Playtesting

A blog about game design from all perspectives. Bonus materials and mirror available on www.wiltgren.com

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I've gotten Published in Nature!

Filip W.
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Yepp, THE Nature. This one deserves some more exclamation marks. !!!!! !!!!! !!! !!!!!!!!!! Aw, the hell with it. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here's the story (it's titled "There is a Beep" and is about, well, there's Neuroscience involved
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v529/n7586/full/529432a...

Here's the story about writing the story:
http://blogs.nature.com/futureconditional/2016/01/20/the-sto...



Guess what my university employed colleagues say when I saunter up and extemporize: by the way, Professor Xavier, did you know I gotten published in Nature?
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Wed Jan 20, 2016 8:00 pm
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I got publshed :)

Filip W.
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So I haven't been doing a lot with my blog here on BGG lately. Instead I've been writing, both fiction and posts for my www.wiltgren.com blog.

And now it's paid off. I got published in Daily Science Fiction:
http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/parapsychology/filip-...

It's a fantasy flash fiction, and completely free to read, and my first pro sale (that's a sale that pays enough to qualify the market for the SFWA)

Let me know what you think of the story

BTW, if you liked that one, I've got another one here: http://www.wiltgren.com/2016/01/04/for-want-of-a-nail/
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Fri Jan 8, 2016 12:48 pm
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I'm not Dead Yet...

Filip W.
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... but you could think I was from the amount of activity here on BGG.

Well, I've been doing a lot of writing and posting, as well as working on my Secret Project(TM) , over on wiltgren.com. Here's a list of articles that I think would be fitting for you BGG folks if you're interested:

Game design
* 4 Easy Steps to Plotting any Adventure Game - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/11/16/4-easy-steps-to-plotting-...

* Boost your Thematic Game’s Impact Through The Roof with Melodrama - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/11/06/boost-your-thematic-games...

* Are You Considering Twitch in Your Games? - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/10/30/are-you-considering-twitc...

* Why Large Decision Spaces are Boring - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/10/23/why-large-decision-spaces...

* Is Your Game able to Withstand a Board Gamer? - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/10/09/is-your-game-able-to-with...

* Why You Should do Clunky Paper Playtests - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/09/21/why-you-should-do-clunky-...

Productivity, Motivation etc.
* 6 Ways to Recognize Your Fear - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/11/02/6-ways-to-recognize-your-...

* The Easy Way to Productivity: Habitica RPG Review - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/10/16/the-easy-way-to-productiv...

* Forget Followers, You Want Fans! - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/09/25/forget-followers-you-want...

* What Kills Your Dreams or The Dreaded Plateau - http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/09/18/what-kills-your-dreams-or...

Yeah, I'm lazy not to post the full texts here, but with all the formatting, images etc. etc. it takes about 30 minutes to post on the Geek and that's time that I could spend writing or researching. So sorry folks, maybe I'll find a way to automate the process later but right now this is as good as it gets...

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Thu Nov 19, 2015 12:15 pm
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Why You Should do Clunky Paper Playtests

Filip W.
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With the hordes of rapid prototype tools available today it’s easy to cobble together a rough draft and start playing. It’s agile, lean, scrum, six-sigma and all that, right? We start with something easy, test our way to success and be releasing withing weeks. Hell, we can release a pre-alpha right now.

Hold your horses, pardner. Why would you want to do that?

Why would you want to prototype immediately at all?

See, there’s a value we’re missing here, a way of thinking that is lost in the process of constant, rapid improvement. With all the clunk removed from the prototyping process we’re left with a game where we’re blind to the clunks. We’ll get brainclunks. Yeah, that’s an actual world, as of right now.

