Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Fantasy Terrible Television

It is nearly that time of year again. Old friends reconvene like a cult at the end of each summer to draft from fan favorites and formulate a team made up of the very best. If you've been following this blog you've taken notice that we tend to have a similar ritual we handle in an unorthodox fashion.

Last year some of us cheered with Croatia and some of us laughed with the Arizona Cardinals but now we must create a new trend-setting fantasy league. Welcome to Fantasy Terrible Television.

The Objective

This September Americans will be exposed to a whole new round of entertainment options provided by television networks. Our mission is to determine the success rate of these new offerings even before the general population has seen them or the network executives can see the mistakes they have created.

Victory is determined only by a persons ability to judge how quickly a show will crash and burn. Can we predetermine a show that may be added to the Fantasy Terrible Television Hall of Fame of shows who have been cancelled after a single episode

The Guidelines
  • We will have a draft to select available shows. Following the draft we can sit back and watch the season unfold.
  • Shows will score based on news releases that affect their future status on air. There is a predetermined scoring criteria below.
  • Shows can hurt your score. If it is announced that my show is getting an order for an additional season this will score against me.
The criteria for eligible shows:
  • Series must start and finish between 8PM and 11PM
  • Series must be scheduled to air on American Television, this includes all major networks, cable and premium channels but excludes any online-only content via Netflix, etc.

The scoring criteria:
  • Shows are eligible to score from the moment they premiere until January 31st 2013.
  • If a show is removed from primetime hours entirely it will be considered cancelled for scoring purposes.
  • Shows that are returning to the Fall lineup are eligible to score additional bonuses. These are noted by "[1+ Season]".
Positive Scoring:

(+25 pts) - Show is cancelled (removed from air).
  • (+1 pt) - per un-aired episode ordered
  • (+8 pts) - per previous season [1+ Season]
(+15 pts) - Network issues surprising announcement that this will unceremoniously be the final season. [1+ Season Only]

(+10 pts) - Network announces the series will not be renewed.

(+5 pts) - Series moved mid-season to Friday or Saturday nights.

Negative Scoring:

(-10 pts) Season extended or given full order.
  • (-1 pt) - per additional episode
(-10 pts) Series will be renewed for another season.

(-5 pts) Series moved mid-season to Thursday nights.

Bonus Scoring:

(+6 pts) First Strike - Series is first show cancelled or part of the first list of shows cancelled by a network. This is a separate bonus active for each individual network.

(+5 pts) Angus T. Jones - A lead actor or actress has a bizarre rant or controversy related to their show.

(+10 pts) Christina Applegate - A lead actor or actress leaves a show prior to any network announcement about the future of a series.

(+25 pts) Charlie Sheen - A lead actor or actress is contractually removed from a show prior to the end of the season.

Note: "Cancelled" in FTT scoring refers to shows that have been removed from the air with episodes that remain unaired. In general, all other uses of "Cancelled" should likely be interpreted as "Not Renewed".

Example Scoring from 2012-13 fall line-up:

You may vaguely remember the onslaught of advertisements NBC pushed for this show last summer during the Olympics. NBC thought a cute monkey could save its fall line-up but it was cancelled by November after only six episodes. 

Cancelled (+25 pts) 
Three un-aired episodes (+3 x 3 pts)
Total: 34 points

ABC originally put in an order for thirteen episodes. In November they announced the series would not be renewed but the remaining episodes would air as scheduled.

Network announces season not renewed (+10 pts)
Total: 10 points

After a relatively successful 2011-12 season, ABC gave it a second season. After a drop off in ratings it was cancelled in January with eight episodes remaining.

Cancelled (+25 pts)
Eight un-aired episodes (+1 x 8 pts)
One previous season on air (+8 pts)
Total: 41 points

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Design Lessons from the D&D Next Playtest (Part 1)

As part of the ongoing playtest for the next edition of D&D, Wizards of the Coast's designers and developers have broadcast playtest sessions and recorded some fascinating podcasts delving into the design decisions underlying the current iteration's mechanics. While most of the discussion focuses on roleplaying games, and D&D in particular, there are a few principles discussed that are good points for game design in general. This is the first post in a series describing the application of the D&D Next design principles to strategy game design, covering the July 5th podcast and the June 28th live stream.

A mathematically perfect game is not the same thing as a perfect game particularly if it's not fun to play. This blog has covered design principles like approachability and theme quite a lot, and a game's aesthetics, mechanical flavor, and difficulty have just as profound an effect on a game's quality as how sound the scoring system is and how well the game scales for multiple players. If every die roll, card draw, or move of a token needs to be modified based on the number of players, the stage of the game, and the outcome of the previous turn to ensure mathematical balance, then you may have created an exquisitely designed game that nobody wants to play.

Good playtests operated in different "modes" to achieve different results. Most strategy game players and designers are familiar with "standard" play testing, where the game is played without a particular goal in mind, letting the action unfold and potentially confusing situations occur organically. Rodney Thompson and Mike Mearls describe a second "mode" of playtest, called a "stress test". A stress test strips away the theme, continuity, and other trappings, dealing only with the troublesome situations that showed up during the standard playtest. These trouble spots are worked through repeatedly and without context to smooth out the underlying math or contradictory rules.

Mechanics that tend to arise together should be analyzed together. Sometimes, mechanics that seem innocuous enough on their own can synergize in unexpected ways. In the podcast, Mike Mearls describes a monster that can make more attacks than an average monster, though its attacks are weaker. That's fine balance, except that the attacks can also cause paralysis; if an attack paralyzes its victim, the relative weakness of the remaining attacks is rendered moot because the victim is defenseless.

The situation described in the podcast is similar to my biggest critique of Seasons, a game I otherwise like very much. Plenty of cards in Seasons allow you to reduce the cost of paying for other cards--again, by itself, that's a fine mechanic, and it exists in probably every other resource-based card game from Magic: the Gathering to 7 Wonders. But in Seasons, the relative rarity or abundance of certain resources is a central mechanic. In effect, the "pay less cost" mechanic changes both the number and the rarity of the resources required because it doesn't discriminate among which type of resource you get a discount on. It's a subtle combinatorial effect, but a powerful one, and an unfortunate one because it skirts a central motif that most makes the game distinct from other tableau-builders.

It's fascinating so far to see roleplaying game and strategy game designers speaking so much of the same language and teaching so many of the same lessons, even if the application of those lessons is a bit different depending on the type of game being designed. And it's obvious that guys like Mike Mearls and Rodney Thompson are talented game designers in general, not merely roleplaying game designers, because they've capably balanced the need for strong narrative with the need for strong mechanics that is essential in a roleplaying game. Check back for discussions of the other podcasts in the series as we continue to explore the overlap between board game and roleplaying game design.