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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Book Review: Game Design Workshop, 3rd Edition by Tracy Fullerton #GDWW

Note: this post was originally published in the August 2014 issue of ASPects, the official newsletter of the Association of Software Professionals.

This is the final post for Game Design Workshop Wednesday. You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of the exercises I published.

As Chair of the Interactive Media & Games Division at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Tracy Fullerton teaches game design with a “playcentric approach”. What is a playcentric approach?

She describes it as an iterative design process with player experience goals. Her book, Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition, teaches the reader how games work, demonstrates how to design a new game through prototypes and playtesting, and finally explains how the game designer role fits into the larger industry. By the time you’ve read the book, you should not only be able to create new games that are compelling and enjoyable to play, but you should also be able to make a living at it.

Except, just reading a book about game design won’t make you a game designer any more than reading a book about how to draw will make you an artist. Saying that “the only way to really become a game designer is to make games, not just play them or read about them,” Fullerton fills the book with plenty of exercises to reinforce lessons as well as provide ways to practice. In fact, she recommends seeing the book as a tool that guides the reader through the design process to get the most out of it.

The first part of the book focuses on the basic components of games, providing a common vocabulary to prepare the reader for the rest of the lessons. Fullerton’s definition of a game? A closed, formal system that engages players in structured conflict and resolves its uncertainty in an unequal outcome. She makes a point of claiming no ultimate definitions of games, however, stating that what she has provided is a starting point.

An entire chapter is dedicated to the formal elements of a game. For some elements, a list of examples is given, such as the various player interaction patterns or the general types of objectives one might encounter. With a good understanding of mechanics and the rules that make up a game, the reader can critically analyze existing games and is capable of putting together unique game designs.

The chapter on dramatic elements starts with a discussion of the roles of challenge and play before explaining how traditional dramatic elements, such as premise and the dramatic arc, manifest in games. The idea is that a game designer using these elements can more effectively create powerful emotions for the player.

The mechanics and dramatic elements are static, but games are also made of systems. The system dynamics chapter breaks down a few games, contrasting tic-tac-toe with chess and Mastermind with Clue. Concepts such as resource exchange, emergent systems, and feedback cycles are touched upon, and it is easy to see how challenging it can be to identify the key relationships between the properties of different elements in the game.

The second part of the book takes the reader through the actual game design process, starting with idea generation and ending with an eye towards ensuring the game is accessible, enjoyable, and complete. It is this part of the book that really emphasizes player experience goals of the playcentric approach.

While having a lot of ideas helps you identify the good ones, you need to start with one, and Fullerton provides a number of ways to help you narrow it down.

She splits prototyping into two chapters, one focused on physical prototypes and the other on the unique challenges and benefits of digital prototypes. While one might think that digital prototypes would be ideal for computer games, physical prototypes are quick ways to work with basic mechanics without worrying about the scaffolding of creating a full application, including the need to design the right control scheme and aesthetics. I particularly enjoyed Richard Garfield’s explanation of how the design of Magic: The Gathering evolved.

I wish the digital prototyping chapter explained more about how to create the actual prototypes and not just what kinds of prototypes to make. In the most technical section, it felt like it was too much theory and left the reader figuring out how to proceed without too much guidance besides getting informed about game engines and level editors.

Playtesting is incredibly important, as without it you are designing games in a vacuum. An entire chapter is dedicated to recruiting testers and organizing the sessions that will allow them to tell you how your game could be improved, complete with multiple articles with insight into how various game companies have conducted playtesting sessions to greatly benefit the game they were working on.

Part three provides an overview of the experience of working as a game designer. My first impression wasn’t positive, as I wondered why a book about learning how to design games would give so much attention to the jobs you might get. But then I realized that this chapter wasn’t about finding a job but about the practical realities of being a game designer.

It’s rare for a game designer to also be a competent artist, programmer, and composer, which means that a good game designer needs to be able to work with a team. Being able to communicate a design decision is critical to getting everyone aligned with your vision, and you need to be able to take feedback. Everyone has something to contribute to the design of a game, as game development is a collaborative art. What’s more, understanding the business end of game development and publishing can only help your designs.

While the book features interviews with prominent independent game designers such as Jenova Chen and Asher Vollmer, a big focus of the third part was working within a larger company and major publishers. I wish more was dedicated to independent game development than a single page.

Between the exercises and the main text, the book features many game designers such as Brenda Romero and Will Wright offering their insights through articles and interviews. In my own experience as a game designer, I know there have been plenty of times when I wondered how other people would approach a particular problem, and this book provides 30 quick interviews with designers getting asked the questions I would ask.

Each chapter also provided at least one article explaining a particular topic in detail. For instance, in the chapter on system dynamics, there is an article that critically analyzes the card game Set. It provides a good example of the kind of rigor needed to break down the seemingly-simple rules and components to fully understand a game, and it prepares you to start making changes to see what impact they would have on the experience of playing it. You could look at a game of solitaire and imagine how much more complexity would be introduced by adding a new suit, for example.

I appreciated Fullerton’s emphasis on innovation. Her focus was on providing tools and skills to create more than mere knock-offs of existing games, and she sprinkled the text with her positive outlook on the possibilities of what games can and will be. I could tell that one of her goals is for her students and her readers to be the kind of game designers who transform the industry.

People without programming or artistic skills need not worry too much, as the game design lessons are non-technical in nature and are quite accessible, although the digital prototyping chapter did encourage readers to learn at least one programming language. That said, the book is the next best thing to being in an actual game design workshop with Fullerton as it combines hands-on exercises, anecdotes and interviews with existing designers, and practical lessons.

Categories
Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 7.9: Creating a Prototype #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

For this week, I’ll be working on a prototype.

Prototyping game design

Prototyping

Prototyping is a very important tool for a game designer. It allows you to test a game’s mechanics without worrying about the perfection of the details. Paper prototypes are great because you can get a sense of how well your concept works without code or graphics being needed, allowing you to iterate over a number of ideas very rapidly and inexpensively.

Fullerton offers the following four-step process to make a paper prototype efficiently:

  1. Foundation: build a representation of the core game play.
  2. Structure: identify the key rules of the game.
  3. Formal Details: flesh out the needed rules and procedures to make it a complete game.
  4. Refinement: polish up the play experience to make it flow.

