Playtesting

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

Archive for Filip W.

1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [27]

Recommend
13 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Breaking in is hard

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb

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
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
16 
 Thumb up
2.00
 tip
 Hide

Make Players Afraid and They Will Love You

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb

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
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Aug 10, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
15 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

The Three Axes Model of Action Analysis

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb
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.

-----------


This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
Twitter Facebook
4 Comments
Tue Jul 21, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
20 
 Thumb up
0.30
 tip
 Hide

Why a Messy Desk is Creative

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb


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.

-----------


This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
Twitter Facebook
9 Comments
Mon Jun 22, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
22 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

WooHoo! Four Gamasutra featured in a row :D

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb
As it says, four in a row [Happy Dance]
Twitter Facebook
4 Comments
Fri Jun 19, 2015 10:00 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
25 
 Thumb up
2.00
 tip
 Hide

6 Archetypes For Break-Testing Your Game

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb

When I was little I played cards with my grandmother. I loved playing cards with my grandmother. She always lost.

She didn't mean to. Grandma played to win and when we played for money, which as all the time, she played to win. Oh, she'd give me my starting cash. She'd fund me on the rare occasions when I ran out of 10 öre coins. It wasn't like she tried to fleece me, but she did play to win. And she lost.

For years I thought that I was simply better at playing cards than grandma. I was convinced that I had a gift. But when I look back on what was going on I realize that this wasn't so.

See, grandma's favorite game was rummy. And we'd play for 10 öre per card. If you had six cards in your hand when your opponent played their last cards then you lost 60 öre. Grandma always complained that I didn't play my cards but kept them in hand until I could play every card at once. She could never add any cards to my melds and I would win.

Because I had broken rummy.

In grandma's version rummy was played with two decks and a draw hand of 14 cards. But if you lost without having played a single meld (for you non-rummy types, a meld is when you put down a set or run of cards on the table, making your hand smaller) you only paid one krona (100 öre). So we had three things that worked in my favor:

I would be able to add cards to grandma's melds without her being able to add cards to mine.
I would have more flexibility in whether to play my cards as sets or run, making my card draws more efficient.
In the unlikely event that I lost I was given a free bonus - not only didn't I have to pay for the first two advantage but I'd actually get a 40 öre reward, having to pay only 1 krona för 14 cards - I was doubly rewarded.

My gaming style was simply superior to grandma's. Grandma's rummy was broken and I, quite accidentally, found out how. Grandma never did, and kept playing using her style with all her friends, none of whom would play any other way.

My point is this: when you design, find your internal 8 year old. Break your game.

I suck at breaking my games. I love them too much. I can see the potential, the great game that is there if only people would play it exactly the way I envision that it should be played. I want to create a linear, static experience for my players.

Go write a movie script, ya dofus! This isn't how games work!

Games are meant to be won. That's why we play them, to challenge us and our friends to a competition where everybody strives to win. Try playing with someone who doesn't care or plays a token game and you'll have all the fun of a shell-less snail at a crow reunion.

So what to do when you can't break your own games?

At first I tried to just playtest, playtest and playtest more. Solo. Didn't work. Oh, sure, I would find the small problems, the ones that really didn't matter because, hello!, the whole game was broken. And I didn't see it because it played OK for me.

I've got a very static playing style: if it's possible to build I build. If it's possible to develop I develop. If I can get away with turtling I turtle. I like going for the sure thing rather than taking risks where others can disrupt my plans. Which isn't the way other's play. So I formulated heuristics for solo playtesting and created a set of ideal (in the psychological sense, not the philosophical) player archetypes:

The Arse. This is the player who likes to hurt others, the very opposite of me. Very conflict oriented. If it's possible to attack the Arse will attack. If it's possible to mess with other players the Arse will mess with them. The Arse will go for the weaker player, going for the maximum hurt rather than trying to beat on the leader. Yeah, nice guy.

The Coward. Turtler galore. This is the guy who won't attack even if the enemy's is sleeping with his pants down and his head up his butt. The Coward doesn't care. It's obviously a trap; too risky. The Coward will just huddle in his corner building his defenses, not risking anything, anytime (I've had designs where the Coward would win, resoundingly - bad game design).

