Hear Hear Tennis

 

Concept

Hear Hear Tennis started as a sound only game, and although it is still attended to be played that way visuals have been added in order to improve the spectacle of watching other people play.
The game premise is relatively simple, a player hits the ball [some time passes], the ball bounces [the same time passes], there is a short window of opportunity when the ball can be hit again by the other player.
Each player can strike the ball at three different strengths, which vary the amount of time between ball passes and bounces.
Additionally the game will speed up after every hit, this is to make sure that firstly there the game is slow enough for people to play but each point will not last forever.
Other than that the game scores in the same way as tennis.
Here’s a quick example of play.

Developing the Idea

When I first envisioned the game, I imagined it being built into a small box, with a speaker either end and three buttons for each player to determine the strength of the hit. During development, it was suggested I could try using wiimotes, which I had some laying around.
After some play in Unity and editing some existing script (https://github.com/Flafla2/Unity-Wiimote) I got the wiimotes reading into the game. Even with a very basic implementation of the wiimote controls the game started to feel like more fun.
The addition of the wiimotes, also increased the need for some visual aspects. There would need to be a clear way to see that they were connected or if not connect could be connected. This lead to having to design and create menus, which is by far one of least favourite things to do when developing a game. Getting the game working and playable was about 25% of the work, the rest was making menus and making the game understandable to anyone who isn’t me or wouldn’t have me around to explain it.

Keeping the Sound

I was keen to keep to the idea of a sound based game, so most actions in game are supported by noises or speech. This includes the menus, scores, and guidance on when you’ve hit the ball, or swung to early or late.
I tend to use fromtexttospeech.com as a quick way to add speech to my games, as I don’t have the set up or voice for doing voice work.
I also used some additional sounds from freesound.org .
Finally I added an in-built exhibition mode, that would all the game more easily to be shown at an exhibition. This has a number of features that allow showing the game in a public space to be easier.
  • There is no way to quit to desktop from the main menu
  • The users cannot change any of the settings.
  • The game will reset if left idle for a certain amount of time.

Final Thoughts

This game was a relatively quick turn around, it took around a month working on it when I had spare time outside of work and other life commitments. The game appears enjoyable, but due to currently only working with mac and wiimotes is going to be a pretty niche experience unless I can find places to personally show it. One of the more frustrating things that happened towards the end of development was realising that one of the 1-2 Switch games for the Nintendo Switch was incredibly similar (they used table tennis) but the mechanics seem more-or-less identical. It’s such a simple idea that it’s not too surprising that it has been done before. However, judging by the videos I ended up watching of it, the rhythms of the games feel slightly different. Overall, I learnt a lot of new things from the project and it will be interesting to see what other wiimote games can be made.

Download Hear Hear Tennis (currently mac only)

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Persistent Non-Visible Physical Truths – a new play mechanic?

Following on from research I have been doing about the nature of choice in board and card games where winning is not necessarily the aim, i.e. emotional or character based choices, I started thinking about the idea of truths within a world.

Is it possible to have a truth in a game that is both persistent and physically present but is never actually known, would this have any affect on how the game is played?

Let me try to explain

First what would I consider a physical truth. This is something that the components of the game make true. This could be as simple as your are the red, green, or blue player in the game, as you have control of those components. This concept in general is not particularly interesting or insightful, but it can be used in interesting ways.

A TTRPG (tabletop role play game) I played a couple of years ago, Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne, has a mechanic which uses a physical truth. One of the players is the accused witch being taken by the other player characters to Lindisfarne to be tried. At the very beginning of the game the player who is accused of being a witch chooses whether they are guilty or not and places the corresponding card facedown in the middle of the table. That way the act has already been committed before any interactions take place, the truth is mechanically locked in place. In this game the card is revealed at the end.

Where I plan to take the idea one step further is in the physical truth being non-visible. Although we may know that a truth is persistent through the components of the game, none of the players may reveal this truth.

If it is never known, then why does it matter?

This is why the truth must be physical, although no-one sees it, it is inherent in the objects. We could in theory reveal the truth by opening a bag or turning a card face up. By knowing what the potential truths are, but not seeing them, the player is left in a state of limbo.

