Writing Precise Rules — Response (Kyle Nguyen)

I chose to read “Writing Precise Rules,” advice for rule writing by game design veteran Mike Selinker. Selinker was a creative director for several “gigantic” games including Dungeons & Dragons and Risk. Applying his advice to Overgrowth, one of the most relevant lessons I took away was the “Add flavor (but not too much flavor)” advice. Since we’re developing a serious game that has an educational objective, we want to incorporate flavor text that explains connections to urban ecology throughout the rules, but we were worried that it might bog down player with too much text. Mike advises to keep the flavor text outside the rules, for example in word balloons extending from cartoon characters, which I thought was a creative solution (though drawing up cartoon characters might be outside our scope for P4). He provides examples of how flavor could be mixed with rules like a “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup,” but I thought the examples were actually kind of confusing, so I think we should rework our rules to have the flavor in a clearly separated part of the rules book.

Another great piece of advice is to “Discard rules that can’t be written.” If it’s too complex to communicate in a succinct way, it probably shouldn’t be a rule. This rings true for one of the situations we encountered in P4 today, where we were deciding how to randomize the placement of new trees during an Overgrowth phase. In the end, randomizing placement of a tree on a hexagonal board with 84 pieces ended up being hard to do without digital tools, so we chose a simpler solution. We just let players choose where they were placed. I didn’t know it at the time, but we chose to do this since we couldn’t communicate how to randomize in a succinct way that didn’t make more work than necessary (another of Selinker’s faux pas).

I thought it was cool that Seilnker writes so succinctly, since communicating succinctly is exactly what he’s explaining how to do. All in all, it was a neat read that confirmed many things I suspected but did not have a name for.

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