There’s an advantage to good ol’ waterfall style game development, at least at the very beginning of the process. If we start out with a clunky prototype, one that takes effort to handle, we must focus on the basic game mechanics, the stuff that’s supposed to make our games fun. That’s what designing on paper does. You can’t script away the boring, broken pieces, can’t smooth out bad game play with motion. No “it’s only ten clicks away, let’s click as rapidly as we can and get over the boring part”. When the boring part’s on paper, and you need to move every paper once for every click, you’ll feel the boring as an un-peeled horse chestnut up your wazoo.

That’s good.

You want to feel the boredom. You want to feel it right through your excitement over your grand new idea. You want to feel it as acutely and as rapidly as possible. Shove those chestnuts in, baby!

That’s the quickest way to break your design.

And break it you will, whether it’s the itsy-bitsy breakages in an agile process or the huge, big ones of “uh-oh, this game stinks”. Get the big ones out of the way first, then start in on the little ones or you’ll end up realizing that every patch is just trying to give CPR to a carcass. The horse was dead before you rode it in, bro. That’s why you had to carry it over. Smell the stink and either start from scratch or get a new horse. Don’t polish the corpse, you’ll only end up with more chestnuts.

No, we’re not telling why the horse died.

But back to business. Designing using clunky tools exacerbates the problems in a design. So playtest using clunky, ugly, smeared materials with coffee stains on them. Playtest using bad colors, blacked out images, unreadable type. If your testers still enjoy the game then you know that you’ve got a winner. Then you can start coding.

Because you’ve got a vision that survived paper playtesting.

Of course you’ll have another problem: who’ll want to playtest a badly executed game idea? The sad answer is: only you. Only you will care enough to actually try it out. If you’re lucky, very, very lucky, you’ll find a friend or two willing to help. Value those friends, and don’t abuse their willingness to do clunky playtests.

So what do you need to do a clunky playtest? Paper, pen, that’s it. Maybe a pair of scissors. Maybe some dice. Think “tabletop 100 years ago”. That really is all you need and you need less than you think you need.

Me, I’m a board game designer. I’ve got lots of nifty miniatures, cool meeples, cubes, life counters, dice in every shade and color imaginable. I’ve even got custom boards and playmats with everything from castles to starscapes on them. I don’t use them. Not in my clunky platests.

The nifty bits are reserved for when I take my game public, for the betatesting when all the problems I can hunt down solo are dead and rotting. When I playtest solo I try to do it with as few elements as possible, with as few mechanics as possible and as little as possible. That’s right. You don’t want to playtest your game a lot. Remember Yoda: break, or break not, and you’d better break if it’s even remotely breakable.

Here’s an example from one of my playtests:



It’s a playtest of a thematic population control wargame. Can’t you see the Mongol hordes sweeping in from the right? Me neither, and that’s the point. As I sat there trying to keep track of invisible armies with only pen and paper (no miniatures, remember?) I realized that my idea for this game wasn’t enough. It simply wasn’t fun the way the design stated it should work.

It took me all of half an hour to figure that out. If I’d had toys to make it more appealing it would have taken me two hours. If I’d have had a full panoply of graphics and minis it would have taken me dozens of playtests. Cool toys can hide a lot. So remove them and get down to basics until you are confident that you can spot the flaws and potential flaws past the pink puffs of your enthusiasm blows in your face.

But when you get to that point you’re pretty much an expert.

---------------

In case you haven't noticed, I don't publish everything here. To get it all go to: www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity which updates every Monday and Friday.
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Fri Sep 25, 2015 10:05 am
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Do. Create. Live

Filip W.
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When was the last time you sat down to write and came to, night turning the first shades of dawn, and you still in front of your computer, doing what you love?

When was the last time you sat down to work and came to, realizing that no matter what you did it wouldn’t matter?

When was the last time you followed your passion to create, to make something new, to live what you love?

When was the last time you worked?

I don’t know if I can ask another one of these questions. I’m starting to tear up where I sit, sweltering in the summer heat, fingers dancing across the keyboard in my patented people-asking-what-I’m-mad-about hammer. I love what I do. I do it far too seldom.

I love to write. I love to design games. I love to create.