The Initial Concept for Dragon Tail

I’ve been toying around with programming a simulation about segmented creatures recently, and so what easily came to mind is the idea of a segmented tail whipping back and forth to attack the unwary. I eventually came up with the idea of a game about stealing treasure from a dragon.

The goal of Dragon Tail is to steal more treasure than your opponent.

The core activities that can be performed by the player including:

  • moving
  • picking up and dropping off treasure
  • poking and avoiding the dragon’s tail

Ultimately, I would like this to be a real-time mobile game. I’m not sure how the lack of a keyboard will impact the controls of such a game, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I want to work on the initial game design before I worry about implementation details of the finished and polished version.

Foundation

I admit that I struggled with this part. Did I err on the side of not having enough detail, or was I adding rules when I didn’t need them yet?

I used some components from my game design prototype toolbox and some graph paper to create an initial scene.

Dragon Tail prototype

There are two players at one end of the play area, each with their own barrel to signify retrieved treasure. The treasure is at the other end. Also extending from the far end is the dragon tail, implying a dragon protecting treasure but facing the other way.

Right now, as this is a paper prototype, the game will be turn-based. A player can run by moving between adjacent spots.

If the player is next to a treasure, he or she can pick up a single piece of treasure and carry it. While carrying treasure, movement is slowed. The player can then attempt to bring the treasure back to the barrel.

So far, it isn’t much, but it’s a start. There are a lot of questions. How far can a player move in a single turn? How much slower is the player made to move when carrying treasure? How much is treasure worth? What about the dragon tail?

But it isn’t a small thing I’ve done. Retrieving treasure is the main activity, and I’ve established that treasure can only be taken one piece at a time. Or am I being premature in making that a rule at this point?

If players can’t collect all the treasure at once, treasure-stealing is a drawn out affair. On the other hand, if the player is allowed to collect multiple pieces of treasure at once, perhaps the encumbrance increases and movement is slowed progressively. Steal one piece, and you can move relatively faster than if you steal five pieces.

Perhaps these are questions best left for the Structure step, and for now the idea of multiple pieces of treasure and the idea of running and collecting them is enough to identify the core game play.

Already I am thinking about how the players will interact with each other and the dragon tail. Poking the dragon’s tail forces it to swing in the other direction.

Dragon Tail prototype

In this shot, one player is returning with treasure, but the other player has poked the tail, which has started whipping slowly toward the first player.

How the tail moves sounds like a Structure issue as well, but the idea that there is a tail that moves away from the player who poked it and can eventually hit the opponent might be enough here.

Dragon Tail prototype

Does the tail merely knock him or her over temporarily? Does it kill the player and force a respawn? What happens to the treasure if it was being carried?

As I said, I struggled here with trying to keep the prototype in the Foundation step. Fullerton asks you to try to play your core game play on your own in order to see if the basic concept is worth pursuing while avoiding the temptation to add rules unless they are absolutely necessary. But how do I play this game without putting some rules in place to dictate how I can play it in the first place?

So far, I know I have some number of treasure pieces, a whipping tail, and competing players who can move, carry treasure, and poke the tail. The players can also be hit by the tail with some currently unknown consequences.

It’s probably time for some structure.

Structure

Where do I start? I think the movement of the players is a good place, as moving is going to be a key part of the game play. It allows you to make progress towards collecting treasure and dodge the swinging dragon tail.

Dragon Tail prototype

I divided the play area into a grid of squares. A player can move between adjacent squares and is allowed to move up to three squares each turn. When carrying treasure, a player is encumbered and can move only one square.

Treasure can be collected one piece at a time. There. Now it feels OK to make this rule. How many pieces are there? Maybe specifying it now is too early. There are multiple pieces available to both players. Maybe that’s enough for now.

How does a player obtain a piece of treasure? Instead of moving, a turn can be used to pick up a piece. Dropping off the piece in the barrel, however, is automatic and does not require more than being adjacent to it.

And the tail? It’s segmented, represented by the wooden heart pieces. As you get further down the tail, each segment attaches to the end of the previous. Each segment can turn 90 degrees left or right, which affects the positioning of the remainder of the tail segments.

Dragon Tail prototype

Dragon Tail prototype

Dragon Tail prototype

For example, if a segment is turned to the right, the rest of the tail moves to attach to the new position of the end of that segment. Each turn, the next segment down the line will also turn 90 degrees, until all are rotated 90 degrees. Then the segment furthest up the tail rotates back to the original orientation, and the later segments likewise take turns rotating back into place.

What causes the first segment to rotate? A player can be adjacent to the tail segment and use the turn to poke it.

At the poke site, the segment will turn 90 degrees away from the player.

In this way, each turn the tail will get closer and closer to the opponent, potentially blocking movement depending on how far up the tail it was poked.

A poke at the far end of the tail will result in only one segment rotating 90 degrees for one turn, but a poke at the treasure end will have the entire tail curling, making it almost impossible to avoid.

And when the tail hits a player, I want it to cause problems. It will knock over the player for a turn and smack the treasure back to the pile. The player can use the next turn to get back up.

Dragon Tail prototype

Right away, I can see an issue with the interaction with the tail. What happens when a player gets knocked over near the poked segment? The tail will extend through the same square for multiple turns, so getting up the next turn means standing on the tail. How does that work? I suppose I didn’t specify that the players can’t walk through spaces that the tail segments are on, but now I need a way for the player to get up ON a tail segment? Something needs to change here.

Also, since it takes multiple turns for the dragon tail to whip around, it can effectively trap one player for a very long time. Getting trapped is potentially devastating.

So now I have more questions: can you poke a tail segment when the tail is in the process of whipping, or can you only poke a tail at rest? Can a player carrying treasure poke a tail?

Dragon Tail prototype

Let’s assume one can poke a tail while holding treasure and if the tail is already whipping. Here, the player that was trapped can poke an earlier segment and cause the tail to come dangerously close to the opponent.

Dragon Tail prototype

And now the revenge! The treasure is returned as the original player is knocked over by the tail.

