Sunday, June 17, 2018

Vertical slice advice

I was going through some old e-mails and I came across this bit of advice for a developer. Maybe one of you game developers will find it helpful...

IMHO, What should be in a vertical slice design-wise:
  • Camera view should be locked in, code-controlled camera movement should be in, player controlled camera controls should be usable
  • Player controls should be locked in and mapped to player functions
  • Player character model should be in and all animations required to support movement, combat, damage, death, idle and support moves should be in
  • Player distance metrics (walk/run speed, jump height, projectile distance, etc.) should be locked down and operational
  • The level should be navigatible from beginning to end and loading (sections) should work without popping or slow down
  • World collision detection system should be functioning without error, fall-through cracks, etc.
  • Any appropriate game navigation play mechanics (moving platforms, opening doors, etc.) should be in and functioning with appropriate accompanying player operation animations
  • Checkpoint system should be in and working
  • Level should be populated with enemies in regards to how they create the combat experience
  • Enemy logic, pathing system and AI should be in place, creating a representative combat experience
  • Enemies should have all associated movement, combat, reaction, death and idle animations
  • Enemy health system should be in and operating
  • All attacks (player and enemy) requiring projectiles and VFX (shockwaves, fire, cold VFX, etc.) should be in
  • Combat should represent the final experience in the game (feel, controls, damage system, animation, collision, effects, camera effects)
  • Player health system and HUD elements should be displayed and working
  • Representative level mechanics and hazards should be in – collision and damage effects should be functional
  • HUD should be in place and performing functions they are assigned to (score increase with kills, etc.)
  • Any inventory system should be working, additional screens supporting inventory and navigation should be in
  • Any progression system (experience, perks, etc.) should be functioning with representative HUD and in-game elements in
  • Any scoring system should be functioning with representative HUD and in-game elements in
  • Any pickups (health, ammo, etc.) should be in the game and performing their functions. Preferably with associated special effects)
  • Economy system (if applicable) should be in place with associated pickups (coins, etc.)
  • Any unusual game play and player movement functionality should be represented (mini-game, zip-line, flying, underwater, etc.) with associated controls, camera, animations, etc.
  • Temporary sound effects should be in
  • Temporary music track should be in
  • Place holder cutscenes/animatics should be in

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The first Tabletop Network Conference report

This last weekend (June 7th-10th) I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Tabletop Network Conference. I had first learned of the event from co-founder (and rockin' game designer) Tim Fowers while attending Protospiel in San Jose.

Tim described the event as a "GDC for board game developers". A long-time attendee of that show, I had grown disillusioned by it. I had met and talked to GDCc founder Chris Crawford about the original GDC and how it was "twenty people talking about game design in Crawford's living room." Now that sounded like an event I wanted to attend.

Tim had already lined-up a pretty impressive roster of speakers including Rob Daviau (Pandemic Legacy) Tom Lehmann (Roll for the Galaxy), Geoff Englestein (Ludology podcast) and Raph Koster (The Theory of Fun) when I talked to him and it was even more appealing is that many of these speakers were already acquaintances. The opportunity to learn from and socialize with these respectable creators was a powerful lure. Passes to the convention were made available via Kickstarter in March. I don't think I've backed anything faster.

Many months later, the weekend of the event finally approached and I flew out to Utah. After a harrowing flight (we were buffeted by winds so strong that the plane almost turned sideways! There were people actually whimpering in fear - not something you want to hear during a flight) so I was grateful to land at Salt Lake Airport.

The drive up to the resort was breathtaking, we traveled up a road that wound ever higher into the pine-covered mountains. We reached the resort - a concrete bunker posed at the side of the cliff.

 Billed as "The most misunderstood ski resort" the Snowbird was an interesting mix of upscale hotel and sprawling resort. It was definitely large enough for the 125 attendees of the conference.

 The conference itself was organized like the Game Developers Conference - with several hours of talks and Marc LeBlanc's famous game design workshop. A brief listing of the talks I attended were:

Rob Daviau discussed "Firsts" and their importance to the designer, player and publisher. Best takeaways: Some of your early ideas might not apply at the end of the game. Make a first protoype of "parts" of the game - prototype how long it takes to set up the game for example or a single turn. Think about how you can communicate rules without a long rule book - on cards, use a demo level, include a comic book that explains things visually, etc. Ask yourself, Is it the game fun on its first turn?  Finally, a game designer makes a "promise" to the player. A game designer should "be a little more emotional", a mechanic isn't a promise and give the unboxing lots of thought as unboxing videos are a thing.

Ryan Laukat talked about focusing on story - I enjoyed the talk especially after learning Ryan and I start our game designs with same way - with the cover. Best takeaways: Players add to the story of a game without being prompted so encourage the players to tell the stories themselves. Let the players name their characters - they will even if you don't give them names. Concentrate on "classes" of characters rather than personalities.Weave mechanics into flavor text. Avoid story text with arbitary choices, no choices or an obvious outcome. Make the story about the people in it. Hide the outcome of the story. Give choices but never more than 3 at once. Better to be fair than to surprise the player. Moments are the strong points of the game as overall story is hard to communicate.

