Game Design Sketch: The Big Bang.

Posted: June 12, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Design, Rough
Tags: ,

This is for lack of a better term, a game design “sketch”. It’s a rough idea I’ve had and which I am storing here. Quite interestingly, it’s a shape, almost geometrical, for currency and/or story to progress along a game.

I do not yet have content to insert into this form, but it’s here, just waiting for some content.Here is The Big Bang Diagram file, and if anyone has the skills (and time) to help make it look better, I’d be extremely thankful.

Anyway, I call this form “The Big Bang”, at the center there’s a pool of resources, or a situation that begins things (ala the “Bang!” term in story-games). Then the first circle around it has either events or actions. You can do any number of those things, or use your resources on any of these actions (use resource to initiate conflict, to ameliorate consequences, etc.). I am thinking that resources on this level would be either smaller, or be inside the fiction level.

Then, after a while, you get to move to the second circle, the second layer. Now, here it gets interesting. All those “or” are options, because obviously you could do any number of these things in different places.
Perhaps you only get to move resources to the outer ring if you performed certain actions on the inner ring, and this could also control how many tokens you move, or create on the outer ring.
Perhaps any resource used on the inner ring moves resources to the outer ring, but we also have the question of who will own it then.
Also, perhaps you need to earn the right to move, either to move resources or on the type of events, such as a fan-mail style economy. Perhaps you don’t want to move because you can only use Key style mechanics on the inner circle.

To use resources on the outer level, let us say more global events, or resources that are meta-fiction, perhaps the economy is “free”, that you can use resources on the outer ring while also making things happen on the inner. Or perhaps you only get to do things on the outer after a certain threshold of resources/events had occured on the inner. This however, could make it slightly more of a betting game, where you wouldn’t want to get your resources stuck on the inner ring, but you’d also not want to move all of your resources too quickly and be left without a way to affect the inner ring while play still progresses there.

And then, while playing on the outer circle, you also move things to a closure, if this represents story, or perform acts that move tokens if this represents resources. Back to the “Pool” at the center. And if this is not a free-flowing economy where you can exist on all levels simultaneously, after a while there is a “Bang!”, where the previous action (a scene, a series of scenes?) had concluded and this generates a new situation, or that a new resource cycle begins.
Such a resource cycle could lead to diminishing resources if you close the gate and continue with the resources from before, or you could reset it to the default amount each time, and of course, some actions could also create more resources.

Finally, I see the shape not just describing the nature of the game, either the plot’s progress or the resource currency (or both!), but as an artifact in play – a map that is used and has tokens and chips placed on it.

And this is the sketch I had in my mind during a train ride on Thursday. A sketch, where many details can and need to still be crafted.

P.S. I added blog posts from my personal blog here as well, seeing as I’m slightly changing what this blog is about, to general thoughts on games, story (and its form/nature), and game design.

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I think as some friends of mine have pointed out, the most interesting part of the game is the memory interface. How players or rather characters can gain and lose memories. As such, I think a lot depends on how memories are handled, and how you get new ones and such.

I think another important aspect are the “Credits”, though there may be something that needs to be done with them, perhaps to tie them into something that is more story oriented, so the higher your credits, the more the emotional onslaught is going on, so you will want to leave less, or your friends will need you, or you realize how fucked up you now are as a result of the memory swapping that had been going on.

Even if we leave the currency as it is now, the issue I wanted to touch upon was that we need to see how quickly currency is gained, and how quickly in general end-game is reached, either the rare “Salvation” or the more likely “Down-spiral of doom”. Of course, once we find this information out, it’s only half the job because I don’t know what I want to reach. If it ends within 6-10 sessions, it might be great, but what if I want it to end within say, 8 hours, or two sessions? I think knowing will help greatly, especially knowing what affects it, as this will enable me to control different variables to make the game friendly both to longer campaign play and to one/two-shots for convention play or long weekends.

