GDC 2018

I had the fortune of attending The Game Developers Conference 2018 in San Francisco this year.

Throughout the conference I took the following notes which I thought to share!

Day 1 – 3/19/2018

My first day at GDC involved visiting a number of sponsored talks as well as a great talk on the game Mortician’s Tale.

Google Dev Day

In this event Google was presenting a number of new features. One in particular was Google Instant. The concept is that developers would create partial builds that would act as a lite version of the experience used to give a demo of the experience. One interesting concept they proposed was that as speed increases, consumption increases.

Amazon – Gameon

This session was a demo for introducing Amazons Gameon feature. In the talk the speaker went through how to implement the Gameon system providing diagrams and code samples.

Gameon, as I understood it, is a service that allows deliveries leveraging the Amazon delivery service. The example the speaker spoke at length about was integrating real world prizes into a game system using Amazon’s delivery service e.g. a player wins a game and a real prize is delivered to them by Amazon.

Amazon – Future of E-Sports

In this panel hosted by Amazon the speakers gave their opinion on the future of E-Sports and made a number of interesting points including:

  • What was driving the increase in size of esport was not something in mobile applications, but the increase in the number of devices, and increase in speed of infrastructure.
  • The best e-sport is easy to pickup but hard to master.
  • The perceived skill gap of mobile vs PC is good for the e-sports as its about accessibility having mobile in the e-sports scene.
  • When you have a hit one challenge is to sustain the momentum. There are several ways to do so. Two ways are building a brand or building a community.
  • Games that are good for broadcasting are surprising, unpredictable, and easy to watch.
  • E-Sports has a structure like that of regular sports. Blizzard for example has franchises all over the world, and the owners of E-Sports teams are like the owners of traditional sports teams.

Mortician’s Tale – A Different View on How Games Treat Death

This talk was about the concept of death in a game called Mortician’s Tale. As described by the creator Morticians Tale is ‘a job simulator game’ about being a Mortician.

During the talk the speaker made a number of interesting points including:

  • Death systems in games have endured. In Mortician’s tale they wanted to explore ways of displaying it.
  • It was important that death in the game should relate to narrative and mechanics of game.
  • One book that was influential to the development was ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ by Caitlin Doughty.
  • The purple color in the game was used to hide the ugliness of death and reflects melancholy.
  • The game removes the ability to fail during preparation of the body as the creators felt it would disrespect the bodies.
  • The protagonist of the game was made silent as a silent protagonist can act as a vessel for players.
  • A silent protagonist also underscores the importance of listening in the grieving process.
  • Post release the feedback was positive and the creator believed there was some evidence of a transformative effect due to the design decisions made while making the game.

At the end of the conference the speaker made recommendations of a number of other games to look at that explore the topic of death:

Finally the speaker made four major recommendations for how to do death in games better:

  1. Make it meaningful.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Be understanding with your players.
  4. Asses your own feelings.

Talk Link

Continue reading GDC 2018

Of Blood and Water – Dragon Age Tabletop RPG Adventure

Introduction: Of Blood and Water is a five-act RPG adventure written for the Dragon Age tabletop RPG system. It was created as a semester-long project for the RPG Writing Workshop course at Carnegie Mellon University. This involved creating character descriptions, step-outlines, and five acts that each include a dramatic scene written in script format.

Time: 15 weeks |  Role: Producer/ WriterTeam Size: 5

Design Goal: The goal of this project was to create an RPG adventure suitable for a three person party to play over the course of several weeks.

My Contributions:

  • Raymon’s character sheet.
  • Act 1’s step outline, prose, and dramatic scene.

Download: The story bible is available here.

Flower Power – A Transformational Game Project

In this article I will chronicle the design process and lessons learned in creating Trash Traders a multiplayer iPad game aiming to empower a sustainability mindset.

Introduction

At Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) multi-disciplinary teams work on projects over a semester to create an artifact. While attending I was the primary designer on the project which created Trash Traders.

Trash Traders is an iOS app built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for West Virginia’s Steenrod Elementary. Trash Traders is an experience that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life.

Continue reading Flower Power – A Transformational Game Project

Kings Favor

Story: You are one of several jesters performing at the King’s week long banquet. Jesters got bills to pay so earn the most before the banquet ends!

