Driven to distraction – or How to get an XBOX Live Vision Camera working on XP

Trying to get your XBox 360 Live Vision Camera working on your PC. Well, of course it SHOULD be Plug’n’Play…

I have found the hack to get the XP SP3 PC in my office to finally recognise it, and you may have the same problem. If you go to the Device Manager and look under USB devices and DON’T see “Security Method 3” after “Microsoft Live Vision Camera” then it is likely that the camera will not be recognised by XP. Trying to uninstall or update will give you the message that drivers are up to date. However, if you look at the properties for the camera it will tell you “No drivers are installed for this device” while also telling you that everything is fine!

What I did was to choose update, but not to automatically search. This then gives you the option to search locally, or to tell the wizard that you will choose. Given that it is impossible to download the driver as an install from Microsoft – Hey! It WAS meant to be Plug’n’Play remember! So, why would you WANT to download it manually? – what I did was to choose the bottom option, then choose the only option available “USB Composite Device”. Doing this, then miraculously allowed XP to then do the Plug’n’Play magic. Now in the Device Manager window, “Security Method 3” is appended to the camera, and everything “just works”.

My guess is a problem of certification with the 360 peripheral, as there is heavy handed protection certification in place to stop people using their own cheap peripherals on the console. This seems to have been confirmed by searches. Now all I want is for Microsoft to finally produce a driver for the ChatPad, which has been out for 2 years now. Here’s hoping.

EquiSCRIBBLEum – Scribblenauts evil twin (Lesson 6 homeplay)

This is homeplay for Lesson 6 “games as art/art as game” of the free online course “Game Design Concepts”; details available at http://gamedesignconcepts.wordpress.com/

The challenge, in brief was:
“…a choice of designs, based not on experience level… but on area of interest… four options, all inspired by the “non-digital shorts” at the end of the Challenges [course text] chapter [17]:

  1. Option 1 (Creating emotions): Design a non-digital game that introduces children to the concept of grief. Post the rules and required components. If desired, also include commentary on how you approached this problem and why you think your game does (or does not) succeed.
  2. Option 2 (Persuasion): Modify the board game RISK to advocate world peace. Post your changes to the original rules. If desired, also include commentary on what you were trying to do, whether you think you were successful, and why or why not.
  3. Option 3 (Exploring the boundaries of games): Design a game that has intentionally incomplete rules, requiring player authorship of rules during the play of the game in order for it to be playable. Post your (incomplete) rules.
  4. Option 4 (Exploring the nature of the medium): Choose a digital game that you consider to be artistic and inspiring. Create the rules for a non-digital version of it. Note how the difference in medium affects the experience; think about what kinds of artistic ideas are best expressed in digital or non-digital form.”

NOTE: I think this might fit under option 3&4 but have put it here as it does have some structure and was inspired by two actual video games, although one hasn’t bee released yet.

This year’s darling of E3 was the much anticipated “Scribblenauts” by the developers of “Drawn to Life” a favourite of mine. The promised freedom of the new title will revolve around how well pre-conceived interactions between thousands of objects have been implemented. The earlier work was VERY linear, but also gave the illusion of freedom by allowing players to design their own avatars. However, these designs had to fit to specific templates to enable the animations to work. So, both games are limited and limitless in equal turns – DS titles, so forgivable – and do something novel. They also fail to deliver on their promise, as all computer rendered worlds will be. Hence, EquiSCRIBBLEum.

Players: 2+

Materials:
Lots of scrap paper, coloured beads, paint, pens, crayons. [Optional scanner, digital camera and printer.]

Play: 
Players take turns creating a character/object interaction; see later for detailed explanation. For the first round, a player is picked randomly. Thereafter, a King of the Hill approach is taken, where other players can challenge the current leader. A successful challenger takes the lead. Unsuccessful challenges mean back to the drawing board – either new object or new ability – before a new challenge is possible. The winner is determined by the current leader after an agreed time or number of turns.

Ok, the gameplay is freeform and totally defined by players, but you should be ok if you’ve followed discussion of Scribblenauts or are familiar with wizard battles:

  1. I’m a cat
  2. I become a dog
  3. I grow spikes
  4. I turn into a lawnmower
  5. I develop a double jump

Players have to represent change/status/animation of their character object using whatever method possible. A flick book stick figure transformation; using beads to make a pixel picture of several frames (hence the optional digitisation) showing a high jump for example.

The winner of each challenge is decided by consensus. Whether opponents represent obstacles, combatants, etc, is entirely up to the players, but it is recommended that some story is evolved during play to help seed ideas. The quality of the art is less important than the mental duel.

