Article - Why?

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AuthorTopic: Article - Why?
Member # 1505
Profile #25
By the end of reading this, I forgot we were responding to Drakefyre's article. I also forgot what the points being made were.

My point is, what are you all rambling about?

Posts: 151 | Registered: Saturday, July 13 2002 07:00
Shock Trooper
Member # 455
Profile #26
I'm a low-brow player. Although I'm not eight, I was considerably more refined when I was. And I've said about twelve times my peace on this subject lately, but . . . .

1) The problem with what JV calls "irrational" stories is that they aren't irrational. There's no more thoroughly and self-consciously explained plot than Z-K Run; nor is there any more thoroughly calculated, unsurprising and homogenous world than the one imagined in Z-K Run. The problem with it isn't that it doesn't make sense. The problem is that it does nothing but make sense: during the scenario's duration, nothing actually happens. No action plays out -- only exposition. Everybody you run into takes pains to convince you why it is entirely plausible for them to be where they are, doing what they're doing. They're so busy with these explanations that they never ultimately do anything, with the result that the story of the scenario is nothing more than an unfolding rationalization of why the scenario exists. That's not the error of choosing action over story or combat over plot. That's the error of trying to write a plot in which no consequential action occurs.

To see something truly "irrational" -- that is to say, something against all the rules of Blades "reality" -- happen, you'd have to play, say, An Apology: a scenario that is, at the same time and not by coincidence, quite heavy on story.

2) The reason, then, that the "combat vs. plot" debate is age-old is that it isn't a debate at all. Rather than one or the other of them doing the driving, the friction caused by their clash is what drives any decent RPG. If you resolve that misfit in favor either of gameplay or of story, you lose a player's attention. On the one hand, combat will become busywork; on the other, story will wither into Senecan speechifying with NPCs declaiming their various ethical allegiances and tedious traumas or endless dialogue boxes slapping you in the face with Meaning. Good design does not, however, consist in balancing the two terms; it sets them at odds -- sparking action from their conflict. In fact, the worst BoE scenarios aren't those in which there is only busywork or yammering NPCs/self-important meaning. The worst BoE scenarios have both (there's a reason VoDT ticks me off worse than Z-K; and I would enjoy the Geneforges were they actually as they are cynically misrepresented above -- in practice, there's a good deal more stale All-State Forensics Meet ponderousness in them than is good for anybody . . . .).

Nephil's Gambit likely enjoys the reputation of a good "plot" scenario. It certainly has an overbearing storyline. That's not why it was the first thing that made me happy to have spent money on BoE. That scenario is brilliant because individual fights themselves have little narratives of suspense and surprise to them: you have to, as it were, struggle just to get to the overarching story -- there's no easy fit between the local "action" and the larger "plot."

[ Monday, April 05, 2004 20:29: Message edited by: Boots ]

Forgive them, for they are young and rich and white.
Posts: 265 | Registered: Saturday, December 29 2001 08:00
Shock Trooper
Member # 954
Profile #27
Boy oh boy, do we have some passionate people in this community. And good thing, too!

I just thought I'd add my two cents, although there isn't much to say that hasn't been said already. Jeff Vogel has created some excellent games that I and many others have thoroughly enjoyed playing. But I didn't consider these games to be about "beating up monsters". They were about using your skill and imagination as a gameplayer to overcome obstacles and solve problems using the tools you were given in creative ways. Even if the task at hand was as simple as "How am I going to get past that group of Gremlins without losing all my food?"

Yes, these games are very combat heavy and the plot usually becomes secondary. But there is a difference between Jeff's epic games and the community designed scenarios. As designers, we have to come up with something that isn't just more of the same. I don't want to play Exile and Avernum over and over again, and neither do the players who buy BoA. That is why PLOT is more important than combat. (Not more than making a fun game, as TM has been quoted. I think TM meant when coming up with an idea, the plot needs to be thought out first before the other elements are added.) There needs to be a good reason to play a scenario. We know there is going to be combat. That's what the BoE and BoA engines where desinged to do. But what compels us to want to hack our way through one group of monsters after another? For me, it's too find out what happens next. Yes, I like challenging combat. I get a sense of accomplishment when I've won a particularly difficult fight. But I need a reward. And a "Big Stick of Damage +10" is just not enough.

Yes, I know that the other side of the argument is that you can have the greatest plot ever written, but if the gameplay stinks and combat is boring and tedious, or so insanely difficult, then no one will ever want to play it. So of course, good gameplay is essential for designing a good game. BUT, it doesn't necessarily have to include combat at all.