It is a different type of love from the love I have for my family. It is different from the love I have for chocolate. It is a love born of a passion that flows through my mind, throws me into flow, yanks my world around, chases me as I chase it. It is a love to create.

I love to create.

The world doesn’t love me for it.

Lots of things yank me out of my passion. Demands by family, friends, work. I’ve got to shop, do the dishes, earn my keep, find the teddy bear. I don’t want to feel resentment for these interruptions. I really don’t.

But I do. I feel that I would want to spend all my time creating, none of it living outside of the world in my head.

I know this isn’t possible. I need to work, I need to take care of my family, I need to help out, meet friends, go to the gym even. There’s a lot of things that I need to do. Not all of them are things I love, things I want. Creating makes me feel alive.

Way too often do I choose the things that make me dead inside. I work too much. Do I really need all that money? Am I sacrificing myself for somebody else’s dream? If so, why?

I’ve got obligations, commitments, dreams that have nothing to do with writing or game design. I want to be a kind father, a good husband, a competent worker. I want to give my all to my family, give them everything the could ever want. I want to do well in life, do good in life, to create a life for those I care about. Even so I still resent them for it sometimes.

In the darkest hours of the night, as I lie tossing and turning over some meaningless mess at work, over the fights and reprobations that are sure to follow, I sometimes think that I should just give it all up. Throw the entire mess away. Drown my sorrows and follow my dreams.

But as dawn comes and dreams flee so do I drag myself to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. I chose. I chose every day and I do not chose myself nearly as much as I should.

It makes me a terrible husband, a bad father, a faithless worker. My will to do good drains me of the energy to do it. I stop being myself and start being a bitter, old man. I should get a plaid shirt and start talking about the kids these days. What else is there to do?

I read a lot. Self-help book. Motivational books. Inspirational books. I read as soul food, as dreams and drawings and paintings in my mind. I read to survive.

I don’t read to thrive.

To thrive I need to create. I need time, and I need energy and every ounce of energy I put into my creating I get a thousand times back. I fill up, and I’m able to share, to give of my energy to my commitments. I become a better person, a better husband and dad. I give more and I get more in return. It’s a positive spiral, a chain of gratitude and helpfulness. And yet it fails.

Whenever I encounter stress, bad times, accidents and the spillover of pain from people I love and care about the first thing to go is my creative efforts. I cut back on the one thing that hurts only myself. And my resentment takes root. And my resentment grows. And my resentment shows.

It is stupid, really. I know what I need to feel alive. I need to eat. I need to drink. I need to exercise and to sleep. But most of all I need to create.

And I don’t.

It’s buried deep within me, the reason why. The dad who told me to stop fiddling around and find a real job. The mom who worried about all the time I spent with my little hobby instead of meeting friends. The guidance chancellor, the values in society, the endless chorus of well-meaning voices saying don’t, don’t, don’t.

Screw them.

Do.

Do create. Don’t make my mistake. Don’t let your guilt or fear or shame force you out of creating. Don’t let money or prestige or expectations rule your life. Create. Create whenever you can, and you can more than you think you can. You can find the time. You can take the time. Make it if you have to. Cut out all the things that people tell you are important. You will not die of dirty dishes. You will not suffocate by garden weeds. You will not. So do.

Do.

Create.

Live.
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Mon Sep 14, 2015 10:05 am
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Breaking in is hard

Filip W.
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I have some friends who are published. Things are easier for them. I have some friends who have best-selling games. Things are even more easy for them.

We like to think that our game’s qualities matter. They do, but that’s only part of the truth. The full truth is this: “Chance of publication = Game qualities + Name”, and when you start out your Name = null.

Having a name is more than having a name. It’s knowing people in the business, it’s being known by people in the business. It’s having a fan base, no matter how small, that you can point to when you try to sell. It’s being able to sell directly to your fans.

It’s knowing who’ll like a particular game and if there are enough of that who to make it worthwhile to publish.

