Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent

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The Theory and Practice of Game Design: Chunky!

This one's mostly for normanrafferty, since it discusses something I frequently bring up when we descuss game design and character creation.

"How Many Variables Can Humans Process?"
New research shows why it doesn't take much for a new problem or an unfamiliar task to tax our thinking. According to University of Queensland cognitive science researchers Graeme S. Halford, Rosemary Baker, Julie E. McCredden and John D. Bain of Griffith University, the number of individual variables we can mentally handle while trying to solve a problem (like baking a lemon meringue pie) is relatively small: Four variables are difficult; five are nearly impossible.


It's difficult to measure the limits of processing capacity because most people automatically use problem solving skills to break down large complex problems into small, manageable "chunks." A baker, for example, will treat "cream butter, sugar and egg together" as a single chunk -- a single step in the process -- rather than thinking of each ingredient separately. Likewise she won't think, "break egg one into bowl, break egg two into bowl." She'll just think, "add all of the eggs."

Over the years, I've found that systems like White Wolf's Storyteller, that "chunk" the creation mechanics into subsections, allow much faster and more balanced character creation than systems like GURPS or Champions, which just hand you a pool of undifferentiated points. (My use of the term "chunk" is no accident; I've heard of this kind of cognitive research before.)

Ironclaw and Jadeclaw already have a fairly well-chunked character creation system. You have specific dice to allocate to Traits; you have your Racial Cost; you have the ten-point cap on personal Gifts; and anything left over goes to Skills. You don't have to spend your full 10 Personal Gift Points, and several Gifts increase, add, or provide situational modifiers to Traits, so characters don't wind up "looking all the same".

Thinking about it, maybe the idea of "chunking" can apply more to just character creation. Designing a combat system with this kind of cognitive science in mind might help make it more playable and streamlined.

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