08 Feb

How Math Destroys Your Progress

Banner - DiceThere is an element of chance in everything we do. Call it chance, fortune, Lady Luck. Call it whatever you want. But it means that if you did great today, you’re doing worse tomorrow. Here’s why.

Imagine that you have an amazing writing day. Let’s say that you managed to type in 4000 beautiful words in a single afternoon, producing four times as much as you normally do.  Everything is great. You’re totally on a roll. Read More

23 May

Mathematical Proof that You’ve Got Time to Write

Mathematical Proof You've got Time to Write

Mathematical Proof You've got Time to WriteThere is one in every gathering. The friend-of-a-friend who says “Oh, I’m going to write a novel, too, when I’ve got the time.”

Sometimes they use variations “I’m going to write when I retire.” “When the kids are older.” “When this project at work is finished.” If only they’d have the time.

Well, friend-of-a-friend, since I don’t have the courage to take you by the ear and shake you, I’ll do the second best thing. I’m going to lampoon you on the Interwebz. I’m going to prove to you that you’ve got the time to write, using cold, hard math. Read More

20 Jul

The Three Axes Model of Action Analysis

Model Thomas Kelvin quote

Model Thomas Kelvin quoteYou’ve got an action. Let’s call it “build Blooper”. You’ve got a second action. Let’s call it “buy Blooper”. You put your actions before your playtesters and in very short time you notice that nobody is building Bloopers. Your whole Blooper economy, your cute BloopBuilders, everything is just pointless.

And you’ve got no idea why.

So you make building Bloopers less expensive. Now everyone should build Bloopers all the time. Except they don’t. They’re still buying Bloopers.

So you make buying Bloopers really, really expensive. And now your game is stalling out and your playtesters are complaining. Nobody wants to build Bloopers and all the BloopBuilder concept art you commissioned is just so much dollars down the drain. What the hell is going on?

Welcome to the wonderful world of action analysis.

Fortunately there’s a quick and dirty tool you can use to graph your actions and compare them to each other. All you need are three simple axes* of analysis: Cost, Benefit and Risk. Read More

10 Apr

How to analyze your game using payout matrices

Sneaky Snails card

Sneaky Snails cardI’ve got a game design in progress, a very simple one, where kids race snails around a track. It’s aimed at the 4+ age market with a very simple mechanic: chose a card depicting a snail, reveal simultaneously. Cards are the snails you want to poke. If your snail isn’t poked it moves one step. If it’s poked exactly once it moves two steps. But if it’s poked two or more times it gets scared and crawls into its shell. Easy enough that a small child could understand it.

I’ve got a game design in progress, a very simple one, where kids race snails around a track. It’s aimed at the 4+ age market and I couldn’t “#¤!”# understand why it didn’t work.

With two players it worked like a charm, letting the players play each other, letting you try to guess if the other would play their own snail, yours or none. But once I added in a third player the whole thing fell apart and I couldn’t understand why.

Here’s a hint: A beautiful mind. Yeah, the movie with Russel Crowe (if you haven’t seen it, go do so now, I’ll wait). It’s a great dramatization of John Nash’s brilliant mathematical theories and subsequent fall into schizophrenia. Except that it gets the math parts wrong because the game theory situation depicted in the movie isn’t a Nash equilibrium. Read More