I’m not saying that my games are better than my friends’, boo-hoo, what a cruel and unjust world we live in. No. My games are, mostly, worse than those of my published friends. They are worse for the markets where my friends are published. They may be better for other markets, and sometimes they are. But if my friends would try to break into those markets they’d have just as hard a time as I have. That’s because a name is worth very little outside its target market. Every designer is world famous in Poland (yes, that is a reference). Not only that, you’ve got to keep your name going.

When I freelanced my name was pretty good with my clients. Then I put freelancing aside for a number of years. If I’d want to start up now I’d have a bit of rep with my previous clients but I’d have to fight their current regular go to guys. And while I’d probably beat out any fresh competition based on past merits alone I wouldn’t put money down on beating their current providers. And that’s the way it should be: if you’re happy with the services you’re getting, why change?

Same with anything we consume. I like my cereals. Why should I try a new brand? Unless it’s guaranteed to prolong my life, grow back my hair and save me a load of bucks in the process, sure. But just switch for the hell of it? Nah, I’ll keep my oat rings, thank you kindly.
So ask yourself this: if you’re a publisher and you’ve got a stable of tried and true, established designers. You have a single slot left in your publishing schedule for next year. You’ve got two submissions, both pretty decent, but one is from a new designer, the other from one of your regular ones. Which would you pick?

I’ll have to admit, publishers try out more new designers than businesspeople try out new freelancers. Most publishers, while money savvy, are also gamers at heart or they would find a nice, steady, lucrative job. So they’ll give you a chance. They’ll play your game, try it out, see if it grabs them.

Being in a hobby dominated market sure has got advantages.

Just don’t expect them to remove the need for that long, hard slog to getting published.


This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
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Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:05 am
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Make Players Afraid and They Will Love You

Filip W.
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Imagine this: you’re going to work. You’re one of those ecological types who takes the train (or you’re too poor to drive, who knows). You’re walking down to the station when you realize that the train is already there – you’ve got seconds before it leaves! So you start running, coat flapping (hey, maybe you’re one of those cool guys who wear a coat), leather patches on your cardigan slapping your elbows (or not). And then the train leaves. Without you. What happens?

Nothing.

You don’t lose your job. You aren’t late for a life changing meeting (if you didn’t take an earlier train just to be on the safe side before your life changing meeting then it couldn’t have been that life changing). You get to relax at the station for a while until the next train. Or you call a friend and ask her to pick you up on her way. Or you call in sick.

Either way, there’s nothing there that would warrant your hurrying. If someone asked you “would you run for a mile in your suit and shirt so you wouldn’t be a few minutes late?” you’re likely to have answered “no”. And yet there you were, running like crazy because the train was leaving.

Scratch that. There I was, running like crazy, coat flapping and I had no idea why I was running. Would the world end if I missed the bus? Would I get fired? Would I end up homeless, eating old hamburgers from the dumpster behind the McDonald’s? Would anything, anything at all, happen?

No. At worst I’d have to work twenty minutes longer. Probably I’d just cut my lunch short. Nothing would happen.

So why was I running?

FOMO: The Fear Of Missing Out
I was running because I had decided to take that bus. It was my bus and in my mind’s eye I was already on that bus. I was afraid of losing it.

See, there’s a wonderful pair of non-negative, non-reactive fear: the fear of loss and the fear of missing out.

But let’s back up. There are lots of different types of fear, the fear when you when a cat unexpectedly jumps up beside you, the fear when you go over the top of a roller coaster, the fear of having your mother-in-law visit. We’re not looking at those. We’re looking at fears that we can use to achieve an action in our players.

We don’t want to scare them with extinction (read death) or the loss of autonomy or ego death (shame, humiliation etc.). Most of those, and their derivatives, are way to strong to be comfortable for the majority of players. “Hey, Joe, make your move before the angry clown chops your head off. No, mom, we’re just playing. Mind the blood.”

