Category: 53-409

Fenn’s Treasure Postmortem

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Fenn’s Treasure Pitch Document

Initial Goals

We made Fenn’s Treasure to understand small scale game development, the game market, and pitching technique. We wanted to make a small-scale puzzle adventure game with heavy narrative and survival crafting that pulled from the allure of a real world setting and problem: Forrest Fenn’s 1-million-dollar treasure hidden in the Rockies. (We wanted to merge the genres.) Players would use resources from the environment to craft solutions to puzzles. We wanted to understand the success of games like Firewatch, Don’t Starve, and Monument Valley and examine how they cater to the motivations and turn-offs of their player bases.

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Process

Fenn’s Treasure is a demo level made for pitching a full 6-hour, 2D isometric, real-time puzzle game for console and PC. The demo runs for about 3 minutes of game play. We also made a power point and a separate, physical pitch document that was given to the hypothetical publishers.

The game was created by Camille Baumann-Jaeger (level design and design documentation), Matthew Bofenkamp (writing), Breeanna Ebert (lead programming,music, and sound), Justin Fanzo (market research), Tom Garncarz (programming, UI, UX, pitch document, and logo design), and Rachel Moeller (me) (art, market research, and programming.) Overall design was a communal effort, with the micro decisions settled on by the implementation team (Cami, Tom, Breeanna, and Rachel) as they came up. The team met initially for weekly design meetings, then for the back half of the project met for jam-style meetings ranging from 3 to 7 hours 3 or 4 times a week. The game was also worked on outside of these meetings, with communication over IRC. We had three practice pitches before a group of game design students and industry professionals. We had an industry professional mentor our pitch by giving us individualized feedback. After each we iterated the pitch. The entire project took 5 weeks.

My contribution: All in game, cover, and concept art except the game and studio logos, animation and animation scripting, designing the puzzle steps and objects, testing and scripting puzzle steps together, initial market research into puzzle/narrative/and survival games, initial cost analysis, player motivation analysis, video documentation.

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Acquired Knowledge and Skills

We learned that you need to get the rights to anything that you might even remotely need to.

We learned some of the intricacies and difficulties of the game market. Finding accurate sales figures across platforms for games in the puzzle adventure genre was difficult, as we found many companies not wanting to disclose their revenue, let alone their asking investment. The games we could find numbers for were outlier games with wild success, such as Firewatch, whose sales are not typical of the market. By comparing our game to these figures (and while pitching to people who had much deeper access to the truths of these trends) we learned the difficulties of pitching in the puzzle adventure genre. We also learned how the basics of pitching.

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Setbacks and Solutions

While developing the high level design of the game, we began with a focus on “narrative heavy” and “survival” gameplay. We were given the feedback that pitching narrative as a core gameplay element was risky and that we should make the game much simpler. We iterated the design and the pitch to eliminate the word narrative and later survival as the game transitioned into a puzzle adventure game with construction elements. We wanted our game to move at the player’s pace, celebrating crafting as a creative effort rather than using it as a way to stave off a negative system (something trying to kill you through hunger, for example.) Quickly we were shown that this contradicts the motivations of many survival game players, who enjoy the harshness of traditional survival experiences. To better understand our player’s motivations, we used Jason Vandenberghe’s player classification system and aligned our players as skilled, impulse players (challenge), who prefer solo play at a mostly serene level (stimulation), and are interested in the context of their actions on an individual basis (harmony.) We found that in the Novelty quadrant the game was much grayer since this is where we were merging genres between builders (our crafting system) and explorers (exploring Yellowstone). We ended up classifying them as fantasy builders: fantasy because treasure hunting is a fantastical act and that we gave the player more power over the environment than is normal, plus we elevate them to a level genius in their ability to craft puzzle solutions; and builders because inherently the main mode of interaction with the game is puzzle solving (that’s what gives you the most sense of progress and strongest positive feedback) and the player does this through building solutions. The genre merging did become an issue in the pitch, as often genre merges only capture the audience the genres has in common, not the audiences of both genres. We attempted to mitigate this risk by preserving player motivations from each genre. For example, we believed a core allure of crafting was experimentation and discovering a correct solution from a set, so we were careful to mirror these motivations in a less build-y part of the game. Players can experiment within the crafting system as well as on different puzzle structures that unlock after each new puzzle (in a branching structure.) We expressed this as a solution to the risk of genre merging in our pitch, and this explicit acknowledgement of the risk was well received.

We had some issues with version control and Unity, as the team had varying experience with either tool. Scripting changes were merged without issue, but changes in the Unity editor almost always got deleted. Work was repeatedly re-done. In the end, we had to make complicated build passing schedules which passed through the implementation team from individual to individual. This limited what we could do on the game but mostly stopped the deletion and merge conflict issues.