The Builder. This is pretty much me. The guy who'll tech Every. Single. Time. This is the guy who'll build the resource engine on the expense of everything else. Which works great against the Coward but less so against the Arse. Which is fine, since we're pitting extremes against each other. And in the instances where the Builder wins over the Arse we know that the building strategy works a lot better than the messing strategy. Time to rebalance.

Shorty. Mr. short-sighted is short-sighted, always going for the easiest gain in any situation. Strategy? Who needs it. If it's there and it's cheap, grab it!

Mr. Plan. The plan is pretty hard to play. This is the player I have the most trouble with, being rather tactical and short sighted myself. When I play a Mr. Plan I set out a set of objectives at the start of the playtest and write them down. Then I check every action against those objectives. If they don't take Mr. Plan closer to his objectives I don't do them, no matter how tempting.

The Grudge. Grudge is a grudge player. This is the player who starts out as another type and, once provoked, will relentlessly go for revenge. Effectively Grudge is a Coward/Builder/Mr. Plan or Short who in mid game turns into an Arse against one other, specific player. If the Grudge wins, or if the object of the Grudge's hate loses badly then the game needs some checks and balances.

I've found that starting with one playtest without ideals followed by a playtest where half the players are ideals usually breaks my games in such a way that I know why it's broken. The first playtest tells me if what I'm trying to achieve is even achievable, that is, with myself and myself only, would the game deliver the type of experience I want it to? And if it does, will it still deliver that experience when there are extreme players present?

Sometime it does. And then I know that the game is ready for public playtests. And I bring in The Game Breaker. But that's a story for a different time.

How about you, how do you make your solo playtests effective?

-----------


This post was previously published on www.Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Productivity
Twitter Facebook
5 Comments
Mon Jun 15, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

How To Design Games For Optimists And Bad Losers

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb

Optimists are great. They're upbeat, they spread energy about them, they get stuff done. Being an optimist makes life easy.

Right.

Optimism is good for a great many things. Looking at life realistically isn't one of them. According to Dr. Martin Seligman, premier researcher on positive psychology (he founded the field), being an optimist, or being in an optimistic mood to be exact, makes us exaggerate everything. Good and bad.

That's right, optimists exaggerate bad experiences.

BTW, pessimists are bad at quite a lot of things, from self-motivation to achieving their goals, but they're great at one thing: seeing the world like it is. Which optimists aren't.

So what's this got to do with game design?

This: most people are optimists (ok, most people are in an optimistic mood). If you don't believe me, just look around - how many people around you are depressed? Possibly a couple but we spot them quite fast. "What's up, Joe, you're looking down." And Joe gets to unload how the Big Socks lost the Grand Lobster Trophy and now he has to cheer for the Small Panties. And Joe feels better. And gets into a (somewhat) optimistic mood.

Optimists engage in social interactions. Optimists partake in contests. Optimists play games. Which is great - until the optimist hits a wall in the game. A pessimist would, if they had the energy to play, have been able to see that yes, things are bad, and they're exactly this much bad. The optimist will exaggerate: Things aren't bad. They're BAD. BAAAAAAAAAAAD.

Rage-quit.

Game over.

I'm selling this stupid, crappy game.

Screw it, I'm stomping this game and setting it on fire. And I'll lock the ashes in a jar and bury them in concrete, so there.

Ok, so maybe that doesn't happen. (Yes it does. I've got the jar of ashes to prove it.) Point is that optimists will become terrible losers. They'll feel that their position is hopeless, that they're in a terrible position, that the game is pointless.

(Personal nature vs. nurture aside: from what I've read this might actually be a survival trait. Hey the giant leotard bit me, I'm going to die, I'll better get out of here real quick. Oh, I got depressed, oh, now I need to lie here and rest and heal and not fight Grunt-Grunt about that missing ham last week. End speculation.)

But back to the game. Your optimist, the person who absolutely loved your game ten seconds ago, will turn on a nickel and become your greatest hater. And spew about it in every online venue they can find.

So what can we do about it?

Easy. We'll use the optimists penchant to exaggerate against her. We'll make her believe that she's about to win and win big. Then, when she doesn't win, we'll make her believe that it was just pure, dumb luck on a single, really, really tiny element that kept her from winning. We'll get her revenge juices flowing and make her fight for the right to another game. Yepp, manic game player creation, here we go.

