Costikyan On Randomness: Dice Or Die?

If I did a speech at GDC I'd just stand on stage and scream for 45 minutes, then ask if there's any questions.
The sort of thing I’d normally put in the Sunday Papers, but when I saw Soren Johnson twitter it this morning I think it’s worth linking by itself, especially because it deals with a lot of topics which have been floating around the RPS comments threads (and the inside of my head) recently. It’s Greg Costikyan notes from his presentation at GDC Austin, splendidly entitled Randomness: Blight Or Bane. This is the sort of thing I love seeing Costikyan do – a large, sweeping, cultural history of the topic which grasps and tackles the seeming paradox that we’re dismissive of randomness yet it’s persisted and thrived in gaming culture. One of Costikyan’s many strengths here is examining that innocuous “we”.


  1. BobJustBob says:

    I got hung up on the first sentence.

    “In general, we tend to think of randomness in games as a bad thing.”

    Uh, no I don’t. Randomness is the single greatest thing a game can do. Surely no is foolish enough to believe otherwise.

    • Rabbitsoup says:

      that’s harsh that statement is later qualified very well, Kieron is right he if referring to the randomness in win lose situations not everything other than linear gameplay.

      Also who else hates crits in tf2? (critzkrieg excluded)

    • lumpi says:

      Randomness indeed seems to be only looked down upon in competitive play. That is why I never got that excited about StarCraft, for example. It might be the most balanced game in the world, but that is incredibly irrelevant to me. If you want maximum balance, look at games like chess or football. “Competitive” video games just add a sugar coating of fancy graphics on top of it.

      The most interesting part about computer games is that they can go beyond that. I don’t consider that sense of triumph to be the most important part of gaming. In a good game, the activity by it self can be interesting and rewarding.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    Randomness in terms of who wins? As in, you may as well flip a coin?


  3. Dylan Sale says:

    I think if you read the whole thing you would soon realise that randomness can be great or horrible. I certainly view it with some amount of caution. If someone says a game is too random, you know they mean that skill barely matters. Snakes and ladders is a good example.

  4. sigma83 says:

    I read it the whole way through, and it neatly articulated a lot of what we already know about luck and randomness in gaming, and how it is applied. He gets it spot on, basically.

  5. Gap Gen says:

    Randomness is an interesting thing in terms of playing AIs, in that it allows you to have fun for longer while playing an opponent that you can probably predict after a while playing them. In Dice Wars (a Risk-a-like), for example, you can build a reasonable model of how the AI operates (it never attacks superior force ever, will happily capture areas that you needed it to capture to get your mega-stack out, etc) but the randomness means that any one move is still in the balance. A single few bad turns can cripple you, and if you do badly at the start, it cripples you unless stronger opponents ignore you long enough for you to recover. While regression to the mean does exist, there are also few enough random events in each turn that can turn the tide – since territorial control matters, if you capture a few more areas from an equally-matched foe, it slowly gives you a cumulative advantage.

  6. LewieP says:

    My favourite rant about randomness in involves Mario Party (the first one).

    This game involves a dice, which determines how many squares you can move. If you could ‘solve’ the dice, and find out a way to successfully get the result you want from the throw of the dice, you would be a long way to mastering the game.

    The process of throwing the dice is presented as an item box with a number on it, that is changing constantly. Your character is underneath this box, and to “throw” the dice, you press a button, which makes your character jump, which stops the item box on the number it is on.

    This game tells you something along the line of “time your jumps carefully to get the number you desire”.

    The instructions are, effectively “Master this system, and you will be rewarded with success in this game.”

    I never seemed to be able to do so. No matter how I tried to time my jumps, it felt like the timing had zero impact on the result of the dice throw.

    So, years later, I played the game on an Emulator, and practised throwing the dice repeatedly, and then rewind the game back to its exact previous state via the emulators savestate feature.

    I experimented with this, and found something that was fairly shocking.

    The dice throws were predetermined.

    No matter how you timed your jumps, the game had already decided before you had jumped what number you were going to get. The instructions “time your jumps carefully to get the number you desire” were a flat out lie, but the nature of the games design meant that under normal circumstances the player would have no way of knowing this, and no way of seeing ‘behind the curtain’.

    They specifically said that there was a mechanic to do with timing your jumps, when in fact they full well knew there was no such mechanic.

