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Feature: 'Plundering The Seas Of Probability'

Age Of Empires DS designer Tyler Sigman returns to Gamasutra with an entertaining article in his 'probability for game designers' series, discussing how dice-based board game probability
January 22, 2008
Age Of Empires DS designer Tyler Sigman is currently shopping around a board game prototype called Longship. In his view, key bits of design knowledge required for paper-based games transfer across the media -- specifically, Longship's dice-based mechanics, as Sigman aims to demonstrate that some of the applied probability theory is useful "in more situations than just bombastic talks at the Cigars and Brandy Club for Designers." Sigman explains the connection: "Before you scream 'Stop talking about dice, I'm a digital designer, curse you!', remember that you face a similar crisis of familiarity when coding events related to a random number generator. Sure, you can use percentage-based systems or get as complex as you want in the code, but where user interface is involved, you must still consider familiarity issues. I personally love percentage based systems, but we still see tons of video games with d6ish, d8ish, or d20ish mechanics, and that's partially why." Sigman delves deep into probability theory to explain how his approach to the precise process of creating a mechanic for a board game can be applied to game design as well. For example, he created a customized symbol-based die with two serpents, two axes, and one side featuring double axes: "Why have Axes and Double Axes instead of say, Axes and Swords? User interface issues, honestly. Rather than introduce another symbol, I believe it's more thematic and easier for the player to count number of axes, instead of axes plus swords. It's also easier for me to write tight rules. For example, "You succeed on a 2 or more axes" is easily understood and processed, whereas "You succeed on any of the following combos: 2 axes, any number of swords, or any combination of axes and swords" is not as simple. I arrived at the above face distribution by process of design iteration. Iteration -- you know, trying something and seeing if it works. Yeah, I hadn't heard of iteration either until I worked on some paper games." In the full feature, Sigman's entertaining tone makes a mathematical discussion on probability theory entertaining and thought provoking (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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