Tag Archives: London

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

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.

VideoBrains Christmas Event

cropped-videobrains

Last night I made my way to the VideoBrains (@VideoBrains) event founded by Jake Tucker (@_JakeTucker) who had kindly invited me to bring Massively Multiplayer Rock Paper Scissors along for all the attendees to play.

What is VideoBrains, well they describe themselves like this:

VideoBrains is a free monthly conference where video games developers, journalists and players give talks and answer questions. We’ve had fantastic talks on everything from indie marketing to the Slender Man to a behind-the-scenes look at Deus Ex.

We’re partnered with Five out of Ten and Nine Worlds VG and our events take place at Meltdown in London.

The speakers at this event included:

Alan Williamson (@AGBear) who gave a talk about nostalgia and Sega. He spoke about how Sonic has changed (for the worse) and questioned whether the original games were as good as we remembered (yes – was his answer by the way). He then spoke about his ‘Get Well’ game, NiGHTS into Dreams and the game that was given away by Sega, Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams. This game is only playable in its true form at Christmas time, otherwise all the skins change to appear the same as normal. He explained how Nights Journey of Dreams for the Wii left him almost instantly cold. I was left considering how nostalgia is often used as a marketing tool, which more often than not seems to work, everyone hoping that this time, this time everything will be alright.

Christos Reid (@failnaut) gave a personal talk which changed between a few subject matters. An emotional highlight was when he revealed how the games he has made have shown not only that he was not alone, but have gone on to show other people that to.

Another high point included the description of how he beat the Final Fantasy VII boss with a dance mat controller at his friends house as they could not find the proper controller. I’m interested in what affect changing inputs can have on game experience, there is certainly lots of potential in this space.

Finally Christos spoke about a new idea he is thinking about which is a VR game experience where players move through a procedurally generated party, going from kitchen to kitchen having to deal with the things that are happening.

Mat Jones (@pillowfort) brought up the disconnect between character death in games and the game’s narrative. A lot of games have character death as a fail state, however in terms of the narrative of the game, this makes very little sense. This seems to be a hangover from video game arcades encouraging people to pay more to keep playing, which the games industry is still recovering from. I think he ended with some very useful advice, if you’re going to have character death in your games at least make it part of the narrative otherwise find another way.

Alex Roberts (@lexicobob) spoke of her experience of entering game jams with little preparation and developing games for the MegaDrive, GameBoy and SNES. I have not personally entered a game jam yet, but I think it would be a great way of getting me to finish a project instead of getting distracted by the new shiny idea. If I ever look into retro consoles as a tool for game development myself, I think I will take her advice and go for the MegaDrive first, apparently it is the easiest.

Mary Hamilton (@newsmary) and Grant Howitt (@gshowitt) spoke in turns about literacy and proficiency in games. Whilst one spoke the other played one of two games, Just Cause 2 or SuperHexagon. Grant could play Just Cause 2, whilst Mary struggled. However, Mary stunned the crowds with incredibly impressive times on SuperHexagon (despite been jet-lagged and playing in front of an audience). We learnt about the different games they had played growing up and how this affected their ability to play new games, and the way that they played those games. Mary wanting to explore in GTA instead of doing what the game designer had planned and taking the van to complete the driving training mission. Something she says is an influence of playing RPG games, where exploration is rewarded.

Another interesting aspect was how they talked about playing games not only with each other, but for each other. One of them could watch and experience a game without having to be in control.

Jake Tucker (@_JakeTucker) gave a talk recounting his experience with Rainbow 6 and how the more recent releases had lost all the parts which made them enjoyable for him to play. This just seems to be the case across the board, with games changing from what defines them. At one point Jake put up a series of brown game images asking us to spot the game he was specifically talking about, highlighting the loss of variation in a certain market of games, with them all moving towards the same space. I suppose, at least, those old games we use to play still exist.

Sadly Paul Dean (@paullicino), had to cancel his talk due to a corrupted presentation file. From speaking to him earlier he mentioned how it was experimental, I really wonder what he was going to present.

I went in to GameBrains expecting to hear some interesting talk about video games, but there was so much more than that. All the presenters were entertaining, funny, informative and most importantly personable in the way they spoke, sharing a little of themselves with us all. It felt like a safe, comfy place to explore games and what they mean to us individually and as a group. I will see you at the next one.

MM Rock/Paper/Scissors

mmrpsbanner

I’ve been busy organising things for the event I am running at GameCity 9 at the end of this month.

I have set-up a website mmrps.co.uk, a facebook group and have placed the orders for the tabbed wristbands.

None of this would have been possible without the kind help of one of my work colleagues Tom, who has an interesting blog at unknowndomain.co.uk.

