Specifically, this question about why the original Game Boy had a four-color palette. It's been asked, closed, reopened, unilaterally closed, and now has three additional re-open votes. There's been some discussion in The Bridge and on the comments to the question itself about bringing the discussion to meta, but nobody actually has yet, so here we are.

Should this question (and questions of its class, concerning the rationale for hardware design limitations or decisions) be appropriate on Arqade as a exception to the policy that questions concern developer intent are off-topic? If so, how should that exception be codified?

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    I think with slight rewording it could be on topic. If it can be edited to focus less on "How did the makers decide..." and more on what is described in the second paragraph (technical limitations, precedence, and whatnot) then I think it could be ok. If not, perhaps the gaming-history tag itself is inherently flawed. – Broots Waymb Mar 9 '16 at 20:31
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    I think the main issue is that the current developer intent guideline feels undefined or inconsistent. If we can come up with a clear and consistent set of rules, I don't think anyone would be upset with that question sticking around. – two bugs Mar 9 '16 at 20:38
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    @twobugs I agree with the undefined/inconsistent thing; I tried to find the meta post that established the developer intent rules, but couldn't. Just a bunch of ancillary questions that mention developer intent being off-topic in answers (I stopped after the first page of hits though). – user6789 Mar 9 '16 at 20:41
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    Agreed with @twobugs completely. Just because something sounds even remotely similar to "why is X like Y?" or "why did X do Y?" many people automatically assume it's a subjective answer based on some developer's opinion at some point in time. In instances where there is a clear cut, non-subjective answer (such as the linked question) I see no problem with it. Although I do see that that might require some knowledge about what type of answer there would be in the first place... However, it's clearly a separate type of question from most 'dev-intent' questions that are off-topic. – Broots Waymb Mar 9 '16 at 20:42
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    I know we have questions floating around such as "Why are EA Genesis/Mega Drive cartridges larger than normal?" Which have remained on the site (and been very well received). However there seems to be a trend of late that if a question slightly grazes into off-topic (or hell, even borderline) territory that some users immediately latch onto that as justification for closure, when a slight rewording of the question would make it perfectly on topic. :-/ – Robotnik Mod Mar 9 '16 at 20:53
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    I did some digging into the "developer intent" close reason. That language was added when we got some additional custom close reasons as defined in this meta. At that time, as you can see here, Game Design questions were off-topic, and I think that's where "developer intent" came from. Going back more, I think it originally came from this meta asking if Game Design questions should be off-topic – Sterno Mar 9 '16 at 20:55
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    Interestingly enough, @Sterno, the accepted answer to your link suggests asking such questions with specifics in mind is somewhat acceptable and valid. The answer specifically lists asking in general as the leading front for closing as game dev. (" - I mean, a question like "why does Team Fortress Classic has separate health and armor values" is closer to a valid question... ... But I feel that a general questions like "why do FPSs sometimes have separate health and armor values" is a lot more about general game design.". The user then suggests these questions belong on Game Dev – user106385 Mar 9 '16 at 22:35
  • If that was a basis (this other SE is a much better place for questions like these, so lets block them and send them over there) for part of the answer, there is less merit, as Im quite sure these questions are not within the scope of Game Dev. – user106385 Mar 9 '16 at 22:36
  • @Robotnik I fail to see how that is at all on-topic. Great, they're bigger. So? Why things are the way they are isn't something that affects us. How things work is much more practical, and more importantly, gives us a much more objective problem space to work with. – Frank Mar 9 '16 at 23:04
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    @Frank - and that brings us right back to usefulness/utility not being a close reason. I'm getting tired of having this same old argument, so can we just jump to the conclusion? If you don't think the question is useful, downvote. If you don't think gaming history is useful, downvote, if you don't think our users can be experts in the hardware of the systems that they are playing on, or if you disagree with an answer, write a better one, and/or downvote the former. – Robotnik Mod Mar 9 '16 at 23:23
  • @Robotnik If a question falls into an off-topic problem space, close vote. That's literally what I'm doing here. – Frank Mar 9 '16 at 23:24
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    And for the record, they're bigger because EA had to reverse engineer the system and make their own carts to get around Sega's strict licensing model (haven been given the go ahead to do so). I think that's interesting. I think it's interesting enough to be relevant to the larger gaming audience. You know that already. You don't think it's relevant, I know that already. Something something agree to disagree :-) – Robotnik Mod Mar 9 '16 at 23:26
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    @Robotnik From an interest standpoint, I agree. That is interesting. I just don't agree it belongs here. That's where we'll have to agree to disagree. :) – Frank Mar 9 '16 at 23:30
  • @JoshPetrie thank you for going ahead and pushing this to meta. – badp Mar 12 '16 at 17:43

