Friday, 26 October 2012

Starry Nightmare: A non-digital "Art Game"

This week in game design class, we learned about a relatively new trend in the game industry known as "Art Games". At it's core, an art game is an interactive experience in which the player's main goal is not necessarily to win (or not to lose). Although this is a very broad description for a type of game which is not yet formally defined, I think the main point of an art game is to give each user a unique emotional experience which is often open to interpretation.

As you may have guessed, I was then tasked with creating a non-digital Art game. The constraint was that this game needed to be somehow based on Van Gogh's Starry Night painting.

How do you go about turning a painting into a game?

First my group and I examined the painting, read analyses and critique's of the work, and formulated a list of feelings and emotions invoked by the image. The general consensus was that we felt cold, alone, and melancholy.

As a stepping stone to creating our non digital art game, we were also asked to each draw a parallel between this work of art (and the feelings associated with it) and a moment in a video game we had previously played. For me, this moment happened in Chrono Trigger (my favourite JRPG of all time). At about 3/4's of the way through the game, players are presented with Magus, a boss who's intentions are seemingly unknown. You can either kill Magus, or persuade him to join your party. If you do choose to kill him, the game immediately hits you right in the "feel bads". Maybe it's the dark surrounding atmosphere of the battle, or the cutscene that follows... One thing is for sure, this song gets me every time.

Anyway, back to the game... The board turned out like this:

The game's premise is a walk through one's own psyche in a nightmare. Players each are given a unique experience as they are asked to share key memories with the game, which will affect the outcome of the game. As you may have guessed, this is a single player game.

Here's a rundown of the rules:
Materials required:-
20 tiled circular board
16 “memory-fragment” cards
4 blank “key-memory” cards
Writing utensils for the “key-frame” cards

The player must write down four personal “key-memories” on the empty cards and then shuffle the four cards with the rest of the “memory-fragment” cards.
The cards are then placed face down individually on the tiles.
The player then rolls the die and then moves the according number of tiles on the board
Any memory cards on a tile that the player lands on are to be flipped and read. The player must then “relive” that memory in their heads. The respective card is then removed from the game and the tile it was on is considered “empty”
If a player lands on an empty tile, he/she must advance to the next “non-empty” tile. 
The game ends either when there are no more “key-memory” cards on the board but there remains at least one “memory-fragment” card or when there are no more “memory-fragment” cards but at least one “key-memory” card. In the first case the player “loses” and slips into insanity and in the latter, the player gets to leave with his/her mind intact.

After thoughts:

This game didn't turn out to be particularly fun, per se. The aspect that I'm most happy with is that every player is given a personalized, unique experience.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Breaking Liar's Dice: Positive Feedback loops and their Importance

Like this, but less fun.

This week in game design class, the name of the game was Liar's dice. The task was to make modifications to the game such that it's positive feedback loop is removed. 

What is a positive feedback loop?

A positive feedback loop is a continuous cycle of challenge and reward which allows a player to progress towards a goal, or win condition. In the case of Liar's dice, the positive feedback loop (or at least one of them) is the successful calling of someone's bluff. When this happens, the player who lied loses a die and is one step closer to losing. 

What did this do to the game?

To be perfectly honest, this made the game completely un-fun. Not only are positive feedback loops necessary to maintain good pacing in a game, but they are essential for rewarding players and providing dynamic game-play. With the modifications made by my group, the games took forever to finish and became uneventful, chores to complete.

Here's a rundown of the rules updated with our changes:

The game is made for 2 or more players.  Suggested ages 12+
Each player has a cup and 5 dice (the cup can easily be replaced by using your hands). Players will roll the dice in the cups and hide what they rolled from the other players. The first player will make a guess about how many of a die facing there are. i.e. 3 fours or 2 fives. 
The next player will have 3 decisions to make: 

LYING: They can call their bluff by saying they are lying meaning there are less of the number that they guessed then there are between the players. i.e. if they say 4 twos and there are 3 or less between all the players then they are lying. If they are wrong and there are more or equal to the number they guessed they lose a die. i.e. if there are 6 twos.

CORRECT: The player can instead decide that the player is spot on meaning if there are exactly the number they guessed then every other player loses a die. i.e. if they said 4 twos and there are exactly 4 twos between all players they are correct. If there are not exactly as many as they guessed then they lose a die instead.

GUESS: The player can make their own guess if they think the player is correct but not exactly correct. When they make their guess their number of faces must be higher than the previous guess. i.e. if the player before them guessed 3 sixes then they must guess 4 or more of any facing such as 4 fives.

After one of the players choose lying or correct then the players reveal their rolls and determine if the player is right or wrong in their accusation. After that is decided the players roll again and the game continues with the next person starting the round off. After all but one player loses all of their dice then the game ends with the person with dice being the winner.


