Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Can you be original?

I had a conversation with a friend a while back about art, and he was saying that it was hard to be original, because everything has been done already. I agreed, but it didn't phase me because I am not aiming to be original. Instead I hope to be genuine, skilled, straight forward, interesting, unique and other similar things.

Originally and uniqueness are not exactly the same. Everything but the super cliche is unique, when viewed from the right perspective. So if I make something, because I made it at the current time with my own hands, even if it has been done a thousand times, is unique to that moment, and so forth.

Is it original to paint a portrait or write a love poem? Not really. They can be wonderful, important expressions of a moment though. Records of human lives, and so forth. Unique expressions.

How does this relate to game design?

Can you make an original war game? An original dungeon crawler? Probably not. Can you make an interesting one? Yes. A well made one? Yes. Can you put a new twist on an old idea? Yes. And so on.

I'm not saying that no one does anything original, because sometimes you do stumble on something new. I'm just saying that if your goal is originality, you may encounter more frustration and stagnation along the way. Giving up the idea of original for interesting and unique has let me produce so many more things over the years.

I think if I was to make something original, it would not only be on the backs of all that has gone before in the world, but also on the back of all my creative work as well.

More articles on game design: Don't be Perfect!, and Don't confuse good design with your preferred style of play.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two board games getting published this year!

I just signed the contract for a company to publish the portuguese language rights version of Seven Treasures in Brazil. Seven Treasures is a fun simple adventure card game. I am excited because this is the first time a game of mine has been translated and published in a language not english. It will be coming out later this year, and will contain a few cards not found in the second edition, in order to facilitate printing requirements. In the meantime, if you want a copy, click here.
Additionally, an entirely new board game project of mine is being developed by a publisher, and we will be doing a kickstarter this summer. I am excited because this will be the first kickstarter involving a project of mine. I am looking forward to seeing how it works. I'll keep you posted on developments!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Magic Portal!

For the online games, there are items which each player can build on their hero roster, in order to add capabilties and discounts for play, including the Altar of Quickness which doubles how many turns they recieve a day, and the Sundial which shows how many turns a hero has used.

Most of the buildings were added a while ago, but it has been on my mind to make some more, and now the first of those is here! I was thinking of long term play and value for players who will be around for a while, and I came up with the Magic Portal, which reduces the cost of all basic and advanced games by 1/2 their credit cost, which is a subsantial discount in the long run. I still want advanced games to hold an air of prestige and mystery, so building the portal requires 99 credits.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Playtesters needed!

I have just revised the heck out of the website, and many of the games on it, and now I need about 100 playtesters to pour over it and play the games on a variety of platforms and browsers, like android, iphone, ipad, laptop, and so forth.

Arcane Journeys features a series of 14 text-based, turn-based, fantasy adventure games. Very "retro" and minimalist in presentation, but with a focus on deep game play and replay-ability.

I will give up to 700 credits to every playtester. 100 credits for first signing up, and 100 credits a month after that if they decide to continue.

You will have to create multiple accounts and play the games on the website, as well as report bugs, submit "game reports", and things like that.

Visit Arcane Journeys to see what it is like and if you might like to play the games on it.

Also view this document with instructions on how it works.

Send me a message if you are interested or have any questions.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review

At the begining of 2015, I had a game release event for Arcane Journeys the Fantasy Adventure Board Game, at Off the Wall Games. It was a fun time, and I sold all the copies I had made, which was the culmination of over a year of work making it.

In 2015, I did a lot of work on the online games, to make them compatible with mobile devices and tablets. That spurred on a lot of changes to layout, internal changes for speed, and refinement of the game play of almost all the games on the site. All in all, a very satisfying experience, with more work to do.

Additionally this year, I posted more articles about game design here, including Don't confuse 'good design' and your own preferred style of game play and Don't be Perfect.

And lastly, I started a series on symbolism in games. Which was a really fun thing for me. I hope to keep thinking about it in the future.

I hope the coming year is good for you!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Don't confuse 'good design' and your own preferred style of game play

You hear it all the time:

"This is badly designed because...