With this interaction, I worry that it will be impossible to collect treasure as each player tries to poke the tail in turn and cause problems for each other. Even when progress is made, it can be taken away too easily.

I think that the movement and treasure-collecting parts are workable, but the tail interaction is in need of some help.

If both players ignored the tail and simply collected the treasure, there would be no challenge. Whoever went first would be guaranteed to win.

I have a tendency to try to make games that don’t have any random elements in them, but then it is very hard to make something that cannot be easily solved.

I imagine that there should be a way to avoid getting hit by the tail. If you are carrying treasure, you can drop it, and the treasure acts as an obstacle that the tail can wrap around. Maybe. I’ll keep that thought for later.

Perhaps this game needs the tail to move on its own? Rolling a die can indicate if the tail should move, which part should move, and in which direction. Maybe the tail should be only six segments long to match the six sides of a die.

Maybe I should explore the idea of the tail being a pain to navigate around. Instead of having it rotate segments each turn, it could stay in place until the next time the die roll changes it.

Dragon Tail prototype

After both players have made a move, the die is rolled to indicate which tail segment will be rotated next. Roll the die again to determine which direction it should rotate. Rolling a 3 or less should rotate it clockwise, and 4 or more should rotate it counter-clockwise.

Hmm, the tail shouldn’t kink, since a later tail segment is supposed to attach to the end of the first, and a kink means that the segments are on top of each other. But maybe I’ll let it happen and see how it plays out. Perhaps the tail will curl around itself at times?

If a segment rotates, do the later segments rotate with it, or do they stay in their orientation and merely attach at the new end? I think the latter ends up being easier to manage.

Dragon Tail prototype

Well, this tail really did curl in on itself. Will it constantly get that way? I need to playtest some more to know, but at least on the next die roll I see that it successfully uncurled a little.

Dragon Tail prototype

Dragon Tail prototype

The next die roll after that even did what I hoped it would do: cause the tail to block access to the treasure.

Even though the players have been able to move through unscathed so far this play session, I think I can see the tail movement has added a sense of fear to the game. What if it swings out and hits me? What if I can’t get to the treasure I was aiming for and now have to go around the tail, losing precious time? Oh, phew! I have some relief that the tail curled in on itself, although I’d rather it smack the other player.

OK, so kinks in the tail aren’t a terrible problem. What I also like is that a single rotation near the beginning of the tail can cause it to swing drastically. The only real issue I’ve seen is that I have hard time telling which segment is which when it starts kinking. Maybe labeling them with numbers would make it easier?

Hmm, am I no longer thinking of Structure and jumping ahead to Formal Details?

Formal Details

After playtesting with someone else, I found that the kinks in the tail manifest as a confusing mess that make it hard to understand what is happening. Rather than seeing it as something that can potentially swing out at any moment and so can be anticipated, the entire concept is chunked as a random event that will be dealt with if anything happens, but otherwise can be ignored. I’m not happy with how unimportant this aspect seems to a player’s turn.

I numbered the tail segments to make it easier to understand which was which, but I also found that the tail segments were hard to align, partly because the wooden pieces I was using didn’t fit nicely on the grid. So I made them fit.

Dragon Tail prototype

Dragon Tail prototype

Dragon Tail prototype

I spread out the tail segment so that each segment straddled four different grid squares. Not only does this help make it easier to move the segments around when one of them rotates, but it also clarifies where a segment is. Before this change, some segments seemed to be in one space, but when rotated, they bumped up against other segments and seemed to be in a completely different space or to cross two spaces. It was difficult to tell if a player had been hit by the tail or if the player could poke the tail.

I tried testing the poking mechanic. What if you can poke at the end of your movement, but you can’t poke if you are carrying treasure? Well, during one session, one player got hit twice and was trapped while carrying treasure and was forced to wait until the tail moved, which might not happen for many turns. Frustrating, but not fun.

Also, can you poke when getting up after being knocked down? I decided that when you are knocked down, you are pushed to the nearest free space of your choice. After that, however, your opponent might be running off with treasure, and if all you can do is get up on your turn, it feels quite futile.

In light of both of these situations I decided that poking at the end of any turn was valid. If you get knocked down, on your next turn you can poke the tail to try to hit your opponent to prevent him or her from getting too far ahead. I think it will help with the balance. Only playtesting will tell, of course.

Refinement

This step can last many iterations, and I am going to run out of time before I can consider this game done enough. It is here that any features and rules that aren’t core to the game can be experimented with to see if it creates a compelling experience.

What follows are some of the concerns I identified.

How big should the play area be? I had graph paper and tried to center the grid of 3×3 squares, but what if the paper was smaller or bigger, and in any one dimension to boot? If it is too small, the tail will impact the play area a lot more, but if it is too big, then players can choose to hug the walls at the expense of using up more moves and taking longer to avoid the tail.

I noticed that whenever the sixth segment needs to rotate that it is inconsequential. Is this situation similar to the dragon tail losing a turn, so to speak, or should there be a seventh piece? Which is better for the enjoyment of the game, added risk or the equivalent of Monopoly’s Free Parking?

The interaction with the tail also feels like it isn’t as finished as it could be. Instead of being a significant piece of the game, at times it feels like it is nothing more than a completely random event. That is, players are running after treasure and usually can forget that there is a tail in the game at all, and suddenly a tail hits one.

And when one does get knocked down, where does he or she get moved? Letting the player choose the nearest open space is ok, but if it was a video game, I feel like it should be deterministic and handled automatically by the game. So, what’s the simple and easy rule for displacement by the tail?

I learned during playtesting that the game is slow. Well, how do I solve this issue? It takes 16 moves to get to the treasure, pick it up, and bring it back to the barrel. Moving three spaces at a time might be fine, although now that the tail segments take up a 2×2 area it could be tweaked. Perhaps moving two spaces at a time instead of only one when carrying treasure might help? Then it would only take about 10 moves, especially if I allow the player to pick up the treasure at the end of a turn instead of making it a separate turn on its own.

Instead of bringing the treasure back to the barrel, just bring it back to the other end of the play area. So whenever treasure crosses the last set of squares it’s considered collected by that player. In this way, there isn’t a faster treasure to collect, and so if you find yourself on the other side of the dragon tail due to necessity, it won’t slow you down as much. You just have to move back to the left, not left and down to a specific spot.

