Friday, April 17, 2015

Mock Player Data Analysis of Marvel, Contest of Champions

I have been playing Kabam’s new street fighting game, Marvel, Contest of Champions on mobiles and I am interested in viewing the game from a bigger picture, how players as various groups react to the systems and interact with the interfaces. So I did this mock player data analysis. By saying “mock”, it means that all the scenarios are my prediction and I didn’t bother to fake some statistics and to delve into design changes/decisions.

There are two aspects that the player data can help us to understand our games: what they like best and what is problematic for them. It is not very meaningful to make assumptions on what they like, so I will focus on the later one. Also, I am very interested in the systems and UI/UX design. So I will talk about the intersection of them and below are the areas that I tackled with:

I.  System design

1. PvP system

a) To fake or not to fake?

The game has been pushing a PvP system and I think this mode is fake. Because I feel that instead of fighting against a real player real time, the players are just fighting against AI (which is understandable), although the game is pulling out champions owned by real players.
We all know that players generate infinite content for a game, so I think it would be super cool if they can actually fight against real humans, or at least the experience could feel like more fun and different than fighting AI in the quest mode.

So I wonder how the players will rate the experience (AI in PvP mode) without implying anything such as that they were not fighting against real players. If many out of the testers are pretty sure that they were fighting against AI and didn’t feel satisfying and dominating after defeating a champion owned by another player, they might want to improve the AI and overall experience in PvP mode.

b) The intensity and reward system

I didn’t play through many PvP seasons (and honestly, it was because I felt frustrated by the system). But I know that each mobile game (actually all the games on all platforms) have a life cycle. If the game asked you to spend too much time, you probably don’t want to touch it again when the reward system is not good enough. And even though it is pretty decent, it is dangerous to over-motivate the player and break the curve.

So I really want to know the experience curve of players’ PvP experience in this game (like how many hours do they invest in PvP, and time allocation between PvP and PvE; do they get bored after overplaying PvP in a short period; if they keep playing very constantly, what drive them to do so; do the reward system feel satisfying for them; do the reward grow as they expected; etc).

2. Champion system

The game monetizes by selling crystals (that can open champions), in-game currency and other stuff. Since the champions have tremendous impact on the player’s performance and result of every single fight, I think the crystals are the biggest selling point.

I just wonder which on-sale champions are more popular than which, how many out of how many people paid for crystals after which champion is released. And bring them back to analysis the champion design, such as the appearance, the abilities, fight style, the specs, etc.

3. Balancing in difficulty (PvE mode)

The strongest feeling I had when progressing in the game was, when I finished the first chapter in PvE mode, the quests suddenly felt super hard to beat. I think the game tuned the difficulty on purpose. Because the players who already went through the first chapter seem to like the game a lot and it is just reasonable that they pay to get better. I simply wonder how many among all the players who finished the first chapter paid right after the game became harder for them, and what they bought (champions or other stuff). In this case, we can learn about how to tune the balance to increase in-game purchase.

II. UX design

1. Game flow

The game already has a pretty smooth game flow. However, when I played through the game, I was still confused by some designs. To be more specific, there is chance that the player uses the “back” button on top left corner to reach an interface that they have never been to during the current play session.

I want to know if the players would get confused by the flow and whether they want buttons to make their life easier.

2. Items on upgrade interface

There are two systems to upgrade a champion, “level up” and “rank up”. The two systems require totally different types of items and they already designed a distinguish interface for “rank up” than the “level up” upgrade. I have been confused why they also make “rank up” items available for the player in “level up” upgrade. And when the player selects the “rank up” items (the catalysts), a warning message will pop up, asking whether the player wants to “deselect” or “continue”. If the player hits “continue”, the item will be consumed and it grants 0 XP for the champion.

This feels like a trap and it is very unfriendly. The game actually allows the player to sell the catalysts for money and the player can purchase in-game currency with real money. I understand that inflation has always been a problem for video games. It is so easy to tell that the item has no effect on the champion that I don’t think any player will keep pushing the “continue” button. So I wonder how the players think/react to this design.  I disliked the design a lot, because games should always provide possibilities for the player to win in all cases. Since there is no way to trade money between two players in the game, and the in-game currency is not a big selling point. It is totally fine that even everything gets convert to money eventually. And by doing this, the player also gains satisfaction and a sense of ownership.

