THE GlovEngine CONCEPTby Sergio Mascarenhas
THE GlovEngine CONCEPTby Sergio Mascarenhas
THE GlovEngine CONCEPT
Last month I digressed on a topic tangential to my new column, the idea of roleplaying games for non-ropeplayers. I say it is tangential because I don't plan to deliver what I proposed at the time. You see, in order to produce a rpg for non-rpgs I would need to have a product and, no less importantly, a marketing system put into place. I may design a product but I certainly will not have the marketing system.
I will have to stick to a more modest objective. It will be to produce small, easy to learn and to play rpgs. They will use a common game system I called the Glove Engine (also known as GlovEngine or GlovE). In the present column I will discuss the concept behing GlovE.
I was to present the first GlovE game this month. Hellas, I will not be able to do it. I was luky to find two fellow RPGnetters that were nice enough to read an unfinished draft of the game. Their comments lead me to improve things a lot. This also ment that I had to postpone finishing the first version of the game, so it was not ready for this month. It will come in September, though.
Now, let's go to the GlovE concept:
Settings can exist without rpgs and can be expressed in their own terms without recourse to game lingo. Why not a rpg system that uses as much as possible the original, rpg-less setting materials, without substituting it for game language and concepts?
Suppose I want to design a game inspired by Dunsany's 'The loot of Bombasharna' (I suggest you read this short story before going down the column. You can get it at: http://www.sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/d_loot.htm ). The story, of course, provides facts about the setting or game world for my game. It also provides the type of experience I want to have in my game (let's call this mood), Dunsany's short story has a 'lightness' and a poetic sense I want to be able to preserve in my game. So, if I am to be successful in roleplaying in the world perceiveable through 'The loot of Bombasharna' my game has to be consistent with both the facts and the mood of that setting.
Let me state the obvious: Dunsany wrote a story to be read, he didn't write a game to be played. To turn his story into a game I need something more, I need the rules that will allow me – I'll be the GM – and the players to roleplay (and for demonstration purposes I'll concentrate on rules for just two purposes essential to roleplaying: Character creation and action resolution). The critical issue is that the rules I devise and the way the game is played must be consistent with both the facts and the mood of the story. The issue is how to do it.
My take is that we need to understand the inspiring materials (the short story in the present case) and to work in its own terms. Let's look at characters first. What do we know about the characters in the story? Not much actually. We have: Shard, the Captain of pirates, the main character. We don't have a description of Shard but we are provided glimpses of his actions and personality; Mr. Gagg, rudely called Bloody Bill, a pirate; the Queen of the South, “incomparable”; an Admiral of Spain, passionate about capturing Shard; and references to the two Kings of the Sicilies, to the Princes of Aragon, to another pirate captain.
So, in the world of Captain Shard character description is short, simple and based on a well defined set of descriptors:
For a start we have the charcter's place in society. We have pirates, captains, admirals, princes, kings and queens. We may add other types but they should be in the same vein: Sailors, priests, innkeepers, soldiers, maids, etc. This place may be specified in geographical terms also: Spain, the two Sicilies, Patagonia, Bombasharna.
Next we have personal names. These are not used arbitrarily. Only special characters deserve a name. And characters with unique titles, like the Queen of the South, don't get one (there's only one Queen of the South, she is “incomparable”, so there's no purpose in giving her a personal name like Mary or Anne that would be shared with other women). The rest are referred to by their place in society.
Some characters may have a nickname like 'Bloody Bill', or a special qualification like 'Mr.'.
Further to this a character is specified by his deeds (burning towns on the Patagonian seaboard), behaviour (looking at the sky and saying that it was a windly night and it looked like hanging), thinking (it suited Shard's purpose, for he had more merry men when the fight began than he needed for his island), feelings (always she was morose and moody towards him), his personal history (we can infer from the narration the places where Captain Shard has been).
As you can see, if I am to turn the short story into a game I need to add a lot but the way to do it is by understanding the story in its own terms. Of course, that effort may lead in directions other than to build a game, I might as well aim at starting a series of short stories based on Dunsany's work. Yet, the procedure to work out a game has to be similar: By understanding the characters in the story I'm allowed to frame a procedure to create other characters.
