The Red Box Diaries

The Red Box Diaries
Imagine Your Perfect Arcade Game

Tavis Allison | 14 Sep 2010 12:32
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One reason why so many casual games reuse concepts from classic arcade games like Bubble Bobble or Breakout is because you already know how to play. It's easy to get started. D&D has been so influential that if you aren't familiar with the concept of getting enough experience points to level up and improve your skills, you probably qualify for some kind of federal assistance. Casual games and Basic D&D are fertile environments for DIY creativity in game design because they facilitate adding twists to a successful formula and making new games quickly. You can watch pros like Warren Spector or Peter Molyneux push the boundaries of game design with AAA titles a couple of times a decade. You can see guys like Cactus doing it in weekend-long development cycles like the Indie Game Jam. Or you can sit down with a copy of the Red Box and your friends to explore your own wacky design ideas immediately.


Arcade games are played at arcades. It's essential to the experience that anyone can walk by, watch over your shoulder, and then drop a quarter to join in. The Red Box groups similarly play in public spaces for an audience of passers-by enthralled or bemused by the strange dice, lurid art, and yellowing old books. Toren says "Something about Vancouver, despite the fact that we are a major capital of videogame production and generally the city is lousy with nerds, makes it a challenge to get gamers out of their basements and into a social context." For the RBV gamers, Basic D&D does the trick.

Coin-op games are as easy to leave as they are to join. The focus is on progressive exploration of the environment, not on the individual experiences of any character. In Gauntlet, you're trying to reach the next level, not a save point; it doesn't matter if the Wizard is a different player than when you started. As modern tabletop RPGs have become more concerned with individual character's stories, the experience has been increasingly confining for players - imagine if Dragon Age had no party AI, so that you couldn't load a saved game without having everyone in your living room to play your teammates.

The Red Box gaming groups overcome this problem by using just-in-time scheduling inspired by Ben Robbins' influential series of posts about his West Marches campaign. Whoever shows up for a gaming session is the adventuring party, and as a result, dorje says "I can play when I can play. I don't feel obligated to clear out one night a week. I'd love to play more often, but I know that when I can, I'll be welcome." Like an improv comedy session, not being able to predict who will bring their ideas to the table keeps the game live-wire and hilarious for all involved.

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