Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More Colors! stuff, and Playing With A Purpose

So instead of doing really meaningful stuff, I've been spending a lot of time with my DS while on the road, mostly with Puzzle Quest, and with the Colors homebrew as mentioned in an earlier post.

This has been quite an experiment, really, playing around with Colors. I've never done anything that equates with painting before doing artwork, as I've pretty much learned on-the-job doing things digitally. I assume that if I was doing this with real paints, I'd be creating the world's thickest paintings ever, based on the amount of color layering I wind up doing (there is no UNDO button! If you want to make a change, you "paint" over it). But so far, I'm pretty happy with my results in this wacky new medium.

The duck is my first attempt. I'm trying to do everything freehand; just to make my life harder, I've set a goal to try an avoid using any rference material as my actual freehand art isn't very good. I'm more of a 3-D animator guy than a traditional artist, anyway.

My second attempt is the moai, in which I quickly broke my "no reference material" rule, as it is based on the cover of an airline magazine that was on a recent flight. It wound up turning out a bit darker than planned...the overhead reading light on the airplane turned out to be too direct on the DS screen, giving me perfect bright lighting on the screen while I was working on it. Sure I can adjust the levels in photoshop, and then it looks a lot better, but that would be cheating!

Finally, on the trip home, I wound up drawing the hippo you see here. Knowing about the airplane lighting issue, I was more aware of the brightness levels, and was able to compensate better this time.

It should be noted that these images really didn't take that much time...most of the wasted free time was spent on Puzzle Quest, which, for some ungodly known reason, I decided to dedicate to myself to "beat." "Beat" not in the sense of "getting to the finish of the game," but more like "come to grasp it it's workings a little bit better to gain an advantage."

For those who are not aware of the Puzzle Quest set up, it's basically a match-three casual game mated with an RPG. You select your typical D&D-ish class, and then travel around a world, completing Quests, fighting many a monster, sieging towns, gaining magic spells and powerful artifacts, increasing stats, buying and selling weapons, etc. But everything is done through a fairly standard Bejeweled casual game interface. With slight variations depending on what you are doing. Such as...

When fighting monsters, you take turns playing Bejeweled against your opponent; matching three colored same-colored jewels removes them from the matrix and add to your appropriate colored mana to be used later for magical spells, removing three or more skulls in row does damage to your opponent, removing gold increases your gold, and removing purple stars adds to your experience, which increases your levels. That's the basic format, with various twists, some I've listed below.

If you want to train your mount (I've recently upgraded my giant rat to a wolf), you do the same as above, but with time limits. If you are forging new equipment, you are trying to get rid of "anvil" symbols, without creating a "no legal move" board. If you are trying to capture a monster, then you are playing a simple "remove all symbols" puzzle; but one false move, and there'll be a leftover symbol, and the monster escapes.

And so on.

Unlike playing Bejeweled, however, the fact that the puzzle game is merely a game wrapper for all the actions within this RPG world is sort of engrossing. You aren't playing the game to simply pass time, as you would on your standard casual game, but now YOU ARE PLAYING WITH A MISSION!!! In fact, Penny Arcade humorously capture it all in this comic. Strangely, on paper, it doesn't seem like it would work. But it works wonderfully. It should be noted that Puzzle Pirates also follows this model somewhat, albeit in a more, MMORG kind of way.

There's quite a bit of strategy involved, meta-game wise. Collecting colored symbols are always good; nothing like using them for a well-timed magic attack in the heat of the battle. However, simply being bloodthristy means that you are probably not collecting a lot of gold or experience. Conversely, do you spend you turn collecting those experience symbols, and hope that the monster doesn't kill you off with some wacky combo thing, when you could simply kill him off instead?

Lately, I bought a few items that increase my damage when knocking out the skull symbols, which usually puts me in a large lead with the simpler monsters; at which point I can start using the life-point gap to collect the meta-game stuff. But not always; I've had a Harpy on the ropes with 3 life points left, and me holding on to about 30 life points, and then watched the Harpy pull off an amazingly lucky combo, taking me out. Not fun.

Now if I could only get past the stupid 2 headed Ogre who gets a free turn when ever he collects 3 or more Gold symbols, I'd be in business.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

The internet is a big place

So, how do I know that the internet is a big place?

On Friday, I spent some time cleaning up the PocketCiv website, finally purging it of all version #1 data, and FINALLY updating the scenarios. But it turns out that I had missed a link (to the rules sheet, of course).