1. Players start off with 5 life counters. When a player would normally lose a die they instead lose a life counter.
2. If a player improperly calls a bluff, they lose a life counter
3. If a player correctly calls a bluff he cannot look at his hand for the next turn.
4. Each player is given a penny.  At any time when it is their turn, they can choose to trade in their penny to make the leading player show their dice to the rest of the table.
5. Once per game, you can make a winning player unable to look at their hand on the next turn. (trade in their penny)

My Rule: If a player improperly calls a bluff, they lose a life counter
How this affects the positive feedback loop: This adds a bigger risk to attempting to call someone’s bluff. This puts the risk/reward less in favour of impulsively calling bluffs, and more in favour of playing safe.
Predictions: Players would play more patiently and safely, rather than choosing to call a liar every turn.
Actual Outcome: This rule in combination with rule #3 made players rarely call bluffs unless they were guaranteed. This made games take extremely long.

The lesson? Positive feedback loops are a good thing (We probably didn't need to ruin liar's dice to figure that out).

Monday, 15 October 2012

Fighting Game Psychology 101: Button Mashing

Because cats.

Alright, let me start off with an important statement. Button mashing is not OK. Sure, it can be fun to sit back and watch your character flail around with varied degrees of success. Unfortunately, mindless button mashing results in random, mindless gameplay and an overall passive experience.

Allow me to elaborate.

In a fighting game, every attack a character possesses is a tool appropriate for a certain given situation. Let's look at Ryu (everyone's favourite protagonist) as an example.

Ryu has 3 basic special moves in pretty much every version of Street Fighter. They are:

Hadouken: A projectile attack used to threaten foes from a distance and pressure them to jump, leaving them open to an anti-air attack.

Shoryuken: A very fast rising uppercut with invincible startup. This move is great for anti-air and cutting through an opponent's pressure. However this move has a long recovery time when blocked or dodged, leaving Ryu wide open for punishment after a poorly calculated shoryuken.

Tatsumaki-Senpuu-Kyaku (Hurricane kick): A horizontal moving spin kick, which travels through certain projectiles.

Ryu also has around 20 normal moves, each with their own appropriate uses, but for simplicity's sake I won't go into detail about these.

A good Ryu player will always know when and where to execute each attack. They throw fireballs at safe ranges, anti-air accordingly, and use the correct normal moves at their ideal distances. A player who mashes will execute a random attack, at a random time, in a random place. Not only is this experience not fulfilling for the button masher, but it is equally useless for his opponent. In a fighting game, being able to read your opponents moves and tendencies is paramount. However, if your opponent's actions are unconscious, it becomes virtually impossible to read them. If you don't know what move you're going to do, how the hell should I?

When players choose to mash instead of making conscious decisions, they are choosing to ignore all aspects (timing, spacing, risk/reward) of the meta game.

And you know what, if that's fun for you then I guess that's ok. But against any half decent player, you're going to get bopped. That being said, fighting games are certainly not for everyone. The execution barrier can  often be an obstacle that prevents new players from understanding and enjoying a game. But we'll talk about that at a later date.

TLDR: If you want to be good at fighting games (or any games for that matter) stop mashing.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

From Atari to Cardstock: Lunar Lander

This week's non-digital game task was to create a game based off an Atari classic. Being a child of the 90's, I had very little hands on time with the Atari, and neither had my team mates. After the group of us tested a handful of Atari games, we came to the conclusion that Lunar Lander would translate well to a turn based environment. Here's a quick description of what the game is all about in case you weren't already aware.

In Lunar Lander, the player's goal is the land their ship right-side up on the moon. Preferably on a spot containing a large score multiplier. In order to control the landing, the player must operate their 3 thrusters (left, right, centre) and guide the lander to the surface with the proper orientation and approach angle. If the player runs out of fuel, they lose control of the ship and must accept whatever fate awaits.

Since the game is traditionally single player, we decided to keep player interaction to a minimum. In our version of the game, players compete to construct ships to collect ore from the moon (note: The ore is irrelevant to the game itself and serves solely as backstory). Once each player constructs their ship, the goal is to land it with the highest degree of difficulty allowed by their fuel cost (increased by upgrading your ship). Players can sacrifice their turn to trade ship parts with others. If this sounded confusing, good. It's supposed to. Have a look at the rules, that should clear things right up.

Players: 2-4 people

Set-up: Place the cards in two separate piles: one for Ship Parts and one for Landing Difficulty. Shuffle the decks and deal out 5 Ship Parts to each player. Each player may play one part at the count of three (e.g. Player 1 counts to three and on three, each player shows their card). Players then decide who will play first in whichever fashion they wish.

