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Archive for June, 2010

Today, I got to test out the game I created over the weekend called Fuse in both its two player and four player forms. The feedback I got was great and while it made some pretty significant changes to the game I thought up, I think they were for the better and it has made Fuse awesome to play.

Here is a brief breakdown of the rules I started with for Fuse:

Setup

  1. Players are given 5 tiles (1 detonator, 1 bomb and 3 banks) that they line up in any order they choose. The bomb and the detonator have to have their fuses pointing inwards towards the center of the board. Player do this without showing other players.
  2. Players reveal their choices and connect the corner pieces to create a board that is 7×7 tiles. This leaves a 5×5 playing field.
  3. Players each draw 3 tiles from a pile making sure not to show them to the other players.

Objective

Player’s are trying to blow up their opponent’s bomb by creating a path using fuse tiles from a detonator to an opponent’s bomb. This means that a player can blow themselves up either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Rules

  1. Players take turns placing or rotating tiles starting with the player who has been burned or lit something and rotating clockwise.
  2. Tiles can only be placed on the end of their fuse. Once a tile is placed the player draws a new tile to ensure they have 3 tiles.
  3. Players can only rotate tiles the are a part of their fuse line. Tiles can be rotated as desired.
  4. After a player’s turn all detonators are pressed. If a detonator is connected to a bomb it blows up.

Before going into the prototype session there were a number of questions I wanted to get answers to. First, I wanted to know how tile rotation would affect the game, and if I would need to implement a rule that would prevent players from creating a stalemate where they alternate rotating forever. I was also curious how a four player game would go, because I did not test out the game four player by myself.

Two Players

The two player sessions went relatively smoothly with the given rule set. I did decide that I wanted to enforce a one round tile lock on any tile that had been rotated to prevent the problem I foresaw. I also liked how it forced players to look at alternate routes and also acted as a blocking strategy.

Four Players

Four players was far more interesting than two players (and is in my opinion the way I would prefer Fuse to be played). I started out the session playing by the two player rule set and quickly realized that something needed to be changed. First off, one of the player’s got eliminated within three rounds because of the placement of his bomb relative to another player’s detonator. This meant that for the rest of the game he had to simply watch which wasn’t much fun for him. The tension was also much higher, but it didn’t feel like right.

For the second session we modified the rules to be a point based system where first person to score 15 points wins. This time whenever a player connected to a bomb they would receive a point for each tiles used to complete the fuse. Each tile that was used to complete the path is also removed and reshuffled back into the pile. The player whose bomb exploded would then pull their five tiles out and randomly reshuffle them and then place them back on the board when their turn came. The player’s tiles remained hidden to prevent the others from having an advantage while they are out of the game.

I liked this system primarily because it kept players in the game rather than eliminating them from play. This aspect removed the tension and made Fuse into a more social game rather than an all out competitive one. As an added bonus, removing the tiles often created interesting holes in the board that players could utilize in a number of different ways.

One final change that was made was removing the placement choice during the initial setup phase and reducing the number of tiles being placed. The number of tiles was switched from five tiles (1 detonator, 1 bomb, 3 blanks) to the three center tiles (1 detonator, 1 bomb, 1 blank). This was done to prevent a number of problems that occurred when tiles were placed in the corners of the board such as being able to get to another player’s bomb too quickly and an issue where a player could not take their turn because another player would rotate the tile in front of their fuse locking the tile with the fuse trailing off into a wall.

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My head is still kind of wonky from the sharpie fumes so I’ll try and make this a quick one.

Over the weekend I was reading Challenges For Game Designers by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber (a great book by the way) and I got to thinking about a game I played recently called Entanglement. The object of Entanglement is to try to make the longest continuous line you possible can without running into the wall or the starting point in the center.

From these two sources sparked the game I am going to be paper prototyping tomorrow I call Fuse. The object of Fuse is to create a path from your detonator to your opponents bomb by placing and rotating tiles before they can do the same.

After building the prototype tonight and testing it out I’m interested to see what other think of it. Tomorrow I will be posting about the prototype session along with my initial thought about the game and on Thursday I plan on posting a mini post mortem along with revised rules to let you play your very own game of Fuse (unless things go drastically wrong)!

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Amidst the dying buzz of E3, which ended almost two weeks ago, La Time reporter Mark Millian made an interesting observation about one of the largest video game conventions in North America; mobile games were almost nowhere to be seen. There were certainly devices, patrons and reporters alike were spotted by the blogger carrying about their smart phones and Apple’s new iPad, but save for Disney and EA there were no booths setup for mobile gaming.

Even though smartphones are quickly becoming the highest penetrated gaming platform, their absence from E3 doesn’t surprise me in the least. As the article states, mobile gaming is really “unsexy.”

So it doesn’t surprise me that companies opted out of the “flat screens, loud sounds and big flashy graphics.” Casual games don’t belong there. I think this is why many are stating Nintendo was top dog at the convention. Compared to their showing last year Nintendo announced the return of many of the old favorite franchises (and there was much rejoicing). Microsoft on the other hand, showcased their motion controls (to the dismay of many) which cost them a lot of face among the hardcore crowd that frequents E3.

If there is a mobile developer out there kicking themselves for missing their chance to show up to E3 with their impressive new game they are doing it wrong. Mobile gaming needs new media, not old. Let the big guys flex their muscles and macho around in front of everyone. Mobile will be out back actually having some fun.

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Sales!

Steam has ruined any attempts I have made at being thrifty with my sale purchases. Before December of last year I hadn’t been using the service and had managed to only buy maybe four or five titles total during the year. As of writing this, my Steam account is populated by nearly 50 titles all of which amount to a few hundred dollars worth of purchases. Many of them have been impulse buys due to sales ranging in price from $2.50 to $20, but they add up.