...there's too much luck involved!"'s not balanced!" (Wait for it... there's an explanation in the text below) should be longer/shorter!" should be like this other game I like!"
Usually people are commenting on their own taste in game play, not on what is a quality design. And while there are some things that you can talk about objectively, the trick is to know when you are doing that, and when you are talking about your preferences. 

Something you could try is adding, "for my tastes" to the end of every analysis you do of a game, to get used to the idea that that might be what you are talking about.

Other things you could add are qualifiers about specific things, like, "this game is too long for people who like games but only have a little time per week to play," or, "the reading level in this game makes it too hard for children younger than 10, or people whose language is different from the language the game is printed in." (Which has happened at parties I've been at: non-native speakers will skip certain games because they can't understand what is going on) or "this game has dice in it, which helps some players relax, because they don't feel the pressure that it is all up to them, but also frustrates other players because they like everything to be about their own decisions."

To think that there is an exact amount of luck in a game that makes it perfect is to overlook a couple of things. 1) that the amount of luck desired varies player to player because they play for different reasons, at different times, have different personalities, and so forth, and 2) the amount of luck chosen by the creator of a game is not simply because it fit precisely with dry mechanics, but also because of the feel that designer wanted to give the game. Other designers might choose to give it a different feel because that is how they want it made, according to their sensibilities as a creator, what their goals are, what their employers are asking for, and so forth.

Sometimes, when a player says a game is not balanced, or is "broken", it is code for "I didn't figure out the most effective strategy and I feel frustrated", which is referencing a preference or tolerance about game play. Some people don't mind not figuring out a good strategy on the first play, some do. The difference between a player who says that after a session of a game and a good designer is that the designer hopefully considered the balance of strategies and powers, and played the game a lot to see if anything was out of whack, degenerate, and so forth. If after a bunch of plays, you notice that there is only one strategy that wins the most effectively, you do probably want to change that, so that there is more play to the game.

Some people like a game when they don't know what the best strategy is yet, and some people like to know ahead of time, or at least feel like any strategy they pick on a first play will be viable. Some players like to play new games all the time to try and learn new strategies, and some people like to play a game they know over and over and learn more about it. And of course these things describe a large continuum, not just paired opposites.

Once you separate design choices from personal preferences about game play, it increases your skills and capacity as a designer, because you can design things that don't match your preferences, for specifications from other people, and so forth, and you will generally understand design better objectively.

Other Game design entries on this blog: Don't be Perfect! and Complexity Thresholds

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Are "Social Games" games, and what is a game anyway?

A friend of mine who I used to work in the computer game industry with asked me about "social games", because he has a really low opinion of them (as do I of many of them.) He wondered if they were even games at all. Here is my response to him:

I think the social games you talk about are legitimate (yet still badly made) games, because the computer has allowed a style of toy to become known as games. Simulation games which don't have winning or losing still count as games in general understanding. So I don't think that is a strike against those social games, unless it is a strike against minecraft in creative mode, which everyone would still call a game. Simulations aren't traditional games, but that is actually a good thing. They enter into new territory that makes "game" harder to define.

Simulation is a valid choice for a game design. The real problem with the social games is that they are stupid and badly made simulations.

If we wanted to make a general outline of what defines something as a game on a broader level, we would have to say something like, "operating within a set of rules that are arbitrarily different than real life in a dynamic simulated/modeled environment, for the purposes of entertainment"

This covers games kids play, like "house", etc, as well as simulation games, traditional games, and so forth. And RPGs which were much more about simulation than winning or losing anyway. D&D wasn't really a traditional game when you think about it.

I think it is unfair to label something a 'quasi-game'. Non-traditional maybe, or new, because they tend to be both. Ie, you never see them until the modern age, which is why they need us to redefine "game".

I think "game" is a broad and flexible enough category that we will always have to sub-define it to get to useful definitions anyway. "Oh this is a cooperative game, a computer game, a simulation game, an Rpg, an experimental game, a traditional competitive board game, a "folk" game (my new category I talk about), etc"

Read other interesting game design entries on this blog: Complexity Thresholds, One Test of a Game, My Favorite Tools when Designing a Board Game