2005-03-10 : Tight Games, Loose Games


(when designing) - setting the strength of setting and premise tight enough to give powerful play, but not so tight that every game?s the same (or results in the same decisions to hard choices)


The role of flexibility in game design—how much 'give' or 'play' do systems need to make room for the players?

What I'm getting at—in DitV all the pieces (see and raise, "say yes or roll the dice", fallout, town building, random characters, etc) are necessary, but at the same time the don't quite meet up; there is a sort of space between them in which the players and GM mediate between the different parts of the system. How does that work?


Could you discuss granting players' broad directorial powers—the extreme example being Universalis—versus granting players very narrow or specific directorial priviledges—like I've done with Fates in tMW? How does this effect the creation of theme in actual play? How does this effect the feeling of "authorship"? Is there really a noticable difference in play, or am I just confusing myself?

So that's all the same design question, attacking the same design question from three different angles - and I don't have a definitive answer. How could I! All games aren't designed yet.

I'll talk a little bit about Dogs, since Piers asks. Those things in Dogs' design that you listed - See/Raise, town creation, NPC creation, Fallout, character sheets, "say yes or roll dice" - don't think of them as carving out territory and leaving a space in between. Think of them as arrows of force, pointing at ... something. What?

"What do you do?" of course. The purpose of all of those arrows is to maintain pressure on your character's actions.

Like, start with town creation. Here's this town in crisis. What do you do? Well, you want it to be easy, so you sit down and talk to people, you resolve all the town's problems by getting people to be honest with one another and apologize, right?

So "say yes or roll dice" passes you along to the See/Raise and Escalation - which don't let people be honest with one another and apologize. See/Raise and Escalation cut off the easy solution, keeping the pressure on. What do you do?

Screw it, right? You kick their asses. Or you try to - your character sheet, the NPCs' sheets, and Fallout all come in to keep kicking ass from being easy. Instead of just kicking ass willy nilly, you have to pick your battles, conserve your resources, take sides.

All the different rules in the game work together to make sure that whatever you do, it is and remains under pressure.

I think the parts of the Mountain Witch do the same. I have to trust my fellow Ronin, because I need their help to kill the Mountain Witch, because if I don't kill the Mountain Witch my family will starve (or whatever). They have to trust me too, for the same reason. However, they can't trust me, because I have this competing agenda, and I can't trust them, because they all have competing agendas too. The Mountain is trying to kill us, we must trust one another, we can't trust one another, what do we do?

Pressure is essential to theme creating. I'll post about creating theme soon.

Tim, so Fate is one piece of the puzzle, right? It doesn't matter what shape Fate is, it matters that it's the right shape to fit with the rest. Broad Director power, very narrow Director power - whatever. You can't just choose, the game's other rules dictate which what and how.

Tobias: along the same lines, it doesn't really matter how loose or tight your game is, provided that your rules support it. Universalis is looooooose and its rules support it. The Mountain Witch is wicked tight and its rules support it.

Is it a coincidence that The Mountain Witch is a more visceral game to play, or does it follow? I have no idea. We don't have enough examples, we can't draw any conclusions yet. When we have a dozen loose games to go with our one dozen tight games, we can start to consider it. By then we'll have a hundred tight games! They're easier to design, for sure.

1. On 2005-03-10, Chris said:

I always tend to look at "tightness" or focus as pressure nozzles on a hose... the tighter you make it, the more pressure you get from the water- the more directed and faster it goes and the more momentum you get from it.

The strength of DitV is that you have Character, Setting, and Situation pretty tightly focused, a little wiggle room on Color, and a solid system.  From character creation to full on play, the group makes directed choices, they're never left floundering.  On the other hand, you have stuff like GURPs where the group has to tighten stuff all around in order to get a good momentum going on.

I think a lot of the crap play("Hey, yeah, stuff is happening, I guess") is due to unfocused designs coupled with groups and GMs that have no idea how to focus and produce conflict(which, of course, the game should have told them something about).


2. On 2005-03-10, Vincent said:

In that sense, Universalis is just as focused as The Mountain Witch.


3. On 2005-03-10, Vincent said:

Uh, cryptic on my part. In the sense of "from character creation to full on play, the group makes directed choices, they're never left floundering," Universalis is just as focused. It achieves its focus via System entirely. It has a rock-solid System for creating Setting, Character, Situation and Color, in whatever mix you like - you just don't start play until you've established enough to not flounder.


4. On 2005-03-10, timfire said:

I'm trying to digest this a bit. I'm not sure you really answered what I was trying to get at, but maybe you did and I'm not quite seeing it. But I have a feeling this statement is likely my ultimate answer:

"We don't have enough examples, we can't draw any conclusions yet. When we have a dozen loose games to go with our one dozen tight games, we can start to consider it."


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