A good starting point would be Grace's answer, I think. Notably the end of it:

So as a good rule of thumb, think to yourself when it comes to a mechanics question, "Does this information concern me for my choices in playing the game?" versus "Does this information concern me in how the game was created?". The latter is off-topic, the former is on-topic.

It makes a good distinction; we're primarily about extracting maximum advantage from playing games. When it comes to design questions, there's nothing there we can affect. Even if it can be answered because the publisher or dev has said something about it, there's no levers there. Nothing to change, nothing to affect. The game will play the same regardless of this knowledge. It's, at best, a piece of information.

That's why I'm of the opinion this should still be off-topic; not only does it require knowledge to have been imparted from someone in the know, but there's nothing there you can use to help your gameplay. Nothing gives you an advantage.

That said, we've run into quite a few game design questions lately that easily fall into this bucket, but have been reopened, due to popularity. So, the question is, if we're not going to be applying our game design off-topic reason, then we need to come up with an acceptable policy so we can be consistent about this.

I've been accused of running off new users for blindly enforcing rules; you know what drives off new users even faster? Inconsistent policing. Right now, it's a total crap shoot when these questions are asked whether they stay closed. They will get closed, and then promptly reopened for various reasons, none of which invalidate that they are design-based questions.

If they're popular, that's fine. People like them, and there might be expertise we can bring to the table here. But let's do it in a manner that's clear and consistent. As it stands, these questions are off-topic. It doesn't matter how popular they are, they are off-topic, and have been for years. If we want to keep them, which it looks like we're leaning towards, then great. Let's come up with a policy that we can apply equally to all questions of this class, not just pick and choose and keep those that are popular.

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    I think I agree with your meta answer for once. This terrifies me. I'm going to need to reread this a few times, break it down line by line, consult a priest, and do some soul searching to make sure an upvote is the correct choice. – Sterno Mar 10 '16 at 0:47
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    The parts before and after the horizontal rule seem completely disconnected. I find the first part presumptuous to the point of being a little offensive. Not everyone plays games with the same mindset as you, which I know has been discussed repeatedly. The second part of the answer seems to essentially be an argument that we need a different set of policies to rigidly enforce, which will lead us right back to the same set of problems. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:31
  • @DCShannon They're connected in the fact that right now, these questions are off-topic, but we're keeping them. In which case, we need a consistent policy to deal with it, or we're just going to have this argument again and again and again. We're repeating it for every single question that hits this topic, but gets reopened. So if we want to keep them, fine. Let's do so. But let's make sure we come to a consensus on a policy we can clearly understand and apply, so users aren't confused. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 4:52

For my own input, I am the guy who asked the question.

I am an occasional visitor to this stack. From my experience of asking questions, there are a lot questions which seem to fit Arqade and nowhere else - but are inherently rejected because it doesn't fit with rule a part b subsection 15.a, regardless of upvotes or answers - and I'm often shunted back out of the community for breaking this rule that I didn't know existed.

However, at this point I have usually got the answer I was looking for and I can delete my question and remove myself from the community again.

Which leads other people to ask the same question because it's no longer searchable.

Often if my question is closed before it's answered I can ask in chat, and then it won't be recorded for other people to search it.

To further explain my rationale of my question - there is a gaming-history tag. There is a hardware tag. My understanding is that topics are limited to the tags available.

For what it's worth, the question has had over 2,500 views and at the time of writing the sum of upvotes on the question and answers are 140.

The problem with your sub is the interaction with users like me. This is our way of thinking. I'll leave it to your community to decide what to do with this information.

