Key decisions in game design: A "wired" century

Key decisions in game design: A "wired" century

I remember how many people claimed "we have WiFi, 3G now, how funny it is to see wired connections in ..." and claimed a realistic game would focus on wireless connections. Yet those people forget one simple fact: When they want to download large data, their phone would ask for a WiFi connection instead of cellular one. For a good reason: They expect that WiFi router is connected to a wired network. Its easy to miss that point and even miss the reasons behind this. You don't see the wires, so you assume it is wireless and it is more realistic if the network in the game looks wireless to you. As you can see wireless isn't much slower... or is it? 

Well, if you move a bit away from the router your WiFi gets much slower. So it depends on distance. But the real issue isn't there. The issue is very different. In really busy places a lot of users and devices try to use the same wireless connection (be it WiFi or Cellular) and have to share the available bandwidth. With wired connection, you can have dedicated bandwidth. Even if we ignore security this can be a problem. In both cyberpunk and shadowrun settings you have one thing in common: Lag or "slower than expected" connection or any slowdown due to unwanted traffic can kill. It can turn into a disaster. Right now a laptop and wireless connection can make sense, but when every millisecound counts we get a very different picture. 

Going wireless with Shadowrun in 4th edition was a massive change. But it wasn't the only big change. Why wireless was important? Because this way the decker isn't tied to a fixed spot, can move with the party. But to make sure he can move physically the game had to move from VR and natural actions in Matrix to AR. And it changed how people work, how they get entertainment, and changed a lot of related things, and I think quite a few fans decided to keep playing the 3rd edition of the game. It isn't interesting to start edition wars between 2 outdated editions, but it is interesting to learn how those changes changed the whole game. When you design your own game, how which decisions are important. And here the decision to go for wireless and the decision to go for AR are essentially the same decision. 

Yes, AR seems to be a hot topic now, and it lets characters to act online and in the real world at the same time. But at this time they can't "move and act naturally in the online world". They would see less, they would have to split attention between the two worlds, and it would limit their reaction speed severely. In an environment where it really counts. This all seems to be easy to explain. And even in Shadowrun 3rd edition, we had image link cyberware, and ability to receive data with some standardised protocoll. Most sane Game Masters knew a decker would try to connect online devices to this system (either internal or external) and have some Adjusted Reality that way. But they had an option to go for VR and experience the advantages of it. 

Game and world design is full of choices like this. And when you make choices you probably have to explain them, have to explain why and how things evolved this way. If you have read ur article about plate armor for female characters you see very similar questions. Some people would ask for the reasons behind your key decisions. And you would see even when you choose a "realistic approach" there will be valid questions about it. And most of these questions would be somewhat difficult to answer. But as you will see, the change to AR and wireless for a very simple decision. And it wasn't about a "wireless century". 

The key to a good game design is understand how your setting works. It is fine and nice when you want AR, but when you try to remove the importance of VR yet people played VR games before, they had "cybersex in VR" and everything else, why would user and providers would settle for AR, when it isn't much better than having an image link. They wouldn't see that as advancement, but would see that as a "retro technology". In AR manipulating 2 realities at once could create troubles as well for the character. It seems to be a bad decision. But the moment you understand why it was an important one, the whole picture changes.

{cts-style-1}VR and wired connections kept the decker in one place...{/cts-style-1}

VR and wire connections kept the decker in one place, while the rest of the party was elsewhere, the GM had to run different encounters for them. Magic, with the astral plane had similar effect in Shadowrun. But the wired / wireless and the VR / AR decision is common for the whole cyberpunk and cyberfantasy genre. And as you see going for wireless and AR was important to make the game easier to run by the GM. At the very same time most of the alternate campaign types were removed from the game. No more Doc Wagon teams, etc. back to good old shadowrunning. 

The initial choices for VR, wired connections, alternate campaign types, etc. added a lot more depth to the game, made it more interesting on the long run. You had to invest more both as GM and as player but you got more fun back. For the players who invested enough time in the game to understand why wired connection and VR was important. For players who doesn't invest the time, going for wireless and AR can make more sense. 

In Harlequin's back adventure at one scene having a female character in the party was important. But the moment you run scenes designed for some of the characters where others can't really participate. How you handle gender roles in the game, how you run separate encounters for different characters can add more depth to the setting, but at the same time it would demand more work from the GM and the players. 

While it seems to be an easy decision, and simple "old school" games are an ongoing trend. If the game is easier to run, more people can run it. With more gamemasters to choose from, more players can play the game. With more players you can sell more copies of your game. But know what? Diablo III and other roguelike videogames are simple, accessible, and streamlined to the extreme, yet people want to buy roleplaying games and spend days reading rulebooks, creating characters / adventures. People want their own detailed characters, freedom, depth, more lore and complexity. And if you aim to make your games "simple and easy to run" to the extreme, you just remove the elements that would make them want to play your game. And when "they can play it, they have enough time, but they don't want to play it" that is bad for sales. 

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