Between the Stepsby Mendel Schmiedekamp
Between the Stepsby Mendel Schmiedekamp
Between the Steps
Another vital rule of game design is to maintain the design focus of the game. This is especially true in holistic design. In most game design situations several competing design goals exist, making it important to weigh between them and evaluate conflicts. In holistic design there is only one central design goal, the internal consistency of the design (incorporating both setting and system elements). This results in very focused designs, each one acting as a pure experiment in design, rather than to satisfy predetermined business or artistic goals. When designing holistically it is even more important to eschew other design focuses, always returning to the self-contained requirements of the game. And if you find the results are surprising, causing you to encounter design options you have never considered, then you know you are designing it right.
Step 8 - Resolution in the Setting(System -> Setting)
Each player and so each character is faced with a duality of worlds, the world that is described in the playing of the session, and the more personal inner world of the map. The map and the spiritual journey it represents is the central focus of the game. When critical events occur in the outer world it is the inner world which reveals the outcome. In that world, fortune and misfortune are subsumed by the momentum of travel.
Step 9 - Mechanics of Resolution(Setting -> System)
The resolution mechanics connect where a character is going with where it's been. This requires a natural dynamic loop where the traits (see Step 5) help define how steps are taken on the map, and these steps in turn define what the traits become. In addition to these two features of the mechanics, there is third element which must be considered to preserve the focus of the game on the map and its journeys, it is necessary to define when the mechanics should be applied, and when they should not be permitted to distract from the core of the game.
Each direction has five traits, three beneficial and two detrimental. Each of the beneficial traits represents one avenue of ability in that direction. The detrimental ones are the burdens of a high affiliation to a direction. When a character is attempting an uncertain action, if it is appropriate to a particular direction, then the player chooses appropriate beneficial and detrimental traits under that direction. The difference between these two trait values provides the result of that action.
Some actions may require more ability than the character possesses. In this case the only recourse is to take a step in that direction. If there is a passable road in that quadrant, then the actions succeeds, at least marginally. If not, a step may be taken into the wilderness or across a challenge, but this does not cause the action to succeed. Rather this begins the spiritual questing. During these quests the character will continue to fail when compelled to take a step, until the quest ends, for good or ill.
If there is a contest over the outcome of an action, the higher difference dominates the results. However the losing side can make an appropriate step to negate the adverse effect of any failure, making the contest almost a tie (the dominant character still nominally wins).
On the other side, when a step is taken along a road, the traits connected with that direction are altered. One of two things occurs, either that direction is heightened, or the opposite one is weakened. In the first case one beneficial trait of choice is increased. If this takes the trait over three, then a detrimental trait in the same direction is also increased. In the second case a beneficial and a detrimental trait can both be reduced, but only if the beneficial trait is over three. This is intended to give a buffer between beneficial and detrimental traits.
The last concern is when an action is meaningful enough to use the mechanics, and possibly take a step. The mechanics should only be used in situations which are meaningful in both a corporeal and spiritual sense. Each one should represent a conflict in the spiritual world as well, whether between directions and values or to further some ideal of the direction used.
Step 10 - Ramifications of the Mechanics(System -> Setting)
In examining the structure of trait numbers, several features become apparent. First, there are two major cases in each direction. The first is that of the neophyte who has only accumulated a small amount of traits, and has little or no detrimental traits in that direction. This case is limited but of average capability. This level of capability is sufficient to avoid the need to travel this direction too often, making it a less prioritized direction, unless great things are attempted in this vein.
The other case is the expert, who has developed the direction significantly, in both the beneficial and detrimental traits. Because of the differencing mechanic used the character can become a specialist in one beneficial trait, allowing the others to go negative as the detrimental traits increase. It is also possible to specialize in a detrimental trait, allowing the beneficial ones to remain positive if that detrimental is avoided. The last option is to allow the detrimental traits to overtake the beneficial ones, causing the character to rapidly step in that direction. In this sense experts in a direction are forced to specialize, either to focus on specific traits or on the general pursuit of that direction.
Pulling It All Together
Each step in holistic design builds the structure of the game from the previous steps, boot-strapping from initial concept to a full design. The result is uniquely evocative of the game seed. Each attempt is different, and two attempts with the same seed, in this case passage through states of enlightenment and damnation, will yield new results. Each design is an expedition to new design possibilities and inspirations. All that is required is an open mind.Next Time: Planning for Failure