Today, on my way to work, I stumbled on a strange fella who asked me: “Hey signore” –we live in Italy as I told you in the preceeding post- “what’s the fuss in porting a boardgame? All the game design is already done and you just have to code the mechanics!”. I was kind enough to give him a lecture on the topic.
The following is an excerpt of it.
Boardgames are indeed a nice source for videogames. They share an humble birth: they both stem from basic mechanics that are put together, tried and slowly grow into a game. It’s recursive work, a never ending trip from drawing board to test and back.
Conversely, if you port a boardgame into a videogame it’s a completely different affair. And that is because the similarity between the two media are limited to the one I wrote about few lines earlier.
When playing is actually involved boardgames and videogames are two entirely different beasts.
Two reasons stand out as prominent here.
First of all, rules.
When you sit down playing a boardgame for the first time you are practicing a well established piece of human culture. You open the box, you stay in awe in front of new shiny pieces (If you are like me you tend to drool in these occasions), you manipulate some of them…then you pick up the rules and you know exactly what you have to do: you have to learn.
Obviously here the variations are infinite: from Monopoly to Advanced Squad Leader lay hours, if not days, of rules flapping difference. The concept, yet, is the same. You have to learn. You know that, and you know that you are on your own, with the mute pieces and your booklet in hand.
You also have to set up the whole thing, do the “house keeping”, the counting and basically everything. Everybody know that, and yet everybody accept that. Even during the game it is widely accepted that you spend a lot of time on rules arguing or consulting the booklet.
Heroes of Normandie is no exception. It’s a wargame, baby, and it’s not a trivial one. Booklet is around 15 pages with lots of numbers, symbols and explanations. People know that and still they have a blast playing (and learning).
Enter the videogame. Imagine one that would make the player to do all these things, rule flapping included. An utter disaster. So here lies both a critical point and an opportunity.
We knew that creating the videogame we had the opportunity to replicate the boardgame in electronic format, to give players an interesting AI to fight with but also to give them a game way easier to play because it could take care of many of the players’ tasks and be BETTER AT EXPLAINING THE INTRICACIES OF A WARGAME. So here we put down our first guideline: the game would be way easier to play and understand than the boardgame.
How we did this?
First, we created a scaling experience. Players that want to learn should tackle, first, the American campaign which has been conceived as a smooth learning experience. You go from mission to mission and each one introduces one (or maximum two) new ability or concept; so you learn by adding new cogs to the mechanism every mission you tackle. More than that, the first three missions are actually tutorials. Basic mechanics are explained by directly instructing the players to complete certain tasks. We wanted to be sure that the base mechanics got through before getting on the actual battlefield.
Second, we kept all the pieces easily inspectable (a strong point of boardgames). Players can right-click on all the chits on the board to get a card with all the stats and brief explanations of their abilities. So players get both “talking pieces” and highlights from the actual manual of the game. Information, fast and where the player looks for it.
Third, we made a point of showing everything that happens “behind” the scenes. So, for example, every time a combat is about to get triggered we both show all the numbers involved and the percentage of success. In this way we teach the player how the game works while he is actually playing, not reading a manual; in few battles he will have the hang of both the rules and how to use them in the strategy.
We know that grognards and strategy buffs love to know what’s happening because strategy without information is just blind guessing; so this was another important guidelines we put down early in development.
So rules management is the first big difference from boardgames and videogames. Next in line is “pace”, for the next post!