The simplest example I can think of would work for just about any two player war type game, like chess. If there was one token marked ‘Good’ and another ‘Evil’ and these were given to the players face down before their game began, they would play the game in a strange state of limbo. Are they fighting for good or for evil, is it all a matter of perspective, there is a true answer it is written in the components, but they will never see it.

Just by being there present in the components, in the physicality of the game, is this enough to change the way players play or think about their play.

Is this really meaningful?

I’m not sure if this would really make a difference or not. I feel that it would and with the right subject matter and matching mechanics could have a strong potential impact on the play experience. However, conjecture is not enough, the idea needs to be tested.

 

Making a game with non-visible physical truths.

In order to start experimenting with the mechanic I designed a two-player 1-page TTRPG focusing on the theme of consciousness called RenedesCorp.

Set in the near future the game has the players embody one of the following a human, a conscious robot or a standard robot (without consciousness). The players do not know which specific role they are, they are not aware if they are conscious or not, they’re not aware if they are human or not. This truth is determined by cards which the players do not see throughout play.

You can view the pdf for RenedesCorp by clicking here

RenedesCorp_Image

You can view the pdf for RenedesCorp by clicking here

Other examples?

If you are aware of any other examples of this type of mechanic, or if you have ideas of where it could be used please let me know.

 

That Jigsaw Game!

ThatJigsawGameBannerRough

A new idea

A few weeks ago I was struck with a simple idea for a board game that very quickly developed into what I hope is a viable product.

I had been reading about map-colouring games after taking one of my periodical looks into game theory a subject that I find fascinating. I think this created some connections in my mind about tile-laying and space claiming games which I had not thought of before.

So the idea is relatively simple, each player has a collection of jigsaw pieces that they take turn placing until there is not a suitable place for them to lay them anymore. The last player to play a piece would be the winner. The tactile and physical nature of a jigsaw piece would mean that it would be clear which pieces can neighbour each other and which can’t. Also, they would be familiar in most players’ hands, and the connections would hold the pieces together.

When creating games like this I usually like to explore all possibilities that make sense within the system. A normal jigsaw piece has four sides that are each either positive or negative, i.e. sticking out or going into the main body. Avoiding repetition due to rotational symmetry this gives six types of pieces, two sets can be seen in this picture.

PaperPrototype

As the initial idea was for a two-player abstract game, I would require a game board that could fit 12 pieces in total. A 3×4 size seemed as good as any.

I created a quick prototype of the game using cardboard and a marker pen. The dots represent positive connections and the blanks negative connections. This is an example of a two player game with the paper prototype.

PaperProtoExample

I played the game a few times by myself, I was interested to see how difficult it was to not play all the pieces in to the board. I then tested it with a colleague over lunch. My students were away (I often playtest with them) so I had to find some other ways to playtest the idea, if I didn’t want to wait weeks for them to return.

First paper playtests

I looked online and came across Playtest UK, a group that has open meet-ups across the UK for game designers to test their board and card games with other designers. It turned out there was a session the next day so I booked up straight away. (I later realised they had multiple playtests every week, so there’s nearly always one happening or about to happen).

Taking the original paper prototype I played a couple of games with the group. There seemed like there was potential but playing with cards with dots and blanks made it awkward.

Making it more real

I then started working in Adobe Illustrator to make jigsaw piece shapes ready to be laser cut. The most interesting thing for me to consider here is the shape of the piece. There is a risk when making a jigsaw piece that the surface area of the shapes vary considerably between pieces with all positive connections and those with negative connections. This is a basic example of a jigsaw piece, to me it doesn’t seem balanced.

bad_puzzle_piece

To overcome this you can shift the form of the sides, where the jigsaw is negative you can push the form of the piece outwards. This helps create a better balance of surface area across shapes, as seen in this shape I created for my jigsaw pieces.

22neat

Through doing this process I realised that I could use the notion of jigsaw pieces to form the frame for the game, this way it is possible to change the size of the frame for the number of players.

Open playtesting

I took this to the next Playtest session, and it went a lot better, the form was intuitive to play with and the rules simple to grasp. I was then invited to attend an open playtest session at Draughts a board gaming cafe in Hackney, London.

This session went really well. One group played multiple sessions with different player counts for over an hour, another played a few three player games. I played a few games with some of the other people showcasing their game, this time with four players and a different position player won each time (something I was concerned about and something that came back later).

