Yearly Archives: 2018

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