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    I think you raise some good points. We do very much run the risk of alienating new users if we don't have sensible rules and guidelines for our topicality (or at the very least, good explanations for why we've made certain choices). At the same time, if we're too loose in enforcing the policies we as a community have decided on, we risk alienating our core users because decisions can feel arbitrary or unfair. It's a difficult balance. I'm sorry your question was at the center of it, but I think this is an important conversation for us as a community. – two bugs Mar 10 '16 at 14:32
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    Users often make the mistake that popularity automatically makes a question on-topic. It doesn't. It's a misleading method of justifying their acceptance. ITG was in the same boat, and they were eventually deemed off-topic. – Frank Mar 10 '16 at 15:04
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    Don't take it personally - the scenario of popular questions opening and closing based on developer intent interpretations is like a monthly occurrence at the moment – user101016 Mar 10 '16 at 15:59
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    While I don't have a strong opinion either way regarding the topicality of your question, I do want to point that across the entire StackExchange network metrics like the number of views on a question, or the number of votes on it or its answers don't factor in to whether or not the question is on or off-topic. They factor into whether or not the community has a discussion (like this one) about a question, but you generally won't get very far trying to use them as a defense for a question. – user6789 Mar 10 '16 at 16:23
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    It's better to focus on the merits (or lack thereof) of the question's topic and how it fits or could fit within the site's topic; SE isn't a popularity contest and that's probably a good thing. – user6789 Mar 10 '16 at 16:24
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    You've only asked two questions here. The other was clearly about an unreleased game, and was rightly closed. So...it's hard to see two questions as a track record of questions you've asked that should be kept. – Frank Mar 10 '16 at 22:11
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    The question was demonstrably off-topic. However the frequency of such occurrences on this site, and the popularity of such questions, I think, should necessitate a discussion about whether: (a) Should the rules change? (b) Should another site be spun up to handle such questions? (c) Should we completely reject these questions across all sites despite the fact that seemingly everyone wants to know the answer? – thanby Mar 11 '16 at 1:08
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    ^ "c" seems ludicrous for a community based on factual discussion. "b" would be very difficult to distinguish from gaming.se as it stands. "a" would require serious soul-searching but is by far the easiest overall route, from what I can see, and would seem the most helpful to the internet at large, because people do actually want to know these things, and they can (sometimes) be answered or at least conjectured about logically. Scifi.se is built on logical conjecture in the absence of canon, is there a reason gaming.se can't do the same? – thanby Mar 11 '16 at 1:12
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    @thanby We dislike speculation. That's the primary reason we disallow these questions in the first place. That's all these questions amount to; guessing. Unless we have a factual statement from a privileged resource. – Frank Mar 11 '16 at 2:25
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    @Frank In RPG.se we can back up designer intent with interviews, quotes and design documents. I think you're being a little over-militant in enforcing your point and your comments are feeling a little like personal attacks. The fact is there's an issue and a resolution needs to be found. – Polyducks Mar 11 '16 at 9:31
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    @Polyducks For here, we disallow them, because what happens when those designers haven't said anything? It's all speculation, and it's hard to set up a policy that allows some design questions, but not others, all based on whether or not someone has actually said anything. I don't mind if we allow these questions, but I'm not seeing any argument from anyone here that can actually let us set a consistent policy to allow them. Answerability and popularity make for very poor policy making. – Frank Mar 11 '16 at 12:47
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    @Frank 'Answers should be based on facts and not speculation'. At that point it's an issue with the answers and not the question. – Polyducks Mar 11 '16 at 14:11
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    Would it not then be acceptable to answer with "Unfortunately there's no evidence available to answer this" and leave it at that? Perhaps flag it as "Unanswerable with current information - Please let us know if that changes"? That would at the least stop people from asking the same questions over and over and prevent/reduce the close/re-open wars. – thanby Mar 11 '16 at 15:49
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    @badp I'm a newcomer to your stack. I literally don't know the rules other than what is shown to me. I can't browse through four years of meta. How can I know that I can ask 'What colours did the Game Boy support?' but not 'Why did the Game Boy support four colours?' __ Since the start of this meta post, there have been a lot of people trying to jam my question into their reading of the rules so it can stay by changing one word here or there. A problem lies there. __ Please don't take offence. I am trying to help the Arqade community by being blunt and giving my view as an outsider. – Polyducks Mar 12 '16 at 23:11
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    @badp it's not about leaving me alone at all. I just wanted to know about the four colours of a Game Boy. I didn't want to be dragged into the trade embargo from Star Wars episode one. Having my exact wording cross-examined and my intent questioned has left me very irritable. I'm sorry it came out like that. You are commenting and trying to assist. – Polyducks Mar 13 '16 at 0:50

