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double entendre design elements (or "DEDEs")

Started by droqen, January 15, 2022, 02:04:29 PM

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something i'm fond of is designing levels first by composition (i.e. using a tile editor to draw a bunch of tiles that look good) and then to find a way to make it enjoyable to play. i came to think about this process more clearly after reading bennett foddy's piece on mkapolk's process of designing "[fr0g] clan official server 24/7 zk map (for stranger)":

QuoteMy process for making the levels was to scatter geometry more or less randomly and then try to traverse it. Sometimes when I was going down a map if I thought that an area shouldn't be a dead end I'd add some more stuff to it, but that's about as far as it went.

but maybe i should have realized it earlier when i heard sylvie's description of how she designed JIGGLY ZONE

-- actually i don't know where i heard this. was it from sylvie herself? (researching)


(anyway, in the meantime while i wait to hear back from sylvie...)

what i mean by 'double entendre design element' is something which serves two purposes - this is absolutely not a new idea but it still feels special when one element serves two purposes. i've chosen 'double entendre' because those tend to have two meanings: a public, obvious meaning; and a second hidden meaning.

it's helpful to think of them in this tiered, hierarchical way, because then each meaning has its own role; they aren't equals, they don't have to be the same, they can't be compared... the FIRST is public, visible, obvious. the SECOND private, hidden, secret, rewarding.


they are both important. aside from their place in the hierarchy, each one must also be a fully-fledged design element in its own right for the most beautiful double entendre to blossom. if the FIRST is not well-developed, then it appears to be a dull veil. if the SECOND is not well-developed, then it is not enough to feel worth discovering. but if both are well-developed... well, that's what i aspire to.

note that this is not purely 'game design-y' purposes. in fact i think it's more interesting, more intuitively appealing to me, when a design element's double entendre crosses from game design to thematics.

when both meanings are of roughly equal viability, close but different enough that depending on my mood either one or the other may appear primary or dominant, the element gains a significant degree of longevity. . . i can consider one meaning to overshadow the other one day, but the next i may need to reconsider my position. in this way, an element becomes something which i can't fully put down right away, and because of this i think about it more, and my relationship to it becomes more deep.

i'll try to give some examples next.


the first example that comes to mind is this card, Scorched Earth, from the card game Netrunner.

both its thematic/narrative conceit and its role as a function piece of the game excite me, and they coincide wonderfully in one card. that is to say, i cannot really separate the two aspects: it is clearly one element. i can imagine different theming for the mechanics, of course, and different mechanics for the theming... this isn't saying that this card couldn't have been anything else. but they do feel like one piece, well-matched.

each of those sides of the design are exciting to me in a way that creates a positive feedback loop inside my relationship to the card, Scorched Earth.

- it does 4 meat damage, which is a lot of damage. this card could win you the game, as corp. it makes me want to build an entire deck around it.

- the flavour text not-so-subtly implies that the corp is brutal and willing to detonate buildings in order to get to the runner.


perhaps a better name for these elements is 'reversible double entendre'. see, the thing that makes them valuable is that while you may come across one aspect first, their relationship is... reversible. sometimes one feels obvious and the other is just backing it up.

it's so powerful that i want to build a deck around it! 4 meat damage is a lot. for those unfamiliar, the other player, the runner, has to discard that many cards or they lose instantly. their max hand size is 5. so this is... a huge amount of damage. ... this relationship to the gameplay aspect is backed up by the fact that the flavour of the card describes and shows the action as being a highly potent action. it's brutal and destructive.

on the other hand, the narrative/theme of the card is really telling me something about the corps and what they're capable of. this is an immediately, obviously unacceptable abuse of power that the corp is trying to get away with. the flavour text appears to be a quote from someone attempting to paint Weyland Consortium as innocent. the sudden brutality of the action is backed up by the fact that the card does a lot of damage.

these two aspects, the double meaning or double entendre, has a 'reversible' quality that causes me to oscillate between them in a way that's very rewarding. (maybe this is just ludonarrative assonance at work but i like this metaphor more - it's not just the marriage of gameplay and narrative that creates a magical whole object, but a specific relationship between two 'sides' of a design element -- the double entendre that cannot be resolved, but keeps flipping over and over, keeping it fresh and worth consideration for a much longer period of time.)


the second example is Favour in Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile