Monday, July 19, 2010

On Kallos in Game Design

The Classical Greeks ascribed to a notion of a beautiful symmetry.  Their word for it was kallos.  Greek sculpture is probably the paradigmatic example of this, although mathematical equations, rations, and the like (such as the Golden Mean) may be even better at exemplifying the concept.  In the realm of game design, I am a Classical Greek through and through.

I recognize that this is not at all an "old-school" characteristic, with it's "make it up as I need it" and "whatever works" ethos that gives you, among other things, the glorious mess that is nowhere better displayed than Gygax's 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Obviously (I hope), I'm not hostile to the Old-School philosophy.  But I can't design that way.  And as much fun as I have had even with AD&D, I can't admire the design strategies behind it.

This striving towards beautiful symmetry may have been apparent in my work on Under the Dying Sun.  Just look at the agon over coming up with a Weapon vs. Armour Class table that was "right" i.e. kallos.  If it wasn't apparent, look at the entries for Axe and Sword, from which everything else depended.

All of that is by way of an explanation for revisiting the damage concept from Heroes of Industry.  As I had originally written in Grief and Trouble, whatever Quality takes the first hit in a fight generates Trouble.  The idea is okay, but it's been gnawing at me for awhile because it was just too ad hoc, to asymmetrical if you will.  I'm thinking particularly of this: "Trouble is a special kind of attribute that partakes of both a Quality and Grief."  That might well play just fine, but it has no beautiful symmetry.

So, I've renamed and rewritten it and, in so doing, not only improved that, but was then prompted to improve upon another mechanic.  Let me be clear: this is not from my burning passion to design the greatest game ever.  I have no such illusions.  Nor is it because I just can't let go.  The truth of the matter is that I derive pleasure from finding kallos in game design.  The design is a means to an ends (playing a good game), but it is also an end unto itself  for me.

I'm reminded of a comment I received a while ago to the effect: "Stop trying to get the best mechanic and just play the game."  To me, that's the a defensible Old-School approach: the rules work well enough and you can always change them in play if you need to.  But that's not the point for me in designing a game.  "Well enough" has no beauty.

Does this mean that I am substantially less productive than other folks?  Yes; substantially.  But that's okay.  Beauty is eternal.

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