Tag Archives: exhibit

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

10 Questions to Consider when Exhibiting Games and Designing Games for Exhibitions

More spaces are showing games for many different reasons. It might be demos for games that are available to purchase, games that are in development or perhaps the game itself was specifically designed to be shown in an exhibition. Whatever the reason there are a few questions that I think we should start asking ourselves about showing games in these spaces. This is not a definitive list but a work in progress, the beginning of a wider conversation we as designers, exhibitors and curators should be having. Games are certainly worthy of a platform and space to be shown, and we can learn a lot from other mediums, art, design, performance and theatre, but there are somethings that games do differently. Therefore we must consider what is special about how people view and experience games and how we can make exhibitions and spaces for games better, for those that attend and those that are showing.

Here are ten questions to start that conversation:

  1. How easy is it for someone else to set-up, are there clear instructions, can you make it automatically load when turned on?

It might be that your game is going to be set-up or looked after by someone else, or you be looking after many different games. Make it as easy as possible to go from a crashed or broken state to ready to play. In the case of games on PCs and Macs put a little extra effort in so the game automatically loads up when you either turn on or reset the system. This will make your life and the life of others a whole lot easier.

  1. Is it simple and clear for a new player to restart the game, do you need a big red reset button?

I’ve seen it happen in a number of places. People play a game for a while and then leave it part way through. If a new player with no experience of the game comes to play at this point they may have missed the ‘tutorial’ or learning experience crucial to the overcoming the next obstacle. In fact people often put down the game when they get stuck, so someone picking up the game at this difficulty spike can stop them getting into the game completely. Your game may well have a menu and a restart option but this may not be clear on its own. Is there a way to have a big reset button so a new player can walk to the system and hit it knowing they’ll go back to the beginning? Something like a MakeyMakey could be used for doing this.

  1. How long does it take to learn to play the game, how long to get a good appreciation of the game?

When exhibiting a game, a player will not necessarily have a long time to play your game. There will hopefully be people waiting behind them to have a go, which will add pressure to them. Is the player going to get a suitable understanding of the games rules or controls and a reasonable impression of the game in the time given? If you are showing part of a larger game choose carefully which part it is you show. If you are creating a game specifically for exhibition take this consideration into account at the design phase.

  1. Does your game implicitly state to allow someone else to have a go, after a certain amount of time, after reaching a fixed point?

Again you are probably hoping that lots of people will want to play your game, but games generally are not designed with systems for allowing new players to enter and old players to leave. Consider changing your game to allow for this. At certain points in the game, controlled by time or achievement add an on screen prompt (or non-digital equivalent) that says, ‘You’ve been playing for a while, can you see someone else who would like to play.’ If there isn’t anyone they can keep playing but if there is someone else can have a go without having to ask.

  1. In multiplayer games, could those who have won be encourage through the game itself to look for someone else who might want a go?

In a similar way, multiplayer games should encourage you to share. After a round, match or turn, specifically consider having the winning player give up their spot. Again this can be an onscreen prompt. I have always disliked the often used ‘winner stays on’ rule for game all this does is give the best player more opportunity to get better rather than allowing less skilled players the opportunity to improve.

  1. Who can see your game being played, should it be private just the current player(s), or should it have an audience?

Depending on the type of game and the subject matter there should be some consideration to who can see the game being played. Should it just be the people playing, perhaps they are being asked personal questions or they need a safe space to fail and get better. Possibly showing someone the game before they play will spoil it for them. On the other hand is the game improved with a audience of spectators encouraging and reacting to the players playing. Either way the space and the way the game is set up should really consider that. You can put a curtain around a game, or hide it in a booth. You can put large screens high so others can see them. You can have secondary screens which show the action to the audience specifically.

  1. Are the controls intuitive and clear, do you need to have all those extra buttons accessible when they’re not going to be used?

The worst thing that can happen when learning to play a game is that there are not any clear instructions for the controls. This leads to bashing buttons and hoping things will happen. This is worse with keyboards as there are so many additional potential buttons to try. A simple way to reduce this complexity is by removing the buttons, or highlighting the buttons that are used with stickers or some other markings. A potentially better way is to make a bespoke controller, which through its design communicates intuitively how to use it.

  1. Can you reduce the potential embarrassment that someone may feel if they are not good, or do not understand how to use your game?