So I am really curious that how players react to this design and what if they just not show the catalysts on “level up” interface.

3. Other design changes I noticed

I have been constantly checking this games since it came out, so I noticed a couple of design changes they made so far.

For example, they previously just added that, after completing a daily quest, the player may purchase the awarded catalyst with a discount. I think this is a pretty good design change. But I wonder how impactful this offer is. Thinking from a player’s stand point, if I already earned this catalyst, how much chance that I would like to buy another one (exactly the same catalyst)? Since there are two conditions to get the specific catalyst without buying from vault, completing the daily quest and opening the chest and getting it. So who will encounter the scenario that they went through the quest but didn’t get the specific catalyst? The ones who want/need the catalyst and didn’t get it.

So I would suggest that they try offering the discount for those groups of players, as a compensation for the fact that they were just not lucky so that they failed to get the catalyst. Because they are more likely to pay for the catalyst than the ones who already get one after doing the quest. Simply distributing two versions of this part can tell the effect of this change.

Above are some thoughts on how to use player data from a big picture to make design changes/decisions. There are more things I wanted to address but couldn’t delve into. I hope video games can effectively use players’ actions and feedback to refine their design and to craft better gaming experience. Games should be better than life and they can be perfect.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reward System Analysis of Bloons TD 5

I.                    Overview
As a popular casual game, Bloons TD 5 has nice reward loops. The game is rich in content (turret/map/upgrades/etc.), so it has decent replayability. Meanwhile, it is super time consuming (each play is 20 minutes in average).

II.                    Reward System
The game ties all the rewards to the experience points (XP). Killing Bloons grants the player XP for the tower used to kill the Bloons as well as the player’s account. Unlockables (new towers/upgrades/enemies/game modes) come out as the player ranks up and the towers level up.
It is very easy to rank/level up at the beginning. The speed slows down as the player progresses.
Because of the reward system, new unlockables are constantly being introduced to the player. Even I am already Rank 25, I still get new content in an acceptable pace (I was dropping all types of towers in order to unlock their upgrades as fast as possible).
Except the unlockables, the game also has accomplishments being unlocked as the player does something that meets the condition, which is rewarding to the player. But they don’t appear to be very meaningful, since they are not real rewards. They are just badges representing what you achieve in the game.
Below is a rough chart showing the content being unlocked as the player ranks up. Rank 30~35 seem to be a turning point for the player, since 80% of the content is available for the player by then.

III.                    Time Investment
Each play session is about 20~40 minutes, unless the level is super challenging. In that case, each play could last merely 5 minutes. Since the game is designed for the players who want to kill time (?!), I got bored very quickly.
It took me around 40 minutes to beat a Beginner-Easy level and get the accomplishment. Then I tried Beginner-Medium and Beginner-Hard modes for the same map, each spent 3 minutes, in order to learn the increase in difficulty. Then I tried some Intermediate maps and failed at Round 40 out of 50/65/85. Then I tried Advanced maps and felt overwhelming. So I learned that Intermediate maps were fit for my current level. Daily Challenges were very hard and I had to give up in a few rounds. Unlike Normals, Special Missions don’t allow the player to choose a difficulty. The pace was too slow so I put the game aside after several rounds (or let the game run by itself instead of staring at the screen, waiting to interact with the game real time). And I still got some XP and leveled up, just in a slower pace. After exploring all the modes, I decided to learn more details about the game by playing Intermediate maps and unlock things.
So, it took me 2 walkthroughs, each for a level and some quick trials for other modes/difficulties (1 hour in total) to get bored with the system. It took me a few more play sessions (2 hours in total) to familiarize with and experiment on the towers/upgrades/enemies. Then I kept playing and spent 6~8 hours to level up and try out new unlockables until Rank 25. Because the game doesn’t feel intense to play, I was multi-tasking and spent more time than planned. But I felt enough with the game when I hit Rank 25, although there are more content awaiting me.
In summary, I spent more than 10 hours to figure out 60% content of the game and didn’t have much interest in learning more at the point, since the game pace is too slow and I could kind of imagine the rest of the game.
Maybe they can fix this problem by only showing the next upgrade for each tower in the tower menu. In this case, instead of being able to check all the upgrades before unlocking them, the game can not only hold some surprise for the player to explore as they progress, but also the player will have a better focus on content when they look at the available upgrades.
Also, as I mentioned, I don’t feel that there is a strong motivation for a player to keep playing after having unlocked 80% of the content. So maybe the game can spread out the XP required to unlock the next upgrade/tower, since the unlocking relies on XP gained for individual tower and the player have no limit in tower choice as long as they can afford them.
In addition to the limit on tower choice, maybe the game can trim the game modes corresponding to the theming of each map. For instance, there is a ship tower which can only be placed on water. The game can just remove or grey out this tower for the maps with no water area. In this case, the player won’t get confused why the tower is available even it seems not possible to be used. The game can limit more on tower choice, which can not only help the player to explore the towers that they are not so familiar with but fun to use, but also strengthen the fantasy of each map. And of course, it makes unlocking a new map more exciting since they might bring different tower selection and new play style.

