Category: Philosophy

06/06/10

Permalink 02:53:15 pm, Categories: Philosophy, 949 words   English (US)

Agile and rpg

Cross posted at story-games. I've wanted to write about this for quite a time now and the subject arose at this forum, so ...

Okay, I've warned Matthijs, this is going to be some heavy stuff, but here we go. I'm going to discuss the relation between Agile and rpg. Note that I'll use the term Agile instead of scrum.
And on purpose, to reflect the initial discussion, I'm going to present you Agile in the wrong order.
Agile is most of the time presented as being opposed to the waterfall model.

Introduction to Agile

Artifacts
Agile uses some artifacts, among which are :
- Backlog : list of features a customer wants to implement.
- Users stories : a way to describe feature using stories (something everyone understands). Note that stories are high level description. Those are not specifications. They do not tell you how.
- Sprintlog : list of activities the team has to do to implement the features.
- Fixed time of iteration : the date of the end of the iteration if announced at the beginning and can't be moved.
- Demo : you have to do a demo of what you have done in an iteration.
- Debt : After the demo, you need to state what is left; what you should have done but is not finished. Might be features, documentation, tests.
- Scum meeting : daily 15 minutes standing meeting, at the same hour and place. Each person answer three questions : what have I done yesterday, what I'll do today, how can someone else help me.
- Poker planning : way to establish efforts needed to implement a feature. For each feature, each member uses a deck a card and reveal a single card (the higher the value, the harder to do the feature). Discuss and redo until consensus arise.
- Monopoly money : customer uses monopoly money to establish priority of features, "buying" them with an initial fixed amount of fictional money.
- Scrum master : oppose to the role of project manager (PM). A kind of referee, who challenges the group. A PM leads the group.
- Customer is part of the team : the customer is fully integrated into the team.

Now, does doing all those things means you do Agile ? The hell, no !!! In fact, each of this artifacts can be used in waterfall.

The real difference
In project management, you manage three parameters : perimeters (features you implement), money and delay.
Using the waterfall model, the perimeter is fixed and the object of the "game" is to respect budget and time. If the plan derails, you must take action to come back to the initial plan.
In Agile, budget and time are fixed, the object of the "game" is to do as much features as possible. This is a results oriented approach.

This is the first thing to present.

The values of Agile

Taken from the manifesto :
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

This is the second thing to present.

RPGs
I'll take at look at indie vs traditional rpg using Agile as a reference.
Fluff
Not much fluff out there, so I'll use Avalanche, my own project, as an example.
In a traditional "module", the story is presented in chapters. Chapter one, then two, then three ... Sounds like a waterfall to you ?
One of the problem with this is that if something goes wrong in chapter X, the DM has to make changes so that the group comes back to original plan, otherwise, chapter X+1, X+2 ... would become useless. You have a plan, you stick to it. This is truly a PM job in the waterfall model. The DM (PM) leads the show. This is how I see and explain railroading.

Avalanche, on the other hand, is not built that way. It is not based on chapters. There is no plan to follow. It is built for one purpose : if things derail, how can you adapt (not re-rail). Also, in Avalanche, the DM plays a role of referee, challengers. He does not lead. This is the team's show. And Avalanche is built for that purpose.

Finally, generally, those typical modules provide a lot of details; almost as for the sake of it. This would be "Working software over comprehensive documentation" : instead of trying to cover all documentation, I would suggest trying to give "working documentation" - just what is needed, no more no less.

Crunch
I'm be using examples I know of ...

BW and TSOY
I do see the keys and beliefs as some kind of backlog : the themes the players wish to address, which as more value for them. And keys and beliefs do not tell you how. There is no such things in D20. You create a wizard, a warrior, so what ? What has more value for you ? Hard to tell.

BW
I see BW as an Agile product, because of the way the rules are presented as incremental. You start with the basic rules and add the "advanced" rules in an incremental way, one by one, beginning by the ones who have the more values for you. Obviously, with d20 it's all or nothing.

TSOY
I see TSOY also as Agile, but for a different reason. TSOY presents you a list of skills, keys and secrets. But, it tells you how to create your own. I don't think TSOY pretends to cover all the possibilities, so it teaches you the "recipe"; it provides you with "working documentation" instead of "all the documentation".