We’re looking for a fear that’s pleasurable. Like the roller coaster one, the kind of fear that brings on eustress instead of stress. The kind of fear that people get hooked on.

FOMO doesn't need actual loss quoteThat’s where loss and missing out rule. They’re very basic. We don’t need to construct any elaborate setups in order to achieve them. No violin strings building up to the crescendo, no Freddy behind the closet door. All we need to do is give a player something, then threaten to remove it.

Or better yet, we give our players the possibility of something, then threaten to remove that possibility.

Wait, wait, where did the whole “running to the train” thing go?

Hopefully not. When we’re unthinkingly running for that bus we’re reacting to the fear of loss. We don’t know the impact of that loss and we don’t need to know it. It’s enough that it’s there even if it’s entirely imaginary (we haven’t got the bus, we’ve just decided to take it).

That’s a key point: the fear of loss doesn’t come from having something you own threatened but from having something you consider yourself to own threatened.

Using Greed and Fear of Loss
The possibility of fear of loss activates at the moment when your players decide that they own something. It’s the moment of decision, or realization, or greed that kicks in the fear of loss.

Add to that the fear of missing out. Let’s imagine that we’re playing a game. I’ve got a house, you’ve got a house, our friend Duke Dukeman’s got a house. Everyone’s got a house. Nothing much can happen here.

But let’s say that I and Duke’s got a house each and you could buy one with your KrugerDollars right now. But look, there’s a car, right there, cheap as can be. Take the car. Do it. Take the car.

Miss out on the house.

Fear of missing out is socially generated. We don’t fear missing out on that ten tons of bio-degradable manure delivered to your door right now. But we would fear it if all of our friends had it and the campaign was ending.

Check: fear of missing out doesn’t need loss. All it needs is that other’s have gained something that you might not gain. It’s self-generating. No resources necessary.

Let’s take a concrete example. You’re playing a game. There are two options, buy a house and buy a car. You can only do one or the other. Now:

A) You don’t have anything. You calculate the expected value of the house, counter the expected value of the car. You take the one most valuable.
B) You’ve already go the house but you need to repair it or it breaks and you lose it. You can still choose to take the car instead. The situation is the same as in A) except that you’ve already got the house. You’re emotionally invested in the house. You’re experiencing a fear of loss vs. a potential gain and that fear of loss is skewing your decision towards taking the house (at least if you’re a normally working human being, if you’re a hardcore gamer you might have erased your fear of loss in this particular game).
C) You don’t have anything but everybody else’s got a house and this is the last house available in the game. It won’t wait, or somebody else might take it. Enter fear of missing out. Once again you’re skewed towards houses.

So what do you do as a designer?

D) Your house is breaking down, there are no new houses, everybody else has got a house. Lose this one and you’ve lost all house possibilities. You really want to keep that house.

Now make the car, very, very attractive.

This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
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Mon Aug 10, 2015 10:05 am
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The Three Axes Model of Action Analysis

Filip W.
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Sorry for the holdup folks. I've been writing and posting about productivity, motivation and writing over at wiltgren.com but I try to keep my posts here focused on board game design.

Now on to our regular programming:
______________________________________________________________________



You’ve got an action. Let’s call it “build Blooper”. You’ve got a second action. Let’s call it “buy Blooper”. You put your actions before your playtesters and in very short time you notice that nobody is building Bloopers. Your whole Blooper economy, your cute BloopBuilders, everything is just pointless.

And you’ve got no idea why.

So you make building Bloopers less expensive. Now everyone should build Bloopers all the time. Except they don’t. They’re still buying Bloopers.

So you make buying Bloopers really, really expensive. And now your game is stalling out and your playtesters are complaining. Nobody wants to build Bloopers and all the BloopBuilder concept art you commissioned is just so much dollars down the drain. What the hell is going on?

Welcome to the wonderful world of action analysis.

Fortunately there’s a quick and dirty tool you can use to graph your actions and compare them to each other. All you need are three simple axes* of analysis: Cost, Benefit and Risk.

