All World-Building is Modeling
First, I want to propose that all world-building is model building. When I say “model” you may think of something technical, like a climate model running on some super computer. But there are many kinds of model. They can indeed be mathematical, but can also be purely mental, drawn on paper, or made of clay. A model is really just a (theoretical) understanding of a system.
Imagine that a posse of armed fighters, with few connections to society, travel around a sparsely-settled wilderness. They ride into town as vigilantes, have a drink at the tavern, and dispatch some wrong-doers. They are generally men of violence, and take on missions for reward and fame. They battle barbarian monsters outside of town, and care most of all for their own skill and freedom. We could be at the O.K. corral, or any knock-off of the Shire, couldn’t we? Just swap the revolvers for swords.
In a basic sense, puzzles in adventure games are very simple: you have discrete objects, with different stats. By combining the right objects, or perhaps taking the right action type, you can advance through a chain of causality; eventually unlocking the final "win" state of the game.
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There is a big resurgence in adventure games, especially form indie developers, many emulating classic tech, with big pixels. It's amazing, and a boon for adventure lovers like me, who grew up with text adventures. But what enabled this? Easy indie development for one, and the technology for nicer palettes and voice acting, which the originals couldn't do. But I think the biggest reason is difficulty.
We can design a game from theory first: start with a premise, decide on major goals, and then design systems and mechancis that will function, while meeting all the goals, and still adhering to the premise.
There is an interesting possibility of designing tabletop games that are tru hybrids of the RPG and strategy genres. But to do so, we must appreciate the kinds of rules such games use, so we can see how to carefully combine them.
Tabletop games can often only handle a narrow range of physical (or other) scales, but for some concepts, widely varying scales are relevant. WEG's old Star Wars d6 used different scales -- so people, speeders, and ships could all come into play -- using one method we'll look at.
What does it take for a game to be good and also centered around an abstract dynamic?
For instance, can we have a game that "explores" or is centered around the idea of allometric scaling? (This is where relative strengths and weaknesses change disproportionately with changes in something's size.) Such an idea seems promising, but how can a game be made from it?
The fighters launch from their carrier! They jink and turn -- shooting bogeys down as they go. Finally, they approach the enemy capitol ships. They fly close, fire torpedoes -- and escape, leaving behind billowing fire. Wait. Is this World War II or a space opera confection?
In this article, we'll consider how the size of ships affects how they can fight -- and come to some surprising conclusions.