I think the linked question demonstrates there's a problem with the "Game Design Development" off-topic close reason. The question is one of the more obvious violations of the "developer intent" part of the rule given in the close reason, yet there wasn't a clear consensus that it should be closed.

There are two main justifications used for closing questions as "off-topic" on Stack Exchange:

  • The topic of the question doesn't fit within the scope of the site.
  • The question doesn't fit the question and answer format.

While "game development" questions obviously don't fit well the scope of a site meant for players of games, it's not as obvious that "developer intent" questions don't fit the scope. These include questions that are being asked by players and that can be answered by knowledgeable players. Knowledgeable players who, for example, follow developer interviews, game development blogs and developers posting in official forums, all forms of marketing directed at players.

You could justify closing developer intent questions as not fitting the QA format, because either they can't be answered or they'd invite a lot different speculative answers, but there doesn't seem to be any clear track record of this being a problem. That justification seems to be speculative itself, while questions like this one demonstrate otherwise.

So I think this question and questions like it should be on-topic, even if it doesn't solve more general problem with the close reason. The topic of the question is within the nominal scope of the site, while not inherently being unanswerable. This would be a clear rule, a clear and hopefully consistent exception to the unfortunately not clearly defined nor consistently applied "developer intent" rational.

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    There's no track record because all the problematic questions have been deleted. So your premise is flawed. – Frank Mar 10 '16 at 4:02
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    @Frank No, my premise is that there was never a track record of this being a problem, even before this close reason was added and the questions started being deleted. If there was then there should be a post on meta here that someone can point to where a consensus formed that this was a problem that needed to be fixed. Instead all I've ever seen justifying it is speculation that it would be a problem if allowed. – user86571 Mar 10 '16 at 5:00
  • Except we have several examples. And those are from just a quick search. – Frank Mar 10 '16 at 5:12
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    @Frank Except that it never led to a consensus on meta that it was a problem that needed to be fixed. All sort of posts on all sorts of topics have been closed and deleted because the particular question was deemed to be unanswerable. Individual questions about developer intent can still be closed if that particular question is judged too broad or a matter of opinion. Just like we do with questions about game mechanics. We don't ban questions about character classes just because sometimes people ask which class is the best. We don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. – user86571 Mar 10 '16 at 5:25
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    That's not a clear, nor consistent policy. We'd be exactly back where we are now, where it's a complete crapshoot whether you get your question kept open or not. – Frank Mar 10 '16 at 13:12

Currently, the following is off-topic:

Speculative questions about developer intent, with respect to both mechanics and narrative

If the question is simply:

Why did Nintendo decide on four colours for the Game Boy?

... this question would be off-topic. Essentially the question draws in speculative answers... guesswork etc all on behalf of the developer. Whether this should be the rule belongs to another meta. However, this is the rule.

Now, the current question as it stands is:

Why did the original Game Boy have four colours?

How did the makers decide on four - and why not three or five? What is it about the hardware that made four colours optimal?

Was there a precedent to using four shades of grey in computer graphics before the Game Boy, or was this an invention of the system?

I am not so sure that the question in its current form is borderline. It is essentially asking developer intent (i.e. why did the developer design the Game Boy with 4 colours).

Additionally, the question contains a number of sub-questions, which make it look like it is guessing the reasons behind the choice:

  • Why not three or five?
  • What is it about the hardware that made four colours optimal?
  • Was there a precedent to using four shades of grey in computer graphics before the Game Boy?
  • Was this an invention of the system?

If a question was asked such as:

Why did the C64 have 16 colours?

How did the makers decide on 16 - and why not 32 or 256?

Was it because of this or that?

