When you play a game, you manipulate game objects using various actions, all of which are defined in the game’s rules. In this post, we’ll look at game objects and how to represent their state.
In my article introducing near and far randomness, I talked in vague terms of the distance of randomness from the player’s actions, and how randomness forces variation in the course of the game’s events, sometimes at the cost of agency. Now, to further elaborate on the thought process of near and far randomness, I will elaborate on what makes certain cases of near randomness onerous, and through that develop ways to maintain the closeness of randomness to player action, but at the same time tame the damage done to agency.
Players and designers spend an incredible amount of time and effort grappling with randomness’ role in strategy games. In this article I’ll develop a model for understanding the impact of randomness on agency, which will hopefully clarify the use of randomness as a design tool.
Agency is the player’s sensation that they participate meaningfully in the game.
In my article on analogy, I hinted that designers design abstract mechanics and then apply analogy to make the system most accessible to players. That is not a representation of how most people design video games today, it was merely a set-up for talking about analogy without diving too deeply into the properties of the abstract systems that underlie games.
Analogy is how the designer bridges the gap between the player and the abstract mechanics of the game. Analogy makes relatable and relevant what would otherwise be a litany of abstractions and seemingly arbitrary relationships.
My method of understanding and designing strategy games starts off with a triad of critical concepts which I call the AVA paradigm–a somewhat memorable acronym combining the first letters of Agency, Variety, and Analogy. The interaction of these three concepts lies at the core of strategy game design. They each represent certain values which one must balance when designing any strategy game, and their substance is what attracts players and keeps them playing.