There could also be less treasure. I placed 16 pieces because they fit, but having less can improve the time to play the game. Also, an uneven number guarantees that there will be a contention. One player will get to the last piece first, and so the other player then wants to manipulate the tail in order to try to prevent the first player from winning. But how many pieces of treasure should there be in the game? I can do some playthroughs and time it, or see how long it takes for a single treasure to be collected and multiply it by how long I want the game to take.

Hmm, the ending is quite unsatisfying. The player without the last treasure piece can’t do much to interfere with the other player other than poke the dragon tail, which might be far enough away that by the time he or she gets close enough to do so, the player with the treasure is too far out of reach.

That sense of despair is a symptom of the lack of meaningful player interaction, which I think is a big concern. How much of a change do I need to make to address it?

An example of a minor change is changing the effect of poking the tail. What if it doesn’t just turn the segment 90 degrees but allows the player to choose the new orientation? Would doing so make it a lot easier to have an impact on the game?

A bigger but related change might be if poking the tail allows the player to move the tail segment one space adjacent. Of course, if segment is moved, it has to be a valid connection to the parent tail segment, so how will it be resolved without being too complicated for the player to figure out?

A major change would be the introduction of obstacles. What if you could push boulders around, which not only act as obstacles for the players but also for the tail, which can wrap around them? Sounds good, but now there are number of questions to answer. How do boulders get added to the play area? When are they added? Can they be destroyed? Are they permanent obstacles, or can a player move one? If so, how far? Can multiple boulders in a row be pushed at once, or do they prevent the player from pushing them in that case? If the latter, is it possible to get stuck permanently between multiple boulders? What happens when you push the boulders in front of the treasure and block access to it? What happens if you push the boulders across the starting area?

Maybe treasure isn’t carried but is pushed and acts the same as the boulders described above?

Can there be fool’s gold? That is, sometimes you collect treasure only to find that it doesn’t count towards your score. Maybe it’s a random chance, such as rolling a die for each treasure you captured and trying not to roll a 1.

Or each treasure you collect has you draw a card from a deck. At the end of the game, even though you collected more treasure, there’s a chance your opponent might win because you discover your treasure is fool’s gold when everyone is asked to reveal their treasure cards. It might make it a way for people to catch up at the end. So, how many cards are there? How many fool’s gold cards are in the full treasure card deck? Is it constant between games, or is it like Saboteur in which the number of potential saboteurs is different from one session to the next?

As you can imagine, exploring the playspace here is a very big job. Testing a single rule change at a time can get tedious, but how else will you know what works? I’m reminded of the development of Steambirds: Survival, which Daniel Cook described as finding the Goldilocks Zone of games, the playspace in which the game is enjoyable.

Many attempted ideas will fail, but if you explore enough variations, you can find what works much more quickly.

Exercise Complete

This post is about 4,000 words long, and I tried to capture how the process went. And of course, I still have a lot of work to do.

I didn’t do a very good job of working on this prototype in these four separate stages. I sometimes found myself thinking about details when I was supposed to be working on fundamentals, or refining some structure instead of refining the details.

So while the above might show a somewhat organized thought process, the reality of it was that there was a bit of messiness to it. That said, the four steps did help me think about the nature of the change I was making at any given point, which helped me restrain from thinking about features when I should be focusing on rules. I think the attempt at following these steps helped me create this game much more rapidly than I might have otherwise.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

This post concludes my GDWW exercise posts. I’ll be publishing a book review next week. Thank you for following along, and I look forward to seeing your prototypes!

Categories
Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.9: Applying the Lessons #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week, I’ll be applying what we’ve learned so far by playing a simple game and then identifying the major elements of it.

Sprouts

The exercise first asks us to play a game of 3-dot Sprouts.

I’ve never played it, but it reminded me of a game I used to play in school, which was apparently called Dots and Boxes. It felt like a more challenging Tic-Tac-Toe in that there was always an expectation that I could figure out the trick to winning consistently.

In Sprouts, you connect dots with lines, taking care that no dot has more than three connections coming out of it and that no lines cross each other.

So, my first attempt at playing the game was a failure because I didn’t realize I had four lines connecting to a dot. Whoops.

My second time, I created a loop, connecting dots with a line that circled another dot. I found that even though I had a dot with only one connection outside of that circle, I couldn’t connect it to any other dots due to the limitation on connections and the inability to create crossing lines.

My third session, I started with a triangle, and then I started bisecting the triangle. Eventually, I found I had one point within the triangle that couldn’t connect to any other points, and one point outside of the triangle in a network of arcs I had to create to try to match up free points.

Sprouts

Applying the Lessons Learned

Ok, so I’ve played Sprouts, a game created by John Conway of Game of Life fame and Mike Paterson, one of the people who recognized computer science as a science. The exercise now asks me to identify the formal elements and the dramatic elements of the game.

First, let’s look at the formal elements.

  • Players: There are two players. Each needs access to a pen or pencil and the ability to count.
  • Objective: To be the last player to make a valid move.
  • Procedures: One player needs to be designated as first, and three initial dots need to be drawn on the paper. After that, each player takes turns drawing a line and then putting a new dot in the middle of that line.
  • Rules: The actual rules are described as part of the game. Players cannot connect lines involving a dot that has three existing connections, which limits the potential lines that can be drawn. A new dot can only be placed on a newly drawn line. A player can only take his or her turn when the previous player has finished a turn. The rules must be followed; otherwise, the players aren’t playing the game anymore. Similarly, if players drew their lines and dots whenever they felt like it, or added more than one dot on a line, it would be a different game.
  • Conflict: The act of drawing the lines between dots reduces the number of potential lines that can be drawn. Any new dots drawn already have two connections, which means they only allow one more connection.
  • Boundaries: While the exercise mentions a piece of paper, the play area is fairly abstract in that it consists of wherever the dots and lines are. The assumption is that the dots and lines are on a single plane. That is, if the game was three dimensional, it would be trivial to draw arcs from one dot to another without crossing previous lines.
  • Outcome: Either the first player or the second player will win. There can be no draw.

