Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 78: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 78 - Lens 106: The Lens of Utopia
To be sure you are headed to a better world, ask yourself these questions:

Am I creating something that feels magical?
At it's best, with engaged players, yes. That's the interesting thing about playtesting, particularly with game developers. It's hard to get them to commit to playing a game enthusiastically and without cynicism. The good part of that is it makes your (and you) tougher... but it can be hard so see whether you are succeeding in creating magic with your game. I think you need to find and playtest your game with an audience that embraces it and wants to be there. You need to be able to see what your game does to those kinds of players or you will end up developing a very solid competent machine that is devoid of wonder.

Do people get excited just hearing about what I am making? Why or why not?
People who like board games, and geek out about them a bit tend to become very curious when I describe my game and want to play it. The video I made showing thematic play also seems to get people's attention. To the degree that my pitch looses people I think that the complexity and strangeness of the game can be hard to grasp.

Does my game advance the state of the art in a meaningful way?
Very much so. The way I am including social challenges is uncommon if not unique and the real time play is just not done in this way anywhere that I have found. Also the manipulation of the board is pretty new.

Does my game make the world a better place?
Well... I hope the final choice I give the players does that. But it's a lofty goal, perhaps the only important one though.

Day 77: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 77 - Lens 104: The Lens of Technology
To make sure you are using the right technologies in the right way, ask yourself these questions:

What technologies will help deliver the experience I want to create?
Given that this is a physical board technology is limited. I can talk about the techniques I use as analogue to technology, which might make sense. Real time play, dynamic board, social challenges... but that's kind of a cheap trick. I think I'll get a better insight from looking at the technology as 'physical board and playspace'.

Yes, for this iteration of the game I do think that this is the right technology. I would still like to return to the basic mechanics of the game a geolocated AR experience at some point.

Am I using these technologies in ways that are foundational or decorational?
The technology choices are extremely foundational to the gameplay. Or rather perhaps the gameplay is foundational to the technology choices since I built the prototype to test the gameplay.

If I'm not using them foundationally, should I be using them at all?

Is this technology as cool as I think it is?
Yes, choosing a physical space for this game has allowed a focus on the design that is fantastic for me as a developer and has allowed me to craft a unique and surprising game for the players.

Is there a "disruptive technology" I should consider instead?
I've looked into a smart board technology that could be a cool gimmick, but I think the low tech board works just as well and has forced a cleaner implementation of the rules.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Day 76: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 76 - Lens 32: The Lens of Goals
To ensure the goals of your game are appropriate and well balanced, ask yourself these questions:

What is the ultimate goal of my game?
Thematically 'to rule the wasteland' in game terms that's judged by controlling the most territory, having the most bases, and maintaining the most alliances. To break down the meaning of that I guess, to balance the tactical and social demands of the game to maximize your score.

Is that goal clear to the players?
The goal 'to rule the wasteland' is explicit to the players. They are told what things generate victory points at the beginning of the game. They are told in the game description that they can't win by tactics or politics alone. I think it takes most of a game for all that to sink in though and most players feel a little confused as to how their moment to moment actions are affecting the outcome during their first game.

If there are a series of goals, do the players understand that?
I think that the moment to moment goals are clearer and more transparent in play. The micro level tactical gameplay is very visual and the stakes and results are pretty clear. Those goals lead to reasonable play patterns even if you don't understand the larger game well, that allows new players to not be left behind during their first game, though they are unlikely to win against experienced players.

Are the different goals related to each other in a meaningful way?
Yes, all of the small tactical and social goals contribute to the goal of winning in the end. That part of the game structure is very tight, there is nothing extra going on in the game that is not part of that machinery.

Are my goals concrete, achievable and rewarding?
I think so. The player has a clear goal and reward for every action they take and they all also contribute to the larger goals of the game.

Do I have a good balance of short and long term goals?
Yes, the players always have a goal for their turn, for the next few turns and a strategy or goal for the rest of the game... or they should, the hooks are there for them to form those goals although they are not instructed to form goals explicitly.

