Monday, March 12, 2012

Meaningful Dialogue

This is a post I've been meaning to get to for a while now. I'd been holding off for a bit as I was hoping to finish a bit of conversation with JB. It's been a while, and the weekend has come, so I don't know if they're just done with the conversation, writing a really long reply or haven't had time to get to their computer.

I'm going to use how the conversation ended as an example, not because they don't have valid opinions, not because they are necessarily wrong, and not because I feel they wrote poorly. But because I think it illustrates what I've been getting warmed up to write.

I used the term 'bashing' in my last post. Unproductive criticism could be another term for it. Unproductive criticism not the end of the world, it illustrates a general feeling towards something, makes a general statement or summary of someone's experience. However, it wont ever improve anything. But, this is not a post on just poor negative feedback. Useless or generally unfocused positive feedback is a possibility as well. These are commonly considered being a fan boy, or masturbatory or any other number of terms.

The question is, what is the difference between productive and unproductive feedback. Or in the terms of this post, what is the difference between meaningful dialogue and meaningless dialogue? Support, and not just experience generally, experience with the topic at hand.

"They are completely ass-backwards in their approach to "role playing:" chasing after players with video game sensibilities (because, face it, you can't "out video game a video game" with a pen-and-paper RPG), instead of emphasizing the things that a RPG can do better than ANY video game."

This could be broken down to have some real support. Perhaps JB could have said that the abilities that replenish after a short or long rest are very similar to a video game's system of cooldowns. Perhaps this is a bad thing, because video games are much better at tracking which abilities are used, and which aren't, while this is unwieldy management for players. Perhaps they could have said the approach to having minions that die in one hit and enemies designed around their strategy rather than class is too meta. Or even that the classes having roles suggested within their description is far to meta, and draws away from their use as a background rather than a method for achieving their goals. Finally, one could bring up the compound effects of many of the abilities as well as some abilities being unlimited and others not reduces the 'immersion.'

With the surprising amount of text that JB put down, there was a surprising lack of some basic elements. These could be acquired through observing a game, reading a borrowed book, or even god forbid, playing a game with someone else's book. No need to support the game when I'm sure you may know someone who has, or have a local library that stocks the content. The dice are the same, character sheets can be on lined paper and so on.

Why is this important? Why should you care? Do you like your games? Your paintings? Your movies? A meaningful dialogue is the most important step towards improvement. Without thinking carefully about what you complain about, without searching for the core of the problem, you may miss out on what the real problem is. Identifying the problem, is extremely important, because then the people making the critiqued piece and everyone else can solve or avoid the problem.

Products and people evolve. Products with a long turnaround time, like say... Role Playing Games or Video Games only get one opportunity ever what, five years to evolve? With enough real and meaningful dialogue, they can evolve in a positive direction. (Assuming they're paying attention.) And even if they're not, there are many independents, modders, writers, homebrews and other folks, who might not be able to figure out why they don't like the product, and may contribute or even learn from meaningful dialogue.

There's also the negative effect, what about other connotations or misinterpretations?

"They are completely ass-backwards in their approach to "role playing:" chasing after players with video game sensibilities (because, face it, you can't "out video game a video game" with a pen-and-paper RPG), instead of emphasizing the things that a RPG can do better than ANY video game."

They don't have enough social emphasis, we should have more rules for social interactions, that will pull the game away from video gamey! They departed from the 9 different alignments, to a linear 5 alignment system (much like say, fallout3), we should have 9 alignments, it was that that screwed it up! Video games use abilities with cooldowns and uses that recharge, let's get rid of those, lets make wizards cast all their spells as much as they want. Maybe we should give players bonuses for sharing drinks with the people next to them, or shaking hands, or dressing up. Video games can't do that!

Some of this may seem extreme, but is it really? All that section (the only one talking about the product itself says) is that pen and paper games should try very hard not to be video games, because JB doesn't like it. A fine statement abstracted out, but it has nothing to do with Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, or any other edition, or any other game as it has never been grounded with examples anywhere in JBs text. I don't know JB, I don't know JB's experience other than the stated "never played a game of DnD 4th ever." So as someone who is a fan of meaningful dialogue, I need JB to prove to me that I should listen to him, and that his feelings are grounded in logic.

This is all very... Righteous. A bit hypocritically sounding so. In fact, it's an ideal, I'm not above occasionally raging. But I'll tell you what, once I realize what I do, I am shy about it. I'm regretful, and I do some research. I'll even tell you my latest rage I caught myself in. Origin, not the game company, the EA system for selling video games. I raged for a long time about the percieved blatant money grab. I bemoaned their creating of an overblown cash registrar. Then not too long ago I got into a conversation with a very smart fellow. He told me about the good things they've done. They've actually apparently put a bit of effort into making their service not suck. So much so, it sucks less than some services I've already used. So I talked to some other folks, and now I don't feel so down on it. Sometime, I may actually buy something on it.

For the record, I do feel Roleplaying is a bit hindered in fourth edition for some of the reasons I included in the first section of reasons and examples. I feel it has borrowed from video games, and I feel like it was an interesting experiment with results I haven't seen in another PnP RPG yet. It seems to me like one of the many possible results of evolution, keep in mind evolution is a process of mutation, not always good.

As usual, I'm always open to feedback. Let's get some Meaningful Dialogue going.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hopelessly Optimistic

Maybe I'm just hopelessly optimistic, but I for one am of the belief that almost every system, and at least every major system was designed with the intent to be good. As I've said before, maybe not good at everything, maybe not good at fulfilling your specific needs, but they are good, for someone. I honestly can't imagine a developer/writer/designer saying, "We're just going to spend the next year of our life putting enough words in a book more people will buy it, but not put the effort in making it good at something."

I can see publishers having a budget, a deadline and a lack of understanding the product. I can also see them rushing the deadline, pushing for small staff and asking for irrelevant deliverables. But I can also see the limited staff putting in effort to make the best thing they can in the provided budget, time and staff.

Just a short post on the topic. I just feel like it seems everyone bashes on the people who designed the products. Sometimes it is their fault, maybe they got to close to the work and didn't see the big picture, but sometimes it might be that they couldn't get the money to playtest, or get the necessary tools because the people who wanted the money, cut the funding or deadline to make more.

I don't have evidence against or for the point above. I wouldn't mind if any real evidence was directed my way otherwise. As usual, everything I write is up for conversation.