Shouldn't this be off-topic based on the off-topic list? I would also like to point out something else in the help-centre under the Don't Ask List:

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

...there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”

What problem does this question even solve? One day I was wondering why a piece of technology invented decades ago used 4 colours?

The way I see it is that the real problem with this situation is:

  • The help-centre is not clear enough (specifically with regards to the developer intent reason not providing clear wording and/or examples)
  • As a community we are not guiding popular questions with good answers away from off-topic elements (rather, we are closing it as it is, or fighting over how it stands now...)
  • (Sorry for naming dropping) This whole Frank vs. the world comment war that crops up when Frank states why he voted to close a question (and the aftermath)... its very distracting and negative

The most obvious fix to the question would be:

Why did the original Game Boy have four colours?

How did the makers decide on four - and why not three or five? What is it about the hardware that made four colours optimal?

Was there a precedent to using four shades of grey in computer graphics before the Game Boy, or was this an invention of the system?

I think this question also needs some context along the lines of why is this being asked. Even if it is along the lines of trying to understand an article or documentary... I don't know. At least make it a real question!

As for the help centre problem(s), I think some work is needed, and probably belongs to another meta. There is nothing about Minecraft mod support, nothing about Clash of Clan "attack this base" - all being useful to add so that we can redirect users who fall foul of off-topic questions rather than to meta discussions regarding high voting "let's make this off-topic".

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    "What problem does this question even solve? One day I was wondering why a piece of technology invented decades ago used 4 colours?" Couldn't you make the same argument of almost everything tagged game-history (playing devil's advocate here)? – user6789 Mar 10 '16 at 16:27
  • @JoshPetrie - Not always. Look at this question - gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/185772/…... it derives from a source. The OP is asking why is this so. The answer helps you understand the third party article. If the Game Boy question was asked in the same manner it would be useful beyond "I wonder why...". – user101016 Mar 10 '16 at 16:35
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    RE: your last point about context @camelCase - whether OP explicitly stated why they are asking a question is a moot point in terms of on/off topicness. It can't hurt to provide it, but it isn't required. For the Game Boy question in particular, there is already an implied "improves my understanding of how the system works" 'practical' reasoning, why would we need Josh to state it explicitly, and why would that affect whether the question is a 'real question'? – Robotnik Mod Mar 11 '16 at 6:10
  • @Robotnik - This is part of the bigger problem... the consensus in the meta is out of touch with the documented off-topic, don't ask etc lists. I could waste time and say "it says xyz" in the help centre, and you counter with how you don't agree. This is why the original question is opened/closed etc and we see another meta re: developer intent. Is the page hard/fast rules for acceptable questions? Or a guideline? Or out of date? My entire answer is based on applying what is said in the help centre to the question. – user101016 Mar 11 '16 at 16:41
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    I always find it rather presumptuous when people say that someone else's question doesn't solve a problem or is pointless. If the whole time you're playing your GameBoy you're wondering "why does this thing only have four colors", then this question is going to solve that problem. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 2:06

I think this issue is getting blown way out of proportion.

Some of us would like unrealistically precise and rigid rules for classifying what is essentially amateur prose, but as I mentioned in the comments on that question, we need to use judgement when applying rules.

Questions whose answer would require an appeal to developer intent should be closed most if not all of the time. Sometimes this will be easy to determine, sometimes it will require some expert knowledge. In the specific instance of the GameBoy color question, it required some expert knowledge regarding computer hardware. That's okay. We have experts here capable of making those judgements. What's not okay is when people who don't have that knowledge come in and try to blindly apply a rule because they think it applies, despite a consensus that they are incorrect.

I liken the application of our close reasons to a police officer's application of traffic laws. Speeding is a reason that a police officer may pull you over if they think it is warranted. If you are in a 55 zone going 57, you are objectively, demonstrably breaking the law. Despite this, you will almost certainly not get pulled over unless you are also doing something else wrong. In fact, if you are going 62 in that 55 zone you still probably won't get pulled over so long as you are moving with the flow of traffic. In other words, you're going along with the consensus regarding what speed is safe. A police officer who pulls someone over who's going 2-over and doing nothing else wrong is generally regarded as petty.