Do players have a chance to decide their own goals?
Their goal for the endgame is defined by the rules, but then that is subverted and they are given a choice in the scoring phase. After the tutorial rounds players form their own turn to turn goals. That makes the game very dynamic and replayable, as well as hopefully making play feel free to the players.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Day 75: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 75 - Lens 79: The Lens of Freedom
A feeling of freedom is one of the things that separates games from other forms of entertainment. To make sure your players feel as free as possible, ask yourself these questions:

When do my players have freedom of action? Do they feel free at these times?
Well this is a board game so the re are very defined rules, as opposed to a sandbox video game where there might be seen to be no rules and complete freedom. I think that would be a false perception and that all the rules in the video game are just hidden behind the experience that the player is accepting as their free reality. Things like how the player moves, what they can climb, swim across, hid behind, fight with, eat, kill etc. are still being defined by the game.

That aside I think that within the framework of my game the players have a great deal of freedom, probably more than in just about any other game. I think that once they know the rules players feel something close to the level of freedom they find in a sandbox game. Though the end goal is clearly defined for them how they get there is pretty open.

When are they constrained? Do they feel constrained at these times?
Players are constrained within a turn, they are constrained to the results of a challenge and to the order that time imopses on the game. I think that when one of those things gets into the way of their intention they feel constrained in a negative way. I hope that that mostly happens when they are learning the rules, but there are rules that constrain player actions into the shape of the game... I'm not sure that there is a way around that.

Are there any places I can let them feel more free than they do now?
I keep adding in and removing little bits of freedom. I added freedom by removing the movement limit, that allowed other players to use path removal to limit movement which deepened play and added more choices to the game. I added in the ability to place warriors in empty slots, that added complexity, but I am not sure how much it made the game better and I may remove it later... that kind of thing.

Are there places where they are overwhelmed by too much freedom?
At the beginning of the game. I created the tutorial document to address the sense of being lost and overwhelmed that I saw and had reported. It seems to have helped by supplying extra structure to the beginning of the game. The things that the players are 'forced' to do during the tutorial are really just the best move choices in the opening moves. They still have plenty of choices and can play differently from each other, I just took away the option for them to shoot themselves in the foot while they learned the basics in the first few turns.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Day 74: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 74 - Lens 51: The Lens of Imagination
All games have some element of imagination, and some element of reality. Use this lens to help you find the balance between detail and imagination. Ask yourself these questions:

What must the player understand to play my game?
The main goal of the game, To empty the resource pool at the center of the board and win a fight for the city.
Territory control, place and defend control points in each sector of the game board.
Movement, place and remove board pieces on the cloth board.
Fighting, spend warrior resources to remove other players warrior resources.
Challenges, the prisoner's dilemma used when players have direct conflict.

Can some element of imagination help them understand that better?
Yes! The fiction that describes the game action was almost entirely designed to make the rules intuitive. The pieces you place to control territory are your 'warriors' the pieces you recruit (recruit and train?) from the city are citizens. The pieces you put down for movement are paths. The control points that you control parts of the board with are bases, you put warriors in them to defend them, and the sectors they control are territories.

What high quality, realistic details can we provide in this game?
The game is very abstract. Realistic details are limited to things like the numbers of pieces that you have and whether paths are touching. Also the abstract pieces used in the game for your warriors bases etc. are abstract not representational, but the physical objects used are designed to be realistic examples of the abstract pieces used in the game fiction. It's a bit meta, but the game looks like something played in the future after the apocalypse.

What details would be low quality if we provided them? Can imagination fill the gaps instead?
If I made the warriors actual miniatures of wasteland warriors, even if I did a great job they would put the player at more of a remove from the game world than imagining themselves huddled around a fire playing the game.

Can I give details that the imagination will be able to reuse again and again?
I think that I do? That is the choice to make the game abstract, but to make the physical a concrete thematic representation...

Which details inspire imagination? Which stifle it?
The question of how much detail to give to represent the fictional game world is one I struggle with. Do I just sketch it out and allow the players to fill in the details, or do I create a detailed and rich set of documents and artifacts from this imagined future that the players can dig into?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Day 73: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 73 - Lens 73: The Lens of the Story Machine
A good game is a machine that generates stories when people play it. To make sure your story machine is as productive as possible, ask yourself these questions:

How can I add more player choice?
I am not sure that I can, but let me list the points of player choice:

  • Every turn the player may choose to recruit or take a 'move action'.
  • If they move they may choose 
    • what path to place or pick up
    • where to place or pick up a path
    • how far to move along paths
    • whether to pick up or put down pieces
    • how many pieces to pick up or place
    • whether to move next to another player and challenge
    • whether to ally or fight in a challenge
    • which enemy base to destroy if they win a challenge
    • what order to do the above in
  • At the end of the game whether to challenge for control of the city
  • whether to claim victory

How can I allow more conflict to arise?
The game is centered around creating situations that will bring the players into conflict. All opposition in the game is generated by other players. There are two primary drivers of conflict, the need to control territory and the need to gather allies. To control territories you need to place bases, you only have two so if you want more you need to take them from another player. To take or defend bases you need warriors, you get them by taking recruit actions, but how many depends on how many bases you control, so taking bases even more important.