But first we need to make sure of a few things. We can't put our optimist in an untenable position. Never ever. That's one of the rage-quit conditions, remember? So make sure that there's always a way to get out of that bad spot. If you can't make sure, make sure that there's a way to respawn and try again in a different way, or a legal way to quit and walk away without tantrums. Don't let anyone sit there and have no way to win (I'm looking at you, crappy billing system at work that doesn't let you start over OR log out when you make a mistake).

So, now there's always a way to win; time for our second point: never, ever, give your players reason to beat on the loser. Only exception - ever - is if you've got a game that balances on a knifes edge and the game ends very, very quickly after someone falters. Then you get "ops, I stumbled, crap, I'm dead, ok, the game is over, let's play again". How to design something like that I'll leave as an exercise for the reader. (Hey I've got DOZENS of games like that, yeah, yeah, I do, promise. I just haven't published them because I'm waiting for George Lucas and the corpse of H.P. Lovecraft to come knocking to offer me the Star Chulhu Wars franchise.)

To recap:
1. Never make your player's situation hopeless (without killing them outright).
2. Never make people beat on the loser.

Ok, we've got a great game where nobody goes belly up without just cause and exciting possibilities (mmm... belly buttons.... I've been reading too much Chuck Wendig, bad influence). Now we move to the good part: getting your optimist to explode into a spamgasm of geek love for your marvelous mechanisms (tweet, tweet, facebook, tweet, you won't believe this shit!).

We'll start with the basics. The optimist will exaggerate the good stuff in your game. She'll see the opportunities as larger and greater than they really are. All we need to do is present her with the opportunities. So give them to her. Easy peasy.

This is, in fact, the age old adage: give the player meaningful choices with a single item added: power. Yepp, we're giving the player a chance at power. Power here, power there. If I choose this path I'll get a crap-ton of power, if I choose that path, I'll get a crap-ton of power. Do I want metric tons or imperial ones?

Ops, my opponent can get a ton of power and a pinch more if she does this and this and this and that. Please, please, please don't let her spot that opportunity. Phew. More power to me.

The optimist will exaggerate the great dangers of their opponents as well. They'll exaggerate everything. So give them the chance to exaggerate. Make them see the power plays. Make sure that there are power plays, meaning that there must be a few non-power plays as well. Something that isn't quite as good. It doesn't have to be bad (that's the "phew, glad I avoided that trap" reaction, which is something different). But if it's not quite as good, and we add exaggeration to it we'll get "oh, that move is soooo bad, and this move I'm going to make is sooooo good, yay me!". That's the feeling we're aiming for: I know that what I just chose is the greatest since white cardboard. Oh, look, there's an even better opportunity here, this is doubly greater.

And, hey presto, we've got a classic game. All thanks to our exaggerating optimist (at least the game will be classic for them - everyone else may hate it, but hey, that's life).

Final recap:
1. Don't strand your players up the wazoo without a paddle.
2. Don't give anyone incentives to beat on the loser.
3. Do give players the possibility of power plays.
4. Do give players meaningful choices between different good plays.
5. Dig up Lovecraft's corpse and secure the Star Chulhu franchise.

Now go design, you optimist, you.

-----------


This post was previously published on www.wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Psychology and more.
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Mon Jun 8, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
12 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

I'm becoming complacent

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb


I'm ahead on my work. Not ahead-ahead but ahead of what I've ever accomplished since starting to keep track. I'm 166% up on my best yearly fiction word count. I'm at 104% of my best yearly number of submissions and at 84% of my best total yearly word count and it's only May.

I'm going to break all my records this year.

Except that if I keep going like I am, I'm not going to.

See, I've started to become complacent. I'm not comparing myself to others (did you know that Lazette Gifford wrote a 50 000 word novel in 7 days? did you know that Reiner Knizia designed over 450 games?), I'm comparing myself to myself.

And I'm kicking myself's butt.

Which is the problem. My competition is too light.

I never tried to really, really find out what makes me tick creatively until I started taking writing and game design seriously about two years ago. And I found out that I don't take too well to set goals. When I've got a set goal I tend to A) make it waaaaaaay to ambitious (I'm going to write a novel in three months, I'm going to design and polish ten games and I'm going to start a game designer gathering, and next year we'll double that) and B) get scared by it even if it's rather modest (don't get me started on comparing myself to others, that kept me from writing for years...).