Examples of two player and four player games.

A problem arises

I happened to be attending a colloquium in Athens, XXI Board Game Studies Colloquium 2018. This was my fifth time presenting at one of these events, and I often take new prototypes with me to play.

A few sessions in and something started to happen. The last player always seemed to win. It did not matter the number of players. The only way this seemed not to happen was if the final player made a glaringly bad play.

Athens IMG_4827

This was frustrating, I thought I’d cracked a game really quickly, but this appears not to be the case.

Despite this issue, the physical act of playing the game was pleasant. The pieces felt nice to hold, the colours work well together, placing the pieces felt nice and watching the board slowly fill all were enjoyable. The distinct problem being it didn’t work as a game.

Testing, adapting, testing, adapting

Continuing in the positive fortune of creating this game, straight after XXI BGSC I was heading to Berlin for A-Maze. A-Maze is a fantastic event, well worth attending. I started playing That Jigsaw Game with a friend discussing the problems I was having. A-Maze being a festival filled with games developers and designers, it wasn’t long before people started asking about the game and making suggestions on how to overcome the problem.

Things that were tried:

  • You can’t lay next to your own colour.
  • You have to create the largest area of your own colour pieces.
  • Changing the frame to a square.
  • Changing the number of negative and positive bits in the frame.
  • Changing the order of play based on the current number of positive bumps of each colour currently on the board
  • Using the frame pieces to block, in a completely freeform game.

Experiment IMG_4850

Nothing seemed to work, the games were either too complex, still had an obvious dominant starting position, or just ended in draws all the time.

The problem

The issue with the original rule set is that the last player in the round will win nearly all the time. The solution seems like it could be in changing the order of play. However, this need has to be balanced with the original simplicity of the game, something that I want to keep.

The play order shouldn’t be random either, the players should have control of it. It’s a matter of striking the balance between being easily deterministic who will win and being a game were players have control.

The next step

I have one next adaptation I want to try.

Giving each piece a value between 1 and 3. This value will determine who plays next, the turn moves to player who is that value of spaces away from the current player.

Hopefully this may solve the problem, without being overly complex for players to implement, by adding one additional rule.

144 New Ways to Play Chess Without Wanting to Win

Chess is an old game with rules that have only changed very slightly throughout the centuries. Here I have created 12 different play styles to use while playing Chess. Using these play styles you will be able to experience chess in a new ways.

The focus of these play styles is not necessarily about winning in the usual sense, but creating different narratives and choices within the game. Each of the twelve options below are designed to embody characteristics of varied approaches to conflict.

As there are 12 new methods of playing and 2 players, there are 144 new potential ways to play. Whilst playing try to envision and understand the actions and choices that you are making and how they embody the style and methodologies of conflict. Remember the goal of these games is not necessarily to win but to experience Chess in a different light.

Play Styles: Each Player Pick One

Before starting the game of chess each player should select one of the following play styles (listed below) by either blindly drawing a chess piece from a bag, rolling a 12-sided dice or selecting one that takes your fancy. Once you have selected your play style play chess following the usual rules for movement and capture.

1. Pawn – White: The pawns serve one purpose, to sacrifice themselves for the noble houses represented in the army. They march gladly into war to protect your names, heritage and family lines. Avoid the death of the noble families who stand at the rear of the battle field commanding lesser folk as they should.

2. Pawn – Black: Your pawns are your most important pieces, they represent the people of your country, it is you duty to protect them at all costs.

3. Rook – White: Only cowards hide in the shadows, be bold and open place your army in the centre of the field boast of your upcoming moves, it shall make no difference as you are righteous.

4. Rook – Black: You are sly, you are cunning, stick to the edges of the board in the shadows until it is time to strike your enemy.

5. Knight – White: The enemy colour is so abhorrent in your eyes that you avoid to stand any of your own army on that colour, even if it would be tactically wise to so.

6. Knight – Black: The Knights are the most glorious combatants, do not upstage them by allowing other units to take a killing blow, do all you can to protect them. Their glory is your glory.

7. Bishop – White: For your previous actions in previous battles you seek penance, you deserve to be punished, place your army and yourself in harms way, but do not seek to harm others. You can be absolved of your sins.

