18 Jul

Analog Game Design 103: First Solo Playtests

Analog Game Design: First Solo Playtests

Analog Game Design: First Solo PlaytestsSo there I was, a game in my hand, my game, my cards, my design. Felt great.

For about two minutes. Then I was ready to see if I could commit suicide by paper cut. That’s what my first, solo playtests usually do to me.

But let’s recap. I’ve written about the spark, the part where creativity reigns free and I spew ideas the way a first-year computer science student spews regurgitated lager1. I’ve written about building the first prototype. This post is about what happens next: the solo playtesting, where crappy games are beaten into gold2. Read More

13 Jun

Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to Prototype

Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to Prototype

Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to PrototypeLast time I wrote about analog game design I took Magnet Puzzle from spark to idea stage. Unfortunately, that’s where it’s remained. For every 10 sparks, I take one through the idea stage. For every 10 ideas, I take one through the prototype stage. Magnet Puzzle hasn’t made that leap yet.

So instead of me waiting until inspiration strikes and I figure out what makes it fun, now that magnets are out of the picture, I’m going to backtrack a bit and show you how I’m working on another game: a quick, quite random, “take that”-inducing card game prototype named “Das Amt”. Read More

28 Mar

Analog Game Design 101: From Spark to Idea

Analog Game Design 101: From Spark to Idea

Analog Game Design 101: From Spark to IdeaThis week I thought I’d try something different.

I get a lot of ideas, for stories, for games, for products or ways to save the world. Mostly nothing comes out of them, but some intrigue me enough for me to start developing them. I had one such epiphany a few days ago and this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to describe how I take a game from an idea to a tested prototype, and possibly more.

I’m writing this as I go along. The game might turn out to be crap. It might turn out to be impossible to make. It might turn out all right and be submitted. I don’t now. This, folks, is game design reality TV. Here goes. Read More

18 Jan

A Simple Way to Get Great Playtesting Feedback

Emotional Playtesting

Emotional PlaytestingIt’s hard to find good playtesters. A playtester has to be a lot of things: subjective enough to give valuable feedback, yet objective enough to make it constructive. Skilled enough to spot what’s wrong, yet innocent enough to see the game with fresh eyes. Set enough not to be swayed by minor graphics or trinkets, yet fluid enough not to try and push your game into something its not. Yes, it’s hard to find good playtesters.

That’s why I’m suggesting that we don’t.

That’s right. I’m saying that you shouldn’t try to find good playtesters. In fact, you should try to find the worst playtesters ever, the whiny, bitchy, annoying powergamers. Then ask them the right questions. Read More

20 Nov

Why World War II is the Perfect Setting

Star Wars is World War II

Star Wars is World War IIWhen I was young I loved World War II. I read everything I could get my hands on about WWII, from military histories, to biographies to The Execution of Private Slovik , a non-fiction narrative of private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier to be executed for desertion.

When I became older I read Theodor Plievier‘s Stalingrad and realized two things:

  1. War is horrible.
  2. World War II is the perfect setting.

Why else do you think it’s used in Star Wars, Star Trek and The Terminator? Read More

16 Nov

4 Easy Steps to Plotting any Adventure Game

Plot any adventure game quote

Plot any adventure game quoteYes, But, No, And.

There. Now you’ve got all the tools you need to plot any adventure game in the world. Or write any book in the world, since that’s where these tools come from.

Ok, I’ll stop being a Cornholio and unpack it a bit for you. These words (Yes, But, No, And in case you’ve forgotten) are a progression of plot point outcomes. Basically it’s asking yourself: our player needs to achive X, does she? Yes, But, No, And.

All right, all right, I’ll explain it better. Enough with the arm twisting already. But let’s start with an example.

Our hero, an intrepid fighter known only as the Vault Dweller, has to exit the Vault in order to begin his real adventure. That’s what he wants to accomplish: exit the Vault. Does he succeed?

Read More

06 Nov

Boost your Thematic Game’s Impact Through The Roof with Melodrama

Melodrama quote - Baz Luhrmann

Melodrama quote - Baz LuhrmannMelodrama. The mere word makes serious writers cringe.

Melodrama is simple. It’s overblown characters in improbable actions. It’s an appeal to emotion, the life of every 1930’s pulp novel. The Handsome Hero in his White Stetson and Pearl Handled Revolver rescuing the Damsel in Distress from the Dastardly Villain.

Melodrama is horrible in stories. It’s flat, overblown, overused and often based on idiot plots.

It’s perfect for games. Read More

30 Oct

Are You Considering Twitch in Your Games?

Action + Time = Twitch quote

Action + Time = Twitch quoteI’m going to make a statement: no matter what game you’ve made it’s always possible to add a twitch on top of it.

So what’s a twitch? A twitch is a physical action element involving time. That’s a fancy way of saying “catch the ball, dummy!”

Twitches are anything that forces the player to physically act or respond in some way, and to do so before a timer runs out. It can be “catch the flying ball before it hits the ground”. It can be “place the T-shape in the T-shaped hole before it hits the bottom” (Tetris, anyone?). Now, twitches aren’t two things: they aren’t passive (just having someone throw a ball at you doesn’t count as a twitch) and they aren’t slow (picking up a ball that rests on the ground doesn’t count). Thus action + time = twitch.

Why is this so important? Read More

23 Oct

Why Large Decision Spaces are Boring

Genius removes complexity quote

Genius removes complexity quoteI played a friend’s prototype a couple of days ago. Interesting concept for a hint-giving semi-coop deduction game, sort of a cross between Dixit Amazon, Clue Amazon and Mastermind Amazon.

It didn’t work.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The idea was good, the mechanics were pretty solid, the graphics were gorgeous. The game should have worked, and yet it didn’t. It didn’t work because the graphics were gorgeous. Read More

19 Oct

How to Engage Players the Mario Kart way

Immersion quote

Immersion quoteEver seen a kid playing Mario Kart?

If they’re real small they’ll be mashing buttons at random. But if they’re old enough to get the game you’ll see them start to move with it. They’ll be sticking out their tongue in the direction where they’re driving. Sometimes they’ll move their entire body, trying to affect the game through full body motions.

I get the same effect when I’m a passenger in dad’s car except that I try to press the break pedal. The man’s a speed maniac.

But I digress.

Point is I’ve never seen someone move in tune with a 3D shooter, or an RTS. There are only a few types of games that affect players with enough sensory immersion to make them respond physically to the game. Except that I just lied to you. Read More