You get ally tokens by engaging in challenges, but you can be betrayed by the other player to their greater advantage.

How can I let players personalize the story?
The game is pretty abstract and impersonal. Despite the good world fiction I have wrapped it in there is little to differentiate the players from each other. The story generated by the gameplay is always unique within the possibility space of the game... but maybe doing something like asking the players to name their tribe might be good? That might get in the way of my diversity ideas of giving the tribes backgrounds in the fiction...

Does the game produce stories with good interest curves?
I think so, the mechanics of the game create a early game of exploration and diplomacy, then increasing tension then a final battle for the city which is the major factor in deciding the winner of the game.

Are the players excited to tell the story of what happened in the game?
Yes, I often listen to the post game talk about the details of the game... it is more than what you hear in a game of Kitan, but less than what you might here in a more story focused game.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Day 72: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 72 - Lens 7: The Lens of Endogenous Value
To use this lens, think about your players' feelings about items, objects, and scoring in your game. Ask yourself these questions:

What is valuable to the players in my game?
Warriors, Bases, Territories, Citizens and The Last City. Paths... Alliance tokens.  Those boil down to mobility and power I guess.

How can I make it more valuable to them?
By limiting those resources and raising their utility... but I have done those things and think that the game is close to balanced.

What is the relationship between value in the game and the players' motivations?
I think the relationship is very direct. The resources and mobility are needed to win, winning is the presumed goal. The resources are used directly in play and the play itself is compelling and fun.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Day 71: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 71 - Lens 4: The Lens of Surprise
Surprise is so basic that we can easily forget about it. Use this lens to remind yourself to fill your game with interesting surprises. Ask yourself these questions:

What will surprise players when they play my game?
First, everyone moves at once.
Then that they can remove paths and bases as well as place them.
Then that their strategy is useless without diplomacy.
Then that Ties eliminate each other and let the underdog win.
Then that they have to choose <spoiler>whether winning is the right thing to do.</spoiler>

Does the story in my game have surprises? Do the game rules? Does the artwork? The technology?
I think yes. The story and rules and artwork and technology all feel at least unexpected, and hopefully wonderful.

Do your rules give the players ways to surprise each other?
Oh yes, largely through the challenge mechanic and through player movement pushing past the edge of their situational awareness and allowing the board to change while they aren't paying attention to it. Then the ending as spoiled above is also a surprise that the players can grant each other.

Do your rules give the players ways to surprise themselves?
So everything the player does is a choice, though the outcome may be surprising. I hope that the game puts the player in positions where their own choices surprise them. But that depends somewhat on how selfware the player is.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Day 70: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 70 - Lens 15: The Lens of The Eight Filters
To use this lens, you must consider the many constraints on your design. Your design is only finished when it can pass through all eight filters without requiring a change. Ask yourself the following questions:

Does this game feel right?
Mostly yes. I keep wanting to make small changes to simplify and deepen the play, but the broad feel of the game is what I want.

Will the intended audience like this game enough?
That's a difficult question. Presenting the game it sounds like it's a game for hard core eurogame types and abstract strategy game lovers. But it turns out that it's a challenging game for them to like because of the social aspects.

It looks pretty intimidating for casual board gamers and has a steep learning curve. But I think it's actually pretty easy to get a handle on the rules and enjoy the game once you jump in.

In the end I think that it's a game that will resonate with mid-core gamers but that it can be played across the spectrum.

Is this a well-designed game?
Ha! Well I think so. It's probably the thing that I have spent the most time in my life thinking about.

Is this game novel enough?
Oh yes. If anything it is too novel and pushes the boundaries on too many fronts.

Will this game sell?
I really think so. But I think that it needs careful and intentional marketing. It needs a community of players. It is a new genera of game and I need to create fans of that genera. That's going to be hard, but probably worth it.

Is it technically possible to build this game?
Yes. The challenge will be to create versions of the game that are light enough and cheap enough to mass produce, while also creating premium versions for enthusiasts to play.  If you think of Chess, there are boards you can buy for $10, and ones that you can spend thousands on.