We also had an issue with team communication, and in the end had to redesign elements or restructure pitch elements because of it. Always keep in contact with the people who rely on you.

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Conclusion

Fenn’s Treasure was an exercise in pitching games and polishing content. We learned the importance of identifying the motivations of your players, polishing your demo, mitigating risks, and appealing to the pitch audience.

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Designing Food Chain: Card Game

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How it Started

Initial Problem Statement: My friends and I love party games, but we often leave games behind after several playthroughs because their novelty wears off. Cards Against Humanity becomes boring if you’ve seen all the cards. I want to make a party game that is inherently replayable because the players create the cards. I want to make a game that will remember the players’ previous answers and comment on them and/or generate inside jokes.

Word of God Initial Ruleset

3-8 players, 40 black cards, 40 blank white cards

  1. Begin the game by having each player write one noun on a white card. Collect the cards and shuffle them. This is the generation deck.
  2. Draw the top card. Whoever wrote that card goes first. Return the card to the bottom of the generation deck.
  3. The first player draws a black card and a white card from the generation deck. Each black card has a question that must be answered. Part of that question is blank. The drawing player should read the question aloud and fill in the blank with the noun written on the drawn white card.
  4. To answer the question, each player (including the player who drew the black card) writes a single noun on a blank white card. When finished, each player places their card face down on the table. When all cards are placed down, the drawing player collects and shuffles the cards. This player then reads the question (with the blank filled in) and answers it by reading each card from the players.
  5. Players then vote on what they think is the best answer. This criterion is up to the players. The winning car’s writer is revealed, and that card is added to the generation deck. In the event of a tie, both authors are revealed and both cards are added to the generation deck. The other cards are discarded. Shuffle the generation deck after each card addition.
  6. The player on the drawing player’s right becomes the next drawing player.
  7. Play continues until every player has been the drawing player once. The player with the most cards in the generation deck at the end of the game wins.

Initial Scenario Prompt List:

  1. What will ___ eat?
  2. What creature will rule over the ___?
  3. Where will ___ live?
  4. What will be the end of the ___ s?
  5. Who will defend the ___ from the ___?
  6. What will cause the ___ revolution?
  7. What will early ___s worship?
  8. What is the grand purpose of ___?
  9. What will ____s blame for the inevitable destruction of the planet?
  10. What will the ___s fight over in their first war?
  11. What thing should taste good, but cause ___?
  12. Where will ___ bury their dead?
  13. What will ___ enslave to do their bidding?
  14. What will ___ use as currency?
  15. What ___ will become the rarest?
  16. What ___ will become the most popular pet?
  17. The toxic ___ have escaped! Who is responsible?
  18. No doubt about it, ___s evolved from?
  19. Organic DNA shall be composed of ___ and what else?
  20. ___ will age from exposure to?
  21. What ___ will be domesticated first?
  22. The poisonous underground ___ will cause the extinction of what?
  23. Where will alien ___ land first?
  24. Where will the supervolcanoes erupt ___ first?
  25. The planet’s last ___ will be killed by?
  26. The first animal to question ___ will immediate question what else after?
  27. Infant ___s shall remain small they consume what?
  28. Even though ___s will think they hold dominion here, what really runs the show?
  29. ___ shall evolve to gather nutrients from what?
  30. The ___ become tired quickly. What should the ultimate source of energy be on this planet?
  31. The annual celebration of ___ shall be held in honor of what?
  32. ___ shall form the basis of a civilization of what?
  33. Single celled ___s shall divide to become multi-celled. What is the second cell for?
  34. Due to a lack of ___, what organism shall be forced to have less brain matter?
  35. Civilization shall categorize itself according to arbitrary ____. What will this lead to?
  36. From Hydrogen and ____ shall arise?
  37. Flying ___ shall rule the earth for millennia, feasting on screaming what?
  38. The most bizarre creatures and ___ shall be found in?
  39. Civilization will fill the atmosphere and ___ with what miserable substance?
  40. What shall crash into the earth, creating a massive ___?