Platform: Physical | Time: 2 weeks | Role: Designer | Team Size: 1

Design Challenge: Design and develop a game featuring the use of one or more dice.

My Contributions: I designed, and developed this project. This involved brainstorming, conducting playtesting and iterating the game several times.

Development

Analysis & Brainstorming

Problem Statement

First I considered some of the problems with dice:

  1. Dice don’t hold their state, when rolled they change.
  2. Rolling one small dice alone sucks.
  3. Traditional dice are 6 sided symmetric.
  4. Rolling two equal dice together causes predictable regression to the mean.
  5. Dice are solid state probability elements, they are the same throughout the game.
  6. When dice are rolled they are visible to everyone.

Ideas

During Brainstorming I read through a number of Dice Games:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dice_games

Then came up with a few ideas:

  1. Dice that determine a persona in a social situation
  2. Team based game where there are fixed resource which each collects
  3. Game has a number of chips, and a dice is thrown that has on it a number of concepts e.g fruit, country. Whatever comes up the first person to name something in that category wins that chip.
  4. Game where two players roll together to score points, matching dice score a point mismatching lose points, single winner to 6 points win – problem is that probabilities are ⅙ of scoring so losing happens a lot more.
  5. Game where players throw dice and winner takes chips
  6. What about a game that you roll and everyone but you can see your dice

From these ideas I developed some candidates.

Candidates

Candidate 1

Taking idea two and the game LCR I developed a prototype. In this prototype players would hold three cards they kept hidden. Each would initially be one of each color card R,G, or B. The mechanic was two dice were rolled and based on the number you had to pass one card to the person opposite, left or right to you. The goal of the game was to collect all of a certain color.

Playtest

Date: February 1 – 14:00

Playtesters: Me

Time: 10 minutes

The game felt too random, and didn’t feel good having three cards and having to hand away two every turn. It destroyed a player’s strategy of trying to collect all of them.

I tried a team version of this game, and had trouble at end when judging if you had won or not. This was because players had no good way of guessing whether their team mate had the last card that they didn’t have. Finally I moved on to another candidate.

Candidate 2

Considering idea 5 I found a dice game called Mexican. I liked the idea of dice battling against each other for lives. I modified this idea to instead use numerically increasing value gains with chips.

Initial Rules

  • Each player has two dice and 10 chips
  • Players throw 1 chip on the first turn and one more every turn
  • Each turn a player trolls two of their dice and the winning player takes double what they bet
  • In the case of draws players reroll till a winner emerges

Playtesting

Playtest 1

In this playtest I did not have any prepared materials and so used a mish mash of dice and tokens.

Date: February 1 – 20:00

Playtesters:

  1. Male, 24, semi novice dice player
  2. Female, 22, novice dice player,
  3. Me

Time: 5-6 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Token added a lot, nice glass smooth
  • Didn’t like how dice were different in any other way than color, felt like some dice were better than others
  • Would make for a nice drinking game
  • Enjoyed it, and didn’t bet extra at all
  • Intense, short experience with very little strategy, but fun
  • Playtesters thought 6-6 should be a special case
  • Draw cases not well defined

Observations:

  • Playtesters had trouble counting tokens

Revisions

# Description Purpose
1  Changed rule set now when a round of players have been completed only then is the minimum amount increased  Slow down the game to try encourage strategic thinking.
2  Draws split the pot evenly  Handling of draw cases
3 Bought chips Made counting easier
4 Made 6-6 a special case as an automatic win Reward for special case

Playtest 2 - 1

Date: February 2 – 21:00

Playtesters:

  1. Male, 24, semi novice dice player
  2. Male, 30, advanced player
  3. Me

Time: 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Casual players enjoyed it less because of slow down of pace
  • More experienced players played the strategy of making slightly bigger bets at the beginning, but still lost and felt frustrated because the game requires little skill

Observations:

  • Special case of 6-6 never occurred
  • Increasing the bet by one per round added a lot of tension quickly, might make it after a whole round of players to encourage strategic thinking

Revisions

# Description Purpose
1 Added 1-1 special case Increase the probability of a special roll

Playtest 2 - 2

Date: February 3 – 21:00

Playtesters:

  1. Male, 24, semi novice dice player
  2. Female, 22, novice dice player
  3. Male, 25, experienced player
  4. Me

Time: 8 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Casual players still had fun
  • Hardcore player still didn’t have fun at all because they interpreted the game to have little or no strategy which did not appeal to him
  • I played with the casual players from Playtest 2-1 who preferred that version

Observations:

  • Game snowballed if player initially won, because they would continually bet minimum and people initially lost tended to keep losing chips.
  • Game became a more fun for remaining players who started betting all in or big bets to end quickly but was boring for people who got out early.

