A bit of a divergence from more recent topics, but...
My kids are always asking me to play with them. This is, of course, a great blessing...I'm sure there are many parents out there who'd give their eyeteeth for children who preferred their attention to that of their friends or (worse) screens/devices.
It is, also (again, of course), annoying at times: not only are there other things that I want (or need) to do, but it bugs me that they sometimes seem to lack the capacity for amusing themselves. Growing up, my brother and I invented many games and pastimes to amuse ourselves without the need for parental supervision or inspiration...even before we'd discovered role-playing games. Imaginative play came easy (naturally?), whereas my children want direction in how to play. Lacking direction (and/or parental participation) they most often default to wanting some sort of screen entertainment: a video game or television to simultaneously stimulate and soften their brains.
All of which is simply a precursor to this: my son is interested in my game design "work," and has asked me on multiple occasions to create a "superhero game." I haven't had the heart (or patience) to explain to him just how many supers games I already own and are available, all of which are lacking in some capacity. But I keep telling him I will (eventually) get around to it. One of these days.
So it is that I've been looking at Heroes Unlimited (again) for the last 30 hours or so. This would be the original, un-Revised version that I've blogged about previously. Again, I've been struck by the real design sensibilities on display here: there is reason behind all of Simebieda's madness that simply isn't explained in later editions. Again, I'm frustrated by the gross editing errors, typos, and information left out...not to mention the sheer clunkiness of a system evolved organically in play. And reading the Revised and 2nd Edition books this morning, I again am struck by how much the game has changed ("evolved" as Siembieda writes) through its various updates. And not for the good.
And yet, and yet: the sheer monstrosity of HU, of its inelegance...I finally start to see something of the appeal and of why the game has had such staying power over the decades. As I struggle to search the various entries for even basic information (like how much SDC a particular power type starts with, or exactly how many hand-to-hand attacks a character should receive), I am forced to parse out various systems and discrepancies and make decisions ("rulings") about various aspects of the game...I am, in struggling to understand and grasp the game's concepts, in the process of learning and developing a degree of expertise with the system.
RPGs are difficult beasts to grapple with anyway...at the table that is. Running an RPG, managing the players, the rules, the pacing and narration...it's a tough juggling act. And yet, streamlined "rules light" design (no doubt intended to excise complexity in aid of playability) ends up making games feel, well, less game-like and more like regulated story-telling...and the more simplified, the more this is the case.
Which, for me, isn't what I want out of a fantasy adventure game. It just isn't.
However, the other thing I do not want is a game where the system IS the game: where the real "play" is in crunching the numbers of the various in-game currencies in order to actually get to play itself. This includes any game that has point-buy/build systems (GURPS, Champions, MektonZ) or anything that has excessive character building through "option selection" (any D20 game or any version of D&D post-1988). I want to get to play without the extra prep of "building" and once play starts I want players to be "in the moment," un-worried about how their character might develop over ten plus levels.
So here's this monstrosity of a game called Heroes Unlimited, full of these clunky, unbalanced character classes, non-unified systems, often ugly aesthetics, and inelegant design. And yet I can randomly generate something like 50 different character types right out of the box, not counting differences in ability scores or power selection. Assuming I have some a decent grasp of the comic book genre (even with a limited, non-nuanced perspective), I can run a game right out of the box. And even without adjusting the rules I can tailor the game play to many sub-genres of supers play, incorporating nuance (the issues of vigilanteism or incorporating modern day politics, for example) as opposed to simple, four-colored action. Its asymmetry, unburdened by toolbox aspects of later games, makes it ripe with the potential of "Advanced" play.
In that way, it really does earn the moniker "Unlimited."
Jut something I'm musing on this morning: the features of inelegant design. Cheers.