Chaos Engineering

The Mechanisms of Game Design
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Have you considered the possibility that your best friend, neighbor, room mate, sibling or dear old parents might slip suddenly towards the macabre? Try your hand at the whimsical practice of super-villain phrenology; it’s our best testing method aside from testing their blood for phlogiston…

You will need access to a printing mechanism, shears, some adhesive paste and 5 uninterrupted minutes. I wish you the best of luck.

Wise words from Fred Hicks. I like Fate a great deal, but there are strong reasons that Asylum isn’t based on Fate. I craft a system to achieve specific goals, and several of the goals I have for Asylum are incompatible with Fate’s core mechanics. There are many indie games that adopt Fate when it seems counter to their goals and setting. It’s reassuring to see that Fate’s greatest champion has similar concerns about that.


A little behind the scenes look of the early stages of Green Lantern the Animated Series.

My eternal gratitude to everyone who helped prove the doubters wrong.

I’m definitely not beyond fault when it comes to game development. I’ve been working a lot on Kitten Huffer, my project for Insanity Jam 2014.  Being responsible for every aspect of a game project is pretty stressful for me. I thought that creating the art and visual resources for the game would take up the most time, so I dedicated about half my time to it.

Unfortunately I underestimated the amount of time coding a platformer engine from scratch was going to take. I started in Game Maker because I’d made platformers with it in the past, but this was also a mistake. I had to scrap my first two attempts at collision engines for Game Maker Studio and this wasted a great deal of time. After some review of Action Script 3.0 I’ve been making real progress making the entire game in Flash. I probably should have started with Flash from the beginning considering all of my art is vector based.

The problem is it’s a bit too little too late. I don’t think I’ll have an interesting game completed before the project deadline tonight. As a result, I’m a little torn now to turn anything into the game jam. I’d much rather just continue to work on the project and complete it as I intend. After all, if the result is just a bland platformer, why bother?

So I’m doing the Insanity Jam for 2014! The basic premise of the Jam is that our game concept has to be given to us by a random concept generator. Mine was: 

A browser game where you stop breathing if you don’t hug kittens and the sound effects are gameplay hints.

This immediately morphed into a parable about the dangers of kitten huffing. The sound effects/gameplay element takes the form of visuals that can’t be trusted as a result of hallucinations.

I’ve been mostly focusing on the visual design aspect of the game, but stay tuned to get samples of the gameplay. If you like what you see, please vote for Kitten Huffer!

I wrote a little while back about combined dice contests and how they don’t behave like uniform dice rolls. This time I’m going to go a bit deeper into the differences between static difficulties and random dice combinations. To illustrate these difference I’ll use one of the most common contest mechanics in all roleplaying games: Stealth vs. Perception.


The most common method for resolving one character hiding from another is that they both roll their relevant abilities or skills. In games like Dungeons & Dragons or The World of Darkness this typically one character rolling stealth and another rolling perception. If the hider rolls higher than the seeker then the seeker doesn’t notice or find the hider. Otherwise the seeker can see and react to the hider normally.

This sounds straight-forward, but it actually gets terribly tricky once you get past this theoretical one-on-one situation. For instance, let’s assume that you’re a stealthy rogue and you’re rolling to sneak past three guards. Assuming the rules only ask you to hide once, a 73.75% (+6 modifier) chance of sneaking past one guard gives you only have a 52.42% chance of sneaking past three guards undetected. If you have to roll separately it drops to less than 42%.

This decrease is somewhat unfortunate because in many situations alerting one guard is virtually the same as alerting all three. In statistics we study these “all or nothing” phenomena through negative binomial and geometric distributions. Understanding the statistics helps you understand how the issues with these kinds of dice contests get compounded once you introduce multiple characters attempting to hide.

Let’s assume that three player characters trying to sneak past three guards. All three characters will have the 74.75% success rate for a stealth roll. Unfortunately, only one of the characters needs to be noticed to alert the guards so all three characters must succeed against all three guards. If there was a separate dice roll for each contest you would have to roll nine times, and chances of success would be almost nil! This is why most game systems will only require one roll. Even with that simplification though, the characters have only about a 25% chance of successfully sneaking past the guards.

Working As Intended?


For a game like D&D where fights are the primary source for player XP and treasure, perhaps this kind of dice contest mechanic is “working at intended.” It’s not exactly unrealistic that more hiders and more seekers can both make stealth less reliable. Perhaps a party of adventurers is just not meant to reliably sneak their way through an encounter?

The only problem is that similar problems arise from other dice contests. For instance, D&D has knowledge rolls where each member of the party rolls to see if they know something about their situation. If the party is cooperating and sharing their knowledge then only one person needs to succeed at one of these rolls for each situation. Even if each person only has a 30% chance of success, four characters have an almost 76% chance of gleaning valuable information.

Again, perhaps this is working as intended. After all, knowledge rolls tend to yield information that the players are going to learn later regardless. Still, if you’re like me then your game is less concerned with that sort of nitty gritty simulation. I also prefer to have greater granularity and control over the probability of the outcome. That’s why I think it’s probably wise to use different dice mechanics.

I’m not alone in this thought. Many RPG’s, (D&D 4e and Pathfinder included) have been replacing dice contests with rolls against static modifiers. More importantly, the use of “if anyone succeeds” or “if anyone fails” mechanics are becoming more scarce. Maybe there’s hope for this industry yet?



Winter Scenery of Mochou Lake, Nanjing City, China 

(via terribletriplefeatures)

This is brilliant. All of it. Especially the part about “I’m good with math but I’m bad with numbers.” When I’ve said that as a statistician I frequently get very bewildered responses. As someone with dyslexia, my internal computation is sometimes unreliable. Frequent error makes the process of testing the results all the more important, making statistics an almost natural fit for me.

I also harp a lot on how often artists and designers underestimate the utility of math and science. In truth, the video game industry is getting wise to this, but there are still a lot of luddites in table-top gaming. Art and science are intrinsically united in the human experience. Beware those that reject either of them.