Does this game meet our social and community goals?
Yes, the game is very social and I think will thrive as something that wraps itself in a community of players.

Do the playtesters enjoy this game enough?
Yes, although I always want them to enjoy it more. Feedback at the end of a game is almost always positive. The more 'full' and focused the presentation of the game is the more people seem to enjoy it. When played at playtest meetups with players who don't have a specific interest in it it can take a while for players to warm up to it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 69: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 69 - Lens 34: The Lens of Skill
To use this lens, stop looking at your game, and start looking at the skills you are asking of the players. Ask yourself these questions:

What skills does my game require from the player?

  • Situational awareness. That is to say the ability to keep track of what is going on around them while they carry out their moves.
  • Short term tactical thinking, the players situation is constantly changing and the ability to quickly make and adapt plans is required
  • Long term planning, players must start working toward a goal as early as possible if they want to achieve it in the rapidly changing landscape of the game.
  • Social Persuasion, characters will face many social 'Challenges' during the course of the game and the ability to convince others of your intentions is very valuable.
  • Spatial thinking? I think that understanding the board requires a reasonable amount of spatial reasoning.

Are there categories of skill that this game is missing?
Physical skill is the least important category for this game, although it requires a higher level of physical skill than most board games.

Which skills are dominant?
Mental and Social skills should be in balance. I think the game is currently leaning a bit more toward social skills.

Are these skills creating the experience I want?
Yes, I keep wanting to change small things to make the fun of using the skills that are important more evident. It sometimes takes players some time to 'get' what the game is doing and to start to enjoy it. It's easy to think that the game is a pure strategy game and become irritated when some social action swings the course of the game... but it's closer to the truth that all of the strategy elements in the game exist to provide a framework for the social game to be meaningful. Maybe I need to telegraph that more... 'A game of tactics and social strategy.'

Are some players much better at these skills than others?
Oh yes. Players that have good territory control tactics dominate the early game and players with great social skills shape the flow of the game for everyone.

Does this make the game feel unfair?
I don't 'think' so because such different skills are useful that it's often the case that different players are better at different skills.

Can players improve their skills with practice?
I think so. Playing a lot of this game would train you to persuade and deceive... much like Diplomacy or Mafia.

Does this game demand the right level of skill?
I would always like high level play to demand more skill, but I am happy with the levels now. Everyone seems able to learn the game on the first playthrough and no one has walked away thinking they have mastered it.

Day 68: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 68 - Lens 60: The Lens of Physical Interface
Somehow, the player had a physical interaction with your game. Copying existing physical interfaces is an easy trap to fall into. Use this lens to be sure that your physical interface is well suited to your game by asking these questions:

What does the player pick up and touch? Can this be made more pleasing?
The physical components of the game are close to final. I think I would like the bases to be heavier, and in a perfect world paths and bases would be metal... and the timer should be glass not plastic in the end.

My current bags are big enough, but I played with an old smaller set and bag size turned out to be a pain point in ways I hadn't realized so I lucked out in making them big enough when I built the current set.

How does this map to the interactions in the game world? Can the mapping be made more direct?
Interactions with the game world are pretty direct given that this is a physical board game and that all of the pieces can be acted on directly. I don't think there is much more I can do there.

If I can't create a custom physical interface, what metaphor am I using when I map the inputs to the game world?
I can create a custom interface, but I am using a god like interface where the players manipulate the pieces of the world with their hands.

How does the physical interface look under the Lens of the Toy?
Pretty great. All of the parts are pretty and pleasing to hold and use. The game is fun even without any goals.

How does the player see, hear and touch the world of the game? Is there a way to include a physical output device that will make the world become more real in the player's imagination?
I can't think of one. I don't use sound much outside of the instructions and the challenge call. I do use touch in terms of feeling how many pieces you have in your bags. I could add more spoken lines to the game if I can get people to say them, and perhaps striking the table when making a challenge so others can feel the vibration and up the stakes and threat of conflict?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day 67: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 67 - Lens 57: The Lens of The Pyramid
Pyramids fascinate us because they have a singular highest point. To give your puzzle the allure of the ancient pyramids, ask yourself these questions:

Is there a way all the pieces of my puzzle can feed into a singular challenge at the end?
They do. Creating a strong end game was an early focus and all of the elements of the game come together in the final challenge. Paths placed to allow access to the city, bases to control the territories and your warriors in the final fight for the city itself.