The other reason this is important, and let’s be frank, I don’t need to just “discover” where the game is aimed in terms of length, I need to decide. The discovery is of what affects it, so I could modify it accordingly. Anyway, the other reason it is important is for the memory deck. The memories get added and removed, and currently this happens between sessions, but if the game is to work in one-shots, then is the deck that you have the one that you will have until the game ends?

The upside is that you are much more likely to gain back your memories, even if someone else ends up with a memory of yours, if you can get them to get it back to the joint pile then you once again have a shot to get it. But there is then a much reduced chance of the excitement of not knowing if your memory is there. The two lead to differing themes, one is the chance to reclaim yourself, even if only the player truly knows that this is the character’s true self, as the characters cannot truly differentiate, or the theme of losing hope of regaining oneself and having to make do with the tattered remains and the patch-work quilt that now makes up your history, your past, your friends, your morality, your you.

I think that it is required that there will be specific actions that not only enable you to swap memories with the pile in the center, but also actions that will call for you to remove memories from the joint pile, add memories to the joint pile. I wonder at removing memories without adding new ones, or adding new ones without removing old ones.

I am also unsure about whether it is better to remove the memories removed from the pile without letting players know, or letting players know, in order to be able to highlight the hopelessness the characters now have in regaining their old selves.

This is another issue, will the characters try to regain their old selves? Will they know their self had been modified? I can’t help but think characters will use tattoos and journals to write down who they are, to help them hold on to the fact they had changed, even if the new them is truly them, as the emotions come with it.
On that note, I wonder if the psychiatrists and psychologists aboard the ships will help people cling or will try to get them to remove their hold on their past. I suspect it may be quite a utilatarian world-view in the default setting, where they will merely try to keep them hanging, because this is all that matters.

Here is another issue, Prisoners make the rules kind of murky. Removing the monks seems almost par the course, with enabling them in an appendix for an alternate style of game, with them being not only the default but the only kind of player-character-types.
Anyway, I think that if you look at the setting then the whole concept of “Prisoners” as distinct from regular characters is a bit ridiculous… because in the end, after memory-swapping, how can you tell, and is it truly important who was a criminal before? A criminal might end with a hero’s personality make-up, and vice versa.

Thus, I think any person might volunteer for this thing, and if they manage to get out of it alive and finish their tour, then they get the money and a pardon if they are criminals. Conversely, one might add a dystopic rumour about how due to exactly this clause, whoever is freed is placed under permanent surveilance, because they might be dangerous. Heck, as a result of the war they had participated in, even heroes with heroes’ personality make-up might become somewhat callous, especially if you take into account the set-up that they are in, their comrades, and so on and so forth.

This seems to me to be a much better direction. Things like shooting missiles should definitely cause memory-swap and also erasure, as it warps the psychic-mind in the area around it in space. We’ll see.

I also need to verify that the system is not too fiddly, perhaps there might be also cause for some more RP scenes, though I kind of like the austere and bare-bone quality it has.

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Ships in the Fog Blog of Game Design?

Posted: May 11, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I know I haven’t blogged a lot recently (under-statement), and even less than I actually blogged in general had been posted here, as I decided to stop cross-posting from my other blogs here… I’ve been swamped with school, Chen, dealing with miniatures and such. I’ll elaborate on this more as time allows, but that time is certainly not now.

Anyway, I’ve moved my game design blog from LJ to WordPress, which I like better in handling, having no commercial, its appearance, how robust and easy to manage multiple blogs it is, etc.
The old blog was here, and the new blog (don’t expect a lot of content, please) is at which has all the old content and a new post.

The new post is what I also want to talk a bit about here. The new post is titled Design Thoughts – Cranium Rats, Competition, Story, Currency. If you think its format is a bit weird, well… it was written in a class about Wittgenstein for the most part, so one thing followed another and so it came to pass. This WordPress theme changed anything from say, 7.1.. to 7.A.b.c…

I wonder if I should’ve split it, both because it’s pretty long and to make reading it easier. Points 1-5 could be seen as "Logistics", of how to handle the game, Cranium Rats. Point 6 talks about the interaction between Story and Competition, which #7 does as well but in a different manner. #8 talks about Currency and is more closely tied to Cranium Rats. #5 also deals with Currency to a degree, but slightly more "didactic".