A lot of the time we play games in our own homes or with friends, this is somewhere we likely feel safe to fail and get things wrong, and can slowly learn how to play. Picking up a game in a public space and not being able to play can be embarrassing and frustrating. I am not sure what the best way is to solve this in general as it will very much depend on the exact nature of the game and the player, but it is certainly something to take into consideration. If your game is specifically hard maybe having multiple systems, some with an amount of privacy may eliminate the problem.

  1. Could your game disguise the computer and screen, can you hide the familiar technology in cabinets, tables or other bespoke creations?

It is a big challenge but sometimes it is just a little dull seeing rows of computers lined up showing games. I know it makes life and set-up easier but it lacks a little of the potential magic of games. There is potential, given enough budget, time and effort to make bespoke cabinets and tables to hide the hardware in. Instead of mounting screens on walls, they could be behind cutout windows in false walls, giving a flush neat appearance. Instead of keyboards and standard control pads their could be mounted and bespoke controllers. This I admit is a luxury but I think it would help people focus on the games and design rather than the technology used.

  1. What is the purpose of the game, is it advertising itself or is it something that only exists to be exhibited?

Whether the game you are exhibiting is a short demo of a larger game, a full demo for something you wish to sell or something designed specifically for that exhibition the above notions should be considered and potentially embedded into the game. You can design these elements into the fabric of the game itself or you can add a coat of exhibition veneer to an existing game. To make the games exhibition friendly will definitely require more work but it will give the player an experience greater than something they could achieve at home just downloading a demo.

Digital Revolution at the Barbican – Indie Game Space

barbicanIndieGameSpace

I’ve just got back from the Digital Revolution exhibit at the Barbican where there was loads of interesting things to play and interact with.

I spent a good chunk of time in the Indie Game Space, a blue caged play pen for young and old alike. I got an opportunity to play a number of games that have been on my radar for a while but I haven’t had the opportunity to try out.

I think there is an issue with the way games are often exhibited which conflicts with the way I have generally played games throughout my life, but that is the subject for another post.

The Unfinished Swan

This game hooked me immediately and, if it was not for the lack of time and other games on offer, I think I would have quite happily sat and played this right through to the end. I had seen game-play videos before, but I’d not seen the opening section which explains why you are playing the game, who your character is.

To briefly summarise, you play a young boy whose mother has never finished a painting. After she dies, you’re allowed to keep one painting, your favourite, ‘The Unfinished Swan’. One day you find the canvas blank and a door you have never seen before open up, you enter that door and the world of the blank canvas.

This character background gives an aesthetically beautiful game with an interesting game mechanic a deeper sense of narrative, of hope, anguish, loss and adventure.

Antichamber

This is a weird game, weird in a good way. I like puzzle games and I like the physics bending architecture that the game takes place in. I only got to complete the first few sections before I moved on to try something else, but mainly because I’m not sure how much it would stand up to replay and I would like to have an (almost) entirely unique experience of playing through it.

Proteus

To be honest this game, or rather interactive experience, did not instantly grip me. I appreciated what it does in terms of visuals, and generating scenery but there was not quite enough to grab me in that moment. Maybe there is more to it that I did not see as I was in a gaming frame of mind.

Papers Please

I read about this game everywhere and finally a opportunity to play it, however, as there was no keyboard I could not find a way to navigate back to the start menu to really have a go at it. I’m still waiting to try this properly.

Spelunky

This feels like it would be a great game to just put on an whittle away at in the small hours. In the time I had I did not quite get to grips with the bombs but I would gladly spend some more time to master them and the rest of the game.

Nidhogg

I only got to try this game on single player mode and though grateful for some AI to compete against I really feel that this is the sort of game that needs two people, and a room full of spectators to gasp, grown and laugh as you play through it.

Tower Fall Ascension

This game is again really a multi-player game but I managed to get a pretty good understanding of it just using the one character. Jumping on the heads of things, falling through the bottom back onto the top of the screen and the aesthetics of this game gave it a great old school arcade type vibe. I’d very happily spend a day playing through this with a good friend.

There Shall Be Lancing

Worse than playing a great two player game against the AI, is trying to control two game pads at once to understand how a game works. This game again seems like it would be a great game for a room full of people, but I did not get anywhere close to a proper experience of it. However, I definitely would like the opportunity to do so.

There were a few other games in the Indie Game Space, of the top of my head I can remember: Journey, Fez, Bit.Trip, Attack of the Mutant Camels, and Cave Story. All of which I have had at least a brief opportunity to play before.