IV.                    Bloon Franchise
As mentioned in Balance Analysis, the Bloon series is also very popular on mobiles. I tried the Bloon 5 TD on iPhone, featuring multi-player modes.
The main content remains the same with the one I have been discussing, but this version has decent tutorials and a better learning curve (and much better graphics). Since I already knew enough about the game, I ran through every available module very quickly (spending 30 minutes). Then I tried more of the multi-player modes, Assault Mode and Defensive Mode. Assault Mode allows you to send Bloons to crush your opponent, which was fun and more strategic than the classic game. However, Defensive Mode is similar to the Normals in the Kongregate game, simply adding another player. You two play the same level and try to defend longer than the other player. It has some level of social meaning. But I wasn’t playing against a friend, so I didn’t find the social factor strong. The total time spent on the iPhone version was 40 minutes.

V.                    Conclusion
Among all types of rewards the game is providing, I think the new towers and upgrades are the most appealing part. Also, using players as infinite content generator adds more fun to the classic gameplay (Assault Mode in mobile version).

To sum up, the game has a nice reward system which constantly provides new goals for the player. But the game pace is too slow for me. Comparing the time invested to beat more advanced levels with the potential new content, I stopped playing after 12 hours in total. But because of the fact that there are some good content, I might pull out the game again when I want to check or show someone else something.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Game Balance Analysis of Bloons TD 5

I.            Overview
Bloons TD 5 is a top-rated casual tower defense game on both webs and mobiles. The player allocate points to buy monkeys or similar things (as towers) to protect the base from the bloons (balloons). Link of the game:

There is no multi-player, so I will focus on the balance in “Game versus Game (GvG)” and “Player versus Game (PvG)”.
I.            GvG
The difficulty/mode system is structured as below:

1.     Modules
There are 3 similar modes in this game. Daily Challenge and Special Missions are unlocked based on the player’s rank.

a)      Normal
The original and default systems of levels. Levels are categorized by different maps/tracks of difficulty.

b)      Daily Challenge
Seems to be a new feature. A different level is up there every day. The player can go back and check out the previous ones. Daily Challenges are really challenging, much harder than the Advanced maps in Normal Module.

c)       Special Missions
There are a few distinguished gameplay modes than the Normal levels. Some are unlocked based on the player’s rank. They introduce new gameplay into the existing game systems. These games need different strategies to beat. It is hard to compare the difficulty and other factors with the Normal games.

2.     Maps/tracks (+ Modes)
As mentioned, Normal is the original/default playground in this game.
The game has a complicated difficulty system. It not only categorizes maps into five difficulties: “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, “Advanced”, “Expert” and “Extreme!”, but also provides 3 modes for each map: “Easy”, “Medium” and “Hard”. (There are also more different play modes being unlocked for each map based on the player’s rank: Deflation, Apopalypse and Sandbox. But I will not talk about them in this essay.)

For each map, the difficulty of different modes is simply being tuned by the number of lives and the enemies: 
Maps determine the distribution of areas having different influence on the enemies. For instance, in Beginner maps, there are more areas that are very influential and the player would have less chance placing the towers at weak spots which leads to the loss of lives. In contrary, the advanced maps tend to have fewer “good” spots which means that the player needs to choose carefully when they place a tower.