Finally, I think indie games really puts the emphasis over the social contract instead of the rules.

Is that comprehensive ? Is there any food for thought for you ?

Permalink

02/06/10

Permalink 11:34:14 am, Categories: Philosophy, 923 words   English (US)

Questioning purposes - Avalanche meets BW

As I promised, first post about the play testing we had. First post about philosophy.
Cross posted : here

I have been away from this board for quite some time, but here is an issue I think this community is best suited for to help me. It is kind of a follow up of this thread I wrote here some two years ago.

But first the context :
I'm back play testing Avalanche after a long break (at least from a public point of view), and we engaged in a Burning Wheel tryout. And well, things didn't go exactly as planned.
We're happy with the play testing but some major issues, some we didn't expect, came in. Turning this "one AP post about BW" into a whole chunk of posts. This is the first one.

Now, to really understand the context, I have to explain that I was DMing the game, with two experienced players and three new players to this hobby. Also, this was our first experience with BW ; playing out with the "simple rules". We were aiming at a "one session" game ; at least, that was the deal with the new players. Good news, this turned out to be a three sessions game so far, at their request. Which I think is a good sign.
Let's put a couple of things aside for the benefit of this conversation :
- We had a real problem with the character creation. This was more of a strategic nature, not related to BW itself. I admit it, we should have done all the PCs together.
- For the first two sessions, we came up with a problem of "driving the group together" as they didn't have a common goal. This was related to the above, but also to the nature of Avalanche (I'll talk about it below), and the misuse of BIT from our part (I won't talk about it here).
- We were playing Avalanche for the first time in a context of "anchored" characters. Those PCs weren't going to explore the world. And BW really helps in this context by providing tools (character creation and BIT).

The purpose
JoyWriter at the forge, came to me with this comment, which is la raison d'être of this post. And yeah, we are talking about a game here. So, here's the quote :
If that's not clear, it's the difference between a game that fails if you do not seize the moment and the themes/conflicts of the setting, and one that slowly shifts you into the centre of them whether your character goes gladly or not. There's obviously a trade-off in terms of philosophical perspective, similar to the risk of death in other types of game; do we allow the risk of pointlessness so as to represent existential reality (as is often done with death) and the associated fear and drama, or do we soften it because we're more interested in what happens when people are fulfilled and dynamised? Is it more interesting whether we avoid loss and meaninglessness, or how we avoid it?

So, based on that, let's talk about purpose in rpg, depending on systems, settings and plots.
The default purpose
Let's take d20 or its "software" version WoW : what's the purpose of those games ? Get money, get power, kill monsters. I'm not saying you can't have a more personal purpose like, living up in a group, take part in "higher picture" stuff, but I'm saying d20 won't help you with that.

A personal purpose
Anything that goes from "avenging my sister" to "inquiring about the thieves guild" ; a reason for your PC to live. A purpose. Your own. TSOY helps a lot here, but I think BW is much more personal. In fact, I can't see how you can create a "default" character in BW. And beside character creation, BW surely helps you to drive your character toward that purpose.

Questioning your purpose
And that's a "touchy" one. Having a purpose is one thing ; questioning it is another. Am I doing the right thing ? Is that really what matters most ? To me, to the others ? Now, I believe that to be able to question your purposes, stuff must happen in the world. Stuff that do not concern you immediately. A war must have started, a catastrophe must have happened, a conspiracy must be going on.
BW (as for TSOY) really helps managing the impact of changing purpose (changing BIT or keys), but, I think, a setting, another product can really help you propose other things to the players ; help you see them questioning their purpose.

Another important thing to me : to arise this question, the "other stuff" must be highly coherent and time dependent. The existentialist question is first and foremost one about time.

We're still talking about a game, right ?
But is that something you want in a rpg ? I mean, that is something Avalanche can help you do, but would anyone do that ? To be able to question a purpose, someone must somehow stop, take a good look around. It takes time. Time you will not spend on your current purpose.
Thu, a question (JoyWriter's one) : in a game of rpg, are you best to keep your players "on track" driven and occupied by their current purposes or do you change the rhythm of the game, the pace, as to allow "space" to question the purposes of the group ?

And, we might even go as far as asking "why one is the best ?". To that, I'd say I don't know. This is a judgment's call.

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