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iOS Designer Diary: Ultimate Werewolf Timer App

Ted Alspach
United States
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector's Edition on Kickstarter January 19th
Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector's Edition on Kickstarter January 19th
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From gallery of toulouse

Possibly the most exciting thing about the Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition Kickstarter campaign (ridiculously overfunded at $138K) was that we met the Ultimate Werewolf Timer App stretch goal early on. I lined up a developer and started finishing up the spec immediately and made sure the developer could complete the app for a simultaneous release with the game (currently on track for June).

This tells the story of how the app was designed from the ground up. If you just care about what’s in the app and don’t want all the backstory, skip down to the section “So, how did the app end up?” which provides a capsule summary of the final app along with screenshots.

A timer app for Ultimate Werewolf? Really?
One of the best things I've ever done was to start using timers when I moderate Ultimate Werewolf. I've been using an iOS app called "Timer" (really) that for $4.99 did all sorts of things I didn't need it to, and didn't do some other things I wanted it to, but I jerry-rigged it and got it working. And the response from players who took part in those games that had a timer has been overwhelmingly positive as well; the added structure of timed days allowed villages to focus on the job at hand and spend less time on devolving tangents. At various events where I moderate, players will often come up to me and go out of their way to thank me for using a timer. In fact, I believe that the use of a timer is essential to get those players back who've shied away from Ultimate Werewolf in the past...not only does it keep the game moving, but it's a godsend for eliminated players who are watching the remaining events unfold.

While the Ultimate Werewolf rules don't say it's mandatory to use a timer, I strongly suggest that you do, devoting an entire page in the rulebook (in the new edition) to using one effectively. Of course, it's easier now because the Ultimate Werewolf Timer app will be available when the new version of Ultimate Werewolf ships this summer...and this app absolutely rocks.

I've designed apps before, both as games (Suburbia) and game utilities (Start Player, One Night Ultimate Werewolf), so I was able to use that experience along with my use of all sorts of timer apps and desktop timer applications when designing the Ultimate Werewolf Timer app.

Defining the Requirements
Before the Timer app was designed, however, the first thing I did was list all the things I wanted from an Ultimate Werewolf helper app, that would help moderators with their games of Ultimate Werewolf. A full-blown moderator app is definitely something I'd like to do someday, but of all the components of that idea, the most critical one was a timer app that really worked well for Ultimate was the core of the moderator app idea.

The one aspect of the Ultimate Werewolf Timer app that had to be in place that just wasn’t available in any commercially available app was decrementing day times. In Ultimate Werewolf, each day after the first should be shorter, forcing the game to move along quicker and quicker. This is necessary for two reasons: (1) There are less players that need to speak and (2) there are more players waiting for the game to end. A rough guideline for timing Ultimate Werewolf games is to make each day about 30 seconds per player, so if there are currently 10 players in the game, the day should last 5 minutes. The next day, assuming the village eliminates one of its own via a vote and the werewolves eliminate a player at night time would have 8 players, so the day would then be 4 minutes long, and so on.

Because of this requirement, there needed to be 2 settings present: First, the length of the first day. And 2nd, the amount that the days get shorter by each day. I quickly determined that it was easier to let the moderator choose actual times for both of these settings than to simply choose the number of starting players and do the (very easy) math for them; because players would still want to adjust that very arbitrary “30 seconds per player” guideline, and then there would be a second setting for that, and then there would be the educational requirement of stating why that number was important.

But to throw a curve into the mix, there was another variable, which was that the first day of any Ultimate Werewolf game is a little longer, as there are traditionally player introductions and initial discussions which often take longer than Subsequent days. How much longer (if at all) is determined by the group. So now a third setting needed to be added: “first day”.

At this point, I put all this onto a rough layout with the first crude mockup like this (this included the idea from the original “moderator” app idea which tracked the number of players in the game):

From gallery of toulouse

So I had my basic settings, but I also needed to know what I would display on screen while the timer counted down. Obviously the timer, but I thought it would be nice to show what day (of the game) it is, which can help players track who was eliminated and when. I also needed buttons to allow the moderator to move to the next and previous days quickly. And finally, if the discussion is going well, I might want to add some time to the timer “live” or take time away if there’s dead silence. So here’s the mockup for the first “day timer” screen:

From gallery of toulouse

At this point I put the app design aside to focus on other things.

The First Major Revision to the Design
A few months later, inspired after moderating a few games of Ultimate Werewolf one night, I started working on the PRD for the app, and the actual design of the screens. At this time I was working in a portrait orientation for the setup screens, with the idea that you could rotate the device for the timer display to horizontal or vertical orientation when it was running. So the first mockup for the setup screen looked something like this:

From gallery of toulouse

The timer screen itself looked something like this (note that it now has a Pause button, a critical element that had been missing from the original mockup). This design was a weird combination of the typeface for the then-not-quite-released-yet One Night Ultimate Werewolf game and the graphics from the Ultimate Werewolf Ultimate Edition game:

From gallery of toulouse

At this time I also included a settings screen, which at this point was simply a sound control settings screen:

From gallery of toulouse

Again, this was shelved for a bit while I worked on other projects.

