Friday, 17 July 2015

Golem Gender

I have on multiple occasions wondered how people perceive the gender of simple faces like a smiley. I think that the more generic the rendition is, the more strictly gender neutral it is that I would still err on the side of regarding it as male - which is kinda lame. Not sure if that is because of my gender or something more from our culture or society. If you think about a vaguely humanoid statue made of snow by some kids - we refer to it as a snowman.

I would like to do some more scientific exploration of this concept, how female do you need to make a face before we see it as such. Being able to say a face is gender neutral is nice, but if pushed which way to people fall for something with as few clues as a smiley.

I did find a few articles/papers talking about different aspects of this, but not right on point. The virtual facial feminism site covers the topic from a different angle while my look at the Simpsons below shows how this style uses more blatant cues to distinguish gender. Check out the Simpsonized casts to see how they push the art style to make likenesses of male and female characters. In the corner I simply took away the eyelashes and shortened the hair, is the character still female? Do we need extra cues like these to set the gender.

Last night I was toying with this concept and the Golems for my game. I felt that despite them fundamentally being genderless there was something quite male about the concept sketches so far. So you can see below various explorations of adding female cues, how much is needed before they tip into being female? Eyelashes, lips, make-up, jewellery, smoother forms, pretty eyebrows etc all can be used to varying degrees to nudge things towards female or maybe get things to a better neutral spot.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Nurturing Golems and Games

While doodling away with another Golem which just happened to be a rather heart-shaped fellow, I was thinking about games and conflict and caring. Anyone who has played board games will know that they are largely about conflict with a strong leaning towards winning where that means the defeat of other players or entities of some sort. Co-op games may change things up by having non adversarial players, but the activities the players undertake are generally targeted at defeating something.

Why am I rabbiting on about this, well if I look at some types of 'play' - particularly for girls there are more subtle things going on than the hero going toe-to-toe with an even bigger bad guy. There is care, nurturing, social interaction and drama of various sorts. My premise for the Golem game was conflict-centric, the players are fighting the enemy with their golems. This isnt a very nurturing state of play, even if it is phrased as 'defending'. Maybe the player will 'care' for the golem they create in some manner, or at least have the mental and mechanical means to do so.

Then I was thinking about layers and priorities. Having the avatars in the game trying to achieve multiple things at once is good. At the same time they are trying to assemble a halfway useful golem to defend the place with - they are also having to make choices on other fronts as well. Spending resources on a tech-tree, finding true love, cooking a decent meal, competing in an eisteddfod, learning to play the tuba, watering the garden, learning complex chemistry or keeping up with their social media commitments are all good counters to the main 'plot' which flesh out the world and probably make for a more fun game.

Clearly having all these things is too much, but choosing ideas like this that bring concepts like nurturing or compassion or healing or friendship etc into a conflict-based game seems a nice way to go about crafting the next layer of the game. If I return to the 'dance school' version of the theme then that flavours these layers but the same could work just as well for a Cooking School or a Chess Club or even the Community Garden. I like the idea of maybe having a shared 'social' track which powers cards like 'Tantrum - lose 2 social points to storm off on your own and draw 2 more cards into your hand and then discard 2 of your choice'.

Another sketch :-)

Plus having the 'dress-up' part of the game where players can rig their Golems with fun bits is just entertaining and nothing to do with conflict or winning.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Doom Golems

As I think a little more about how a cooperative game of quirky golems going out to defend the 'base' for the players I was thinking about doooom. We played a nice family game or Red November last week and it is a good example of how many good co-op board games work. There is a very real sense that the game is wonderfully unfair for the players and that at any moment the cascade will start and all the players attempts at stalling or planning will be swept away in a crushing defeat. That is actually extremely fun, being crushed as a group by a game is lots of fun as we get to experience this as a social thing.

Designing a game that sets the challenge up for the players at the right level is no easy task. I feel games should do a better job of letting the players choose the difficulty, that way veteran players can still sit around that 50% success mark without making it impossible for a group just starting. The game shouldn't really be easy as it takes away the need for the co-op element if we can all just go through the motions. Victory is all the sweeter when the 'doom' is on the very doorstep and we manage to help each other somehow pull off a big victory with seconds to spare. The doom needs to present itself as not only a steady flow but also show off that at any second it might snowball.

Snowballing doom is something that Red November does nicely but it is the domain of Pandemic and Defenders of the Realm where this is really prevalent and one of the reasons these games are fun to play. The players need agency to deal with the flow and to try and mitigate the threat of the snowball. Generally they need to have too many things that need doing to stave off the doom, so they need to prioritise the most doom-preventing actions. Thus the dooooom is always there and always mounting, but with a bit of luck and good choices the heroes can win the day.

Some more golemy sketches from last night:

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Go Golems

A little more concept sketching and thinking about the idea from yesterdays post last night. The idea of the dance studio feels a touch forced and maybe can just be a layer that is added later on (expansion, variant, stretch goal, something). Maybe the building being defended has a few things in it. Anyhow, freed from being quite so dance-centric the golems take on a more entertaining feel actually and the theme is ready to mesh with some mechanics.

Imagine that the players are drawing cards that represent components of their golems, trying to collect sets of things that actually make them effective, but due to the pressures of time each golem is sent out incomplete and broken and hopefully hilarious. Players will have means to trade cards that are randomised or ineffective in some manner adding to the fun. Maybe the golems also run on autopilot once released unless they have specific upgrades allowing the creator to adjust their moves a little in some way.

I still love the idea of having components that the player can attach to their golem that serve no function, they are just plain fun. I will need to explore at some point how the components attach, via some sort of socket or magnets and how to get that consistently modelled in 3D and printed out.

Here are some more sketches then.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Dance Golems Idea

In thinking about concepts that might end up forming the basis for my MDM course starting in a few weeks I had this little idea over the weekend. Dance Golems would revolve around a dance studio with a group of the students (mostly girls like any dance studio) who are trying to juggle homework and dancing and uniquely to them creating golems to send out to defend the studio from the nasty robot ninjas etc.

I like the idea of a game/story which might appeal to girls (assuming I could make that jump) but upping the stakes and giving them some adventure and cool factor while keeping it light. I had been thinking about the idea of a golem game a while back - but check out these silly concept sketches. The idea of a cooperative game where we work together to assemble golems and send them out while also completing other objectives like dance eisteddfods or something could make for nice contention and maybe even some rivalry inside the team. Having 3D printed playing pieces that you assemble would be great fun and look how cute the golems are...

You can see below the idea that you plugin options onto your golem before you send it out. If you do this based on card draws matching your golem mixed with purely aesthetic choices that are just for fun then it should be a fun part of the game. Some elements like the power core give stats or powers, arms give attacks and other things are just to look awesome.