May Roundup: ‘Plans’

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

I just settled into a deep cup of chamomile tea for the last night at home before a long bus ride takes me away for a week when I realized I forgot to write this roundup. I’ve always been more of a coffee drinker anyway.

Besides, isn’t it true that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry? How often? Let’s dig into this month’s Blogs of the Round Table covering every facet of ‘plans’ to find out.

How much planning do you expect from a game? Do you pine for minutia or do you crave chaos? Does something happen to you when a game twists sharply or should games stick to the promises they make in the tutorial? And what do you think about developers? Are their plans too ambitious? Too mundane? Should devs be more flexible or do they need to run a tight ship? We want to know about how you schedule your backlog, the degree that a game should respect your expectations, how hard it is to get your friends together for a game. How can plans hold their shape and how do you meet changes? Tell us about how boring it is when things fall in place and how exciting it is when they fall apart.

Leigh Harrison starts us off with a look at Metro 2033 on his blog, As Houses, where he describes the chaotic, close and uncomfortable early combat encounters in contrast with the later, precise and malicious ones later in the game. It’s a good case study of how plans and their absence create totally different experiences:

The Devil is in the detail, so we’re told, and it was certainly present in my flawless approach to tunnel navigation. There was a kind of gentle naivete to my earlier bumblings; I was simply getting by in my environment. There was no time for malice to infect my actions: I was too busy trying to survive. But as soon as I donned the night vision I became calculating and coolly removed from my actions. In being able to plan out my attacks to the letter, rather than responding to those of others, I’d lost something along the way.

Now that Alisha Karabinus is 100 hours into State of Decay, she’s written a not-quite postmortem to discuss her personal experience with it, the failure of reviews in capturing it and the endless plans she and her husband have made for it:

It doesn’t really matter who’s holding the controller; our game is a team effort, meticulously planned levels in advance. We talk as we play, changing strategy and approach, hammering out an order for searching houses and undertaking missions, determining how and when to build the support buildings that will allow us to maximize our crew’s knowledge and abilities. We howl and cringe together over deaths. In this game, we are one unit, one player with four hands, two brains.

Likewise, Joseph Dean argues that the lack of a meta game—that is a list of communally developed strategies organized by effectiveness—is what makes Frozen Synapse such a great multiplayer experience. Because the planning phase recurs, the Frozen Synapse player always reacts and adjusts their plan in a way that meta plans fall apart when faced with unexpected challenges.

The editing staff at Fem Hype get together to discuss the moments in games that made each of them cry, many if them describe events that disrupted their plans or expectations. Whether in Gone Home or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, some of the most emotionally powerful moments these authors describe are those connected to the plans they brought into their games (content warning: sexual abuse, suicide).

Back at Not your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon describes the planning needed to play games with her daughter (and the scaling difficulty that comes with it).

Writing for The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps notes the delicate balance between the love of planning and the love of spontaneity, noting how both the success of figuring things out and the frustration of missing content hinge on not knowing what comes next. In her own words:

[A]s much as I like to plan things, I also enjoy not knowing what will come next. If never missing out on parts of games means never being surprised, I’m okay with missing out on a few things.

The Rev gives a solid overview of the dating sim genre before describing how Sentimental Graffiti differs. The genre is based on planning and learning, which Sentimental Graffiti pushes even further with a resource management mechanic. For The Rev, dating sims can be summed up thusly:

Even taking points into account,  the player only has two resources to manage: information and choices. Through reading the story and paying attention to the object of their affection, the player is able to make choices that move the story in the desired direction.

Matt Duczeminski offers what is likely a familiar story for many of us about his experiences growing up around games in comparison with the time he needs to portion for them as an adult.

Phill English, from the regular BoRT contributors over at Tim and Phill Talk About Games, offers a brief look at the exciting world of game jams, where the zany first hour of outrageous planning can sometimes prove the most fun and social part of an entire event:

There are a lot of great things about game jams, but my absolute favourite bit is the jammiest part of it: the planning stage. It’s a magical moment when the only limits are a vague theme and the sparkle-filtered memory of what it was like last time. When 24 or 48 or 72 hours seems like an eternity and the air around you still manages to thrum with potential through the grease of a traditional McDonald’s breakfast.

Sean Seyler describes a trip to Germany with his wife for the most recent DiGRA conference and relates it to Skies of Arcadia which, like a good trip, follows the itinerary just enough to know what go expect but breaks to keep things interesting:

I plan for sake of it, trying to use my knowledge of how things have gone to make how things will go better. Whether it’s travel or gameplay, I anticipate what I can and make myself open for challenges that await.

Taylor Hidalgo loves to plan his way through complex systems, but he admits that he never sees his plan through in multiplayer games like Killing Floor 2, where he so expects to fail that he frequently leaves teammates behind:

To me, the concept of a plan is an ideal: a theoretical perfection that rarely survives the first spanner in the gears. When the first things start to go awry, my reflex is to reposition, reconsider, and survive. I am a great survivalist, but I will invariably get everyone around me killed.

I have a friend like you, Taylor, and let me just say that we’ve resorted to making them into the human minesweeper because they’re always first to buckle under pressure.

And that will just about do it for this edition of Blogs of the Round Table. As always, I’m thrilled that so many took an interest in submitting such excellent work and I hope that everyone else enjoyed reading it as much as I did.

Once again, if your site supports iframes, copy-paste this nifty bit of code to add the Link-o-Matic 5000:

<iframe type=”text/html” width=”600? height=”20? src=” frameborder=”0?></iframe>

Finally, if you’re interested in supporting BoRT and everything else we do here at Critical Distance, take a look at our Patron page and consider contributing a monthly donation.

Otherwise, I have written in my daybook in red ink that June’s topic is just around the corner so make sure to keep room for it in your own plans.