So goals are out, but measuring stuff is in - if I don't measure I just meander. Which makes it imperative that I compare myself to something or the measuring becomes rather pointless.

So I compared myself to myself, looking at a year-on-year improvement. Which wasn't very hard as I didn't do that much creatively for the past years. So when I really started to go down on my writing this year (and, I might add, I've got one game finished and polished already) I started breaking records like a moral majority in an ACDC van.

And I started to feel that, hey, been there, done that. I'm the greatest there is.

I now it's not true (just looking at my submission stats confirms that) but I'm growing complacent with what I've accomplished, and on the grand scale of things it's not that much. I've got to work way, way harder if I'm going to become a pro before I retire.

So, what's the way out? How can I kick complacency without stressing myself into a creative hole?

I haven't got the faintest idea.

How about you - what do you do to keep motivated?

-----------


This post was previously published on www.wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Psychology and more.
Twitter Facebook
11 Comments
Mon May 18, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
37 
 Thumb up
2.75
 tip
 Hide

An Introduction to Story Structure for Game Designers

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb


In writing there's this thing called the story structure (or plot structure). Basically it's a formula for taking a story from beginning to end via a set of key points through which a story should pass in order to give the reader the maximum reading pleasure.

Yeah, there are different readers, and there are different writers and there are definitely different stories. And yet, with most stories you will see a story structure (except in literary fiction where you can read for 250 000 words about a guy going to a funeral) since to keep tension high and reading pleasurable you need something to happen, a rise and fall, turns and twists.

The same is true for games.

So what happens when we try to use a fiction story structure to analyze games?
The 7 Point Story Structure

Lets take a simple 7 point story structure (there are other structure analysis tools but I like this one). It might look like this:

Hook
Plot point 1
Pinch 1
Midpoint
Pinch 2
Plot point 2
Resolution

The hook is the part where the reader is hooked into the story, where she sees that there's loads of cool stuff ahead. It usually begins with the hero in the opposite state than in the end of the story - Harry's a wimpy orphan underneath the stairs, Luke's a wimpy orphan on a farm.

Plot point 1, sometimes called the call to adventure, is where the hero is show that she's destined for greatness in some way - Harry Potter discovers that he isn't some silly orphan because He's Got Magic. Or the hero is kicked out of his rut - Luke Skywalker discovers that the Evil Empire has burnt down Aunt Beru's farm, now go get them boy!

The first pinch is where the evil of the opponents is shown. The Overlord razes the town. Darth Vader blows up Alderaan. Bad stuff happens.

The midpoint is where the Hero and Friends(tm) decide to do something about it. It's the point where the hero stops being pushed around and formulates a plan of attack. She goes on the offensive.

The second pinch is another chance to show how evil the evil is by having them thwart Hero in some way, removing something the hero needs - Darth Vader kills Obi Wan. It can switch places with plot point 2 or the midpoint.

CautionThe second plot point represents the part where the hero has all the information she needs to solve the case, she just doesn't know it yet. Sometime she needs a little reminder: "Use the force, Luke".

Resolution is when it all comes together and the plot is resolved. This is the climax of the story - Deathstar goes Boom! Then you've got the falling action, when everybody gets their medals.

Ok, so much for plotting. What's this got to do with game designers?

Let's see what happens when we apply the plot structure on the flow of a game.

Hook

This is where you start to form your first plans. You sit down and see what resources you've got to play with. You decide to invade Russia. You decide to build up your food production engine. You decide to do something. Note that unlike in fiction the hook isn't about getting interested in the game - if you're playing we're already assuming that you're interested. No, this is about what you, as a player, can do, how you can act within the constrains of the game. So the hook is the point at which you can start towards meaningful actions within the confines of some plan.

The problem here is if your hook comes too late in the game. Imagine Fresco where you'd need to do nothing but gather resources for the first four rounds. It would be incredibly boring. This is why most games start with players having some form of resources, some ways to act.

Question: Does your game let players act with agency right from the start?

Plot point 1

This is the point where the game actually start rolling. You know what you need to do and decide upon a course of action. Then the game starts presenting you with new opportunities enabling you to refine or shift your plans. You see that your opponent has a weak spot and decide to go all in on an invasion of Leningrad. You spot an opportunity to acquire cheap land and build a mill. You see how to move your game forward.

