Monday, 28 April 2014

Titanomachia: Asterios Polyp and Negative Space

I had the fortune of finding a copy of Asterios Polyp on my local library shelves recently, and aside from being an interesting story told effectively through the comics medium, it gave me the perspective to consider the role of negative space in Titanomachia. And what else can I say about a novel which changed my perspective on several things, my current game design approach included, except that other people should also read it?

So what is the role of negative space in my design of Titanomachia. In designing Titanomachia I have started from the notion that the game is about Titans, and that Titans are collections of Systems, and these Systems are the basic elements of the game. The point about being a collection of Systems is that the game comes from getting those elements organized in the right order to prevent your opponent from getting their elements organized in the right order. The same could hopefully be said about Chess, Hearthstone, and perhaps even Starcraft or Warhammer 40,000. It's a combinatorial board-game for certain aesthetic reasons to do with my aversion to dice (or rather an aversion to gamers in general being stupid about dice), and to make the design somewhat easier to handle from the perspective of my somewhat limited mathematics-education background.

Going back to Chess, since it's something of an ideal of game design, the elements of that game are the pieces, the pawns, rooks, knights, etc. But the negative space against which the behaviour of these pieces is defined, and perhaps well-defined, is the board. A pawn can move one square, forward from its starting position, or capture one square, diagonal from its current position. Which is, from the game standpoint, something of an over-simpification, because whether moving or capturing with that pawn, in that square, at that time, depends on the position of every other element on the board and the turns over which that configuration can change.

In Chess the game-board is fixed, with the game being the manipulation of elements across its 8x8 network of square spaces or sections connected by sides and corners. But otherwise a square is a square, and they're all identical except for position. In Titanomachia I want players to offset apparent advantages in offense and defense with disadvantages in force multipliers and objectives, and in particular in the negative-space of the board. By casting terrain as System-equivalents, however, I seem to have made the board and its elements into a fore-ground thing rather than the space within which, and against which, the game operates. But the negative space of an 8x8 board composed of squares is still there.

In addition, more terrain interfering with shots and sensors benefits gunboats, while less terrain interfering with movement benefits mobile Titans. Although, all things considered, mobility is more so the ability to move between elements of cover rather than a direct benefit on an open field. Which brings me to the notion of negative space. On an open board, with no terrain effects to slow movement, interfere with target markers, or absorb blast markers, balanced might be achieved by having partial systems, and asymmetrical objectives. A fully functional, undamaged Warhound might be balanced against a Warlord that has damaged Weapons, Munitions, and Shields. The ablative effects, and perhaps superior weaponry and crew, of the damaged Systems should be balanced out by the risk of overkill on the damaged systems.

Likewise the Warlord should, in theory, be able to offset its advantage over the Warhound by buying a more difficult objective (or multiple objectives) like immobilizing the Warhound or destroying two of its weapons while the Warhound would merely need to disable the Warlord's shields or somesuch. Now, it's worth noting that objectives are probably best assigned from a table so that you can spend a certain amount of points on objectives, and depending on what your opponent spends you'll get this and they'll get that, rather than allowing players to buy them directly. Essentially the trick to dealing with asymmetric scenarios here would be matching them up.

Which leads me to the notion that instead of having the board blank and 'building up' as though developing the board on which then Titans are placed and engage in a traditional battle, I'm thinking of the notion that the board is fully populated by terrain up to a certain height, and players can spend points to reduce terrain in their favour as the game progresses. So, for example, rather than terrain being passive, it is an active part of a player's set of game elements. Which brings me back to an essential concept that I wanted to included in the original war-game design, one in which the players constructed the board as the game progressed. Starting from what is essentially a blank space, players would have a pool of terrain determined by the amount spent on terrain; essentially spending fewer points on terrain gives your opponent more terrain.

In other words, what if you had to pay for the open spaces and lanes of fire which optimized your armaments?

And by "more terrain," I mean the ability to put more terrain between your guns and his Titan. Likewise spending more points on terrain means that you give your opponent less terrain to gum up your ability to move defensively. At least that's the theory. And, as theories go, dealing with the board as both terrain-elements and negative-space (or at least something subtractive) at least this one suggests how it might be implemented. So I've managed to break my writer's block regarding Titanomachia, yay.

Also, some props to the lovely person on /tg/ that called me an "odious snatch...*so* pretentious, utterly beyond belief" and my referred to my blog as "pissant." I'm glad someone gets what I'm trying to do here!

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