Revision

I wanted to add an element of skill so I overhauled the rule set and added a thematic element to the game.

Thematically I imagined a king setting a standard somewhere on a bell curve and a bunch of jesters trying to out do each other with displays to Please The King!

# Description Purpose
1 Made each dice the same size Eliminate 'feeling; of difference between dices
2 Added a public non player controlled dice to control probability calculations Added more strategy to the betting system with a fixed value judgement
3 Added a mechanic called King's favor  A method to addressing stalemates. First consideration of numeric difference to consider many cases of non matching rolls. Next is consideration of matching rolls based on numerical matching. Design moves towards kings exact preference
4  Rethemed game to call it Please the King!  Wanted to create a motivation and story around the game to add to experience
5 New Rule Sheet  Wanted to start working on a written rule sheet so I didn’t have to explain it every time

Playtest 3

Date: February 4 – 17:30

Playtesters:

  1. Female, 22, average player
  2. Male, 33, experienced
  3. Me

Time: 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • One play tester didn’t like the idea of being able to go all in
  • Needed more clearly defined value judgement, maybe a card with rules on how to interpret the values
  • Wondered what it would be like if the reroll could involve, re rolling meant ability to choose either to re roll one or two
  • Wondered if king had more than two dice if it would be more interesting
  • Liked the idea of pleasing the king, gave a motivation, said it made sense thematically

Observations:

  • Playtesters understood game pretty fast
  • Three players, one got out early, who got bored
  • Winner and second place came close, leading to a climax where losing meant sudden death
  • No complaints about increasing of 1 tax per turn
  • Playtesters said only one minimum bet reroll is better

Revision

# Description Purpose
1  Added rule for only one reroll per turn  Stop the person with the most money winning by rerolling a lot
2  Created a physical board for the game  Reinforce thematic element
3  Used a royal seal in the king's box to signify royalty  Reinforce thematic element
4  Used a raised platform to show king is above all others  Reinforce thematic element
5  Made the Jester money boxes to remind Jesters that their death is at the bottom of the box  Reinforce thematic element
6  Changed pay theme to instead of all in instead have it so that Jesters must collect money to pay by the end of the season or be beheaded!  Added a survival motivation
7  Made a railing on the platform to help with dice from falling off the platform  Dice fell off the table
8  Reduced the number of chips  Shorten the experience so a player who got out early is less likely to be bored

Playtest 4

Date: February 6 – 20:00

Playtesters:

  1. Female, 22, novice player
  2. Female 23, noice player
  3. Male, 33, experienced
  4. Me

Time: 15 – 20 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Playtesters liked the theming
  • Started to feel tedious at end
  • Felt great till end
  • First person to get out felt helpless and frustrating cause they got out early
  • Felt long
  • Losing playtester liked Last Chance feature (roll without paying tax, winning didn’t so much)

Observations:

  • First player out at round 5
  • Second at round 9
  • Third at round 12

Average score: 3 – 3.5

# Description Purpose
1 Changed to 10 chips Shorten the game

Playtest 5

Date: February 7 – 13:30

Playtesters:

  1. Male, 50, super hardcore player
  2. Me
  3. Male, 23, novice player
  4. Male 21, experienced player

Time: 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Playtesters suggested changing to D10 instead of d6
  • Players found matching system super confusing
  • Match system is fussy
  • Interesting ideas

Observations:

  • 10 chips was good
  • Nobody was too bored
  • People didn’t roll on the board
  • People would often forget to pay in

Revision

# Description Purpose
1  Changed matching system to have it by value comparison rather than number comparisons by dice  Realized odd calculation was what was important so wanted to simplify the experience so players could focus on that

Playtest 6 - 1

Date: February 7 – 14:30

Playtesters:

