A Brief List of RPG Development Tools

June 6, 2013

Before I start recommending development methods for Longest Game entries, I figured I should describe them first. What follows is an incomplete list of tools for development:

Analytical Methods:

  • Calculate Probability – this is directly calculating the probability of different outcomes and ensuring that those meet your design goals. This method works best when the piece you are analyzing is entirely random, such as a die mechanic, a sequence of card draws, or the intersection of simple probabilities.
  • Estimate Biases – since games are played by humans (for the most part), you don’t just want to know what the actual likelihoods are, but you can use some of the research on statistical heuristics and biases to estimate how a person will perceive those uncertain events in play.
  • Statistical Players – many games have the outcomes heavily depend on player choices, whether revealed or hidden. This can provide intractable for a direct probability analysis, unless you first model the players as statistical decision makers – turning some archetypal play strategies into automatic or weighted random selections among the options. Statistical players can be a powerful tool to enable solitaire testing of parts of your game (see below).
  • Game Theory Methods – another way to handle player choice is to consider strategies and outcomes in a simple game. However, game theory works best in cases with definite, quantitative outcomes and a fixed number of decisions.

Experimental Methods:

  • Experimental Probability – with or without statistical players, you can repeat procedures of your game to determine the actual outcome likelihoods. There are two ways to do this, using a computer lets you run a huge number of tests quickly, but doing it by hand also tells you about things like how long and how mentally intensive your procedure is.
  • Pocket Testing – repeatedly performing any procedure¬† or other fixed section in your game’s life cycle can tell you more than probability, it can help you determine the enjoyment level and mental and creative effort of the procedure and can help you refine it in isolation. This can be done with live players, statistical players, or if your game permits in a regular solitaire mode.
  • Solitaire Testing – the easiest way to test a game in a protracted solitaire is if the game naturally supports it, otherwise statistical players are a powerful tool to enable it.
  • General Play Testing – this is what we normally think of as play testing. How much you get out of play testing often depends on the clarity of your goals in testing and your metrics, i.e. how the game is reported and measured.

Each of these methods is intended to give you useful data on how your game works and what might improve it. Always be careful about being clear in your goals for each method, and not compromising those along the way. For example, if you want to test your text understand-ability, explaining procedures to players during that test will undermine that goal. However, if you wanted to test those procedures than it is better to make sure they are followed correctly regardless of the text.

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