    • Clovis says:

      Wow, that is great. It’s actually worse for fans of Mario because so many of the previous titles had very similar elements (Toadstool’s house or whatever, where you jump to get a special item) and the jumping defintiely did make a difference. I always assumed I could time the dice roll but tried not too because it would feel like cheating.

  7. Clovis says:

    I think RPGs should be a little more random, at least when a party is involved. You spend way to much time battling basic henchmen in RPGs that are no challenge, and then suddenly have a challenge when you finally reach an annoying boss battle. I like the idea of a higher number of criticals occurring, which causes you to suddenly have to really think about what you are doing even when you’re just fighting slimes or something. If you can make almost every encounter interesting in an RPG you can drop most boss battles. Obviously this doesn’t work with when there is just one guy who get KO’d and it’s game over.

    • cheeba says:

      I’d love to see an RPG with that kind of system. Not just in the sense of giving enemies lethal base stats, but implementing a system where if you lose your focus during combat, you can be absolutely pasted by even a single base enemy. Kind of like an RPG equivalent of God Hand.

      I’m working out a prototype combat system at the moment with something like that in mind, maybe one day I’ll get some semblance of it released. Or maybe not, but it’s certainly a fun challenge to try and get your head around.

  8. TotalBiscuit says:

    Randomness is games serves a purpose, but only in terms of certain mechanics. Blood Bowl for instance, is crippled by it’s random element. I’ve said this a hundred times already but that doesn’t make it any less true, losing because of the roll of a dice is not acceptable on a computer screen. You can get away with it in a social environment where it’s possible to laugh at your misfortunes with friends, face to face, but games have conditioned us, ever since we started playing them, to believe that will and skill will beat any challenge.

    On the more positive side of things, randomness is best used to provide variety of some sort. Whether it be randomly generated loot (or even random loot drops), keeps the game fresh and exciting. Procedurally generated content with a random element has it’s place and purpose, randomly getting something awesome also has it’s purpose, as long as it isn’t required to beat the challenge.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Oh and fuck random typoes as well. Edit option would be nice for those of us too unprofessional to proof-read our comments ;)

    • Clovis says:

      I completely disagree; I love a good dollop of randomness, especially in something like Blood Bowl. Would you prefere to play Civ IV where every battle is resolved the same way each time? Can’t the slightly weaker guy win sometimes in a fight? I love when that happens. I actually prefer things not to be based 100% on skill. I prefer Backgammon to Chess, for example. In Blood Bowl, Civ IV, and Backgammon, the randomness creates a new challenge when it goes against you. My city should have been safe with those defenses, but the luck went against me. Now what do I do? There’s a gaping hole in my perfect defenses. That game just got more interesting. It also makes games against weaker opponents (the AI or your little brother) more interesting.

      Also, if you login to the forum you can edit. Yay!

    • BigJonno says:

      Of course randomness is necessary in Blood Bowl. It’s an electronic version of a tabletop simulation of a fictional sport. The randomn factor is needed to replace all the thousands of variables that can effect the outcome of a given situation, without which the game would be pretty dull.

      You could make a Blood Bowl game which had a complex physics engine designed to simulate the whole thing down to the last blade of grass, but that would be a completely different game.

      It’s an interesting game to bring up in a discussion about randomness as the complaint that I keep hearing is that the game doesn’t give you the required statistical information when the whole game revolves around calculated risk.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Total: Make a forum account and stay logged in. You can edit your posts if you make them on the forum.


    • Railick says:

      You keep trying to sell this line T to the B but I’m not buying it. When you come into Blood Bowl you expect the game to be decided to randomness. When you lose becaus of a bad dice roll you should have been expecting it. If you were not expecting it, this is not the games fault it is your own fault. I’ve lost about 15 game in a row on Fumbbl (It seems) and have had a great time. It is possible to have a social Environment in an online game, hence why some of them are so addicting. When I make a crazy touch down pass throw 5 dodges and reroll the catch my friendly enemy coach types in EPIC! F@#$@#$ EPIC! Even though things turned against him he had fun watching me score against him. When my minotaur fails an armor check against a str 3 dwarf and dies instantly I type in LMAO so much for him!

      If you take blood bowl to seriously you’re going to get angry because you’re GOING to lose dice rolls, often. Someone has to win, someone has to lose, neither of which has to be you at any given time. Bloodbowl is very popular online with the RPS forums both in the PC game version that was just released and in the Fumbbl league because it is a social game. The random element is what keeps it interesting. I’m not sure it would be half as much fun if everything was based only on stats and no dice rolls were ever made. If that str 4 player always blocked a str 3 player succesfully it would be lop sided. No, it is much better when that Str 4 player blocks that str 2 halfling and suddenly rolls tripple skulls, rerolls tripple skulls, fails armor, and strains his groin.

