This is it! Day 115 and the 113th unique lense! It's taken more than half a year to work through the whole deck, but it was a journey worth taking.
Day 115 - Lens 93: The Nameless Quality
Certain things feel special and wonderful because of their natural, organic design. To ensure that your game has these properties, ask yourself these questions:
Does my design have a special feeling of life, or do parts of my design feel dead? What would make my design more alive?
I think that Fall of the Last City feels very alive. I think that the simple mechanics and the emergent gameplay that they foster accomplish that well. The life of the game comes from the fact that the other five players are acting independently for their goals and the game will play out differently every time it is played. The difficulty curve of the game emerges from the skill of the players. As a group of players gains skill the gameplay becomes more difficult and nuanced.
Which of Alexander's fifteen qualities does my design have?
1. Levels of Scale. We see levels of scale in “telescoping goals, ” where a player has to satisfy short-term goals to reach mid-term ones and to eventually reach long term goals. We see it in fractal interest curves. We also see it in nested game world structures. Spore is a symphony of levels of scale.
Yes, this quality shows in the control of a base/control of a territory/control of the wasteland. In an alliance with one other player vs. the global network of all the alliances.
2. Strong Centers. We see this in visual layout, certainly, but also in our story structure. The avatar is at the center of our game universe — and generally we prefer strong avatars over weak ones. Also, we prefer strong centers when it comes to our purpose in the game — our goal.
The bases provide strong centers as do the players pawns, and the City anchors the whole board.
3. Boundaries. Many games are primarily about boundaries! Certainly any game about territory is an exploration of boundaries. But rules are another kind of boundary, and a game with no rules is no game at all.
Bases and paths have strong boundaries as do the territories.
4. Alternating Repetition. We see this on the pleasing shape of the chessboard, and we see it too in the cycle of level/boss/level/boss that comes up in so many games. Even tense/release/tense/release is an example of pleasing alternating repetition
The six territories and the division of paths and bases provide this.
5. Positive Space. What Alexander means here is that the foreground and background elements both have beautiful, complementary shapes, like Yin and Yang. In a sense a well-balanced game has this quality — allowing multiple alternate strategies to have an interlocked beauty.
The whole of the paths and bases vs. the empty space of the board and the filled and empty spaces within bases demonstrate this.
6. Good Shape. This is as simple as it sounds — a shape that is pleasing. We certainly look for this in the visual elements of our games. But we can see and feel it, too, in level design. A good level feels “solid” and has a “good curve. ”
The overall shape of the board in play and the shapes of the hexaheses provide this.
7. Local Symmetries. This is different from an overall symmetry, like a mirror image; instead referring to multiple small, internal symmetries in a design. Zelda: The Wind Waker has this feeling throughout its architecture — when you are within a room or area, it seems to have a symmetry, but it is connected to other places in a way that feels organic. Rule systems and game balance can have this property as well.
The paths and bases under the control of each of the players embody this.
8. Deep Interlock and Ambiguity. This is when two things are so tightly intertwined that they define each other — if you took one away, the other wouldn’t be itself any longer. We see this in many board games, such as Go. The position of the pieces on the board is only meaningful relative to the opponent’s pieces.
You can see this in the choices of the prisoner's dilemma and in the territory control mechanics.
9. Contrast. In games we have many kinds of contrast. The contrast between opponents, between what is controllable and what is not, and between reward and punishment. When opposites in our game are strongly contrasted, the game feels more meaningful and more powerful.
The consequences of allying vs betraying or having a base well defended enough to discourage attack vs having enough guards with you to force your expansion are examples of this.
10. Gradients. This refers to qualities that change gradually. The gradually increasing challenge curve is an example of this, but so are appropriately designed probability curves.
The increase in a player's power and in the bases they control and in their array of alliances show this, as does the increase in mobility as they lay down paths.
11. Roughness. When a game is too perfect, it has no character. The handmade feeling of “ house rules ”often makes a game seem more alive.
This is shown in the visual design of the game and in the presentation of the rules. Also in the inter player conflict.
12. Echoes. Echoes are a kind of pleasing, unifying repetition. When the boss monster has something in common with his minions, we are experiencing echoes. Good interest curves have this property, especially fractal ones.
You see this in the taking of citizens from the city, the placement of them in bases, the removal of them from enemy bases, the loss of them in challenges and the counting of them for the control of the city.
13. The Void. As Alexander says, “In the most profound centers which have perfect wholeness, there is at the heart a void which is like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it. ” Think of a church, or the human heart. When boss monsters tend to be in large, hollow spaces, we are experiencing the void.
The emptiness of the wasteland at the beginning of the game and the emptyness of the city before it's fall show this.
14. Simplicity and Inner Calm. Designers talk endlessly about how important it is for a game to be simple — usually with a small number of rules that have emergent properties. Of course, these rules must be well-balanced, which gives them the inner calm that Alexander describes.
I think the limited rule set works in this direction though I feel like there are still a few rough edges here...
15. Not-Separateness. This refers to something being well-connected to its surroundings — as if it was part of them. Each rule of our game should have this property, but so should every element of our game. If everything in our game has this quality, a certain wholeness results that makes the game feel very alive indeed.
I think the level at which all of the elements of my game from the rules to the esthetics to the emergent dynamics are the thing about the game that I am most proud.
Could it have more of them, somehow?
I could always use some more inner calm, and I will try to keep all of these qualities in mind as I make changes to the game going forward.
Where does my design feel like myself?
I think that the contradictions in the game are the things that are most like me. It's a game about taking control of a wasteland with violence... but in the end it calls that goal into question effectively enough that many players choose not to win.