  1. Female 21, semi novice player
  2. Male 23, semi novice player
  3. Me

Time: 10 – 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Playtesters found it frustrating that one player would be a clear obvious winner around the middle of the game

Observations:

  • Comparing and rolling went much more smoothly and playtesters due to simplified comparison system
  • Playtesters would again forgot to pay in

Playtest 6 - 2

Date: February 10 – 20:00

Playtesters:

  1. Male 23, semi novice player
  2. Me

Time: 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Had fun
  • Found three dice a little difficult to calculate

Revision

# Description Purpose
1  Changed Jesters 2D6 to a D4-D8-D12 Wanted to make choice of probability choice more interesting
2  Tiered payout system instead of payout to only one player  Tried to solve problem of winner being too apparent early
3  Updated rule sheet  Add structure in to make experience easier to absorb
4  Changed king's dice from 2D6 to 5D6  Wanted to create cases where players have to maximise and thought adding more dice would be fun to roll

Playtest 7

Date: Friday 11 – 17:50

Playtesters:

  1. 21 male, hardcore player
  2. 30 male, hardcore player
  3. 23 male, experienced player
  4. 24 male, experienced player

Time: 15 minutes long

Playtester Comments:

  • Felt like it took 30 minutes when it took 15 minutes
  • Told to consider probability distribution more
  • Found counting the Kings 5D6 a slow tedious task 
  • Players didn’t think it was fun to roll King’s dice because the King’s dice is not their dice
  • Suggested rephrasing the rules to make it easier to understand

Observations:

  • One playtester didn’t like maths, and used his phone to keep track of numbers

  • Playtesters used their fingers to record differences
  • Playtesters arranged payouts in advance of the round to make it faster

Revision

# Description Purpose
1  Modified the rule sheet to include terms and bullet points with breakdowns as well as more explicit details  Make the game easier to understand
2  Included a method of keeping track of your difference  Take the mental load off the player
3  Changed players D4-D8-D12 to D8-D10-D12 Due to analysis of probability curve and number distribution (refer to Anything Else section)
4  King’s Dice changed from 5D6 with pips on them to a D20 and D10 with numbers TO make it easier to read and I preferred the more flat probability curve (refer to Anything Else section)

Playtest 8

Date: February 13 – 20:35

Playtesters:

  1. Male 21, hardcore player
  2. Male 24, semi novice player
  3. Me
  4. Male 23, experienced player

Time: 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • Found rules difficult to understand
  • Figuring out people’s dice roll most difficult

Observations:

  • Understood rules quickly and game was resolved with payouts = 21,22,15,10

Revision

# Description Purpose
1  Introduced a sheet of numbers and player use a token to mark what their difference from the king's favor is.  Make figuring out players difference easier

Playtest 9

Date: February 13 – 23:00

Playtesters:

  1. Male
  2. Me
  3. Male

Time: 15 minutes

Playtester Comments:

  • As soon as one playtesters heard about terms then they switched off
  • Instead of difference players put down the number they got so they could visualize the difference easily

Observations:

  • Using the new scoreboard worked well.

Revision

# Description Purpose
1  Added a day counter row as well  Get another unnecessary detail out of the player's head

Final Set of Rules

You are one of several jesters performing at the King’s week long banquet. Jesters got bills to pay so to win you must earn the most money before the banquet ends!

Rules

Jesters earn money by gaining the Favor of the crowd who pays them based on the day’s performance. The Favor a Jester receives is judged by the difference from the King’s Favor to a Jester’s Dice roll in terms of numerical value. The different Favors are as follows:

Lowest Difference

  1. King’s – 4
  2. Queen’s – 3
  3. Prince’s – 2
  4. Duke’s – 1

Highest Difference

Money is paid out to each Jester from lowest to highest difference from the King’s Favor.

Turn Structure

The game takes place over 7 days (turns). Each day has four phases:

Perform

All Jesters Perform by rolling their dice.

Kings Favor

The Kings Dice are rolled setting the King’s Favor.

Improvise

  • A Jester can choose to Improvise. This can be done only once per Improvise phase.
  • If multiple Jesters wish to Improvise, rolling must occur at the same time.

Payday

Jesters receive their payout based on the difference from their Dice to the Kings Favor.

