Recently, we just accomplished our adventure in Realm of Randomness in Jesse Schell’s Game Designing kingdom, Ludus. Before this crazy adventure, I thought randomness is such a good friend for game designer. Right? It helps us to make the game more dynamic (different outputs for the same input action), to simulate the reality more, or even to encourage the players to do something aggressive more. Players also feel happy when they encounter some obvious random event, for example, to draw a card as their new collection, or to spin the wheel and then multiply the output damage.
I never notice that this friend will be such a complicated factor until I have to design a game start with some pure random-purpose item: dice.
What could randomness GO WRONG in a game?
According to Oxford Dictionaries, “randomness” means “something made, done, or happening without method or conscious decision”. That is, the essence of “randomness” contains an idea of “out of control”. It could make your game more interesting and let your guests have dynamic experience. However, at the same time, it might ruin your game since those random factors are unpredictable in nature. I comprehend that players love and accept those pure random events because those events are not the core mechanism of the game. Those events are just some bonus or extra rewards for their input. Yet, once that randomness rules the whole game, players would start feeling uncomfortable. People love the feeling of controlling something, especially for game players, they want the absolute power to control their avatars, flow path, etc. Accidental randomness events work since we just take back their controlling power for a very short period of time. However, if there are too many random elements inside, players won’t feel they have the power of control at the most of time. Then, they will start to pull themselves back from that game, stop accepting the game experience game designer provide, and try to question the whole mechanism. At the end, players will totally disconnect with the whole virtual world and stop play the game.
In summary, the randomness is aimed to “get rid of the rules” in nature. It makes the game both more dynamic and out of control at the same time. “Dynamic” would make the game more engaging; however, “out of control” could also frustrate your players. Therefore, the crucial part of utilizing the randomness factor in game is to control the effective range of out of control. Here are three different ways to constrain this naughty boy:
- Separate the randomness from core gameplay.
For example, extra crucial attack would happen during the battle, or random treasure would be provided after each battle.
- Provide another opportunity for players to adjust the result or shorten the effective time period.
For instance, in card battle games, player still would be able to decide which card to play even after randomly drawing a card from the deck.
- Gradually enhance the ability of control.
Like some classic tabletop RPGs, the possibility of successful attack would increase after character’s level-up.
(I found out Noel’s “Luck In Games” is a great article that categorizes three different kinds of randomness well and provide some tips and examples for game designers to deal with each type of randomness.)
Back to the adventure...
Through the adventure, I came up with my game “Witchcraft”. It is a 4-player game and requires 1 d20 dice, 4 d6 dices, and a deck of poker (52 poker cards). Players need to draw a card and roll the dices in each round. They should play card(s) from their hands to respond the rolled dices. Though the randomness control the initial state in each round, players can still adjust the result by their right decisions. Also, in order to balance the game, I provide a way, called “Counter Attack”, for players they can gain some rewards by rolling a dice. Instead of simply rolling a dice, player should stack the d20 dice on one d6 dice, and player should hit the stack by throwing another d6 dice. I do not just provide random rewards for players, but also give some physical feedback for them to concentrate on. Last, I give those really bad-luck players a last chance to win the game, that is, “Last Cast”. They should roll a dice to determine if their score can be multiplied. However, some of the multiplier is ZERO, that is, those bad-luck players may lose everything if they are really unfortunate enough. It provides more dramatic moment in the end of the game.
In summary, though I use a lot of randomness factors in my game, after several design iteration, players feel they can control the final result by implementing their strategy. They like the game’s theming, the struggling between playing black or red cards, the physical feedback in “Counter Attack”, and the dramatic result in the end of the game.
One more thing...
Few weeks ago, my friend, Jack, and I had an interesting discussion about the usage of dice in games. The question is: In a tabletop RPG, the success of your each attack would depend on the result of rolling dice(s). If the result passes certain threshold, then this attack succeeds. The threshold would reduce as your character’s level increases. Then, what kind of dice is better for this kind of design? One d30 dice? Or five d6 dices (the result would be the sum of them)? (In this case, let’s say the initial threshold is 16 for d30 dice, and 18 for 5 d6 dices. That is, the initial success attack probabilities are both 50 %.)
In Jack’s opinion, the d30 dice would form a uniform distribution; hence, “one d30 dice” would have better “stability”, the success probability of attack would increase the same amount after each level-up, and it is better in game design. However, I prefer “five d6 dices” design. Even though the normal distribution of the “five d6 dice” design is not as “stable” as uniform distribution, I feel the “five d6 dices” design could provide a better user experience for players. In "five d6 dices" design, players will get more feedback/rewards for their first few level-up, and the feedback/rewards would gradually reduce after each level-up. This dramatic increment design of the probability of passing the attacking threshold would encourage players to focus more on leveling up their characters during the early stage. It could be beating more monsters around the early stage or taking simple quests. During this period, it's the best time to introduce basic mechanism and settings to players, and it also provides a great opportunity for players to try out their playing characters. After they achieve certain level, they would feel the level-up feedback/rewards would not attract them that much anymore. They would not take care about the attack threshold that much since then. Therefore, since they have some basic experience in exploring the game through the early stage, instead of repeating beating monsters only for level-ups, it's the time to offer more complicated things and different goals for players to achieve. In conclusion, I believe designers can provide a more encouraging and more indirect controlled way/flows for players through the “five d6 dices” design. Players would easily follow this path and be guided by the design. They would also have a better experience in immersing in the virtual world.
So, which one do you like? "One d30 dice" design? or "five d6 dices" design?