Big pyramids are often made of little pyramids - can I have hierarchy of ever more challenging puzzle elements, leading to a final challenge?
Each recruitment and placement and battle and challenge both leads to and echos the end of the game.

Is the challenge at the top of my pyramid interesting, compelling, and clear? Does it make people what to work in order to get to it?
I think that the 'clear' is what I have been lacking. I think that the 'taking of the heads' mechanic is the weakest part of the game and that it is no longer necessary since the advent of the territories added a second more meaningful set of points to the endgame. The only part of the endgame that I am still unsure of is whether ally tokens should count for points, or subtract from others points. I think that the subtraction is more interesting but it is problematic to do synchronously. They could also not count for scoring. The question then would be whether allying is still a strong enough option in the prisoner's dilemma. It's been overpowered lately so perhaps...

Also, should the challenge for the City still be a formal challenge where you 'could' ally... the problem with that is that there is that I can't think of a reasonable outcome for everyone allying. 'You all win' seems pretty weak!

All of which is to say that the tip of the pyramid could still use some work. But at this point it feels close to correct and only minor balancing changes are needed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 66: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 66 - Lens 92: The Lens of Inner Contradiction
A Good game cannot contain properties that defeat the games very purpose. To remove those contradictory qualities, ask yourself these questions:

What is the purpose of my game?
I think there are three levels of purpose to the game.

  1. The game exists to simulate a real time competitive territory control struggle. 
  2. The game exists to be a fun engaging blend of strategy and social interaction.
  3. The game exists to make a political and moral statement.

What are the purposes of each subsystem in my game?
Movement is intended to remove randomness, and make road placement as much about controlling others movement as enabling your own.

Base placement and control are intended to make it important to acquire hold onto territory but expensive to do so.

Challenges are intended to provide interesting and meaningful interactions with other players. To give mechanical teeth to your diplomatic behavior.

Recruiting is intended to both limit resource generation and to provide a timer for the game.

The City heads are intended to provide an end game... I don't know if they are necessary. They provide some points but you could also just have the last recruited citizen cause the challenge for the city.

Is there anything at all in my game that contradicts these purposes?
Mostly no... I kind of think that the Taking Heads endgame section does not add to any of the purposes of the other parts, though it does add to the third purpose of the game.

If so, how can I change that?
I don't know if I should remove it. I kind of feel like having some playthroughs where people play without it and then with it and answer the question of whether it felt like it added to the flow of the game are needed.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Day 65: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 65 - Lens ∞: The Lens of Secret Purpose
To make sure you are working toward your one true purpose, ask yourself the only question that matters:

Why am I doing this?
I have a bunch of reasons for making Fall of the Last City...

"I want to make games that matter." But that is more a fact that has shaped how I have made this game than a reason for making it.

"I wanted to make a VR game on a platform that collapsed so I ended up pursuing the paper prototype because it had promise." Well that's true and it's the practical reason I made the game. But I could have been done a year ago and had something playable to put on my development shelf and then moved on.

"I want to be GOOD at making games." I didn't give up because I felt that I still had more to learn from this design, form the development process. I still think that following through with this to publication or irrefutable rejection is valuable. I will need to go through the process of looking for a publisher and running a Kickstarter, and I think those things will make me a better designer. I feel like this is my journeyman project, that by finishing this I will finally be able to consider myself a 'real' game designer... despite having been part of the industry as a developer and designer for more than 6 years.

"Because I have thought long and hard about what this game can say through it's mechanics, dynamics and esthetics. I have looked at the game through 65 lenses so far and I see something there that is worth making." Regardless of what game I was making I would be driven by our world today to try to say things about power and diversity and revolution. It just turns out that the game I am making can say those things.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 64: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 64 - Lens 3: The Lens of Venue
The places we play exert a tremendous influence on the designs of our games. To make sure you aren't designing in a vacuum, ask yourself these questions:

What type of venue best suits the game I'm trying to create?
The game is intended for a home gaming table, but I have added aspects to the game for public play at conventions. The role of The Teller, teaching the game has become part of the rules documents and I have gone so far as to consider audience participation for things like callbacks based on in game events.

Does my venue have special properties that will influence my game?
The game benefits from focused play which is easy in a home gaming environment. But it is engaging enough that I have not had any trouble keeping people's attention in even the most chaotic environments. I wonder how engaging the game is for spectators, I know that I am interested in the game when I am watching it, but as the developer I may be the only one...