8. Bishop – Black: War is cruel and there are no true winners, avoid doing harm or having harm done to you at all cost. Talking is the way forward, perhaps a truce can be struck if your enemy is also wise.

9. Queen – White: An eye-for-an-eye, those that do harm to you must be punished directly and immediately for their crimes, above all else. Only this way can we restore justice to the world.

10. Queen – Black: Defence is the best form of attack, make sure you and your army are strongly protected from any assault. It is better to be alive and thought of as cowardly, than in a grave.

11. King – White: You are strong, there is no stopping you, death or glory is the only way to act when in combat. When ever there is opportunity you must strike at any cost striking fear into your enemies heart.

12. King – Black: There is honour in combat, prove yourself by only attacking enemies with identical types of unit, this way we know the battle is fair even if our enemy does not play by the rules.

 

Four Small Unfinished Unity Projects

Over the last year I’ve been working on some small projects, each of which has been put into stasis or more than likely abandoned. Here’s a little glimpse at four of those projects.

A Cube Moving Puzzle Game

What I was really interested in learning whilst working on this project was how I could manipulate the mesh of a cube to make it animate. Like a lot of the game systems I design, it started moving towards a puzzle game.

The aim of the game was to remove the coloured cells on the larger cube by stamping on them with the smaller cube, which you control. I did spend some time adding symbols to help distinguish the colours as well as making the colours stamp a trail.

The idea was ok, and I was relatively pleased with the animation and style I managed to generate, however, I did not feel that this one was worth my time to get it into a playable state. The effort required to make the puzzles, I believed, would not be worth the finished outcome.

Drawing Shapes

For this project I was interested in how a system could recognise shapes drawn by the player on a touch screen.

The method used was to create a series of points as the player draws, making sure that they’re evenly spaced no matter how fast the player moves their finger on the screen. The centre was found, and any distinct changes in directions noted. This info was put through a series of tests to determine the most likely shape.

To make a sort of game from it, the player can only draw in the white section, with the navy blue timer restricting the drawing space. Completing the required shapes bought the player more time to keep drawing.

The game functioned but really wasn’t much more interesting that an experiment, so the final polish and push was abandoned for other projects.

Jump Snap

This game started as an idea to create a multi-player shared tablet game inspired by snap. I wanted to create something that couldn’t obviously be recreated in a physical form, or at least took advantage of the animation possible in digital games.

I started with shapes bouncing and rotating. At the moment of bounce they form a 2d shape allowing the 3d shape that they are part of to be switched to another one. In terms of animation I focused on the squash and stretch of the objects, as well as creating an offset between the two shapes bounce times.

Players did seem to struggle slightly with having to match the volumes of the 3d shapes rather than matching the sides (2d shapes). Something I’d have to find a way to make clearer in the instructions/tutorial for the game.

I did also consider the idea of creating a custom controller where players would stand on their own pad and have to jump in the air when the shapes matched.

This idea might be picked up again, if I can afford the time to make the custom controllers.

Tri-To-Hex-It

iconsWork

A game about sliding triangles around to make hexagons that match colour, which then flip to create more hexagons. Grey and white triangles make red triangles; red triangles make orange triangles; orange make yellow; green, blue then purple.

Out of all the games, this is the one I have been working on the longest, on and off for about 2 years. It is also the closest to being finished. It only requires two things.

  1. A final end game animation.
  2. Some music and sounds.

I stopped working on it the first time, when I thought I’d have to add a scoring scheme for the game to work. I then realised about a year later, that if I didn’t want a score system it didn’t need one (players can see how well they have progressed by the colours of the triangles they have revealed). I started up again, and worked a lot on the animation, adding depth to the triangles, which were previously flat 2d objects which faded rather than rotate.

Then I stopped again a while ago because I can’t do sound myself.

Once I find someone to do sound for this, I’ll put the finishing touches to it and release it. I just need to be a bit more pro-active finding a sound person.

Conslusions

Although I’ve not finished any of these projects, I have learnt a lot from doing them. My skills in Unity have come on a long way over the last year and every new project provides me with new insights and methods that I can use for the next.

For me in my current situation, I get more from making many unfinished projects than I would from finishing one project. I guess I’m just waiting for the project that I think is really worth it, and the time to really dedicate to it.

Maybe the next one will be the one.

