Monday, May 28, 2012

Models, Rules and Meta-Rules

Most of us are familiar with the idea of a "game model".

With conventional games the model is entirely exposed and directly manipulated by the players.  This can be tremendously simple, as in checkers where a piece has three states and position.  It can be as complicated as a hex-map board wargame where hundreds of distinct units in a complex class hierarchy can go through dozens of state transitions in a single turn.  Always, however, the state transitions are governed by the rules, and always playing the game is equivalent to directly manipulating the model states according to complex rules.

Miniatures games are not much different; the main difference (and even this is not universal) is that position is continuous rather than discrete.

Refereed games like Kriegspiel are very different.  The internal model is hidden from the players; state is managed and manipulated by the referee and exposed according to rules interpreted by the referee.  This adds considerable labor for the ref, but the reward is that the players are trying to operate in a mode closer to that experienced by officers in the historical period being gamed.

So far, so obvious.  Clearly the sort of game I have been talking about is closer to a Kriegspiel than to a face to face game.  What I want focus on right now is the capability of a hidden model to overcome "Turn Tyranny".  If the model includes "policy" and "mission" components, then the player is freed (to some extent) from time driven intervention.  As long as my policy is working for me, I can let it go on until I consider it invalid.  At some point, a player has to play, but there can be at least some looseness.  An aside: can we do away with turns entirely, and have a purely event-driven game where the "model" "runs"  until something happens that causes a player to get new information?

However, there is a caveat.  If we are going to allow the players free-form interaction with the model, we can't really have a "closed" model with everything defined -- all classes, all entities, all states, all transition rules -- in advance.  The player interface is the referee.  He has to be able to manipulate the model both by its interfaces and by augmenting and manipulating its internals.  He has to be able to override the results of the model as well; like a kind of free Kriegspiel, to achieve a truly free-form game human decisions must take precedence.  To make that work, however, the referee must either have such respect from the group that his decisions are trusted implicitly (and as ref you can't assume that) or the ref has to keep such careful record through the game of each decision and its reasoning that the players will understand after the game why all of the events happened.

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