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initialMaterials

Playtests

Playtest #0

Date Thursday 3/30/17
Time 1 PM (In class playtest)
Location ETC RPIS
Number of Players 5: Sina, Miguel, Omar, Matthew, and Tom
Player Demographics Undergrad game design students (early twenties); players are classmates who know each other
Testing for… To see if players laugh, to see if there is creative frustration in the generation process
End State Tie between Miguel and Tom

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Cards Generated and Times Read

Poop x1 Plumbob x2 Their Historic Claims to Alsace-Lorraine x1 Bean Burritos x1 Meow

x1

Gun Ownership x1 State’s Rights

X2

Gerrymandering x1 Oreos x1 Wheel of Cheese x2 Detroit x2 Wheel of cow x1 Banana x0 Dog x0
Sun x1 Schadenfreude x1 Robert E. Leedbrador, the confederate doggo x1 Piss Wizards (Whizzards) x1 Dodecahedron of cheese x1 Napole-o’s: The emperor’s cereal x1 Donald Trump’s tan x1
At the Store x1 Orient Express x1 Sink x1 Obamacare x1 2 for 1 week at Subway x1 Ohio State x1 Wind x1
Right to piss x1 Love x1  

Rule Changes from Previous Version

Initial rule set used.

Insights

  1. Similarity to other games: The players quickly likened the game to Cards Against Humanity and Fibbage. The comparison made the game stale for them. I need to introduce something that will distance this game from other card based party games. Several players voiced that they enjoyed the idea that they were playing as god figures and paralleled that theme with the act of creating nouns for the cards. Perhaps pushing this theme in a new mechanic could add more originality to the game.
  2. Creative block: Despite having to only come up with one noun each round, the players frequently expressed creative block. One player announced that it was hard for him to come with something witty that would also play to the audience he was in. This comment illustrated the issue that players are trying to come up with ideas that will appeal to the whole group (since the whole group votes) and not play to a specific individual.
  3. Repeated motifs, not cards: After pulling a card that only one player understood twice, the players all agreed to trash that card. Repeated cards were boring for them. However, riffs off of cards that were in the previous round’s spotlight were frequent. For example, Wheel of Cheese generated Dodecahedron of Cheese and Wheel of Cow. These repetitions were accepted positively and caused laughter in the group. They gave the riffing player enough information to make a successful joke quickly (without getting creative block) and gain the attention of the group. One player wanted to keep his correct answer cards along with the black cards that he won as a mark of his creative triumph. One player wanted an exquisite corpse mechanic.
  4. Voting for yourself: All the players found the ability to vote for themselves strange. One did not see the point in rewarding good answers from other players if she could just always vote for herself. This also created an odd moment for the last player to vote. If their card was in the top choices, they could win with hidden information. This also resulted in a lot of ties, which felt anti-climactic.

Conclusion

               I need to preserve/reward/encourage the momentum of players repeating motifs from previous cards while also relieving creative pressure, reinforcing the players’ powers of creation in theme and mechanic, and eliminate voting for yourself.

Playtest #1

Date Thursday 3/30/17
Time 5 PM (CMU Playtest Night)
Location CMU OhLab
Number of Players 3: Xin, Sarah, and Matthew
Player Demographics Undergrad and graduate level game design students (early-mid twenties); some players know each other, none are close friends
Testing for… Alleviation of creative block frustration, repeated motifs, reactions to voting style, do the players feel powerful
End State Sarah won

 

Cards Generated

Brigadier Pickles, the iguana Protection from rabbits Apple juice homework chicken Rabbit
cloud carrot pickle Scotch Whisky Spontaneous dancing  

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. Discard generation cards after they have been used (to eliminate exact repeats and encourage repeating motifs.)
  2. Players’ hand now includes one blank card and one card from the generation deck. They may play either a filled in card or fill in one themselves, but they cannot redraw from the generation deck until they play the card they pulled. (Alleviate creative block)
  3. Players keep their winning blank card and the black card which they won. (A creative trophy to reward riffing.) All the losing cards are added to the generation deck.
  4. Players cannot vote for themselves. (Eliminate voting for yourself problem that would result in everyone winning every match if everyone voted for themselves.)
  5. The reading player may search the generation deck for any card they want to fill the deck. (Give the reading player more power as a god figure and give that player more control for a round.)
  6. If the game ends in a tie, the tying players go into sudden death. A new black card is drawn and the blank is filled with the top card on the generation deck. The tying players play a card, but other do not. Everyone votes. The owner of the winning card wins the game. (Eliminate ties and add drama to an anti-climactic event.)