    • Railick says:

      By T to the B I meant TotalBiscuit just to be clear

  9. Dude (Darloc) says:

    On the same subject, interesting piece on dice use in RPG, tabletop and other game and showing the problem that making a fair dice [ul=] is not easy[/ul]
    At least I know that blood bowl electronic dice are fair…

    • Wisq says:

      Excellent videos, thanks a lot.

      On the topic of Blood Bowl dice, the threads on the BB forums regarding the randomness of the dice rolls are rather entertaining.

      I laughed out loud when someone had a revelation that the BB random number generator (RNG) was in fact a pseudo random number generator (pRNG)! … Never mind that pretty much all computer RNGs are pRNGs unless they start using provably random data sources or entropy — and it’s not like the average user is going to have a radioactive decay detector embedded in their computer.

      That led to the notion that pRNGs repeat, so people were saying that eventually you’d start getting the same dice rolls all over again! (Except, of course, that the period of most computer pRNGs are going to be long enough that you’d need a lifetime playing BB to ever see it happen.)

      Then there’s the notion of pRNGs having seed values, and speculation — I kid you not — that everyone has been getting the exact same dice rolls and that their situation and reactions are the only difference in the gameplay! (Except that a pRNG seed is typically taken from something dynamic, like the current time, and anyone setting a specific seed value manually is only doing so if they really want to get the exact same outcome.)

      And then there was the notion that generating values from 1 to 6 is going to be horribly un-random because they’re such small numbers, and — again, not kidding — that it should generate a number from 1000 to 6999 (or whatever) and just take the thousands digit. Oy.

      The lengths people will go to blame all their gameplay problems on the dice are rather spectacular.

  10. MacBeth says:

    Excellent article, made me want to try some of those less-famous board games too.

    One nagging error though. At no point did he give it the proper title and call it FUCKING ludo.

  11. Quirk says:

    Randomness makes strategically weak board games better. Greg says this, but in a slightly longer-winded fashion.

    What I mean by that is that a game which would have very little interest beyond the first ten minutes if it had no random element once the players have had the chance to work out its very obvious strategy, manages to retain a bit more appeal if there are random elements throwing spanners in the works of that obvious strategy. The strategy isn’t any more sophisticated than it was, but the game is more varied. More things can happen, and so it’s a better recourse against boredom than it would have been if the randomness was absent; it also requires less intense mental effort to play than is needed for a pure deep strategy game.

    Card games like poker and bridge add an interesting extra level which is only tangentially connected to the randomness; they hide the cards, and force players to broadcast evaluations of their hands to the table. Perfect evaluation of your own position requires perfect evaluation of others’ positions, and that requires adjustment for the ways their evaluation might differ from yours, making some of the strategic skill psychological. These only work as hidden information games – playing poker with all cards on display would swiftly converge on betting the probabilities exactly and nothing else.

  12. damien says:

    i’m modestly in love with the sections regarding breaking situational player symmetries, putting players into asymmetrical game-spaces quickly to force players to find different strategies to use as they fight their way to victory.

    one question i’ve always had with regards to game players and their interpretations of “random” (actual or assumed) events / outcomes is summed up in the question: why does a game have to be fair? why is losing on a die roll as unsatisfying as it is? (a followup question might be why gamers view loss with such aversion. losing, regardless of how it was accomplished, does not magically negate the XX amount of time spent (presumably having fun) playing the game.)

    is it because we game as a “hobby”? a play-space where events, for fun’s sake, are presumably based on a system of skill, rather than our infinitely more complicated realities that find so many people “playing” their lives from seemingly (if translated to a set of game-rules) insurmountable positions? because we mostly game for pleasure, are the rules we game by forced into presenting the illusion of “fairness”?

    would many of us play a game we knew with near certainty we were going to lose?

    • Clovis says:

      would many of us play a game we knew with near certainty we were going to lose?

      I enjoy playing spelunky, netHack, and Dwarf Fortress. I pretty much expect to lose. I have gotten a glimpse at possibly winning in Spenlunky, but don’t really expect it.

