Entropy as a display of Time

July 7, 2008

I came across this article through Digg about a physicist’s theory on the multiverse, the big bang and entropy. I find it to be extremely fascinating and actually had a little tie in to game design.

Sean Carroll, the physicist being interviewed in the article, talks about entropy. Specifically one thing he said stuck in my head.

The reason why you are not surprised when you open a deck of cards and it’s in perfect order is not because it’s just easy and natural to find it in perfect order, it’s because the deck of cards is not a closed system.

We assume that everything starts from order and moves into chaos. The same goes for video games. I’ve heard lots of design students talk about making something completely random, but players don’t like that. In fact, it seems humans don’t like that, not just game players in general.

You want players to be able to grok your game. If you make something completely random, there is nothing the player can learn as far as how your system works. Sure, you can have randomness inside of your system (that’s what dice are for), but it’s not 100% random. A single six sided die, for instance, has 6 possible outcomes. Now, there is no way to determine what the outcome will be before hand, but you know that when you roll a D6 you won’t get “porcupine” as a possible result.

Players want a fixed number of ppossible results that will occur because of the actions they take. When you start to change this, the game may get too difficult and the player walks away. And the worse thing you can do is make a game that no one is playing…