Insights

  1. No creative block: Players wrote answers quickly or decided to use their generation card quickly. When asked, the players said they did not feel creative block or frustration. I think by giving an explicit prompt on the card and a seeding the player with an idea in the form of their second card drawn from the deck, players are given a creative out. This alleviates the pressure and lets them rest if they can’t think of something to answer.
  2. Power: The players did not mention the voting problem from the previous iteration, though there was a three-way tie in the first round. This means everyone voted for someone else. I solved this by declaring a tie would result in no points for anyone. I need a way to resolve voting so that ties do not occur, as this tie was as anti-climactic as the all game tie from the previous iteration. One player mentioned that he liked being able to go through the deck to fill in the blank because he felt like he had more control over what would happen in the next round. He said he was looking for the noun that amused him the most. This is interesting, as players may have different motivations for what nouns they chose to fill the blank with: what makes the most sense, what is funniest, what relates to a previous joke, etc.
  3. Playstyle: A parallel joke occurred when one of the blanks was filled with the word ‘carrot’. Two players mentioned rabbits in their answer. This was an interesting coincidence that I think would have become a memorable motif (because the rabbit answers were arrived at independently of one another) if the game had been longer. Two players described their answering styles: one was absurd and one was clever. The self-described absurd player won, indicating a strategy for playing with individuals one doesn’t know well.
  4. Length: There were three rounds. All players agreed this was too short. This also resulted in there not being enough cards for everyone in the generation deck at the first round (solved by having the reader not get a second card for their hand). The players also expressed that when they got to pick which card to fill in the blank with that they wanted more choices. Since the number of cards in the generation deck are linked to turns, this made the game feel too short and as though there were not enough choices. This desire was mirrored by the players wanting to read all the black cards at the end of the game. Perhaps having low numbers or players seed the deck with two cards at the beginning and having them play double the number of rounds as there are people could lengthen the experience.
  5. Desire for Absurdity: One player compared the game to Cards Against Humanity, indicating this iteration still needs to be further removed. This player also wanted more ‘bizarre’ prompts that related to their function as a god. I need to make more prompts that push the game away from existing party games.

Conclusion

               This iteration addressed creative block effectively and granted power to the card reader. I need to find a way to reinforce the god theming in the mechanics. I need to make games with low player numbers longer and create more options in the generation deck faster. I need to reward different playstyles/motivations/and strategies for filling in the blanks. I need to find a way to prevent ties from happening.

Playtest #2

Date Friday 3/31/17
Time 6:30 PM Game Creation Society Meeting
Location CMU Campus DH 1112
Number of Players 4; Miranda, Jan, Maddie, and Matthew
Player Demographics (undergrad game developers, early twenties) All were friends
Testing for… Appropriate game length, appropriate amount of choices (too many or too little?)
End State Jan won

 

Cards Generated

Rubber chicken Rubber Chicken Revolution The Collapse of the USSR The Patriarchy The Final Round of this Game Deep Cave System
Chicken Fingers Sleeping Pill Why it crossed the road Rubber chicken coups A rubber house Rubber hen house
Fruit of the Loom Left Foot Messiah 1-up Shroom Feathers Messiah

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. Players seed the generation deck with 1 card. Each player then picks one card from the existing generation deck from the previous game and places that card in the generation deck too. (Give players more options faster and give players ideas faster. Give players power over what is put into the deck.)
  2. Games with 3 to 4 players should play until all players have been the reader twice. (Make games with low player numbers longer.)
  3. If a tie occurs, players must reveal which card was theirs. Each player may then argue why their answer is the best. Voting occurs again after everyone has said their peace. (Make ties exciting)

Insights

  1. A good toy: All the players agreed that coming up with their own cards was fun. Two players never played a card pulled from the generation deck. Even the other two preferred to write their own answer, unless the card they pulled was particularly funny. One player questioned his need to win; he had more fun coming up with cards and seeing how they related to the others than winning (he was the winner.) This may have something to do with the players giving very similar answers because they pulled very specific prompt cards. I need to restructure the game’s goals to turn a good toy into a good game.
  2. Voting: There were a lot of problems with voting. Since there were an even number of players, three votes for a card would indicate that card’s owner. There were also several instances where a player lost the round because they could not give their own card the one more vote it needed to win. This player felt a mismatch between their motivation and the mechanics. She felt that since all players give their own answer that it feels like all players disagree and should be defending their logic. I think this kind of system would be more empowering and more elegant, but I need to get the game away from existing party games like Superfight. This may also be caused in a confusion of voting criteria. Most players just vote for the funniest option, though I explicitly state, “vote for the most sensible.” I need to find a more inherent system of worth for player generation to win matches.
  3. Arguments:  The players did reach a tie and did argue. The players who argued felt like this gave them more power over how the others voted, but since only the non-arguing players could vote, and they each voted for a different problem, this did not solve the issue of ties (though it was empowering.) I need to find a way to resolve or prevent ties that is more inherent to the system.

Conclusion

I need to find a better system of ascribing worth to player cards each round. I need strong goals that relate to the game’s theme and generation mechanic.

