Category Archives: Design

GDC 2017, Game Design Workshop

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this years Game Developer Conference (GDC). Whilst there I had the pleasure of attending its Game Design Workshop.

The Game Design Workshop took place over two days. Both days included a general session, and an elective. I attended both Day 1 & Day 2. The following is a brief account of the experience. If you are an aspiring designer, and have the opportunity to attend the workshop this is a must do event!

Day 1

SiSSYFiGHT

On the workshops first day we played SiSSYFiGHT. After playing a few rounds, we were asked to come up with a new theme for the game. This involved each team member writing sticky notes, grouping them then voting on a theme.

With a theme of ‘artists vying for attention in the art world’ we added a steal mechanic. The steal mechanic would allow the attacking player to gain the points the other player lost. We quickly found that this mechanic made the game go on infinitely.

We then changed our chosen mechanic to Favor. The Favor mechanic gave a single point to the player of our choosing. This mechanic was better balanced, and encouraged cooperative behavior.

Game of Games

The first elective I chose was Game of Games run by Marc LeBlanc. For the elective we created a system (we did a card game) with a single rule. Our rule had players first play two cards of the same suite. Then play another two cards which had to add up to the higher of the last played two cards. We then were instructed to merge our game with another.

Fortunately the merge was easy as the other game employed a rule that was similar to ours (it was another card constraint rule where the total of the two cards needed to add up to an odd number). We repeated this system merge process four times, until finally we had to merge sixteen different systems.

During this ‘ordeal’ the hardest part was merging a card based system with a dice based system. Our first attempt to tackle this merge was setting up two asymmetric games which were played simultaneously against each other, but this was not a satisfactory outcome.

Equipment

We continued to struggle until Marc LeBlanc allowed us to cut from the system during merging the only constraint being to keep the core components (the dominoes, dice, and cards). At that point we brainstormed and came up with a method of dealing with this which was to combine the system through a medium they all shared, which was numbers.

What we created was a game which involved matching numbers based on eleven dice that were initially rolled, and remained fixed throughout the game. Cards, and dominoes played sequentially, and had to get a pair of numbers that matched the dice’s number to be able to claim it. The winner claimed six out of eleven available dice.

A Messy Attempt at Rules

By the end of  the workshop Marc LeBlanc introduced the MDA Framework, an awesome way of design a game.

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Educational Interest

As part of my Masters in Entertainment Technology I am working on an educational game project at The Entertainment Technology Center. My team aims to essentially create a living 360 degree angle system for fourth to six graders to interact with whilst solving puzzles. We hope that through our demographics interaction with this system we will:

  • Clarify misconceptions about the system
  • Build a familiarity with the system through puzzles which require students to use estimation

In approaching this problem we have gone through an extensive ideation process, and the result is that we finally nailed down a core mechanic that makes considering angles essential. The following is a prototype of what we came up with:

Currently in our project we are at a point where we have to create the puzzles that will make up the heart of our educational game. To do this properly requires the creation of an interest curve; but not just any interest curve! As well needing to be an entertaining experience we must go one step further, and include the element of educational value.

Design Process

With the objective of gamifying the material that our client uses to teach their students we began designing an interest curve. The first part of this process is to study the material which took the form of common core sheets.

We looked at each of the sheets, and broke down the different tasks involved which were as follows:

  1. Create an angle using a protractor
  2. Obtuse, acute, right, and straight problems
  3. Visual identification of obtuse, acute, right, and straight
  4. Identification of obtuse, acute, right within different shapes
  5. Given a protractor diagram identify the angle
  6. Estimate an angle between two points
  7. Find the missing angle given a total angle
  8. Find supplementary angles
  9. Finding complementary angles
  10. Find missing angles in a cross shaped
  11. Find angles in portions of a circle
  12. Find the angles in a triangle

Next with these tasks we looked at what tasks were best suited to the game we have created which was 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12.

In parallel we created a number of game elements to help us create these problems:

  • Clockwise Gem
  • Anticlockwise Gem
  • Beam Generator
  • Power Gem
  • Receivers & Obstacles
Game Elements

We then identified what is essentially our core gameplay challenges that our player will face:

  • Dragging angle gems into beam generator/receivers
  • Remove angle gems from beam generator/receivers
  • Value deciesions between angle gems
  • Clockwise angle gem addition problems
  • Anticlockwise angle gem addition problems

Given our design and students curriculum, we made some assumptions about these challenges:

  • We consider clockwise movement a more advanced topic
  • Increasing complexity means increasing challenge, which can be achieved with more mirrors, angle gem slots, and receivers with obstacles

Now with these elements we imagined an interest curve.

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Building Trust

How can we build trust as game designers? This is a question I’ve been asking myself, and in doing so came across an awesome video by James Everett, Lead Game Designer at Magic Leap (talking at Game Connect Asia Pacific).

In the above video James discusses the following.

Saruman vs Hobbit

Don’t be a Saruman, someone who ‘dispenses wisdom’ from an ivory tower. Instead be a hobbit. Be a comrade, a facilitator, filter, and collaborator for the people around you.

Trust

Everett breaks down trust into two components.