Also, the number of branches varies from map to map. The more advanced a map is, the more branches.
In addition, it feels that the increase of enemy power is also being tuned with the difficulty of maps. (Not sure.) The more advanced a map is, the more difficult it gets through beating various enemy waves.

a)      Beginner: Sole path, bigger influential areas, and less challenging
Beginner maps are very simple. They are definitely the best/safest places to start the game. The player can easily figure out how the bloons move and place the towers accordingly. At the same time, the player can learn the UI for the maps (distinguish paths from areas that can place towers, or familiarize towers and their power-ups). The player can also learn a specific tower super well by practicing with the map that the tower works best with, and familiarizing patterns. But sometimes feel they are too simple and boring.

b)      Intermediate: 1 or 2 path(s), medium influential areas, proper challenges
Intermediate maps are tuned finely in the middle of Beginner ones and Advanced ones. There are some variations in maps, such as loops and binary branches which converge later. It is more fun to play compared with the Beginner’s maps.

c)       Advanced: 2 paths/branches or more (dynamic switchers), smallest influential areas, super challenging
Advanced maps are way harder than the other ones. There are always multiple paths and sometimes the switcher connecting various branches change after each round.

d)      Expert
No access…

e)      Extreme!
No access…

1.     Enemies
The enemy system is relatively simple compared with the play modes and tower design. All the enemies are balloons (Bloons). The basic one is destroyed when being hit by a single shot. The advanced ones have more layers, which means it needs more shots to destroy them. Except the ordinary ones, there are also another type of Bloon called Camo. The Camos camouflage themselves, so only specific towers/upgrades can detect and damage them. Some Bloons (lighter ones) also move faster.

The game helps the player distinguish various Bloons by their color/texture/size/shape and speed.

2.     Towers
There are 17 towers and 2 consumables in total. Each tower has a different behavior and 2 upgrade paths. Towers get XP and level up to unlock new upgrades. The towers are balanced because of their uniqueness in behavior and the increasing power as leveling up. I don’t feel anyone is obviously stronger than others.
Also, because of their varied costs, towers tend to be used in different stages of play. As a general trend, the more pricy a tower is, the more powerful it would be.
Since the behaviors are very different from one to another, it is hard to compare only the attributes. Below are specs of towers in level 1 (Advantages):

1.     Reward Systems (Overlapped with PvG)
The direct reward for the player is experience points (XP). The player also ranks up automatically by gaining XP. As the player ranks up, new towers, upgrades (and enemies) are being unlocked.
In short, the reward loop is: XP -> Rank up -> Unlockables.
This game has a reasonable ranking up pace, which feels similar to many other games. Sometimes duo objects are being unlocked when ranking up, which is a satisfying moment. However, the game introduced very few enemies (officially, but they already appeared in the play) and a LOT of towers/upgrades at the earlier stage, and started to throw out a LOT of enemies afterwards. I prefer to learn powers and enemies hand in hand/in turns, rather than doing one continuously and then another.

2.     Playback Speed
The game provides two speeds for the player to choose between during the play: Normal and Fast. I think the Normal is too slow (but it is fine since it is the original pace). But the Fast is too fast, if anything happens, the player wouldn’t have enough time to react, such as placing spikes or explosives on the map.
In some TD games, there is also a Stop/Cease button which allows the player to freeze the game and do some urgent operation to rescue some lives. I think it will be great if the Cease button is added to this game.

3.     Special Agents
The game also offers a lot of in-game purchase. I think they can definitely help the player beat the levels easily and I am not focusing on them…

Overall, the GvG is well balanced in this game. The progression felt very smooth. And it provides enough choices for the player, high longevity (although each play can already be super long and time consuming...) and appropriate challenges.

I.            PvG
Besides the different aspects listed above, I also want to talk about the balance between the player and the game:

Since the game provides many difficulties for the player to choose from, the player can easily tune the difficulty to fit for themself (GvG). But still, there are moments that I felt the game was throwing too much information all at once and I felt that was totally overwhelming. Most of them happened in learning phase (when the game introduced me new towers/power-ups in as rewards) instead of the play phase.