Now, let’s look at the dramatic elements.

  • Challenge: Sprouts is a solved game. That is, it is possible to play a perfect game, resulting in a win for the first player or for the second player depending on the number of initial dots. With three dots, the first player can always win. There is no challenge once you know how to solve it, similar to Tic-Tac-Toe. In that absence of such knowledge and pattern recognition, the challenge could come from the limiting of choices as turns are taken.
  • Play: As turns are taken and dots are eliminated from consideration, it can get quite limiting. There might be some choice at the beginning, but a given turn will eventually eliminate two dots at once while adding only one back, and so eventually there is only one choice to make. There isn’t much room for play.
  • Premise/Character/Story: There isn’t anything inherent in the rules that provide a story. It’s a fairly abstract game. The name itself might imply something that is up to interpretation by the players.

Now the exercise asks me to identify types of dramatic elements that might add to the experience.

I’ll take them in turn.

  • Premise: instead of connecting dots with lines, you could be engineers tasked with building roads between settlements, or you are plumbers laying pipes between houses, or miners digging tunnels between veins of gold. Maybe you’re digging trenches to try to capture the opposing mole in a garden. I’m sure ideas can be spitballed indefinitely here.
  • Character: Each of the premises had some characters associated with them, but what if we started with the players as dinosaurs? They could be competing for scarce food resources. Thieves? You can only rob a bank so many times before it becomes too risky. As above, more ideas can always be generated here. Names and biographies could be created for characters, and even though there are only two players, perhaps giving the players a choice of more than two characters to play might provide some flavor, even if the choice doesn’t impact the game in any more meaningful way. For instance, one of my nieces likes the color pink, and I’m sure she would be very happy to play this game as a character who dresses in pink who has the same name as a favorite cartoon character. Each character might have a uniquely colored pen, allowing each turn to alternate colors. Princess Fiona provides a pink pen, Prince Bob gets a green pen, and Sir Erdrick gets a purple pen.
  • Story: I can see coming up with a traditional story involving the characters above, but what if each turn required the player to give a line of dialogue explaining the turn? Suddenly it can be a party game, in which wackier explanations are better. “I drove this herd of meerkats to the Statue of Liberty, avoiding the Pit of Despair on the way.” “Well, I drove a meerkat from the Statue of Liberty to Chicago in a taxi, dropping off a hitchhiker at the Outhouse of Tomorrow.” “And now I shut down the Statue of Liberty and forced everyone to go to Florida, and I launched a space station.”

Sprouts

Wow, this story-based one gets ridiculous pretty quickly.

Exercise Complete

I learned quite a bit about Sprouts, and I had some fun with thinking about the dramatic elements that could be applied to what is otherwise an abstract math game. It makes me wonder how much I underappreciate a good theme and story in games.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll skip ahead to Chapter 7 and work on a prototype.

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.8: Gripping Stories #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise asks me to explain why any specific games might have moved me emotionally.

Story

I’ve written about the importance of stories years ago, arguing that games don’t need to dictate the story the way a book or a movie would. Games are interactive and allow for a variety of responses and developments, so I’m sometimes disappointed by games that can be reduced down to “Press the button to advance to the next page” because they don’t live up to the potential of the medium.

That said, story can be quite engaging. Like premise, it can give you context for what you do in a game, and discovering what happens next can be a motivating factor. I want to know how the Prince of Persia managed to stop the Sands of Time from spreading everywhere and consuming everything. I want to know if the Terran or the Protoss dominate. I want to know if this is finally the castle that Bowser has locked away the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom.

The exercise this week asks me if any stories within a game ever gripped me, moved me emotionally, or sparked my imagination.

In the past, I’ve written about great gaming moments, such as the Illusion of Gaia raft scene and the time I sent 30 pilots to their horrific deaths in Homeworld: Cataclysm. The second one is one of my favorite stories, which is a mixture of the story the game was telling and the story I created by playing it.

Throughout the war with The Beast, I never forgot those 30 ships. Technically, they weren’t more than digital bits running through memory on my computer, but the screams were terrible. The drama was real. The details of the names or types of ships involved in the above story might be remembered incorrectly, but the feeling of dread when I realized that I had just caused the deaths of 30 good people will stay with me. It wasn’t a cut-scene or a FMV movie to watch passively. I participated in it. Logically, it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t have known what was going to happen without cheating. Technically I could have restarted the mission and tried again. I normally prefer the challenge in similar situations, but the reason for not restarting this time was different. I didn’t want to dishonor the memory of the loss. Oddly, those 30 fighters were identical clones of each other. It wasn’t like you normally would have a tie to any one of them.

Still, I had made a bad decision, and the consequences were very real to me. My fight wasn’t just to play a game anymore. It was for honor. It was for redemption. Neither of these ideals were communicated directly by the game. There was no “Honor Meter”, for instance. I simply had a strong desire to make things right again.

Ok, Past Self, you’re a little dramatic, but the point remains that the story in the game was a very engaging aspect of it. I internalized the story so that it was my own, and playing the game had new meaning for me.

Exercise Complete

Now I want to go back and play through all of the Homeworld games. I never did finish them. How does the fight with the Beast end in Cataclysm? And how do the original game and the sequel work out?

And how did I just find out that Gearbox Software has had the rights to the franchise and is working on Homeworld Remastered? I hope it is ported to Linux-based systems.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll wrap up chapter 2 by playing a simple game, then analyzing its formal and dramatic elements.

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.7: Premise #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week, I’ll be identifying the premise of a handful of games.

Premise

This section of the book continues identifying ways to engage the player. Premise provides the context for the other elements in the game.

You can touch or avoid arbitrary positions in an area, or you can eat all the pellets while chasing or evading ghosts in a maze.

No one says, “I almost fulfilled the victory condition before I triggered the loss condition.” They say, “I almost ate all of the dots, but then the ghosts killed me.”

As games involve submitting yourself to constraints and trying to achieve some goal, the premise gives you the reason why.

This week’s exercise tasks us with identifying the premise of a few popular games.

