Tuesday, January 12, 2010


So, I've been busy. That's my excuse. For not bothering to post in a while.

I've been re-working the Shipwreck game a bit lately. It's now on version 4.

It's been a sort of troubling game. The core mechanics are fun and everyone who has played it seems to enjoy that part of the game, but the surrounding structure of it has never seemed to gel very well.

The core structure is finding clues to find locations of shipwrecks, which players salvage for points. There was always an intended structure for the points allotted, based on various things, such as the class of the ship, the quality of the salvage crew you've hired, and how deep the shipwreck was in the lake.

And ultimately, most of that stuff never really mattered.

So much time and effort was spent on finding enough clues on a particular a shipwreck, that if you did realize that it was a low point salvage operation, you never really cared. You had completely "adopted" that wreck at that point, so it was in your best interest to salvage it anyway, low points be damned.

And so, in the end, it felt like the wrecks were just handing out random points, even though there was a lot of effort built in to the game to make it not random.

Therefore, the game was just running around, finding wrecks, and getting random points. Pretty much like what I imagine real shipwreck hunting and salvaging is sort of like. I've gone through 3 different versions of this, with handling the point system in different ways. With all the same results; while the clue hunting is fun and sound, the game around that aspect isn't.

Recently, I decided that what was wrong with the game is the focus of it; the ultimate goal of how to win at it. The ride was fun, but the destination wasn't. As it was, I had still not developed a good way to end the game, aside from "after 12 shipwrecks have been found." I've never liked this kind of arbitrary kind of ending in a game to begin with. I'd much have a more organic way to end the game (whatever that means), than some simply stated fact. There's nothing really building towards that finish. It's not like players are building an empire from some small cogs. Your salvage operation is always the same operation throughout the game. Puerto Rico doesn't end after XX rounds,there are hard component limitations that end the game, things that the players can control, or at least feel like they can. Or at least point to how it happened.

Not, "just because the rules said so."

So I've turned the game much more into an Indiana Jones/DaVinci Code affair. Which has brought a lot of the mechanical concepts of how the game works into a much more sharper focus, and has even brought the theme out some more. And it has gotten rid of the entire pesky points awarding system. It goes like this now:

The game is the first player to discover one of the 3 Gates of Atlantis at the bottom of the bay. To do this, players combine artifacts together which reveal clues as to where those gates are. However, those artifacts are also lost in the bay, hidden amongst the many shipwrecks. So, the player first travel from city to city, finding the clues that eventually lead the players to discover which shipwreck each artifact is hidden on, then the players must discover the locations of those shipwrecks, dive down to recover the artifacts and then use the artifacts to discover the location of one gate.

This is a much stronger narrative theme to impose on the players, as it gives them a call to action. The game now has a drive behind all of it's clue-hunting mechanical nonsense. And like any good "race for the artifact story," the game no thematically allows for stealing things from other players, leading to more direct confrontations, which I think should play out well.

//Well, of course, until it doesn't play out well, then back to the drawing board. The life of a prototype game is never complete.

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