Tag Archives: design

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.

 

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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.

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.

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?! – 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.

IMG_2875.JPG

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.

Argh! Who am I? – Playtest

ArghWhoAmICardPic

Finally got round to playtesting Argh! Who am I?! this week, you can read about the making of it here. Although the general feel and mechanics of the game was good there were some issues which need improving on.

1. The playtime was a little long for the type of game it is.

This could be relatively easy to solve on it’s own, the answer would be to simply reduce the number cards in the play session. So instead of removing only 1 card at the beginning of the game, you could remove three. However, I feel there is more to this issue.

2. The fish-man was the least interesting character to talk about.

This is likely because there is less popular culture about the fish-man monster when compared to vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. The answer is remove it, or find a replacement. Doing this would actually help neatly with issue 1.

3. It is difficult to keep coming up with interestingly differences between the characters.

One issue might be the range of characters, in the first version of the game they are all classic monster tropes. This means all of them are already grouped by one sort of characterisation, removing the opportunity to explore. This could be resolved by increasing the number of groups in the set, i.e. sci-fi characters, fantasy characters, monsters, etc and reducing the number from each set.

4. Giving a true information, is very precise. Giving a false information is vague.

Once someone was found to be giving the true statements, players who had lying cards could abuse the imbalance of power between the two. There’s 8 characters, so the player eliminating the options through negative comments are at a distinct disadvantage. In short, the difference between having a truth card and a liar card are too great. By reconsidering the objects/characters on the card this could be improved. For example if instead of characters there were objects which were a set of binary choices:

  • Black / White
  • Round / Square
  • Edible / Non-edible

e.g.

  • 8 ball – black, round, non-edible
  • slice of bread – white, square, edible

If I ask am I round, and I know if you are lying or telling the truth, then I can deduce the truth relatively easily. However, this really reduces the number of questions which are usable, and the game is significantly reduced in terms of creativity and free thinking. This idea is part way to a potential solution but not the full answer. Each character card needs similarity with some of the other cards but not with all the other cards.

Other ideas for variations

Whilst thinking about these issues I came up with a few ideas for the game that I need to consider for a little bit before making the next version. Some of them should be easy to test, just by varying the rules.

  • When you ask a question everyone else answers. Removes the need for a statement.
  • Players with liar cards, can both lie and tell the truth. Add some chance for deviance, will depend on what the items are on the cards whether or not this is suitable.
  • After a player is asked a question, they cannot be asked another question until everyone else has been asked. Removes the need to give a statement. Requires a neat way of keeping track of this.
  • Have players create their own cards, i.e. the backs follow truth and lies but the characters / items are decided by the group who play. This adds another element of creativity to the game.

The big question – what or who do I put on the cards?

The main issue I need to consider is what it is that goes on the cards in the first place. Monsters was a quick idea I had and it worked well enough for the playtest, but I feel that this is the thing that needs changing, it’s also the most time consuming thing to do, both in thinking and time spent creating cards that are nice enough to play with.

Thinking about the theme of the game might help, mechanically it’s about truth, lies and deduction, which sounds a little like a murder mystery. Perhaps you’re removing suspects, finding locations and looking for specific objects. Not sure how all this ties in with not being able to see what you’re holding, but their could be an answer somewhere.