Monday, July 14, 2014

Deconstructing design systems

I have a secret confession: I love crunchy design systems. I mean games that have design systems within them for designing and creating things to use in the game. Starships, giant robots, equipment and computers/programs, etc. Mostly this applies to sci-fi games, but also for a bare handful of fantasy settings. They're a game in and of themselves.

I enjoy the intellectual pursuit for systemic elegance and purity. There's a kind of glory in learning and using a design system to achieve what your design goals, which is why games like Mekton Zeta are still on my shelf even though I'll likely never actually play it. Actually playing these kind of games can become a pain, however. (See my previous post on Deconstructing conflict systems for why)

I've already mentioned Mekton Zeta Plus' Technical System. Other examples include GURPS' Vehicles, DGW/FFE's Fire Fusion and Steel, which vary in level of detail from 'lots' to 'absurd.'

I look at the laundry list of things to finish developing and implementing in my TURK Eclipse Phase game and despair over the workload as well as what impact it may have when playing it. Details of weapons, armor, tools, drugs, nano, medicine, mesh and hacking, etc... Eclipse Phase is a setting that cries out for details, crunch and variety: social, morphological and infological freedom being core tenants of the setting. It begs for a way to design things on the fly and implement them in the game. Not just gear but also NPCs and organizations and so on.

The trick then is: How to make playable yet customizable design systems? How do you prevent runaway detail escalation, or loopholes that munchkins can abuse?

I'm toying with the idea of a 'fractal' of game details. Most 'things' get a single stat, representing their overall quality/usefulness/effectiveness; if need be, that rating can be broken down into sub-stats for specific examples. The latest edition of ShadowRun seems to have latched onto this. We shall see where and how it goes.

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