Let’s make sure we are worth £23K

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8205539.stm details how students will be at least £23K in debt due to studying for a degree.

Last year, I (and I know others) had students stating “I pay £… a year for this.” before starting to dictate what and how I should teach. This was difficult to manage, and reflects the financial stress that students are under. I had one student suspend studies this week, citing the cost implications in his reason for withdrawing. This is regrettable, but understandable. While we are not in a consumer product service industry, seeing articles like that above is likely to make this attitude of “service in a restaurant” more prevalent; we might not mind so much if there were tips!

Learning is a mutual activity. I think that this more than anything else should be on our lips and in their minds in September/October. Would welcome suggestions for how that can be done.

Lesson 11 – Game Design Brainstorm

Lesson 11 of the Game Design Concepts on-line course has asked for three game ideas. The constraints are as follows:

1) Create a board game, card game, or tile-laying game  (that is, it must either have a board, cards, or tiles as physical components).
2) You may choose any theme you want, as long as it is original – do not use an existing IP (intellectual property).
3) You may not make a trivia game, or any other game that relies on large amounts of content
4) You may not use “roll-and-move” mechanics in any form.

In addition, add one of the following constraints. This is your choice, based entirely on your area of interest within game design:
* Design your game such that it has a strong embedded narrative that is interactive in some way. You will have to think of ways to tell a story through the player actions of a board game, and how to integrate narrative and game mechanics. If you are interested primarily in RPGs or other forms of storytelling, do this.
* Create a purely cooperative board game for two or more players, so that everyone wins or loses as a team. This is challenging for several reasons. The game must provide systems that are the opposition, since the players do not provide opposition to each other. Cooperative games generally have a problem where a single skilled player can direct all of the other players (since everyone is cooperating, after all), leading to an MDA Aesthetic where most of the players are bored because they are just being told what to do by another player. If you are interested in the social dynamics of games, choose this.
* Make a two-player head-to-head game with asymmetry: the players start with unequal resources, positions, capabilities, and so on… and yet they are balanced even though they are quite different. These games are not so hard to design the core rules for, but they are very difficult to balance. If you are interested in the technical and mathematical side of game design and game balance, try this.
* Create a game to teach any topic that is normally taught at the high school (pre-college) level. It is up to you whether to teach a narrow, specific fact or a broad concept. The challenge here, of course, is to start with a fun game and not have the focus on education get in the way of that. If you’re interested in “serious games” (games that have a purpose other than pure entertainment), then do this project.

So, as we all have to propose three ideas for feedback from other participants, I have decided to pitch ideas for the last three of the above optional constraints. Here they are:

A) cooperative game for two or more players.

Think Simcity meets the Slums. Players have to cooperate to create a viable city block with access to all the required facilities and resources for all. There is no enemy other than bad decisions. Game uses coloured and shape marked blocks to create a Scrabble like flat structure according to rules of play. Each round, one player takes the role of Mayor, to embed the game’s ability to oppose the other players.

B) Asymmetrical game for two.

Cease and Desist
Players each build up products and profits on the basis of hidden or patented IP (coloured shape tiles that are turned over and hidden, or revealed). These products are laid out in connected lines from the start tile. The nasty part is the process of patenting/IP licencing that may suddenly reveal another player as breaking the law. Negotiation/legal phases enable high stakes deals to be done to preserve your own profits.

C) Game to teach a topic

Credit Crunchies
Selling of bad loans on to other banks. How the stupidity all started and how not to do it again in Game form.

Lesson 9 – Put a story on a pre-existing game

Lesson 9 attempted to get the idea of narrative and story into games. Ian Schreiber posed the challenge of making the game Pente into a story mode. For reference, from his blog post, here are the original rules:

Players: 2

Place your stones to either create five-in-a-row, or to capture five pairs of your opponent’s pieces.

Place a grid-shaped board (you can use a Pente board or a Go board, or make one of your own – try making it 19×19) on a table between the players. Choose a player to go first.

