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.


  1. It's funny; this relates to a post I've been building up in my head that I hoped to write later today. I agree with you: developers and designers do have it as their agenda to create good work. They do make the best effort they can. I also think it has to be said that budget, time and staff are often pushed as far as they can be in the interest of making a good product. People in any business like this work damn hard; they put aside a great many of their personal wants and needs; they commit nights and weekends, and they angst over every detail. I've seen it.

    The only thing is: the quality of a made thing does not necessarily have anything to do with the desires, hard work or commitment of its makers. Sometimes the best the makers can do just isn't good enough.

  2. @ Oddbit:

    Indeed, I agree with both your sentiments (no one's trying to make a crap product), and those of Alexis (not everyone can put together a quality product).

    The real question I suppose I'd ask is: what do you want critics and bloggers to do? Be kinder (or not as harsh) in our reviews? Not say anything at all if we can't say something nice? It's difficult to discuss the merits of the effort put forth by a company/designer if you're not a part of the process (i.e. a member of the design team)...and even then it's difficult to put forth an unbiased opinion.

    And what if a company's marketing is inaccurate? Delusional or disingenuous, accidentally or purposefully? If a game is offered as "an entirely new, original, streamlined, whatever" when it isn't really?

    Here's the thing, Odd: I stand in awe of the sheer creativity on display whenever I step foot in my local game shop. I've blogged about this before: there is nothing quite as awe inspiring to ME (as a gamer/writer/designer) as the books upon books of RPG product lining the shelves, representing years of effort and the work of hundreds of collaborators. It's INSPIRATIONAL and I try to bask in the glow of that work at least once or twice a week (my shop is two blocks from my house that's immensely doable).

    And yet, a LOT of those books lining the shelves are total crap (from my perspective)...a lot of it is unplayable, at least by me, generally over-complicated and under-designed.

    Usually I don't write specific reviews about products...I don't, for example, have anything posted on But I will often mention (and bash) something in passing on my blog, both by way of comparison with something I like, and as an illustration of a particular "no-no" of game design. And sometimes I like to totally crush something that I've had the chance to play and experience and found to be heinous.

    I respect designers and developers in general for the work and effort they do. But I can't write specifically about their effort because I don't know specifically what it is. I CAN write about the end result, and my dissatisfaction (or satisfied enjoyment) of it. What else would you have the critics do?

    (that's not a rhetorical question, man...I'm curious)

  3. Specifically this post was regarding the constant bashing of designers for targeting goals and audiences that the 'basher' does not appreciate. For instance, I am fairly certain that the designers of 4th edition DnD were wholly aware of the fact their game was much more roll playing than role playing. Many people don't like that, but I've found many a group playing 4th who have played 3rd and even 2nd (And some still do). This is because they play it for the tactical experience. One can call these people misguided, but perhaps they seek out particular components in games that others don't.

    I haven't seen your bashing specifically JB, but by chance you may not be a grievous violator. For instance, do you explain exactly why it is bad? Do you consider the intent of the game before or during writing? Do you call out where the product failed or write off the entire thing as a horrendous pile of shit?

    I've heard GURPS called a pile of shit many times. This is due to the person's lack of ability or will to describe it's exact faults. I feel it has strengths in creating an extremely custom experience, however has a harsh learning curve if you play with experienced players (everyone can make 'mistakes' together otherwise.) What about historical or cultural placement? Is it possibly you have a hard time relating to the game due to it's cultural origins or era? Alexis had a great post talking about the idea of his Canadian game being about survival, and how American games have a habit of being about growth. One could walk into Alexis's game and walk out feeling like you played a bad game if you wanted to build a castle, but found yourself starving in the Australian outback.

    I don't mean there aren't bad games out there. I mean that if you are going to give feedback, and want to make it useful feedback, give targeted reasons why. Perhaps I and my group don't have problems with complex games and like numbers. Perhaps we also like the Paranoia death system. But if the game is just 'shit' and when comparing it to another game you simply say GURPS is like 4th Edition DnD. Nothing is gained.

  4. Oh yes, and the they're just trying to steal my money comment get's a bit blanketly applied for some products.

  5. @ Odd:

    I've had some very fiery (or at least snide) vitriol for certain games and their perceived (from my perspective) design goals and why it made me want to punch them until they stopped doing what they were doing. But, yes, I do try to explain what exactly it is that I dislike and why I feel it doesn't work and how I find it to be detrimental to the hobby/industry as a whole.

    GURPS is not a game I've least, not in any memorable way. However, I have found it to be fairly boring and soulless, though not mind-numbingly so (that description is more aptly applied to the chunky textbook called Champions).

    But regarding 4th Edition D&D specifically (which I HAVE bashed, decidedly so, without ever having sat down to play a single session). You're damn right I don't appreciate the design goals, and that's exactly what I've criticized. 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. And that kind of strategy is only going to shrink their market (which it has, by the way) rather than growing the industry.

    The fact that Hasbro owns THE flagship RPG trademarks and are torpedoing it in this fashion...well, I find it loathsome and irresponsible. But, hey, they own the brand right? They can cater to whatever group of people they want...hell, they can re-package Crossbows & Catapults or Tiddly Winks or whatever and call it Dungeons & Dragons if they want...that's their prerogative. And they'll make some money appealing to the folks that are looking for THAT type of gaming experience wrapped in a wrapper that says "D&D" (hopefully with a Larry Elmore cover that plays up to folks' nostalgia!). They are welcome to do whatever they want with it, 'cause it's a business and they own the brand. That's their right.

    But I'm going to call bullshit and bash 'em for doing so. That's MY prerogative. I'm not just going to sit there and say, "oh, well, I guess this is what role-playing is these days. Here's the trend being set by the leader of the industry." Nope, I'm not going to go quietly, sorry.

    If I had known you were talking about 4E bashing, my original comment might not have been quite so flowery...I thought you were just talking about folks criticizing poor game design in general, and, sure, I agree one should be able to explain their criticism. 4E may be a well-designed GAME (I really wouldn't know, having not played it), but it's certainly not what I consider "fantasy role-playing," and trying to pass itself off as such is a bit disingenuous.

    In my opinion.
    ; )

  6. This isn't just about 4th edition. I've heard bashing on 3rd, 2nd, GURPS, Palladium Heroes, and just about any system I've heard of. There is value in meaningful dialogue.

    So ultimately the question I still don't have answered is in your summary of 4th edition is this, what specific elements of the game do not allow players to roleplay rather than roll play. Furthermore, what specific elements of stock X edition DnD make this easier than in 4th?