Playtest #3

Date Sunday 4/2/17
Time 3 PM
Location CMU Campus DH
Number of Players 4; Sina, Breeanna, Paul, and Jack
Player Demographics Undergrads, some classmates, some strangers (early twenties)
Testing for… Do the players feel more like gods? Are there voting conflicts?
End State No winner. I made a mistake in the round order with pairs fighting in clockwise order, creating a situation where the last two players would win.

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Cards Generated

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. I changed the prompt cards to be “animal bases” of creatures without significant features. Instead of supplying words, two players each draw a feature on a blank card and attach it to the animal. Once all cards are in play, players argue over which feature would best help the organism avoid being eaten by the previously generated one. If this is the first turn, then players create a starting organism from cards from previous games by looking through the legacy generation deck. The players who do not participate in creating the organism vote for the feature they think will best support the animal. This feature remains with the animal, and it becomes that player’s animal. If there is a tie, both features are added and both players own that animal. The losing feature is shuffled into the generation deck. The losing player then gets to add one card from the generation deck to the animal. At the end of the game (5 rounds) the player with the most number of animals owned wins. (Change voting, give players more creation power)

Insights

  1. Pre-discussion Comradery: The players, some of whom were strangers prior to the game, worked together to build the first animal. They were quiet at the beginning, but the discussion got them talking and established their sense of humors, personalities, and the social boundaries they could play to. After the game the players expressed a desire to use their animals in a ‘social conversation.’ Paralleling this with the starting conversation would be an acceptable use of two modes. I need to reincorporate this as an ending phase.
  2. Creative Block: Players expressed frustration at not being able to draw. It took one player a very long time to think of something, though drawing didn’t take much time. I need to solve this creative block, perhaps with a legacy card to use when they can’t think of something.
  3. Round Order: I made a mistake in the round order with pairs fighting in clockwise order, creating a situation where the last two players would win. Next time I should change this so that the winner is not involved in creation in the next round.
  4. Future Interactions with Creations: The players did not see the point of adding the second feature to the animal besides giving it another thing to play off of. They did really want to interact with their creatures again, suggesting they all fight at the end in a battle royale. The losing player felt powerful from pulling any card from the deck that they wanted, but didn’t feel like their choice had an effect later. The players did like the legacy deck and liked seeing their previous choices come up again. I will need to balance this by seeding the deck with objective bad cards or strongly hint to players in the rules that playing a negative card may lose them a creature, but allow them to cripple another.

Conclusion

               I need to provide more opportunities for players to revisit their animals. I need to make the additional feature choice have more weight. I need to relieve creative block. I need to organize the players such that round order does not give an advantage.

Playtest #4

Date Monday 4/3/17
Time 7 PM
Location CMU Campus DH
Number of Players 3; Nick, Tom, and Lauren
Player Demographics Undergrad students from varied backgrounds, some friends some strangers
Testing for… Frustrating creative block, screwing over other players, allegiance to their own animal.
End State Gave up, could not order the food chain

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Cards Generated

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. There will be only as many rounds as there are players. The player whose birthday is closest and the player to their right battle first. The second pair will be the player on the right and the player on their right, and so on. The first player receives the first creature, regardless of what feature is voted onto the creature, so that each player ends with a creature. (Round order, adding weight to the secondary feature)
  2. At the end, all the players must argue why their creature would be at the top of the food chain. The players must argue (with a majority consensus) on the order of animals in the food chain, with the highest winning first place, second highest winning second, etc. (Adding weight to the second feature)
  3. Players may choose to create a feature or play one from the generation deck. (Relieve creative block.)

Insights

  1. Negative Features Over Positive Ones: Since players were trying to eventually screw over the others, they created features that would disable the animal. The features were still absurd, a factor probably guided by the legacy deck they sorted through to create the first animal. This led to an antagonistic social setting between the players, pushing them apart rather than bringing them together.
  2. Focal Point: The players saw some of their features as “overpowered.” They did not see a point in creating a defense for a gun, for example. They also took the base creature into effect: a creature with no arms and a gun can’t use the gun. This led to a lengthy, lively discussion at the end when the players tried to organize their food chain (this discussion got two total strangers to make jokes about asses, so it was a social success, if not a ludo one.) They based their arguments on the setting of the creature (the fish in the water, the snail on land) and had a hard time comparing creatures from different arenas. They ended up giving their creatures what they termed offensive and defensive features, which I saw arise as cause and effect from earlier features. With all of these moving parts, the players had a fun discussion, but could not come to a conclusion after 10 minutes of arguing about the food chain. This ending was too open ended and did not give the players concrete rules about which features could beat other features. The players did however enjoy making their own features. There was no creative block. There was also no leverage for the players to argue with: no one wanted second place. A focal point was needed to bring the discussion to a point. I need a more concrete goal on which the animals can be compared which determines what wins.

