Mechner's Lists

Posted by on Dec 18, 2009 in Design, RPGs, Story, Video Games | 4 Comments

Jordan Mechner is among my favorite game designers, not least because I dig the way he integrates stories into gameplay. I played the original Prince of Persia and the later reinvention, The Sands of Time, over and over again, sometimes to sample the story again and sometimes for gameplay. Seriously, I played those game a lot. If time devoted[1] is success earned in game design (and maybe it isn’t, I just made that up), then these games are wild successes in my eye.

I tell you this so you’ll see my bias. I think Mechner’s two lists of tips for game designers are pretty good sources of advice—clear and wise—but I may be too much the devotee. What do you think about these lists of tips?

Several of these would make great Things, I think. But take a closer look at that second list and consider this: how might it apply to the at-home DM running her weekly campaign? If an RPG campaign is a game in active development—a title that either never streets or streets every week during play, depending on your perspective—what does the DM (or the whole group!) have to learn from game-development tips? Some of Mechner’s lessons apply during play, some during preparation, but I think each can be used to examine the work the DM does in designing, if you will, her own D&D game title week by week.

1. (by the player)


  1. Will Hindmarch
    December 18, 2009

    Item #6 in “Tips for Game Designers” (“It’s harder to sell an original idea than a sequel”) may be the tip that doesn’t translate. In my experience, gamers are more eager to play in an original, or somewhat independent, setting than in something like a mock-sequel to some beloved property. RPG campaigns, in my experience, are also more likely to swell like long-running series (of TV episodes or novels, eg) than they are to “sequelize” like features do.

    Maybe my experience is unusual.

  2. Nick Wedig
    December 18, 2009

    #11 in “designing Story Based Games” might actually be more applicable to rpgs than to video games. I know that I hate it when I feel like I finished a video game but only saw half the stuff, and I hate replaying to find additional content and discovering there’s less additional content than I thought.

    But in a tabletop game, creating a sense of a larger world (and making it seem like the GM is far more prepped than he really is) can greatly add to player buy-in and immersion and such.

  3. Will Hindmarch
    December 22, 2009

    I certainly agree that the illusion of more is vital to a good F2F/tabletop/paper RPG campaign, Nick. I hear where you’re coming from, with regard to the frustration of discovering a game is smaller than it appears on replay, but I prefer that to feeling as if a game’s world and characters are utterly exhausted by the first play-through.

    The illusion of more isn’t just the notion that there’s untapped play to be had in one particular title, but the sense that the setting continues on beyond the edges of the game level. (Plus, this is good design for modern games intent on becoming franchises — HALO created a universe with room for ODST and HALO WARS and so on, e.g.)

  4. Jeff Tidball
    January 5, 2010

    Wow, numbers 14–20 in the second list are good advice for all artists.

    In particular, it took me a long-ass time to realize that the voice of criticism is always right (#14), and to trust my own internal voice of criticism instead of telling it to shut up and just see if [whatever project] could be successful even given whatever shortcoming internal critic was berating it for.


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