This means that your design can't be static. You need to let players develop their positions. Can they develop their positions right from the start? Do they get rewarded for developing their positions by new opportunities? I played a prototype where the players' could advance their positions but they didn't gain anything from that. They had several moves before anything meaningful happened. That entire part of the game was pointless and should be cut.

Question: Does your game reward players with increased agency for their actions?

The pinch

This is where the opponents make their move. It may be planned, it might be accidental but the opponents influence the player in some (usually negative) way. The opening in Leningrad was a rouse and now your panzer divisions are trapped. The player to your right buys the mill before you can. Your plans are tossed into disarray.

This means that your game needs to have some way for players to meaningfully influence each other. This does not need to be direct interaction: Roll for the Galaxy is a game where there is pretty much no player interaction and yet players influence each other by being closer or further away from victory. The minimum needed for a pinch is that the player needs to be able to see the distance that her opponents have remaining before reaching some goal and compare it to the distance she has remaining.

Question: Does your game offer players a meaningful way to compare or threaten each other's positions?

The midpoint

This is the point at which a player commits to a strategy or way of winning. Up until the midpoint (which doesn't have to come in the middle of the game, just as a plot midpoint doesn't have to come in the middle of the book) the players can switch strategies without incurring too many penalties. But once you've gone past a certain point you need to gain more rewards from following one, or a subset of all possible, strategies than from playing randomly.

Question: Does your game offer players meaningful synergies between sets of actions?

Pinch 2

Another threat. Your opponent breaks through your lines and rushes to encircle your front line units. The price of food plummets and now everyone can access your monopolized resources for next to nothing.

This is the point where a weak design fails to runaway leader/fallaway loser syndrome. If there is a strategy, or set of strategies, that are stronger or weaker than others it will show and some players, choosing those strategies, will find themselves in positions where they must keep playing (i.e. they aren't eliminated) but know that they can never win. You need to let players have the hope of winning throughout the game, even if it needs a long shot to do so.

Question: Does your game offer players in weaker positions meaningful ways to threaten or catch up to stronger players?

Plot point 2

This is the point at which very few additional resources enter the game. There is no longer time to build your engine, you must look to what is happening and draw the correct conclusions. The Allies are massing troops and ships in England. The price of production is getting lower. Whatever is happening on the board, this is the last time where major changes will occur.

Your players should reach a point where they can see that the game is ending and they've got to work with what resources they have in order to win. They need to know that the game is about to end, and they need to be able to see all the meaningful options remaining for them so that they can commit to one.

Question: Do your players see that the game is about to reach a critical point, and are they able to act upon that information in a meaningful way?
Resolution

Resolution
This is it, the moment of no return, where you throw everything you've got into the pot and hope that it will be enough to snatch victory. You throw your reserves onto the beaches in the hopes of beating the Allies back from Normandy. You dump your remaining corn and buy steel mills for every last coin. You act in a way that you hope will ensure victory or stave off defeat.

This point should come within the final minutes of the game. After this there is only counting points and seeing who the winner is. If timed correctly this should be the tipping point for the game at which all the strategies are resolved, the action that creates a landslide that lets you win. This is also the point at which volition is removed from the players - after this there are no meaningful decisions left. One common problem with designs is that the resolution doesn't come last - the "I've won/lost but there's still stuff to do" problem. Thus you should end the game as soon after the resolution as possible. Don't let it drag out, give the players' their rewards and let them start a new game.

Question: Does your game's climax come right before the ending or do you have book keeping rounds you can remove?

So there you have it, the 7 point story structure as a set of in-game choices. When I started using this to analyze my designs I came up with some interesting observations that let me improve them in various ways. But that's a story for another time.

-----------


This post was previously published on www.wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Psychology and more.
Twitter Facebook
5 Comments
Mon May 11, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
19 
 Thumb up
1.25
 tip
 Hide

Building creative habits using triggers

Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
Euros are better with dice!
mbmbmbmbmb
Image: Me (yeah - diagraming master!)
Take a look at what happens when you wake up in the morning. I'm pretty sure that you do most of visiting the toilet, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, dressing, making breakfast. It may not be exactly this but I'm going to make you a bet: no matter what you do in the morning you do the same things in the same order every day.