The transition to non-digital allows a virtually infinite number of options; far more than will fit on a game cartridge! I could also envisage one or more players setting up an environment (level?) for other(s) to navigate. Bordering on a tabletop RPG but the essential element should remain abstract and symbolic, rather than physical.

Eagle Alight – A Board Game inspired by Lunar Lander

In honour of my FAVOURITE Computer Game (Arcade), Lunar Lander, and the upcoming 40th anniversary of the (faked?) Apollo 11 Moon Landings, I present…

Eagle Alight – A Lunar Lander inspired board game

Use fuel, Fuel, FUEL to rotate and slow your craft for an “Eagle Has Landed” moment!

Board:
As this is effectively a simulation of gravity, two hex maps are required: One with a small playing piece for the larger wide scale view of the moon surface; the other representing the various landing sites by use of layered colour hexes, with a larger playing piece to represent the ship in close-up. In the interest of best representing the original game, the two boards will be double sided, with one side giving the large scale where the two boards are placed side by side (landscape).


Main Board Left Full size version

Main Board Right Full size version

The Main Board hex map is oriented with clear horizontal rows of 36 hexes with alternate rows zigzagging in the vertical plane. This represents the small bumpiness of the landing area, and allows for a more vector appearance in honour of the original arcade game.

6 Landing Area for the large scale map are marked:

1x – Landing area marked by 6 markers (1 of)
2x – Landing area marked by 5 markers (1 of)
3x – Landing area marked by 4 markers (1 of)
4x – Landing area marked by 3 markers (2 of)*
5x – Landing area marked by 2 markers (1 of)

* denotes that on a coin toss landing “Tails for Wales”  – or rolling 1-3 on a die –  landing here successfully gives a fuel bonus of 50 Fuel Units.

The other side represents a close up view of landing areas (3 to a board), so that the board not in use for the large scale contains relevant representations of small scale landing areas; the board not in use is flipped when the ship gets close enough. Hope that makes sense!


Right Board Back Full size version

NOTE: Only done one, so you can only land on the left hand areas for the prototype.

The Lunar Lander is represented by
[*]a single hex size piece for the ship at long range, with the “down” pointing through a corner.
[*]A tiered hex arrangement for the larger ship in close-up

Two dice are required of different colours to represent the rocket thrust: One is the course control to be adjusted by the player; the other (ideally RED) one will be used randomly, and represents the inaccuracies of fine control.

Dials representing the ship orientation and the power of the thrusters, as well as ready reckoners for applying horizontal and vertical rocket power are needed. Finally, a record of horizontal and vertical speed is required, which uses counters on six 11 hex long lines:

-5|-4|-3|-2|-1|+/-0|+1|+2|+3|+4|+5| Gross Vertical
|-5|-4|-3|-2|-1|+/-0|+1|+2|+3|+4|+5| Course Vertical
-5|-4|-3|-2|-1|+/-0|+1|+2|+3|+4|+5| Fine Vertical

-5|-4|-3|-2|-1|+/-0|+1|+2|+3|+4|+5| Gross Horizontal
|-5|-4|-3|-2|-1|+/-0|+1|+2|+3|+4|+5| Course Horizontal
-5|-4|-3|-2|-1|+/-0|+1|+2|+3|+4|+5| Fine Horizontal

NOTE: Counters for GCF will always be the same sign or zero

Various Dials and Counters needed for play. Includes a first draft larger scale version of the first landing site that was subsequently discarded.

For simplicity, we will be using base 6, so Fine represents fractions (+/-0.[0-5]), Course represents units (+/-[0-5]) and Gross represents the “tens” column. Therefore, the maximum speed of a craft is represented by +5G+5C+5F = 55.5 (b6)
= (5×36)+(5×6)+(5/6) = 210.8333 (b10) changeable in increments of +/-1/6 = +/-0.166

The smallest speed (apart from completely still) will be +1F = 0.166. This will be represented on the small scale map as one hex
The scale for the larger map will be one hex = 1C (i.e. the ship will move one hex in a turn if it’s speed is 0G1C0F

Note: The Gross level of speed shouldn’t really be used, but is there as a warning to the player that letting speed creep up will have dire consequences.

Set up

Put a counter as position 0 for both Gross and Course Vertical and Gross Horizontal
Roll the two dice for Fine Vertical, and Course and Fine Horizontal. Take the smaller from the larger to define starting values.

e.g.
Roll 1 (red) and 6 (white) means your starting Fine Vertical is +5
Roll 3 (red) and 4 (white) means your starting Course Horizontal is +1
Roll 5 (red) and 2 (white) means your starting Fine Horizontal is +3
Roll 1 (red) and 6 (white) means your starting Course Horizontal is +5

Set Counters accordingly.

