Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mech Piloting: How The Mindset Works

When you watch someone play World of Warcraft, and you see them open the Character pane, you see what the industry calls a "paper doll". This is where the player can adjust what gear that character wears by taking items on or off the virtual doll. The effects on your character are on an accompanying panel that reads out your character's relevant statistics: attribute scores, damage output, hit points, etc. This sort of thing is an industry standard in videogames now, so you'll find this in older games like Diablo and newer ones like Fallout 4.

Swap the man-like doll for a robot doll and you've got BattleTech. You can do this with any Real Robot or Super Robot, even the non-human ones. You can even do this with vehicles, like cars and tanks; swap the components out, see how that affects performance, settle on a loadout, and go.

Now, when you're actually playing, you're operating your virtual doll. Even if that doll is a tank or a robot, where there is some pilot or crew at the controls, as far as the game's concerned the doll is your man and not the pilot or crew. The doll is your character, because the doll is the robot you control.

That's right, folks. For a Mech Pilot, "Amuro Rey" and "RX-78 Gundam" are two separate characters because they're two separate and distinct virtual dolls and you can only operate one at a time. That you can nest one (Amuro) into the other (Gundam) doesn't change this fact for a Mech Pilot. Not that most Mech Pilots notice this consciously, but by their behavior they do act on that fact.

Now you see why the hate of vehicles in the aforementioned MMORPG works as it does; you're actually swapping robots, and the time you spent on customizing and upgrading one doesn't transfer over to the other.

As I said yesterday, this mode of thinking had purchase in tabletop gaming for years before the current situation. The reason is very simple: the reason that videogames treat individual people as robots you control, swapping one virtual doll for another, is due to that being how it's done in tabletop games.

Unlike a videogame, where you are limited to what the code allows, a tabletop game allows for user interpretation and changes. The tabletop RPG is built on this capacity, which means that the Game Master's skill at running the game and body of knowledge available to inform his rulings has the consequence of significant variability of experience from table to table.

For a Mech Pilot, that variability gets frustrating. Why? Because what they're relying upon are the rules and mechanics--the code--and while they can complain to the programmer for videogames (and, usually, get bugs fixed in patches) they can't do that for proper tabletop RPGs. They rely on those things because that is the only objective measure of performance that they have to work with, and therefore have any sense of control over. They don't have that with GM rulings.

So they complain, since they can do nothing else of any use, to the publisher and to their peers. Out of this arose Organized Play (centered around conventions and publisher-sanctioned/run fan organized), and its centralized standardization of gameplay; every table in Organized Play has to be run the exact same way due to having utter strangers show up for that event's scenarios, and report results back to said central authority.

Now do you see why tournament play caters to this mindset, such that it can--and has--driven product development? You have a cadre of players that are dedicated to your product, often know the mechanics and their interactions better than you do, and provide free playtesting and feedback while giving you revenue as guaranteed as it gets in making entertainment. If they could automate GMs out of the picture in tabletop RPGs, they would- as they have in other media. Don't be surprised to see attempts to make that happen, as it has been floated before.

Reducing the liminality of a medium down to interchangeable dolls that interact only through the means of the mechanical options hard-coded into the game is what Mech Pilots are after. Once you know the tells, you can avoid them making a mess at your table; we deal in far more than virtual paper dolls in tabletop RPGs. The Mech Pilots have their fun; they need not take ours.

1 comment:

  1. I'm finding this concept useful for better understanding my crunch-oriented players & games, thanks.