Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Game Architecture


I design and develop software for a living.  In my trade, the Software Architecture is the foundation on which a system is built.  Get it right and you can deliver what the customer needs now, and adjust the system on the run to deliver what you need in the future.  Get it wrong and you might as well go home; bad architecture kills software.

But this is not a post about software - not even game software.  This is a post (or, likely, a series of posts) about my experience with extended wargame campaigns -- good and bad -- and how those experiences over the last forty years can be applied to a 21st century internet gaming environment.  It is also about how the design patterns that served us well in the past are betraying us in the gaming environment we live in today.

What do you mean "we"?

 My best campaign gaming experiences came when I
  • Was free of significant responsibilities.  I had no family, the campaign was in summer so school was not a factor, and the summer job was industrial work I could leave behind at the gate.
  • Had a couple of dozen friends 
  • ...who were likewise unfettered.
  • ...who had a similar vision of how a game should work.
  • ...and who all lived in one city, so we could get together face to face every week.
  • Had more than one charismatic referee for the game who structured his own life priorities so he could put in all the time and effort required to make it work.
If you are in that situation, you must have some great games going on and I would like hear about them.

My situation now?
  • The boys are moving into adulthood, so the obligation factor is down, but it is not out.  I'm moving furniture this weekend because of it.  My wife has far more right to my time than my friends and hobbies.  Not that she is high maintenance, but my priorities have to put her first; and that is not a bad thing from my point of view either.  I also have a job that is fun and intensive, so I think more about it more than the eight hours a day I get paid for -- and can send me to another continent on a few days notice.
  •  It is not hard to find people who would be interested in a campaign.  We have a good gaming group here, and the internet gives me access to almost every English speaking gamer on the planet (and the language caveat is my problem, there are doubtless yet more folks out there).  But:
  • ...while some proportion of potential players might fit the "free as a breeze" profile (retired empty-nesters as well as young guys) most have the same sort of obligations I do.
  • ... my old group a developed a shared vision over years.  The extended group cannot be expected to approach the game experience in a common way.
  • ... The extended group is spread across the planet.  The social sessions that made the in-town games so much fun just won't be possible.
  • Finally, I can't expect to pull a smart, charismatic, duty-free referee to run this (any volunteers?).  I am not charismatic, and I am not rearranging my priorities.

So can a campaign work with all this going against it?

I think so.  I propose to start by asking what a game should deliver to its payers and referees; look at how existing game patterns deliver results, and why they do not work for my life now; and then consider alternative patterns that might work for me and people like me.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating; test games will be essential before committing to a large-scale project.

I guess this will all take a while.


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