Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to not write a game

Last night I had some time to browse a game I have borrowed from a friend, Dresden Files the rpg. This is a game that have been talked about a lot, and most of it very positive. I did find some points of it so grating I had to put the book down. What do you do then? Gripe online!

In Dresden Files, the pages a very "designed". In my view, overly so. For example, some parts of the pages are designed to look like someone took a highlighter pen to some words and sentences. Personally I have never been able to use highlighter pens. For me they are of no use. I don't read like that. Sometimes I have read books bought second hand, and underlining or highlighting drives me up the wall. If anything, I take notes on a separate paper, never in the book I read! Having a thing like that in a printed book, by design, drives me nuts. It makes my eyes stop at intervals which are not natural to my way of reading. Quite jarring.

The other design element is sticky notes. Yes, they have small "sticky notes", with faux hand writing in the sidebars of the text! To me it just makes the text on the page drown in the clutter of notes. Adding insult to injury, the few times I stopped reading and glanced at those notes, almost all of them contained snarky remarks of a very annoying nature. I mean, if you add something to the text, add least make sure it adds information!

Since it's very easy to complain, I'm also going to say how I think it should be done.

The best game book I ever read is the 2nd ed. rules book for Unknown Armies. What's so good about it? It's clear and understandable. There are no witty quotes or snarky sidebars, just a clearly presented text with illustrations not interfering with the text. The text is different from the majority of gaming prose, though. It is not detached. Instead it is personal, and with a very clear author voice. For some that is a killer, and for those I direct you to SPI's DragonQuest, which is as formal as it gets.

But, I'd like to emphasize that in Unknown Armies, the voice never hinders the important function of the text, to get the information across on how to play the game. You can read one sentence after the other and the information flows naturally. The combination of all these factors are sadly quite rare, and one reason why I have sought out Greg Stolze's writing since.

2 comments:

  1. I know a couple of guys who designed their own complete world and system RPG from scratch that are rapidly heading towards final editing time. Doing a nice interview with the pair of them at the moment for my blog, but will send this this way so they can take a look at your thoughts.

    I've been trying to think which game I like the best, but the one I had the most fun reading, was also a damned pain to use once ou started gaming, and that was Unhallowed Metropolis. Most games these days have overly busy pages, so I guess I've just become desensitized to it.

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  2. Most games these days would make a typographer cry. They are busy, and cluttered and have far more fonts than needed.

    The gold standard for a *readable* game book is something like Fungi from Yuggoth by Chaosium. Modern games don't have to look like that, but they should take a look at it and think why they need multiple fonts and a fancy background.

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