsolicited), I just found the article to be rather meandering and somewhat regretting having taken the time to read it.
    Fault could also be me reading at 3:30AM.

  11. John Callaghan says:

    I enjoyed this Experienced Points. Just as you’ll end up talking to passing tramps about computer game technology, I’ll end up talking to them about the difference between RPG players’ expectations and experiences once my friends get fed up of me banging on about it. Next week.

  12. Cybron says:

    Nice article, though I have to agree with Henebry’s points regarding the changes in pen and paper. The mechanics of the game are no less vital to it then the dice one uses to play it.

  13. Mari says:

    I think the point Shamus was making about the tools of pen and paper vs. the tools of video games was more about video cards, processors, GPUs, RAM, FSB, etc. It ties in with last week’s EP. Meanwhile paper, dice, and pencils haven’t substantially changed in the last 40+ years.

    Comparing the mechanics of pen and paper games to the hardware of video games is an apples to oranges comparison. Mechanics are mechanics, tools are tools. Video games have mechanics just as much as p’n’p games.

    And on an unrelated note @ Yar Kramer – you’re onto something there that needs to be combined with Shamus’s stuff. It feels weird to recognize yourself and people you know in those breakdowns but I’m certainly a completist and my hubby is a tourist. But those don’t mean much unless combined with something else. If you sat me down in front of, for example, Halo I probably wouldn’t put much effort into acquiring dozens of awards the way I would in a game of Zoo Tycoon or FFX. I have needs beyond collecting McGuffins that couldn’t be met in just any game. I only care about completism in games that are meeting my other game-related needs.

    I think ultimately any discussion of player motivation will ultimately fail on some level just as any discussion of human motivation will fail because it’s just too complex a system to isolate and categorize ALL the variables.

  14. Huckleberry says:

    I third Henebry. New game mechanics in pen-and-paper rpgs create a completely different gaming experience. There is a lot of thought going into inventing and developing new rules, and the discussions surrounding new game concepts are quite exciting.

    One big indie discussion forum is the forge ; the tone there can be somewhat snobbish and even unfriedly, but it’s truly amazing to see in how many ways rpgs can evolve.

  15. Yar Kramer says:

    @Mari: I see your point, but preferences about genre and game-type (if I’m interpreting you correctly) are entirely separate from what kind of player you are. The article was talking about why people play games as a whole, not why they’d be motivated to play one game over another. A developer who says “I know! Let’s make a sci-fi first-person shooter!” doesn’t have to worry about people who don’t like sci-fi first-person shooters, but they can worry about (a) making a good sci-fi FPS, and (b) implementing multiple difficulty-levels (high for Perfectionists, low for Tourists) and deciding whether or not to hide 500 Agility Orbs around (for the Completists).

  16. Miral says:

    @Yar (#5):

    I’m a completionist tourist. How does that fit into your taxonomy? :)

    (ie. I’m playing more for the story than for the challenge, but I do want to experience every side-quest and collect every McGuffin the game has to offer. Which normally gets me into serious inventory-management trouble when I’m playing RPGs.)

  17. Uncle Festy says:

    Your comment on classifying games for gamers reminds me of a rather controversial author.
    … named Mark Rosewater.
    Now I know that the instant I mention the head of Magic R&D I’ll get flamed to death about how he’s always wrong about everything ever, but I happened to read this and think of his player profiles. There’s Timmy, the power gamer, Jhonny, the Combo Player, and Spike, the Game Winner. And then there’s Vorthos and Melvin, but those are a whole nother kettle of fish.
    … well…
    I wonder. Could the MTG player psychographics be applied to video games?
    I’d start on a whole rant here, but as this topic’s dead, I think I’ll save it for my future blog Superspecialsecretawesome project. >.>

  18. Jim Profit says:

    John Lopez doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Evidently it ends up more like

    Game Designer: I’m going to make the game I want without any thought of how those who purchase the game feel.

    Player 1: Hey, the game was cool. But this one dungeon had too many traps, and if you’re not a rogue you get pretty much screwed.

    Player 2: I play rogue and I agree.

    Player 3: I agree too.

    Player 4: I thought about getting this game, but I’m intimidated now from all these bad reviews cause of this cumbersome level.

    Game Designer: I’m going to completely ignore the reviews and make upgrades involving buffing up the cleric lololol!

    Player 1: Do the game designers even look at this forum?

    Player 2: I’m not sure.

    Player 3: Hey, what’s that over there?


    This is why so many gaming companies go out of buisness and get bought out by eachother. Cause they’re fucking stupid.

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