Set a Counter on the Rocket Thrust dial to 0 indicating no rockets in use at the start.
Set the Rocket Orientation Counter (a lander with protruding flame) to point the fire to the 3 on the right.

Place the Lunar Lander counter with the base pointing to the right (i.e. 3pm) at the top and left most hex.

Rules
“A crash [happened] when the vertical speed exceeds 15 and the horizontal speed exceeds 31.” http://www.arcade-history.com/?n=lunar-lander&page=detail&id=1417

Briefly, each turn on the large map happens like so:
1) Vertical Course Speed is increased by +1 (Lunar Gravity). If this takes it above +5 or below -5 the Gross counter is also adjusted.
2) Vertical and Horizontal Speed is adjusted by the Rocket’s previous power setting (see below for more details).
3) Player chooses what rocket power and ship orientation to use for next turn.
4) Ship is moved according to its Horizontal and Vertical Speed; e.g. a HORZ. Speed of +3C moves the ship 3 spaces to the right, VERT Speed of -1G-3C moves 6 (for the gross)+3 (for the course) upwards (presumably an abort!). Whichever of Horizontal or Vertical is larger is done first. (see details below)
5) If there is a F speed between -5 and -1 or +1 and +5 a die is rolled for both Vertical and Horizontal. If the roll is at or below the value of the F speed an additional space is moved; represents random variations.
6) If during movement the ship hits the Lunar Surface, the player has lost.
7) If near a landing strip, the player turns over the board not in use and switches to the small scale version.

Details for adjustments of speed:
NOTE: Horribly complex and needs simplifying.

Power| All | 1/3 | 2/3
6 | 6C0F| 2C0F | 4C0F
5 | 5C0F | 1C4F | 3C2F
4 | 4C0F | 1C2F | 2C4F
3 | 3C0F | 1C0F | 2C0F
2 | 2C0F | 0C4F | 1C2F
1 | 1C0F | 0C2F | 0C4F

If adding Fs takes it above +5 or below -5 then the Course is adjusted as well.

Details for moving on large map:
When moving vertically down, moving an even number of rows is straightforward, as cells are in line. If moving an odd number of rows, place the ship between the two cells beneath the starting cell. Then apply the random vertical adjust (it may be that an additional row will be moved, removing the problem. If this doesn’t happen, roll a die. If the rocket has Zero horizontal speed, then 1-3 means left cell, 4-6 means right cell (represents buffeting). If there is any speed to left or right, a roll of 1 goes against that speed, 2-6 means the ship is moved in the direction of travel.

Small map movement.
You will see that the orientation for the small scale map emphasises more accuracy for the vertical. The rule for horizontal movement is similar to that for adjusting vertical on the larger map. On this scale map, cells reflect the Fine level; i.e. a speed of +1C+2F vertically will move the ship 6 (for the +1C)+ 2 cells (for the +2F), so the scale is for play purposes 6 times larger. This may prove too hard.

For test purposes, there will be no fuel tally. For playtesting later, a limited fuel supply will be added.

Scoring
“The [original arcade game] scoring system [gave] 50 points for a good landing, plus 50 fuel units as a bonus. A hard landing earned only 15 points, and a crash earned 5 points… The point scores for a good or hard landing [were] be greatly increased by landing on an area with a flashing multiplier, for example 2X or 5X. Thus, a good landing on the very narrow 5X site would give that player 250 points.” http://www.arcade-history.com/?n=lunar-lander&page=detail&id=1417

Landing with a vertical speed greater than +1C5F is a crash.

I think, and hope, that this is enough for play testing as I have run out of time now!

Research (30 minutes):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Lander_(arcade_game) wikipedia article
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Lander_(computer_game) more general wikipedia article
http://www.arcade-history.com/?n=lunar-lander&page=detail&id=1417 a REALLY good description of key features of the game; for example, did you know that this was the first arcade game to have an “Insert more coins to keep playing” option?
http://www.klov.com/game_detail.php?game_id=8465 Another write up

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJLmXildv2E Arcade (BEST!) version
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8727SlgcJiI 2600 version footage I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxYP6FRqQYA 2600 version footage II
http://www.springfrog.com/games/lunar-lander/ Passable but slow simulation of the original
http://games.atari.com/arcade.php?game=lunarlander – official Atari simulation

Tools:
I used Hex World Creator http://www.members.tripod.com/rooksnest/academy/geography/geography.htm and MS Paint to create my board. NOTE: It is rather buggy so SAVE Often!!!