  13. Heliocentric says:

    There are 2 ways for awesome random. The poker situation where a player can grapple with presenting a potential reality and handling the actual fact. Even shooters, pop around a corner and the other player pops smoke at you, that means he doesn’t have a grenade right? Or what if he is setting up for a shotgun rush.

    Of course the random in a shooter is subtle, its the deviation of the bullets. Cone area damage and hit scan both eliminate random but that is the reason they are not popular.

    The universe is not random (i believe) but it is infinitely complex, by allowing a little of this entropy into the game you are inviting simple unpredictability, spelunkey proves that has merit.

  14. Heliocentric says:

    Oh, and for anyone who followed the thread of what i was saying and wondered about the second way? System mastery, each moment or instance of a game which is not identical is a new experience. Consider the arguements against linear games, that they never offer anything new. Random is new, on the back foot in a strategy game because your hard counter got blew up in a way that is near impossible, maybe you sneak up behind someone and your gun jams.

    Regardless you are a fish out of water, what will you do? Of course this arguement only holds when the randomness isn’t absolute and you can stear the ship in the storm, even if only slightly.

    • damien says:

      definitely. some of my fondest gaming moments come from situations where everything has gone cockeyed and i’m forced to find a way to try to right the ship and continue with my objectives (or fail in the process).

  15. Dominic White says:

    Blood Bowl is a perfect example of a game that makes randomness a fun and hilarious part of the experience, and it also teaches you to carefully manipulate those odds however you can. Anything that gives you just that extra +1 on a dice roll makes all the difference, as one failed roll and your turn is over. You tend to structure your turns in order of risk, making safe maneuvers first, easy ones second, and then going for that high risk drive at the last second.

    In terms of game layout, a little randomness is always a good thing, in my opinion. Not a PC favourite by any means, but I think Halo did it very effectively. Every time you enter an area, it shuffles enemy spawns, positions and awareness levels. You might burst into a room only to find the guard asleep against the wall, but die to the gun turret round the corner. You respawn, jump in expecting the same thing and find no guard at all, and a squad of enemy troops nearby. It makes it fresh even if you’re failing repeatedly, and means that trial and error doesn’t work.

    Now, Mario Party was mentioned. Mario Party is designed by satan himself, and if you’re having a bad day, there’s a good chance you’ll never get off the starting line. It’s that cruel.

    I say bring on more random elements in games. Just make them controllable. Knowing the odds and having ways to fudge and manipulate them is far more rewarding than just a plain roll of the dice.

  16. Lucas says:

    Roguelikes are awesome. Anyone now waiting for Diablo 3 or a clone should try Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup instead. It’s less hack&slash, more stop&think, but very fair and approachable for a roguelike, and the interface has some great improvements (like autotravel and autoexplore).

    Spelunky 1.0 is also excellent if you want something with a more blistering pace.

    I’m forever waiting for games with “onion layer” style progressions to dump the fixed layouts and go for randomly generated worlds instead. Especially the Metroid/Castlevania sort.

  17. Tei says:

    You can’t hardly make a game withouth calling a randomize() function to set the seed to the current clock miliseconds, and rand() for every two lines of code.

    Wen you see 20 mobs in a area, withouth random, all mobs will be doing the same animation, on the same frame. Almost like a Anima opening or a Michael Jackson dance :-)

    Wen a monster walk a passage, and can turn left of right (and both are ok-ish directions based on A*), it need a random generator… If he always pick left…. all the monsters will end on the same tiny room in the map, after 2 minutes walking.

    Games are very artificil things in very artificial worlds. Withouth TONS of random numbers, the result will look totally fake, or not work at all. So you need random numbers everywhere.
    Of course, wen you have random numbers on the gameplay sections, It must be because you want a game based on randomness, more than skill. Games like Poker need some randomness ( cards orders ) or will never work. If the cards on a Poker are given in order ( 1, 2, 3, 4,… King, yada, yada, and Joker) the game will be dead. But the winner are chosen by no random stuff. if the winner is decided by random numbers ( like a RISK game) the randomnesss has more to say. But the more dices are trown.. and decission taken… the more about skill is a game and the less about luck.

    You want games to have any skil componente, ok…is good, the more a guy play such game, the better is, this make so the guy play it more. It make it more adictive, also people is happy wen see his skill raising, and beat weaker oponer (or stronger ones). And you want games to have some luck component, so if player A is about the skill of player B, with B a 1% more skilled, you want some games to be win by player A. If all games are win by player B, then the player A will be soo pesimist that will refuse to play. The game will die, you game will not be good.
    Also, there are games that are all about luck, like Lottery, and are still popular. Too much RNG is not as bad as zero RNG.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I think the article is only really talking about gameplay randomness, rather than graphical randomness. I don’t think it matters in Chess if the leftmost black bishop is scratching his buttocks or yawning as long as he still moves diagonally.