1.     UI/UX design
Good UI system teaches the player how to play by itself. Although the game has decent graphics for UI, it takes a while for a player to figure out what to do next and learn how to do what by themself. And the game has no tutorial even during the first play for a player.

a)      Game Flow
Only have some tips, without any tutorials/walkthroughs is confusing.
“Didn't know what to click on first. Took me 5 seconds to figure out what to click on.” This was not so bad. But still “...felt like having a little more instructions or tutorials that could walk me through some basics would prevent me from getting lost.” Personally, I think having a compact game flow is super helpful for web and mobile games. This is somewhere the game can improve.

b)      UI Layout
Giving lots of specs for each tower, it took me quite a while to find out the attack modes selection (First/Last/Close/Strong) and the where to upgrade the tower.

c)       Icons
The icons are designed visually pleasing and convey its function pretty well. However, not having any feedback when a tower/upgrade is first introduced to the player (highlight, or an animation of the icon moving from the reward interface to the in-game position) makes the player easily lose track of the new unlockables.
I also noticed that, sometimes, the game seems to reward powers that work well for the current level. So it somehow makes up a little bit for the problem of not being able to track the latest unlocked powers.
“Especially hard to find out which upgrade belongs to which tower.”  It is hard for the player even to find out the latest gained power, owing to the inaccessibility to all the upgrades for a tower. It seems that the UI couldn’t teach well by itself.

2.       Reward Systems
The player can earn experience points by playing the levels. As the player ranks up, new towers, power-ups (and enemies I believe?) are introduced at the same time.

“The game introduced too many towers and power-ups at the first play. Needed some time to connect the icon with its functions.”

3.       Challenge/Narrative/Interest Curve
a)   Within a Level
Within each level, as the player beats waves (rounds) of enemies, the game gets harder as the overall trend.
The increase of difficulty feels unobvious in simpler games (maps/difficulties), however, it can be super challenging in more advanced ones.
To be more specifically, I kept spamming “Play” button in easy modes, since even if I did’t do anything, the current powers could survive many rounds by itself. In contrast, in advanced levels, I always felt that my towers were running behind the enemies and I made irreparable mistakes in selecting and placing towers.

b)      Out of a Level
Players do get better as they learn more about the game. So a new player wouldn’t always stay with the Beginner’s maps, s/he will jump to the advanced ones and maybe go back and forth. The gaps between different difficulties of maps are pretty big, but the game managed to fill the gaps by having three minor levels of difficulty for each map. In this case, the player can tune their challenge curve by themself and wouldn’t be restricted by the game systems.

To sum up, although the game is top-rated, I think the PvG part is not perfectly balanced. The game leaves the choices to the player which reduces the chance that the player feels overwhelmed or frustrated. But it failed to convey and display everything nicely. A better UI/UX or game flow would help.

II.            Conclusion
The game is overall pretty balanced. It does a good job in balancing content statistically (GvG). However, there are too many details and various scenarios in the game, so it couldn’t teach the player everything clearly/step by step, which sometimes cause confusion.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review of Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries

I have played the original Ticket to Ride several times. But with the new rules, this edition feels more complicated and worth playing. I played with two other people. We enjoyed the game. Below are what I noticed and what I thought:

Breakdown (each was rated from 0 to 10)
1    Set Up (8):
I like the Set Up a lot, because there is an instruction picture printed on the rule book, which shows the layout and how to use the space around the board very clearly. This saves lots of effort on setting up the game.

Since it is a turn-based game, I was concerned about the first-hand advantage, while this game starts with “the most experienced traveler”. However, it fixed this problem by ending the whole game with a nice rule “when one player’s stock of colored trains gets down to ≤2 at the end of his turn, each player including that player, gets one final turn.” When we played the game, we didn't feel there was obvious advantage for the first player as well.

The only thing that I dislike is how it was explained with texts (see picture). I didn't notice that the numbers at the end of each sentence is corresponding to the components on the image. I think if they could rearrange the space and add arrows to link the texts with the icons, it wouldn't confuse me.

2    Obstacles/Decisions (6):
There are some interesting decisions in this game.
For example, after you finish the Destination Cards that you initially drew when the game starts, you have 3 options:
1.         You can choose to draw new Destination Cards;
2.        You can try to guess other’s paths and try to block them;
3.         You can make use of your hands and get more points.
I find this very interesting, first because of the uncertainty of other’s destinations; second, it brings lots of other interesting decisions. For instance, if I want to block other players, who should I focus on. And these are also influenced by the stage of play. If someone is running out of his car, then I won’t consider drawing a new Destination Card. But if I already have lots of paths and I noticed that my destinations are very short and there are a thick deck of Destination Cards left. I probably should draw 3 new Destination Cards and pick from them, which could have changed the winner of our play.