Lesson 3 homeplay – Design a World War One Game

The Lesson 3 homeplay is a slightly modified form of Challenge 2-5 in the Challenges text, with an optional difficulty level based on previous experience with game design:

“Most war-themed games have an objective of either territorial control or capture/destroy (as described earlier). For this challenge, you’ll be pushing beyond these traditional boundaries. You should design a non-digital game that includes the following:

EASY – The theme must relate to World War I. The primary objective of players cannot be territorial control, or capture/destroy.

MEDIUM – You cannot use territorial control or capture/destroy as game dynamics. That is, your game is not allowed to contain the concepts of territory or death in any form.

HARD – As above, and the players may not engage in direct conflict, only indirect.”

My game is not intended to be “fun”. It’s not necessarily a “serious game” either. It came from my own experiences as “a pacifist with a temper” and the criteria above. What has always upset me is the complete lack of understanding of what it means to be Conscientious Objectors (COs or “Conchies”) and the price/consequences of such a choice; here’s an example of this lack of understanding. This isn’t surprising, but if you knew the suffering, violence and death that COs experienced, as well as the mindless deaths of those that took the “easier path” it is hard to think of making it into a game, without the fear that others will think you demean the lives of our forebears, as well as those suffering today. However, here goes…

Title: “A Matter of Conscience” aka AMOC

Board

N/A

All that is needed is a table and 2 or more chairs and a deck of standard playing cards. One of the chairs must be as uncomfortable as possible.

Rules

“I might as well die for a principle as for lack of one” – WW1 Conscientious Objector REF

NOTE: Given the historical perspective, where only men were conscripted, the following rules use the masculine form.

The game consists of using a deck of standard playing cards to simulate the tribunal hearing and the consequences of applying for Conscientious Objector (CO) status in World War One (WW1). It is a game for 2+ players, with all but one (1) taking the role of the CO tribunal. One of these, or the only one in a game for 2 players only, will take the role of the ‘Military Representative’ (MR).

The CO (aka Coward, Traitor) sits in the most uncomfortable chair, or failing this MUST stand up for the whole game. No food or drink is to be consumed during the game. He is dealt FIVE (5) cards face down from the shuffled deck. These will be his Resolution Cards and must be kept separate and untouched.

The MR will sit where the hell he wants to and eat/drink freely. He is also dealt FIVE (5) cards face down from the shuffled deck. These will be his Resolution Cards and must be kept separate and untouched.

Other players will sit where the MR tells them to, and can eat and drink when given permission by him. They are not dealt Resolution Cards.

The rest of the 42 cards will be dealt out face down to all players starting with the Military Representative first, and the Conchie last. In the case of the 2 player only game, then three piles of cards are dealt, with two being combined together for control by the MR. It is possible that this will mean that some of the players will have one fewer card than others, which is OK.

The basic mechanic of the game is for the deck of cards to be exhausted while the Conchie still has resolve cards left. If the CO runs out of cards (aside from Resolution Cards), then he will enter the Resolution Phase involuntarily. If any player other than the CO runs out of cards, then they have been exhausted and retired from proceedings. If the Military Representative runs out of cards, then he can choose a pile from another player, who will then be relieved of duty and play will continue. If there are no cards left for the MR to requisition, then the CO enters the Resolution Phase voluntarily. Retiring players will have their discard piles removed from play at the end of the current stage.

Tribunal stages will consist of each player turning over one card in front of them. In the two player version, the Military Representative will initially lay two cards down from his larger pile. At any time, apart from the Resolution Phase, the CO can elect to end the tribunal by agreeing to take military service. There are three acceptable outcomes at this stage:

a) He can agree to bear arms as a soldier – Counts as involuntary at Resolution Phase

b) He can become a stretcher bearer – Counts as involuntary at Resolution Phase

c) He can agree to do civilian support work – Counts as voluntary at Resolution Phase

The consequences of this choice will be resolved in the Resolution Phase stage below.

1) If all cards turned over are the same colour, then the panel are in sympathy with the applicant. A new stage of turning over cards then commences. In the two player version, this will require the Military Representative to lay an extra card each time for future turns; e.g. MR lays two cards that are the same as the CO so in future turns he will lay three cards, etc.

2) If there is a hung result – namely that not all the tribunal panel cards are the same colour – then if the Conchie chooses to continue his defiance of the tribunal, the panel members must turn over new cards until consensus is reached (i.e. all their cards are the same colour). NOTE: Panel members can place unused cards on other tribunal member discards.