  • Risk: each player is in charge of an army and fighting for world conquest.
  • Clue: each player is suspected of a murder and trying to identify who really did it.
  • Pit: it’s all about cornering the market in commodities
  • Guitar Hero: you’re struggling to become the next big rock star

Exercise Complete

You can see how a premise could make for a good starting point when trying to create a game, as it gives you a focus in terms of the player experience. The premise also lets your players know what to expect.

If you’re making a golf simulation, you want to mimic it as best as you can with wind speed and silence, but if you want to make a strange fighting golf game, you might have zany music and fast-paced action, with golf carts used as a means to quickly close in on opponents to strike them with your unrealistic and mechanized clubs in order to get the ball in the hole first. A fan of the first could be disappointed with the second.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll talk about games with gripping stories.

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.6: Challenging Games #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

For this week’s exercise, I’ll name three games I find particularly challenging and describe the reasons why.

Challenge vs Conflict

Last week, I published an exercise comparing and contrasting the conflict in poker and in American football. I touched on conflict as a core component of games. That is, without conflict, you don’t have a game.

Game rules and procedures tend to prevent a direct route to the objective of a game. For example, you can’t start playing in World 8-4 in Super Mario Bros. You must go through previous levels, dealing with obstacles and enemies, protecting your limited lives as you do.

Challenge is related to conflict. Challenge is one way to engage the player emotionally with the game.

If the conflict is too easy to overcome, that is, the challenge is too easy, it can be boring. Think of Tic-Tac-Toe and how young children find it enjoyable to play over and over again, yet grown-ups who know how the game is solved don’t need to play it anymore. Of course, a game which doesn’t adapt the challenge to a player who is learning how to play a game eventually feels similarly solved or mastered.

If the conflict generates a challenge that is too difficult, you have another reason why people stop playing a game. It becomes too frustrating to play.

A game designer has a tough job balancing the challenge in a game in order to keep players engaged.

What follows are three games I find challenging:

Pac-Man

I love Pac-Man. It’s one of my favorite games, despite growing up with the Atari 2600 version as my first experience with it. When I go to the local bar arcade, I tend to sink quite a few quarters into the Pac-Man upright there.

I haven’t memorized any patterns for it, so I play using my knowledge of the ghost AI.

I have yet to reach 50,000 points.

Each maze is identical, and the objective never changes, but, man, those four ghosts.

They have their individual personalities and maneuver the maze the same as always, yet the changing scatter and chase mode switch timings and the way they get just a little bit faster throws me off eventually. They usually get me when I’m being greedy and going for the fruit or trying to eat all four of them when it’s too late.

NetHack

NetHack

Every so often, I get the urge to play this game. I wrote about my stupid death by a shopkeeper in 2007 and my stupid death by lucky snake bites in 2008.

I have never recovered the amulet, and in fact haven’t made it much farther than a few levels down. I’ve been a fairly casual player of it.

That said, there is so much to do, and so much I learn each time. One of my favorite sessions involved freeing myself from a bear trap, then picking it up and taking it with me. Then I encountered a small band of gnomes. I was weak, and they were giving chase. I put down the bear trap, and wouldn’t you know it, NetHack allowed me to set it as a trap. I found out one of the gnomes got caught in it, giving me time to get away as bolts were raining down around me. It was a close one.

Between weird interactions like that and random events, each session always has at least one surprise. Usually, though, it’s death.

Wizardry 8

I had a few choices, between the RTS I struggle with or the RPG I never finished or the weird game I can’t wrap my head around. I decided to go with Wizardry 8.

I am apparently not very good at RPGs, because it took me a long time to have a total party kill and find that I didn’t get very far in the game. The game is incredibly hard to start with, since your party starts out fairly weak compared to the enemies you encounter.

When Jay Barnes did his Wizardry 8 commentary, I was impressed that he made it so quickly through. I had to stop reading it because I still have the delusion that I’ll finish the game myself and didn’t want any spoilers. I did learn that as polished as the game was, the balance wasn’t quite right, so yes, it is very difficult to fight enemies.

Besides the combat, there are the freestyle conversations, the lock picking, the magic, the strange mysteries, and more. I remember my last session years ago ending with a bomb blowing up before I could find a way to disarm it.

It’s not NetHack, but it was kind of punishing for the casual player. Yet, I will probably install it and give it another go one of these days.

Exercise Complete

Those are just three games that I find challenging, and I’m sure you can think of some more modern ones. As challenging as these games can be, I find that the sense of accomplishment I get is that much more enjoyable. When I passed 40,000 points on Pac-Man or made it one more level down in NetHack, it was progress that I found encouraging and satisfying.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll focus on the premise of games.

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.5: Conflict #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise: compare and contrast the conflict in football and in poker.

Conflict

Conflict is another core component of games.

A player asking for a card in Go Fish is also revealing to the other players what type of card is in his or her hand, making it easier for them to play, but not asking means a player can’t complete any piles.

In soccer, a team pushing forward on the attack risks the defenders launching a counter-attack if they lose the ball.

If you play a game such as Pac-man, your goal is to eat all of the dots in the level. Sounds easy, except the level is a maze, so it forces you to move through it by avoiding walls, and the maze features four monsters trying to kill you.

In all of these cases, the rules of the game ensure that the goal isn’t very easy to accomplish. A player’s actions tend to result in potential problems for themselves. Purchasing an upgrade in a strategy game means a lack of resources to spend on anything else, but not upgrading could mean a lost opportunity to win a decisive battle later on.

In American football, each side sets up their players at the line of scrimmage. When the play starts, the team in possession of the ball is trying to advance to the opponent’s end zone, while the defense is trying to stop them. The offense tends to have a variety of plays and formations to choose from, and the defense tries to anticipate the play as best as they can.

The offense can pass the ball up the field, run the ball up the field, toss the ball laterally, hand off the ball rather than throw it, or attempt to kick a field goal. There can be any number of plays and formations designed to succeed. For instance, while a formation might look as if…

…ok, you know what? I don’t know enough about American football to speak with any authority on it. Most of what I know comes from the movies Little Giants and The Replacements, and it turns out their plays are considered illegal in real life these days. The Annexation of Puerto Rico is actually known as the fumblerooski, which is even acknowledged in the film itself, but so long as you don’t actually put the ball on the ground as they do in the film, it can still work, as the Carolina Panthers demonstrated in 2011:

But the point is that each team is trying to anticipate the moves of the other. If a long pass is going to happen, you don’t want your defenders trying to deal with anyone closer to the quarterback, but at the same time, you don’t want to allow a short pass to turn into a first down of 70 yards because all of your defenders are at the far end of the field.

