US vs. Germany: The Ideal Draw

The World Cup teams of the US and Germany are in an odd position for their upcoming match on Thursday. If the game is a draw, then both teams advance to the round of 16, which means that the ideal strategy – as pointed out by Mark Heggen on Twitter – is for the two teams to agree to just sit on the ground and let the clock run out. Considering that the US coach Jürgen Klinsmann is from Germany and that West Germany infamously took part in the fixed Anschluss game, it’s hard not to wonder if there will be a little funny business during the match. At the very least, the match threatens to be a defensive snoozefest.

As a game designer, of course, this situation is appalling. Anytime a game’s rules rewards players for boring themselves (not to mention us, the viewers), the problem is with the game designer, not with the players. A similar match-throwing problem haunted the round-robin badminton tournament at the last Olympics, and game designer David Sirlin wrote a great article which placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the tournament organizers. In the case of the US-Germany game, the problem is not quite so egregious – especially since the loser will have to play Belgium in the next round – but obviously the system could be improved.

I am a game designer, after all, so what would I do? The core of the problem is that whenever a game has more than two teams (and the World Cup is basically a game with 32 teams), diplomacy automatically becomes an important tool, regardless of the intentions of the game designer. Therefore, if winning is not required to advance, diplomacy can override the usual incentive for victory. The problem is that diplomacy is considered totally verboten (and a little unmanly) in competitive sports, even though it is considered totally normal in tabletop gaming. (As they love to play in Germany, of course!)

The solution is to focus the two teams on the one incentive left for them in the tournament – the seeding for the next round. The tournament’s rules should dictate that if two teams can advance with a draw, then the group’s other two teams are eliminated immediately. (The phenomenal card game Battle Line – by the German Reiner Knizia! – has a similar rule that allows capturing a flag early if a player can prove that no cards left in the deck could beat the ones on his or her own side.) However, instead of just cancelling the match between the US and Germany, which is problematic for many reasons, the tournament should let them play the game solely to determine who gets the top seed out of the group. Therefore, the two teams are rewarded for playing the game at full effort and have no incentive to make a mockery of the competition.

Now, context is important here as every rule always has a complexity cost. Adding this type of special casing to a video game or, especially, to a tabletop game might not be worth the extra overhead for the player to keep track of it. However, because the stakes for the World Cup are so high and because avoiding diplomacy is a design aesthetic for the tournament, this rule could be useful. Indeed, after the Anschluss game, FIFA changed the World Cup rules so that the final games of the round-robin phase would be played simultaneously to reduce the incentive for diplomacy. The situation the US and Germany face may not but common, but it’s also likely to happen again – all that is required is for a final game to be played between teams which both have one win and one draw. Better game design always beats the alternative.

Calling All Dawns

Christopher Tin’s new album, Calling All Dawns, came out a couple weeks ago. Have a listen:

Besides being able to record new pieces in Abbey Road with the Royal Philharmonic (not to mention Anonymous 4 and von Stade and Dulce Pontes), Chris also got to redo Baba Yetu with the Soweto Gospel Choir. As you can hear above, they did an incredible job finding the piece’s exuberance and abundance of joy. I especially enjoy the (new?) solo voice that rises above the bridge. In fact, Chris did change a few things for this version (via Steinar Kristoffersen):

    Steinar: ‘The last time we wrote you mentioned that […] the audio guys over at Firaxis decided to remove your percussion and replace it with their own. I must confess I’m curious [about] why the decision to replace your percussion was necessary or even desirable. I’ll also admit, however, that – alas – I do like both versions of the track, and I probably have a particular fondness for the Civ 4 version, if only because I heard and fell in love with that versionfirst. Which is, from a composer’s point of view (a point of view I can relate to and understand), unfortunate since that’s not how you intended the track to go, but, well, there it is. It’s still a wonderful track either way, and I’m happy to have both versions on my playlist.’

    Chris: ‘Yeah, it’s unfortunate that most people heard the Firaxis version first; and now that I’m creating yet a THIRD version, I have to figure out how to add something new, yet appeal to those who already fell in love with the first two versions. Nuts. :)’

    This album has been Chris’s labor of love for quite some time. If you appreciate his music, go buy it now.

This Will Surely End Badly

So, I have finally joined the pseudo-masses and am now on Twitter. I’m not sure how this will all play out – perhaps my blog will someday report that I lasted twittered 283 days ago – but it’s worth a try. I’ll be twittering my GDC thoughts this week (assuming I can make it work from my BlackBerry). Come to think of it, this might actually allow me to record the GDC notes I’ve always wanted to take but never did (or misplaced). Also, by twittering, I’ll get to skip writing my annual, three-months-late GDC summary! So, there’s that…

I’d Like to Apologize in Advance…

…to all the people I’ll meet at GDC this year. Due to a mix-up, I have no business cards! Thus, forgive me if I can’t take part in the traditional card exchange. If you need it, my e-mail address is on the About page.


Continuing the trip down memory lane, I added a section to my sidebar chronicling various articles or presentations I have done over the years. I will expand it further as I find new links. (Unfortunately, the link to my 2004 GDC slides appears to be now dead. I’ll provide my own source for this talk when I get a chance.)

Update: GDC 2004 link is now fixed thanks to Apolyton!

Interviews Page

One of the nice features of WordPress is a managed system for adding Pages, which are like permanent entries always available in my sidebar (or elsewhere if I change my theme). Besides my About Page, I’ve added one compiling all my interviews and chats over the years. It’s mostly for my own nostalgia, but if you want to relive the heady days of the Civ3 1.21 patch, it’s the place to be!

Read Me

Borrowing an idea from Damion Schubert’s ZenLexicon, I’ve added a Read Me section in the sidebar to highlight the posts which come closest to describing my design philosophy. If you are new to the site, you might want to peruse those articles.

Music = Shareware?

Radiohead has caused a pretty big stir by announcing that their new album, In Rainbows, will be initially released as download-only, and they are allowing their customers to name-their-own-price for the album. (Further, the only physical version of the album available – the “discbox” – costs a very pricey 40 quid, essentially forcing the vast majority of fans to buy the album as a download.)

This business model sounds fairly radical to music consumers, but it is actually pretty familiar for gamers. Simply put, In Rainbows is shareware, meaning freely-distributed digital data with optional payment. Small-scale games (or larger ones, like Doom) have been distributed as shareware since the very beginnings of personal computing. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of Radiohead’s gamble. Personally, I would prefer digital music to move towards either a subscription service or a single, non-DRM download shop, but it’s nice to see a novel option been tried (or borrowed).