A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

[Electronic Games] Things (Nearly) Every Game Should Have Month 1A: Familiarity & Terminology

This continuation of the previous entry also applies to tabletop gaming.

Remember how in that post I said you get used to doing things a certain way, how it becomes comfortable and second nature?

Well many games like to mess with this, to their own detriment.  Hell, even comic books.  Try reading a bunch of manga then go back to western styled left to right.  Your "chi" is off for a while and you struggle.  Honestly for no real reason.  (Sure some manga fans care if people are left/right handed and such but ultimately it almost never affects the story at all unless you are the nitpickiest of nitpickers.)

When designers change the wheel there should be a good damned reason for it.  Take the Nintendo DS RPG Etrian Odyssey.  You have character classes as befits a dungeon crawler game inspired by Wizardry.  Do you have Fighters, Rangers, Paladins, Clerics, and Bards?  No.  These classes almost exactly as they are known and loved by over 20 years of RPG gamers both tabletop and electronic are known as Landsnknects, Survivalists, Protectors, Medics, and Troubadours.   (There are other classes in the game which are more original or more hybrid of the classic fantasy RPG classes so I skipped them.)

How does this benefit the game or the player in any way?  It doesn't!  Its just changing names to change them, making players uncomfortable from the outset, having to do mental work to translate them over to the way they are used to, are comfortable with, are probably happy with.  (And has the fun of a really odd word everyone who talks about the game tends to misspell unless they speak whatever European language it came from.  I'm not really interested in which one.)

It IS good to teach people new words and to expand one's vocabulary.  But there is a difference between doing so and just annoying people for no good reason.  The example game above is a generic fantasy setting.  The name changes accomplish nothing.  Its like instead of using the word CAR we are all familiar with, some game uses HORSELESS COMBUSTION CONVEYANCE.  Sure it sounds neat and might even fit the setting (steampunk anyone?), but for us sane folks its just confusing!

White Wolf is a big culprit of this in their tabletop games.  Games already packed with tons of terms and jargon even the average nerd is not going to be comfortable with and have to come to grips with, and now they need a thesaurus handy?   This word dump overflow is one reason I can't ever run Trinity.  Its a whole new setting with tons of new factions and concepts, and the extra White Wolf fancy wording just makes it too much to handle.  And I am known for using fancy words nobody else does!

You can also see this with games that get acronym heavy.  The Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kits are supposed to be easy simple entry points into one of the world's most needlessly overdetailed and complicated wargames.  They throw close to 2 pages of acronyms at you and you better remember them because they won't repeat what they are.  This immediately throws the reader off, confusing and disorienting them, possibly losing yourself a player before they even give the game a chance.

You disoriented them from what's familiar.

Heck, mechanics.  Final Fantasy 8 is one of the biggest electronic offenders I know of.  If you play the game the way nearly every other Console and even PC RPG to that point had played you will all but hate the game and possibly break it, requiring a complete restart of a 40-60 hour game.  It looks familiar, but when you play it or have someone explain the mechanics to you, it plays completely foreign to most of the genre, all but punishing you for playing it like every other game.  Without ever really EXPLAINING these mechanics to you.  (If you haven't played it, its a game that PUNISHES you for gaining levels, connecting enemy power to the main Player Character who is there almost the entire time, and makes drawing magic spells out of monsters something attached to combat power, with higher power spells causing higher stats.  Some of the most powerful spells to attach to the PCs require playing an in game CCG which gets ridiculously complex if you allow the house rules every other town try to convince you to accept.)

For tabletop RPGs we of course can just say AD&D.  Your Armor Class is better the LOWER it gets?  Some things you need to roll HIGH for as the score gets lower like Saving Throws, but other things you want a LOW one for?  If you have a +3 to Hit in Close Combat your THAC0 goes DOWN and that's GOOD int his case?

Is it a wonder most early RPGs from other companies like Tunnels & Trolls and Runequest used simple, logical, straightforward math most people would be familiar with?

Disorienting your players with weird mechanics and unfamiliar terms for familiar things is just reducing their enjoyment of your product, and making the job of entertaining your paying customers that much harder.

Sure those guys playing Legend of the Five Rings RPG campaigns for 5-10 years are gonna know what things like Tetsubos and Yari are.  They have been immersed in the game and its lore and terminology.  Think about people who aren't.

You may want and even NEED to use different mechanics and unfamiliar terms that most of your playerbase has never seen before.

But make sure you do and aren't just switching it around to be a snooty elitist.  And for crying out loud, make sure to properly TEACH THEM about it and not just throw them to the wolves.

If you don't?  Why mess with things most people already know and are happy using?

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