Progression of play:
On your turn, choose a blank square and place your marker in that square. (You can use colored glass stones, or you can just write “X” and “O” on a piece of paper as with Tic-Tac-Toe.) If there are exactly two opposing markers in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally) adjacent to where you just placed, and on the other side of the two opposing markers in the same line there is one piece of your own, then the two enemy markers are captured. Remove them from the board (erase the symbols if playing with pencil and paper), and put them off to the side to denote that you have made a capture. It is possible to make several captures on a single turn if there are several sequences of two-enemy-one-friendly radiating out from your placement in multiple directions.

Limitations to capturing:
Captures only take place when a piece is placed. It is legal to move into a place that causes an “X-O-O-X” or “O-X-X-O” line on the board, by placing in the middle. In such a case, the inner pieces are not captured.

If a player ever gets five of their own pieces adjacent in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally), they win. If a player makes a total of five captures, they also win.

The Homeplay was to embed this story into the game without any rule changes.

Backstory: Alien Seed

What is the setting?
Anyone who has read Scott Sigler’s Infected and Contagious novels (or listened to the free Podcasts) will know that this SF Horror universe revolves about a subtle alien invasion through parasites controlling hosts. The game is an attempt to prevent the Triangles from forming in the body of infected victims. One player represents the infection, which from the novel IS sentient, and the other represents the FBI surgeon attempting to stop the alien parasites.

What do the pieces represent?
The player with the Black pieces is attempting to construct a viable alien parasite, which needs 5 connected DNA fragments in a line to signify an entity that is so fully embedded in the host that removal will kill the Human. The player with the White pieces is attempting to construct an effective anti-viral through highly illegal and experimental medical intervention by introducing nanites (tiny biological robots) in the bodies of hosts.

Why are you placing them?
Both the alien and the artificial FBI created DNA segments are being directed intelligently, and see the other as the most major immediate threat. Both nanites and alien Triangles are more powerful when networked. Both can, for a short time, stop the progression of the other. Placement is to stop the opposition or to work on constructing a viable entity to either take over (Black) or defend (White) the host body.


Did your story make a difference?
Very little playtesting was possible. However, the players who were familiar with Scott Sigler’s works commented mostly on the abstract nature of the 19×19 board, which did not in any way represent the various body organs or the host at all well.

Did it affect the play experience?
I think that, from limited evidence, the story element did change the strategy of the game, with several players reporting that they spread further, or clustered more, given the idea of infection and response from the story.

Or was it exactly the same as if there were no story at all?
For some players, given the lack of a representation of the human host, the game was indestinguishable.


Why do you think you got the reaction you did?
Sigler fan boys (myself included) liked the idea of this fairly incidious side to the novels, which was only covered in a few small elements of the books.

Do you think it would have been different if you had chosen a different story?
Yes. I think that the idea of nanites and intelligent virii fitted the abstraction well, and could not see how more symbolic story elements could be pulled off.

Lesson 8 – A game for Griefers

Lesson 8 of the Games Design Concepts on-line course was intended to investigate types of fun, with the homeplay challenging participants to create a game with the main mechanic being “griefing” (that is, deriving enjoyment from the act of ruining other people’s enjoyment). We had to create just the concept (no rules, etc) for a game built to appeal specifically to griefers (i.e. Bartle’s “Killer” player type).

The Uneasy Edge of Edgy Uneasiness: A Tim Langdell Simulator

Target medium or platform.
Card game.

Number of players: 2+

One player plays the (in)famous Liam Tangdell, who “owns” the word ‘LINE’ and even ‘LINY’. That player’s job is to reap rewards from the sweat and tears of the other player(s). Liam selects a few cards, denoting his dubiously acquired IP. All others play developers trying to make profits from their own work, and attempting to offload legal attacks from Liam and each other. They will play cards to represent new inventions and the economic exploitation of these. The strategy is to keep your head down, while Liam attacks other players, then get so large as to be immune to further attacks, or to licence your own invention from Mr. Tangden, losing a percentage of profits, but surviving as he sets his sights on others.

The target market is game developers of all kinds and ages… Satire is an effective way to deal with dangerous and contentious issues.