In the case of draws:

  • Non drawing players first receive their payout depending on their difference
  • Drawing players must Improvise until there is a difference
  • The loser(s) of the draw receive the lesser payouts

The following are examples of payday payouts.

Example 1: If the King’s Favor was 20, then a Jester at 19 is one closer than a Jester at 18. Therefore the Jester at 19 wins the King’s Favour and the Jester at 18 wins the Queen’s Favor.

Example 2: If the King’s Favor was 20, then a Jester at 19 draws with a Jester at 21 as both are one away from the King’s Favor. Both players must Improvise until there is a difference. The lower Jester gets the Queen’s Favor and the higher the King’s Favor.

Terms

  1. Kings Dice – The D20 & D10
  2. Jesters Dice – A set of D8, D10, D12 given to each player
  3. King’s Favor – The number rolled by the Kings Dice the center of the board
  4. Perform – Jesters rolling all their dice
  5. Improvise – Jesters rerolling one or more of their dice

Additional

The Day & Difference sheet is a useful tool for keeping track of what day of the banquet it is, and what the King’s and each Jester dice rolls are. Place recognizable tokens for each Jester and King on the values from 1-28, and move a token along the Day row to keep track of what day it is.

Estimate of Cost

I estimate per item cost at:

  1. Dice – 16.99 for 36 dice, making it 0.47 per dice, 14 are required so = $6.5
  2. Board & Boxes = $10
  3. Day & Difference Sheet (Multiple) =  $2
  4. Tokens for recording day and value = $1
  5. 70 chips = $7.5
  6. Post It Note Sheet = 50 cents
  7. Pen – 0.5 dollar = 50 cents

This comes to $28, but I can likely get discounts on many of these items buying in bulk.

So I say approximately $20-25 estimated cost.

Anything Else

In Playtest 7 I did some probability analysis using anydice.com

Kings Dice

The bell shaped curve is 5D6’s and the more flat curve is the D20 and D10. I went with the more flat curve because I preferred having a distribution with more equal probabilities over a large range of values for the King since this would be the number players would aim to get.

Jesters Dice

With the King’s new probability curve in mind I analyzed the Jesters Dice. The previous player’s probability distribution which had a max value of 24 was skewed towards the lower spectrum of possible ranges. Looking at bell curve that touches up to 30 it was more fairly distributed and given the three dice of D8,10,D12 it would make for a less obvious choice instead of D4,D8,D12 (roll D4 for least change, and 12 for most) which I would consider more interesting.

How to Play – Trash Traders

Do you have four iPads and a wireless network? If so you can operate Trash Traders! Trash Traders is an experience developed at Carnegie Mellons Entertainment Technology Center, that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life. The following is footage collected from playtests of Trash Traders.

The following is additional footage of discussions about living a green life:

About

In Trash Traders players take the roles of four recycling centers, where each iPad is a recycling center, whose objective is to clean up the pollution in their city. They do this by fulfilling the needs of the city by creating green products using eco-items that are produced at the recycling centers. The recycling centers face a challenge though.

Each recycling can produce only one type of eco-item and more than one type of eco-item is often required to create a green product. Therefore the recycling centers must work together otherwise their city is doomed to be ruined by over pollution!

Continue reading How to Play – Trash Traders

Trash Traders

Introduction: Trash Traders is an iOS app built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for West Virginia’s Steenrod Elementary. Trash Traders is an experience that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life.

Platform: iOSTime: 15 weeks |  RoleGame Designer | Team Size: 6

Design Goal: The goal of the project was to promote a sustainability mindset in our target demographic.

Design Challenges: We faced a number of design challenges during this project including:

  • System design
    • Setup & Tweaking
    • Multiple difficulty configuration
  • UX challenges
    • UI Design
    • Tutorial
    • Trash Visuals and Content

My Contributions: As the game designer on the project I took the lead on directing our creative efforts. My efforts helped create a well received, fun, and engaging experience which made a good attempt to achieve our transformational goals. Other areas I made significant contributions in were:

  • An ideation process that created the main mechanic of the game
  • Conducting and interpreting playtests

Download: Trash Traders has been released on iOS and can be downloaded here

CHI Play 2017

Angle Jungle was a great project and on completion we wanted to expose our work to the wider community for more feedback and potentially even to explore possibilities of formal assessment of the game actually being effective in its transformational objectives. Therefore we wrote up a paper and submitted it to CHI Play. Fortunately it was accepted and we were invited to present the game. My intention at the conference was then to connect with people who were able to help formally assess Angle Jungle as well as keep an eye out for good connections.