Let's try to devise a new character based in these premises (I will not pretend to present things in Dunsany's poetic prose since I have neither the skill nor the time to attempt it):
Place in society: Courtisan. Origin: The two Sicilies. Personal history: The scion of a nobleman, was kidnaped as a child and sold to a pirate that raised her as her daughter. Name: Donatella. Nickname: The Black Widow. Married several pirate captains that didn't live long enough to enjoy her many charms. For ever in love with a beautiful Spanish soldier she had to kill with her own hands. Countless men dream of becoming her lover, carried by with the desperate passion of the one knowing that doom is reserved to those that fulfil such dreams.
The issue is: Do we need anthing else to create a playable rpg character for the world of Captain Shard? Can a game work only with such qualitative, natural language, freeform, fuzzy descriptors? Or does it require structured descriptors? For most rpgs the answer is that this is not enough, they require structured, formalized descriptors. They work on the assumption that characters have to be defined in game terms, and by this it is ment a well defined set of descriptors that are to be used in a precise way in the course of the game. These can be skills, attributes, advantages and disadvantages, whatever. According to this point of view the next stage in game design would be to produce the lists of those descriptors, maybe under different categories for different purposes.
My contention is that we don't need this. If the players are able to read, understand and enjoy the basic setting material (in the example Lord Dunsany's short story), they are able to extract or extrapolate new characters from it. All a game designer needs is to provide guidelines like the ones above, guidelines designed to facilitate the task of the players in creating their characters. In fact, this is not my contention only. I was not the first to suggest this neither was I the first to come with a workable game system that drops structured descriptors. Other games did this (HeroQuest is my preferred example.)
Yet, there's something more. Even if we can live without structured, pre-defined descriptors, don't we need something else? Where are the numbers? Where is the quantitative scale that allows us to have game mechanics that, well, can be played with? Do we need the numbers after all? If we do, we still need to add something to what is provided by the source material. (This is how things work in HeroQuest. One can pick from the source the qualitative descriptors but these are to be complemented with a quantitative value.) I don't subscribe to this view. I think we can have a perfectly workable game-system that only requires freeform qualitative descriptors. In fact GlovEngine is an attempt to design such a system.
Before we see how this can be done let me be very clear about one point: If I am following this path it is not just to prove that I can have a different system that works under different premises. I don't look at it as a contest of rpg design craftsmanship. The reasons that lead me to follow this path have to do with more important issues (at least to me):
First, because – as I say above – the original resources should be the master entry into the game, not some derived work based on it. If I want to play in Middle Earth, Lovecraft's 30's, Blade Runner's future, I should focus on the original fictional works that express these settings and work my game from there, not on some assemblage of data collected by the game designer and translated into a language specific to the game.
Second, I want to preserve the character of the original settings resources. Translating these into game lingo usually means sacrificing a lot in terms of the semantics of the original. Game lingo – the precise and normalized definition of a set of traits, concepts, descriptors, etc. – is an artificial language that ends sacrificing the opportunities offered in the original. For instance, try to define Captain Sharp or Donatella in any of the popular game systems available in the market, say D&D/d20, BRP, GURPS, etc. by putting down their characteristics, abilities, and other scores. Now, how do you justify the values you assign to them? How can you be sure that your interpretation will be acceptable to another person that reads the data on these characters? Why should you put there things that the persons that wrote the original descriptions didn't consider necessary (like values for traits present in the game systems that have no relationship to what is written in the source material)?
Maybe you are not convinced by the argument, so let me provide an example. Take the next Open Forum at RPGnet: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?s=90aa44cffbd037d70a733b0d133f4dad&threadid=129908 . I know nothing about Riddick, I have not a single clue on what it stands for, and clueless I remain after reading its description for several game systems. Still not convinced? Look at it this way: How would you describe your favorite female model and how would you explain why you consider her so attractive (it could be a male model but I want to be politically correct; let's give an opportunity to the ladies)? Would you do it by pointing to the fact that she is 84-64-84, 1.8m, 60kg, Rh+, is able to keep a steady pace of 50cm, and so on?
Third, because I want to simplify game design. The moment a game designer attempts to abstract a set of game concepts, he faces the issues of translation of the original into those concepts. This is an effort that may be too demanding in terms of time and intelectual effort, specially if the setting materials are very rich. If I use the source materials directly, the only task is to select those passages that are relevant to the game. There is no need for a further translation into game concepts. Take Donatella. I want a game where if I am to play Donatella, all I need to do to put on her character sheet is the quote above. I don't want the added effort of converting that narration into game lingo.
