Hit Location Game

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Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 5.17.49 PMLast week was finals, this week: A small game to challenge your knowledge of the front/rear hit location charts. That is all for now.

Battletech
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It Has… Many Features.

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I’ve spent more than a little breath and brain cells discussing and researching overlaps between interactive design and game design. Generally I try and find how game design’s penchant for exploratory interaction and procedural rhetoric might be applicable for more utilitarian interactions. Today I’m going to turn the tables and take a cursory look at Battletech as a piece of utilitarian interaction design. Specifically, how its expanding tomes resemble one of the oldest of software design pitfalls, featuritus, and how this cornucopian structure might contain some good.
“Yea, we’ve got a rule for that.” Has been the stated mantra of Battletech line developers since the the inception of Total Warfare and its series of companion books. The amount of additions to the core game is so expansive that there was a running joke about offering a reward for any group who could prove playing through a game using all of the hundreds of additional rules from Tactical Operations. For an example of this profusion look at buildings. Rules coering their use occupy 14 pages in Total Warfare and 12 more in Tac Ops (27 pages if you include construction). On the other hand, the Quickstart Rules – which contain the rules at the heart of play, rules covering infantry and vehicles, and two simple scenarios – come in at ten pages.
These additional rule books are better used as reference bibles for those writing fiction than usable rule books.  Funny thing is, that’s almost exactly how they function. The interesting thing about games (and much software for that matter) is that they exist as a sort of artificial or meta media that allows for the creation of (very specific) artifacts. In the case of Battletech, and many other games, these artifacts take the form of stories.
Publishing ‘level three’, ‘non-tournament’, or ‘optional’ rules provides codified access to the gears of the Battletech story engine. Picking and choosing from those available allows Battletech players to craft particular experiences that emphasize different aspects of the universe. This is more or less what Herb Beas describes in his ‘Battletech as steak dinner analogy’.
Even though their inclusion may be up to the play group, the fact that they’re in some way ‘cannon’ is important. Having them codified allows for a certain amount of portability when sharing stories between groups, and provides a common set of formal qualities for the community to reflect on (we’re all looking at the same thing). The alternative, an ever spanning collection of house rules, also generates particular stories, but runs the risk of isolating player groups from one another. Even if your group and my group are playing with a different set of extra rules, at least we’re pulling from the same shared pool. We’re all generating Battletech games opposed to interpretations of Battletech.
The question remains in my mind, however, as to whether this situation was created out of that primal urge to add infinite manipulability to a system (featuritus), or the interest in providing players with a communal set of procedural narrative building blocks. Either way it makes for difficult assessment. When a designer grants users the ability to customize a system, it can be either a sign of insight or an abdication of responsibility.
Giving game players the potential to make slow, boring, and generally crappy games of Battletech isn’t exactly an achievement, (however well intended it may be). Furthermore, the value of any rule can only be ascertained by its effects on the system at large. As these additional rules are expressly stated as each being optional, it’s difficult – to say the least – to evaluate their infinite combinations and make a judgement on them. Broken combinations can be swept under the critical rug with a shrug of ‘well you’re not suppose to use all the rules’ just as a bloated and unintuitive feature set can be excused with ‘well someone might want to do that’..

I’ve spent more than a little breath and brain cells discussing and researching overlaps between interactive design and game design. Generally I try and find how game design’s penchant for exploratory interaction and procedural rhetoric might be applicable for more utilitarian interactions. Today I’m going to turn the tables and take a cursory look at Battletech as a piece of utilitarian interaction design. Specifically, how its expanding tomes resemble one of the oldest of software design pitfalls, featuritus, and how this cornucopian structure might contain some good.

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Battletech
Game Design