The 3 Axes
Cost is what it takes for a player to perform the action, what the player loses. It goes from High (bad for the player) through Low (better) to Negative (hey, they’re paying me to do this shit!). The lower the cost the more beneficial (obviously) the action is for the player.

Benefit this the opposite of cost: it’s what the player gets out of the action. The amount and size of the Bloopers. It goes from Negative (bad, baaaad!) through low (ok if cheap) to high (get it, get it now!).

Risk is the chance of the action succeeding. It goes from Certain (yay, let’s do it) through Possible (ok, let’s try) to Impossible (why the hell is this stupid thing even included in this game?).
A Note on the Impossible

Beauty of Mathematics quoteIf you’ve got an action that is impossible, or near impossible, then you’ve got a problem. Impossible actions are meaningless since they’ll, by definition, never succeed. If you’ve got anything that’s impossible (you shouldn’t, you’re not completely daft after all) then cut it and be done with it.

Actions that are next to impossible are throwaways. If the cost is low you’ll get a gambling situation: try, try, try again and you’ll succeed by sheer probability theory. You should save your players the time by combining the cost and raising the chance of success. Yes, that contorts your cute probability curve but it’s worth it – who’d want to spend ten minutes trying just to succeed by probability? It’s not dramatically correct.

Actions that are next to impossible but have low benefit are even more of a throwaway. This is the “I’ve got so much resources that I don’t care and the graphics are cool so lets try it” action. Cut or change as above.

Then you’ve got the insidious “one-in-a-million” action that costs like crazy and gives more benefits than the four handed blessing of Lord Vishnu. WARNING! WARNING! Game breaking moment approaching! AWOOOoooo! AWOOOoooo! [insert appropriate panicky noise here]. The one-in-a-mil action make the rest of the game meaningless. If you’re losing the one-in-a-million action is a no brainier: I can’t win but I could have a chance at winning if this succeed. So the game becomes about going all in and blowing up the Death Star. Everybody get their Jedi farmhand ready, here comes the random game victory.

Negative Values
Ok, now that we’ve done the impossible lets take a look at another oddity: negative costs and negative benefits. Simply stated, negative costs with a positive benefit are no brainers. Keep hitting that mole over and over again until it’s dead, then continue to game with your newly found free resources.

Actions with negative benefits and positive costs are dumb. Suggest them to your kid brother and watch the tantrum unfold.

That leaves us with negative costs with negative benefits. Shovel all the manure out of the playtesting yard and you get a donut. No, you don’t get to wash your hands. Enjoy your sugary norovirus and return the spew pail in pristine order. Instant interesting choice.

Now, you could define the end of the scale as zero (see below) but there’s a little bit more than that. With negative cost you are able to perform an action which you would not be able to perform otherwise. You get freedom of movement, which is a benefit in and off itself. It must be compensated.

So if you’ve got buy Blooper that cost one BongBuck, and you’ve got sell Blooper that gains you one BongBuck the sell Blooper action must have an additional cost associated with it otherwise its strictly better than the buy action. The cost can have the form of a restraint: you can’t sell Bloopers you don’t have, but that effectively makes Bloopers cash and you don’t need Bongs. Or you can twist it so that you get less Bongs for selling Bloopers than you have to pay for buying them (which is the way it’s normally done – don’t you know anything about Bloopers?).
Calculating Equal Values

Simple math. Cost minus Benefit. Multiply by Risk (which should be in probability format: 1 for certain, 0 for impossible). Now you’ve got the relative expected value of the action. Do this for every action and you get a nice progression of what it takes to win the game. Yay, you!

But hold on, how do we subtract Bongs from Bloopers? Easy. Find a currency that works for every item in your game. It might be Bongs. It might be Bloopers. It might be actions (hey, if you’ve got a limited amount of actions then actions are a currency like any other). It might even be movement, or player order, or position (don’t believe me? Talk to a Chess master). Whatever it is, make sure that you can convert every resource you have into your currency or convert in into a resource that can be converted into currency.