On the other hand, I didn't like the additional rules on the longest path, the ferries and the tunnels. From the market perspective, I can understand why this game (theming in Christmas, shooting for families) ranks higher than the original version. But design wise, I especially feel the complicated rule specifically for only one path seems to be a little too farfetched, although when a player really built that path, we all laughed out because we saw him spending 20 cards on a single route. For the ferries and tunnels, the usage of the wild card is explained clearly but too inefficient.

3    Rules (8):
Overall the rules are very simple. As a family game, even little kids can pick it up, find out some strategies, and eventually master it. When first read some of the rules, it can still be confusing. But since this game is so popular, many people know the basic rules and the rule book really explains everything clearly.
When it comes to the depth of the game, I think there is much replayability. It takes some times for the player to know the map and Destination Cards well. Also, because of the interesting choices in the game, you can have different strategies. Your opponents and starting hand also add to the replayability. If you have a troller friend, you might want to play safe and win the game easily, or just have fun taking extra Destination Cards. If you have skilled players, you might want to deceive them by building some paths irrelevant to your goals. If your friends are building long routes and you are scared by that, you might try blocking their paths instead of drawing extra Destination Cards. If you start with some short paths, you might want to build as many as possible and give up the longer ones. If you get some long paths as your starting goal, you might want to build them carefully. So, I think this game can be played many times and still feel satisfying.

4    Goal (9):
The ultimate goal for every player is very simple: get as many points as possible by building routes or completing Destination Cards. You can also get 10 more bonus points by completing most number of destinations. However, the Destination Cards are actually “quests” serving as subtasks. It is very interesting that players don’t know each other’s destinations. During our play, I (P1) was trying to block another player (P2) who seems to be building a very long route. I even persuaded the third player to block him as well, which made the P2 laugh out loud. He might be acting, or I was so wrong. However, all these actions add a nice social element to the game.

Fun Elements (each was rated from 0 to 10)
Sensation (7): The art of this game is really simple and kind of generic. I wanted to rate sensation “5”. But I realize that the art style actually support the theme and story pretty well. It is just that I am not a fan of this art style. And the usage of colors, design of map and plastic car tokens are also fairly good for setting up the entire relaxing and fantasy atmosphere.

Fantasy (8): The theme of Christmas works. Personally I didn't feel so attached to the theme might because that I didn't have much western cultural background as local western people. But I do feel that if the places are replaces with city names in China, I will enjoy a lot playing this game, maybe reminding me of some trips in a specific place and stories happened there, or if I always wanted to visit somewhere but didn't get chance, however I virtually “reached” there through the play. Then the theme would actually be super interesting and add a lot of fantasy elements. Also, the theme of traveling by train (or building train rails) works too. I am a big fan of traveling by train, because the pace is just right: You can watch the beautiful and changing scenery as you talk with other travelers. You can physically experience the travel through time and space at the same time and feel the change in your mind (like, reaching a new place might remind you of something delightful, which changes your mood). For some other players, the theme might be more like a story of a train tycoon.

Narrative (7): The story is very simple. And as a Euro board game, some rules don’t make much sense to the story. However, from the perspective that narrative is also the events occur during play. The simple framework of the game actually provides lots of different scenarios.

Challenge (8): The challenges are not very difficult. But the game provides a relaxing atmosphere while the players are facing some interesting choices.

Fellowship (8): As a board game that can make a group people laugh, it gets the basic credit on this. Not like some other hard core board games, players sometimes don’t pay attention to what others are doing on their turn. What I noticed from our play was, we always knew what others did on their turn and response to their action, such as picking up the wild revealed after the last player just took a card from the shared resources, or taking the left lane on a two-lane route when one was just taken.

Discovery (6): Although this game doesn't have much juicy content, it has space for discovery. Because players can always find new strategies depending on different situation, play style, goals or other players.

Expression (8): As a family/party game, it successfully makes the player express his enjoyment, regret, surprise, excitement, etc. Since the game is well-balanced, two of us were almost tie at its conclusion, so it ended with a dramatic tension.

Submitting (7): Pulling out this game on Christmas day (or whenever a family wants to have fun together) seems a good idea?