Fourth, because I want to simplify game play. If a game has a special game language, the player needs to work at several levels at the same time: The level of the setting non-game language and the level of the game language. He needs to refer to both, translate among both, and make sense of all of it. He needs to record events and changes at those two levels. He needs to sort out inconsistencies among them. All of this is added work that can be saved if all he needs to work with is the basic setting language.
Let me delve a little more on the last points.
I look after a game system that can be adapted to different settings with minimal effort, thus simplifying game design. This will allow me to come out with a large base of different games (based on varied settings) by spending the minimum of effort in their creation process.
I don't want just to design a system and to provide guidelines on how it can be used. I want more than that, I want to design playable games for different settings, all using GlovEngine as their core game system. I want to be able to play in Star Wars today, Homer's Grece tomorrow, 19th century Southeast Asia the day after that without needing to resort to specific rules or to different game concepts each time I change from a setting to the other. I have a lot of ideas for different games, not necessarily based on the settings mentioned above. Sufice it to say that the first game will be based on Jules Verne novels and will be called Gentlemen Explorers. More on this latter.
Since I want to be able to play in different settings, I need the respective rpgs. On the other hand, I don't want to design just the bones, the system, without connection to each setting. I am not looking at a so-called universal rpg. I want the different concrete games for the different concrete settings where each game couples setting and rules. The GlovEngine is not to be an universal game, instead it is to be a generic meta-system that can be configured to work with different settings. The point is, I don't want to spend ages designing each game, thus I don't want to predict all conceiveable particular cases neither do I want to provide the corresponding rule for each of those cases. Instead, I need rules that are so abstract that they are as the maths of rpgs, able to allow me to handle any game situation as it fits the setting at hand. For this purpose I need to be free of game-specific value scales that constrain the ability to deal with entities within a particular setting that don't accommodate to the scale, or to compare entities in different settings.
GlovEngine has been designed in order to allow the production of games that require minimal setup and knowledge acquisition on either setting or game rules, games that can be picked up and played right away by people with minimal or no knowledge about rpgs.
How many times did you come across a great book or movie and thought, how wonderful it would be to turn it into a rpg? How often do you spend an evening to create a couple of characters? How much effort do you as GM need to put into preparing your game because you need to specify the stats of the game entities? And how much time do you have to do all of this, time you and your friends need to divert from other interests like work, family life and entertainment?
I want a game that can be set up and played the moment you know what it is all about (in other words, the moment you know the basics of the setting and the main characters in 'system-less' terms). I want you to be able to invite some friends that never played a rpg and tell them, 'folks, the movie was great, let's jump into it... right now'.
But, you may ask, is it doable?
I think so, that's why I designed my GlovEngine. I gave it this name because I want it to be the rpg rules system equivalent of a glove: Just as a glove adapts to whatever hand it fits on, GlovEngine must be able to adapt to any setting that may fit in. (Please, keep in mind the last part of the requirement. GlovEngine will not be fit for every situation, just like a particular glove does not fit all hands.)
Why do I think GlovEngine fits the bill? Let's see:
Setting first. I am a firm believer that a rpg is setting and rules. I don't subscribe to the rule-less rpg idea. Yet, the setting is the meat while the rules are the bones of the game. What bones you need depends on what meet you want to digest. That's why I say that the setting must come first.
This applies whatever the way the setting is presented. It can be a fiction book, a history book, a movie, a comic, clippings from newspapers, selections taken from different webpages, the game creator mental notes. In all cases there must be a setting where the players want to play, a setting that justifies the game and the rules it uses. To design the game we need to focus fist and foremost on the materials that contain the setting.
If one is to set up a GlovEngine game, one has to collect the materials that allow him to define his game, the type of events in it and the type of characters it will involve. Usually, these materials are not specifically game related. Think about Lord Dunsany's short story used as an example above. It is not a game-specific work and when Dunsany wrote it he did't consider its usage in rpgs (how could he since there were no rpgs at the time?). Now, suppose you are designing your own game world. Your concept, even if it is only in your mind, can be presented as the description of a world without any reference to gaming. If you have a good gaming world, it can stand on itself without the association with gaming (a recent forum at RPGnet Open highlighted this when considering several highly successful rpg settings; check http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?s=447ea97d32a4839a74174d30ad448966&threadid=130047 ).
GlovEngine puts the reference materials at the centre and uses them directly as much as possible. It works on the principle that setting must come first.