I feel though it’s hard to pin-point exactly, that this might also be of interest and slightly more broadly applicable than only to those who know Cranium Rats, or even those who are interested in competitive games who also have a story. I wonder how others feel.
I also can’t really think of how to let people know of this post*, so consider this post the place where I allow myself to do so, and more than that, a post where I point people to the new blog, where things will rarely happen, but every so often, they will.

I specifically think of the new post, that sections 6-7 might be of interest to people, here’s an example with 7.b.c-d:
c.In the joint realm (of story), competition can obviously revolve around story, over its direction, over controlling it, etc.
d.I find this option or at least its presentation as unfulfilling and insufficient, because every competition which occurs within a game of this sort will affect the story. Either directly, or by its control via currency which is exchanged between the players who will later use it in order to succeed within the game or to modify it on the player level directly. And so, even though it is an option, it could be said that every solution that will be given will already perform this, so there is no need to talk of it as a separate option at this stage.

Until the next time, where hopefully school will no longer bury me.

* I am also feeling the desire to feel appreciated, this what happens when you no longer blog regularly, because when you do, your regular readership “takes care” of it to a degree.

I thought this might interest others as well. I decided to think again of Cranium Rats while in class today, and jotted down several pages of notes.
Of particular interest to most people might be sections 5-7, which explore currency, story, competition, and their interaction. This obviously references Cranium Rats, and its re-design which had been slightly explored in the previous posts on this blog, but I feel like it is more broadly applicable. Feel free to tell me if it is indeed so.

This is also the first post made here, after migrating from LJ.