What elements of my game are in harmony with my venue? What elements are not?
Mostly I think that the design elements are in harmony with the home and public venues. The game in intense and focused and drives interactions between the players. The play is also dramatic and demonstrative and tends to draw a crowd in public play.

NOTE: The abandoned AR game that Fall of the Last City was a paper prototype for was intended to be played in contained public venues, areas like a college campus or a few blocks of a City center or even a large park. That is not reflected in the game board, but the spirit of players actively moving around in real time was translated into the board game play.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Day 63: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 63 - Lens 17: The Lens of the Toy
To use this lens, stop thinking about whether your game is fun to play, and start thinking about whether it is fun to play WITH. Ask yourself these questions:

If my game had no goal, would it be fun at all? If not, how can I change that?
Ok, so I started the game by having the core mechanic and no goal. It was compelling if not 'fun'. Now the core gameplay is fun, but I haven't tested it without a goal again. That would be an interesting thing to do. But I am comfortable that it would be fun, though perhaps not as much fun as the complete game.

An interesting question would be whether the base mechanic could be used in any other game structure. I would like to play with trying to apply the real time path/base/challenge mechanic in some differently shaped games.

When people see my game do they want to start interacting with it, even before they know what to do? If not, how can I change that?
Yes, I think that the visual presentation and pieces make people want to start laying them down on the board and putting tokens on them. The act is pleasurable and the result is visually appealing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Day 62: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 62 - Lens 97: The Lens of Expression
When players get a chance to express themselves, it makes them feel alive, proud, important and connected. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:

How am I letting players express themselves?
Other than 'Through their strategy' and 'Through talking to each other' the game isn't very expressive. There is no character customization, no art is produced as in Pictionary, no explicit stories are told as in Once Upon A Time... I don't feel like the game is lacking for those absences.

What ways am I forgetting?
Should I be leaving places for the players to fill in the stories of their tribes? How could I do that, could I pose them a set of questions about why they hate the city personally, why the tribe they are playing hated it? Certainly many players could care less, perhaps some would love it...

Are players proud of their identity? Why or why not?
The tribes and their leaders that the players portray are pretty vague and nonspecific. I hope that by the end of the game the players will be at least vaguely conflicted and uncomfortable with their actions. The end game note should allow catharsis from that conflict.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Day 61: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 61 - Lens 83: The Lens of Fantasy
Everyone has secret wishes and desires. To be sure your world fulfills them, ask yourself these questions:

What fantasy does my world fulfill?
The fantasy of 'Anarchy, rising up against oppression' is the most obvious. The fantasy of coming out on top and dominating others is also there and probably a bigger motivator, but the game both engages in it and makes it fun and starts to problematize it, first by confronting you with the people you have to betray and defeat, and then in the end explicitly by presenting you with the final letter.

Who does the player fantasize about being?
A 'liberator' but also a warlord and 'king'.

What does my player fantasize about doing there?
The story and narrative are are about 'tearing down the last bastion of injustice' in the form of the city full of privilege and wealth, the city that was responsible for destroying the world. But the way that the player finds themself going about that is far more hostile to their fellow dissidents than it is to the City itself.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Day 60: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 60 - Lense 70: The Lens of Inherent Interest
Some things are just interesting. Use this lens to be sure your have has inherently interesting qualities by asking these questions:

What aspects of my game will capture the interest of the player immediately?
The visual presentation of the game in unique and seems to grab peoples attention. The idea of real time play interests people, as does the idea of a six player game where it is always your turn.

Does my game let the player see of do something they have never seen or done before?
Yes, at least in context of a board game. The real time play is similar to games like Starcraft but six player real time strategy is rare even in computer games. Also while the prisoner's dilemma is a classic of game theory it is rarely used in board games and works particularly well here.

What base instincts does my game appeal to? Can it appeal to more of those?
The game appeals to competition and the joy people take in getting away with fooling each other. And then in the end of course it appeals to altruism and calls everything into question for the players.

Does dramatic change and anticipation of dramatic change happen in my game? How can it be more dramatic?
Yes. As the game escalates the board can change very quickly and a given challenge can alter the flow of the game. The game has been tightly designed around it's dramatic high points so I am not sure how much more I can squeeze from them, or how to keep the clean design while adding more.