Top Presentations

My top two presentations were definitely:

Diegetic ConnectivityPaper here

Why I loved this was that by the end of the work they had a playable deliverable that made engaging with language an essential part of the experience, not at all like the typical chocolate broccoli that tends to happen. I definitely connected with the speaker and will remain in touch with them.

Bibles and BioshockPaper here

Religion is a hot button issue (as usual) and I loved this talk because it opened my mind to the actual academic consideration of religious discussions in video games. Particularly interesting was how it attempted to categorize people into behavior categories.

Other interesting papers I found interesting:

All papers accepted at conferences main program can be found at the following link:

https://chiplay.acm.org/2017/program/

Continue reading CHI Play 2017

Angle Jungle

Introduction: Angle Jungle is an award winning puzzle game built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit 1. Angle Jungle has value to first graders and above, its primary purpose though is as a supplement for 4th to 6th graders learning basic geometry.

Awards: Serious Play 2017 Gold Award Winner, CHI Play 2017 Jury Award Winner, Finalist for 50th Carnegie Mellon University Founders Award

Publications:

  1. Angle Jungle: An Educational Game About Angles
  2. Carnegie Mellon News Article

Platform: iOS | Time: 15 weeks | RoleGame Designer | Team Size: 4

Design Goal: The goal of the project was to achieve the following transformations in our target demographic:

  • Primary Transformation: Build familiarity with the angle by having players solve puzzles that use a mechanic that encodes the numeric and spatial representations of angles
  • Secondary Transformations:
    • Introduce positive and negative angles
    • Introduce clockwise and anticlockwise rotation
    • Introduce angles greater than 180 degrees
    • Build familiarity with the protractor tool

Design Challenges: We faced a number of design challenges during this project:

  • Protractor tool introduction
  • Finding an mechanic which made angles essential
  • Crafting fun and engaging puzzles
  • Crafting additional sources of motivation

My Contributions: As the game designer on the project I took the lead on directing our creative efforts. My efforts helped create a well received, fun, and engaging experience which made a good attempt to achieve our transformational goals. Other areas I made significant contributions in were:

  • An ideation process that created the main mechanic of the game
  • Crafting and refining transformational/puzzle complexity (game complexity that serves a transformational goal) within the experience
  • Design of the motivational elements within the experience
  • Conducting and interpreting playtests

Download: Angle Jungle has been released on iOS and can be downloaded here

Development Process: Post

Source Code: GitHub 

Presentation:

A Transformational Puzzle – Angle Jungle

In this article I will chronicle my design process in creating Angle Jungle an award winning transformational puzzle. Then how I went creating the puzzles within the experience, and finally lessons learned.

Introduction

At Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) multi-disciplinary teams work on projects over a semester to create an artifact. While attending I was the primary designer on the project which created Angle Jungle.

Angle Jungle is an award winning educational puzzle game for fourth to sixth graders studying geometry. At the start of development our requirements were up in the air. Following discussions with our client we settled on the following objectives:

  1. Create an experience involving angles.
  2. Integrate the protractor tool.

Design

Our ideation process began with brainstorming based on the objectives of our project. We then went through two iterations of paper prototypes.

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From our paper prototypes, we choose to refine two based on feedback.

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In parallel we began the process of creating digital prototypes based off these paper prototypes.

Pirates Life – Digital

Our breakthrough moment came when Jesse Schell, a faculty member at the ETC, posed to us that though these games used angles, both could be played without thinking about angles. We needed to make an angles essential experience. This priceless notion lead us to create Angle Jungle’s progenitor which we called Treasure Hunter.

Treasure Hunter V1

Treasure Hunters mechanic encoded the relationship between the numeric and spatial representation of angles. This was achieved by having players use numeric representations to create spatial representations in-order to solve a puzzle. We believed this embodied a system where angles were essentialWe then began refining Treasure Hunter.

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After positive feedback from playtesting we next created a digital prototype.

