Archive for June, 2015

Jurassic World: Everything Goes Wrong, Plus Dinosaurs

Jurassic World is its own metaphor. It is bigger, more dangerous, and simultaneously more bland and disappointing than the original movie. It is the story of a monumental achievement brought back to life struggling under the weight of corporate influence. It is still a thoroughly enjoyable big-budget summer escape, but it falls well short of what its original creator dreamed of. Welcome to Jurassic World, spoilers to follow. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Role of a Designer

Today I read an article about a game announced at E3, the annual mega convention for video games. And it made me realize how little people consider the role of the designer in developing a game. A commenter complained about the decision not to add guns into the game. When someone made the good point that adding guns meant you needed to design the game for them, someone simply replied that you didn’t.

Now, I understand where this last commenter was coming from. Adding guns doesn’t mean you have to create an entire game where using guns is the point. But this completely misunderstands the role of a designer in the game. The designer isn’t just deciding what players should be able to do. It is making sure that when the player wants to do something, the game can handle it. (And conversely, if the game can’t handle it, then make sure the player doesn’t do it.) The designer’s role is much more than simply choosing how a player will shoot.

On the surface, many of the decisions may seem simple. Are there different guns? Do they need different ammunition? How does the player acquire a gun or ammunition? To a player the answers to these questions seem very natural, if a designer has done his or her job. But in this situation, there is so much more than just choosing to include guns. There are deeper consequences. How would guns change existing portions compared to the default? If it makes them too easy, everyone will go for the gun, except for some percentage of people who want to make it harder. So a big portion of people miss out on an experience. That also influences the rest of the game. Why should players ever avoid guns if they’re going to wish they hadn’t for a certain level. It breaks continuity of experience.

On the other hand, players who choose the gun route will almost certainly encounter portions that must be played in the default mode. Even if we are content as designers to force the experience towards the default, players are still going to complain that the game took away options. [See the original boss fights in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.] And even without adding content specifically intended to make use of the guns, the designer also has to decide how the game will react to guns. Perhaps we can assume that enemies already have guns in the game, so there isn’t additional work to give guns to enemies. Even so, AI has to be changed to understand a possible player with a gun. That introduces an entirely new set of questions. Do enemies take cover? Do they react differently if the player has a gun? Do they assume the player has a gun, or wait to be shot at? If enemies aren’t expecting them, the game will play like the scene from Indiana Jones. Funny when you aren’t expecting it, but not when it happens over and over again.

Again, if the designer does his or her job, all of these decisions will be invisible to the player. Because the designer’s role is shaping the entire experience, not just adding things to the game. In fact, sometimes choosing what to leave out is sometimes an even more important part of the job.

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Origins 2015 Recap and Upcoming Events

Well, it only took me until Thursday to feel fully recovered from Origins. I guess that’s not bad for 2 1/2 days of work. This was my first Origins, and the biggest convention I have been to, so far. What an experience. I really want to thank everyone who stopped by to check out and play New Bedford.

Unlike last year, I had no plane trouble and arrived when expected. In fact, I was prepared for a long wait to get in, but walked right up to the pre-registration line with 5 people in front of me, and had my badge within a few minutes. I spent most of my time in the vendor hall. It was bigger than I expected, but the DHMG booth had great placement right up front behind the Stronghold Games booth, I only saw about 5-10% of the hall, but that’s fine, since I didn’t plan to buy many games (Since I had no room to pack them). But for as big as the vendor hall was, I was wholly unprepared for the size of the gaming area. Because I only entered the main hall after 6pm, most of the demo and tournament areas were closed down for the night, but I can imagine how much energy there must be there during the day.

Here are some of my highlights from Origins.
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Design Update and Origins 2015

It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to find time to sit down and write about game design. Like anything, that’s good and bad. I’ve been focusing a lot more on playing and designing games, so I’ve made some progress on a few things I was working on. Here’s what’s been going on.

I had an amazing experience at a designer workshop weekend in April. I got in a great test of the revamped Titusville. It did not go well, but it showed me a new direction to take. I’ve been reworking the game based on that, and I’m getting excited for it. But I won’t have much to say until after I get done with…

New Bedford: I’ve been working on trying to expand the player count in both directions, adding a solo mode and laying the groundwork for a 5-player mode. Once I polish those modes, I’ll write about their development process. These might not be part of the basic game, but might be stretch goals in the…

New Bedford Kickstarter: which is re-scheduled for August 25th. Before then, we’re going to be sending out some review copies, and running demos at conventions. The next opportunity for that will be…

Origins Game Fair 2015: Stop by the Dice Hate Me Games/Greater than Games booth, #703, for ongoing demos, not only New Bedford, but also other upcoming Dice Hate Me Games, like Bottom of the 9th and Monster Truck Mayhem. This came together on short notice for me, but I’ll personally be there from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so stop by to check out New Bedford. After hours, I’ll be in the open gaming area, look for…

UNPUB’s Blue Noodle: I have some tests I’d like to try for New Bedford, including the 5 player game, and some extra buildings. I’ll also have One Card Wonder, which I will be trying to play as many games as possible. I’ll have a new, 33 card-game with me about building skyscrapers, which grew out of my¬†microgame exercise. If 33 cards is too much, I’m testing a super tiny 1-card game. But that’s secret for now. I’ll probably also be working on those games at the…

UNPUB MINI at the Games Keep in Westchester. Stop by after noon for games from 14[!] great designers. Always a good time!

With a little luck I’ll be able to have some time to write more gaming articles. My plans include a multi-part discussion of playtesting feedback, an examination of Analysis Paralysis, defining Worker Placement, and several articles that would have been relevant to articles I’ve read over the last few months if I had written them on time.

I’ll also hopefully have an update after I get back from Origins and the Unpub Mini in the next few weeks. So come out and say hi this weekend or next. I promise not to talk your ears off about New Bedford, unless you ask. Have fun gaming!

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