Day 59: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 59 - Lens of Skill vs. Chance
To help determine how to balance skill and chance in your game, ask yourself these questions:

Are my players here to be judged (skill) , or are they here to take risks (chance)?
In playtesting I have had both kinds of players. I think they have very different motivations and needs from the game. I think the game provides an experience that has elements that are attractive to both kinds of players. But I also have observed that it has elements that both kinds of players find difficult. I'm trying to make the game compelling enough that the difficult elements are perceived as challenge rather than bust being sources of frustration.

Situational awareness, guard placement, base defence, path and base placement are all skill based elements. They are all public and players are constantly judging each other by them during the game.

Challenges are not chance based per se, their outcome is not random, just based on the actions of the other player, which can be anticipated but not predicted.

Skill tends to be more serious than chance: Is my game serious or casual?
My game is entirely skill based. The risk in the game does not come from chance so I get the excitement without the randomness or 'frivolity' so the game is very serious. At the same time play of the game is often funny, or at least generates laughter at the unexpected, or expected outcomes of challenges or other risks that the players take.

Are parts of my game tedious? If so, will adding elements of chance enliven them?
If players are moving things along and acting in their best interests I don't think the game has many tedious elements, or at least they are short lived. For instance there are perhaps half a dozen moves at the beginning of the game, that while they have variation in their execution are clearly the best things to do to get started. Thus most games begin the same way. Bue since players all move at once and turns can be only seconds long this part of the game may take a minute or less with experienced players. Even then during that minute the players need to be engaged as the dynamics of the game begin to take shape based on those variations.

Do parts of my game feel too random? If so, will replacing elements of chance with elements of skill and strategy make players feel more in control?
When FotLC is perceived as random it's not because of the randomness/skill divide it's because players have failed to perceive the state of the game and use that to predict the actions of the other players. That failure may well be because the game fails to present a understandable problem within the context of the speed of gameplay and the number of players (6).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Day 58: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 58 - Lens 96: The Lens of Essential Experience ( or Lens 2 in the 2dn edition )
To use this lens, stop thinking about your game, and start thinking about the experience of the player. Ask yourself these questions:

What experience do I want the player to have?
Exciting, intense, social, subversively meaningful experience.

What is essential to the experience?
Constant action.
Meaningful decisions under reasonable pressure.
Plentiful ways to interact with other players.
Having a place to reflect on your actions in the game and what they mean.

How can my game capture that essence?
Real time play. Challenges. Clear stakes. Framing narrative.

I think that the clear stakes is the takeaway here. Some decisions are meaningful, but it doesn't matter if the players don't understand the meaning. They will come to understand over repeated play and the game is faster than other territory control games... but I keep feeling like I can do more to make the first playthrough clearer and the stakes of the players actions more transparent.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Day 57: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 57 - Lens 76: The Lens of the Hero's Journey
Many heroic stories have similar structure. Use this lens to make sure you haven't missed out on any elements that might improve your story. Ask yourself these questions:

Does my story have elements that qualify it as a heroic story?
The highest level meta story had traces or heroism. The Teller preserving the game and sharing it with the peoples of the wasteland helping to spread its lessons. The story of the game itself is pretty unheroic... the overthrowing of the corrupt City sounds pretty good, but it never attacks you and you end up attacking the other players warriors. At best it's conflicted.

If so, how does it match up with the structure of the Hero's Journey?
I think that this story is pretty far from that heroic journey. There are still elements, again the teller as the mentor who dies. The player becoming the teller and taking up the game. But the politics and general nastiness that players are expected to do to each other is less heroic and not part of that narrative.

Would my story be improved by including more archetypal elements?
I think that I have included some. I have slowly been adding more as part of the theming of the game and the framing narrative.

Does my story match this form so closely that it feels hackneyed?
Nope. I think I am safe from that with this one!

Day 56: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 56 - Lens 49: The Lens of Elegance
Most "classic" games are considered to be masterpieces of elegance. Use this lens to make your game as elegant as possible. Ask yourself these questions:

What are the elements of my game?
Player movement
Territory control
Resource Generation
Board placement
Social interaction

What are the purposes of each element? Count these up to give the element an "elegance rating".

  • To place control points
  • To attack bases
  • To encounter other players

Territory Control:

  • To generate more resources
  • To deprive other users of resources
  • To generate victory points
Resource Generation
  • To deplete the timer
  • To defend bases
  • To attack bases
  • To attack the city
Board Placement
  • To generate movement possibilities
  • To restrict movement possibilities
  • To limit others generation of movement possibilities
  • To control bases per territory
Social Interaction
  • To gain alliance tokens for victory points
  • To gain alliance tokens for less restricted movement
  • To alliance tokens as insurance against attack
  • To deplete the other players resources
  • To take the other players bases

For elements with only one or two purposes, can some of these be combined into each other, or removed altogether?
All of the elements I Identified have at least three purposes. Most are interconnected, which seems even better.