Just when I thought I would be able to kick back and actually play some of the titles I have picked up Steam up and runs a huge sale on just about everything in stock. Dubbed the Perils of Summer Sale, which runs from now until July 4th, the sale is a trap for anyone who is prone to impulse buying (like me!).

So, to help triage the money from flowing out of your pocket I have compiled a list of games you should purchase (if you don’t already have them) so that you can avoid browsing the large selection of games and picking up more than you planned.

Introversion Complete Package
Get this if nothing else than for DEFCON which normally goes for $10.00. DEFCON is a war simulation game where you control a nuclear arsenal. Your goal is to kill more of the opponents population than they can kill of yours. The pack also includes Darwina, Multiwinia and Uplink, all of which are great games, so make sure you crack the others open too. Get it here for $5.00 (87% off)
Plants Vs. Zombies If you have never played this game you are missing out. Zombies are out to get your brain, luckily you have some kick-ass plants on your side to help defend yourself. Be prepared to spend hours playing this game because it’s insanely addicting. Pick it up here for $6.99 (30% off)
Evil Genius

If you have every wanted to rule the world this is game is for you. You play the role of an evil genius with plans for world domination. Manage your minions, build a lair of evil, hire powerful bodyguards and set devious traps for snooping spies. Just don’t let yourself monologue too much. The world can be yours for only $4.99 (50% off)

The Orange Box

Portal, Team Fortress 2, and the Half Life 2 episodes for $20.00 seems like a no brainer. Plus you can play all of these titles on your Mac if you lack a PC to game on. Get these Mac friendly games for $20.09 (33% off)

Telltale Everything Pack

If you have a few extra bucks burning a hole in your pocket the Telltale Everything Pack is a must have. It contains all the new Sam and Max games, the newly released Monkey Island series and a few other goodies. Buy everything would cost you around $236 dollars so at the listed price it feels almost like stealing from Telltale. If you want rob telltale blind pick this up for $49.99 (50% off the normal $99.99 pack deal)

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Your brain treats items and goods in the video game world as if they are real. Because they are. People scoff at this idea all the time (“You spent all that time working for a sword that doesn’t even exist?”) and those people are stupid. If it takes time, effort and skill to obtain an item, that item has value, whether it’s made of diamonds, binary code or beef jerky.

David Wong

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I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t either love or hate Heavy Rain.

Disregarding the discussion about whether or not it’s a game (it’s not) people seem divided on whether it’s actually a compelling experience. While I believe Heavy Rain was a very compelling experience, I can see where others might disagree because of the thin line the “interactive drama” walks. In order to succeed, Heavy Rain must balance both mechanics and narrative even more so than most because it lacks the force games have that propel the player towards the end state. Should the mechanics or the narrative fail, the experience is lost.

Games can get away with failing at either mechanics or narrative because it can rely on fun to keep the player coming back. Players can ignore bad stories if they get wade through waves of bad guys flailing swords on chains or overlook terrible mechanics if they are invested in getting a cop out of a zombie infested town. Heavy Rain doesn’t have that option because,well, it’s not a game. The creator, David Cage, calls Heavy Rain an interactive drama and as pretentious as that might sound, I think the moniker fits well. I was engaged with the experience, but I think that just like watching a drama on television, I did not really have what I would call fun during the experience.

This means that the viewer is relying on the narrative and mechanics to keep them engaged. Should either of them fail, the player no longer has an impetus to continue further. I encountered just such, where the controls of the game failed to react how I expected them to which in turn kept me from complete the action I wanted to. The failure occurred during the first trial where Ethan needs to drive against oncoming traffic. At the end of the sequence, the car Ethan is driving flips over and catches on fire. I now find myself playing Ethan who is hanging upside down trying to grab a GPS unit off his dashboard. I was prompted like normal to use the right control stick, but no matter how hard a tried Ethan simply would not reach out to grab the unit. As the flames rose higher I became increasingly agitated at my inability to perform a task as simple as reaching out and grabbing an object (which I had done a number of times before with the same motion command).

It turns out, that the game wanted me to flip the controller upside down (or perform the action backwards) to simulate the state Ethan was in. This was not a wise design choice because there was nothing indicating this was a special case. The icon appeared right side up and nothing (at least that I noticed) told me to act differently otherwise. I also never experienced this again during the rest of my Heavy Rain experience. Had this been a majority of my experience I think I would feel differently about Heavy Rain.

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We all commit design sins while making games. Whether it’s because of producers, time constraints or just plain ignorance, things get put into games that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

The first sin I would like to look at is something that has always irked me as a mobile developer: the on-screen game controls. I’m talking about the archaic controls pads we are using to interact with our new technology. It boggles me why we are making games for touchscreen devices that use part of the screen for a control indicator that usually doesn’t even give the player feed back.

I know what some people are probably thinking, and I agree with you, the control pad is a good way to control a game, but not for a touch pad game. The reason: thumbs. Considering something like the iPhone (which has one of the larger touch screens) is roughly 3 inches by 2 inches this means my thumbs are blocking a third of the screen (bottom left and bottom right sixth) to accommodate the controls. By the time you add in all the user interface pieces that usually come with a game that needs a control pad you are lucky if you have a third of the screen left to actually play on.

More than anything it feels like developers are trying to force certain types of games where they don’t belong. In my mind, mobile gaming should not be something that you sit down for a few hours to play. It should be quick burst of ten to fifteen minutes max with a focus on casual play. Things like hack and slashes, role playing games and first person shooters just don’t feel right on a phone.

So designers, please. Do us all a favor and stop committing this sin. Use the touch screen as an opportunity to explore new ways to interact with games instead of sticking with what’s safe. Who knows, we just might learn something.

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