Friday, 5 July 2013

Game Design Thinking

The ability to craft a gaming experience for a set of players that is fun in all the various facets of 'fun' is highly challenging. There is a reason we put a board game designers name front and centre on the box - it is their talent and dedication to the dreaming up and refining of the player experience that we applaud. While I do love my computer gaming (currently diving into Guild Wars 2 again), there is still something wonderful about gathering around a table with friends (tonight's after-work-game is looking like Stone Age)

In my efforts thus far to create the Lock Maiden based game it has been quite an eye opener on how complex this endeavour is. I am looking forward to having enough of the mechanics at version 1 so I can run my first playtests - until then it really is just a theoretical board game.
My Galaxy Note 8 has a growing number of notes files full of various details on how the game flows, the specific mechanics, tables of values and thematic controls. Rather than hide away in my own thinking there are plenty of resources out there that I need to make greater use of than I have thus far. This post collects some that I have already started to use in various ways or specific things that I need to use more.

First up, BoardGameGeek is the golliath of board game sites and with the RPGGeek there as well they have the tabletop experience covered.  This site is the locus of board gaming for the entire board gaming community, can manage your collection (see mine) and facilitate discussion around all aspects of board gaming including design.
There are a range of review sites and play sites that are worth noting as well as they not only give us an incite into a large number of games quickly but delve into the experience, the mechanics and show how fun some of these game are to play.
Some worth mentioning: Tabletop (seeing Will and his friends play is outstanding); The  Dice  Tower (Tom and co with an army of videos on all facets of board gaming; Starlit Citadel (quick game reviews) and there are even DnD Next playtests...

One site that I have only skimmed the surface of thus far is the Board Game Designers Forum (BGDF) which has some fascinating threads covering interesting mechanics, ideas for building certain mood or handling player psychology.
I am still using my Jesse Schell Art of Game Design and the app which gives me roaming access to the cards. They give me a heap of new lenses to see my game through, to tidy up elements, edit, refine, improve and enhance.
The recent Top Ten Tips for Game Designers by the Dice Tower crew was helpful as well.

  1. Playtest
  2. Design the game your way
  3. Listen to play testers, but don’t design by committee
  4. Streamline, streamline!
  5. Listen to developers and publishers
  6. Match your theme and mechanics
  7. Play other games, but don’t steal ‘em
  8. No one is going to steal your ideas
  9. Don’t expect money or fame
  10. Research

When thinking about the more narrative side of the game or any short videos/trailers I may craft for it I was looking at other resources. The 36 Dramatic Situations as described by Georges Polti covers things like Disaster, Revolt, Loss and many more. Combine that with 22 Rules of Pixar Storytelling as posted by Emma Coats and I am inspired to inject as much narrative feel as I can into the game.

Even though Polycount is digitally-centric, all the incredible concept work in 2D and 3D on display is all about fleshing out character and location ideas for use in things like games. Many of the artists think through their pieces in a way that has many parallels with how I would like a superb board game to go. Check out their recaps to get a long scrolling page of inspiration. The Video Game Art (VGA) site offers something similar, even if its focus is a little more to the finished product. Lastly, the LiveWorkshop guys make for some inspirational viewing - seeing these artists crafting away.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Digital Sketchpad Testing

Time for a new set of experiments. Sketching is a great outlet, not only is it a nice way to explore visual ideas, but it an elegant way to keep the creative juices flowing without gearing up with a full computer setup. I have generally used an A5 sketchbook and still like pencil even though pen can be fun sometimes. I occasionally scan the sketches in to do colouring etc on the computer and also use the same pages to take design notes or document thinking.
So the idea is to try out a few digital alternatives to the sketchpad - what options are there and how do they compare. First up, I do have a basic WACOM tablet at home that I use with Photoshop (and Mudbox) and compared to a finger on an iPad or a mouse the pen stylus is almost a prerequisite for any viable replacement for the sketchpad.

Pressure-sensitive pens for normal tablets.
This is perhaps the best place to start - though it isnt where I did. There are some basic and more extravagant pen-based options for non WACOM devices that will be part of this test down the track. Some of the options in this space include these iPad pens:
JOT Touch 4
POGO Connect
HEX3 jaja
Adobe stylus and ruler

I am looking forward to trying these out, but test #1 has turned out to be a new device altogether that has replaced the sketchpad completely for the moment and quite successfully at that. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8. This small tablet is light and approachable with the Android OS serving me quite nicely in terms of the apps. It quickly got me going with a range of included software and then with Kindle, Comixology I was up and running with a portable reader. The S-Pen is tiny but working very well with the software for navigation, writing and sketching/drawing. It feels a little too much like drawing on glass perhaps, but still working like a treat. The included S Note application has been good for taking notes on the Loch Maiden game mechanics - not just words of course but diagrams, layout, arrows, trees and other graphical structures all together = Wonderful. Sketching in the app is ok, but grabbing Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro lifts things up to another level. I still have much to learn, but even basic use of the pencil, paintbrush and layers let me create a suite of cool (and cute) monsters sitting on the couch.

Here are a few of my first sketches on the Note 8 for Loch Dreagan compiled together.

So the Galaxy Note 8 is comprising my current testing, but the next one being lined up is the Microsoft Surface Pro. I have already started to use it as my 'mobile meeting laptop' and having the full windows 8 experience on a tiny form-factor is very handy indeed. I have installed Photoshop and Sketchbook Express so far but havent given them a workout. This is a fascinating device that straddles a few categories, being part tablet, part laptop and with the full OS it is a full computer. If I get a chance today I will try out CryEngine on it - negotiating Win8 will be the trick rather than the hardware I think. More on this soon.

More on these tests to come for sure!