Non-game entities define game entities. Non-game entities are the setting entities contained in the setting materials: Descriptions of characters, places, objects, actions, emotions. Idealy we should be able to pick from the rpg-less setting materials the description of the entities that will be relevant in game terms and use these descriptions directly without conversion into game-specific terms.
This is exactly what happens in GlovEngine. If you want to play King Lear, all you need is to pick from Shakespeare's play the elements that define the character. If you want to play Superman, pick his comics and refer to them whenever you need inspiration to act as Superman. If you have the concept for an original character, write it down (like I wrote Donatella above), draw it out, impersonate it. That's all. In GlovEngine you don't need to translate your concept into game lingo. You don't have a predefined artificial language to represent your game entities, there are no criptic descriptions like the ones you can find in the thread linked to before.
In GlovEngine it's as simple as this: Define game entities by selecting from the setting materials the description of the entity you want to use in your game, or create a new entity by reference to those contained in the reference sources. Whatever happens in the game to the entity, it will have to be based on its description and it may have as a consequence a change to the description. You are bound by the description and will have to stick to it: Once you defined the game entity, you cannot change it freely. Changes have to be the result of play.
Single, abstract resolution process. An rpg is not only a set of game entities. It truly becomes a game when things happen to those game entities in the game context. Rpgs are about change, how a certain situation evolves into something different, how and why outcome A materializes instead of alternatives B, C or D. For that purpose rpgs require resolution rules. More than anything else, it's the resolution rules that give a specific meaning to the activity we call 'roleplaying game'.
Resolution rules may be designed with precise situations in mind. In this case the rule will incorporate the concreteness of the situation it is designed to handle. Of course, this requires pre-defined game entities: A concrete resolution rule that applies to a particular situation is only workable if the entities to which the rule applies are also precisely defined. Now, since GlovEngine does not relly on pre-defined game entities, it can not operate with concrete resolution rules. Instead, it has an abstract resolution process that can be sumarized this way:
a) In any game situation define a goal that corresponds to the end result your want to achieve with your action and how you plan to do it.
b) Based on your goal define alternative results that may happen if things don't turn out the way you antecipate.
c) From the description of the intervening game entities select the elements that are relevant to the game situation.
d) Decide on whether those elements contribute or work against your intended result.
e) Based on d) reach a decision on which is the concrete outcome that materializes among the alternatives defined in b), eventually using a random factor for that purpose.
This is the single action resolution process used in GlovEngine, abstract because it does not refer to any particular type of game situation or any specific entity. It is not new, by the way. You can find it in plenty of rpg systems since most of these can be abstracted into the process above. Of course, many attempt to work within a defined set of concrete aplications of the principle. They do this by pre-ordaining special game situations (combat, negotiation, physical feats, etc.); by fixing the possible outcomes (in combat one dies when one looses all the hit points, for instance); by pre-defining the possible factors involved and their impact (in combat it can be the combat skills of the fighters, the situational modifiers like the impact of darkess, etc.).
Once more, I don't claim that my resolution system will be original. I am fully aware that there are other games that work on the same principles. The best I may claim is that maybe I'm doing it differenty.
Balance is according to the game situation, not abstract. A system with the traits presented so far may create problems of game balance. After all, characters and other game entities may have widelly different descriptions so the range of factors they may bring into any game situation may be widely different as well. How to achieve game balance? Well, in GlovEngine the issue of balance is not something to be discussed in abstract. There is no universal way to achieve balance. It all depends on the game situation.
For a start, it's up for the players to decide on character definitions that are fair to all of them. In other words, they have to draft their characters in such a way that each can contribute to the party in a meaningful way. This can only be achieved through player interaction. This is facilitated due to the fact that GlovE games describe the characters in common language. So, if character X is described as 'strong' while character Z is described as 'tall and muscular' how can we know which one is better at anything that requires strengh? We cannot answer this question in abstract. It depends on the situation – and the ability of the players to justify why their character should take the lead in that situation.
On what concerns the balance between GM-created game entities (NPCs and other) and the player characters, it's for the GM to ensure that the game situations he creates are not unbalanced or problematic. For instance, he cannot reason that because the game book suggests that creature of type X is a challenge to character of type Z it is so. Game balance is not pre-defined in the game book. It is adjusted by the players while playing (actually I tend to think that this is always the case, it just happens that the players may have the illusion that the rules provide for balance).
