Apr 20, 2006

Modular Gaming

I had originally planned to talk about baseball. The season is in full swing at the moment (pun very much intended) and the game is on my mind throughout the day.

Let’s go Mets! Let’s go Mets!

With that obligitory shoutout behind us . . .

I have played and am currently playing many different types of baseball-related games. Some of my favorites over the years (in no particular order) include a fantasy baseball league with a group of friends on Yahoo which I have played in for three years now, Super Baseball Simulator 2000 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, MVP 2005 for the Playstation 2, Out of the Park Baseball 5 for the PC, All-Star Baseball 2003 for the Gamecube, and Smallball (Tamagotchi-meets-baseball game) for the PC.

All of these games are ostensibly baseball games, yet they are all remarkably different. They approach the game from different viewpoints with differing levels of detail.

To distract my self on the train to school, I spent an hour or so thinking about what a comprehensive baseball game (one that addressed the roles of commissioner, owner, GM, manager, scout, player, agent, hot dog vendor, etc. from a single day to a career) would encompass.

I quickly realized how absurdly long and complicated such a game would be. This is obviously why baseball games choose a perspective or two and tend to stay with it. There are exceptions, without doubt. Most console baseball video games today focus on the play-to-play athlete'’s perspective while allowing the player to control managerial and GM aspects if they so choose.

Still, there are times when I would like to have one feature under my control while leaving three others out. This is normally not an option, as you are essentially choosing a package (and a small selection at that) of things to do. Would it be possible to fashion a baseball board game that allowed virtually unlimited control over which aspects of baseball that a player would engage.

This led me to the concept of modular gaming, a concept I am unaware of having been implemented thus far. Of course, there is the Star Fleet Battles game, which I used to play quite a bit. However, even though they have modules of a sort, it really isn'’t the spirit of what I'’m talking about. In SFB, you have the option of including or ignoring certain aspects, such as restricted acceleration or Wild Weasels (which are sadly not space-based rabid rodents).

What I want is for every aspect to affect the game regardless of whether the player wants to personally control it or not. Each rule (or tightly related set of rules) would have an option to substitute one of a number of modules for player control. Take ticket pricing. Now, a player could choose to set ticket pricing for individual games or use the season pricing module. They could even use a module that dynamically creates individual game prices based on a general pricing preference and some small element of randomness. For instance, I could use the aggressive price module that each game would generate prices of, say, between $20-40 for an upper deck seat. Then its output would combine with the advertising module'’s and the fan interest module'’s outputs to generate ticket revenue for that game.

Of course, my particular advertising module could have me choosing the media and budget, or it could do it completely automatically. Regardless of which of the possibly many advertising modules and ticket pricing modules I use, they would still create the necessary outputs to determine ticket revenue in conjunction with the fan interest module.

Players in the same game could even be using different modules and it would still be possible for them to play. It doesn't matter to my modules which modules you are using, so long as the modules create the same type of outputs.

Just because I know you'’re sick of reading the word by now (it doesn't even sound like a word to me anymore, much like “golf): MODULE.

I think this would be an interesting way to approach game design. It would allow for more detailed representation of themes without dooming more casual gamers to fiddling with endless minutiae. And for the really lazy who would not want to bother choosing modules, you can always list the most likely packages for their level of play.

Modular gaming: it'’s the object-oriented programming of game design.

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