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any game. Six players is a rough upper limit for a non-refereed game; twelve players will require several referees and twenty players or more will require many referees. Obviously, games with hundreds of players will face many administrative problems. Indeed, the logistic problems of assembling all th players are themselves prohibitive. All these problems are solved by computers linked through a telecommunications network. With this technology it should be possible to design games knitting together thousands of players scattered all over the continent. Players could drift into and out of the game at their whim; with large numbers of players the coming and going of individuals will not be detrimental to the game. Like any technology, computers have weaknesses as well as strengths. The first and most painful weakness is the limited I/O capability of most computers. The computer itself may be supremely responsive, but if the human player can t tell it what he wants, or fails to understand the computer s response, the computer s effective responsiveness is nil. In other words, the computer must communicate its responsiveness to the human; it does so through I/O. Most output is through graphics and sound; most input is through keyboard, joystick, and paddle. Graphics are the first component of output. Good graphics are hard to come by. Even the Atari Home Computer System, boasting the best graphics in the microcomputer world, has graphics limitations that severely constrain the game designer. You simply cannot show all the graphic details that you would like to show. For example, I suspect that few boardgame boards could be duplicated on a single screen by this machine. The number of colors, the mixing of text with highresolution graphics, and the size of the board all combine to make the task hopeless. It is possible to use a variety of tricks to produce something that is functionally similar to any given game board. We could reduce the number of colors displayed, we could dispense with text, and we could design an oversize display through which the user must scroll. EASTERN FRONT 1941 uses all of these tricks, and the result is quite usable, but the game wends a tortuous path past the graphics constraints of the computer. Of course, the computer also boasts some graphics advantages. I have yet to see the boardgame that could show animation or change itself around the way a computer game could. These sensory features can dramatically increase the impact of any game. So the graphics picture is not all bad. Another I/O restriction comes from the input requirements. Input to the computer must come in through the keyboard or the controllers. This can make things very difficult for the game designer. In the first place, you can t say much with a joystick or keyboard. A joystick can say only five fundamental words: "up", "down", "right", "left", and "button". A keyboard can say more, but only through a lengthy and error-prone sequence of key presses. The human who wishes to express a meaningful communication to the computer must successfully enter a long and clumsy string of simple commands. Input is made even more difficult by the indirectness of keyboards and joysticks. There is very little about such devices that directly corresponds to real-world activities. Actions that are simple and obvious with other technologies become arcane with the computer. If I give you a bat and tell you that your goal in baseball is to hit the ball, you will have few
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problems deciding that you should swing the bat at the ball. A computer baseball game is not so easy to figure out. Do you press H for "hit" or S for "swing" or B for "bat" Do you press the START key or press the joystick trigger Perhaps you should swing the joystick by its cable at the ball displayed on the television screen. After I/O, the second weakness of the personal computer is its single-user orientation. These machines were designed for one person to use while a seated at a desk. If two people are to use it, they may be forced to exchange seats, a clumsy and distracting procedure. With joysticks or paddle controllers the problem is diminished but not eliminated. This is one reason why so many computer games are solitaire and has led to the accusation that computer games are anti-social. A boardgame invites a group of people to sit around the table. A computer game encourages one player, accepts two, and discourages more. The final weakness of the computer to be considered here is the requirement that it s programmed. No other game technology imposes so harsh a demand on the game designer. The boardgame designer can sketch an adequate board and construct some simple playing pieces that will serve quite effectively. When the time comes to produce the game, the designer s amateur efforts can be handed to a professional who can produce a quality version of the prototypes made by the designer. For this reason the designer need not concern himself with the technical aspects of game production. The computer game designer does not have life so easy. The design must be implemented on the computer by programming it. Programming itself is a tedious and difficult process, and it is not easily delegated, for the programming effort exerts a major influence over the design process. Implementing a design well is a major hurdle for any computer game designer.
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