Conclusion

               I need to introduce a clear, concrete goal with objective indicators of success for the player generated animals to be compared to. I need to create opportunity for positive and negative feature creation to keep players working together and at odds.

Playtest #5

Date Tuesday 4/4/17
Time 4:30 PM
Location CMU Campus DH
Number of Players 3; Rachel, Paul, and Breeanna
Player Demographics Undergrad game design classmates and friends (early twenties)
Testing for… Does the game end? Do players feel satisfied with the ending? Are players antagonistic or friendly towards each other during the game?
End State Breeanna: 2, Rachel: 1, Paul: 1


Cards Generated

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. Players will create two features in secret and contribute them to a deck. The deck is shuffled. Each player’s creature is then given two features from the top of the deck. (Prevent overly antagonistic behavior and even out the overpowered features.)
  2. Each round, an antagonist creature is created by pulling one animal base and two features from the legacy deck. Players generate features for themselves as outlined above. Players then compare their animal against the antagonist animal. The one best equipped (as debated by the group) to eat the antagonist becomes the new antagonist animal, and its owner wins a point. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Play one round per player + 1. (Provide a concrete, but player defined, goal for the food chain and remove too complex roles.)

 Insights

  1. Missing Legacy Cards: The players missed the legacy deck and wanted to see the cards they generated again. An interesting tension occurred when players saw the cards they generated on another player’s animal. Even though it wouldn’t benefit them, they would argue in favor of their creation. This impulse to want to take credit for your creation could be a compelling experience. I need to find a way to reward card generation and bring legacy cards back.
  2. Sabotage: The players’ had the same strategy: create one bad card and one good card because the odds are better that someone else will get the bad card. This led to some debilitating cards like “A bad rash”, but interestingly no cards were generated that the players felt were over powered. This led to the discussions at the end of each round being brief comparisons of the features between creatures with ends. This allowed there to be arguing, but also created situations of objective win, allowing the game to end. Since cards were generated in secret, there was no clear antagonistic behavior between the players.
  3. Better Animal Details: The players made the comment that most of the animal bases have no legs. They often asked for more detail on the bases and how much of the base animal could be considered in the face off. This ambiguity led to interesting speculation, but complicated the comparison of the features. I need to include more information or make it clear that the base should really be ignored when comparing.

Conclusion

               I need to find a way to push the tension between wanting your generated cards on another animal to win and wanting your animal to win. I need to find an opportunity for legacy cards to reappear. I need to put more varied animal bases in with more information.

Playtest #6

Date Wednesday 4/5/17
Time 7 PM
Location CMU Campus DH
Number of Players 3; Rachel, Breeanna, and Omar
Player Demographics Undergrad classmates (early twenties)
Testing for… Antagonistic or friendly behavior between players, are the debates winnable
End State Breeanna: 9, Rachel: 4, Omar: 3

 

Cards Generated

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. Players start the game by seeding a new generation neck with two new cards. Each round, players generate one card and pull one from the generation deck. (Better use of the generation deck.)
  2. Players get two points if their animal wins, but one point for every feature they created that ends up on the winning animal. (Use the desire to make your creation win, introduce bluffing for varied player interaction.)
  3. Added animal cards with descriptions. (More concrete goal)

Insights

  1. Repetition: The players got bad draws with the same few cards from the generation deck. They wanted more variation and less repetition of cards. This indicates a fault of shuffling as well as a fault of the deck: the more cards there are, the less likely you are to draw a card repeatedly. I need to increase the size of the generation deck quickly.
  2. Anonymous: One player pointed out that you eventually recognize people’s handwriting, making their submissions not anonymous. The players felt like keeping their submissions unknown was critical to their secondary scoring mechanism. After observing the sly strategies of the players I think preserving this important. Removing the text caption on the card would get rid of handwriting, but rely on drawing skills to get information across, which is stressful to many players. One way of fixing this may be through a digital version of the game, or perhaps through fat markers to obscure features.
  3. Round Time: Each round was over quickly, with debates ending succinctly. With the inclusion of randomly drawn, non-relative cards there were several moments were players would admit their creature couldn’t make it. This player would then vote for another animal, sometimes one with their features, which would still win them points, so it didn’t feel like a total loss to the players. This led to sly behaviors rather that antagonistic or friendly, which added complexity to player interactions. The increased scoring led to a short game as well, as it became clear that the point distribution made it so that Breeanna gained a lot of points in the first few rounds. The other players could only win if their animal and their features won, of which the odds are slim. I think a short number of rounds may alleviate this.

Conclusion

I need to find a way to keep scores competitive. I need to preserve card anonymity. I need to get more cards in the generation deck.

