Friday, August 7, 2009

On Tone

A friend of mine mentioned the game Heavy Gear a while back. He wasn't too complementary about it actually. His words were somewhat to the effect of: Gorgeous Book - Terrible System.

He went on to wonder out-loud how a game could create such an "embarrassment" of a set of mechanics and still do well? Which is a pointless question really because we all know that production values sell a game first and foremost. Compelling system and setting just keeps people coming back. So I ended up picking up a used copy of the 2nd Edition mostly because I wanted to see what he considered to be a really good layout. Since I've been reading I've found the book is nice looking and the layout is sharp, and though I haven't playtested the system I don't think it's as bad as my friend describes it, but those things aren't what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the tone of Heavy Gear because I find it to be a good lesson to RPG writers out there.

Heavy Gear keeps their text reasonably tight and minimal which I think is nice, however the game constantly makes references to how GM's should be "dealing" with problem players that play wrong. Which is about as insulting as it is pointless. The whole book is written like it's talking to the GM saying: "We know, your players are idiots. But don't fret, we'll fix them for you."

The "Hooks and Tips" sections of each chapter are just plain insulting and always start with the assumption that up til reading this book everything has been done all wrong and then offer patronizing advice on how to get it right. I believe this is probably the textbook example of what RPG Pundit describes as Swine.

As RPG designers we have to have some conceit. I know that I wouldn't keep working on Hardkore if I didn't honestly believe that it's the bees knees and that the world will be better off having it. But I won't portray a 'better than thou' attitude in my writing because I'm not making a bible with which I'm preaching from on-high. I'm writing a game book for people that want to play a fun game just like I do. That means even though I'm some hotshot game designer that got my book published I can't carry through in my writing because the people that will make or break my game are ultimately the fans.

I'm not sure if I ever noticed this undertone of conceit in any previous games, but if any of you know any others please give a shout out.

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