Additionally, Tom has asked me to run this at the Elephant and Castle Maker Faire, in London on Saturday 15th November.

ecmakerfair

Apocalypse World at London Indie RPG Meetup Group

apocalypseworld

So today was one of the London Indie RPG Meetup Group‘s extra long sessions, and I joined the group playing a hacked version of Apocalypse World (D. Vincent Baker).

Something’s wrong with the world and I don’t know what it is.

It used to be better, of course it did. In the golden age of legend, when there was enough to eat and enough hope, when there was one nation under god and people could lift their eyes and see beyond the horizon, beyond the day. Children were born happy and grew up rich.

Now that’s not what we’ve got. Now we’ve got this. Hardholders stand against the screaming elements and all comers, keeping safe as many as they can. Angels and savvyheads run constant battle against there’s not enough and bullets fly and everything breaks. Hocuses gather people around them, and are they protectors, saviors, visionaries, or just wishful thinkers? Choppers, gunluggers and battlebabes carve out what they can and defend it with blood and bullets. Drivers and operators search and scavenge, looking for that opportunity, that one perfect chance. Skinners remember beauty, or invent beauty anew, cup it in their hands and whisper come and see, and don’t worry now about what it will cost you. And brainers, oh, brainers see what none of the rest of us will: the world’s psychic maelstrom, the terrible desperation and hate pressing in at the edge of all perception, it is the world now.

And you, who are you? This is what we’ve got, yes. What are you going to make of it?

The MC had hacked the game by adding dragons and a few dragon related ‘moves’ which worked nicely. These included:

  • Do something whilst on fire.
  • Sally forth.
  • Charm a dragon.
  • See through a dragons eyes.
  • Plus possibly one more which I currently forget.

I picked The Savvy Head for my character, Lee who had a small electronics workshop.

We also had Charmer (The Brainer), Found “The King of Glass” (The Hocus) and Besh (Angel). For more info on the character types a full set of character sheets are available here.

AW1

The dragons rose 50 years ago and left the world desolate except for a few pockets of survivors. We were set up in a castle and there had not been a dragon sighting for a couple of years. After the Prince of Scales had returned from the wastelands with a prize of a dragon skeleton he took it upon himself to beat the Count of Earth, to display his power. This lead to a fraction in the people of the strong hold after a Council meeting lead by the King of Glass, who questioned his behaviour. The Prince of Scales intended to leave (after some persuasion from Charmer) and start up his own strong hold with as many of the people he could persuade. Besh took this opportunity to make a move on the Count of Earth’s daughter.

Before the Prince could leave, dragons attacked the castle leaving rack and ruin. A couple of the dragons were killed, one in an impressive shotgun attack by Besh, the rest were persuaded to leave when Found started a prayer with his followers using the psychic maelstrom. However this was only possible due to the help of the Prince (who it had become quite apparent non of us liked) who now sort even more power for himself.

Through the Maelstrom, Charmer and Lee saw the threat of an ancient evil slumbering dragon. The Prince of Scale wanted to go out and fight, the King of Glass wanted us to pray to but the dragon back to sleep. The Prince ended up persuading about half the people to go with him and they took all the weapons, but said the rest could pray if they wanted to.

As they set out. Lee started work on a sonic repulsion device, and became a lot closer to Charmer who had had to move to the dungeon after her tower was destroyed in the recent battle. Besh helped the sick and wounded and Found took council from his people.

Lee and Charmer, attempted to run away to live on their own but were stopped by Besh with an ancient sword he was given by the Countess of Copper. They gave in a said they would help.

Found connected with the dragon and bargained with the life of the Count of Earth’s daughter (which fortunately for him, Besh did not find out about) as well as the lives of the people who had gone out to fight the dragon with the Prince of Scales. A single dragon still attacked the castle, Lee left a message in the psychic maelstrom declaring his love for charmer before running to attempt to repel the dragon with his device. In the end the dragon was savagely wounded by Besh. Lee using the sonic device on the dragon only annoyed it more, and it started to attack the vehicle were the device was mounted using its fire breath. Trying to draw the dragon away from the castle, he drove off leaving Charmer behind. Charmer, thinking Lee had left her sought her revenge on Besh (for keeping them there), who was on fire from the fight with the dragon. Charmer watched Besh burn to death and stopped Found from saving him.

Lee returned to find what had happened and after finding what she had done decided that she would be better away from other people and they left together. Besh was left dead in the arms of Found. Found was happy to have survived, and continued his plans to rule what remained.

AW1

This was another fun game. I really like the system, which I have wanted to try after reading about Dungeon World (Sage LaTorra, Adam Koebel) which also uses the same system. My favourite aspects of the system are that:

  • All the information is there on the character sheets, and by making a few relatively simple choices you can make a range of different characters.
  • Other players choose the attribute that you need to use in order to improve your character, forcing you to do consider doing things differently.
  • There are partial successes, where you succeed at what you do but something bad happens. It seems relatively rare that you will fail completely.

I cannot think of anything negative to say about the game we had.