In the above video players slot numeric values into a beam maker which creates a spatial value. A certain spatial value is required to hit an objective to solve a puzzle and receive treasure. This digital prototype then went through many more iterations.

At this point in development we had the foundations for an experience. What was needed next was to design that experience.

Experience Crafting

How does one go about creating an experience? There are infinite ways, but we began with considering the difficulty curve within our experience.

Difficulty Curve

The above graph is an abstract difficulty curve which displays a sequence of tense and release cycles of increasing difficulty. This curve would form the underlying foundation of our experience. 

Gameplay Elements

With an idea of what we wanted the experience to look like, next we conceptualized the elements within the greater experience. The inspiration for this process came from a number of sources including the learning materials of our target demographic.

Our aim was essentially to gamify our target demographics learning material. We would achieve this through gameplay elements which attempted to capture aspects of the kind of problems they faced in the classroom. These gameplay elements would form the core components of the experience.

More Motivation

Whilst conceptualizing our gameplay elements we also considered the possibility that the puzzle may not be intrinsically motivating enough for players. Therefore we created two additional supporting motivational factors.

Supporting Actor

A gender-neutral character that needed assistance (inspired by Jesse Schell’s Lens of Help). Given the use of supporting characters in educational experiences is common, and there exists research on the potential beneficial effects for players. We hoped this would augment learning within our experience.

Golden Expectations

In addition we created The Cabin. The Cabin would contain rewards in the form of treasures and trophies. The Cabin would act as motivational element by creating Golden Expectations (expectation of rewards) through the aesthetic use of empty shelves as well as serve as a measure of game progress.

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We also recognized the need to space out our rewards for better impact. We therefore arranged rewards into evenly spaced intervals.

All Together

Together these pieces could further flesh out the difficulty curve of our experience. The peaks of our difficulty curve would now commonly correspond to the introduction of gameplay elements, and the dips would be periods of rest at The Cabin.

The experience needed more though, it cried out for substance in the form of puzzle content.

Transformational Puzzle Complexity

With a high-level view, and the fundamental elements of the experience in mind we went about crafting a set of transformational puzzles.

This process resulted in a jumbled pile of puzzles. This was a good first step, but it did not fit the experience structure we wanted. We therefore turned to a mighty tool. The spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet consisted of columns of each gameplay element which we incrementally increased to raise puzzle complexity. This tool complemented the design process as we created more puzzles based on these new complexity constraints.

Two additional considerations came to mind during this process:

  1. Include drops in puzzle complexity when introducing new gameplay elements to allow for more effective tutorials.
  2. Have the majority of learning occur early when complexity is low.

The result of this work was a structure of thirty levels which we then playtested.

Although initial playtests were largely positive they revealed two design issues:

  1. Lack of Angle Diversity – High occurrence totals of fewer number of angle values in the total experience meant a lesser exposure to different angle values.
  2. One Gem Solutions – Solutions which required only one angle gem on more complex levels meant less interaction with different angle values.

Both issues were detrimental to our goal of building familiarity with the angle system. Therefore, two methods of analysis were used to solve these issues:

  1. Angle Distribution Analysis – Counts of each angle value used.
  2. Angle Solution Analysis – A comparison of solution angles against angle values used.

These methods revealed a number of such ‘issue’ levels.

Angle Analysis Results – First Pass

The result of iteratively applying this analysis was that both the complexity and angle diversity was maintained and improved. This ultimately meant a better attempt at achieving our transformational goal.

Occurrence Totals of Angle Values

Transformational Objectives

At the end of the project we ended up with a concrete primary transformational objective, and several secondary transformational objectives.

Primary Transformation

Build familiarity with the angle system by having players practice solving puzzles using a mechanic that has an encoded relationship between the numeric and spatial representations of angles.

Academic Support

Secondary Transformations

In addition to our primary transformational objective we took the opportunity to introduce a number of secondary transformational objectives in manners that were natural extensions of the core experience (providing the experience with more puzzle content).

Protractor Tool Usage

To solve a puzzle, players had to work out the angle that was required to be made. This was difficult for some playtesters and therefore provided a natural opportunity to introduce a protractor scaffolding tool.

By making this tool available we built in the protractor in a manner that was of a natural clear benefit to our players. We hoped by doing so to build familiarity and appreciation of the tool by creating a puzzle environment where it was undoubtedly helpful. Playtesting showed that this strategy ‘seemed’ to work.

