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.

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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

Making a puzzle game: ORDER

ORDER_for_itch

Play ORDER here.

Playing with Polygons

ORDER was born from a little experiment in manipulating polygons in Unity. I wanted to see how I could create coded animations which would allow a polygon to change its number of sides.

polyChangeEarly

Initially, I created a polygon with multiple triangle meshes that created a spoke effect. I could manipulate the length of each polygon to change the polygons shape. I then created a little piece of code which checked if each of these spokes was the same length as the boundary of the desired shape. This worked ok, the animation between shapes didn’t look very nice (especially between triangle and square), there was some edge detection problems, and when a number of shapes were manipulated at the same time, the frame rate severely dropped.

So in order to reduce the stress on the frame rate, I had to simplify the system.

polyChangeLater

The best thing I could do was reduce the number of triangles to that equal to the number of sides. Although there are possibly even more efficient ways of doing this, this would likely work for my process.

All ‘unused’ triangles, were bunched together to create a ‘line’, therefore creating the appearance of different sized polygons. The initial limitations of this system is that it could only be used to create regular polygons.

For the animation of the points I used half a sin wave, the rate of change is roughly slow-fast-slow.

Making the Game

I knew I had two things that I could do with the polygons, I could change their number of sides and I could rotate them relatively easy.

Initially the first version of the game, used three sets of controls.

  1. Select the polygon that you wanted.
  2. Change the number of sides of the selected polygon.
  3. Change the rotation of the selected polygon.

Each action would also affect the neighbouring polygons in some manner. Either also rotating them or changing their number of sides.

The issue was very clear, this was horrible to do. It did not feel good in anyway.

So…

I changed the control method so that changing the polygon that is selected, also manipulated that polygon and it’s neighbours. The newly selected polygon has it’s number of sides increased and the neighbours are rotated. This felt better, but was a lot to visually take in. This reduced the controls to one of movement only.

I added a colour change to show which polygon is selected, a small pulse animation to the newly selected polygon, and a delayed rotation animation to give a sense of cause and effect. This definitely helped.

Beating the Game

Finally I needed a winning condition. Ideally I wanted the player to win whenever all the shapes were matching both in rotation and the number of sides. However, I was not able to prove that this was possible for all the different permutations of this. This issue, meant that I could not fairly set it as a goal.

I settled on a fixed goal of having all shapes return to triangles and all pointing down after being randomised.

The next issue, is how do you show that this is what the player needs to do.

I kept adding a range of information in different forms until I think I got it right:

  1. The starting condition of the polygons is the required position.
  2. Text tells the player that “this is ORDER.” and once randomised “return to ORDER”.
  3. Polygons in the correct position pulse, those that are not are static.
  4. A counter indicates the level of order.

Conclusion

ORDER_for_itch

I am happy how the game turned out, it was a fun experiment in Unity and did not take too long to complete. It is perhaps not the most novel of ideas, but I think it at least adds an additional level of complexity to a common grid puzzle structure (changing something changes the neighbours – return to an ordered pattern), by having two methods of manipulation and fixed selection movement between neighbouring polygons.

If you want to play ORDER you can do so here. it may require a Unity plug in to run as well as permission to run.

Argh, Who am I?! – Playtests & Hiatus

I’ve had chance to playtest Argh, Who am I?! a couple more times and have decided to put it on hold for now, however it may come back in another form. Here are some of my reflections on the last two playtests.

Playtest with my MA students

The first of the two most recent playtests I learnt that players were quickly identifying who was telling the truth/lying and then narrowed down on who it was. I noticed that players were more likely to ask someone who was telling the truth, in order to avoid the mental anguish of dealing with untwisting lies.

ARGH1b

I decided to up the complexity and allow players both a chance to lie and tell the truth. To do this the players turn their cards upside down each time they’ve asked a question. This difference had an additional benefit of allowing for a mechanism for telling who had and had not being asked a question, meaning no player was left out from asking or answering a question.

Thanks to Hadeel, Tom, Sun, & Jai for playtesting.

Playtest with the Board Game Studies Colloquium

In the second of the two most recent playtests the upped complexity didn’t really add anything other than further confusion, which in this case isn’t really an interesting solution.

Players had fun, but I think the amusement came from coping with the mechanics rather than playing the game. This can be good in certain situations, like the weird mental block that occurs when matching pairs in Dobble, or racing against time trying to roll dice in Escape: Curse of the Temple. However, the connection did not feel right in this instance.

Thanks to Ralf, Jacob, Tom & Tiago for playtesting.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall the game had two parts that didn’t connect very well. First was working out who was telling the truth or lying and the second narrowing down to the card you’re holding. Players would start the game, in brain twisted confusion, then clarity, then finish with systematic logic. I think there perhaps needed to be a less linear relation between these two parts.

For some reason lying as an answer was difficult to do. First the question had to be assessed, then check for a yes/no answer and then potentially reversed. This process just seemed more tasking than it aught to be. There was a few times where players got confused and gave the wrong answer (including myself).