For elements with several purposes, is it possible for them to take on even more?
I can't think of any at the moment but I will always be looking.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Day 55: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 55 - Lens 94: The Lens of Atmosphere
Atmosphere is invisible and intangible. But somehow it envelopes us, permeates us, and makes us part of the world. To make sure the atmosphere of your world is properly intoxicating, ask yourself these questions:

Without using words, how can I describe the atmosphere of my game?
So onomonopia? Maybe tense orchestral music? Or driving metal rock? It the image of a old gas mask or a beaten nuclear warning sign? I like the distinction between atmosphere and theme. I have been using theme to mean both deeper meaning and set dressing, atmosphere is better.

How can I use artistic control (both visual and audible) to deepen that atmosphere?
I do a lot with the look and feel of the physical game components from the ammo container as the box to the spray painted cloth board and hardware as components for the game.

I haven't thought abut sound much outside of the trailer. I might be able to get Shaun to do a track or two of soundtrack as part of a kickstarter... or maybe even Mike Veloso, if I could raise enough to pay either of them.

The dialect that the rules are written and the way that sounds when's you read the tutorial sections out loud can help if you get a good reader.

I have thought about having some audience call backs for the challenges and fall of the city to increase the ritual feel of the game.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Day 54: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 54 - Lens 54: The Lens of Accessibility
When you present a puzzle (or a game of any kind) to the players, they should be able to clearly visualize what their first few steps would be. Ask yourself these questions:

Before I get started answering the questions, two things: 

  1. Day 54, lens 54... I guess there is a 1 in 113 chance of that happening each day. Though it would be modified by the results of the previous days being eliminated and the number of cards remaining. So if a card on today's number has already been chosen then the chance of drawing it is 0. And if it has not then the chance is 1 in the number of cards/days remaining. So for today's card it would have been a 1 in 59 chance once it was established that it had not been drawn before. If I didn't know if the card had been drawn before then it would be more complicated to figure out... in any case, hey look! The day and the lense number match.
  2. Accessibility in games has come to mean the affordances made to people who's ability to play is in some way limited. Things as minor as color blindness, to being blind, deaf or having mobility limited in some way... perhaps the lens should have a different name to avoid confusion?

How will players know how to begin solving my puzzle, or playing my game? Do I need to explain it, or is it self evident?
How to play the game is not self evident. I have tried with many elements of my design to make it 'more' self evident. Little things like putting hexes on bases and not on paths to make it less appealing to place guards on paths. Or making the warrior limit for a base equal to the number of hexes on it... but in the end the rules have to be explained.

Does my puzzle or game act like something they have seen before? If it does, how can I draw attention to that similarity?  If it does not, how can I make them understand how it behaves?
In some ways my game behaves like a board game and that helps. You put pieces on the board and move them around. You are trying to control as much of the board as you can... but in so many ways it subverts the expected behavior. Probably it goes too far down the 'breaking players' and breaking rules' paths. I think it makes an interesting 'good' game, but it's probably not a design 'feature'.

The tutorial section of the rules I think does a good job of teaching the rules while getting players to immediately engage with playing the game. That's something that I think other games would do well to imitate where possible. To some degree once the rules are explained the players just have to interact with the game systems and see what happens until they understand them well enough to form strategy and win the game. The question is whether I have made that fun to do!

Does my puzzle or game draw people in, and make them want to touch it and manipulate it? If not, how can I change it so that it does?
I think that the visual presentation of the game does a lot to draw people in. I have tried to make the game as tactilely pleasing as I can with heavy nicely textured pieces so that it is physically pleasing to touch and manipulate the game.  I know that the game doesn't appeal to all player types, but it is very engaging to even players who don't end up liking it. I have never had a player get up and wander away due to being bored. Though I did once have a player leave in the middle of a demo game due to personal conflict with another player (not related to the conflicts in the game).

Can I make the puzzle of the game more appealing? I don't think I can do a lot more physically, but the narrative changes are intended to make the game more intriguing and compelling. I should try to weave in the challenge and mystery of playing the game in that narrative.