Mike Sellers discussed systems - a talk that parallels the one I give on my first day of board game design class. Best Takeaways: "Board games are the theater of gaming" (You can't hide behind flashy explosions in a board game), parts are connected by behaviors which create a system. Sellers recommended watching "How Wolves change rivers" on YouTube. Loops create wholes and a hierarchy of systems. Think about the interaction of loops between player and designer and player an elements of the game. Beware of cognitive fatigue - a game that is so complex that it taxes the player's brain. Emotions take long for the player to process than spontaneous events or reactions. Game designers are one three types: Storytellers, inventors or toymakers - which one are you?

Hearthstone designer Eric Dodds discussed making games for everyone - although the highlight of the talk is tied between Tim having to dancing during technical difficulties and when a Moose strolled by. Best takeaways: Concentrate on player's stories. Give the player strong agency. Utilize randomness (it's not all bad), use combinatorics to create interesting interactions. Give the player a chance to generate content on their own.

Critic Dan Thurot provided this hilarious chart of the "narrative arc of a board game" and Raph Koster did what he does best - a deep dive into the whys of gaming.

Thurot takeaways: Memories are created by one of three events in a game: Betrayal, the Comeback and the Attack. make the most of these. While many designers think it's either "mechanics" or "theme" (or a combination of the two), it's really "Mechanics", "Components", "Setting", "Theme" and "Feedback". Use hierarchical proportion in your miniature (and component) design - the bigger the character, the more dangerous/important/valuable it is. A flawed game elicits more of a response than a "perfect" one.

Koster takeaways: Topology is an important way to analysis games. The human mind can only hold +/- 7 verbs in memory. Don't overload the player with too many things to do.

There was an engaging talk by retailer/publisher/designer Jennifer Graham-Macht about the four types of people designers should appeal to: Consumers, Retailers, Publishers and Content Creators (reviewers, etc.) - if you want your game to be successful, a game designer should interact with these. As for where to find publishers she reminded us that there have been thousands of games published on Kickstarter and designers should contact them as they are looking for games! Treat the publishers like people rather than a catch. Ask them about their brand and what they are looking for/looking to make.

There were even round-tables cover all manner of topics during lunch. There were so many that I wanted to sit in on!

As inspiring as the first day was, one of the best part was getting to play prototypes! It seemed like everyone had brought at least one (game designers always need feedback and playtesting) and there was no shortage of games to choose from - card games to miniature games and everything in-between!

Veteran game designer Tom Jolly (Wiz-Wars) was awarded a well-deserved influencer award at an evening ceremony.

But for me, the highlight of that first day was dinner. I always try to organize a "nice meal" at these events for myself and my friends - both old and new. Having a good steak with some of the brightest minds in game design is always a pleasure.
That aside, the next day also had it's share of great speakers. The always entertaining James Ernest defined "fun". Best takeaways: Experiment with a new dynamic system that reacts in unpredictable ways. The player should have "little victories all along the way." Ernest said making games should be like driving a car at Disneyland's Autopia: He called it CAR - Competence (positive feedback), Autonomy (A sense of control/decision making) and Relatedness (how it matter to the player whether it be the meta game or leaderboards and real-world rewards from self-esteem to money) "You can't get by on mechanics alone", "Surprise is best when it comes from other player's decisions", Let the player see the risk they are about to take and allow them to opt in or opt out. When asked if Candyland was a game, Ernest replied "Does it say Game on the box?" He finished up with some good advice "Don't punish players for bad decisions" and finally 'The holy grail of game design is to keep players coming back on the 100th play - where they can still find new things."

Tim Fowers gave a talk about the power of anticipation. The stages of which are: The Plan, Uncertainty, Time, Investment, Payout and Social factors. According to his research he found that "anticipation is better than getting something." He discussed how "uncertainty is a multiplier" which creates tension. A near-miss fires off all the feelings in your brain - which is why players want to go back and try to win again even when they fail. Good board games give you a clear path to success but you have to wait for it. Our brains fear loss and the player would rather "win because of skill and loss because of luck." He wrapped it up with summations relating to his stages: Give hope/reinforce hope, Breadcrumb the player, Show the odds, Have player growth over the game, meet expectations, make viable strategies payoff and temper social interaction with uncertainty and luck - bad luck defuses bad feelings between players.

Tom Lehmann talked about goal-driven design. Best takeaways: Set goals as you design. If the player has clear powers they might feel railroaded into a specific way to play the game. Constraints are limits, goals inform game play. "A large investment by the player should produce a large game affect." He talked about several graphic design tricks he used on his dice games (given their small surface size and limited informational space) - sadly I don't have photos of those.

