IGDA Game Design Master Class Revisited

IGDA Game Design Master Class Revisited

Back in June of 2005 John Passfield ran workshop as part of the IGDA Brisbane Chapter Master Classes. The workshop involved taking the game ?Battleship? and changing it into something new by altering one or two of the rules.

I was never happy with the results. I never felt that any of my ideas sat comfortably in context with the rest of the game. That anything I changed resulted in a carryover affect that required too many alterations to other rules, and anything I came up with in the end was awkwardly put together and in all likelihood not all that fun to play. Quite simply they never felt elegant.

Eventually our group settled on a surgery game or something, I can no longer remember. But I do remember that I was not all that satisfied with it.

I cannot speak for anyone else in my group, and I don?t know if they felt the same way, but as for me - over a year latter - I?ve finally figured out where I went wrong.

I have recently begun reading Rules of Play, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. And it is after delving into the Chapter on Rules do I now understand the problem. (Incidentally, checking back to Passfield's old web blog today, I find that he was inspired to run this workshop after attending a GDC workshop by Eric Zimmerman years before - ironic then that I should only understand the problem after reading the book by the man who created the damn thing in the first place!)

My problem was I didn?t understand the most fundamental rules of Battleship. Sure, I understood the rules as they are written on paper, but I was not thinking deep enough. I focused too much on the genre and the rules of operation ? I needed to focus on the fundamental routes of those rules. Genre and operation be damned!

What follows is my new understanding of the problem, and my new solution, based on the Three Levels of Rules, as identifies by Salen and Zimmerman in Rules of Play.

The Three Levels of rules (excerpt from Rules of Play):
[quote]Constitutive Rules are the abstract, core mathematical rules of a game. Although they contain the essential game logic, they do not explicitly indicate how players should enact these rules.

Operational rules are the ?rules of play? that players follow when they are playing a game. Operational rules direct the players? behaviour and are usually the kinds of rules printed out in instructions and rulebooks for gamers.

Implicit rules are the ?unwritten rules? of etiquette and behaviour that usually go unstated when a game is played. Similar implicit rules apply to many different games.
[/quote]

In solving the workshop's problem I will examine battleship under the first two rules.

Battleship

Constitutive Rules:

The game is played in a space consisting of the numbers from 1 to 100.

Each player selects 17 of these numbers to be Critical Numbers.

The 17 Critical Numbers must be allocated in five sequences: one sequence of 5, one of 4, two of 3, and one of 2.

Critical Number Sequences must run in linier sequence either through numbers directly adjacent to the last, for example 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Or by adding or subtracting 10 to the initial number, for example, 5, 15, 25, 35, 45.

Sequences cannot contain within them the following combinations of numbers: 10 and 11, 20 and 21, 30 and 31, 40 and 41, 50 and 51, 60 and 61, 70 and 71, 80 and 81, 90 and 91

Sequences must be independent from one another, they cannot share numbers.

Players take turns calling out a number from 1to 100, and the opposing player must acknowledge that the number is either one of their select Critical Numbers or not.

The game is won when one player successfully identifies all of his opponents Critical Numbers.

Operational Rules:

The game is played on two 10x10 grids, numbered 1-10 along the horizontal, and A-J along the vertical.

Each player has a set of Battleships that they are placed on their own grid.

The battleships are of the following sizes: 5 squares, 4 squares, 3 square (two of these), and 2 squares.

Battleships must be placed either horizontally or vertically on the grid.

Battleships cannot share grid squares.

Players take turns calling out a grid coordinate (eg: H-5), and the opposing player indicates whether the guess was a ?hit? or ?miss?.

Players mark off grid squares as the game progresses, the first player to successfully ?hit? all of his opponents battleships is declared the winner.

We see how Constitutive Rules and the Operational Rules are very simular, however the Operational Rules make reference to the game materials and context in which the game is understood. The Constitutive Rules on the other hand refer to the logical and mathematical structure of the rules.
From this we can see how by changing the Operation Rules we can completely change the context of how the game is understood and what it represents. Furthermore by altering the Constitutive Rules we can begin to affect the design on a more fundamental level It is with this thinking that I have come up with my new answer to the workshop's problem:

Train Heist

Constitutive Rules:

The game is played in a space consisting of the numbers from 1 to 30.

Each player selects 6 of these numbers to be Critical Numbers.

At least four of the numbers must form two sequential pairs, for instance 12, 13 and 23, 24.

Players take turns calling out a number from 1 to 30, and the opposing player must acknowledge that the number is either one of their select Critical Numbers or not.

The game is won when one player successfully identifies all of his opponents Critical Numbers.

Operational Rules:

The game is played with two diagrams of a train with 30 numbered carriages.

Each player marks on their diagram the carriages in which they wish to hide their Gold.

The Gold consists on two single stashes that are hidden in individual carriages, and two larger stashes, each of which must be hidden in two adjacent carriages.

No more than one stash of Gold can occupy a single carriage.

Players take turns searching the carriages of their opponent's train, and their opponent must inform them if they found a stash of Gold or whether the carriage was empty.

Players mark off carriages they have searched as the game progresses, the first player to find all of his opponent's Gold is declared the winner.

We have changed only a few elements of the Constitutive Rules:
> The scope of the play space (the total number of Numbers and Critical Numbers in play)
> Critical Numbers can now only be assigned in sequential order
> Eliminated the rule preventing certain combinations of numbers within a sequence.

All other Constitutive Rules remain the same.

We could now write a slightly modified version of the Battleship Operational Rules for this version of the game, and what we would end up with is only a scaled down version of Battleship.
However by instead changing the Operation Rules to the example above, we create an entirely new context for the game experience. What we end up with is a new game experience, based on familiar game mechanics.

I understand that this is not a very inspiring way of creating a new game, nonetheless this is what the workshop asked for. The workshop was not about coming up with inspired original game ideas, it was about understanding how changing the Constitutive Rules affected the fundamental structure of the game, and how changing the Operational Rules could create a new contextual understanding of the game.

I am happy to say I finally understand this. There you go John, workshop finished. I hope you accept late submissions!

Further Development:
Shortly after writing this I began to consider the possibility of limiting players to only searching carriages within a certain number of the previously searched carriage. Simulating the player physically moving from one carriage to another over time. This would help emphasize the robbery theme, as opposed to the open ended radar theme of Battleship. This may require a further rule change though, allowing players to search a carriage more than once so that they can move unobstructed along the length of the train. (I deliberately left out the possibility of multiple searches for simplicity's sake, and also because whether or not players can be allowed to mistakenly call out a previously searched grid reference often falls under the category of Implicit Rules).

Links:
Passfield Games
Rules of Play

LiveWire2006-10-23 05:04:50

Brain's picture

*grins* This was great to read. I remember that workshop well, and it has affected how I look at projects, so after your enlightenment I may need to pick up Rules of Play. Thanks for the write up, and thanks again John for the learning. @:-)

Jackydablunt's picture

That's right I remember that class, I remember teaming up with Caleb from Fuzzyeye and Mick from gameaudio's girlfriend Jess and we came up with some sex thing (of course) where you have to hit the right heterogenous zones and build up the blood flow till climax. It actually ramped really well and got a lot harder as it went along though I can't remember what we did. There were also negative scenarios where you'd hit the wrong square and the mother would call and stuff like that therefore making you lose points.... I class it in the educational vain. Anyway yeah that was a good class actually, sorta just broke it all down for you and threw aside all the aesthetic crap games get lost in now, he's on the ball that Passfield guy.