Podcast: Games, Abstractions, and Players



As Game Developer Conference approaches, I began thinking about how games are made, and how players approach games differently. For example, I came across this description of a game being played:

Imagine exploring space, colonizing planets, setting up trade routes. This game is so immersive, you feel like you really are setting up your own empire — unnamed commentator

He’s talking about this:

Roll for the Galaxy
Roll for the Galaxy

The game is Roll for the Galaxy. It’s actually a pretty good game, but the main mechanics involve laying out tiles, figuring out victory point, and rolling dice. I have a great time with this game, but I can’t say I’ve ever envisioned myself building a massive star empire.

We’ve discussed theme versus mechanics in a previous podcast. Let’s talk about abstractions: how they enable games to exist, and why some people find certain abstractions immersive and others don’t.

Meaning

“Grognard” hearkens back to the French term for veteran soldiers who grumble about, well, everything. Grognard first saw the light of day in gaming with board wargames, where grognards would criticize the inaccuracy of some games. The result became increasingly complex “simulation” games with massive rulesets and thousands of pieces that almost no one bought or played.

In a similar vein, grognards ruined flight simulators with their endless “rivet counting”. The idea of fun, as epitomized by games like the LucasArts flight sims and Microprose’s European Air War, became lost in the sea of hardcore fan complaints about accuracy.

Eric and I discuss the necessity for abstraction if you want good games, and why some games have higher levels of abstractions than others. We also talk about several specific examples, plus some common abstraction problems that create cognitive dissonance among players, including urgency, span of control, and span of attention.

Tools

I bought an actual tool: a tape measure. More specifically, I bought an eTape16 Digital Tape Measure. This tape features a segmented LCD digital display, and works anywhere a normal tape would work. It’s got some cool ease-of-use features, like center calculation, inside or outside settings, and only needs a coin cell battery.

Eric, meanwhile, raves more about his new headphone DAC/amp, though you might be surprised at what he thinks is the best feature. Eric’s also started the hunt for a new car, and really looks forward to finally having Bluetooth on board.

Fun

My daughter and I spent a weekend of tabletop gaming at Dundracon 40. You can read more details about the games played in a recent blog post. Games played included Euphoria, Leaving Earth, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and more. I’ve also been playing a lot of XCOM2. I just wrapped up my first campaign, at 42 missions on veteran level. In the course of the game, I built a pretty badass team. You may even recognize some names…

2016-02-20_00004

Meanwhile, Eric’s been reading Jim Butcher’s latest fantasy novel, The Aeronaut’s Windlass. At first excited, he’s now given up on it, likening it to junk food. On the other hand, Eric loves him some Deadpool.

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