Game Designer as Tinkerer: Sometimes, the role of the game designer is determined by the functional role of the game. With games that serve as a platform for player-versus-player competition, the designer takes on the role of a tinkerer, working at first in broad strokes and eventually focusing down to the finest detail, in the pursuit of creating a perfectly tuned and balanced machine as a basis for human competition.

It's a process of creating a complex mechanism that appears fluid and organic at first glance, but is so obsessively tweaked and balanced on every level that the outcome of any competition based upon it is decided entirely by the player's skill at manipulating it, not by their choosing "the best" strategy and easily steamrolling the competition. Any piece of this mechanism must be a valid counter to any other piece, and two players of matched skill should each an equal percent of the time when facing off against each other. These are fighting games, competitive shooter games, competitive puzzles games, realtime strategy games.

These are games that can support tournaments, such as Street Fighter 2 and its derivatives, Counter-Strike, or Starcraft. The point in these games is that any skilled player should be able to hold his own against any equally skilled opponent using any unit, character, or faction, based on how effectively he can control that unit, character, or faction. Ken should not be able to defeat Chun Li every time; the terrorists shouldn't constantly win de_dust, and a Protoss hero unit shouldn't trump a Human platoon in every encounter. A team in Counter-Strike shouldn't be able to all load up with AWPs and run every single match they enter. Every piece of the game must be equally balanced against every other piece. The game designer as tinkerer endeavors to create the perfectly even playing field.

These are the games that start edging towards the classification of "sport." The designer is essentially responsible for tweaking a rulebook down to the tiniest degree. But no game like this will ever be a "sport" per se, since they take place entirely within self-contained, artificial gameworlds, leaving them squarely in the realm of strategic traditional games like chess. The designer as tinkerer must define the rules of the game, as well as the rule of the entire world in which it exists. Someone setting up a real-life recreation of Counter-Strike by way of paintball or Airsoft competition would be responsible for only a relatively simple set of rules-- time limits, number of players per team, the location where 'bombs' could be planted, number of shots a player can receive before 'dying.' The designer of the video game Counter-Strike must define exactly how a grenade bounces off a wall; how long the flashbang effect lasts and how it looks; the shoothrough values of doors and walls; recoil effects and all the other attributes of each gun; and create every aspect, every brick and every railing, of each arena, as opposed to throwing down in some abandoned office park in the real world. To create an entire artificial ecosystem, if you will, in the interest of providing players a valid place to test their skills, is a complex and often thankless task. The players are striving twice as hard to break the game as the designers are to balance it. But, when a completely new venue for human competition does come to fruition, and thousands of players are manipulating the mechanisms that the designer has put so much time into perfecting, the result must be extremely satisfying.

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