Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Design: The Same Game, Only Different

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 28, 2012

AgeofWorms2Today, I’m running a D&D game for my family – well, okay, Pathfinder. Which in and of itself is a very cool thing. My twelve-year-old self would be so impressed. We’re playing the second part of the Age of Worms campaign that came out in Dungeon magazine about seven years ago. It’s pretty well-written and interesting, in spite of being seven years old. Interestingly, I learned that I’m not the only one in my city who is doing this… a friend was asked to fill in as “guest DM” on a campaign a few months ago, and needed to borrow those issues of the magazine as they were also playing Age of Worms.

Back in the day (whatever that day was – my aforementioned twelve-year-old self would know), gamers played the same modules.  There were only a couple dozen of ’em, so that led to a lot of commonality of experience. One of the tricks of playing Dungeons & Dragons in my circle of friends in those days – if you weren’t running completely home-brewed stuff – was to find a module that nobody in your group had played yet. There was nothing wrong with playing completely custom stuff … it was my preference, actually, assuming a decently creative Dungeon Master (which was sometimes quite an assumption). But there was something special about playing the official game modules. Primarily, it was the shared experience. Now YOU could finally experience what some of the other gamers were talking about.

Now, with MMOs and other CRPGs, that shared experience is much more commonplace.  But it’s also a little more sterile, as computer-moderated adventures don’t vary quite so much. Whereas White Plume Mountain could be a vastly different experience depending upon who you were gaming with and who was running the game. Sorta like the difference between going to plays versus movies.  While a play is (almost) always the same on most levels, different casts and directors – and even different performances – can make each one a unique experience.  This allows for people to compare their experiences in a way you don’t get with movies, where only a few externalities may differ. So it’s… “the same but different.”

Whenever I talk about stuff like this, I like to bring it back to video game design. I guess if I really wanted to seem creative, I should hide my sources. But anyway, here’s a bizarro, probably terrible idea:

You know how occasionally games would ship with different boxes? Off the top of my head, I can think of Starcraft, Warcraft III, and Half Life 2. So what if… WHAT IF…. the game inside the box was a little different for each one?

More particularly — what if, instead of different “editions” of a game being simply different levels of upgrades and pack-ins, what if the editions truly offered a different experience? Not massive differences, in the “build five games for the price of five,” sense. But subtle shading. Maybe you have a ‘black’ edition that’s a little more angsty, a ‘green’ edition that has more emphasis on the romance aspect of the storyline, a ‘yellow’ edition that’s a little more light-hearted. Undoubtedly players would swap the differences between them as mods, so it wouldn’t be possible to strictly enforce the “you get what you get” approach. But having these options “pre-packaged” and letting players compare and contrast the differences could be an interesting experiment, at least.

(UPDATE: Robert Boyd reminded me that this was the “Pokemon” idea… which actually crossed my mind briefly while I was writing this.  While that’s not quite what I was aiming for with this, I could at least point to Pokemon and say that the idea has been tried and proven in at least one aspect. Of course, the point of the Pokemon versions was to get players to get together and swap. But there’s maybe a bit more that could be done with it.)

Filed Under: Design, Geek Life - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • hermitC said,

    I think I’ll “borrow” this idea, Pokemon or not 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Noumenon said,

    Pokemon Black and White are actually two different emotional moods? That’s interesting.

  • Noumenon said,

    Hey Coyote. You should play Frog Fractions. Half the fun is figuring out what kind of game you’re playing, so let me just say it goes extremely old school. Takes less than an hour.

  • Anon said,

    “Would you like to see the new Batman with a more happier ending, perhaps a marriage?”

    Now, the problem is movies are usually static while games are often a bit more flexible:

    “Should I kill the children in Fallout or not? Questions, questions … Oh what the heck!”

    Sometimes games (or rather their authors) punish the player for specific actions, sometimes they don’t but that’s secondary. If you want to play a gangster you still have GTA etc.

    If I buy a game I find interesting I’m pretty sure that it’s “general direction” is what I want (for example a serious, dystopian future) but I always want the element of surprise: How drastic, devastating or optimistic will it be?

    I think the “flavor” or “character” of a game – for the lack of better words – is the responsibility of the author(s) and the player has to cope with it to a certain extent.

    Having a game that is always *exactly* like the player wants it may be the ultimate in flexibility but this game doesn’t have a lot of character on it’s own.
    True, the flavor may be fixed at the time of purchase (see your examples) but it shifts the responsibility to the gamer:
    “Oh drat! I should’ve bought the less romantic version!”

    In this contect I like to mention on of my favorite games: Deus Ex (the first one).
    While Deus Ex enabled the player to experience the game in various ways by using different approaches like blunt force, stealth or hacking the outcome was still largely the same. The levels were complex but not procedural and you still had to accomplish the same goals.
    Deus Ex still is popular because of it’s flexibility but it nevertheless has a character of it’s own. Personally, I wouldn’t trade the game in for another version that more closely reflected my preferred mood at the time of purchase. What mood will I have tomorrow, anyway?