Monday, June 2, 2014

PIGDA 2014 Board Game Jam & Testament

The PIGDA Board Game Jam is a full day event held by Pittsburgh International Game Developers Association annually for people to team up and make a board game and play each other's game. I can't wait to share my experience in the 2014 Board Game Jam! (Finally got ETC and had access to a computer!!!)

I teamed up with Yan Jin, a game designer who usually has lots of weird and amazing ideas. It was held in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I was late and stuck in a traffic jam when he texted me the secret topic of this game jam: > travel. My first idea was to make a simulation game about travelling in a town that players need to deal with traffic jams and pick different vehicles and sometimes switch between them.

When I got there, we started brainstorming around 10:30. We talked about a variety of topics, themes and mechanics. He threw out ideas like bacteria travelling in a body and interact with other stuff in it. He also introduced me the game play of a board game called Mr. Jack which allows players to take their turns to explore and interact with each other in limited area. I thought about travelling to different times with a time machine and have parallel universes. I felt it very interesting because I was sure that all teams would definitely be thinking about travelling through space although it sounds really abstract if we make a game about travelling through time. I tried to figure out how it might work, but I didn't get anything but headache. When I was about to abandon the time travelling idea, Yan went through all the things we had and we realized that both of us sort of liked it. So we decided to try our best and see what we could reach. I never doubted that it would be a hard process and it turned out to be true. We listed all the elements and fragments of design ideas. We decided to have three Time Sections: the Past, the Present and the Future. Whatever was done in former time sections changes the things and events happening in the later section. It was really hard to put them together and to make everything reasonable. However, as time went by, I formed the story line and basic mechanics in mind gradually. I got a bunch of problems and couldn't link them together. I tried to express them and let Yan solve all the problems. He did a good job reading my mind, iterating on the details including the items, events and maps and approving my thoughts. I was not confident with the idea of using items to link the three worlds together and I thought it not fun enough until he said it was brilliant to figure out that. We made a rough prototype, tested and changed more than five times. We'd been trying to simply the game play and making it as intuitive as possible, still I felt it hard to understand because there is no similar models in real life. I was almost 2:00 p.m. and we hesitated whether to push down and start over again. I really wanted to follow the spirit of Fail-Fast-and-Flow-the-Fun. But again, we really wanted to create a game about time travelling. It was also partly because of the text on blackboard: "Theme: > Travel". I was wondering if the ">" indicated that we were supposed to make something about super travel or things more than purely travelling. Anyway, we decided to stick to whatever we had. After the organizers set up the printer, it was almost 5:00 p.m. when we printed 3 copies of the map and drew the icons on them. All things were done in a hurry and we didn't even get enough time to run the final version.

There were 8 games at last. It was Demo time from 5:00-6:00 p.m. and we run all the games one by one. We were Team 1 and we named the game Testament. In a play of our game, there was a boy who tried to fight with me with his weapon, the Screwdriver. But he failed and killed himself. It was so fun. (He revenged and killed me in his game later...||||) The second game was about earning resources, delivering them, building and fighting. It looked very professional and clean. The third one was made by a lady and it was on a colorful graph containing lots of paths. The next one was similar to the classical board game Snack and Ladders in game mechanics but they got different themes. The next one was a Hello Kitty flicking game. The most impressive thing about this game was that the players who are not in their turn (basically flicking) are meant to count for the one who's moving, which keeps the game intense and adds more fun. The next one was also made by one person (Tim in a T-shirt with the Massive Chalice on it). It was about all band members earning fame and money for their band and themselves. When they count the total income it is a cooperative system and when it comes to individual it is competitive. He got explanations about all the characters, situation and events, which was awesome. Actually the game play was similar to the final pitch of my Game Design course team, a combination of Grand Theft Auto and Guitar Hero which allows player to experience the process of becoming a rock godfather from a shabby street singer. The last game but not the least was made by two high school (not very sure) boys and it was about wanders visiting various landmarks in Pittsburgh, gathering weapons and money and fighting against one another. The game rules are not perfect but it was really fun to play.

At last, we were awarded the most complicated and confusing. The judge said "We believe that there's something in there." Honestly I had the presentiment of getting this award when we were designing this game. Well it was great fun playing other teams' game, seeing new visuals and novel mechanics and talking to board game lovers there. I appreciate that the organizers provide the materials and food for us. I had never seen that many kinds of materials for making board games. They are really idea provoking. I was a great day and I hope to participate more board game jams in the future.