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

09 Oct

Is Your Game able to Withstand a Board Gamer?

Board Gamers make Magnificent Testers

Board Gamers make Magnificent TestersMy friend broke Elvenar.

I don’t know if it’s been changed since – I don’t play Elvenar myself – but if you do, and don’t want any spoilers, skip this post.

But enough with the disclaimers, on with the show.

My friend is a gamer, more specifically a board gamer. More specifically, my friend is a very, very good board gamer. And what differentiates board games from computer games (except for the whole “board” thing) is that in a board game the entire game system is always exposed.

Think about it – in a board game you see all the cogs and wheels all the time. You don’t get any graphics between you and the rules. You don’t have any unknown variables (ok, a draw deck of cards can be an unknown but you know that it’s there – you’ll never be in a position where variable X is secretly controlled by variable Y). What you see is what you get, and you get all the rules up front. Read More

25 Sep

Forget Followers, You Want Fans!

Fan Schlock Mercenary quote

Fan Schlock Mercenary quoteI like Schlock Mercenary. I read the comic every day. I buy pretty much every Schlock merchandise that comes along. That doesn’t make me a fan.

What makes me a fan is that whenever someone asks about comics, I mention Schlock Mercenary. When I talk to someone about idle time, or surfing the web, or entertainment, I mention Schlock Mercenary. Whenever people talk about SF, or humor or anthropomorphic piles of poop wielding plasma cannons, I mention Schlock Mercenary.

The difference between a fan and a follower is not how much money or time they spend on your stuff. The difference is that a fan will actively try to broaden your fan base. Fans engage non-followers in order to make them followers.

And that makes fans the most valuable resource you could have. These are the people who will work in your booth for the honor of wearing a Munchkin t-shirt. These are the people who will repeatedly post links to your stuff in their Facebook accounts. These are the people you want on your side.

So how do you get fans? Read More

21 Sep

Why You Should do Clunky Paper Playtests

Failure leads to understanding Burt Rutan quote

Failure leads to understanding Burt Rutan quoteWith the hordes of rapid prototype tools available today it’s easy to cobble together a rough draft and start playing. It’s agile, lean, scrum, six-sigma and all that, right? We start with something easy, test our way to success and be releasing withing weeks. Hell, we can release a pre-alpha right now.

Hold your horses, pardner. Why would you want to do that?

Why would you want to prototype immediately at all? Read More

28 Aug

What I Learned from Playing Games

Learning Mahatma Gandhi quote

Learning Mahatma Gandhi quoteAll games teach. Good games keep teaching. Great games teach something worthwhile.

What did I learn from playing Fluxx? That rules can change, that loss can come suddenly, that planing is futile. Yeah, that’s not much, that’s not much at all.

I wouldn’t call Fluxx a great game. Other’s might, they might learn to laugh and cry and curse with their friends. Me, I learned that it wasn’t a game for me.

I’ve been playing games for close to 30 years now. I learned to read and then to write English from them (Kings Quest and Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry forced me to). I learned to get along, to not get along and to click as rapidly as I could. I learned that I couldn’t play all games, that some games were too immersive for me, to the point of wiping out reality.

I learned that I wasn’t alone, that there were other’s like me, the geeks and outcasts, the unpopulars and brainiacs. Read More

21 Aug

Breaking In the Hard Way

Chance of publication quote

Chance of publication quote Breaking in is hard.

I have some friends who are published. Things are easier for them. I have some friends who have best-selling games. Things are even more easy for them.

We like to think that our game’s qualities matter. They do, but that’s only part of the truth. The full truth is this: “Chance of publication = Game qualities + Name”, and when you start out your Name = null.

Having a name is more than having a name. It’s knowing people in the business, it’s being known by people in the business. It’s having a fan base, no matter how small, that you can point to when you try to sell. It’s being able to sell directly to your fans. Read More

14 Aug

Love Your Limitations

Neil Stephenson quote

Neil Stephenson quoteUntil a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

– Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash

For a long, long time I wanted to make a grand scale WWII war game. I thought, I scribbled, I talked. I wrote up rules, made graphics, laid everything out. Everything was ready, except for one thing: the game.

Truth is I don’t have the time to playtest a grand scale war game. If an average scenario takes 8 hours, and an average campaign takes 50-100 hours, then work, family, friends and common sanity says STFU. There is not way that I can make a good grand scale WWII game. Not now. Read More

10 Aug

Using Fear in Your Game Design

Would the world end if I missed the bus Quote

Would the world end if I missed the bus QuoteImagine this: you’re going to work. You’re one of those ecological types who takes the train (or you’re too poor to drive, who knows). You’re walking down to the station when you realize that the train is already there – you’ve got seconds before it leaves! So you start running, coat flapping (hey, maybe you’re one of those cool guys who wear a coat), leather patches on your cardigan slapping your elbows (or not). And then the train leaves. Without you. What happens?

Nothing. Read More

07 Aug

Coherent and Divergent Characters

A Character must have her own story quote

A Character must have her own story quoteImagine unboxing your latest Fantasy Extravaganza. It’s got it all: 17-sided dice, Authentic Glod Coated Doubloons(tm), Faux-leather game map. And your choice of character: barbarian warrior, scantily clad female elven mage, halfling thief.

Yay! Pass the d17 and let the immersion commence.

Archetypes provide your players with instant packets of information. If you’ve got a pointy-eared archer then your players won’t raise any eyebrows if she starts talking to trees.

Unfortunately archetypes have a major drawback: in order to become archetypes they need to be widely integrated into the genre’s cultural baggage. Archetypes are boring. They’re old, stale, yesterday’s news. They’re accepted tropes seen a thousand times before.

So why do we keep using them? Read More

31 Jul

Stop Gaming and you will be a Better Designer

Challenge: forbid yourself quote

Challenge: forbid yourself quoteThis is one of those insights where you’ve either figured it out and it’s perfectly logical or you haven’t thought about it before and it sounds absolutely preposterous.

Me, I force-figured it out by reading :the Artist’s Way: by Julia Cameron. It’s a guideline to getting your creative juices flowing and writing/painting/dancing/what-have-you-ing with joy and immediacy. In effect it’s a workbook where Cameron takes you through a week-by-week course in, well, finding the joy in creation. Yeah, I’ve used joy twice. That’s what it feels like after you’ve followed the guide for a while (and if you’ve followed this blog you’ll notice how I keep harping about it – it really did change my creative habit, my self-image and my willingness to show courage).

Now, most of the chapters deal with stuff like finding the strength to follow your dreams, or the persistence, or feeling safe with your creativity. But one deals with silence. Specifically the silence of not doing any creating. And it’s the most glorious feeling ever. Read More