And don’t forget the risk. If you’re converting Bloopers into Bongs, but you only have a 50% chance to do that then your expected Blooper value in Bongs just got sliced in half.

And then you encounter circular conversion. For two Bongs you get a Blooper but a Blooper can only be sold for a single Bong 50% of the time then two Bongs are worth a Blooper which is worth half a Bong. And don’t forget that your BloopBuilders can convert into Bongs but it may be more efficient to convert into Bloopers first. Makes your head spin. Don’t touch that bong.

Making the Model Real
Human nature Stephen Hawking quoteOk, so that’s the model. Does it work in real life? Well…

It’s a model, an idealized version of what actually goes on in a game to the point where it’s easily understandable. You can even do a nice 3D graph of it (just remember to multiply negative costs unless you have an associated action cost). But then you apply it to your game. You want to see your Bloopers marching across the screen, crushing all opposition, so you feed everything into the model.

And you discover that it’s not a perfect fit.

See, as with any model the 3 axes simplify reality in order to make it graspable. Conversions between different resources are never perfect in real life. You always get some resource that’s got a hidden benefit or a hidden cost that isn’t obvious until you’ve playtested the game dozens of times. You get a combinations of resources that lets you Bong, Bong, Blooper,Right paddle, Finishing move your opponents. You get group think where even a perfectly balanced game can be unhorsed because the theme causes players to believe that some action is much stronger than the math would suggest. So, yeah, the model is only a model.

But so is the weather channel and every grandma in Jersey is watching that (and it’s got nothing to do with the hot bald guy presenting the thunderstorms). And as with any tool, the 3 axes action model can help you along the way but it will not do the work for you.

If you ever figure out a tool that does that let me know and I’ll let my computer crank out Half-Doom Fallout XXVI over the summer…

Big thanks to Kevin B. Smith (peakhope) for the idea way, way back.

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This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
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Tue Jul 21, 2015 10:05 am
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Why a Messy Desk is Creative

Filip W.
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I love productivity tips. Reading them makes me feel supercharged, ready to take on the world. If only I'd work out for fifteen minutes each morning, if only I'd wake up earlier or always wear the same type of shirt or talk in clear, action oriented sentence.

If only I'd kept my desk spotless.

That's one of the classic ones: keep your desk ordered and you'll be productive. Then I look at my own desk I see, right now: a pile of papers, a half-empty 20 ounce/0.6 liter thermos tea cup, a "world's best dad" teddy bear, a tipped over picture, an entrance pass to a conference I attended half a year ago, an entrance pass to a party I attended a month ago, another pile of papers, an ergonomic wrist support, a mouse mat stacked on top of a pile of printer paper to get it to the right height, a note with an out-of-date password to an account that was shut down months ago, another pile of scribbled papers.

Yet, somehow, I manage to write. Imagine how productive I'd be if my desk was spotless.

Except that I've tried that and it doesn't work. Here's why.

Choose the Right Environment
A desk, or any type of working environment, must match your personality in order to work for you. Some people talk about taking their laptops to a coffee shop and cranking out 15 000+ words in a single sitting. I've tried working in a coffee shop and I was very uncomfortable with it, feeling that I was taking up space, that people would read over my shoulder, that I'd meet someone I knew and would have to answer the question of "what are you doing here". I was a nervous wreck and I kept hearing snatches of conversations and breaking buses and the clink of china. Writing in a coffee shop isn't for me.

A messy desk, however, works just fine. A messy desk works better for me than an organized one, and, if what I've read about intelligence and creativity, it may be that my brain craves messiness in order to be creative.

Why Messy Desks Work
There are three factors that make a messy desk work in my favor:

1. Comfort
2. G-factor
3. Creativity

First is the fact that I find a messy desk comfortable. It tells me that it's all right not to be perfectly clean, to write a messy first draft, to work on those ideas that don't generate anything. A messy desk gives me confidence, allows me to be a messy writer as long as I do write. Messy, through being motivating, makes me productive.

