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Waterslide Design

Grantland posted a feature about water slides.

Ok, sure, water parks aren’t games. But they’re designed experiences with no other purpose than amusement, which is, at it’s core what game design is about. It’s mostly a profile of the designers, but there’s a little bit in there about the design process and how you approach the desired experience, which is something that’s certainly relevant to game design.


Competitive 1v1 LaserTag

It’s amazing how people will take essentially anything with codified rules and make them into dedicated competitive pursuits.

Presented without comment:


2013 NFL Rules Changes

Courtesy Deadspin, here’s a list of a handful of rules that the NFL was set to vote on this year to change in the upcoming season.

Apparently the vote’s already been held, and the majority (all of?) of the proposed changes have been passed.

That link focuses mainly on the helmet-contact rule, which is understandable given the league’s recent concerns about player safety and CTE related brain damage.

However, the “tuck rule” is a slightly more interesting change, I think. The tuck rule text is as follows (again, courtesy Deadspin):

When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

The intent of the rule was apparently to disambiguate the quarterback’s actions, and to remove the determination of intent from the referees. Essentially, it said that if a player holds the ball in such a manner that he was planning to throw it, the any forward motion counts as a forward pass, rather than a fumble. The important distinction being that the ball would therefore become dead upon hitting the ground, as an incomplete pass. It’s generally a good idea to design rules unambiguously, such that the intent of the player is irrelevant. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and some rules are enforced purely based on intent, but it’s a good guideline.

But I don’t feel strongly about this particular rule change, because I don’t think intent is all that ambiguous in this case. Also, I think it more accurately reflects the state of the play that completed. If the quarterback is in the realm of cases where this rule can be applied, something has already gone horribly wrong for him. The decision of whether this should be penalized by a potential turnover, or simply the loss of a down is the kind of noisy fluctuation that already pervades football, for instance, in where balls are spotted on first down or the line between legal and illegal contact. It’s already a noisy, ambiguous game, so this isn’t out of character.

The other humorous change is the elimination of penalizing a coach for illegally throwing a challenge flag. It’s a fun one, because it’s basically a legal-ese sort of edge case. It’s clearly an arbitrary procedure thing, something that doesn’t really matter, but of which coaches are expected to be aware. Especially now that there’s been a highly publicized instance of it, I’d expect that it would really never come up again, and if it did, the coach would have to take full responsibility. But in keeping with the theory that the game should be decided by the players, rather than by the lawyers, I expect people to be happy about the change in general.

Kickstarter: SportsFriends

I haven’t had much time to post recently, for a variety of reasons including work, a hurricane, and the holidays. Hopefully I’ll be able to correct that in the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, I felt obligated to post about SportsFriends, a Kickstarter project that aims to bring some of the more popular indie sport-ish games to the market as a real consumer product.

The contents include J.S. Joust, a technology-assisted physical party game, Hokra, a kind of bare bones territory control game, and Super Pole Riders, an extension of Pole Riders by Bennet Foddy, of QWOP fame.

They’re all interesting projects, and whether you consider them sports or not, they’re often talked about in sports-ish terms by game designers, for a range of reasons. It looks like they may not make it, but I suppose you never know.

The kickstarter is available here.

Link: Football as an RPG

Earlier this week, my brother sent me an article about a football-inspired game that incorporates some RPG mechanics. It seems cute, and likely inspired as much by things like Blood Bowl and Mutant League Football as the actual sport itself.

But that article also featured a link to another article that compared real-life football to a role-playing game, which while not a terrible concept, features a fairly shallow understanding of what, mechanically, defines an RPG, and then stretches that shallow understanding to the limit in order to make what, surely, was a conclusion already arrived at before any serious interrogation of the topic began.

“You gotta train your skills and hopefully level up to make it to college and then to the pros. The boss fights are kind of brutal, let me tell you, sometimes.”

The first problem I have is that the metaphor that he actually explores in the article is not so much “football as RPG” as “football career as RPG”. Which makes sense, since there’s very little in a single game of football that can be mapped to the kind of character evolution and progression that characterizes the RPG genre. However, this also isn’t much of an attention grabber as headline, because the idea of building a sports game around a single player’s career isn’t a particularly novel one: MLB: The Show has a particularly good example of this, it’s just here being applied to a new situation.

“But they don’t know. How do you quantify a person’s ability when it can change year to year?”

