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Variants: The Challenge of Changeable Design
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Variants: The Challenge of Changeable Design

June 12, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

Firstly, the premise of "regularly adding" to any game system is problematic. For example, there has never been a game that sought to "regularly add content" to it that held up in any kind of competitive play setting without some kind of "banning" or house-ruling to fix major balance problems. There is some amount of content for any system that is optimal, and "regularly adding" is going to go over that amount, by definition.

But secondly, regularly adding content that was designed by non-game designers is doubly terrible. Like I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of ideas that seem like a good idea until you do the hard work of sitting down and considering all of the ramifications, many of which aren't immediately apparent and some of which are even counter-intuitive. Implementing a new rule (and thus, a new variant) is a full-time job, assuming you want it to be done right.

To cap this part of the section off, I basically just need to re-iterate a few key points:

  • Mods should be as easy to create as possible.
  • Mods should be very easy for players to access.
  • Protect your game design from the influence of mods and always make sure that the game you designed is available.

In the rare case that a mod makes some change that only improves (without dramatically changing the nature of) the base game, consider adding that feature in a patch, and giving credit to the modder for the idea!

Part 3: Customizable Games

Games with asymmetrical forces, such as... well, most modern competitive video games, but most famously games like StarCraft or Street Fighter, can be really interesting because of the fact that the game starts off being asymmetrical, whereas non-asymmetrical games take at least a little bit to become asymmetrical. 

I've written a bit more on asymmetry and some of its dangers in my previous article on gameplay balance, so I'm not going to get into great detail on the subject here. Suffice it to say though, that each pairing of Street Fighter characters is technically its own variant. Therefore, it makes sense to be somewhat conservative about the overall total number of these variants that you're including with your game.

Customization is arguably even more popular these days. Probably the first major horseman of this apocalypse was Magic: The Gathering, the collectible card game. In this game, as well as in other games in genre that it spawned (collectible or "trading" card games), you're allowed to purchase or otherwise obtain some cards of many thousands of different possible types. Out of the cards you own, you create a "deck," and a large part of playing this game well is building that deck intelligently.

Other games that aren't in the CCG genre have followed suit of late. The online Battlefield series allow for customization in terms of what weapon of many you'll select. League of Legends would be another example. Many games also have non-gameplay customization features, such as the ability to wear different outfits and such. 

The big draw of customizable games is the same as that in an asymmetrical game, only magnified. Now, instead of just choosing one character out of 24, you can create a completely unique "character." The concept is that allowing players some vehicle for self-expression is a good thing.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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