Tag Archives: constraints

Helping RPGs Play Themselves

Rosette LogoA big secret of tabletop RPG design is that roleplaying games play themselves. Get the right group of people together and they’ll have fun telling a good story, regardless of which edition of which game they’re playing. The hard parts of RPGs are things the designer can’t control: social dynamics.

What good are rules at all, then? Rules serve two purposes: to enable and constrain the play. The rules of an RPG serve to make the creative process easier by enabling story, and they constrain the scope of the story to keep the group within a manageable narrative space.

In my role as lead designer on Future Proof Games‘s upcoming tabletop RPG Rosette1, I’ve made tons of decisions regarding how the rules work. By the request of one of my patrons, I’ll go over that process from a high level.

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Unsettling Uncertainty in the Stanley Parable

A screenshot from The Stanley Parable with papers scattered on the floor of an officeYears ago I wrote a piece on the original mod version of The Stanley Parable.1 It’s since been remade and released as a for-sale title with very high production values, which I got just after release.

I’ve played a few remakes of old games or overhauls of mods, and it’s always an uncomfortable experience. Everything in the game is familiar but different, and I constantly find myself wondering, “Did this happen in the original and I’m just forgetting? Is it totally new? Is it similar to an old bit but different enough that I don’t recognize it? Did I just miss it the first time?” Stanley weaponizes this feeling, even for new players who didn’t experience the original.

With The Stanley Parable, you never know what to expect.

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Show 1 footnote

  1. Looking back, that piece comes across as very critical, but I remember loving the game. A tonal error on my part, I think.

Automating Minecraft

In my patron-sponsored post on Minecraft I talked about the philosophy of Minecraft mods and play in general, but I didn’t go much into the actual rules or design of the factory and automation play in those mods.

I’ve abandoned the “FTB Resurrection” modpack in favor of “FTB Infinity” (GregTech is just too vague and cruel). This has actually let me get into some limited automation, which has been interesting.

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Difficulty and Walkthroughs

I had an interesting discussion at GDC with a guy I know named Tasselfoot. Chances are that you know Tass, even if you don’t think you do; if you’ve ever used a YouTube walkthrough of a Flash game, that walkthrough was probably made by Tass. As far as I know, he’s the only person in the world who makes his living off of walkthrough videos.

While we were on the bus to the ill-fated Zynga-hosted afterparty, Tass and I had a conversation where he tried to convince me to put links to video walkthroughs inside my games. Obviously, he has a vested interest in this, but he also believes in it from a player’s perspective. Walkthroughs, he feels, should be as accessible as possible to the player. My initial reaction, as a video game auteur, was to disagree. The presence of a walkthrough ruins the carefully-crafted difficulty curve I’ve prepared for the game. But as Tass continued, he began to sway my mind.
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