That’s a good question. In many ways Madden‘s quantification of players is an attempt to turn the NFL into a neater, less random game. To turn it into more of an RPG.

The author also willfully misunderstands abstraction, via a misunderstanding of distributions and expected values. In most cases, statistics in these sorts of games are used as inputs into an algorithm that is based on random numbers. Boiling down a player’s performance isn’t an attempt to simplify, it’s an attempt to quantify. They’re attempts to boil down all on-field factors into a single expected value based on real world performance, and then take variation from that mean as a way to represent the sampling of actual real world performance. In most cases, the expected value of a player’s skill level doesn’t actually vary much from year to year or from game to game. The expressions of that value (i.e. small sized sample sets, based on the player’s true performance distribution) may vary significantly. But that isn’t the same as saying that the player’s actual performance distribution itself is varying.

Teams take turn attacking and defending, each trying to do as much damage—or score as many points—as possible. General managers are constantly looking to upgrade their parties. And every NFL player is always training to boost his skills.

In saying so, he’s conflating a particular implementation of RPG combat systems with the genre itself. Of course, there are a huge number of mechanics that can, and have been used to represent conflict resolution in the basic RPG structure. The concept of “team as RPG party” is a kind of interesting one, and an extension of management sims that isn’t very common. There was a similar concept around a racing team in a game called Choro-Q (billed as a “Car-PG”) a while back. But the concept doesn’t appear to have caught on

I’m fond of saying that football is essentially a turn-based strategy game. This is, of course, also an abstraction, but I think it’s a fairly meaningful one, and is the essence of the argument that the author of the column is actually making. Teams do in fact take turns attacking and defending, but this fundamental mechanic isn’t an RPG one, it essentially boils down to Rock-Paper-Scissors with some additional complexities based on variable execution and each formation actually having multiple possible outcomes (in the case of more complex option plays).

Additionally, I call football (and baseball) turn based strategy games for a specific purpose, to differentiate them from other games that follow the more traditional “sport” model. This is a topic I need to discuss in more detail someday, but essentially most team sports have more in common than different, and are essentially variations on a single rule-set (hockey, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, etc). Football and baseball are very much not like this. Thus the metaphor is in service to a larger point, rather than simply standing on its own.

And, uh, well, that’s pretty much it. I don’t have a larger point in this case. Just wanted to share some thoughts on the article.

The Total Package

Every so often, I read something and then wonder why I even bother with writing this blog because of the extraordinary talent that’s on display elsewhere. Reading The Total Package by Chris Brown is one such occasion. Grantland sometimes plays a little too deep in the pop-culture pool for my tastes, but there are some really undeniably talented writers operating there. Chris Brown also runs Smart Football, which I’ve linked before, but which is also rather too smart for me to read. He gets into nitty gritty technical details, and throws around jargon which I, a relative novice, sometimes have trouble understanding.

But even if you get a little lost, I still recommend reading the piece I linked above. It breaks down the core “game loop” of a football game in clear terms that anybody can understand before stepping aside and explaining how that paradigm is being broken in the modern game. I like saying that football is essentially a turn-based strategy game, and he describes that with a simple eloquence.

Also, as a game designer, seeing what may be a sea change in the way the game is played is particularly exciting. Is this the emergence of a degenerate strategy, or simply another step in the arms race of offense schemes? What new strategies or even new rules might emerge to combat it?

Oscar Pistorious and Fairness

Oscar Pistorius, the so-called “Blade Runner”, is a Paralympic, and now Olympic, athlete who runs wearing prosthetic legs from the knee down. It’s a fantastically inspirational story, and the kind of unbelievable, against all-odds triumph over adversity that the modern media adores. I’m sure that it’s also particularly inspiring to all sorts of people with physical disabilities, proving once and for all that they can succeed on their own terms in any field, even in the highest echelon of athletic competition. There’s an adorable picture of Pistorius running with a little girl in a dress with her own tiny blade-prosthetics. You’d have to be a monster to look at that picture and not have your heart warmed, just a little.

I am not a monster. This is adorable.

I say the above because I want to make it perfectly clear that I bear no ill will towards Oscar Pistorius. I understand the appeal, and I understand all that he represents. However, I strongly believe that Pistorius shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the Olympics. I’m going to talk about Pistorius, and running, and fair competition. But first, I’m going to talk a little about myself.

Read more…