Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

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Taehl
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Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Taehl » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:04 am UTC

When you get right down to it, almost every game ever made is based on math, the reason of which is beyond the scope of this thread. Many games (especially MMORPGs) make you feel like you're playing a game of numbers, which is considered by many to be no fun at all. On the other hand, you have FPS games and the likes of Diablo, which don't feel at all like playing the number game. What, exactly, separates those types of games? It's not graphics (see 'Omar's Oyster Outing'). It's not story and characters (see 'DOOM'). It's not pacing (see 'Eve-Online' versus 'Unreal Tournament'). It's not environment (see 'Descent: Freespace' versus 'NetHack').

I've recently been pondering what, exactly, is the magic element that makes a game not feel like the number game. My best guess is that it has something to do with how you control your character and/or forces. What do you think it is?

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Matthias
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Matthias » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:20 am UTC

I think what it boils down to is this. Most, if not all games are built on two basic joys: accumulating swag, and making things fall over. Story is in there too, but the two basics are the meat and potatoes of most games.

The difference between "numbers" games and "magic" games is that numbers games focus more on swag accumulation, and magic games focus more on the forced falling-over of stuff.

At least, that's how I see it.
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Gelsamel » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:26 am UTC

MMORPGs only make you feel like you are playing a game of math if you LET it do that. That's the thing, everyone complains about grinding and min-maxing in MMORPGs but they don't realise that you DON'T HAVE TO DO THAT.


Take a look at this guy playing WoW.

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=IGh2CY0fOKA

This guy isn't that great a player at all, he has shitty gear, which is probably a result or not knowing how to itemize his char properly, but look how much fucking fun he is having.

THIS is how you're supposed to play the game imho, and he chose to play it this way, he could've chose to go grind instances and BGs to max out his gear - but it seems he'd rather have fun with the game.



Edit: Basically, the answer to your question is "The difference between games that feel like math and games that feel like magic is that YOU LET those games feel like math to you". It's ALL about how you choose to play the game.
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dyzzy
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby dyzzy » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:55 am UTC

Sure, it may be possible to enjoy similar games without involving the numbers at all-- for instance, one could itemize in WoW based purely on looks. You certainly wouldn't be given a "GAME OVER" screen, but you can't deny that the character would be disadvantaged to a similar, "better" geared one. Specifically, one with items chosen based on min-maxing stats. Sure, you may still enjoy it more, because your character just looks cool, or you inflate your ego, etc. I think, though, for the purposes of mathcraft, I'll ignore whether or not it's a good or bad thing. The way I interpret the OP, we're looking for games that could be said to contain mathcraft, and what distinguishes them from those that couldn't.

Personally, I think it boils down to the amount of choice you're given with your avatar. Let's take two examples: Mario in Super Mario Bros., and your hero in Diablo. The former is not a math game, the latter can be played as such (just look at that character sheet!). Why?

You cannot change Mario's characteristics. Nowhere in the game are you allowed to permanently impact how high he jumps, how fast he runs, or how many hits he can take from a baddy. There is no optimal Mario, no way to make him a more efficient plumber. All you do is direct his actions, knowing exactly how they will impact the environment.

Whereas in Diablo, for a given class, there are an insane amount of permutations: not only do you have incrementing levels, but you have skill trees, a vast array of equipment, and a choice of where to allocate stat points. Certainly, certain combinations are not as effective at completing the game as others. Without going too far into it, I'll just say that nicknames like "Hammerdin," "Javazon," and "Orb Sorc" each refer to (at most) slight variations on a commonly accepted skill/stat/gear build, and not because they are simply "fun," but because they have been tailored for damage-dealing capacity-- a result of mathcraft. Whether or not that makes it fun or not is up to you.

tl,dr: The variability you give your players, with numbers directly tied to how well you do, makes a game "feel like math."

That said, it would take a lot for me to stop enjoying a game just because there's math involved.
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Jessica » Tue Dec 11, 2007 1:08 am UTC

Saying that a game is about math is a poor representation of what it is. Math is more than counting and min/maxing stats. Every game is about math. Even a game with TF2 (a FPS) can be about math. Knowing the perfect strategy, how to move in an irratic pattern, how to spray fire in an optional swath. Math. Knowing exactly where to jump on the side of the wall to use a glitch in the game, where to jump to not die, how to finish a game quickly.

WoW requires certain things, specfically to kill mobs to get stuff. That's no more math than TF2. It's just different.
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby dyzzy » Tue Dec 11, 2007 1:29 am UTC

Agreed, but I think the emphasis is on how much one feels influenced by it. Nobody playing TF2 feels their scout is worse than the other guy's, it boils down to skill and teamwork. But there is a tangible difference when a rogue in WoW concentrates on agility bonuses, and another decides he'll wear intelligence gear. But that doesn't mean WoW is purely math, the int rogue still has a chance at beating the agil rogue if he's that much better. Saying that a game is all math is never an accurate representation.
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Beyondthewall
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Beyondthewall » Tue Dec 11, 2007 1:29 am UTC

