Reverse Adaptation Video Games to Board: What We’ve Learned From The Projects Of Fallout and Doom

Throughout the history of gaming, successful games have emerged as prototypes on board before being adapted into multi billion dollar video game ventures. Many games that are now available to play on gaming consoles in the digital form in fact started out as turn-based strategic board games which are in fact much harder to develop than they may seem. The logical progression of rules and regulations in a board game are great pointers when it comes to turning the game over into a console playable with many layers of programming that go into it to support many different strategy features outlined on board. What’s even more difficult though, is turning a video game back into board game form.

Jonathan Ying, a designer at Fantasy Flight Games, has been put up to this ultimate challenge: to create a board game playable of the video game DOOM, the version released in 2016. This is something fellow designer at Fantasy Flight Games has had exposure to through his venture to create a board game playable of the Fallout video game. Returning the game into something that is simpler and turn-based with overarching strategy is a task that demands the highest level of filtration as well as complex and intricate adaptation of the features of the video game on board.

The first and greatest struggle of such video game adaptation is catering to the fact that these video games are constructed as single player games where one player has the freedom of choice to navigate and behave as he or she so chooses, whenever he or she so chooses, and where ever he or she so chooses. Adding multiple players around the table restricts this free movement and changes the dynamic of the game. A serious concern regarding this is the change in dynamic from free enjoyable play to a competitive restrictive kind where players are constantly out to prevent one another’s game play in order to have the competitive edge on board.

With Ying’s challenge of adapting Doom onto board, he had to make the tough decision of abandoning the doomslayers as their traits do not make them fit playables for a cooperative multiplayer game. Replacing the doomslayers with more basic versions of the character takes the game back into a time that precedes the one in the digital game. This new setting can be taken as inspiration for the adaptation of the other features of the game.

Another factor to consider when layering the practicals of the board game is the unionizing together and against of players. The digital games resolved this issue by hiding away the score cards so that players did not feel as though they were being measured for their performance at every stage of the game, this in turn ensuring that a score-driven outset did not influence how the players interacted in game. Disguising a score system on a board game is a far more difficult task as the entire basis of a winner-loser game is to have a point system or a mode of measurement where the performance of players can be differentiated, and this, exactly, is the struggle. The designers want to preserve the true nature of the game play, not have players play on the offence and disrupt one another’s game play to a stand still, and still manage to have an outcome of the game.

With the question of the players’ interactions on board comes the concern of the speed of the play. While digital video games allow for real time simultaneous activity with the computer keeping track of the performance of each player, turn-based strategy games require that the players strategize each move before the turn is played and collectively keep tabs on how every player is performing. This, consequently, slows down the pace of the game which takes out the thrill that these two games are known for: their fast paced action-packed game play. This is another struggle Ying will have to face as he works on creating his board game playable version of DOOM.

One thing Ying worked on to combat these issues of scoring, cooperation, and timing, is to fine tune the strengths and weaknesses of each weapon so that each piece of equipment is useful in its own unique scenario, encouraging players to switch between the weapons more often and giving them a greater sense of choice and critical decision making.

Fischer was faced with the same struggles but he chose to tackle them by stepping away from such a flat and simple ordered design and instead give the players the freedom to travel wherever they like and engage in whichever conquest they so choose, as is their right in the digital game. However, with this, the options of what to do become endless and so to contain the actual practical applications of the interactions, Fischer chose to combine certain actions into categories. Interactions, for example, were grouped as encounter actions and so the ability to play one action of a category at a time leaves the freedom to choose and determine your own journey in the game whilst containing and keeping track of the implications of the millions of combinations of play possible at a given stage in the game.

In addition to this, Fischer has also set an example for Ying with how he tackled the battle component of Fallout in his board game. With many encounter, motion, and strategy components in the game, Fischer did not want to slow down the combat in action and so he chose to go with a dice-based solution as they are quick to use and visually a more thrilling deciding tool. With this he also went on to categorize the different dice used to be deciding tools for different action components, and that, in his opinion, played well on the aesthetic front of the board game as well.

The most significant concern in this reverse adaptation process that shadows over every other concern is the scoring system. Scoring is the ultimate form of determination for who’s ahead and who’s behind, who’s winning and who’s losing. Competition is the essence of a game and to incorporate scoring in a way where it doesn’t affect the game play but also in a way where it’s indeed there to fuel the game is a difficult task. With games that are made so complex, it is a time consuming and rather tedious task to keep track of all of the points, rewards, and punishments in the game. Although this task is difficult when adapting a board game into a video game, it’s not as difficult as in some way or another, the computer can be programmed to have layers of calculations being performed constantly in the background as the players enjoy the game. Humans are unable to compute at the same speed and accuracy of a computer and, besides, who wants to sit there tallying scores instead of enjoying the game.

To tackle this, throughout the many prototypes of the game, Ying incorporated a 1 vs many dynamic that allowed for one player to assume the role of the protagonist and the others to take up the playable demon characters. With this, again, comes the concern of how the different levels of strength of the protagonist and devils compare with one another. What if the protagonist is too strong and overpowers all the demons? Similarly, what if the demons work together every time and as a collective force are too difficult to overcome? Where is the balance between that? This particular dilemma took many prototypes of the game to experiment and adapt the characters. This also depends highly on who is playing the game and what strategy they so choose to employ. A player may choose to go easy on another character or may choose to take on the full offensive. Which combination of strengths and traits in the characters allows for the most flexibility so that either case is well sustained.

There are so many working parts in a game that all contribute to the game play from a particular angle. Adaptation between the board and the digital game is difficult in either direction as some features work well on board as to where others work well in the video game. No particular platform is entirely better; they’re just both very different. This, perhaps, is a reason why Fantasy Flight Games wants to adapt both of its games to board as well as the pre-existing video game, to allow for two fundamentally different plays of the game. However, staying true to the nature of the game with this becomes an insanely difficult task. With Ying and Fischer sharing their experiences with fellow designers throughout their challenging projects, other developers can now reassess whether they would still like to go about adaptations of their games, and if so, what must they change or reconsider with regards to the logistics of the process.

A look at the final outcome of Doom: The Board Game, courtesy Jonathan Ying.

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A look at the final outcome of Fallout: The Board Game, courtesy Andrew Fischer.

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Sarmad Burki

Sarmad Burki is a Mathematician and a Economist with a passion for all things gaming and tech. His academics and professional experience combined with tech and gaming adds to his skills giving him a unique ability to observe the tech and gaming industry from various prespectives.
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