  1. Creating a generic system of rules, which had “Sliders” which can be adjusted, and to clearly say, “If you do X and you gain 3 dice, it will cause people to initiate more conflicts, but if performing X only gains you one die then less conflicts will be initiated.” For instance, how many dice/points it costs to initiate a conflict, or how many free dice the defender receives.
  2. Even if such a semi-generic system does not come to pass independently, and it is released from the get-go with a setting, with specific rules; then it is possible to release different settings, and if you change the values of different variables then it should change the behaviour (from the players).
  3. Release should include a setting world or two, or at least “Moods” and “Themes” along with the game, along with adjusted systems.
  4. There will be several different types of playtesting required. Both the general system as a whole, which will include how currency is transferred, and for each sub-setting, to see if the values decided upon deliver the expected and desired results.
    1. It will be easier to check the specific systems after checking the general one, because supposedly you will only need to check the effect of changing singular values.
    2. But of course, you cannot check the general system, because each time you test, there will be specific values inserted into the different variables. At best you could check “directions”: “If we will increase X’s reward then…” and less focus on specific values’ effects.
  5. It seems as if the game will require people to think of the currency, or at least understand it on some conscious level. Just like in a board-game you play differently the second time, after you understand better how things work and what yields are expected and desired. What actually works. The thought-patterns of board-games and strategy. A different thought-pattern, nearly tactical/strategic.
  6. Unlimited competition and the creation of a joint story; these have a difficulty coexisting peacefully. In this version it will be necessary to change their levels until they could coexist, and maybe even give up on the desire for it to be a CSI Game (Competitive, Story Interactive Game), merely to have it as a working game.
    1. When the game has an end, and at this end a victory or a loss, then that is the goal.
      1. If the story is the ultimate goal, then victory could not be something you aim for seriously and without limits.
      2. If victory is the ultimate goal, then the manner in which you can tell a story is constrained.
        1. The largest problem is when “everyone wins”, when one focuses on story and another on victory. Because then the victory may feel hollow, as it’s not against someone who was even competing, it was not earned.
        2. The contribution to the story by the one who focuses on victory could be marginal, minimal, and all over the place. It sometimes work in a game where you have random elements that throw you off in various directions, but intent matters, and when another player does it simply because they don’t care? It is not meaningless in the context of the game table. More-over, with the random and hijinks mindset, everyone is geared towards it.
  7. So there is need to make some change, in the manner the story is told, the competition, or in the manner these two elements interact.
    1. Story.
      1. You can see in competitive games what you can do with stories, for instance in computer games (albeit those are usually solo games), and then for a large number of people the story does not matter. We need to assume that whoever plays story-games is interested in the story, even if we cannot leave the creation of story to lay completely within their minds – as that goes against my design sensibilities. So we need to assume there is some interest. Whoever watches Blizzard’s games’ video cutscenes as opposed to those who skip them.
      2. Of course, if there are simply things “on screen” then we will add story, because a large part of every story or perhaps even its majority (and especially “messages”) occurs in our own minds. But we do want there to be a story created together, but what is a story which is created as a joint effort, is there some sort of message and can we get it over? We can try, but the other side has to “pick it up” on their end, because otherwise the message will not be transmitted, and in a like manner it is hard to discern how many stories are told around one table. As the number of characters, as the number of players, a multiplier?*
      3. But it seems I do not want to give up on story, on story-gaming, where the thing is creating scenes, situations, where there are often characters. This is also why my CSI Games project focuses on stories and not characters. Even though characters are another method of story, as explored in 7.1.1, identification, not immersion, but viewer-identification with a character in a book or a movie.
      4. I don’t want to give up on this type of story, even if unrelated to characters, and so I know that I can’t get too far from what there already is in the realm, the genre –  so I need to focus either on changing within the realm of competition, or the interaction; there is not a lot of wiggle room here.
    2. Competition.
      1. It is possible of course to let go of competition, so it will not exist at all, or that it would be merely nominal, but if so it will be a completely different type of design, even though this is also an option. **
      2. Right now I think of changing the extension or the realm over which competition extends itself.
      3. In the joint realm (of story), competition can obviously revolve around story, over its direction, over controlling it, etc.
      4. I find this option or at least its presentation as unfulfilling and insufficient, because every competition which occurs within a game of this sort will affect the story. Either directly, or by its control via currency which is exchanged between the players who will later use it in order to succeed within the game or to modify it on the player level directly. And so, even though it is an option, it could be said that every solution that will be given will already perform this, so there is no need to talk of it as a separate option at this stage.
      5. The change that currently attracts me is changing the point of “victory”, from a final point towards which all strive, where smaller points act as stepping points that get you closer there. The suggested change is to lower the final ending point, and to make the competition one that revolves over the specific, the particular, where there is a certain level of resources that can be transferred between the players, but everyone still have enough in order to influence things. The competition is over the resources which will enable more control within the game-world later. The competition is in order to gain more chances of control when you desire it.
  8. There are different resources, and you can probably exchange in various ways one type of currency for another; even if it’s the same currency! For example, if the same resource can give you 2 dice in one situation and 3 dice in another, and you can also earn 2 in one way and 3 in another, then you could say that you can exchange 2 of “resource X used in Y scenario” for 3 of “resource X used in Z scenario”.
    1. From board games I’ve noticed that too much choice can not only liberate but also paralyse (analysis-paralysis). If each type of currency can only be used in certain places, then in those places it is more likely that you will use these resources, as opposed to wanting to save them for a later date when they are universal. However, when they aren’t universal, you may use them more while they are in your possession, but you may shy from obtaining them, because they are both more narrow in their application and because the other players will know what you are aiming for. This is less of an issue in a less-adversarial mind-set.
      1. Issues of scarcity obviously play a part here, that is, how easy and how often you can regain and refresh different resources.
    2. The resources must renew and replenish, the ones which players use again and again to compete between themselves and to drive the story and the action forward, for the game to not be stagnant. These are temporary resources.
    3. There are also more permanent resources, of which there is a closed economy, the “16” points distributed amongst three players. It is important that they will not dictate the whole game, so players could not lose too many, or gain too many! And yet they must be significant. 5 per player, and a 16th that can be had? This requires more thought as the game is re-tooled from the ground-up.