This does not mean that GlovEngine does not provide tools to ensure game balance. It does this through guidelines that help the players in deciding how to use character descriptions in game situations, guidelines that are based on the concept of...
Relative scaling. In GlovEngine there is no absolute power scale on which to place characters and other game entities. There are no levels, numerical skill values, etc. There is no way in which you can pick character A from one game group and charcter B from another game group, look at their stats and decide how they compare. In GlovEngine scaling is relative to concrete game situation, it is to be considered in a case-by-case basis. How is this done?
Suppose you want to compare two characters. Which one is best at what? Their description will provide the clues, yet they are only meaningful to the players. As I wrote above, it is up to the players to interpret their respective characters and convene on their relative strenghs and weaknesses.
Let me give you an example. Suppose a character's description mentions that he is 'flirtatious'. Is this good or bad? We can't answer this question in abstract. It depends on the concrete game and how the players in that game interpret that expression. In a game situation where the character finds himself in a Club Med it may be a plus, while if he is doing serious business it may become a disadvantage. Nothing is inherently good or bad in GlovEngine.
Or consider the 'strong' vs. 'tall and muscular' example above. Usually a tall and muscular person is strong, right? What we have here is two ways of expressing the same idea, the first by pointing to it directly, the second by pointing to it indirectly. Which character is stronger? If all we know is these two descriptions we cannot decide, so we will have to assume that they are on a par on what concerns strengh. As it was stated before, it's up to the players to come up with further descriptors that will allow them to justify why their character has an edge. It can be examples of things they did in the past, complementary attributes or skills, the availability of special equipment. In any case, the justification is not in abstract. It concerns a certain action (like lifting a particular object). Unless both attempt to exercise their strengh to the point where one outdoes the other there is no way to decide which is strongher in those circumstances. In those circumstances, I insist, because in a different situation it may happen that there's a reversal of their fortunes, once more dictated by the ability of the players to present arguments in favour of their respective characters.
Because of that the players don't have a pre-defined positioning in a scale of power conceived for a given pre-ordained set of situations. What they do is to refer to the description of their characters and to interpret it in order to identify the modifiers that apply to the game situation. Their task is to maximise their chances by deciding on the best balance of modifiers that's fair to the character's description. Scaling is relative to the game situation.
On what concerns the GM the things work in a similar way. He does not have to think about the absolute power of his game entities like NPCs and how these compare to the PCs. His task is to design the challenges that the PCs will face. For that purpose he needs to decide why it is a challenge (the qualitative side of the situation) and how big is the challenge to the players. To decide on the second issue all he needs to state is how the challenge influences the chances of the players of fulfiling their goals.
An example will make things clear. Say, Josh and Bill (two PCs) plus Andrew and Rich (two NPCs) are participating in a jump competition. In GlovEngine we don't care to know what is their best jump and what's the likelyhood they will jump a certain distance. What we need to do is to order them in terms of their relative abilities. For that purpose we refer to the PC descriptions and try to figure out if one of the two is a better jumper than the other. Say, Bill description mentions that he was the star of the athletics team of his high school... followed by ten years working at a desk. On the other hand, Josh is a professional Tae Kwon Do instructor. Which one is better at jumping? If both were at their high school times Bill would be advantaged, but in the game's present Josh will be the one that gets the advantage: Bill deserves a bonus for his past exploits plus a penalty for years of sedentary life, while Josh gets a bonification for his Tae Kwon Do practise. Bills bonus and penalty cancel each other out.
What about the NPCs? Well, when the GM designed the situation he only needed to ask himself a question: How do the NPCs compare with the PCs? Are they better, worst or similar? In the case of the jump competition the GM may decide that Andrew is on a par with the best jumper among the PCs while Rich is the worst of the lot. Since Josh is the best jumper of the PCs, Andrew is on a par with him, so Andrew also gets a bonification to his jumps. Rich, being the worst of the lot, will be less qualified than Bill, so he gets a penalty to his jumps.
What, you may ask, means all this conversation about bonifications and penalties? Simply put, it is just a device to order the participants in the situation. It ensures that you are always able to decide on their relative concrete ordering by consider what contributes or distracts them from achieving their aims.
How this ordering translates into a particular outcome for the game situation is up to you to decide. For that purpose you have basically two methods: Either you go randomless and assign different outcomes to different balances of bonifications/penalties, or you assign a random factor (maybe dice based) to that balance and interpret the result of that randomisation. (GlovEngine provides guidelines for both approaches.)