Board Game: Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition
Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition and Revision Two
I had wanted to do an updated version of Ultimate Werewolf for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to it. The original game was out in 2007, and the Ultimate Edition followed shortly after in 2008. I wanted to do a five-year anniversary edition with new (or updated art), but as 2013 started drawing to a close, I realized I wasn’t going to make the date in time. And the more I looked at it, the more I realized I wanted to change with the game, so the Deluxe Edition was born. I decided to make the timer an integral part of the new edition, and when the Kickstarter project was being developed, making a stretch goal to help cover the cost of development for the app seemed like a perfect match.

Of course, with a new design for the cards, the app I had designed wasn’t going to really match, so I went to work redesigning the app, and really digging in deep to make sure that the app would be the the definitive timer to be used with not just Ultimate Werewolf games, but all werewolf games.

As I looked with a critical eye at the planned timer, I realized I had missed two important elements: Night time and player defense. In Ultimate Werewolf, several things can happen at night, including werewolves deciding who to eliminate and the Seer picking someone to inspect (she learns if that person is a werewolf or not). So a timer was added for that phase. When a player is accused of being a werewolf during the day, quite often I would stop the time and allow the player to defend themselves and answer questions from the other players. With time stopped, however, that could take a long time, and players could often devolve the conversation into totally unrelated areas to the point where some players would forget who is “on the block” (nice for the accused, but bad for the game). So I added a defense timer as an interrupt; the idea is that when there is an accused person, the moderator taps the Defense button and a new timer starts just for that person’s defense. When the defense time is up, players must vote on the accused. Afterwards, the day timer continues from where it had been prior to the Defense; if the player is eliminated the moderator can press “next” to get to the night timer.

I continued to revise and modify the feature set. I dropped the ability to change orientation because the timer looked much better (and was easier to read) in horizontal view, and developing it for vertical view was an unnecessary use of development time. I added a few other niceties, like hiding and showing most of the elements on the screen and a rising sun animation with floating clouds, and then submitted the PRD to the developer so he could start working on it.

From gallery of toulouse
Feature additions and changes during development
The first few builds from the developer were focused on getting the timer right, including the ability to adjust the time “live” and it took several iterations to get to the final set of controls: tapping the “+” increases the time by 00:10, while pressing/holding the “+” increases the time by 01:00.

I used a projector in one of my Ultimate Werewolf tests, and discovered that in a brightly lit room, the contrast was acceptable with the white numbers on the blue background, but it wasn’t great. An option was added to settings to hide and show the background so that the contrast would be as extreme as possible in those situations.

A few of the tests resulted in a couple of players being ardent clock watchers, and as a result of them informing the other players of the time remaining every 10 seconds (or so it seemed), the ability to hide the time in settings was added, for a more natural experience of watching the sun rise and fall each day.

With the feature set locked down it was time to make some cuts. I haven’t included any info here about the features I wanted that we cut from the initial release in order to make the release schedule, but as always, it’s a painful process with much soul-searching, despair, and occasional cursing. The app is currently in testing, with only a few features not implemented yet, but it is definitely on track to be available in June as scheduled.

From gallery of toulouse
So, how did the app end up?
The most impressive part of the app is the one you (and your players) will be looking at all the time: the Day Timer screen. This fully-customizable screen (you can turn most elements on and off in Settings) displays the time left in that day in minutes and seconds in giant numbers superimposed on a background scene of trees and a nice summery sky with clouds floating by lazily. It also shows the day, the “real world” time, and a series of control buttons at the bottom (below the treeline) allowing you to go to a special “Defense Timer” (that’s right), pause the time left, or skip to the previous or next timer.

But the one thing you can’t see in a screenshot is the movement. The Sun subtly moves across the sky, rising at the beginning of the day and setting at night. And what’s super cool, if you don’t want the countdown timer to display, the Sun can still move across the screen, giving a much more analog feel to your games…the village will slowly notice that the sun is setting, and rush to eliminate a werewolf (they hope).

From gallery of toulouse

During the day, you can opt to use a Defense timer when a player has been accused of being a werewolf. That gives them a very limited amount of time to defend themselves and for the rest of the village to ask questions of them before the vote. When the Defense timer is up, an angry mob can be heard (though all sounds are customizable), and you can call for the vote immediately.

At the end of the day, there’s a night time timer; this is great for those moderators who take FOREVER to get through a night phase (I’m talking to you, Frank DiLorenzo, my Night of the Black Moon co-author), and also works so you can be hands-off of the timer (one of the things I’ve run into as a moderator is that when recapping the events of the night for the village first thing in the morning, I forget to start the timer again). After the night time timer is up, the next day starts automatically.

From gallery of toulouse

After the game, the timer setup you used is remembered and you can just start another game with the same timers, or you can make adjustments in the easy-to-use Setup screen. This is where you turn on and off things like how quickly the time of each day gets shorter after the first day, if you want there to be a separate Defense timer and Night Time timer, and how long each of the timers should be. Find a setup you really like? You can save it and load it in the future, even if you totally muck around with the times. You can save any number of sets of times and load them this way.

From gallery of toulouse

From gallery of toulouse

On the Settings screen, you can choose which sounds sound for which alarms, to turn on and off display items, and to set your device to stay awake while the timer screens are present (though it will still fall asleep while in the setup/settings screens, so you don’t have to worry about quitting out of your app when you’re done using it).

From gallery of toulouse

The app was developed on both iOS and Android platforms simultaneously via Corona, but the iOS version will be out the door first, with the Android one following closely thereafter. Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition should be available in stores this summer.

And yes, the app will be free!
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