And how do I know this? I come into work on Monday, and find that I have 8 emails from people informing me about bad link.

Which probably doesn't seem like a lot, given the whole entire scope of things. But, in a lot of ways it's quite amazing. I don't track traffic on the site, so I have no idea how often it gets visited. Really, the only "marketing" there is in terms of pointing out where the game is at boardgamegeek, and it's only occasionally mentioned here or there in a forum. In fact, there hasn't really been a large jump in it's ratings for quite some time now; I had assumed everyone has just moved on to "the next big thing." Well, that's assuming if PocketCiv was ever a anything larger that a small thing to begin with.

The game is such a niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche kind of thing. First, you need to find that group of players that are "enlightened" board gamers (as opposed to the vast amount of people who only know of Scrabble and Monopoly, and whatever is sitting on the shelves at Target). And then with in that group, you need to find the people who are interested in a solitaire non-wargame experience, followed by people who are willing to take the time to print-and-play within THAT group. I imagine that the the pickings at this is is quite small.

But dedicated.

I guess that this leaves me wondering how constant the flow of traffic is, even though I'll probably just leave it as a mystery. After watching for various forum posts about the game, I'm always quite surprised how quickly catch an update to the website and mention it. So there must be some kind of small following for it.

As a side note, I've been toying around with a game tentatively named "Conjunction Junction" (named by Darkehorse of fame) with Seth over at sedjtroll. It's a sort of wacky idea I've had combining train/rail connections with Scrabble-like word play, that Seth has prodded me to investigate further with a few good ideas of his own. I can't imagine what the Venn diagram looks like for the crossover between those type of players!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mouse Tar Tar

I guess I should update this. I find my self frequently the Game Design Showdowns less frequently on BGDF than in the past. Mostly this is a combination of:
A) I've won numerous times, therefore my desire to win has been lessened.
B) I've got enough of my own projects to work on.
C) The general bugginess of the BGDF has been experiencing with some upgrades occuring with it's ISP has been rather limiting my time there.

Anyway, my last attempt was back in October, with a rather bad finish of 6th place. Part of this I attribute to the fact that I completely missed one of the requirements: Set Collection, I believe.

There is usually the common complaint during these things about 800 words not being enough; this entry continued my downward spiral of trying to create something with less and less words, targeting more simpler party games with an interesting easy-to-grasp gimmick than trying to shoehorn an overly done gamer's experience. Plus, a continued avoidance of graphics, when possible, just to make it a bit more challenging.

Hence, the wackiness of building food platters with play-doh while trying to hide little plastic rodents within the food.

All of the gory details about the contest can be found here at the October 2007 GDS challenge link, otherwise known as "Eating Crow."

Chocolate Mouse
Each player gets 1 player screen, and 10 Bucks. Bucks are single coins or chits.

Additionally, each player gets two small, plastic dishes to create food items on.

One player gets the Food Critic badge. This is passed to the player on the left at the end of each round. Any player who is not the Critic becomes a Chef for that round.

Place on the table in the center where everyone can reach:
  • Containers of various colors of play-doh.
  • A pile of tiny plastic Grey Mice.
  • The deck of Entrees and the deck of Sidedishes, both face-down.
  • A 6 sided die, known as the Health Inspector.
A Round of Play:
If a Chef has at least one Rat, he must roll the die. If the Chef has more Rats than the die roll, he discards 2 Rats, gives half of his Bucks to the Critic, and must sit out this round.

The Critic draws 4 Entrees and 2 Sidedishes. He selects one of each, and discards the rest.

The Critic places his selected dishes face up on the center of the table. The Chefs will need to make these dishes to the best of their abilities and using the play-doh.

The cards are simple text descriptions of basic menu items: "T-Bone SteaK" and "Garden Salad".

The Critic should close his eyes, or leave the room, for the next phase of the game.

All Chefs secretly select an amount of Bucks and place that amount into the fist. All Chefs reveal their selected amounts.

For each Buck selected, each Chef can take play-doh of a different color. SO if a Chef selected 3 Bucks, he can take play-doh of three different colors. There should be enough play-doh for everyone; one player cannot "capture" a color from any other player.

However, the player (or players) who has selected the most Bucks must also take an amount of Rats equal to the amount of Bucks they selected minus the amount of Bucks that the next highest player has played.