Playtest #7

Date Thursday 4/6/17
Time 5:30 PM
Location CMU Campus DH Playtest Night
Number of Players 3; Rachel, Omar, and Xin
Player Demographics Undergrad and graduate game design students (early/mid twenties)
Testing for… Competitive scoring
End State Rachel: 8, Xin: 6, Omar: 4


Cards Generated

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. At the end of each round, the owner of the chosen animal wins 2 points. The owner of each chosen feature also wins two points per feature. (Change point distribution to keep scores competitive.
  2. Players seed the generation deck with 3 cards at the beginning of the game. (Increase cards in the deck.)

Insights

  1. Competitive Scores: The scores were closer together this round (4,6,8) than the previous iteration (3,4,9) indicating that players could catch up to each other. An interesting strategy occurred because if a creature had 2 features belonging to a player, that player could get twice the points than the creature’s owner if that creature won. Players would forfeit their monster and vote for the one holding two of their features. There were several moments where a player whose creature was not equipped to eat the monster would vote in favor of the creature with one of their features. The players, while laughing at the features, still tended to act with ulterior motives, being friendly with each other only to betray each other later. This protected them from overly antagonistic behavior against each other.
  2. Repeating Cards get Boring: Unlike the word version of the game in which repeated words were funny and spawned “sequel” spinoff words, seeing the same features appear over and over was annoying to the players. They wanted to see the cards that had been generated at the beginning that they hadn’t see yet. Since players are already reacting to the features of the current antagonist animal in “sequel” spinoff cards, further encouragement to riff off of repeating cards does not become an inside joke, but feels stale.

Conclusion

I need to prevent feature cards from repeating too often. I need to find a way to make drawing a more integral part of the game. Right now it feels extraneous and superficial, as players use the caption text to understand what’s on the card.

Playtest #8

Date Friday 4/7/17
Time 6:30 PM
Location CMU Campus DH Game Creation Society Meeting
Number of Players 3; Rachel, Roger, Evan
Player Demographics Undergrad game design students, early twenties
Testing for… More objective debates over which creature would win. Are players annoyed by repeating cards?
End State Roger: 10, Rachel: 6, Evan: 2


Cards Generated

WP_20170407_003

Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. Once an animal has been defeated, it stays on the board. This removes its features from the generation deck so they cannot be played again, and it shows the full food chain. (Keep cards from repeating.)
  2. I remade the animal bases so that each has three spaces to attach features. When constructing the animal, the players may attach the features wherever they want, but the space left over is that creature’s weak point. Successfully attacking the weak point will kill the animal, allowing a more docile animal to eat it. (More concrete goals.)
  3. I added a new class of animal bases: ephemeral, which are damaged by emotional rather that physical features. (Get a wider range of features to result in more creative debates to counter the increasing objectivity of a debate.)

Insights

  1. Goof Strategy: Both players said they were creating cards as jokes and not in response to the features on the antagonist animal. This indicates that the player generation is more fun than the planning features and tricking your opponents into winning with your secret features. There were a lot of laughs from this, which resulted in longer, more creative debates when players got stuck with unrelated cards. This also caused the reveal of the cards to be a humorous moment as well. The spots of weakness were largely ignored except in debates where no player would back down. When each animal’s features were compared to the location of the antagonist animal’s weak point (top of the head), the creature with the wings was objectively better at reaching that spot. That allowed that creature to win. This indicates that the spots of weakness are a last-resort objective target, but debates with objectively bad cards are more compelling. The players had no issue with the few times a card repeated, and on a scale of 1 (no fun) to 5 (most fun), rated the experience a 4.
  2. Voting: The players felt like voting for each others’ cards felt “weird.” They wanted a single arbiter to play towards. I think this stems from the randomness of the deck when creatures are being created. The lack of direct ability to respond to the challenge is more apparent than the ability to screw over the other players. I need to add another element of skill into the game so players feel more in control of responding to the antagonist animal’s features.
  3. Forgetting Pulled Cards: The players had a hard time remembering which cards they had pulled from the generation deck each round. They often confused the verb “draw” for the cards they created. One player expressed a desire for a digital component that would remember this for him. This indicates confusion on who the owner of the owner of the card really is: the player who created it or the player who drew it from the deck. This confusion also makes teaching the game to new players very difficult. The first round took three times as long as the subsequent rounds because I had to repeat the instructions. Once the players understood, the game went fast though. I need to make the generation deck a more elegant fit in both verb and creation.

Conclusion

I need to either use an arbiter in voting or add more direct control for the players to influence the outcome of debates. I need to clarify the verbs of the generation deck.

