Friday, 25 July 2008

Developing Card Game 1 (v0.2)

Inspired by Chris Bateman's recommendation for current or budding game designers to make games with traditional playing cards, I decided to do just that.

This game isn't very good but it's something. And that's better than nothing...

A standard 52-card deck (no jokers)
other players. (Might be best with 5 total players)

Winning Condition:
Have 5 cards in your hand, all one suit, with a total value of 25.

Numbers count as their face value. Aces, jacks, queens and kings count as 1.

pre-game setup:
Deal 5 cards to each player.

The starting player (the player to the dealer's left) draws 2 extra cards from the deck.

The game progresses by players taking asynchronous turns.

Each turn begins with the player being passed a card. They now choose to either take the top card of another player's discard pile or draw the top card of the deck. (Skip this section for the starting player.)

The active player then chooses and discards a card into a personal discard pile and chooses a card to pass left, beginning the next player's turn. At this point they should be back at 5 cards and may declare a win.

Time to play:
5-20 minutes? I'm still unsure...

This game was inspired by a 'Boardgames with Scott' review for 'Lost Cities'. I liked the idea of needing to work out what your opponent is after and ensuring you don't give them those cards so copied the ability to draw from discard piles.

My original game had a base hand size of 3 (increasing by 2 when it's your turn) and needed 11 points to win.

The game often ended with both players needing a single card (or one of two cards) and just drawing until they got it - a long drawn out version of rolling a die. Furthermore, once one person drew a visible card, it was generally already too late to prevent them from winning.

With 5 cards, there's actually some time between it being beneficial for a player to draw a face-up card and them winning - leaving time for players to worry about the cards they put down in front of them.

I feel I need to actually pinpoint what the fun element is and then hone in that.

The fun activity I was aiming at:
choosing what card to pass left and which to expose to the table, with SOME knowledge of what your opponents may be trying to do - avoiding helping them.

Is even that activity fun? Should there be a way to force reveals - giving more information to make the choices more meaningful?

Goodnight. I'll sleep on it.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Games You Don't Think About #6: balancing a bottle

Your hand
a bottle (I recommend a plastic one, personally playing with the type used for tonic water though any long cylindrical object may work OK)

Your score is the length of the game. Longer times are better.

Before the game begins, place the neck of the bottle on the palm of a chosen hand, so the bottle is standing vertically.

Once the game begins, nothing may touch the bottle apart from the palm of that hand and the hand may only touch the rim of the neck.

The game begins when the bottle touches something else or is no longer in contact with the hand (usually due to falling over).

Time to play:
2 seconds-4 minutes

Good points
Constant immediate feedback - both visually and through touch.
Very 'juicy' - a tiny input (hand movement) has a massive effect on the game state.
Rapid/constant changes in game state. Results in constant excitement.

Several successive short-lived games can be demoralising.
Game lacks any progression - game state never progresses beyond where it may have started.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Signalling etc.

Computerised games are unique in that their mechanics and the current game status can be hidden from the player with bad design.

Board games and card games - by necessity - assume familiarity with the rules and mechanics before the game begins. Once it's in full flow, though, any hidden information will be as a result of cards being deliberately hidden or game-pieces being hidden in a bag.

With sports, there is almost no potential for hidden information. The status of the few toys that exist - position of other players, position/velocity of the ball etc - and maybe even their can be seen simply by looking in the right direction.

Conversely, with video games, the toys are merely works of fiction, brought to our imagination and recorded via computer processes. It actually takes effort to show the status of the toys. Furthermore, it can't be expected that players will have already familiarised themselves with the rules - as the computer plays the role of referee, there is often no need and in fact certain games - like Wario Ware - centre the entire appeal around unfamiliarity with rules.

In this environment, it is down to the graphics and sound - the two ways the computer 'talks back' - to not only give us all the information we need about the status of the toys, but also to explain the rules whether by using symbols with pre-existing meanings (Aliens are scary! Avoid! Lasers hurt! Avoid! Lasers kill! You can kill!), by simply developing an internal logic (all identical graphics behaving identically, groups behaving similarly - all food healing your character in many 8/16-bit games) or through other means.

An enemy can be shown by depicting something scary or perhaps by simply showing the movement of something chasing you. If it chases you, we may infer that it should be avoided!

In 'Candyland', a one-level platformer, we begin by jumping over a block and collecting lollipops. Ice cream also increases our points. A cake seems a silly symbol for an enemy, when it resembles the collectibles' theme so closely and has no distinguishing marks to show its sentience. (Though it moves, this isn't immediately obvious given the lack of either parallax scrolling or other foreground objects.)

Then we see a bomb with a jester cap. Despite floating in mid-air in an identical manner to other collectibles and a fairly innocuous appearance, it kills us instantly (as do any enemies).

Had the cake possessed macabre eyes and the jester been a ball of spikes, the signals would have been more effective in giving us the information they should.

Specially with Flash games that take 90s to complete, it shouldn't be expected that we begin by reading the rules and familiaring ourselves with arcane internal logic. Using the vocabulary of existing symbols that we have built up should be a natural move.

Games You Don't Think About #5: Pondering symmetrical numbers on a digital clock

- Knowledge of a digital clock face with a seven segment display (an actual clockface of this sort can be used as a reference, but is not required)
- pictures in your imagination.
Winning Condition:
- decide how many possible time configurations exist on a 24-hour digital clock (with a 7-segment display) that possess symmetry.
- none
Time to play:
- 1-5 minutes
- consider both reflection symmetry and rotational symmetry
- 1
Good points
- requires visualisation to complete - a moderately unusual thing
- multiple routes to completion. With multiple numbers possessing symmetry but various rules (governing time) dictating what numerals may appear where, it's up to players to consider and apply these rules as they see fit to their mental model.
- no confirmation of success. Means answers must be double-checked and requires some confidence in the answer.
- like all genuine puzzles, it can only be played once
- no confirmation of success. Can result in uncertainty and a general uneasiness.