Posts Tagged brainstorm

Inspiration from Fiction

I love to steal.  And by that, I mean I love to steal interesting concepts and seeds of great, dramatic-feeling ideas from fiction (specifically movies and books) and incorporate them into my games.  I do this a lot with role-playing game campaigns and adventures – for example, the sea of dreams Quiddity from Clive Barker’s Great and Secret Show, and the childlike empress’ chamber from Neverending Story, and a person creating their own past from Memento.  I’ve recently been identifying more and more interesting ideas and I wanted to write them down:

  • A “time wall” – events bounce off of it (rewinding time by some amount) and the rewinding continues as a diminishing rate as events “settle down” off the bounce (like a bouncing ball)
  • A fate-double – two characters intertwined in fate despite great distances and maybe never even meeting each other (but related through some other means)
  • The training / practice IS the actual mission, but the trainees don’t know it
  • Seeing a scene multiple times, each time a little different (perhaps through the player’s efforts)
  • The grand high poobah/ruler/godlike being has to secretly hide part of itself in a humble (and unaware) servant to later be “triggered”

It’s interesting that a lot of the time, outside of tabletop RPGs, I consider the realm of digital games to be the appropriate place to leverage these ideas.  I think this is because the major divide between digital and analog games is that the former is immersive whereas the latter is abstract.  Analog games are very good at getting the player and the mechanic(s) into close proximity.  Digital games are very good at getting the player and the story/setting into close proximity.

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Evil Genius

So, two pieces of background: there’s this board game, Evil Geniuses, that Nate and I created as a wedding present for Todd and Tory.  The game, although not exactly complete in the sense that it could be mass marketed right now, is pretty cool (if I do say so myself).  Each player is an evil genius trying to take over the city (the semi-randomized hex map that makes up the board) using their particular race of evil minions.  You know, Zombies, Ninjas, Robots, etc.  The game was created as a gift for them, and so it matches a lot of the things they like in board games – map control, resource management, auction, randomness.  However, as I tried to continue to develop it and balance it, I couldn’t really get it to a compelling-for-all-audiences point despite a near-complete revision of combat and some major tweaks to minion races.

Point the second: I’ve been reading the excellent book Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell.  In this book, he details a number of tools you can use to improve your ability to design games – or as he puts it, design the experiences created through games.  I recently completed a chapter on interest curves.  Essentially, you can tailor the pacing and content of an experience to maximize your guest’s interest in it.  This is not news to most people, since we intuitively understand the structure of fiction and performance in this way.  You open with a big hook to draw them in, have a couple of surprises along the way as you develop, and have a climactic event (finale) before the denouement.  Could I apply this tool of interest curve to Evil Geniuses?

I think the game has the hook – you select your evil minion race and immediately send them into the city!  And it has a pretty good pacing for surprises along the way – you encounter other minions on the board and fight them, and the fights are always exciting.  But it lacks a finale – in fact, the game often feels like it peters out near the end, and the outcome often feels determined going into the last or few last turns.  Could a finale be added?  (It is interesting to note that a lot of games have this petering-out effect because they just happen to end artificially.  I definitely enjoy games that have a player-driven ending more than I do a rules-driven ending!)

Some ideas I had, that I am now interested in trying out:

  • Reintroduce the concept of the resource-stealing Hero (equivalent to the Robber in Settlers), but have a battle against the Hero grant a large victory point bonus at the end.
  • Introduce a secondary goal that completes at game end – as an axis separate from the terrority fighting and management part of the game (which ebbs and flows), this could reach a climax at the same time as game end.  Maybe each evil genius is building a doomsday device, and the previous “add-ons” system (which was giving bonuses mostly to the minion troops) can be adapted to that building process?
  • A king-of-the-hill mechanic for the city center that scales over time, so that inevitably the players have a climatic showdown to control city center near the end of the game.

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What Is: 2Do

I have a half-written post about part 2 of GameSpace but since that project is uber-duper complicated, I decided I would try to flesh out a slightly less difficult complicated project first: a new, possibly iPhone, to-do list program that would be perfect for me.  I know, I know – selfish!

