“COVER ME!”: Convenient covers for things you don’t know how to do

This is a second little anecdote about game design I absorbed during undergrad, while studying video games, which I think have some crossover consideration with board game design. See the entry Bonus! for the first.

My takeaway from “Bonus!” was that even if you can’t make something work, or there’s a technical hurdle between you and your exact design objective, sometimes a little wallpapering over it with theme or dopamine can make for an even better experience for players.

The story related below is third hand, and so may be apocryphal. If anyone involved in the design choices described ever reads this, please reach out so I can correct my memory and set the record straight here 🙂

When the Quake series of games came out, they were a technical marvel. When the code was open-sourced years later, things were discovered in it that were still considered remarkable at that time. However, for all it brought, “bots” were still an incredibly hard feat to accomplish in first person shooters – there wasn’t a whole lot of “I” in the AI.

The Quake designers wanted to make it appear as if the computer-controlled AI bots were actually communicating with each other in coordinated attacks on player. Which, at this point in game development, was pretty impossible. At least by any standard we’d expect today. True, they were built into the game, thus they had an edge on the player, and could actually read perfect information about each other directly from the game engine. Their algorithms also had access to other shared information about game state, stored in system variables or registers. Continue reading

“BONUS!”: Clever game deceptions

I’m going to talk a little about video game design today, but think there’s a lesson in it for board game design as well.

3D animation frame.

A poorly-textured Josh plays cards… in an animation project for a different class. [1]

An anecdote that I think about at least once a month:

It’s my senior year at UMich, and I’m one of the apex classes of the computer science program “EECS 494: Computer Game Design & Development”. This was the class I’d been champing at the bit to get into all four years, because this is what I was hoping to do professionally after I graduated. I’d convinced a few of my nerd housemates to take the class with me.

One of our assignments was to develop an “arcade-style” game — simple user interactions, on the level of complexity of 80’s classics like Missile Command, Space Invaders, etc., to get a handle on concepts like ‘event loops’, ‘collision bounds checking’ and all that good stuff. I embarked on a JezzBall clone, and my roommate Josh set about building in the Bust-a-Move/Snood style.

Josh had built some data structure atop an C++ STL container, which he was using to keep track of all the “balloons” in the playfield. It implemented a clever formula for determining when three or more balloons were adjacent and should “pop” to score points for the player. There was just one problem. The code would occasionally glitch, and the data structure would “forget” about some of the balloons on the field. He’d narrowed down the bug such that his code could consistently determine that it had happened, after the fact, and it didn’t seem to cause a crash, or break anything else. Continue reading

PX 5: Determinism, Information, and Hedging Against the Future

This is the fifth topic in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX”. This entry references several key concepts from earlier installments, so you’ll either want to start at the beginning, or else drop back as they’re linked!

Spilled scrabble tray

Scrabble tray accidentally becomes “perfect information”. Photo Credit: Flickr user whiskeytango (CC-BY)

Beyond all the things we’ve discussed so far, players will all be bringing a certain set of gaming preferences with them to the table when they play your game. These may have basis in their personality types, experience levels, or brain chemistry, but these preferences also grow through the types of games they play and the life experiences that they’ve had.

Some players enjoy having perfect information about the game state, while others may have either a tolerance, or even a preference, for hidden information — finding fun in the need to deduce unknown aspects of the game state, or the hidden situations of the other players (think: ‘Cat & Mouse’ mechanics, such as Scotland Yard, Fury of Dracula, or Clue: The Great Museum Caper). Information may become un-hidden in a variety of different ways and rates, making a continuous gradation from “fully hidden” to “fully public”. (e.g.: secret drafting, simultaneous reveal like Robo Rally, or Revolution! in contrast to the trickle of revelation in the cat & mouse games listed above). Continue reading

Announcing “The Wackiest Race” — Short Story RPG Adventure #1

Short Story RPG adventure #1: The Wackiest RaceIt’s finally here. The first adventure in the Short Story RPG library: “The Wackiest Race” is on sale now!

Graham Elliot of Denver weaves a nostalgia-soaked adventure through a world born out of love for 80s cartoons. One player takes on the role of ‘StoryMaster’, facilitating a collaborative storytelling experience with four other players, each of whom plays a member of the intrepid Channel 9 News team, investigating a mysterious letter which arrived at the station.

Check it out here!

“…Wait, but what is Short Story RPG!?”

For a long time, I’ve been of the opinion that tabletop role playing represents a really powerful and unique way to interact and bond with friends and family. People are being cheated of these experiences by imposing barriers to entry — from complex rules, to weird dice, time commitments, and too-nerdy genres. With Short Story RPG, I’m going to change that. Short Story RPG employs: very basic rules, dice you can borrow from your Monopoly set, stories you can complete in one sitting at a dinner party, and themes everyone can relate to reaching across all genres. I hope you’ll give it a try. Our first offering, “The Wackiest Race” involved a lot of work by a group of super talented individuals: Graham Elliot, Charles Reid, William Niebling, and Jared Diganci.

