01 June, 2006

Questioning Analysis of an Analytical Tool; "Huh?"; Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive

First, an apology. I should write the second part of the "With Blinders.." post but it will have to wait until Sunday instead.

So I've asked John Kirk to write his own Meta-Chanics for Cranium Rats before reading my own version which is up right here on this very blog.
He didn't exactly do what I asked him to; he used the gauge diagrams in his RPG Design Pattern book to analyze the currency flow in Cranium Rats. I meant the Meta-Chanics to not only contain the "What" and "How" but the very important "Why", like Water gaining Narration to keep that player invested and Advantage Dice put in in order to reward interaction with the in-game world.

So, he did that, and I'm once again reminded of questions I have regarding the usefulness of such a tool, which is used to analyze games such as mine(note that there will be a thread on Cranium Rats regarding this issue on The Forge soon, a link will be edited in at such time it is up).

So, first and foremost, and also the last, because it sums it all up: "Yes, cool, what do I do with it?"

So you have this nice document. If you are creating your games and you're missing something you can peruse it in search for something to fit in a hole(differing XP, HP and so on systems and what they may be useful for), if your thought processes are arcane enough you can sketch a series of diagrams of "How" you want your game's currency flow to look like and only later work on such minute details as what the rules actually are(if you can do it then I worry for you, and for all the rest of us too...).

Or you're in my position, you have a game and you have it looked at through this scientific-looking method, and we'll use Cranium Rats as an example. So what does it do for you?
Unlike Meta-Chanics as I suggested above it is descriptive, whereas Meta-Chanics are descriptive(to me, from me) but becomes(often against my will, as noted in the previous post and the one regarding Meta-Chanics) prescriptive once it gets into the hands of other players. The system may do X, but once people get it into their heads, often because of "Advice" chapters it does Y, they will claim it really is all about Y. Look at Exalted for a good example.
Well, it lets me see how many stages one needs to go through in order to accomplish something and how many fiddly bits may have to be accounted for. This is helpful if you need a visual help, less helpful otherwise.
You can also see where things are going and if there are "Currency Sink-Holes" or "Geysers" where Currency comes from/evaporates to unexpectedly. But again, this isn't of much use if you already know what you are doing.

This tool is merely descriptive, it doesn't lead to much after you already have something, where often it is my opinion that game designers need prescriptive tools to further their work and agenda.

How else can one use this tool?

If you want to see someone else's thought on Methods(Scientific, Philosophical Vs. Artistic and more) from which one can also take Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive check out Chris Lehrich's two Livejournal accounts: Account #1 and Account #2. I'm not going to link to specific entries as they are numerous and a short scroll-down will help you find them. Even entries about other topics are actually about this, so read everything.


John Kirk said...

"He didn't exactly do what I asked him to; he used the gauge diagrams in his RPG Design Pattern book to analyze the currency flow in Cranium Rats."

Huh? You originally sent me a message stating:

"Also, can you try and analyze my mechanics, ala the meta-chanics and/or the Design Patterns? I can show you my Meta-Chanics page, but I want to see what you think of it first."

Well, I had no idea what you meant by meta-chanics, but I darned well knew what "and/or the Design Patterns" means. If you ask me to analyze your game using Design Patterns, then I think it is reasonable to expect me to do so using the technique I described in my RPG Design Patterns book, not some other technique that you explicitly stated you didn't want me to see quite yet.

"...and I'm once again reminded of questions I have regarding the usefulness of such a tool..."

Huh? If you have questions regarding the utility of my techniques, then why ask me to take the time to analyze your game? If you are merely trying to determine if it is worth anything, I would expect you to state that fact up front. I would have welcomed the challenge.

'So, first and foremost, and also the last, because it sums it all up: "Yes, cool, what do I do with it?"'

Huh? I really hate quoting myself, but in yesterday's e-mail to you, when I sent you my "first stab" at the diagrams, I stated:

"If the diagrams are not correct, then I do not understand the game completely (which is quite likely) which means any comments I might make based on them would be worthless...But first let's make sure these diagrams are correct, so the thread can focus on the actual analysis...So, I am expecting that we will find a number of errors and deficiencies in the diagrams."

Given all of this, why on Earth would you even think that the diagrams I sent you were the sum-total of the game analysis and the end result? And, why would you even start a blog on the subject when I explicitly asked to hold off on the analysis phase until after we made sure I understood your game mechanics? After all, I can hardly be expected to say anything intelligent about a game I don't yet understand.

"This tool is merely descriptive, it doesn't lead to much after you already have something"

Well, if that's your opinion, then I guess we don't have much more to talk about. It's too bad I wasted about 20 hours of my free-time this week trying to help you.

Good luck with your game.

Guy said...

Dude, you totally misunderstood me, I'll try to explain and hope to rectify this:

First, I am very thankful for the effort you put into this.

Second, I am not bashing your tool, I am trying to understand how I can use it now. I have what is now apparently part of it, and I'm trying to see what to do with it.
It's like I've been handed a pair of chopsticks for the first time, I may even be told that I use them to eat, but I go "Huh?" or to elaborate "Show me how please."

I didn't mean to discuss Cranium Rats in this post, it's merely an example to illustrate, this is meant as a generic post about your tool.
Note, I am very excited about your tool, I don't keep mentioning it in various threads on The Forge or the blogosphere for naught.

Also, I guess to be more specific, the "Tool" I call Descriptive may be the Gauge diagrams, specifically NOT the various "Trees" and other portions, as we can see from Gnostigmata. Also, I mentioned how one can create currency flow via Gauge Diagrams, but to me and I think most others it's backwards and arcane.

With all the love, and hopefully this will rectify things.

John Kirk said...

Well, it appears that I mistook your intent and overreacted to your blog.

Please note that I do not mind criticism of my tools or methods. In fact, I welcome them. Criticism can only help to make them better, and has many times in the past. My problem was with what I perceived to be a dismissive attitude toward the efforts that I had expended. I see now that was wrong. I apologize.

Also, for the record, I do not believe that any analysis on my part will work magic for your game or any other. All it will possibly do is point out areas where things may be improved a bit and give clues as to how to fix problems that playtesting reveals.

And, yes, one of the primary purposes of the Gauge Diagrams is to illustrate a game's skeleton explicitly. It enables me to be crystal clear about how a game is put together. Once that is done, some facts, both good and bad, may be discerned from them. Or, maybe not. But, at least I will understand your game once we get them completed.

Please consider me to be back on the Cranium Rats team.


Guy said...

First, I am glad this issue is resolved and I'm sorry it came to be to begin with.

I am aware it won't bring any magical solutions into beings, with work it'll bring solutions into being.
This is what needs to be done next in order to further your effort.

Look at the terms, Descriptive and Prescriptive; Diagnosis and Prescription.
Once the Dr. gives a diagnosis the situation isn't clear, or at least it wasn't. You need to have information in order to give a solution or choose from a host of solutions once you have the diagnosis. You need both parts, without the diagnosis you don't know what to address, but without the prescription, what did you give a diagnosis for?

Look at GNS(Though I don't agree with it fully, nor do I use the "Text-book" definition of, I'm much more of Levi's school of thought), you specify your game as G, N or S, which in and of itself is of no effect, but then you can choose from schools of thoughts, tools and audiences which reflect from and upon your chosen method.