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Basics of Game Design by Michael Moore

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213
CHAPTER 8
ON MAGICKS
AND TECHNOLOGIES
Any suciently advanced technology is indistinguishable
from magic.
—Arthur C. Clarke
…any suciently advanced magic is indistinguishable from
technology.
—Larry Niven
e concept of magic has been associated with fantasy since ancient
times, and it has become a primary factor is separating fantasy from
other literary genres. Technology, on the other hand, has long be-
longed to the realm of science ction, which speculates on the eects
that futuristic technology will have on people. Occasionally, the two
concepts overlap in the same genre as in some Japanese RPGs where
dragons coexist with spaceships and in the literary genre of “steam-
punk where magic co-exists with technology aer the Industrial
Revolution.
Magic and technology add a whole new dimension to games be-
cause they expand the basic physical rules of the game universe. In
addition to using arms during combat, wizards and clerics among
others can cast spells of great power, and combatants on distant
worlds brandish weapons of mass destruction like the BFG 9000
from id Sowares Doom. Magic and technology oer players new
approaches to game play and some exciting visual eects as well.
It takes time to design a really good magic or technology system
for a game. e system has to be self-consistent and feel rightto
players. Each has its own sense of evolution and progression as play-
ers advance through the game and gain ever more powerful spells or
On Magicks and Technologies
214
weapons to use against ever more threatening enemies. Of course,
magic and technology have more uses than simple weaponry and
they can be employed in many dierent game activities. It is up to
the designers to decide early in the design phase what magic or tech-
nology will do in the game universe and how it will work.
Magic in Games
In traditional paper RPGs, magic is used in combat, of course, but
it also has many other uses that are not necessarily reected in elec-
tronic RPGs. For example in a paper RPG, casting a love spell on an
NPC can help a player unearth some secret information because the
Dungeonmaster handles the NPC’s dialogue and therefore can im-
provise as the situation progresses. Casting a love spell on an NPC in
an electronic RPG is more burdensome for the designers. If the spell
changes an NPC’s opinion of a character and therefore the responses
the NPC gives during a conversation, the designers have to create a
whole new set of branching dialogue responses for this altered mood
(see Chapter 10 for more on branching dialogue). ere can be hun-
dreds of NPCs in an electronic RPG, so writing up the branching
dialogue for all their responses to a love potion spell takes extra time
and requires more playtesting. Also, there is usually a limit as to how
many spells a character can know. If the character is able to learn
dozens or hundreds of spells, it becomes a daunting challenge to
make them all dierent as well as easily accessible through the inter-
face. As a result, many of the subtler magic spells used in paper RPGs
dont make their way into electronic RPGs.
Limiting Magic in Games
Magic sometimes needs to be limited if it is too powerful. If a wizard
can run around and zap everything into dust by unleashing a barrage
of reballs, the game quickly becomes unbalanced, and players will
opt for wizard characters over all others. Conversely, if magic is too
weak, then players will select ghters instead. Balancing the power of
magic is a primary responsibility for designers of RPGs.
ere are several ways to limit the power of magic. One way is to
make the casting time last longer for more powerful spells. A small
reball that does only limited damage might take only a second
to appear, with a visual eect showing the spell being cast. On the
other hand, a spell that spews all-consuming ames can take several

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