Creativity Engines

Ok so to take a short break from the world building materials, I waffled back and forth between doing a review and a rant, and in the end I think the rant is what I crave more.

So I have talked a number of times about differences between two major game engine types. Point based, like what you can see in Hero Games or GURPS. And level based games like D&D and the Palladium game engine. Now then if you look with a wide enough lens you can wrap up nearly every table top role playing game into those two categories. Notice that I say nearly. Let me give you a couple of examples of how my lens looks at some of the game systems.

  1. Point based
    1. Hero Games
    2. GURPS
    3. Tri-Stat
    4. d6 system (even though the points are dice)
    5. Cardinal by Sanguine (another dice type but a rather unique application of it)
    6. Amber Diceless (a unique way of spending some of the points to be sure)
  2. Level based
    1. D&D
    2. Palladium
    3. True20 – a D&D 3.0/3.5 variant
    4. Pathfinder – like True20
    5. Cyberpunk 2020 – I signal this one out because the Interlock system overall can be used more as a point based than level based

I am sure that for experienced gamers there will be those who try to say I have the idea wrong, and that there are a bunch of games that blur the lines like Mutants and Masterminds. To which I say, yeah sure. But the point of the rant is not those games at all. That’s background so you can see where my point of view comes from.

What really gets me is how few totally creative game set ups are out there. These two background concepts are really common. They make things so easy to get a hold of and run with. But what about exercising the gamers, and writers, creativity to come up with things that are more unique? Is it really that hard? Or are there no big ideas? I mean I have seen several other ideas that work… but…

  • FASERIP/Marvel SuperHeroes(the old TSR one)/4Color – This game engine, like Villains and Vigilantes, is completely random roll. If you play this one by the rules as written, everything from character generation to interaction with others comes out to a die roll. You are in the hands of fate from the beginning and you just cant stop. House and alternate rules allow you a choice in some things but not complete control by any means.
  • Chaosium – Fate plus choice. Roll your stats and they determine how many skill points you have to spend, plus a base so no one is totally hosed. From that point on though the more you do the more you can grow, and they have a growth mechanic too.
  • Pantheon – small press that never took off but the fact it is just narrative roleplay. You design a character with nothing but words and then try to out talk the other players. There is not even a DM type position unless the group wants to have some sort of editor.
  • Cypher System – Descriptive narrative brings skills and abilities. This is sort of like crossing Pantheon with FASERIP. Its a really good cross though.

So here is my big challenge. Why is it so hard to get the more original ideas to take with people?

Is it lack of marketing? I mean without in print game mags like Dragon and White Wolf  around any more, White Dwarf is almost totally subscription only and rarely prints anything that might support other games, and Pyramid… well yeah, and Space Gamer or Fantasy Gamer… Yeah there are online sources to find out and review sites and so on, but there is little to no promotion. I mean if you go to a convention you might see business cards or fliers scattered about, but that’s it. Back in the hey day you would see game companies taking out adds in each others magazines, dropping in adds in comic books and really trying to push the edge.

Is it lack of sales venue? Back in the day game companies had sections in national chain stores like Toys R Us. Today you are lucky to see anything other than the top two or three sellers in Barnes and Noble, and local game stores are disappearing thanks to online sales companies like Amazon. You used to be able to go into your local mom and pop and find some of the weirdest and most innovative games that had ever been printed.

Is it low quality? You can still find some rather innovative ideas in games online. But without the glossy print pics and driving background stories written by high end fiction writers there is so little to grab someones attention that you end up with a book that is just rules printed in a text size you can get into place. Or if you are selling them independently in PDF format online most of the time the buyers cant get a good look at the product if there is anything they can preview.

Could it be that we are all broke now when it comes to games? Or maybe the big publishers are having so much of a hard time with costs that in the last 15 years a hard cover rule book has gone from 20 to 60 dollars? Are they pricing us all out of reach?

Or maybe, just maybe, and yes I expect hate mail for this one, have gamers just gotten lazy? Do they not want to experiment any more? Have they just found their one little nitch and that’s all they ever want to do? Because its a system or a setting or whatever. And because gamers have gotten lazy, when they teach others about games they dont say, ‘There is a lot of stuff out there, experiment and find the stuff you like.” Instead they say, “This is the best game ever and if you wont play it then you are not a real gamer and fuck you and the dice your rolled in here on.”

