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General News - Unpredictability and Control in Turn-Based Combat

by Myrthos, 2012-11-07 18:41:05

Graig Stern has written an article about the need for unpredictability to build up tension in Turn-Based combat and that it is not the same as randomness.

Here is a snip from the lengthy article:

Unpredictability makes art interesting. Twists of plot, unconventional characterizations, and surprising character development engage a reader’s imagination; unique instrumentation, sudden shifts in time signature, or an unexpected chord progression delight the ear.

So is it with games. Exploration, experimentation, discovery: all of these depend upon unpredictability, on gaps in the player’s familiarity with the game. Challenge exists only where the player cannot know exactly how a scenario is going to play out ahead of time. This is the sort of unpredictability we are going to talk about today: since it concerns game mechanics, let’s call it mechanical unpredictability.

Real-time games, as a general rule, have an easy time fostering mechanical unpredictability. Spatial navigation requires accuracy and timing; a real-time attack could miss or hit depending on a player’s physical input. The chance of making a mistake in the heat of the moment adds uncertainty, and thus tension.

Without this sort of real-time interaction, turn-based games must look elsewhere for their mechanical unpredictability. Many developers working on turn-based games mistakenly believe that unpredictability is necessarily bound up in randomness. Indeed, there is an assumption prevalent in the design community that any turn-based game without randomness will feel stale, predictable, devoid of tension.

This is a misapprehension, however. Randomness creates uncertainty, it is true, but so do other elements. This piece will examine a variety of tension-building elements, from the basic die roll to other methods that—quite undeservedly—receive less attention and respect. Each method has its benefits and its costs, though some entail a higher cost than others. We’ll begin with the most obvious, then discuss it in comparison to other methods that tend to get overlooked.

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General News

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