The CO can choose, prior to the panel attempting to achieve consensus and at any time during this phase before the panel have the same colour cards showing, to turn over a card to try to maximise the need for panel members by turning over one or more cards; e.g. in a 4 player game, the CO is showing a black card, and the three panel members are showing black, red, red. Clearly, the panel only need one red card in order to successfully attack his resolve. So, the CO can use a card in the hope that he will change his own discard to red, requiring the panel to use two (or more) cards to mount an attack. Alternatively, the panel might elect to use fewer cards to achieve a sympathy stage (see 1 where all cards are the same colour) in order to progress to the next round; in this case, the special changes of (1) apply, namely the number of discard piles increases for the two player game.

This process continues until the stacks reflect the first or third condition, where the panel all have the same colour. In order to lay cards, players raise their hands. Permission is given to lay by the MR, but he must allow the CO to lay first if he at any stage raises his hand in advance of others who may already have their hands raised. Players, including the CO may raise their hand immediately after laying a card should they wish to do so. The MR can lay his own cards when and where he chooses, saving the case where the CO has his hand raised to lay a card.

3) If all cards are the same, except for the Conchie, then the panel are united in attacking his beliefs. For the two player version, the MR can reduce by one (to a minimum of two piles) the cards needed to be laid in future turns; e.g. MR successfully attacks the CO’s belief with 4 cards of the same colour, meaning that he will only need to lay 3 cards in the following turn. The MR can never lay less than 2 cards per turn. Any unnecessary discard pile will be removed from play. The Conchie and the MR must then use one of their remaining Resolution Cards. Unless there is only one remaining Resolution Card, then without looking at their cards, the MR must declare whether the CO must turn over a higher or lower card than his own. At this stage, both turn over the top card on their respective Resolution Card piles. If the CO successfully beats the MR, then a new tribunal stage commences. If the CO draws the same card value, or does not beat the MR, the process is repeated. If each has only one remaining Resolution Card, then the CO must enter the Resolution Phase involuntarily.

Resolution Phase

If entered voluntarily, the CO has successfully proven that he has conscientious objections to war. He must pick one of his Resolution Cards without looking and attempt to guess the Value and Suit (e.g Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts or Spades). If he is successful then he survives “the Great War” unscathed. If he gets the colour correct then he is “scarred forever by his experiences”. If the colour and suit are not guessed correctly, then he is “disabled mentally or physically from injuries sustained in prison/war work”. If the CO correctly guesses the value and suit of the card, then unfortunately, he dies from “wounds sustained in prison”.

If entered involuntarily, then the CO and MR must choose one Resolution Card without looking, or use their remaining one, Both turn over at the same time and apply the following results:

Cards are the same or one different in face value – The CO is killed outright (8 million of 60 million European troops were killed in WW1)

If the cards are two different (e.g. Ace and a three) – The CO dies from disease or non-military related cause (Spanish Flu killed 50 million after the war)

If the cards are 3 different (e.g. King and Ten) – the CO receives a permanent disability from wounds sustained either in action or internment. (7 million of 60 million were seriously injured. Many committed suicide, or had trauma (aka Shell Shock) that was never recognised.)

If the cards are 4 different (e.g. Four and Eight) – the CO receives a serious physical injury. (15 million soldiers received serious wounds in the War)

If the cards are 5 or more different (e.g. Two and Seven) – the CO merely has mental scars that will last the rest of his life.

[Stats from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I#End_of_war]

Story

“There have always been people who are committed to an idea, an ideal, a value, a religion, a cause. Among them, there have always been people convinced that, at whatever risk to themselves, their commitment must not involve the use of violence or war. They have hung on to that conviction despite being despised, condemned and punished for it. It takes a lot of courage to hold out against violence and killing when your family and friends are threatened and may themselves turn against you, when you face public hostility and hatred, when the leaders of your society are determined that war, not peace, is the right and heroic way forward, and when you are accused of being a coward and a traitor. The conscientious objectors who refused to fight in the First World War were courageous in this way.” REF

Gameplay

In honour of the three levels of difficulty presented above for the game designs, I have decided to include three levels of difficulty in the game itself. This reflects the three stances that COs took in WW1:

EASY – ‘Non-combatants’, who accepted call-up into the army, but not to handle weapons. You can enter the Resolution Phase at any time.

MEDIUM – ‘Alternativists’, who took civilian work that indirectly supported the military effort. You can only enter the Resolution Phase after one successful stage (i.e. all cards of all players are the same colour)

HARD – ‘Absolutists’, who believed that any support of the war effort was immoral. You must embrace “Don’t AND Die!” (the opposite of “Do or Die”) and ‘fight’ to the bitter end.

Winning

“I fear God, not Man!” – Charles John Cobb, WW1 Conscientious Objector, “who died from injuries sustained in prison”

“I had eight months solitary confinement at Lincoln Prison. Three months bread and water treatment until the doctor wouldn’t allow more. And yet one had a sense of freedom which I can’t describe….. one had an extraordinary sense of personal liberty, personal freedom.” – Fenner Brockway. WW1 conscientious objector REF

As you can probably guess, there aren’t really any winners in this game…

Second homework for GDCU course – Something for Nothing!