To be totally honest I have encountered all of it. All of it sucks. And all of it seems to be killing innovation in games.

I mean look at D&D 4th edition. That was just trying to make MMO’s into a freaking table top game. It sucked for me because I had seen the innovation and growth from 2nd edition to 3rd and 3.5 and had been thinking, ‘Holy shit if they did this much to improve things last time they are going to blow my mind, I know it.’ Yeah. No. But there are tons of people I know who loved it. It bridged that gap between the MMO games they had been playing and the RPG’s that others had played around them. So in a way it was just another step in innovation. In terms of game mechanics it was also sort of a step back. But D&D and all its changes are another rant.

Palladium games has not really had a change in their game system in, well, decades. Other than Power Creep. Champions by Hero had a small jump from 3rd to 4th edition and then from 5th to 6th. Is that the problem? Are the big companies failing to innovate themselves? And so no one else follows suit?

Sigh….

Ok so the point that I was trying to make here is that there seems to be very little innovation in gaming. There seems to be a few methods and no one gets past them. I am concerned that if nothing happens we may see the same thing we currently have in Hollywood when it comes to movies happen in games. Everyone spending all of their time and money regurgitating all of the same old things hoping that by pasting a new face on the front of it they can make money on the same thing all over again. Only to have folks tell them the new version is crap.

The only way I see to pull the industry out of that kind of loop is to get people online and purchasing the small press games that have new ideas. If they are great or if they suck. Just to let bigger companies see innovation, and I mean real innovation not just repackaged and repainted yesterday, pays.

Ok before I wander futher down any rabbit holes and turn this into some kind of omni rant, I need to step away from the keyboard.

Gimme the dice, I need to make a sanity check to see if this makes any sense.

Peace out and game on.

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  1. #1 by dantherpgman on September 10, 2017 - 11:01 pm

    I am concerned that if nothing happens we may see the same thing we currently have in Hollywood when it comes to movies happen in games.

    I hear you, that’s already happened in video games. Not only with the lack of innovation, but the model of most games making little to no money and a few blockbusters paying the bills.

    But the difference with tabletop RPGs is that the system itself is only a small part of the experience. No matter what system you’re playing the only real limits are the players’ imagination and play style (admittedly, some games make it easier or harder to express that imagination). I guess what I’m getting at is, after 30+ years of hundreds of game engines with thousands of mods, add-ons, expansions, and new versions, do we really need any more innovation in that area? Do we need any more tools to create a great game, or is it pretty much on players and GMs to use the tools we have to carve out something fun, original, and imaginative?

    I’ve always felt like what goes into making a good game is something like:

    50% – GM/DM/whatever
    40% – The players in the game
    10% – The game system being used

    That’s just an approximation of course, but the idea is that to me the system was never really that important; what mattered was the people involved.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to write a whole blog post in the comments!

    Liked by 1 person

    • #2 by authortao on September 17, 2017 - 1:08 pm

      Not a problem at all on the long post. Sometimes you need that to make a point clearly. I understand where you are coming from and for the most part agree. However what I see in the game system side of things is the inspiration of the GM and the players. Without a regular infusion of new engines with the new game settings that come with them you reach a level of stagnation that will not support bringing in new gamers. I know that may sound odd but from my own experience I know that there are games out there where I hate the game engine but love the setting so I am inspired to work the setting into a game engine I love to play. There are also game engines I love but know the players I might game with dont want to learn so I try to come up with innovative ways to incorporate some of the mechanics into a game that they will play. And some times I find an engine that is so cool I want to bring my players into it so I try to find ways to adopt a setting that they love into that engine to drag them into it. Things work that way for me as a player as well.

      You know that old saying that invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I think that it works that way for gamers all the time as well. That is why I want to see more innovations or new creations to help provide that 1% that can trigger so much more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • #3 by dantherpgman on September 17, 2017 - 7:23 pm

        That makes sense. I think it’s just a matter of how you approach things and what angle you want to look at it from. Good thoughts here, thanks!

        Like

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