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  • All I Really Needed to Know About Games I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

    [08.18.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher

  • As a Designer

    You don't need high-level technology to make an "immersive" game.

    What has been called "techno-fetishism" sometimes dominates the ranks of AAA-list game creators. The idea is that you have to use technology to make the appearance of a game highly "realistic" in order to let the player feel like he's really there.

    I suppose this is partly because video game creators, for so many years, consisted of programmers who became game makers. In D&D, however, we could feel like we were really there, at times, with nothing but a simple board and 2D pieces. It's the game, not the technology.

    For human/psychological games (as opposed to computer-mediated challenge games), players enjoy the journey, not the destination.

    When people play the interactive puzzles that we typically call one-player video games, their objective is to meet all the challenges posed by the designer(s), to "beat the game", and then to stop playing! I sometimes wonder if the player enjoys the process. In human-oriented games, the idea is to enjoy the journey, not the destination. In D&D there is no destination, just a journey that continues until the campaign ends or you (the player) die.

     Some people like to be told stories; others like to make their own.

    D&D is very flexible. Some referees like to tell stories through the game, what I call "leading people by the nose." As a player I hate it, it's a game not a novel, but many others prefer it.

    I liked to set up a situation, perhaps with a specific objective, and let the players work out what to do -- to make their own story. After all, I found, if I tried to predict what the players would do, I'd often be wrong.

    The objective is to make the players think their characters are going to die, not to kill them.

    So many bad D&D referees get tied up in "holding up the side", as the British would say, in making sure that the bad guys make a really good showing, that they forget the point. The point is not that the bad guys do really well, it's that they do well enough to give the players a scare -- and then lose.

    We all like to improve.

    D&D was the first major game to include experience levels and "continuous improvement". It was also one of the first to include lots of interesting individual loot. All this lets the player's character improve himself, and that's a major objective in many, many video games.

    User-generated content enriches a game immensely. (In this case, adventures, monsters, classes, etc.)

    D&D was the perfect non-electronic medium for user-generated content: monsters, magic items, scenarios/adventures, even character classes. It was easy to incorporate such material; in fact, at first, the referee just about had to make up his own adventures.

    Yes, sometimes these additions were pretty awful, but sometimes they were outstanding. As company-generated video game content becomes more and more expensive in the 21st century, studios need to find more ways to enable users to modify the games and increase their enjoyment.

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