* Robert Donoghue just wrote today on his blog about “Sub-plots“, which I’ve read after writing this. I think that even if the number of stories is vast, and they are different stories, then it is possible all participants would count the same number of plots and sub-plots, and even point at them. This is pretty wild.
Also, it’s unclear what exactly story is, at this point, even after all I’ve spoken of it before. We know it when we see it.

** It will be a different game either way, but this way I can at least feel as though it bears the same spirit.

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A couple of days ago I posted on twitter the following:
""Story Now" is a passive activity, once you’re active, it’s ahead or before."

Scott Dunphey asked me via twitter to elaborate on it, so I said that I’d try and secure permission from Paul Czege, with whom I had a conversation on the matter, and the above was taken from said conversation. Note, I find it amusing, and well, very internet-esque, that on this thread someone took two tweets I’ve made and wagered I have an axe to grind against hippy story games.
Damn, but I should’ve taken that wager! (I do find it genuinely amusing, I’m not even slightly offended or snarky)

Anyway, here is the transcript.
Read the rest of this entry »

On the Dread Terror of (C)RPGs!

Posted: October 13, 2009 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

This will be a short post on Computer/Console-Role-Playing Games (RPGs), which are why I’m so scarce this week; as opposed to last week, when it was due to me attending a convention.

Rush and Irina Sykes. Protagonist and sister.
Rush and Irina Sykes. Protagonist and sister.

The Last Remnant, Square Enix‘s less than stellar last game, is the one I’m currently spending too much time on, which is exactly the point: These games work their magic on me in such a manner that even when they are less than stellar, my days are lost to them.

The way in which RPGs work on me is that there’s always another goal, just nearby, and when you reach it, you’ve already got another goal or two on your sights. Not to mention that when you have a farther goal it is comprised of several mini-quests, or you find out that getting Super-Duper Sword Z makes getting Superlative Armour Y much easier, so the sword you never aimed for is now your new goal…

You know how they say most RPGs are 40-60 hours long, and if you spend more time on them, they can get up to 100 hours? Well, these people don’t know me, who grinds and usually does ALL side-quests. I don’t grind so things would be easier (and indeed, in The Last Remnant, as you gain levels, your enemies gain new powers and more life), but I want to complete everything available to me at each point.

Heck, you know how in Poke’Mon (the original gameboy games), many people rush to the end, and only then really work on their Poke’Mons? Well, I worked quite a lot on my Poke’Mon before, and then kept working later, both on getting new Poke’Mon and getting more of them powerful. I didn’t just stay with my 6 uber, but rotated for more of a roster, and that translated to more hours. Of course, due to my bent-neck with the gameboy, I had a very hurty neck, my new chair helps ensure that my travels with Rush Sykes and friends will not be as hurtful.
Maybe it’s bad, as it means I won’t leave my computer, but nah, I won’t be leaving it anyway 😉

World of Warcraft is an example of a game I’ve stopped playing in part because it was too good. I played WoW a lot, and I’ve realized, that if I keep playing it so much, I wouldn’t be able to visit the forum ( and sites, and talk to the friends, I had at the time. And with the addition of the subscription fee, I’ve thought to myself, "Hm, if I’m not going to be playing it much, why pay for the subscription?" (I was in the army at the time, so my monthly salary was $80 or so, so $15 a month for subscription was not negligible).

So yes, these days when I look for MMORPGs, for instance, I look for games that are not as good as WoW, or at least, not as addictive (but when they aren’t as good, I end up not enjoying them :D). Guild Wars works perfectly for me, less for being "less good", and more for the no-subscription. I haven’t played since January, but I might install it again and give it some more of my time. Of course, that it takes 15-20 giga of hard-drive space is also consideration, so I might try and finish The Last Remnant first, you know?

