Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 2, 2013
I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a long time. The newest incarnation isn’t officially “Dungeons & Dragons” (it’s Pathfinder), but it’s close enough. I’ve played lots of tabletop adventures, and plenty of computer games based on the system. And then even more computer games that are loosely and unofficially based on they system. I still have a lot of fun playing it.
But mechanically – the biggest change in game mechanics hit the scene around 1999, and Pathfinder is a natural extension of that. And even that revolutionary overhaul still tried to keep the basics more-or-less intact. Aside from armor class going up instead of down, and people referring to “DCs,” players of 1st edition AD&D and Pathfinder would probably be understand each other just fine. The mechanics resolve similarly. Some of the numbers have changed, and certainly a number of rules, but the fundamental mechanics aren’t too different. You still want to roll high on a D20 to hit, you roll 1d8 for longsword damage (plus bonuses), roll a save vs. a fireball on a D20 to take half damage, etc. (Incidentally, DC stands for… “Difficulty Class” – I had to look that one up because I’m so used to just hearing the initials… but it’s supposed to be analogous to “Armor Class” [AC] so I guess that fits…)
Of course, every game has a different context – a different story. We had one Pathfinder game that took place in the ruins of Washington DC a century after a magical apocalypse. We’ve had games where the entire party was nobility seeking a way to liberate their home country. We’ve had games where we hopped between the fantasy world and a variation of the mundane “real world.” We’ve played different characters, with sometimes different players, with different stories and settings and bad guys.
The point is – we’re still having fun playing the same game. There have been some rules changes, new house rules, and new sourcebooks brought to the table that might help freshen things up a little, but these are pretty minor variants.
Yet I’ve got this double standard where I rip on first-person-shooters because it’s “just another FPS.” “We’re still just running aiming, shooting, and hiding!” Where are the innovative game mechanics? I turn into some kind of game design, “gameplay is king” purist. And yet, I still play them when one sounds interesting. And tower defense games. Sometimes a minor mechanical change and an interesting setting (but not too different!) is all it takes to part me from my money, in spite of my complaining to the contrary.
I figure a game designer trying to cater to my desires is like a frustrated TV show producer, trying to balance the demands of an audience who doesn’t want the show to change, but will get bored if it stagnates because due to lack of change. They want everything to be, “the same, only different.”
Is it really important to change up the mechanics from game to game to provide a different experience? We don’t make a major change to the rules of basketball or baseball every season, let alone from game to game. You’d think the audience would get bored after two or three games, right?
So what’s really more important? If you had a choice between two non-optimal alternatives, which would you choose?
A) A game with some really fascinating and innovative new mechanics but with the same old plot and setting (say, sci-fi-industrial) you have seen a million times?
B) The same old mechanics you’ve played for years, but with an exciting new setting, intriguing characters, and a gripping, twisty plot?
Yeah, I want the best of both worlds, too. But if you only had to pick one or the other – new gameplay or new story, or “mechanics vs. context” – which would be more important to you? What might influence your decision?
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