Also, I know that I can put my glasses anywhere and still have them on top of a pile within easy reach whenever I need them. I don't need to align them in their correct spot. I don't need to make sure that they don't get any thumb prints on them. I can fix all that in post, sorry, in the faucet with some soap. In effect this gets me off the hook for organizing unimportant stuff. I get to sit down at my desk and start working on whatever I need to work on.

Yes, I am a messy writer. I like to crank out drafts that meander, that doesn't adhere to a strict, bullet pointed order. So does Stephen King and he did all right. Yeah, I wander into a dead end in many of my writing projects. I'm not as effective as I could be - but I'm a lot more effective than I would be if I didn't write, and having a messy desk helps me with that.

Intelligent People Don't Need Order
Here's a kicker for you: if you're intelligent you don't need order. In fact, you might find strict order stifling and the more intelligent you are the less order you require.

Well, it's not that simple, of course, but people with a high G-factor rely more on their ability to process new information than on their memory. G-factor is what psychologist call "general intelligence", "general cognitive ability", "general mental ability" or just plain old "intelligence". It's not quite the same thing as IQ but G-factor accounts for about 40-50% of the variance in IQ. Where IQ could be summed up as "pattern matching ability", G-factor could be summed up as "learning ability" (this is very simplistic, not entirely correct and doesn't take into account fluid and crystalline G components, but it works for our purposes).

So where a person with a lower G would rely on memory, i.e. everything being in the correct place, to find information a person with a high G would rely on their ability to quickly sort through lots of information in order to find what they need.

Me, I'm a high G-factory, high IQ type of person. Doesn't make me better than anyone, nor a wunderkind of any kind - my EQ, that's emotional quotient, is, well, ask my wife. Or better yet, don't.

But I rely on knowing the general whereabouts of stuff I might need and then sorting through them very fast. Which brings me to my next point:

A Messy Desk is Creative
Creativity is the ability to take two disparate ideas and merge them together into a new whole. And when I'm digging through my messy desk I get bombarded with ideas: old notes, old memories, stuff that I'd forgotten to do, stuff that I wanted to look at later. All of this front loads my brain with a wave of chaotic data, which my G-factor helps me sort through (yes, my G-factor is a small, green hominid living in my left eyeball; darn grammar). And during that sorting marvelous new ideas flood my brain - "oh, an article about tropical fish, wow a note to find out what happened to the first dog in space - hey, giant space fish coming to eat earth!".

Having a messy desk is creative in another way as well: without ordered lines, without the comfort of following set pathways, the brain tends to innovate. We're great at spotting patterns even when there are no patterns to spot. So when our brain is presented with a multitude of senseless input it tends to create sense out of it anyhow by highlighting the parts that we focused on before. Think about red cars or strollers and take a walk around town - notice how many red cars there are around? If you don't believe me, google "synchronicity".

Too Messy is Still Bad
But there's a catch: if my desk becomes too messy it becomes detrimental (not enough G-factor I guess) and I start to feel stressed about it. That removes any comfort I get from seeing my desk in disarray. And I get the feeling that I can't find anything so I don't try, meaning I don't get any flow of new ideas because who wants to dig through yard high stacks of paper?

So while I might like to have a clean desk, and I know that my wife would strongly prefer it, I work better with a messy one but only as long as it's not too messy. And when it gets too messy I get a definite feeling of accomplishment from cleaning it. Yay! Me: 1 - Desk clutter: 0. Excuse me, now I've got to go clean.

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This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
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Mon Jun 22, 2015 10:05 am
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WooHoo! Four Gamasutra featured in a row :D

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
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designer
Euros are better with dice!
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As it says, four in a row [Happy Dance]
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Fri Jun 19, 2015 10:00 am
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