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You know your mom’s a game designer when…

May 15, 2008

I gave my kid a few pieces of the recent shipment of game bits I received, and all on her own without any suggestion from me, she created this for her brother and sister. It’s a classic “race to the end” with 2d6. Not bad for a 7 year old kid. I suppose I should be a good mom and teach her a few mechanics to go with this particular paradigm, though.

As a note, if you’re considering creating a non-digital game prototype just to get yourself into the regular habit of making games – any kind of games – “race to the end” is the easiest paradigm to start with. It fits with many different themes, and the mechanics that go with it are obvious.

  • Slow the player down
  • Speed the player up
  • Block other players
  • Trade places with another player

Beyond these, other mechanics will suggest themselves through the narrative. For instance, imagine if this board game were Mario Kart. You’d be able to shoot at the people in front of you and do all the things you actually do in Mario Kart, albeit without electricity.

Question: “Brenda, aren’t you a video game designer?”

Answer: “Yes, but I’m going through a very non-digital phase. Many designers were non-digital designers before they started designing on a computer. Besides, it’s incredibly fun and rewarding.”

In other news, it’s almost finals week, so I’m pretty consumed with my students’ final designs. This particular game is from my Abstract Systems Simulation class. As the big project, they are tasked with creating a fully functional RPG system from the ground up.

In total, there are five groups working on five separate games. We will hold our first true test tomorrow when each group turns their creations over to another group to see just how understandable their designs are to people not on their team.

This is usually a telling moment for designers. What seems to make perfect sense to one’s fellow team members is utter chaos for another. I’m hoping for better than that, though. The students in this course have taken pretty much every design course I’ve offered, so they should have that part down by now.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2008 10:59 am

    Another great post. Thanks, Brenda!

  2. May 16, 2008 11:42 pm

    FWIW, my kid made another board game tonight. I taught her how to add cards to the game to affect the player’s movement. You had to draw a card each turn. We played when she was finished, and I got a kick out of seeing cards like “Change seats”, “What’s 5×5?” and “Sing a silly song.” She had cards that affected movement, too, but these were funnier.

  3. Chris permalink
    May 17, 2008 12:20 pm

    I remember a good exercise in the Game Design Workshop at February’s Game Developer’s Conference where we had to strip a video game down to a card game. It’s a real challenge because you’re trying to boil a game down to its essence, removing the elements that add to the ease of use of a game, but not the entertaining elements to the game.

    All great games can be boiled down to table-top, paper entertainment and still be good. Likewise, testing the rules of a game through tabletop gaming is a good idea because if these rules grant the player the ability to enjoy their time playing, you’ve got the potential of a good game.

    And let’s look at the hard facts – before Dragon Quest, Ultima, and Final Fantasy, there was Gary Gygax inventing concepts like Hit Points and dungeon masters, eventually brought into a game called “Dungeons and Dragons.” All games start with ideas, and when you can’t program them into a computer, you can always test them out with cards, dice, pencils, notepads, and damage counting beans. If it’s crappy there, there isn’t much point in making it into a real game.


  4. May 17, 2008 9:43 pm

    And even before that, there was Little Wars by HG Wells, the first modern war game.

    There was an earlier one in the 1700’s that featured many elements popularized by D&D, but I can’t think of the name right now.

  5. May 18, 2008 7:10 pm

    Chris: “All great games can be boiled down to table-top, paper entertainment and still be good.”

    Except for games that are pure dexterity mechanics. How would you make a tabletop version of Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band? Pong? Galaga?

  6. May 18, 2008 7:46 pm

    @ Ian – each of the games you mentioned, excepting Galaga, were based on real world things. There are plenty of dance offs and rock band contests… or maybe there were, but I’m just old as shite.

    Pong was definitely a non-digital game before it became a game.

    Dexterity based mechanics do exist. Consider Slap Jack – it goes from turn based to real time with dexterity the key to solving that real-time component.

  7. May 19, 2008 10:55 am

    True, but I think the aesthetics are so different that they’re lost in translation.

    Obviously, Pong is based on ping-pong. But if you’re playing a game of Pong, are you using ANY of the same skills? There’s no serve, no spin, no backhand, no drop shots, no aiming for corners or sides, no net. I would have a hard time calling either game a functional prototype of the other. Ditto with DDR versus a dance-off or battle-of-the-bands contests versus Rock Band: you’re not judged on the accuracy and timing of your steps/notes so much as how well you perform in front of a group. It’s a very different experience, and a lot is lost in translation.

  8. May 20, 2008 11:31 am

    Okay, just to prove me wrong, one of my students brought in a paper prototype of a ball-and-paddle game yesterday. After some tinkering, we found that a flicking mechanic was actually a pretty good simulation for controlling the paddle — you have better accuracy if you don’t have to move it very far, but whipping it across the board at the last minute means you’ll probably miss. No die-rolling needed.

    I’m still not sure what a paper prototype of DDR would look like.

  9. May 20, 2008 11:41 am

    “I’m still not sure what a paper prototype of DDR would look like.”

    How about “Simon Says”?

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