Let's get back to our example. Suppose the GM decides to deal with the issue without dice or other randomizer. He looks at the balance of penalisations and bonifications and decides that Josh and Andrew jump the greatest distance followed by Bill. Rich is the one with the worst jump. He decides that by now only Josh and Andrew remain in the competition. To decide on which of the two is able to outdo the other the players need a more precise definition of intervening factors (based on the character's descriptions and the description of the situation), so that they may identify a further bonification that may advantage one of the parties. For instance, Bill and Rich are good friends of Josh and now that they dropped out of the competition they start encouraging him. This provides an extra level of motivation that leads Josh to outdo himself: In game terms he gets a further bonification to his jump. That umbalances the situation in his favour and he wins the competition jumping ahead of Andrew. (I don't know Amber neither did I read that game, yet what I was able to glimpse from reviews and discussions of it makes me thing that my GlovEngine works in similar terms to it.)
Now, suppose the players want to handle the situation with recourse to a random factor generated through the usage of dice. A possibility may be to assign different dice to the different participants in the competition according to their relative abilities. They may decide on this simple rule (inspired by The Window): Josh and Andrew get a 1d10 each, Bill gets a 1d8 while Rich gets 1d6. The highest roll wins; in case of a tie, reroll. (Notice that this is not the randomizer used in GlovEngine. I used it just for demonstration purposes.)
There are several advantages to relative scaling, at least from my point of view:
For the GM it simplifies game management. Because the GM decides things in relative terms, he doesn't need to spend time before and after play trying to get the correct numbers that will allow him to have things flowing the way he envisions, neither does he need to fudge in the course of the game. No more questions on how do NPC stats compare with PC stats according to an absolute scale. No more need to spend time putting down stats for every possible situation. Further to this, it facilitates the ability to handle unexpected situations: The players decide to do something completely unexpected like going in the opposite direction of the one intended by the GM. He needs to fill that spaceon the fly. Why not? All he needs to do is to think what is there in plain language. He does not need to spend added time turning it into game terms.
Relative scaling focus the players on the game situation. The players can no longer relly on absolute strengths and weakenesses pertaining to their characters. Since they have to maximise/minimise their character's chances in the situation, they need to get involved in it, they have to look at it carefully and creatively.
Relative scaling keeps the sense of wonderment. How powerful is Stormbringer? How good a wizard is Gandalf? How strong is Hercules? How fast flies Superman? I don't know about you but the moment a game system attempts to define precise traits to fictional or real achievements, and to frame these traits in technical terms that allow for direct comparisions with other entities, the sense of wonder I associate with heroes, magic items, etc., gets lost. When I consider the stats for Stormbringer in the Stormbringer RPG I'm put off. I don't want to know that Stormbringer is able to suck X souls in an attack. I don't want to contabilize the MPs it takes from those souls. I don't care about the damage it can suffer before breaking. There is no wonder in this type of buraucratic, accounting data. Besides, what's the wonder about Stormbringer if the rules allow me to devise a much better sword? Or a much, much better sword? Absolute stats only lead to a meaningless power race, to Mountyhallism.
Relative scaling avoids the pitfals of absolute scale limits. Why does the absolute scale starts where it starts and end where it ends? Why are there no values above the top or bellow the bottom? For instance why isn't there a 21st level in a game with 20 levels? Any absolute scale cracks soon or latter at the extremes. This is just not a problem to relative scaling.
Relative scaling is more realistic. Yes, I used the 'R' word. It is because we handle most situations in our lives through relative scaling. Are you higher or lower than the person next to you? Can you jump the hole in the road? Will you have time to drive past the bus before reaching the curve? Most often than not the answers will be that you look at the other person and compare your relative sizes instead of measuring them according to some metric system and comparing the values obtained; you will intuitively judge if the hole is too long for you to jump over instead of measuring it and comparing to the measures of your best past jumps; you know by experience whether you and your car are good enough to overtake the bus in the space available, without resorting to precise measurements of the variables involved in the manouever. As someone said, it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. Other than in the laboratory we work with approximations (remember that most competitive sports are laboratories of physical activities). It is irrealistic to treat common life situations in any other way than through relative scaling.
Next month I'll put the concept to test. I'll present the first GlovEngine game, Gentlemen Explorers. I hope you like it.