Similarly, being about designer intent is a valid reason to close a question, but the community needs to decide if it's actually warranted on a case-by-case basis. We need to ask ourselves why developer intent questions should be closed: because they are usually subjective, and can require insider knowledge.

Was this particular question about something subjective? No. Is the answer it got opinion-based? No. Did answering it require insider knowledge? No.

It shouldn't be closed. It's fine. It was not difficult to give an objective answer that provided utility to the asker as well as many people who came and voted on it.

So, yeah, a more specific and clear description of exactly when to apply this close reason would be good, as there is clearly some confusion and disagreement on the topic, but there's not some critical system breakdown going on here.

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    Way to strawman the entire problem. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 3:08
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    @Frank I'm not that surprised that you see this metaphor as a straw man, considering how black and white your views seem to be on these issues. I see the situations as nearly identical. In your answer, you even refer to enforcing these policies as "policing". – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 3:48
  • It's not the reference to policing I have an issue with. It's your portrayal that these efforts are unrealistic and thereby petty. You're casting it as blind adherence to the rules, and thereby automatically suspect. That's the strawman I'm talking about. I don't care you disagree. I do care that you've decided to discount my and others efforts at proper curation. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 3:58
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    Firstly, for something to be a strawman argument, it has to be part of a debate. I wasn't aware I was debating someone. Who am I debating? You? Secondly, I would have to misrepresent someone's position. There are clearly individuals who think we should rigidly apply rules exactly as written in all cases where those rules could apply. It appears to me that this is your position. If not, please clarify. Thirdly, the misrepresentation should be disingenuous. I've not tried to misrepresent anyone's position. In response to your actual criticisms: – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:02
  • It sounds like you might actually agree that blind adherence to the rules is bad. That's good. That's a start. If that's the case then, then you're saying that you've considered everything involved and still found the question lacking. Could you explain that? All I've heard is "developer intent, bad, close". – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:03
  • You're playing with semantics. You're saying those that closed the question, of which I was one, are being nitpicky, so you have something to attack. The fact is, the question is off-topic right now, according to our own established policies. I don't mind the community wanting to keep it, but don't decide that closing such questions is wrong. It's not. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 4:06
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    @Frank You've just said that the position I'm talking about in the answer is not your position, then repeated it as your position. I'm not following you. I'm saying that just because a particular close reason could apply to a question, doesn't mean that the question definitely is off-topic and in need of closing. It seems that you're saying the opposite. Repeating over and over again that it is off-topic without saying why it is a problem just confirms my understanding of what you're saying. That's what you've been saying. It doesn't clarify anything. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:11
  • @Frank I would love it if you would answer this: why would allowing people to answer this question harm the site? – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:12
  • It's in my answer. That's why I think they're off-topic, and why we have the policy. I'm being rather consistent about this; I'm not arguing my side here, I'm challenging your strawman. It weakens your argument rather significantly. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 4:19
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    @Frank In order to show that there's a straw man in my answer, which I'm not even remotely convinced that there is, you would need to demonstrate that the person I'm responding to doesn't hold the position. I'm not responding to anyone directly, though, I'm just responding to a position. If you don't hold it, which you've indicated pretty clearly and consistently that you do, then fine. That doesn't mean that no one else does. Even if no one does, then everything I said still applies to the position itself. No one should hold that position. It's detrimental. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:24
  • You are saying that those who hold site curation to the rules as being, and I quote, "a petty prick". That's your strawman. If you can't see it, then there's no point in continuing this. Suffice to say, the actions are taken in good faith, and you do yourself a massive disservice by taking that stance. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 4:32
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    @Frank Don't get the impression that I think you or anyone else is trying to harm the site by applying rules. You do a lot of good here, and we appreciate that. I've defended you in the past as being a bit absolutist, but generally correct. You are usually correct, and I fully believe you're attempting to improve things. 'Petty' just means that the things you're trying to improve aren't actually real problems or important, and in this specific case I think it applies. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:42
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    @Frank I dropped the 'prick' part, that's probably not necessary. I didn't assume anything. We make decisions as a community, which we're trying to do right now. I definitely do think those who voted to close it were wrong to do so. I'm not the only one who disagrees with this question or others like it being closed. I don't see anyone who supports it provided anything resembling a reason why this question is a problem, and you never answered that question either. I'll agree there's not much point in continuing this right now, especially since I'm logging off. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 4:55
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    For the same reason as why they were made off-topic in the first place; the entire class invites speculation. Granted, there are some that don't, like the one we're discussing, but that's why we need an actual policy to handle those. We can't just say, "Yeah, no, we don't allow these, unless you hit arbitrary checkpoints A, B, and C, that you don't have any control over." If we can't communicate how this works, and apply it consistently, it's no better than what we have now. – Frank Mar 12 '16 at 15:33
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    Just because he might be called petty doesn't mean that the officer is wrong for pulling you over. – Dragonrage Mod Mar 18 '16 at 4:11