Example: Steven and Joy both played 4 Bucks. Fred played 2 Bucks. Steven and Joy get to select 4 colors of play-doh, but they also have to take 2 Rats. Fred takes two color of play-doh.

Behind the screens, each Chef must now use their play-doh to construct the best looking Entree and Sidedish. If a Chef has one or more Rats, a Chef may try and hide the Rats in his dishes. Players are not allowed to mix colors of playdoh.

When all Chefs are done, they present their finished dishes by placing them randomly at the center of the table.

The Critic returns to the table (or opens his eyes), and takes 10 Bucks from the stock. He can touch the dishes, but can examine them closely. He votes on the most tasty looking dishes by placing up to 5 Bucks next to any dishes he wish. Otherwise he may divide up the Bucks any way he wishes.

Finally, the Critic may complain that any dish has Rats in it. If the accusation is true (by physically taking apart the play-doh in the dish), the Critic collects the Bucks next to the dish. If the Critic is wrong, the Critic must match the Bucks next to the suspect dish with Bucks from his own account.

The Chefs reveal who created what dish, and collect the Bucks next to their dishes.

The dishes are collected, and the play-doh is seperated back into the correct colors (as much as possible) for the next round.

For the Win:
After all players have had a chance to be a Critic three times, the game ends. A player's score is the amount of Bucks they have minus 2 bucks per Rat. Whoever has the highest score wins.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Artwork A-Go-Go

Ok, this is pretty awesome. First, click here to go to this forum and look at all the amazing pieces of artwork.

All of these pieces were done in the same program. However, it's not Photoshop, or Illustrator, or some other big name program.

And no, it's not some freeware program for your desktop, like GiMP. However, it is free.

It's a program called Colors. It's a a free downloadable paint program for the Nintendo DS, if you have a DS Flash Cart.

What is a DS Flash Cart? It's memory card with a USB port that allows you to copy programs on to it to play on a console. In this case, the DS. Naturally, Nintendo would rather these things didn't exist, as their main function is to pirate DS games.

It's a very amazingly intuitive low-fi art tool that can provide some outstanding results. While it doesn't feature various now-commonplace things as other paint programs, such as layers, or undo, it really captures the essence of painting in real-life perfectly. The best part of the program is that it automatically creates a MPEG-styled movie of your brush strokes as you paint. And these can be shared also. So, as in the case of the forums, not only can you trade artwork, but you can actually trade the ENTIRE PROCESS of how the artwork was created (by uploading/downloading the mpeg file), in order to learn various painting techniques. And since the DS is WiFi, you can do all of this trading wirelessly, supposedly.

Technology is cool.

(and the cat picture isn't my picture. It's just "borrowed" from the forum)

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Monday, January 07, 2008

The Value of Risk

It's somewhat ironic that in my last post, I bring up the Prisoner's Dilemma. To recap, my personal feeling of PD is that, while it's an interesting game theory question within itself, it doesn't play out very well in real life, in that it doesn't take into much emotion, or the value of emotion too much, derived from the situation that the "player" may be in at any given time. Additionally, I'm not sure how you can truly test the game without a value of risk involved. Sure you can play the game repeatedly in your kitchen room, deciding "guess I'm going to jail for 5 years now!" because of your choice (and of the choice of your traitorous compatriot).

But it is a different situation entirely to be locked up in a police station, presented with the same choice FOR REAL, not knowing if your buddy is blabbing in the interview room next door.

I guess I should also note here that I am not a game theorist! I don't even play one on TV.

Another aspect is that I am very hard pressed to come up with a good game that employs PD. At the root of PD is this: in general, all players moderately "share a win" if they stick together; but at what point is one player willing to break ranks to heavily "win singularily" while tossing the other players into an abyss. Of course, each player knows this option exists, but they have no idea if any other player has taken the bait.

Negotiation games such as Diplomacy don't count, since usually games like this are targeted at having only one winner; it is inevitable that someone must do some backstabbing to get ahead, and there is no real sense of a shared win. Additionally, traitor games don't count either; while players cooperate against a hidden, single foe, players are given roles, and they must perform them as expected. Now, if all players started out co-operative, but were given a choice somewhere in the game to turn secretly bad, then we might have something! But I know of no such game currently out there, not to say that it doesn't exist.

And so, here's where the irony begins.

