16 Sep

The Proof is in the Details – How Theme Supports Mechanics

Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga - shipsThe writer John Gardner, in his now quite classical work on writing titled “The Art of Fiction” talks about details as being the “proof” that makes a reader believe in what the writer is telling him.

That’s the whole “show don’t tell” thing – if the writer tells the reader “the guy was lonely and didn’t like it” it’s not very convincing. But let the guy look around his empty apartment, flick channels on the TV, stare at his breakfast table set for one and sigh and we believe, we feel that he’s in a slump.

The same goes for games. When the theme supports the mechanics we believe in the game, we’re sucked into it, engulfed in the world and enjoy our play. But if they diverge, if they clash with one another or with our gaming styles, then our minds are jarred out of the game and leave the table disappointed. Read More

06 May

Knowing when to end

Finish signpostThere’s a big difference between novels and short stories, beyond the obvious ones. It goes beyond word length, beyond character arcs and sub-plots. It resides in those final moments when you know that the story’s ending but you see that the ending will leave you wanting more.

In a novel that’s mostly fine, in fact it is desirable. Wanting more is all right when you’ve gotten a major emotional payoff from the resolution of the main, and possibly sub, plots. It’s the feeling of “I love this restaurant but I’m so stuffed that I don’t want more right now”; it’s what makes readers come back and buy the sequel. But as short stories that give that kind of major payoff are rare (and a lot of them go on to win multiple prestigious awards) the short story ending often end up feeling lacking.

The same is true for games. Most games are short stories. Only the largest, most complex games, can assume the mantle of being the play equivalent of novels. And those games don’t get played a lot, or at least not by many people. Even here on the Geek, where the most rabid gamers come, how many of us sit down to 20+ hour games on a regular basis? Read More