Lesson 2 homework was to read an article on Formal Abstract Design Tools (which I will come to later) and chapter 2 of Schreiber and Brathwaite, which included several end of chapter exercises (subsequently were confirmed as not being necessary, but desirable) that were the topic of some discussion on the forum, and concern over USA bias in content. This was acknowledged as something that had only come up because of the course being international in scope, with previous deliveries only be presented in America. It wasn’t something that I particularly noticed as problematic, but mention of the Civil War in one exercise, was an issue for a few. One respondent put it in context, stating it was likely that many US citizens would know as little as non-residents, but it raises interesting issues regarding distance delivery and the internationalisation agenda. It should also be noted that the GDCUwiki is being used by volunteers to translate the main site lessons into Espiranto, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Bahasa (Indonesia) and French. All done free, because the course is being done free. An important lesson for all!

On to the chapter 2 exercises: The first was actually just the Lesson 1 15 minute game challenge, but Lesson 2 also required that the game be revisited and revised after play testing. I actually found this process (for which I should thank several generations of my family, who I stole from celebrating my mother’s 70 birthday over the weekend) very enlightning as a few issues I thought would arise didn’t. Anyway, the revised version of the rules and comments on the play testing are in the comments section of this post and on the official course wiki So, Challenge 1 was relatively straight forward.

Exercises 2-4 where to repeat the 15 minute process for a territorial acquisition game, an exploration game, and a game with a “pass over/pick up” mechanic respectively. I’m going to revisit these later, but the “must do” for Lesson 3 has been revealed – I am playing catch up with the course, so lessons 2&3 are being done concurrently, and it seems apparent that quite a few other students are in the same position) as being basically the 5th Challenge from chapter 2, called the “Iron Designer Challenge”, but focussing on World War One instead of the American Civil War (see comments above) with three levels of challenge without using territorial acquisition or destruction of the enemy as the primary mechanic. More on that in a future post.

Getting back to the FADT article. It, like most entries on gamasutra.com was well written and informed. Like a few articles, it doesn’t have the peer review that allows generalisations to be made without justification or much evidence. Having said that, it was interesting to see the need to express things more formally than “it was/wasn’t fun!”. Much like the artist’s curse of “I know what I like, and it isn’t…” that is probably at the heart of the same formulaic game clone sequels coming out year in, year out. The deconstruction of Mario 64 was a little generous, but did make the point quite clearly that thought into abstract design principles might have big payoffs down the implementation road. So, a bit rhetorical, but it convinced me. Schreiber and Brathwaite’s “Challenges” book makes use of the concept of “atoms” of game design, which is a similar conceipt, in that they are attempting to provide defined primitives for discussion of games design. This formed the basis of the Lesson 2 discussion as well. I wonder if a similar discussion of pedagogy would be fruitful?

First homework for GDCU module – “I have no works & I must play”

Reading for the first lesson consists of:

  • Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 1 (Basics). This is the course text by Ian Schreiber and Brenda Brathwaite
  • I have no words & I must design” by Greg Costikyan.
  • The Understanding Games series of interactive “playings”. Flash games that attempt to explain some basic concepts of games in the form of a game.

Being already familiar with the latter, which are great fun and available from the original source at:
http://www.pixelate.de/games/understanding-games
I thought I would tackle the Costikyan online text first, the most recent version of which is available at:
http://www.costik.com/nowords2002.pdf

So, here are notes about my reading of Costikyan. The first thing that is apparent is the importance of understanding and deconstructing the term “gameplay”. Teh author contrasts SimCity and SimEarth, stating that the latter was less successful because it had no goal. Having played this game a lot – I keep an old Mac Classic purely to be able to play this game – I would disagree. It seems pretty clear that the author didn’t actually play this game, as it had far more goals than SimCity. Specifically, there WAS an end goal, which was to get the sentient life form to evolve towards space flight, at which point you were rewarded with cities growing domes and taking off for the stars! It was course grained in comparison to SimCity, but look at Spore, which was SimEarth done at a finer grain. What is interesting is that the new version definitely had chunks that appealed to different people. I would say the same was true of SimEarth. It’s just that the monotone offering of SimCity had more widespread appeal. A warning to future game developers: don’t put too many features in your game.