Geoff Englestein gave us a peek into his upcoming book with a deep dive into the auction mechanism. "Think about how long your game is going to be", think about methods of obfuscation such as hidden goals, hidden elements and different values for different players. The majority of his talk was about all of the different types of auctions there are, but he's coming out with a book all about that later this year, so you'll have to wait for then to read all about them.

Other speakers (Isaac Shalev, Kathleen Mercury and Peter Vaughn) talked about subjects as far-reaching as patterns in games, teaching kids game design and how to cultivate playtesters and gaming groups.

Mercury takeaways: A game should be finished but not perfect, get feedback about what works, what needs to be improved, what are some new ideas about the game and most importantly, did they "get it"

Shalev takeaways: Design for the user - correctly solve for the right problem. He had a great illustration of the "double diamond" for problem solving. You can read more about it here.

An after-dinner mixer allowed for more gaming and conversation.

Another fun event was an impromptu "Shark Tank" style pitch-athon. The line for potential pitchers went out the door! Fortunately, I was one of the first and I think my game "Castle Climbers" was well received.
If I had one complaint about the show, it was that I fell victim to altitude sickness. Headache, lack of sleep and shortness of breath made for challenging mornings. As I told Tim, "if this conference were 8,000 ft lower, it would be perfect."

Will I attend again? Given the proper precautions - absolutely. And if Tim if have me, I'd love to present a talk. I hope to see some of you there next year! 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The race towards Gen-Con 2018!

Hey all,

I unfortunately was laid-off from my job this week and while I conduct a search for work, I want to make the best use of the time as possible. While I currently have a dozen designs in various states of production - there are five of them that I feel like are pretty close to completion, testing and/or pitching.

I will try to maintain some level of discipline and chronicle the next month as I march towards game completion.

Here are the candidates for completion:

Castle Climbers
This is a tile-laying family game I created with my daughter who drew all of the art. This one is pretty much done other than updating the rule book with the new artwork. (90% complete)

A Town Called Showdown
I've had the two-player version of this card and dice game pretty well tested but when I pitched it around last year, all of the publishers said they wanted the game to go up to four players. I've been play testing the new four player saloon map and I'm pretty confident in it. I am also updating the rule book. (85% complete)

This one has been in testing for awhile and while the core game is solid (I've almost sold it twice) I've been told it needs a little more to it. I have some interesting ideas and I just need to create the new assets to lift this game to the next level. (75% complete)

Lair of the Lich Lord
I love dungeon crawlers and sure, they have been done to death, but I think I have a fun twist on the genre that will make for a really unique game. More on this later. (40% complete)

Superhero Game
Yeah, I know everyone has one of these, but I've been working on superhero game with a unique twist that I think will be very intriguing. More on this one later. (40% complete)

Spook Rock Road
I have this concept for a game based on 80's horror paperbacks and American car culture. Still early days on this one but I am hoping it will come together quickly. (15% complete)

OK, let's see how this goes! Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Town Called Showdown - 2018

The wild-west town of Showdown holds an annual shootist competition - luring the fastest guns in the west. When the six-shooters go off, which gunslinger will be left standing?

A Town Called Showdown is a card and dice game for two to four players. Steeped in theme, tension builds as the gunslingers either pace their way down a street (two player) or in a saloon (3-4 player).

Based on the tension level, Players can play from their hand of five cards. Gear up with weapons and health that give your gunslinger the edge when the shoot-out happens. Bystander cards are played as they gather in anticipation of the shoot-out; some are there to help the gunslingers by adding bonuses and dice to their pool, others to hinder by removing benefits or changing die results.

When the eventual shootout happens, players fire using their "six-sided shooter" dice - adding and subtracting for bonuses from bystanders and modifiers. Hit your opponent enough times to remove him or her from the competition.

Gun down an opponent to earn a victory star. The player with the most victory stars at the end of three shoot-outs is the winner!

The Street for 2 players

The Saloon for 2-4 players

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Presenting Castle Climbers!

This weekend I attended the always awesome ProtoSpiel show in San Jose, CA. It's a great event where game designers playtest their latest games. It's an amazing way to get lots of great feedback on your game design.

My "marquee" game this year was Castle Climbers - a family game with beautiful art by my daughter Evelyn. The BoardGameGeek description of the game reads:

Building the castle is easy! Climbing it is the hard part! Be the first fantasy hero to climb up the castle walls in pursuit of fabulous treasure. But beware of the monsters and misfortunes that can knock you back down!

In Castle Climbers, players lay tiles to build up a fantasy castle that they climb with their character. Players use action points to move their characters and roll dice and play item cards to battle the monsters that bar their way. Win and you keep moving. Lose and you drop back down! The first player to collect 100 gold wins the game!

One of my favorite things about the game is how different each of the castles ends up. Here are just a few castles from the show.

Eduardo Baraf of Gaming with Edo gave me an opportunity to pitch the game at the show. If you want a brief overview of Castle Climbers, watch below! 

I will be bringing Castle Climbers with me to Gen-Con 2018. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to e-mail me!