Personally, as a mostly-lurker on this SE, I think that, while somewhat ambiguously classified by site guidelines, questions like this are useful and in the spirit of the site because they help people approach games the way that they were originally intended to be approached.

As an analogy, suppose someone is playing a traditional-ish RPG for the first time (let's say Baldur's Gate). They notice that they keep getting these things called XP that can be spent to improve skills, even if they've never actually used these skills in practice. They're used to playing games like the Elder Scrolls series, where you improve skills by using them, so they come to the Gaming SE to ask: why can you get better at skills without using them in Baldur's Gate?

Now, this arguably gets into developer intent, and it's very unlikely that anyone's going to be able to dig up an interview with BioWare where they explain why they made the choice to use XP. But at the same time, it has a reasonably objective answer; namely, a brief rundown on the history of RPGs and a (gentle) explanation that this feature isn't unique to Baldur's Gate, but is a staple of the entire genre. BioWare expects you to know what an RPG is and how it works before you get started. The developers don't expect you to know why they chose to set up the towns the way that they did, but they do expect you to know why they chose to allow you to improve skills the way they did, the same way they do expect you to know where the pause menu is or how to attack.

For most users of the site, this will be informative only in the historical sense, but since the game was intended to be played with some sort of background knowledge about RPGs and how they work, knowing this information will improve the experience for the OP in the same way that any other question about game mechanics and terminology would. "Why can you do this in this game" is off-topic if it's just a pure developer-intent "because that's the game" mechanic, but I would argue that it's on-topic if there's a good answer along the lines of "because the game expects you to be familiar with X, here's how the mechanic works" or "because past games that didn't do X were vulnerable to game-breaking exploit Y".

I admit that I'm biased in favor of questions I find interesting, such as the one asked by the OP, but I think that having at least some sort of canonical, Community Wiki-type reference would be useful. In the context of the Game Boy palette question, if there was some sort of gameplay-related reason that the Game Boy had had four colors that people would commonly have known in 1989 but not today, that would be useful to know.

  • +1. Sounds like a useful, welcoming site. – DCShannon Mar 12 '16 at 2:09

I agree with Frank that rules should be consistently applied, otherwise we simply get into fights when people's opinions differ. Game design questions are off topic here because the answers are simply speculation. Sure, we may know a bunch of stuff about the topic that may be the reason as to why the designers chose to do a certain thing with a game, but we do not know for sure as to why they did it.

On this site, we want questions we can answer, and we cannot answer game design questions, we can merely list reasons why they probably did it. The only way we would actually be able to give an answer would be if the designer were to give out that information. However, if we decide that design questions are on topic if they have an answer from the developer and off topic if they don't then we cause confusion. Nor should questions be decided that they are on topic because we are X% sure that we know the answer, every time a question like that appears, there will be a discussion whether it is answerable or not. I feel both would be bad practices.

Take for example this question (paraphrasing question that started this topic)- Q: Why did Nintendo use 4 colors for their Game Boy? A: Probably because of these limitations. and this question (I made up) Q:Why did company X make game Y 32 bit? A: Probably for reason Z. Both of those questions are asking about why the designers did something, and both are just as unanswerable by us, even if we know a lot about the topic. It still is guesswork.

If the question asked "Were there limitations in hardware that would have made GameBoys only be able to use 4 colors?" it might be on topic in GameDev (I am unsure what their rules are) but it would still be off topic here as it's not about gaming, but about hardware. Thus I feel hardware design decisions fall under developer intent, and thus are off topic.

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