Stories in Novels Vs Difficulty curves in games (and idiot RPG authors who say you can do the former)

I wrote this recently as a comment on reddit and it warrants it’s own place rather than being buried amidst a pile of comments.

The situation was the GM had a group of ‘bandits’ (actually a political faction causing trouble under the guise of bandits) . The players run right into the group and get defeated, one captured the others escaping. The players weren’t happy. And here is my reply to this:

The problem is in Venn diagram terms, what the players find fun is one circle and what you presented is another circle – they really didn’t overlap.

Imagine you’d done this instead – they ran into outlier camps of the bandits, who are in small groups that are more balanced to the PCs and wont be calling the main group. The players would win the battle – which they were looking for at least once otherwise they feel their new PCs are chumps.

Further imagine you make larger and larger groups, with an increasing chance of calling the next group along.

The players would encounter tougher and tougher resistance until they question whether they can take the next group. Maybe they should see if anyone in town can help – sellswords, for example? Exactly as it turned out, but with players being happy about it.

This is a smooth difficulty curve, rising from low to challenging. What you had was a difficulty spike – nobody can really handle that and enjoy it, precisely because it’s too realistic – if realism was fun, why are we playing fantasy rather than being out in the real world?

That said, the author of the books give the impression you could run the game exactly as you did (or so I guess – most RPGs do). And the authors are idiots for it. You were told what you did would work but you were told something that does not work because it’s not actually compatible with human psychology.

So many new gamer’s try to use the aspiring novel writer method of designing games – but it doesn’t work, because as a novel writer you can screw your characters over royally and no one bitches about it. What you did would work as a novel. As a game it doesn’t work. But you were given bad advice, so it’s not your fault.


A sip of non-authorship

I was reading ‘play this thing‘ recently. The review described a very illusionist game that had come out. This makes me angry at a certain level. But then ‘andyhavens’ posted this:

it’s a metaphor, eh?

you know… death? graveyard? can’t avoid it even if we want to… maybe especially if we want to. we have an illusion of control in life, because we can move up/down/left/right… we can walk, talk, etc… we can have wine with dinner, or not… but in the end, we die. we always move to the end of the game, regardless of input.

this is “more art” as a game, because the point about the illusion of control is made more strongly when you (the player/viewer) are given that illusionary control. if it were a film, the illusion of control is impossible; the audience knows it has no control.

I find it strangely wonderful.

And this makes me even more angry. No, not at andyhavens…but this is what I wrote in response

No, it’s co-authorship made dishonest

When your given control in a game, it’s to make you a co-author. This game gives you controls, then dishonestly says ‘Oh, by the way, you do everything just as I say – I’m the only author here, I just humoured your idea that you’d get to author in order to get you to listen to MY story’

If your not interested in authorship and just want to drink in what is there, then I compare that to drinking alchohol. Doing it a bit is okay, but if you binge on this, your just an alcoholic looking to wash away this world with someone else’s brew. 

And it struck me how apt that alcohol comparison appears to be. So many freaking games are just a predictable tunnel, where you experience exactly the authors story and the only thing people will complain about are the graphics. It’s just booze – they don’t want co-authorship, they just want wash away this world with another persons brew. Ten million people on world of warcraft for absolutely no story impact whatsoever – pure alcoholism.

The worst thing is I advocate for a game like say, metal slug, to have a story, even though you in no way effect it. But that’s because metal slug is about hard gameplay first, then story as a side garnish that you don’t eat. That’s fair enough.

But somehow that gets twisted into the mmorpg model, where you’ll never effect story – and yet gameplay difficulty is only a garnish. Lets face it, the mmorpg is about story, and yet it denies co-authorship (oh, apart from how you can dress you ‘toon’) AND THIS IS LAPPED UP. It’s alcoholism – wash away this world for another.

I’m not against a few drinks here and there. But when does it become binging?