Writing a book about a fictional game/sport: How in-depth do you go with game design?


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  1. #1
    Member Fiender's Avatar
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    Writing a book about a fictional game/sport: How in-depth do you go with game design?

    So, one of my story ideas involves a young boy whose only method of paying for his dying mother's potentially-life-saving-but-not-healthcare-covered treatment, is by winning tournaments of a competitive card game he's a prodigy of. It would be a fictional TCG, with tension surrounding the main character securing reliable transport and support to attend these tournaments, and with moment-to-moment strategy around the matches themselves.

    My question is, how much depth in the design of this game would you expect (or prefer) to see in such a book? For people not at all familiar with Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering, would detailed explanations about the mechanics turn you off? For people who are familiar with TCGs, how much would it take you out of the story if you noticed a powerful combo/interaction between cards that isn't acknowledged in the book?

  2. #2
    I think, like everything else in a story, it one hundred percent depends on how important the game is to the story. I mean, nobody is reading books to get a lesson on some imaginary game.

    The first thought that came to mind was the idea of Quidditch from Harry Potter. Not a TCG, but close enough. In that book, Rowling didn't go hugely into detail on the mechanics but did go over the basics, enough that the reader could get a pretty good understanding of the rules and how it 'looked' to be played, which was necessary because the game functions as a kind of side plot in which things happen that are relevant to the main plot (possessed balls, etc) and also showcase the characters personalities -- games are quite good for that.

    Personally, as somebody who could not really care less about games, if I was reading a book and suddenly was being forced an info-dump on the intricacies of some card game I was never going to play & for no obvious reason... I would probably stop reading.
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  3. #3
    Member technicalbob's Avatar
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    I think it depends entirely on the audience you are writing for. If you want it to be for people who appreciate those card games then go detailed but don't 'teach them to suck eggs'.
    If it's for a general audience then only specific details that explain the game enough need to be used as the previous reply aptly stated.
    The skill here would be to use details that explain the game and the strategy to the layman but also allude to specific quirks that serve as nods to experienced players.
    I am currently trying, and failing to do a similar thing with poker. I am about to do a masterclass on poker strategy and technique just to write roughly two pages of action in a novel.

  4. #4
    The reader needs to know how a person wins the game- this also allows you to build tension as they get closer or farther from winning.
    What the cards look like- so they can visualize the game
    The rules of the game- to know why the characters can or can't make certain moves, to see when someone has the upper hand or is cheating.

    Adding comparisons to commonly known games can help with the understanding.
    K.S. Crooks- Dreamer and Author

  5. #5
    I rather like the idea of a sci-fi concept about the properties of light bending. Over massive distances, light can indeed bend, but the MC's interest in physics allows him to make it bend over very short distances, allowing him to see other people's cards.


  6. #6
    I would say that if you are inventing a game for a story, and playing the game is an integral part of the story, you will need to work up the rules pretty well for yourself. How it plays, how someone wins, how someone loses, what beginner versus expert strategy might be.

    Knowing the game well will help inform you of what details of game play might be necessary for telling the story, versus what isn't.

    You situation, I feel, might be a bit complicated because not only are you creating a game, but you are also making that game a central part of the story. That creates a couple of problems. The main being that your audience will have absolutely zero frame of reference. What I mean is, think about how some modern games are presented in stories. Poker is a great example. While not everyone knows how to play poker, almost everyone has heard of it. So *some* measure of shorthand is allowed in a story and the audience can still follow it.

    For example, look at how poker is present in something like a western versus the movie Rounders. Westerns (or really any movie or story where poker is just essentially a scene) often have the players win by big, flashy hands -- it's really simple for just about anyone, regardless of how familiar they are with poker -- to understand that 4 aces wins. The movie Rounders, however, is literally all about playing poker. The movie does explain some of the strategy, but also assumes the audience is familiar with the game. Because of that, the story can showcase much more subtle and realistic game mechanics.

    The other problem you'll have is that if your main character is already good at the game, you will have a difficult time informing the audience of how the game works without resorting to exposition.

    When introducing a new concept to the audience, be it a game or anything else, one popular method is to make the main character unfamiliar with the concept in the beginning. They can still be a prodigy, but they will need to learn the concept as the story progresses, and their education also educates the audience. Think of how much more difficult it would have been for JK Rowling to introduce Quidditch if Harry Potter had come in as an expert. Him being unfamiliar with the game allowed the story to introduce the audience through action scenes (initial training, the first few games, etc.), yet still allowed him to ultimately be a "natural" at it.
    Last edited by InTheThirdPerson; February 1st, 2020 at 08:44 PM. Reason: Fixed formatting

  7. #7
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
    a powerful combo/interaction between cards that isn't acknowledged in the book?
    Regardless, you still gotta explain, no?

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    Member hvysmker's Avatar
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    Here are the rules for a game featured in one of my stories:
    BloodBall, the Sport of the Brave. From a brochure passed out to interested parties:
    While polo may be the sport of kings, BloodBall is the sport of the BRAVE. In any given year, literally hundreds of both performers and SPECTATORS give their very lives for the sport.

    BloodBall is played by two teams of twelve players each, six high-performance autos are used by each team. The autos are, for security reasons, without any electronics whatever. Each vehicle is fitted with a .30cal machine gun mounted on the roof or, in the case of convertibles, on a pedestal between the front seats.