The Flop

In poker, each player knows the cards in his or her own hand, but no one else does. Keeping the quality of your hand a secret is a big part of the game. If you have a really good hand, you want your opponents to bet more money so you can win it, but if you inadvertently communicate how good the hand is, your opponents may fold, which renders your good hand useless.

Similarly, if you have a bad hand, you could fold, or you could try to make it seem as if your hand is much better than it is in order to get your opponents to fold in case their hands aren’t much stronger.

With poker hands, you don’t know what you’ll be dealt, but you can control how much you bid based on your own incomplete knowledge of the current state of the game. And of course, you can try to control your own facial tics and other body language that might give away what you know while simultaneously studying your opponents for their own tells.

While football is a game that runs in fits and starts, once a play is in motion, it’s a real-time situation. Lateral passes might move the ball around the field in ways that the defense didn’t anticipate, and fumbles result in quick scrambles to gain or regain possession as quickly as possible. Physical strength and dexterity plays a key role. A defender better have the ability to take down 300+ lbs of running muscle and armor.

Poker, however, is turn-based, and once a bid is made, it can’t be taken back. Playing a hand is very procedural and uses a regulated set of moves. The skill comes from decision-making and bluffing, not in physical dexterity.

But in both football and in poker, there are psychological games being played involving the hidden information inherent to the game.

Poker hands are secret, as are football offensive and defensive plays.

Sighing after looking at your cards can communicate that you think you have a terrible hand, or it could communicate that you’re merely trying to make your opponent think you have a terrible hand when in fact you have a good one. Bidding all-in when you have a two of diamonds and a three of clubs might force your opponent to fold, or it could be a really stupid gamble if your bluff is called.

Similarly, if your offensive formation is heavily unbalanced, it might indicate that you are trying to protect a runner on one side of the field, or it might be a ruse to force the defense to leave the other side of the field wide open for a pass or run. Faking a field goal attempt when you are actually making a run for the end zone or having your fastest defenders stay back farther to give the illusion of a gap that the offense will try to run through are ways in which you might try to anticipate how your opponent will react.

If you knew how the other players were going to act, you could choose the course of action that would be guaranteed to give you the advantage. Since you don’t know, your choices are made based on what you think will happen, and you and your opponents are both trying to be unpredictable while also trying to make the best moves.

Exercise Complete

While football has physical challenges that poker doesn’t, and poker has random draws of cards while football has no real randomness besides the coin flip at the start of the game, both games involve players trying to understand their opponents and predict what will happen next. And since the human mind is so complex, it’s not easy to figure out what other people are doing before they do it.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll focus on using challenge, which is related to conflict, to engage the player with the game.

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.4: Rules #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise: try to think of a game with no rules.

Rules

One key aspect of games is that they involve rules. These rules must be agreed to by all players.

rules

If you are playing Go Fish and refuse to give away your ace of spades even though another player asked if you had any aces, you are no longer playing Go Fish.

In basketball, you increase your score by putting the ball through the hoop from above.

However, you can’t stand on a ladder, moving the ball through the hoop constantly and rack up the points quickly.

Game rules describe what game objects exist, such as a basketball or a deck of cards, and also limit behavior. A golf ball is easy to put into a hole if you use your hands, but to play the actual game of golf, you need to agree that you’ll try to get the ball in the hole by hitting it with a club, which requires a lot more skill.

So, can a game have no rules?

Some games allow for more activity than others. Some games specify exactly how the players may act, such as describing how a knight may be moved in chess, others allow for more by not restricting actions. Basketball doesn’t require that you throw the ball into the basket to score. It simply specifies that the ball “enters the basket from above and remains within or passes through the basket.” So dunking the ball is just as valid a method as throwing it in terms of scoring, and while dunking is specified in the rules, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

Games are varied, and some games are definitely more freeform than others. A game such as Fluxx actively modifies the rules as part of the rules of the game, but there are still rules.

Some games have hidden rules, such as the game of Mao, and part of the game is using inductive reasoning to learn how to play. By the way, playing with people who know two different variants but think they are playing the same version of the game is NOT FUN.

But a game with no rules? How would that work?

Even The Game (by the way, you just lost it) has rules.

Exercise Complete

A game without rules ceases to be a game. One can’t play such a game because participation is indistinguishable from living your life.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll compare conflict in a few games.

(Photo: rules by Joel Kramer | CC-BY-2.0)

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.3: Objectives #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week, I’ll quickly describe the objective of five games.

Last week I wrote that we consider Go Fish and Quake 3 to be games despite their differences, specifically highlighting the fact that they are both designed for and played by players.

Continuing the comparison, both have objectives. The goal of Go Fish is to collect the most piles of cards, while the goal of Quake 3 is to fight your way through multiple tiers and defeat the AI-controlled bots.

As Fullerton states: “the objective is a key element without which the experience loses much of its structure, and our desire to work toward the objective is a measure of our involvement in the game.”

I like that description. I can think of times I was bored with a game I was playing, and at some point I didn’t care about finishing it. I can also think of my first time playing Minecraft, and hours passed without me realizing it as I built a large castle, complete with a minecart to take me up and down the mine for raw materials.

Objectives

Ok, let’s look at some games and try to identify their objectives.

Game Objectives

Mage Knight

Vlaada Chvatil’s Mage Knight is a very complex board game.

Very complex. There are a lot of moving parts in this game, and a lot of rules related to moving, attacking, hiring units, taking damage, exploring new tiles, revealing enemies and artifacts, leveling up your hero, raising and dropping your reputation, and more.

But ultimately, whether you are trying to find the city in the first scenario or liberating mines in a competitive scenario, the objective is to gain the most Fame, which represents how well you are doing and can be seen as victory points.