I've been reworking Doppleganger recently. Thematically, Doppleganger is about a team of UFO believers who have broken into a deserted Area 51 outpost in the Nevada Desert. And while they have found clear evidence of alien life that has visited Earth, their vehicles and communication equipment have been sabotaged. The players must work together to escape the desert to civilization.

(I hesitate to link Doppleganger to anything at the moment...I'm not quite prepared to release Doppleganger 2.0 to the wild, and the version of Doppleganger that is currently online is missing the key trait that I am discussing here. But you can view the old version on the list of links to the right.)

At it's heart, Doppleganger is a secret traitor game; the players are working together to overcome various desert obstacles. However, there may be an alien doppleganger in their midst, trying to make sure that the team does not reach civilization. Originally, as shown in version 1.0,there are two basic win conditions: if any amount of humans makes it to civilization, the humans win. If all human players expire in the desert, the alien wins. It's simple enough.

In re-working the game, I've thought about how to create a greater sense of paranoia amongst the players. Obviously, the alien player must be careful to hide his destructive action within the team, but how can the game system "help out" the alien by naturally creating a situation where human players can find EVERYONE suspicious?

The Prisoner's Dilemma offers an interesting solution to this. It's fairly simple; let the game give secret offers to the humans to let them have a large singular win at the expense of helping out the lesser shared win.

So, not only are the humans on the lookout for suspicious behaviors from an enemy alien, but they all know that the other players will be offered potential sweet deals during the game to break ranks for the fellowship. For a player to win the game, he must rely on his partners to work together, because if they don't work as a team, it is impossible to win individually.

Here's how it works.

As the team wanders the desert (tiles that are drawn and placed, creating a desert map), when a player moves the team to a Crash Site location, that player gets to distribute XX amount of Supply Cards as shown on the tile. Distributing a Supply Card works like this, the player draws 2, discards one (face down), and then can keep the remaining card, or give it to another player.

For the most part, the Supply Deck is primarily built of supply cards that can be used to overcome obstacles. But a small amount of cards are scoring cards, cards that score points at the end of the game ONLY if that player reaches civilization safely. The question becomes:

Is a player willing to keep a scoring card which provides no help to the team to reach it's goal, or "take one for the team" and keep a supply card that can be used to help overcome an obstacle?

Of course, the Alien player could simply hand over a Scoring card to a human to cause problems in the ranks. But won't the player who received the card now realize that the ONLY reason this card was passed to him would be that the player handing the card over is the alien for the sole purpose of messing with the team? Does this player now alert the team to the alien presence, at the risk of revealing that he now has a scoring card?

A lot of these decisions fall under the category of what the Value of Risk currently is in the game. Most likely, early in the game, humans will not want to have anything to do with the scoring cards; it is in their best interest to stockpile supply cards. But the value of the risk in terms of needing supply cards change as it becomes apparent that the team is having an easy time (or not) crossing the desert. Or at least, the risky visual appearance of a player stockpiling supply cards, but never playing them, because, most likely, they are worthless scoring cards when it comes to overcoming obstacles.

So, at some point, if the team members feel that they are close to escaping, it stops becoming a team effort, and instead becomes a secret individual effort to be the sole winner. But at what point does this become prudent? Each player is assumed to have their own value of this risk, and potentially understanding what the value of risk is for each player they are playing with.

Which I think captures the Prisoner's Dilemma nicely. In theory, anyway.

There's some amount of cleverness with the scoring cards themselves, actually, as each card has a different value of risk. There are simple cards, such as awarding points for each supply card that the escaping human holds at the game. This might be worth grabbing early if everyone is holding a handful of cards.

But the more complicated cards or more interesting.

One scoring card, "The Infection," actually lets the player switch sides to the alien side. This card is interesting in terms of when it's potentially kept. It's worth keeping later in the game if it appears that the humans are a part of a lost cause.

Even better, an alien can give this card to another player to "infect" him.

But the most creative use would be this:
There is a scoring card, known as "The Hunter." This human scores points if he survives AND if an alien has been killed off (yes, players can vote off other players to kill them). So, an interesting play would be to keep the Hunter card, and then, if you draw the Infection, "infect" another player, and then persuade the group kill off the infected player.

Other scoring cards include cards that score points for the number of players that survive, and it's ying-yang, for the number of players that died.

With a little hope, this should make for an interesting experience in growing paranoia of what everyone's motives really are. After all, everyone has a little villainy in them!

("alien shadow" image blatantly stolen from

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