2Do’s design is fairly simple:

  • No login necessary – it stores your lists and items in lists based on saved cookies.  It appears that iPhone apps can share the built-in Safari web browser cookie store, so perfect!  I think it should include a login system for sharing tasks between computers, but it shouldn’t be necessary.
  • When you start, you have one list defined with a default name and no items.
  • You can set up any number of lists, by name – the names don’t have to be unique.
  • On the side is a listing (maybe collapsible) of your current lists, in the order in which you flip through them.  You can drag the list titles to move the lists around.  There’s a clear place to add a new list at the top, and you can drag it to anywhere in the list once you are finished naming it.
  • I think each list name should have next to it the number of incomplete tasks.
  • You move from list to list by flicking to the side (iPhone, maybe web?) or selecting the list title from the list-listing.
  • When you are looking at a list, each item has the following info:
  • one-line description
  • due date (optional)
  • priority (optional) – I think these are numbers with color coding, similar to other todo list applications
  • a checkbox, which is the complete status
  • You can reorder the list items by dragging the item handle.
  • You can easily add a new item at the top of the list, and then drag it.
  • You can easily remove an item by clicking the red “x” to the far right of the item.
  • Each list also has a checkbox at the top – whether to show completed items.  (They just become hidden if you hide them.)

That’s it!  I’m getting excited thinking about doing this implementation, at least on the web (I’ll be borrowing some prebuilt animation libraries for the web to make it “feel” like the iPhone, probably?).

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When Tory asked me to help out creating a “stack” (themed puzzle day) for Todd, I was happy to help.  It ended up taking a loooot of time, but was obviously enjoyed by everyone… because who doesn’t love spending the day hanging out with people doing the fun kind of problem-solving and role-playing?  Is there a market for the creation of puzzle-day type experiences?  By market, I mean like, actually starting a business dedicated to providing such experiences to paying customers on behalf of nonpaying groups.

Tim, Molly and I have talked a little about this, and I’ve had on-and-off discussions before with Nate and Todd about it.  The general idea behind such a business would be to find venues where people would enjoy this sort of thing (off the top of my head, I think conventions, multi-day conferences, team-building type retreats and BIG parties would be interested) and then appropriately define a cost-to-complexity ratio for the kinds of puzzles we would do.

I think the process for a single customer would be:

  • Customer comes to us, interested in an experience for the customer’s group.
  • We nail down an appropriate theme (maybe themeless) with them.
  • We make sure there’s enough time scheduled to develop all the pieces and do setup on location, and then spend a week or two (or longer) generating the pieces of the puzzles and all the auxiliary, important “immersion” stuff: props, costumes, actors, etc.
  • Do the work – this is the fun part!
  • Drive a mobile puzzle setup vehicle to the site, and do setup in time for the activities to start.

At Caltech, stacks were generally teams of no more than 8, organized by 1-3 people in their spare time over months.  I imagine the logistics are crazy difficult but solvable for something like 10 teams of 8 (a huge retreat or open-attendence convention stack), organized by 3-5 people working full-time for weeks.

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What Is: GameSpace (part 1)

As remarked upon in my project brainstorm post, I am interested in revisiting an idea for a new sort of sharing environment I call SPACE – Semantic Positioning and Creation Engine… and maybe specifically for games, e.g. GameSpace.  So, what would it entail?  As I wrote this, I realized how long my full treatment of the project would be, so I’m breaking it into pieces.  Today is the user experience.

I go to the web application and sign in / register.  I am presented with essentially a blank canvas (“new document”) and I can either create stuff or put that stuff in a game.

Let’s say I want to make Chess.  I create a game piece using the basic Draggable Piece library item.  Maybe I add six of them with different appearances to my personal library of objects – Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, Queen, King.  Then I create a game board using the Container library item.  What will it contain?  Alternate color squares, of course!  So I make a square object (also a container), declare that it can hold one of the six pieces I specified.

Then I can add properties for the pieces – not just “which player I belong to” but “captured/not” and which square on the board I belong on.  For chess, each piece also has a starting location.

Now to the interaction – when pieces interact with each other, the piece entering the space “captures” the other piece, so I would want to specify that.  In this case, I add the rule “when a piece moves into a square of an opposing piece, set opposing piece to captured and remove from board.”  When a player interacts with a piece, what valid moves there are depend on the kind of piece, so I would specify that per piece.  [This part (the actions available) is complicated, and I’ll have to think more about the interface for it.]