Monopoly

I used to be obsessed with Monopoly. I was never a fan of all of the [insert licensed brand here]-opoly derivatives, partly because they aren’t just themes but actually changed the rules.

A number of game designers might argue that Monopoly is broken game, and I know of a number of players who complain that it takes too long to play, but a lot of people get surprised when you tell them that there is a difference between what the rules actually say and the version of the game they probably played.

For instance, you don’t put money in the center whenever you pay the bank, and you don’t get to collect anything for landing on Free Parking.

Also, housing shortages are a tactic. The game has 32 houses and 12 hotels. If you want to buy a house, but all 32 are already being used by other players, too bad. You don’t get to use a scrap piece of paper to act as a placeholder. You just don’t get to buy a house.

It’s why I never buy hotels, because the fewer houses available for everyone else, the better off I am. It’s also why getting expensive properties might not be the best strategy because someone with cheaper properties can buy houses much more quickly than you can, leaving you with fewer or no houses, ruining your higher rent advantage.

The objective of Monopoly is to bankrupt your opponents, and without arbitrarily adding house rules to pump extra resources into the economy of the game, the negative feedback cycle is a lot quicker.

Council of Verona

Michael Eskue’s card game Council of Verona has a Romeo and Juliet theme.

It’s a quick game, and it’s easy to learn. People I’ve introduced it to picked it up within a game or two, and they seemed to enjoy it enough to keep playing.

In the game, you have the Council and Exile, and you take turns playing your cards, each of which has a character such as Prince Escalus or Lady Montague. Some characters allow you to play an action, such as moving a card from the Council to Exile or vice versa, and other characters have Agendas.

The cards with Agendas are the key. You bid your Influence tokens in the designated areas on these cards, and if the Agenda is met, the Influence tokens are counted and scored. Agenda examples are Romeo’s”Romeo and Juliet are together” or Lord Montague’s “More Montagues than Capulets on the Council.”

The objective of Council of Verona is to score the most Influence points.

Castle Keep

Castle Keep by Gamewright is another enjoyable and quick game.

It’s a turn-based game in which players draw and place tiles made up of castle keeps, towers, and walls. There are three colors possible for each type of tile, and towers and walls also come in three different shapes. You can place tiles next to each other if they match either in shape or color.

Instead of building your castle on your turn, you can attack one of an opponent’s walls. Any adjacent tiles of the same color as that wall are also destroyed, so there’s a danger to consistent interior design.

Castle Keep offers two objectives: to be the first to build a 3×3 castle or to destroy an opponent’s castle.

Liar’s Dice

Liar’s Dice is a dice game that should be familiar to anyone who has seen Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

It’s a bluffing game. Each player starts with a set number of dice. All players roll their dice and peek at them in secret, and then each in turn makes a bid about how many dice are showing a specific number. For instance, you might bid that four dice show the number 3, and the next player might bid five dice showing the number 2.

After a bid is made, the next player can challenge the bidder, and everyone shows their dice. If the actual number of dice showing the number specified in the bid is equal to or greater than the bid, then the challenger loses one die from his or her collection.

If, however, the bid is not made, then the bidder loses one die from his or her collection.

The objective of Liar’s Dice is to be the last player in the game with any dice.

Exercise Complete

Clearly the objective has a huge impact on how a game is played and also how players are engaged. If you are low on dice in Liar’s Dice, you might be more conservative about bidding than if you had a full collection. If your opponent is closer to building a castle than you are in Castle Keep, you might be more interested in finding ways to knock down his or her walls than on trying to catch up.

If you take away the objectives of these games, there’s no point in playing anymore.

If you participated in exercise 2.3 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, we’ll focus on the rules of a game.

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Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.2: Players #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise: describe how players might join or start a game of Go Fish versus single-player Quake.

Quake 3 and Go Fish

Chapter 2 starts describing each of these games, which seem incredibly different, yet Fullerton points out that we all agree that these are both considered games and not two different types of entertainment.

So what do they have in common? What makes them both games?

An easy thing to point out is that each has players. Each game is designed for these players. A player is someone who voluntarily “accepts the rules and constraints of a game.”

Ok, but how does a player start a game of Go Fish?

It requires three to six players to agree to play at a specific time and place together. That place should also be available. You can’t play if you decided to meet at a park bench, only to arrive and discover that it is occupied by a family having a picnic.

Someone needs to bring a standard deck of playing cards, and someone has to be chosen as the dealer to deal out cards and determine who starts the game.

Depending on schedule conflicts, space availability, and how much any participant is willing to let someone be a dealer, it can be more or less difficult to arrange a game. Trying to play with two young children who are insistent that each should go first could derail the entire experience.

And Quake? Well, I’ll be honest. I’ve never played the original Quake. I’ve played Quake 3, however, and while it is best played in a multiplayer environment, it is possible to play it by yourself against the computer-controlled opponents.

To start a game of Quake 3, you need a computer with the hardware capable of playing the game. That computer obviously shouldn’t be in use by someone else, and we could dive deeply into the technical aspects, but here’s a summary:

  • the computer should be on
  • the right drivers should be installed
  • the game should be installed
  • the game should be launched
  • (optional) you should configure your controls
  • (optional) you should configure your avatar
  • click SINGLE PLAYER
  • choose your level
  • wait for the game to load the level

There are other requirements, such as needing your electric bill paid so you can power the computer in the first place. Or perhaps you are playing in an Internet cafe or at your college campus computer lab, which each require some level of payment at some point for you to gain access.

But in both cases, you needed to decide on a time to play the game. Playing the game requires a dedication of time beyond the start time. Whether you play for 30 minutes or three hours, it takes time that you aren’t spending on some other task.

Both games require your presence to play. Even if you are waiting your turn in Go Fish, you are an active participant, especially when someone asks you about your cards. In Quake 3, the game happens in real-time and requires your attention at all times.

Both required more than just the players. A deck of cards is much less expensive than an entire computer and the cost of a copy of Quake 3, but the point is that in each case you need materials to play.

Exercise Complete

This exercise was relatively short, but it still drives the point home: there is something about games, and specifically the nature of the need for games to have players participating, that makes them games.

If you participated in exercise 2.2 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, we’ll look at objectives in games.