Logical

The logical component is based on the societal structure that we expect from normal, rational human beings, comprised of:

  1. Contractual obligations
  2. Past behavior
  3. Following social norms
  4. Following the law

Emotional

Emotional trust is:

  • The default in healthy teams
  • Reciprocal
  • Pleasant and efficient

Everett then discusses three ways in which designers can build or break trust.

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Grapes of Wrath – Map Design Lessons

Last week I designed Grapes of Wrath, a concept for a multiplayer level in Battlefield 1. Reflecting on the experience I will detail my process, and lessons learned in the hope of enriching myself and others.

I initially split design into two segments. Theme & Structure.

Theme

Given an aim to create a post apocalyptic theme I began my research with reference images.

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In addition to reference images I sought out other forms of media such as movies, book and games that were set in a post apocalyptic setting.

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What struck me most when reviewing this material was the desolate landscapes, and ruinous infrastructure. I intended to include these elements in some manner in the map I designed.

Structure

In the context of Battlefield 1 I define structure as map objectives, points of interest, unit design, and player flow.

Research

My research into structure began with two of Battlefield 1’s modes, Conquest & Rush, both of which I intended to accommodate within my map design.

Modes

Not only did I experience these modes by playing them, but I used spectator mode to watch the battle play out at a meta level. This allowed me easily see how objective placement, and points of interest affected player flows.

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Unit

I then looked at Battlefield 1’s units. A study of the different infantry classes, tanks, airplanes, and vehicles revealed sub-categories, each of which had different play styles:

  • Air
    • A fast but weak plane
    • A slow but powerful bomber
    • A hybrid plane
  • Tanks
    • Glass cannon artillery
    • A fast but weak tank
    • Slow but powerful tank
    • A hybrid
  • Infantry
    • Short
    • Medium
    • Long range
  • The Behemoth – A lead breaker

Battlefield 1 is a web of balance, and what I found was their vehicles cater to extreme playstyles with disadvantages, and usually a third averaged option.

Cerebral Design

Combining map knowledge and player elements I created a ‘cerebral map’ for Rush and Conquest. These maps included player flows, and major elements such as the Behemoth route, and an underground bridge.

For Rush mode the map intended to convey that attackers would become weaker over time, and defenders stronger whereas in Conquest it should be balanced strength. I hoped to achieve this experience with various measures such as:

  • Placing map objectives progressively further from attackers and closer to defenders in Rush
  • Giving more elite kits and vehicles to defenders as the attackers captured objectives in Rush
  • Balancing elite kits and vehicle spawns in Conquest

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My cerebral map was an initial pass at an experience, which was all well and good, but it clearly was not a map! What I had created was akin to a disfigured skeleton which needed a layer of flesh, and its bones tweaked.  A location was needed to root these abstract concepts in. Therefore Location became the third segment of my design process.

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Difficulty in Difficulty

How does one convey difficulty levels?

The most common method in video games is through a menu from which players choose terms to set the difficulty of the game. Such menus generally take the form of the following:

  1. Easier than Easy
  2. Easy
  3. Medium
  4. Hard
  5. Harder than Hard

With each term developers have two ‘paths’ they can take. A generic or idiosyncratic term.

  1. Generic – Commonly used terms which have no thematic basis in a game
  2. Idiosyncratic – Terms that have a thematic basis in a game

Generic

The following are examples of generic terms:

  1. Beginner
  2. Easy
  3. Medium / Normal
  4. Hard
  5. Expert

A clear advantage to using such terms is they are established concepts in the gamer zeitgeist making them more likely to be know across cultures, and languages.

On the other hand a number of issues arise when using generic terms such as:

  1. Different MeaningsNintendo Hard’s easy is harder than Western easy
  2. Different Connotations – There are many interpretations of the term. For example Easy can have negative connotations to a players self sense of skill though it may be appropriate. This may cause them to choose a higher difficulty than is appropriate resulting in a less enjoyable experience.
  3. Not Thematic – Alone they add little flavor to the game

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Pocket Legends Ability System

Pocket legends is a multi-platform mobile massively multiplayer online game where players play with a variety of classes which have unique abilities. For this exercise I will be analyzing the ability system in Pocket Legends with a focus on the player vs environment (PvE) tank system for the warrior class.

Classes

In Pocket Legends each class has a role they perform, one such class is the warrior which suits the role of ‘protector’. During gameplay the warrior attracts the attention of enemies, and takes the majority of incoming damage. This role is referred to as being a ‘tank’.

To enact the role of tank, the warrior has an ability system. A tank that is unable to hold the attention of enemies will most likely result in the death of the party. This causes dissatisfaction with the game, which leads to lower player retention. It is therefore important that this system functions well.

Abilities

The fundamental building blocks of the ability system are the abilities. Warriors have unique abilities they can perform such as Vengeful Slash which has usage requirements, and effects when used. These usage requirements are mana, cooldown, and player level which are the primary variables that control this system.

When an ability is enabled it can be cast, and when cast goes into a ‘cooling’ time period. When cooling the ability cannot be used until the cooling period is over. Once the ability has cooled down, the player is able to cast it again. This process repeats as long as the player is able to cast the ability. Disabled abilities cannot be used at all due not meeting usage requirements such as lack of mana, character being dead etc.

Enabled, Cooling, Disabled

We can represent this loop with the following diagram.

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