Then once I have these things added, I can save my game rules.  Then you can join the app and see my game rules and game pieces, and either “open them for editing” or start the game with me, and we take actions previously defined by me when I was creating them.  In this way, multiple people could join and play the game I have created, or I could could quickly (and collaboratively!) modify the game in a rapid prototyping way.

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Fantasy vs. Science Fiction

When I was down in Los Angeles, with Dan O, staying with Todd and Tory, going to Sam and Kirsten’s wedding (namedrop c-c-c-combo!), we watched James Cameron’s Avatar.  On the car ride afterward, we started having a discussion about what the difference between fantasy and science fiction is.

For reference, here are the definitions:

  • fantasy (Literature): an imaginative or fanciful work, esp. one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters
  • science fiction: a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.

Interestingly, the most meaningful definition among us (and the other friends we asked) was descriptive; that is, fantasy is in a fantastical setting and science fiction is in a science-y fictional setting.  These definitions also follow that basic rubric.

However, I was interested in a definition that was more prescriptive and thus capable of determining what Avatar was: fantasy or science fiction.  For although Cameron’s epic takes place on another world and with futuristic spacecraft and society, it also deals with the mystical and, well, the fantastic.

(By the way, if to you the fantasy/science fiction distinction is purely setting or descriptive, feel free to use different demarcations.  I’m just looking for a way to consider, say, Star Wars and Star Trek from a different perspective, one that allows us to meaningful comparisons unrelated to setting.)

One thought I had was that in fantasy, there is some destiny or fate at work (someone is chosen) and in science fiction, the person or people to whom stuff is happening or with whom events are caught up could be anyone – even you!  This worked for me for a movie like Star Wars (which I consider to be in the “fantasy” camp) but unfortunately failed with Lord of the Rings from at least the hobbit side of things.

Another thought I had much more recently on my own (and which prompted me to write this blog!) was that maybe it goes:

  • science fiction: a logical extrapolation of starting conditions (either our world, or a parallel one)
  • fantasy: something in the setting or action defies logic, or breaks with the logical extrapolation above – usually this would be something supernatural (magic, God/gods) but wouldn’t (necessarily) have to be… I am having a hard time coming up with such an example, though!

I guess that is really just a restatement of the descriptive definitions above – but it seems more useful.  It is also more subjective, which is probably a bad thing.

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Brain Storm

Some ideas for programming projects have been kicking around in my head, and might be able to form the basis of some of the “side project” work detailed in Resolution #2.  Here they are, with a brief explanation:

  • A web app / iPhone app for to-do lists that behaves simply: each page is a list, each item can be dragged around in ordering on the list it’s in, or moved via dragging to another list.  At the top of each list is the name of the list, and each item has a checkbox to denote “complete”.  On the iPhone, it would be multiple pages so that you flick back and forth to go from list to list.
  • An iPhone app called “Wolf” that manages Mafia/Werewolf games as though they were play-by-post.  Basically, you subscribe to a game and receive push notifications (like texts) when another player broadcasts a message.  The app manages your role in the game, lets you broadcast to secret groups you are in (like when you are a bad guy and planning the group kill) and maybe restricts how many characters (a la Twitter) you can broadcast to make people think about what they are saying.  Also, it would thread discussions so that it’s easier to keep track.
  • A web framework that would let people create online board games – similar to Vassal but with a much better UI and suite of tools for the layman.  Maybe this would a good way way to start Space (semantic positioning and creation engine – see my old post here), a project I have long believed would be my masterwork… if I could do it. :)
  • Update/refresh Breeze, my online web client for play-by-email Magic draft.
  • Create Netdecks, a Netflix-like website where people could borrow Magic cards/decks.  Recently, I have thought maybe this could be a vendor/customer hookup where vendors sign up to give cards to the project and customers borrow them, kicking some money to me while mostly paying the vendor.
  • Finish/refresh my thread-level-permissions forums project, which has been sitting around unfinished for… ever?  A long time, at least.

Of course, I have a couple ideas that are not programming related!

  • A “The Game” style party involving a lot of my friends, even from all around the country (world?)… the limiter here is financials, but with a few friends in-on-it and willing to fund some, this might be totally awesome.
  • A game cabinet, arcade-style.

This is just a sampling of ideas that have been on my mind of late… I’m sure I’ll have another blog soon with even more!

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