Costikyan’s comment on MUDs and boredom seem a sweeping generalisation. Again, from personal experience – I got to the level of Wizard in a few LPMuds back in the day – the provision of goal was done through the quest mechanism, and was quite sophisticated on the better servers. And these involved a fair degree of Struggle, often involving detective work, gathering of resources, and some grind. I don’t necessarily agree that Puzzles provide the struggle. They are extremely culturally defined obstacles, which can break the player’s experience. No? OK, answer this before reading…

… and don’t cheat!

What can you stand on, sit in and brush your teeth with?

…got it?

…really!

OK, hands up if you knew the answer already.
Right, now hands up who worked out the trick.

…OK What was the trick?

<Spoiler>

Did I say that it was one object? The “correct answer” was:

a) The floor
b) A bath
c) A toothbrush

…Now, hands up if you came up with a really cool answer that was one object.

…Feeling clever?

What if I said it didn’t matter if you DID come up with one object. What if I said that you couldn’t read further UNTIL you got MY answer?

So, puzzles are really important when they are embedded in the player experience. Otherwise they are mere mechanic. An example would be Puzzle Quest’s use of a bejewelled clone for ‘combat’! This the antithesis of Costikyan’s idea.

I like the deconstruction of “Let’s Pretend” as this reminds me of what I call the “last grenade” cheat, where someone accepts they are dead, but want to pea on the bonfire by saying they have also killed their nemisis, thereby discounting the rule completely. Interesting to see this implemented as the “Last Stand” perk in Call of Duty 4. PVP (player versus player) compared with PVE (player versus environment) was interesting, particularly in light of recent developments in EVE-Online, which has a sophisticated real(tm) economy where anything goes. The World is like that, but there are consequences for anti-social behaviour. I miss the local sheriff in early MUDs, who was a really hard bot that would appear if you engaged in player killing. It made the risk associated with PVP that much wider than the obvious one of possibly being killed by your victim. The “endogenous” discussion and the comparison between economics and games – particularly the porn reference – was entertaining, but rather dated. People can reap great benefits from in game actions; there are numerous examples, including pro player pots of prize money, gold farming, as well as the sudden ability to be supremely good with automatic weapons in local schools. Ok, the latter isn’t true, and no-one became a property baron by playing Monopoly, but there are tangible real world effects of playing games.

At this point, however, I cannot see how the essay actually addresses the content implied by the title; my hunch is that Costikyan thought it rather clever, rather than defining the topic for discussion. I’m not adverse to a poetic title – Hell, my last conference paper was entitled “Gamez Meanz Learnz” (the reader is left to discover the inspiration for this as an exercise) – but I’ve lost the plot. Criticism of “Interactive Entertainment” seems irrelevant to a debate about game design. Personally, I prefer the term “immersive” as it applies to the focus required for sport, the sinking into a story, or the encouragement of good games to filter out the temporarily not relevant in order to engage with an activity. A cut scene for Chess… Hmmm… How about the following:

http://www.videosift.com/video/SNL-ad-Chess-for-Girls the video
http://snltranscripts.jt.org/97/97hchess.phtml the transcript

So, regarding Costikyan’s attempt to pin down the concept of gameplay, it starts well, ends with a nice Jung quote, but the middle (the important bit) was, essentially, missing. His quote:
“Game design is ultimately a process of iterative refi nement, continuous adjustment during testing, until, budget and schedule and management willing, we have a polished product that does indeed work beautifully, wonderfully, superbly.” is a cop out.

Now, let’s crack open that Challenges book…

My first “homeplay” assignment – design a game in 15 minutes

Ballpoint Sumo

Ballpoint Sumo is my homework for the 15 minute Board Game Challenge – details at http://gamedesignconcepts.wordpress.com/ but basically, this is the brief:

“Following the four steps set forth in Level 1 (summarized below), try to create a board game in only 15 minutes, using a sheet of printer paper for the board, and a sheet of notebook paper for the rules. Four Steps:

  • Draw a Path
  • Come up with a theme or objective.
  • Create a set of rules to let the player move from place to place.
  • Create conflict.”

— http://gamedesignconcepts.pbworks.com/15-Minute-Board-Game-Challenge [Restricted access. Login required]

BallpointSumo is for 2 players, although it could be single player at a push for training. You will need two ballpoint pens (preferrably not the end button retracting kind) or soft leaded pencils (not too sharp) of different colours, and a piece of paper.