And this is just getting started — the production pipeline is built, and several adventures are currently underway. Make sure to get on the mailing list to get the early drop on new stories as they come out!

Woohoo!

 

Guest Post: Effective Preparation for a One-Shot

22334399426_7fd635708e_zThis is the third post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. Today, we check in with Jarin Dnd. Jarin is a frequent contributor/game master to the Facebook One-Shot Group, which has been mentioned previously in the series. – jw

Introduction:

In my 30 years involved with Dungeons & Dragons, Spelljammer, Shadowrun, and a few other tabletop roleplaying games, I have been both a player and a Game Master (Dungeon Master) on numerous campaigns, one-shot spin-off sessions of longer campaigns and adventures that lasted only two or three sessions. After moving and taking almost a year off, I found myself missing the storytelling and friends I had made over the years. As this yearning to return grew, I found several YouTube channels focused on the Tabletop RPGs that I grew up loving and quickly started watching them daily. As I listened to live game plays and discussions by such people as Esper the Bard, DawnforgedCast, Fistful of Dice, Tabletop Terrors, and BeABetterGamemaster, I remembered the 30 years of good times and the awesome stories I had helped tell, including a campaign that I ran several times with no single group lasting long enough together to complete it. Continue reading

Guest Post: One-Shots v. The Long Game

This is the second post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. This week’s post comes to you from Justin Helmer. Let’s go! – jw

I guess I’ll start with a little background. The first time I had ever played was in 1978 (I know to some of you that was before time began!), my 1st game was a one-shot adventure and I was hooked. Anyway, I digress. Personally, I don’t run a lot of one shots.  Most of my games feature very long, very dark storylines. So my setup can take months to even a year or more.  Lately I’ve run a few one shots (Thinking they may require less setup, less writing, less fuss);  I was wrong in some ways and correct in others. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Anatomy Of A One-Shot

353px-Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_ViatourThis is the first post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. This week’s post comes to you from Ian F. White. Ian can be found online at his site. Without further ado, I turn you over to him! – jw

Introduction:

In my time as both a Player and a GM, I have probably spent the same amount of game time in one-shots as in campaigns; until fairly recently campaigns had outnumbered one-shots.

I joined the Facebook group “Tabletop RPG One Shot Group” about a year ago and have – I hope – improved my preparation and presentation of my one-shot skill-set since then. The reason for me concentrating on One-shots are varied but in the main concern availability for regular campaigns and also the fact that I can try out so many different RPG systems, Players (and GMs).

However, in this article, I am simply concerned with sharing with you a little advice – including an overview my process for planning a one-shot scenario. Continue reading

“Captionable”

For a few months now, I’ve been beta testing, and then playing, a game my friend has been working on: Captionable. It’s like Instagram + Wheel of Fortune, which of course leads itself to some mad punning, so I’m clearly hooked. Like any social app, the quality of the content you find is going to be based on who you follow, luckily they’ve got some in-game systems in place to help you find the best feeds. (Unlike Twitter when you have a fresh account… “you probably want to follow Kludgy Kardashian”… yeah nope.)

Here’s a live peek into my feed; I’m harassing them to make some changes to this widget, but for now it links to the playable caption on the web version of their app:
Can you guess the caption?

It’s coming along really nicely, and there’s a pretty rad in-game community springing up. Obviously this is a somewhat shameless plug since it’s a good friend of mine on the team, but I do objectively think it’s definitely worth your time to check out, doubly so if you’re a word nerd. Find me in-game and guess all my puzzles, dammit!

Short Story RPG

An unexpected side benefit of sending off Valour to a publisher for evaluation, is that I got a chance to turn my focus to a project I’ve had cooking for a while but has been stalled (much to the chagrin of my collaborators) while I worked to push my board game across the finish line.

That project is Short Story RPG. I love tabletop role playing — it’s such a dynamic medium for human-to-human interaction, and a few dice and a little bit of imagination, you and your friends can spin a tale to rival many mainstream movies. Some of my fondest memories involve sessions of Dungeons & Dragons or Call of Cthulhu.

But those games have a problem. Two, actually: Firstly, while I understand that nerdy genres like high fantasy and sci-fi are gaining ground in public opinion, let’s face it… they’ve still got a long way to go. Ask a person on the street what they think of Dungeons & Dragons, and you might as well have said Dungeons & Dorks. Secondly, even those of us who are into such things have an entirely other problem: Scheduling. An ongoing tabletop RPG campaign requires coordinating the calendars of five or six people with jobs, other hobbies, possibly kids, etc. etc. etc. We’ve all been there, the group misses a session, then by the next session, half is spent catching everyone up on what was happening, then your mage has to leave early… Continue reading