    • Tei says:

      My comment is about both, all, and has his own conclusions, that …surprise.. I think agree with the article.

  18. Sobric says:

    Randomness here and there in a game goes a long, long way – as long as the player has some input on making that randomness slightly less… random. Working out the odds of be successful with a particular action, then trying to shift those odds a little more in your favour, is something that resonates through all genres, not just strategy games.

    The most interesting aspect of the article, IMO, was the section on B – 17 and the comments regarding the physical action of throwing dice compared to a computer doing it for you. The outcome of either method is pretty much the same, but when you throw the dice yourself you feel like you’re making some input. I wonder if this is a large part of people really disliking randomness in some games.

  19. Karry says:

    I just love how the guy who never actually created a good game can go and read lectures on game design. That Costikyan fellow got it good. Not as good as the “Edge-scammer” dude, but still.

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    Karry: Costikyan’s created loads of good games – the troika of Toon, Paranoia and the first Star Wars RPG are phenomenal. Anything he writes on the history of gaming as a whole… well, I can’t think of anyone who when they choose to write about the subject I pay more attention to.

    Of course, you mean videogame, not having read the piece and haven’t read any of his lectures on subjects like these, and are just reacting to his tendency to bang a big old drum. More fool you, man.


  21. Psychopomp says:

    All I can say is, fucking ludo.

  22. woppin says:

    “Games like Diablo — a commercial, graphical dungeon-crawler, similar in many ways, but with designed levels — is hardly worth playing more than once.”

    Diablo had random level generation, was played online feverishly by huge numbers of people, and was certainly worth playing multiple times, certainly I played it through many times coop with a friend. It spawned a sequel that without being hugely different became one of the best selling games of all time, and probably played a key role in shaping future MMORPGs despite not being one itself.

    I was expecting a discussion of modern games and the role of randomness with respect to playing games as sport a la ESL. The article dwells on single player games, where randomness is overcome in many cases by the player being able to save/load, rather than looking to titles like CS and Starcraft where randomness is brought down to very low levels to promote competitive play, without removing it altogether. The online RTS genre is possibly the most interesting area of analysis for the topic of randomness as a part of gameplay mechanics, yet it was ignored by the article completely.

    It is a good analysis of non-computer games involving randomness, but I found the video game discussion pretty underwhelming and shallow. Particularly ripping on Diablo for the wrong reasons is a bit off.

  23. Tei says:

    This article is GOTY material :-)

  24. Hug_dealer says:

    The greatest RTS ever made is based on randomness.

    Company of Heroes!!!!!!!!!!!

    Everything about the game is based on random %'s. You never know if your tank will penetrate the front armor of that tank when you need it to. The fact that not all shots connected it was part of what the game so great.

  25. Lambchops says:

    Nice article.

    I don’t mind a bit of randomness spicing things up a bit; I guess it just depends where each gamer’s own personaly perception lies in where they feel a game is being “fair” or not.

    For example, I remember when Puzzle Quest came out and several reviewers would mention that the AI often got seemingly fortunate chains of matches that caused the player to lose and felt like the game was “cheating.” I remember thinking that this was a bizarre argument. While there is some skill in the game in finding good matches and knowing what items to use against certain enemies not all of the player’s victories were down to skill. Just becuase the game says “Heroic effort” wafter a long chain of matches doesn’t neccessarily mean that you instigated it or deserved it any more than when the computer gets a fortunate match. This type of thing was nicely covered in the article with the bell curves. It probably happened just about an even amount of times that either the AI or the player gets an unfair advantage but because the player is generally more skilled at using items at the right times or has better combinations of items the player will generally win over time.

    A few unfortunate defeats doesn’t make the game “unfair” and you were never punitively ounished for it so I couldn’t understand at the time what these reviewers were moaning about.

  26. Railick says:

    I’ve seen a few puzzle fighting games where both players get the exact same blocks in the same order and it is only down to how well they use those blocks as to who wins.