Board
The paper should be marked with an odd number of circles (3 for a short game, 5 or more for a challenge) – drawing round a 2p would be about right, but a diameter of 2-3cm and roughly round will do. Circles should have a gap of 2-5cms around them. So, the paper would look roughly like this:

| ( )  ( )  ( )  ( )  ( ) |

Rules
Both players play by controlling their pen(cil) with one finger at the blunt end while the point is in contact with the paper; carefully balancing the angle allows players to push the tip to draw a faint line. The skill involves judging the correct angle: too shallow and the pen will fall; too steep and pressure will not draw a line. Both players start in the centre for an evenly matched game, but handicaps can be allowed by starting in circles closer to one end or the other. The goal is to WIN in the last circle nearest to the opponent. It would be expected that some back and forth might occur, so a time penalty could be appointed and a win on points be declared by who was nearest to opponent’s end.

Story
Sumo!

Gameplay
Each balanced pen(cil) is a Sumo wrestler trying to unbalance or push the opponent out of the circle; aka “Fell Mighty Tree”. If a nib moves out of the circle or finger loses control then that player moves back one circle towards their end and prepares to battle again; aka “the short hop of lamentable defeat”. If both pen(cil)s fall or leave the circle at about the same time, the loser is the one with the least distinct or most broken line, or a draw can be declared.

The mechanic is to use your pen(cil) to push/trip/bump the opponent into losing control and falling or leaving the circle.  The winner has to then navigate their Sumo Wrestler from the current circle to the one where their opponent is waiting; it is acceptable for the player to reset their finger before attempting the “Long Walk to Victory” but this allows for and requires the current victor to be at a slight disadvantage because they have to successfully maneuver their Sumo to the next dojo. Once successfully navigated to, but not through or out of, both players can reset their hold on the pen(cil)s before beginning a bout. Bouts basically involve moving your finger to control the pen(cil) into pushing the opponent out of the circle.

An alternative strategy exists, because a player might simply plant their pen(cil) vertically with a strong downward pressure; aka “Stand like Tall Oak”. As this could lead to a stalemate and be rather boring, an opponent can “Bend like Gentle Willow” by drawing a controlled line – nib does not leave paper, finger does not drop, with a continuously drawn line into next circle, stopping to show control of the nib. If achieved successfully, the opponent will have to move back to join the currently winning player. Again, both players then have the chance to reset their grip before the bout begins again. This option would not be possible as a victory condition in the final edge circle, as there would be nowhere to ‘bend’ to. So, at least one proper bout will be needed to win.

Clearly, this second strategy is risky, as it involves (potentially deliberate) leaving the current circle, but it allows for greater variety. The super risky third approach, “Flow like Running River” would be to draw an uninterrupted line from the start circle through all the intermediate circles, with a pause in each to show continued mastery, to the opponents end, with no jumps or loss of control. However, one bout in the final circle would still be needed, and I think that this should only be a tie break option.

This is a non-contact sport with only pen(cils) and controlling finger able to contact the opponent. Hand contact with opponent’s body, finger or pen(cil) will receive a first warning, then concede a point by moving back one circle. If this occurs in the last circle a foul will be awarded as a victory against the fouling player.

Winning
A victory in the circle nearest the opponent’s end, either by getting there first with Willow or River, then winning a bout, by opponent fouling, or by simple Sumo wrestling –  “Dig up Stump!” – in each circle one at a time.

Update

Playtesting and Version 2 modification

Post Lesson 2 post-mortem: After playtesting three things became apparent. The first was that the winner of a bout guiding their pen forward to the next circle was just too hard for most people. It was, therefore, decided to scrap/simplify this constraint. Subsequently, the ability to side-step combat by drawing a line to the next circle was also removed, due to the difficulty spike. It had been originally put in to provide an alternative strategy, because it was thought that a conflict only game would be too samey; actually, this was not necessary as play testing never highlighted bout only play as a problem. This was an example of over-complicating things unnecessarily. The third issue from gameplay testing with young children, young adults and seniors – ages ranged from 8-70 – was the rule that the clearer line wins when both pens leave the circle at the same time. When people of different strengths played together it was quite common for there to be bouts where both pens shot out of the circle. Clearly, when only one pen skidded out there was an obvious winner. When both left, but one was measurably before the other, again a winner was straightforward. However, the rule of clearer line was expected to be seen as a mistake prior to testing. In fact, the surprise of testing was what seemed to be an inconsistency, was a perfect way to balance game play. When a 9 year old girl played with a 17 year old sporty boy, the latter’s attempts to force his opponent out of circles, consisting of brute force, frequently resulted in both pens falling, but his making a fainter line, resulting in a loss. This was an unexpected bonus in playtesting. therefore, the anticipated removal/reversal of this rule was not justified. The only caveat being that after extended play – think Roddick v Federer! – the paper gets rather marked up, making calls difficult/easier to contest. In playtesting, we just called draws more often than expected. When the paper gets scuffed up, new paper or circles drawn in different places might be necessary. So, some changes, some justified non-changes. A simpler game.