The convention I went to has something to do with it, as I sat in the cafeteria during down-time next to someone who was playing, though it’s been on my mind for a while that I hadn’t played in quite some time. And of course, next month comes out Dragon Age: Origins by my favourite RPG-releasing company, BioWare, and seeing as next week the new school-year begins, I hope it’ll go well.

The only way to stop this is to limit myself, not to "goals", as there are always more, but to time-spent playing. And no, "30 more minutes" shouldn’t be acceptable, as you can find yourself looking at the watch again, and it’s 3-4 hours later.

I’ll cover the board game known as Infernal Contraption by Privateer Press in this post. I use the definition "card-game" even though it’s a non-collectible card-game, ala Munchkin, which I think is really a "board-game"; I hope you can bear with that. Furthermore, I’ll tell you the general gist of this post: We did not enjoy this game much.

This is a "Things I Like" post, so the review is more me covering opinions than describing the thing blow by blow, and all the rules.
In this game each player receives a deck of card, and must create a machine: Connecting "contraptions" that do things to power-sources, connecting "enhancements" to contraptions, and connecting one-time "consumables" to something. You get to place things only if they have matching "sockets", and you need to "pay" for each card you play after the first free card each turn.

Your goal in this game is to be the last man standing. I was actually a bit worried about this from a design stand-point before: This is not a game like Munchkin where we all play and have the ability to affect the game till it ends. Instead, players are removed from the game and may end up becoming bored. From my experience though, when someone gets removed, the game is usually close to completion, and the players are going to grow bored way before that as well 😉

There are a lot of cards, and while many of them are quite similar to one another, and only have slight differences in the rules, or their connectors are different and they are otherwise identical, this translates to every turn, where a player might have a completely new hand (other players’ actions can grant and take cards away), they will sit huddled, and spend 3-5 minutes reading their cards and planning what to play, where. During this time, the other players can stop paying attention. There’s only one card type (so 3-4 copies) that truly require you to pay attention to another player’s machine.

A Contraption Card.
A Contraption Card.

The cards are certainly quite beautiful, and have a distinct art-style. I think their design though, is prohibitive for play. It is true, that since you can connect your card via one of the four connectors on the four cardinal directions, you might place it "upside down", but still. As it stands, when the cards are in your hand you need to tilt them to read them, and due to the text being small and the picture being so big, your attention is divided: There are too many things to look at, and either the picture draws too much attention, or you don’t really look at it at all.
And then, once you have your machine, once per turn you activate it. In the beginning, my mother (I played with my mother and one of my friends), would read us what the card said, word-for-word. I told her, "No need to read the card, just tell us what to do," as I desired to speed the game up a bit. And that’s the other shoe; while a player builds their machine, the other players sit there twiddling their thumbs, or begin reading on their new cards early hoping it’d still be relevant by next round. And when another player runs his machine, they just tell you for
the next 1-2 minutes what cards to draw, which cards to discard, etc.

This is basically a giant "mutual" solitaire game: You sit around and play with some other people, but the interaction between players is quite minimal. The only really social aspect of the game is choosing who to attack on each of your turns. Perhaps trying to cajole players to attack other players.

I think the only thing worse than playing it with 3 players is playing it with 4, as the time you sit there doing nothing adds up. Sure, if we’d have kept playing we’d probably have become more adept, and played faster, slightly faster. But for what purpose? It’s not like what makes a game fun, which is actual real strategy beyond the basic (make it so you don’t play too many cards a turn, as you’ll draw your own deck out), and social relations, are there.

: 4.5/10.

I forgot to say these two things before: First, my mother enjoyed the game, but she took way longer than the rest of us to play her turn. Same as her turn took double the time in Settlers or so. She was engrossed in her cards all the time, during our turns too, so she probably didn’t notice their length. Second, the game has an add-on that adds "Interrupts", so to speak, that add to your options to act during the other players’ turns. But since the main game is so sub-par, even if the add-on brings it up to par, it’s too late.