And on the other hand, to make an rpg game that had no plot whatsoever, but was so compelling due to other elements...That would probably be the toughest game of all to design.
Posts: 246 | Registered: Thursday, April 11 2002 07:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #28
Personally I'm very impressed with the artistry in the Spiderweb products I've tried, but am also very interested in efforts to raise the bar still higher. I just don't understand what I detect as a continuing thread of resentment at Jeff Vogel. Our hobby is his business. He must be honored to have such a discerning core of afficionados, but I doubt that hard core scenario designers number in the thousands, and so I doubt Spiderweb can live on their shareware fees alone.

On the original topic, a point from my experience as a pen-and-paper RPG gamemaster, which might perhaps carry over to BoA scenarios:

You can sometimes go one better than just making sure that an answer exists for every Why, and revealing the answers in the course of the game. You can reward the players, with power and success in game terms, for assuming that everything really does make sense even when it doesn't seem to. You can make it a winning strategy for players to ask Why, come up with answers, and act upon them. So the Good Wizard does hire the neophyte party to attack Lord Evilmancy, without any good explanation for why he didn't look for more experienced heroes ... but if the players regard this as a mystery and try to investigate it, they will discover great things. If you can pull something like this off, you are doing something which is truly a union of story and game that is more than either alone, in that major plot twists will be driven by player initiative.

The hard part is that the extra oomph comes from leaving it up to the players to perceive the inconsistencies as mysteries, rather then poking them in the face with immediate dialogue boxes. And it's never going to seem worthwhile to players to take the trouble to think this way, if their experience indicates that there will be inconsistencies in the scenario due to mere designer incompetence. In a pen-and-paper campaign, I could undertake in advance to improvise remedies for any inadvertent inconsistencies, so players had insurance against giving my world more credit than it deserved. In a self-contained product like a BoA scenario this would obviously be a lot harder. But perhaps if you do well enough in following Drakefyre's rules, you can eventually earn the right to bend them to additional effect.

We're not doing cool. We're doing pretty.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
The Establishment
Member # 6
Profile #29
Originally written by Student of Trinity:

I just don't understand what I detect as a continuing thread of resentment at Jeff Vogel.
It really stems from a pretty much complete abandonment of Blades of Exile. For instance:

1) Refusing to fix bugs that cause advertised features in the editor not to work.
2) Neglect of the scenario ratings tables. No attempt made to keep ratings honest, infrequent updates, and poor feedback to designers.
3) Only one scenario design contest and only mild support for subsequent community contests. To be fair, he has done all right in this.

Hopefully BoA will be a continually evolving system with decent updates. However, past history has made me skeptical.

Your flower power is no match for my glower power!
Posts: 3726 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Off With Their Heads
Member # 4045
Profile Homepage #30
Just for the primary source confirmation of *i's remarks:

Things That Don't Work. Note also in the Designer's Forum how two other articles that are not up yet (soon, TM?) are entitled "Even More Bugs" and "Still More Things That Don't Work."


Also: Mail Fraud

I don't want to dredge up old issues, though. (And I say that having just done so. I am a moron, I know.) While it is probably important to remember that Jeff left BoE behind even while it still had significant bugs, it is also important to note that he is doing his best not to make the same mistakes over again. He made the BoA editor open source, for example, so that the programmers among us can fix bugs that we come across, which I think is a tremendous show of good faith.

Also, these boards exist now, which to the newbies: they didn't before. There were discussion groups on AOL for the Exile games, and starting in '97 Aceron ran boards on Malkeera, and not long after that the Lyceum started up, but these official SW boards didn't come into being until March '01. Now we have an official place to congregate and get help.

SW will probably drop the scenario contests after the first one, but that's okay: Olympia will carry on, the way it always has. Other than the occasionally condescending tone that Jeff can take with us, I have no problems with what's going on right now. Jeff even has an update in the works that will add some features that we're asking for. Like *i says, though, I'm going to wait and see what happens.

[ Wednesday, April 07, 2004 06:10: Message edited by: Kelandon ]

Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

Kelandon's Pink and Pretty Page!!: the authorized location for all things by me
The Archive of all released BoE scenarios ever
Posts: 7968 | Registered: Saturday, February 28 2004 08:00
Triad Mage
Member # 7
Profile Homepage #31
Aceron ran boards from 1997 to 2000, and the Lyceum started in 1999 on ITW and then moved to ezBoard and became the premier BoE board after Aceron's collapsed after he left.

"At times discretion should be thrown aside, and with the foolish we should play the fool." - Menander
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You can take my Mac when you pry my cold, dead fingers off the mouse!
Posts: 9436 | Registered: Wednesday, September 19 2001 07:00