Sharon Carver – ‘I especially like the meter that shows the full 360 degrees while the player is working on selecting angles.  It would definitely be worth testing the impact’

Anticlockwise/Positive & Clockwise/Negative Angles

Introduce the notion of positive and negative angle values.

Anticlockwise/Positive & Clockwise/Negative Angle Addition

Introduce both anticlockwise and clockwise rotation, and angle addition and subtraction.

Angles Above 180

Expose students to angles greater than 180 degrees.

Design Considerations

Whilst exposing students to our core mechanic (an encoding between the numeric and spatial representation of angles), initial levels would allow brute force approaches to be rewarded in order to draw in the player with easy rewards.

Allowing for such ‘brute force’ (choices made without solid reasoning) approaches, resulted in the following criticism being raised:

What if players are not doing the thinking you want?

In the defense of brute force, we responded with the following counter points:

  1. Absolute mindless play is rare, so since the use of numeric angle values are essential even with a brute force approach, players are likely to at least reason about this aspect of the game.
  2. Supporting brute force approaches makes the experience more accessible (we had first graders reach level 22 with help!).
  3. Brute force approaches are only reasonably satisfying in low complexity puzzles (playtesters who solely practiced a brute force approach experienced frustration on more complex puzzles).

Most importantly though, we admitted that when complexity was low players would not have to think ‘much’. This was intentional. The experience allowed it for a deeper purpose.

We intended to combine that brute force motivation together with puzzle complexity as a transformative tool to incentivize a ‘logical’ approach. As puzzle complexity slowly increased the experience would naturally create skill appropriate ‘teachable moments’ for teachers to capitalize on.

Results

The results of this process created an experience that contained:

  1. Suitable learning and puzzle complexity curves
  2. An appropriate pattern of tense and release
  3. Appropriately interspersed rewards
  4. An exposure to a wide variety of angle values 
  5. A mechanic where angles were essential (encoded the relationship between spatial and numeric representations of angles)
  6. Relevant and effective motivational elements

This combination resulted in:

  1. An engaging enjoyable experience
  2. Naturally occurring skill appropriate teachable moments
  3. An environment fostering collaborative play

The transformational puzzle complexity in Angle Jungle can be best exemplified by the following diagram (note it dips at times of gameplay element introduction).

Number of Gems against Level

Well what did the games design ultimately translate into? Get a glimpse in the following promotional video (I’m happy to share raw footage on request).

Lessons Learned

So what can we take away from this experience. First some classics:

  • Paper prototypes are your friend!
  • Ask yourself can I play this game without thinking about the core subject matter? Is the subject matter essential to the experience?
  • Consider experience curves from the get go to help structure your experience
  • Study your target demographics source material, and use it as an additional source of inspiration in your design process
  • When introducing new gameplay elements introduce it in a low complexity environment to make learning easier
  • Have most of learning occur early when complexity is low
  • When designing scaffolding tools try to design them in a manner that is of a natural clear benefit to the experience
  • If extending your experience is necessary, do so with natural gameplay elements that can serve transformational goals
  • Guess and check is not the enemy of education. In fact, I believe the availability of simple strategies can create accessibility to larger demographics

Additionally, whilst designing this educational puzzle game one question came to mind.

How can puzzles serve transformational goals?

At present my thoughts are twofold:

  1. Well designed puzzles can create engaging experiences for players which designers can use to piggyback onto to achieve a transformational goal.
  2. Puzzle complexity with brute force motivation can be combined into a transformative tool to create skill appropriate teachable moments at the boundaries of brute force and logical gameplay strategies.

Mundo – Overwatch Overhaul

A brief re-imagining of League of Legends champion Mundo into an Overwatch hero.

Passive

Mundo always regenerates a small amount of health per second.

Left Click

Mundo swings his cleaver dealing melee damage.

Right Click

Throw Cleaver (hold to control throw distance) at the cost of health. If a hero is hit Mundo gains some HP and the hero is slowed.

Shift

Mundo performs a special cleaver attack that does proportionally more damage the lower Mundos health is.

Q

At the cost of health Mundo gains higher regeneration, and increased movement speed.

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