    Spectators are seated on bleachers or can stand or sit anywhere within the viewing area. They are also, especially the old or infirm, allowed to sit in rented vehicles. These conveyances are allowed no armor plating or the like. (If you prefer a vehicle, or space in one, instead of sitting in the stands, see the ticket agent and one will, for a fee, be reserved for your use.)

    The game, by government regulation, is only played in an unpopulated area -- due to danger from ricocheting rounds. For reasons of legality, all spectators, players, and other personnel MUST sign a disclaimer form absolving the promoters or participants of blame in case of injury sustained while within the playing area.

    This area includes the ENTIRE arena, even its outer limits. Two proofs of identification must also be displayed as well as fingerprints taken. There are NO exceptions. Unless otherwise specified, that identity will be posted on our Official BloodBall website to prove to friends YOU have actually been here, and not a substitute using your name. Using substitutes is ILLEGAL and will result in permanent banishment from the game as well as your name posted as a cheater on our website.

    The playing of the sport of BloodBall is simple. Two teams of six vehicles – each holding two players (A driver and a gunner) – face off at a distance of five hundred ( 500 ) yards. A twelve ( 12 ) inch in diameter solid-steel ball is placed at an equidistant from either team. There is a six-foot-deep pit immediately behind each starting team, bordered by bright-yellow wooden posts.

    At a signal, both teams advance on the ball. The object is to fire the .30cal machine guns at the ball, driving it into the other team’s goal pit. If a vehicle cannot move, it is eliminated from the competition. The first team to "Sink" the ball wins the round.

    The ball can be taken to the pit in any manner desired. By machine gun, or by hitting it with your bumper or a welded-on appendage, even carried in the vehicle if you're stupid enough to chance up to five machine guns shooting at you.

    "Time-out" can be signalled by any vehicle, simply by blowing the auto’s horn or by a player waving their arms as a manual signal. Medical personnel are available for injuries. Time-out is automatic in the case of injured players, but NOT for injured spectators – except on rare occasions determined by the judges. Injuries to spectators can usually be taken care of while the game is being played.

    Most injuries are caused by errant bullets or chipped-off sections of wooden spectator stands. To keep them to a minimum, the weapons are optically limited in their firing to an average distance of four ( 4 ) feet or closer proximity to the ball itself. Outside that range, the weapons will not fire.

    Since the optical cutoffs are much slower than speeding bullets, there is a danger to players and spectators in that the vehicles may easily tip or roll while guns are actually being fired. There is also a specific danger from ricocheting rounds. It’s part of the game – of what makes the sport popular. If you do NOT want to accept that risk, stay out of the arena. No body, or any other type of armor or protective devices are allowed within the playing area. This includes both players and spectators. BloodBall is not a sport for the squeamish.

    Cameras are allowed, but no beaming of the play to outside locations. For that reason, all electronic transmitting channels are scrambled during the game. If caught beaming data during a game, you will be evicted, black-balled from the sport for life, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    IMPORTANT: Be aware that, because of the electronic scrambling, computers will NOT work within the playing area. That includes most watches, some PACEMAKERS, newer automobiles, cellular telephones or any devices using computer chips or other electronics. Some may be irreparably damaged by our protective devices. We are NOT RESPONSIBLE for any injuries or damage to your property.

  9. #9
    Member Tomkat's Avatar
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    I used to love MTG.
    Actually I still do but I got not the time (nor the money) to keep playing.

    Here what I would do,
    I will figure out the rules for myself, 100%, I'm the card master. I need to know everything.
    Then, telling the story is another thing.
    You cannot have one or two chapters turned into a 'manual'.
    You need to give away a rule here and there while telling the story.

    To be honest, for as much as I like TCG, I am not sure how exciting a book about it would turn out to be, I mean.. those novels set in the MTG universe are one thing but a narrative about playing the cards?. Usually these thing are like for Japanese manga, right?

    Consider breaking through the idea of having your MC sitting at a table shuffling cards.
    You know in those anime where they show an actual battlefield where the "monster" of the card materialize and battle against the opponent's creature?
    Well, that's dynamic. And offers you way more "things" to narrate about. Dunno, plug players into the dome and mix in some virtual reality, make the game become alive.


    I would also cut the part where the kid is a prodigy. That's too easy. Better starting as an humble player who got the talent and gather experience on the way. Like this your MC has something to develop for himself during the story.

  10. #10
    Member Fiender's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone for responding! So, if/when I get around to writing this, I agree that making him new/new-ish to the game will be more interesting and an easier on-ramp for potential readers. I also intend to err on the side of not turning my book into an instruction manual for an imaginary game. If beta readers want more detail out of the games and such, I'll just add that detail during revisions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir-KP View Post
    Regardless, you still gotta explain, no?
    Sorry! I meant, "What if I introduce, say, two cards during the course of the book that, if played together, would result in instant game win, or at least be a powerful combo, and yet that combo is never played by anyone in the book." It's the sort of thing I worry might irritate one of the main audiences of the book. Tis' the sort of thing that happens in real life, from time to time, too. And the only solution for that might be actually play-testing the game with my fellow card nerd friends.

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