I have never played any game without using math. Timing in Mario, say, working out minimum or average times to get through a level or how fast I'll probably get through a level based on how long the first bit takes me, taking in to account an expectation of increasing difficulty. (Regular levels, about five to six times the time the first quarter takes, castles, closer to seven or eight. Usually.) This doesn't make it less fun. More, really.
But as dyzzy said, it's the amount of variation available to players which determines how much math is involved in creating an optimal character or playing strategy and how much advantage there is in doing so. (Italics for being the actual response to the OP.)
Some people play games for the pleasure of winning, others for the pleasure of playing. If you care more about winning, you're going to focus on the math in these games. Which may take the fun out of it, especially if it turns out other people are better at the math than you.
Also, what people often really mean when they complain about math is that the math leads them to think the optimal solution is grinding, and they don't like grinding. That's a flaw in the game, to be sure, but it's not really very much math. Except when people get bored and calculate the precise number of rats they've left to kill, but that doesn't count. Because the way they play the game is boring they involve more math, not the other way around.
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby trickster721 » Tue Dec 11, 2007 6:47 am UTC

Some of it is laziness on the part of the developers. Almost everything about a game is stored and processed as a number, and integrating that value into a convincing and consistent game world takes a lot more effort than simply throwing that number onto the screen.

Keep in mind that the people making games also enjoy putting together these little quantified systems. They have a great time assigning number values to different types of butterfly, and might be forgetting that they shouldn't try to share that good time with the players.

Ideally I don't think there should be any magical floating numbers in a game. It's a meaningless shortcut.

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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Underwhelmed » Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:37 am UTC

Part of it is the ease in quantifying stuff. For example, in WoW (Which I've never played and never will), I'd assume it's fairly easy to optimize stuff like damage output, tanking ability, etc. But in a FPS, there are a lot more factors that complicate things - maybe one weapon has the highest average damage output, but another delivers damage in a burst that can end a fight early before you break even. Or another weapon has a higher spread, and would actually do more damage on average once you take into account your (lack of) accuracy. It's hard to think of a FPS as a "math" game, because there's a much larger human element (read: room for human error) involved in moving about, aiming, keeping track of objectives, etc. If you're playing Chess, what are the chances that your hand will slip and you accidentally move a piece to somewhere other than where you intended it to be? Relatively low, compared to the chances that your aim is off when you're trying to shoot somebody or do a quarter-circle on the gamepad and hit two kick buttons within a couple frames of each other. I personally find that the more reliably you can execute whatever it is you're trying to do, the more it feels like the game has a math component. Higher tier players of games often downplay the importance of technical ability because they recognize that's not all there is to being good at a game.

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Fossa
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Fossa » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:19 pm UTC

I think the problem is, once you're smart enough to understand the math behind a game the game is automatically about the math behind the game. If you can give yourself an edge through math and you're serious about playing the game, you'll do this. Concerns about efficiency and effectiveness, particularly in a multiplayer game, are tremendous.

The easy solution is to have a game where things aren't transparent (never let players see or work with the raw numbers, ever).

You compared UT to Eve. The players are never told the min/max damage of a weapon, given an accuraty rating or a rate of fire. You put a gun in their hands and they play with it. Thats key. You put a starship in someone's hands and tell them every stat of every module it is no longer a toy to be played with, it is a tool and one which must be used efficiently.

Of course, there are also major concerns with stakes. If you're likely to suffer a tangible loss (like in EVE) you put a lot more thought and preperation into things than if you're going to respawn in 8 seconds.

Story does go a long way as well. If the stories good enough players can push back thoughts of efficiency and effectiveness and "let the math slide" in favor of enjoying the game as it unfolds. Thats tricky to do though. Story alone is never enough.

Thats just how I see things, anyway.

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FACM
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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby FACM » Tue Dec 11, 2007 3:33 pm UTC

I did an independent project for college this semester with the title "What Makes Games Fun". I think I have an answer that might help a bit, if you can clarify a point or two.

You say that FPS games and Diablo don't feel like 'numbers' games. I find the inclusion of Diablo odd, since from my perspective it is the fundamental 'numbers' game. Kill tons of things to explore the random loot system, and use better random loot to kill tons of other, slightly stronger things.

Secondly, some people enjoy playing 'numbers' games. They can be fun in their own right. One paraphrased quote from a developer of Super Mario Bros. goes something like "People had fun when they got 2 points for a coin. They had more fun when they got 200 points per coin." [citation needed].

I can't see a common theme in the games you mentioned as fun. All I can really conclude is that you're the type of player that prefers not to work out numbers when playing a game. You probably prefer to figure out patterns by trial and error instead of crunching stats in your head to figure out what will kill things fastest. Some people like finding and manipulating patterns by examining formulas and numbers.

In the end, what's fun for one person isn't fun for another, and there are enough combinations to make it impossible to target everyone. The games we consider the most fun are the ones that focus on pleasing the type of player we are.

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Re: Game Theory: Making games not feel like math

Postby Endless Mike » Tue Dec 11, 2007 4:30 pm UTC

dyzzy wrote:You cannot change Mario's characteristics. Nowhere in the game are you allowed to permanently impact how high he jumps, how fast he runs, or how many hits he can take from a baddy. There is no optimal Mario, no way to make him a more efficient plumber. All you do is direct his actions, knowing exactly how they will impact the environment.

Fire flower + Star man = optimal Mario.


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