P.S. This post has not included all the half finished board games I have lying around my desk, but maybe that’s another post for another day.

Gamification is an Ugly Word

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I was recently asked to create a workshop for a conference that would introduce a small group (around 25) to concepts of play for work. Over the last few years I have come to dislike words like gamification, edutainment, or serious games, and what they stand for, but had not really spent much time thinking about why.

There is this idea that if only we could make things which we are not motivated to do more fun, then we would want to do them more. Also games are fun, people often like playing games. So therefore we should make: work, training, learning, education, study, eating well, and exercise more like games, then they will be fun too, and we will enjoy doing them. At least that’s what the plan usually is.

The issue is not only that the execution of this concept is poorly done, but there are often more fundamental issues with it in the first place. Not every task is suited for being made a game of. However, amongst all the mess, there are some good examples of games being used in serious ways, which I will try to highlight later on.

So, I had to prepare a workshop, but I didn’t want it all to be negative, I wanted there to be some positive outcomes for the people who attended. It was also important for me that they went away with more than a simplified idea of how games and work can be mixed.

I observed that there are four broad approaches to mixing work and play, each with their benefits and issues in different amounts. I will go through them one at a time, giving the example of the activity I had the attendees of the workshop complete.

1. Rewards, Badges, Points and Medals.

This is the easiest way to gamify any activity. When tasks are completed, the player is awarded a small reward. The more tasks completed the more rewards are gained. Players can compete with each other to see has the most rewards, encouraging engagement with the game.

It is possible to add timing, reminders, and a little bit of randomness to increase the engagement of the players, see Skinner Box and Operand Conditioning if you are interested in learning more and research out from there, also look at the free-to-play mobile gaming market.

The activity: When the participants entered the room, an equal mixture of black and blue chairs were set out, there were more seats than participants. The group was split into two teams. Each team was tasked with gathering and stacking all the chairs of their teams colour to the side of the room, maximum stack size of five chairs.

Stickers were rewarded for certain tasks completed.

  • First chair moved.
  • Third chair moved.
  • Placed the last chair on the stack.
  • Placed the last chair on the stack three times.
  • On the team that stacked all their chairs the quickest.

Thoughts: The participants did not really enjoy staking chairs, and could see they were being manipulated.

In situations where the person wants to achieve something, is capable of achieving it, but perhaps is not intrinsically motivated to do something, rewards can potentially help. Also, if the activity is optional and engaging, this additional motivation can help. The issue is being forced into a system of rewards and being manipulated, or being told something is now fun because of stickers. Another issue is that people can become reliant on extrinsic rewards. Removing these reward risks removing the desire to complete the original task, even in cases where the person originally enjoyed the task itself.

2. Incidental Outputs of Game are Work

This is a little harder to describe, but the idea is as follows. Sometimes when playing a game, things which are not a major aspect or goal of the game also occur. If the game can be created in such a way that these outcomes are useful, then they could potentially be harnessed for work. For example, although Civilization (Sid Meier) does not explicitly test your knowledge of history, players often get a better grasp of historic events and time periods. Pokémon GO, asks you to collect Pokémon, but to do so successfully requires you to walk around (there are also motivations of play more similar to 1. within Pokémon GO). A really good example of this is how playing games can reduce pain felt (google: reduce pain with games). These games are not designed as training tools for not feeling pain but simply playing games in itself is distracting/engaging enough for it to work.

The activity: I had the participants play Connect-4 with the chairs, placing them in turn into the room. Although the group is focussing on trying to win the game, the nature of the activity means that the chairs were placed in such a way that they could be used as seating again, i.e. returning them to a state similar to when they entered the room.

Thoughts: The participants enjoyed this activity a lot more, however, they noted that it was not an efficient way of completing the task. In general it would have perhaps been a better use of their time to just get the job done, and then move on to something else. The other issue is, an example with placing chairs was relatively easy to determine a game for, but coming up with a truly engaging game with incidental outputs for many jobs, tasks or training would be quite a difficult feat of design.

3. Layered Gaming

In 2. the issue was designing a game that had in game incidental outputs that equated to the none engaging work that was original required. The idea of layered gaming is to further separate the game and the work. Have a game which can be played in parallel to work, an alternative reality that is happening in the same space and time. Depending on the type of work which is required the game must be selected so that it does not interfere with it directly. So whilst doing physically intensive work a thoughtful word or memory game could be played, or vice-versa.