In the end the game play had very little interesting choice, much possibility for strategy or fun inherent in the game play. The players were told whether to lie or tell the truth. On reflection I think lying is more likely to be amusing when you can be caught out, and there’s a risk/reward tied to this.

An Observation

The most interesting thing that arose from the games was the possibility for ambiguous answers and questions, and the possibility of players disagreeing with each other about the answers.

For example:

  • Someone asked if they were alive or dead, when they were holding a robot card.
  • Someone asked if they were magical, when they were holding a zombie card.

Both these questions gained different responses within the groups. Perhaps there is something in this, an idea for another game. For now at least the game where you don’t know your own identify is on hold.

 

Argh, who am I?! – Revision and Playtest 2

I made some revisions to both the cards and rules for Argh, who am I?!

Previous Posts: Argh, who am I?! v1 rulesMaking of, Playtest 1.

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Changing the Card List

The card list has been expanded and changed from all Hollywood monsters:

  • Frankenstein’s Monster
  • Mummy
  • Skeleton
  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Fish Person
  • Zombie
  • Ghost

To a range of people/things:

  • Alien
  • Robot
  • Pirate
  • Ninja
  • Cowboy
  • Demon
  • Angel
  • Zombie
  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Santa Clause
  • Tooth Fairy
  • Easter Bunny

This should now allow the players to narrow down their potential character card in a larger range of ways, similar to 20 Questions.

Changing the Rules

The first set of rules I wanted to change from version 1 of the game, was the question and statement section. The answering back and forth was messy.

The main issue I was trying to avoid with the original rules was that as soon as the players realise that one player is telling the truth (or lies) they become the most reliable source and there is no reason to ever ask anyone else a question. By giving the player who is asked a question some power, it reduces the chance of this happening. In changing this aspect I did not want to lose the freedom of the players to ask whoever they wanted a question.

There were a number of possible work arounds which I considered:

  1. Every player must be asked at least one question before, players can be asked another question. This at first seems a fair method however it has a downside in terms of elegance. The players will require an additional token or card to remember who has and has not been asked a question. Additionally, the first player will get to ask their choice of all other players whilst the last player will not get a choice, every round. This could be solved by skipping the first player of the previous round to change the first player for the current round. Balancing out in the end. All this adds a lot of additional components and rules for a relatively small game.
  2. Players who are asked a question get to ask the next question, and must ask someone else. Players in this case have to balance asking someone who they know is telling truth/lies with giving them the power to ask another question about their own card. In this manner the game should self balance. One issue might be that players may realise the point at which someone has worked out their own card and therefore not ask them a question again, so they cannot declare. To get round this a player could declare at any point.

Of these I selected the second option.

Changing the Setup

Another issue that needed resolving was the length of the game, which for its type was possibly too long. Also there was difficulty in knowing what the cards were in the deck, so you could work out who are or are not. A problem exacerbated by the newly increased character list.

This was solved with a simple setup rule change.

  • The entire deck of cards is shuffled.
  • Cards are laid face up, one at a time, in a grid.
  • Any time a card matching an existing grid card is found it is added to the play-deck. Therefore, mixing the matching truth and lies cards between grid and play-deck randomly.
  • Once the grid and play-deck both contain one of each character type, the play-deck is shuffled again.
  • Each player takes one card from the play-deck.
  • Players help each other orientate their cards correctly.
  • The game begins.

So, although the list of characters is longer, the actual play-deck is smaller than the original version. Additionally there is no need for reference cards for the player as setting up the game creates a grid reference for all the players. There is also now no repeating of the same characters.

Playtest 2

I took the new cards and rules to my monthly board game meet-up and played a couple of games.

The first game went ok, but there was a weakness found in the system. Once someone had identified who they were once, and therefore had the most cards, they could keep randomly guessing to diminish the deck and win with their single card.

The second game we removed this issue, if you’re wrong when you declare you are removed from the game. However if you’re the first person to declare correctly you win. This added a nice layer of tension, do you risk guessing early without all the information but with good odds, or do you risk waiting and someone else guessing first. It also reduced the playtime to a nice length for the style of game.

I did however get confused with the truth and lies, and double negatives at one point, giving a player some incorrect information.I handled it in that moment with a friendly apology, however, this is something that needs consideration in the future.

We played with a relatively large group of people and at times I noticed that some were being left out more than others, so further testing is required for different group sizes.

Once the game was reduced to two/three players the game play changed. For two players it is impossible to have the don’t question back rule.

Thanks to the Playtesters: Ricky, Robin, Patrick, Jonathon, Jazz, David & Peter.

What’s next?

  • I am going to have another look at balancing the character list, so it doesn’t swing too heavy in any sub-genre’s favour.
  • I need to test it a lot more times with different group sizes, and different deck sizes.
  • I’m interested to see if I can expand the deck, but add an additional stage to the set-up which removes a number of cards depending on how many players and how difficult the players want the game to be. This might need a little bit of math to get to a nice starting point but will be ultimately balanced in playtesting.
  • Consider testing the other rules variation with the additional tokens, to see how it feels.

Can I get the new cards?

I’m going to hold off uploading the new cards for a little while until the game has settled and I have time to do some more placeholder art rather than just text titles.