    • damien says:

      super puzzle fighter 2 (various “turbo” and X!! editions) had some of the best, most intense gameplay i’ve ever experienced due to the fact that the random aspect was in character’s discard patterns and how they fell on top of their opponent’s gems.

      beating opponents playing as dan was one of the most completely smug sensations related to a videogame i’ve ever had.

      (dan’s discard was 100% red blocks.)

    • Railick says:

      I best thing I’ve ever played in this area is puzzle pirates where you can get two crews of piratestogether and fight each other with a puzzle fighter esc type puzzle battle. Only when you broke a certain formation of stones on your side it caused a sword of that shape to smash into the enemies side (and it stays a sword for a while) Depeneding on if your formation is verticle or horizontal also effects where your sword comes into their screen so it is possible to slash in from the side. Also the weapon you have equipped makes a big difference I Believe :) ALso there are like 6 people fighting at the same time and it is possible for several people to gang up on one enemy player (so all their attacks go into that persons window) It is VERY fun to me. Also the entire running of the ship is handled by puzzles including sailing and getting rid of access water and firing the cannons.

    • Arathain says:

      I’ve started playing Puzzle Pirates again recently, which is only serving to remind me what a great game it really is. It’s also a really good example of skill and randomness all nicely mixed together.

      If you weren’t already aware (and perhaps you were) the swordfighting game is a direct clone of Super Puzzle Fighter. Which, as pointed out above, is a fabulous game.

  27. Hug_dealer says:

    Company of Heroes used a controlled randomness.

    As in a units health would have an affect on the chance of events having.

    all units in the game have a green, yellow, red status. Depending on the status of the unit, different things can happen. So a unit still with green health, has a low chance of being killed by a bullet, while a red is very likely.

    Units didnt die because they ran out of hp in it. they die because of the roll they got, which would likely be 50% wounded, 40% dead, 10% damaged, for a unit with health in the red. while a unit at yellow would have been 15% wounded, 5% dead, 80% damaged.

    Some weapons like grenades, sniper rifles cause high casualties regardless of condition.

    So while the game was decided by dice roll basically, it was controlled within limits so that crazy rolls would happen marginally and the dice rolls would favor events that were dependant of health or condition of the unit.

    Also you then take in to account the damage a weapon does, how accurate the weapon is at different ranges, how well it penetrates cover, and what kind of cover they are behind.

    Nothing like thinking on your toes when things dont go your way.

    God i love this game. Ill take randomness over predictable results everytime. you dont remember predictable events, you remember the crazy stuff that happens.

  28. RagingLion says:

    Really good and read. It brought some things to light that I’d never thought of before and brought together other thoughts I’ve had in the past into something cohesive. It’s really interesting stuff to look into something I’ve been so familiar with in my life (playing games, especially board games) and getting into the mechancis of why they work.

  29. eyemessiah says:

    Great article.

    Is Bloodbowl a “betting-strategy” game like poker?

  30. Railick says:

    I think it's more like craps

  31. eyemessiah says:

    My position on randomness in video games is inconsistent. In the main I prefer not to get crapped on by dice (or handed a win by them) but on the other hand I love getting crapped on by “gnawed to death by rats on level 17 while paralyzed”.

    In terms of tabletop games though I pretty consistently favour games that have bell-curve distributions for skill checks and whatnot, mechanics that favour “flavoursome” play (such as the bonuses to rolls awarded by players for entertainment value in Costikyan’s own Paranoia), and discrete “special-traits” (e.g. flat immunity to fire rather than +x% chance to resist fire damage).

    I suppose really what is going on is that for the most part I prefer games that support a particular kind of fiction and that kind of fiction doesn’t involve my star ball handling player in Bloodbowl spending an entire match rolling 1s on ball handling rolls (though its arguably fictionally-accurate in BB’s case), or in D&D style games where for the first few levels your character is pretty much guaranteed to fall to their death if you climb enough ladders.

  32. Heliocentric says:

    Yeah, the game is meant to be i think totally open book, both players see everything, so its different to poker which relies on deception to a degree.

    • Railick says:

      Right, you can’t bluff at blood bowl very well. You could , I supose, consider surrounding the other players falling big guy with 8 people bluffing that you’re going to foul him to try and get him to score instead of stalling but that isn’t really the same thing ( cause you’re really going to foul him so I guess it isn’t really a bluff unless you don’t want to have any of your players thrown out for the match)

  33. eyemessiah says:

    Yeah I don’t play card games (not the grown up sort anyway) so I forgot that everyone can’t see each others cards.