The activity: Whilst stacking the chairs away for the second time, each player was given two scrabble tiles. The players had to form groups which would create the longest work. All players in the group with the longest words would be declared the winners.

Thoughts: In this instance this lead to quite a bit of distraction and not a whole lot of stacking chairs. With more consideration between the choice of game and the work/training activity I think there could be potential in the idea. The difficulty is making the game not interfere negatively with the original task.

4. Just Play

One option, and probably the simplest, is just to make time to play and games. I find it a good way for people to get to know each other. Games allow interaction through systems, and give space for people to both talk about something specific (the game) and about other things in between. There is also opportunity to not say anything and just engage with the game, meaning long awkward silences are far less likely. Finally, games create stories and moments that people can relate to later, and in the case of non-digital games people have to share a space.

The activity: For this example we played a variation of Lemon Joust a game brought to the world by Minkette. Players each balance a lemon on a wooden spoon. When the game begins the players attempt to knock off other players’ lemons with their spoon. Players who have their lemon knocked off are eliminated, the winner is the last remaining player with a lemon on their spoon.

Thoughts: The majority of the participants seemed to enjoy playing or watching the game. This method of just allowing play seems the most honest and least manipulative of the four suggestions. Not to say there are not certain scenarios where each could be appropriate, if well developed. This method is probably the cheapest, but for some reason perhaps the hardest to justify as there is no work being done. All you need to do is a little research and identify some great games for groups of people. With the recent resurgence in board, card and party games there are plenty to choose from. Check out ShutUpAndSitDown for some ideas of games to play.

Final thoughts

Overall I believe the workshop was a success, the participants seemed to enjoy it and gave positive feedback. Of the four activities, lemon joust and connect-4 were the most popular.

There is clearly a spectrum of approaches to mixing games and work. All the way from having games and work embedded in the same system through to having them completely separate from each other.

There is plenty of challenges in making them work together well, and in some cases it may be worth it. However, in my opinion, both the cheapest, simplest and most honest solution is to just create time for play and games, as a different activity to work. This way, there is clearly no manipulation and those that do not want to participate do not have to.

A Zine in Design Research

Restricted Parlour Games Zine PDF

I recently created a zine containing six games for part of the London Design Festival 2016. The zine forms part of the Design Research exhibition at London College of Communication.

The games explore specific rule types visible in parlour games, board games and card games. This rule types are choice, randomness and interaction which are found in varying combinations in most rule books.

Choices give players control over the navigation of a game’s possibility space. By selecting which state to move to next, the player governs play, they are in charge.

Randomness in games removes control from the players. By moving through the game’s probability space in unknown ways, unexpected situations can occur.

Interaction in games draws the players together into a shared experience. By interacting with each other the players navigate the possibility space together, pushing and pulling on each other changing the outcomes for everyone.

Each of these six games was designed to only use rules of one these three forms. The desire was to see what pure rule type games would look like and what the functions of these rule types are.

Each game is short both in rule length and play time and are presented with images of the components required to play the game.

Here is the conclusion drawn from the zine:

By isolating each of the three core aspects of parlour, board, and card games and creating short games it was possible to gain deeper understanding of choice, randomness and interaction and their potential uses when combined.

In the first two games, Race Track and Letter Spaghetti, only choice aspects were utilised. With the absence of randomness and interaction between players, it was only possible to create solitaire style experiences that functioned like puzzles. The weakness in this type of game is that once an optimal solution is found the game stops being engaging.

Both Lucky Chef and The Longest Cow utilised only randomness. Games like this take the control from the player but do provide a sense of surprise or mystery, which has potential to create interesting unforeseen events. The issue is the lack of agency given to the player that without careful foresight could create a shallow experience.

Finally two interaction only games are included, Hear Say and Tower. When interaction is used by itself there is no deviation occurring, creating a feeling of a well rehearsed theatrical play. There is a sense of action moving throughout the players, each player committing their own performance.

If you would like to read the zine in full you can download the PDF.

I would like to expand this process of creating games to explore specific themes found in rules to create a greater understanding of how it is that game rules functions and the effects that they can have on the player.

 

Restricted Parlour Games Zine PDF