That's because your morning routine is a ritual.

I don't mean a chanting, dancing and sacrificing small animals type of ritual. I mean a habitual ritual, something that, once triggered, leads to a series of actions in an unchanging sequence.

Here's what happens. You sit down to eat dinner. You pick up your fork. You start eating. Normally you don't go for a refreshing run in the middle of your dinner. Your dinner, with all the actions in it, the lifting of your fork, the chewing, the putting away of the dishes, is a single mental unit in your brain.

Breaking the habit of eating your dinner would be as unthinkable as a smoker smoking half a cigarette, going away for a while then coming back to smoke the rest: it can be done but it would require outside influence, a disturbance, to do it. Otherwise the ritual will complete itself.

Twyla Tharp writes in her "The Creative Habit" that each morning she would go down to the street, hail a cab and go to the studio to practice. The hailing of the cab was the triggering event, the ritual, for her creative work. The same way you waking up triggers your morning ritual or you sitting down to eat triggers your eating ritual. It launches you onto a path where you don't have to think about what you do, you don't have to make any decisions, you don't have to engage mentally. You just do, effortlessly.

That's what you want in your creative processes: to do, effortlessly.

I'm not saying that it will become easy to create, that you'll never doubt yourself or anything like that. But I am saying that if you've got a working ritual to start your creativity then it will become a lot easier to create, or do any work that you choose to build a ritual around.

But first a word to the wise: you're likely to have rituals, right now, that prevent you from doing good work.

For me that's my "switching on the computer" ritual. It consists of clicking on all the four icons on my taskbar: my web browser, my email client, my Evernote client and my file explorer. This is what I do every time I boot up my computer. I click those four icons. It's a ritual that's built into the triggering action of "sit down in front of the computer". And that's fine. I need those programs to work.

Except what happens then is that I go to the web browser and check the comics. Then I check my email, which has some other interesting stuff to read (I subscribe to a bunch of mailing lists). Then I check the news sites. Then I realize that it's time for a short break.

And no work gets done.

So I've been working on creating different rituals, ones where I sit down in front of the computer and start writing.

Except that I can't use the trigger of sitting down in front of the computer. I need another trigger. So now my trigger is to look through my ideas. After that I start to write.

It's a decent trigger but it's not optimal as it requires an action that isn't tied into a natural (that is pre-existing) trigger. So while I can get a sequence of events that consists of either A) writing or B) checking for ideas, then writing, I don't get a common trigger like C) drinking tea, then writing.

So, how would I go about building a new trigger? Let me give you an example for a trigger change that did work.

For quite some time I wanted to start flossing my teeth. I know it's good to floss, even better than brushing (even better if you can do both), but I never managed to get it ingrained into my teeth care ritual. So I looked at what I had tried to do: floss, then brush. There was no trigger associated with the flossing. In fact I was going against the triggers I'd set for myself which started with me brushing. So I changed the order, even though the dentists say you should floss first. And, lo and behold, I managed to tack on the floss action onto the trigger(s) that started the brush action. Ok, it was a bit tougher than that.

In the beginning I only added a minuscule amount of flossing. I knew that I didn't like to floss, that my gums weren't used to it and my technique sucked so that I'd cut myself often. So I did the minimum required to start a habit. I decided to floss one tooth.

That's pretty useless, right?

No, it's not. I wasn't out to floss my teeth, I wanted to create the habit of flossing my teeth. And starting with a trigger action linking to flossing was enough.

So for days I'd floss a single tooth. Then that started to feel a bit silly. I mean, I'm there, I'm flossing. Why not continue? So one tooth became part of a row, a full row, then all my teeth. A month after I started flossing a single tooth I was flossing all my teeth every day. Now If I don't floss it feels wrong, as if I'd skipped brushing.

That's how habits are built.

As for my writing, well, I've got the habit of idea-to-writing. And I've got the habit of starting all my programs when I start the computer. So now I'm trying to add the check ideas to the end of that starting programs sequence. I'm not there yet, and I get derailed lightly, and sometimes I've got early meetings or other things that keep me from completing the chain of actions but I'm working on it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

----------

This post was previously published on www.wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing, Psychology and more.
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Mon May 4, 2015 10:05 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [27]

Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.