    I guess what I mean is more in terms of a given move being substantially about “playing the odds”.

  34. Arathain says:

    @Rabbitsoup: I love crits in TF2. Getting blatted by a crit blast from a Scout’s scattergun causes a tiny frown to appear on my forehead, which is gone and forgotten by the time I respawn. Getting a crit burst with a Heavy and watching all the little men scamble for cover and get mowed down has me wearing a big grin that lasts for at least a minute. Net result: substantial happiness gain.

    I love the unexpected. I play games for the spectacle, for the wildness of the experience. Everything going exactly the same as expected, the same as last time, can be satisfying but has no thrill.

  35. destroy.all.monsters says:

    Anyone else find it amusing he took a dump on Making History and the fact there was a MH HQ banner ad at the top?

  36. Neut says:

    I wouldnt be so quick to dismiss competitive players looking down on “randomness” such as crits in TF2. A basic set of rules and a complex gameplay system are not mutually exclusive. I find that I prefer the inherent randomness and unpredictability of other players than the forced randomness that’s injected into the game mechanics by designers. Seeing a fine tuned and balanced set of rules, then seeing players pushing those rules and getting creative results (map specific rocket, scout and sticky jumps, pyro rocket jumping, uber building etc) is just awesome. I’d have more fun pulling off a perfect scout flanking attack, taking out the enemy medic just as our team makes a push than I would getting a random crit rocket that wipes out half the enemy team.

    • Arathain says:

      I love both!

    • Tei says:

      Long learning curves put players with tons of experience ages away from newbies. So newbies have zero oportunity to beat elites. This is not fun for newbies, so less people will try your game. It can be fixed if newbies fight with other newbies…. and I suppose that is what matchmarking is for.

  37. JonFitt says:

    Gah! Fucking ludo!

  38. Biz says:

    haha soren johnson… this guy made civ4 which is one of the best games of all time

    but it is also the most frustrating game of all time due to the randomness

    the random map generation is good. in other games (aoe2) it has actually retained balance to keep the game about strategy and not build orders

    the random combat is frustrating as hell, but i see some of it as necessary to make a turn-based game otherwise there would be no risk
    if someone can solve the problem of making combat that isn’t a deterministic hit point system and isn’t about luck, they would deserve a nobel prize

  39. Derek K. says:

    I was skimming, and agreeing somewhat, until I read this piece of uniformed blasphemy:

    “Games like Diablo — a commercial, graphical dungeon-crawler, similar in many ways, but with designed levels — is hardly worth playing more than once. You might try it a second time with a different sort of character, but the challenges and story elements will be the same.”

    Serioulsy. His counter point is that Nethack is awesome, because it doesn’t have those issues. Because it has no story.

    But to say something like “Diablo is hardly worth playing more than once” shows a complete ignorance of the game. PEOPLE ARE STILL PLAYING DIABLO. Check the Blizz forums. People are still arguing builds and playing, even pure, unmodded. Loot runs, iron man, builds (Judging by my bookmarks, I’ve played 47 different builds through Diablo), etc.

    Randomness shows skill – overcoming randomness and anticipating it is, imho, a greater skill than knowing the results.

    • woppin says:

      Don’t worry, ripping on Blizzard is very in at the moment.

  40. Melf_Himself says:

    He makes a lot of nice points but I am irked a bit by his attitude. At first he tells us that as a game designer he can appreciate what makes a game fun regardless of what extreme of the spectrum it happens to be on; then he goes and states like it’s a fact that Rogue-likes have more replay value than Diablo.

    Guess nobody can really be impartial when it comes to these things. Game designers don’t have some kind of game-instinct-omniscience; when they develop a good game, it’s one that they enjoy playing.

  41. phil says:

    Randomness helps enormously with emergent narratives – from the epic random street crime in GTA4 to the tendency for T-REX, GLUE, LEAVIATHAN, MADMAN + UFO in Scribblenauts to instantantly create a Grant Morrison short story.

  42. Rei Onryou says:

    If I did a speech at GDC I’d just stand on stage and scream for 45 minutes, then ask if there’s any questions.

    I’d pay to see that. No, really I would.

    Also, it was an interesting (if long) read. Would’ve had a better impact if there was a video of it.

  43. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Gosh. Quite seminal.
    I’d like the folks over on the Dawn Of War 2 forums to read that before screaming “ZOMG IMBA!!11!!1111 NERF NAO PLZ !!!11!!!”