Instructions: Players try to build ships to collect ore off of the Moon while using the least amount of fuel. This is done by completing a whole ship (Hull, Thruster, Left Wing, and Right Wing). Each part generates a different amount of fuel, with higher ranked cards generating more. Each player picks up a ship part card at the beginning of their turn OR starts a trade with another player. When trading, the trader (person initiating the trade) shows the card they wish to trade. Any player may then call for the trade, with who says they want it first getting it. Players may trade as many parts as they want for the offered part. The trade may also be cancelled at any point, provided the trader hasn’t already accepted the deal. If the trade is made, that player’s turn is done. If no one takes the trade, then play resumes as normal. They may then play one card from their hand towards their ship. There is no max to the number of cards a player may hold.

Once a ship is built, the ship goes into pre-launch mode, meaning that the ship can only launch on any turn after it is built. Players may continue to modify their ship at this point, but doing so delays launching the ship for another turn. When a player wishes to launch, they must pick up a Landing Difficulty card. The Landing Difficulty card multiplies your fuel into points, which are only tallied if the player lands successfully. Players land successfully if their total fuel amount for the ship is more than the amount on the Landing Difficulty card. Harder landings require more fuel, e.g. landing for a 4x costs 200 or more while landing for a 2x costs 100 or more. Players calculate their fuel cost by adding all the points on each of their ship parts. The different fuel gained by each ship part is as follows:

Rank A: 70     
Rank B: 60
Rank C: 50
Rank D: 40 

If a player lands successfully, they then subtract the total for landing from their fuel cost. They then multiply that remainder by the respective multiplier on the Landing Difficulty card and tally their points, e.g. if Player 2 has a fuel cost of 300 and the landing costs 200 for a 4x multiplier, Player 2 gets 400 points (100 times 4). If a player does not have the necessary amount of fuel points, then the player only gets 10% of their fuel amount, e.g. if Player 3 has 200 points and his landing costs 300, Player 3 gets 20 points. After a landing (whether successful or a crash) the player returns all the cards used for the ship to the Ship Parts pile. The player then tallies their points. The first player to 2000 points wins.


Things I liked:

Overall I'm pretty satisfied with how the game was translated. The game still feels competitive, while maintaining the isolated single player-esque  experience you would expect from lunar lander. This is reminiscent of competing for high scores against other players back in the day.

Things I didn't:

I honestly wish we were not forced to choose from a finite list of Atari games. I had not played any of the options before making this game, and would have chosen Pitfall hands down if I were given the choice

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Sons of Noah: A Biblical Collection Game

This week's mandatory non-digital game assignment was to create a collection game of some sort. This means the objective of the game must be to collect a certain amount of items in order to win. After spending many hours volunteering at a nearby cat shelter, my group mate Divakar Dev threw out the idea of rescuing animals. I then took this idea a step further and suggested we make the game about Noah's arc.

The thought process behind this wonderful game:

Image taken from

Screencap from Super Noah's Arc 3D

Yeah, that's pretty much how it happened.

After realising that only one player could be Noah, we decided to have each of the players take the role of one of his sons (Shem, Ham, Japeth, and Bill (who is both fictional, and adopted for the sake of 4 player functionality)). Each son of Noah is in a race to round up 5 pairs of animals in order to win their father's love and respect. The first player to collect 5 pairs of animals is the victor.

Here's how the board came together:

Each coloured square represents an ecosystem, each housing a specific group of animals. (These colours are not final and will match those of the cards below)
Here's a close-up of one of the ecosystems. On the full-size board, these are all inter-twined as seen above.

The Animal Cards: (Fun fact: We almost had unique male and female animal cards, but we figured the game might take too long to win among other issues. As a result, animal cards contain no gender.)

Players: 2-4

Set-up: Players shuffle the animal cards and put each pile into its respective zone. Players then roll for highest to see who goes first. 

Play: Players take turns going around the board to the different zones while trying to collect matching pairs of animals. Movement is made by rolling the die. Players must collect 5 pairs of animals before they can take off in their ship and escape the end of the world. Players must land on an animal space in order to pick up a card from that zone’s pile. If a player lands on a space with words, players must follow whatever is written on the space.

Before a player takes a turn, they have the option to attempt to trade animals with another player. There is no ratio on trading animals, i.e. a player can attempt to trade 3 animals for only 1 from another player. A player can deny any trade without question. If a player’s trade is successful, that players turn ends. However, if the trade is denied, then the player may roll and continue their turn as normal.

Things I like about the game:

Overall, the thing I like most about the game is it's premise. From the way it was conceptualized to the final product, there was no shortage of lulz.

Things that could have been better:

If I could, I would add a more competitive, head-to-head element to the game. I think the game would be significantly more entertaining, if Noah's sons could have ship battles, and maybe even kidnap each-other's animals. After all, Noah is a hard man to please, and these sons will do whatever it takes to be guaranteed safety from the great flood.