Playtest #9

Date Saturday 4/8/17
Time 8 PM
Location CMU Campus Hunt Library
Number of Players 3; Gabby, Simon, Omar
Player Demographics Undergrad game design students, early twenties
Testing for… Verb confusion, workability of transparency cards
End State Simon: 8, Gabby: 6, Omar: 4

wp_20170408_005.jpg
Cards Generated

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Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. Pulling a card from the generation deck is called “pulling.” Creating a card on a blank card is called “creating.” (Explicit verbs to differentiate the card states)
  2. When a player pulls a card from the generation deck, they draw an X on the front to indicate it’s from the generation deck. (Get players to better remember which cards they pull.)
  3. I made folded blank cards on transparencies. Players draw their feature on the transparent part of the card and write the name of their feature on the inside of the cardstock part of the card. (Incorporate drawing.)

Insights

  1. Transparencies Have No Effect: The players did not express any strong feelings toward the transparency. The folded card design did not protect the content of the card, as players used the same permanent marker to write their caption (which bled through the cardstock) as their drawing on the transparency. The players also felt compelling to draw over the current antagonist creature, which might not make sense for the next creature. When compared to the regular cardstock cards, the players preferred the cardstock only. The design of the transparency cards did not increase a player’s bond with their animal or make drawing a more integral part of feature creation. They are also expensive and time consuming to make. I will switch back to regular cards.
  2. Verbs: The players self-corrected their own language after I consistently used the pull and create terms in the explanation of the rules. There was less confusion than last time, indicating that a strong set of distinct verbs solve this issue.
  3. Spectatorship: Several spectators watched the game after hearing it from afar. These watchers made jokes about the combinations of features and player performance. They also added their input on debates. In the second round, a spectator was brought in to help judge a set of conflicting physics principles that had been made into features. Not only does this indicate that the game is fun to watch, but also that different groups of players will play to different styles (a deck full of physics versus a deck full of diseases.)
  4. Emotional Warfare: With the addition of the ephemeral animal bases, emotional features have become more frequent. My instinct told me this would unbalance itself, as physical traits have to change an ephemeral into a solid object or harm it emotionally to work, but player debates have concluded that emotional damage is still effective for physical creatures. Players have also come up with creative ways around the ephemerals, such as the black hole stomach cards created during this game. I’m going to keep these animal bases, but clearly mark their emotional needs as weaknesses in order to encourage this kind of creative play.

Conclusion

I need to get rid of transparency cards. I need to make the game more fun to watch and/or create openings for spectators to get involved.

Playtest #10

Date Sunday 4/9/17
Time 8 PM
Location CMU Campus DH
Number of Players 3; Tom, Yiran, Justin + 1 spectator (Rachel)
Player Demographics Undergrad game design students, early twenties
Testing for… Is this fun to watch? Can spectators influence the game in a meaningful way?
End State  Justin: 9, Yiran: 8, Tom: 3 (Called for spectator twice)

WP_20170409_009
Cards Generated

WP_20170409_012

Rule Changes from Previous Version

  1. All the cards are cardstock again.
  2. Players are encouraged to grab other people to solve debate conflicts. If a spectator is used to settle a debate, the spectator gets one extra point to allocate to whoever they chose, for whatever reason. (Encourage spectatorship, reward differing playstyles (joking vs practical).)

Insights

  1. Spectator: The spectator was called in twice and hastened the debates both times. In the end, the spectator point decided the game Interestingly, allowing the spectator into the game caused the players to make appeals to them, much in the way of the judge in cards against humanity (even though the spectator only had marginal influence.) This perception of power may have helped speed the debates, and provided an extra social outlet for the players.
  1. Ties: The players often ended debates by voting someone out and then that player voted between the remaining two to win. In the last round, all the players made good cases for themselves and would have tied if they hadn’t brought in a spectator. I hadn’t anticipated the spectator being used to break ties, but it turned out to be an elegant way to break up a 3-way tie. I need to clarify that bringing in a spectator gives that spectator a vote in the debate, and that players should add spectators until the tie is broken.

 

Conclusion

I set out to make a replayable, player-generated card game that my adult friends and I would enjoy playing over and over again. I chose playtesters in their early twenties to get the target demographic. I also wanted the game to remember previous answers by repeating them. Over the playtests, I discovered that too many repeats were annoying to players. However, keeping a legacy deck was useful in giving players a creative spark and lessening their creative block when coming up with new cards. Despite players overwhelmingly preferring to make their own cards, players found it creatively frustrating to create multiple cards per turn. Limiting the number of creative times sped the game up and eliminated the creative block. Many of my playtesters played the game more than once, and said they enjoyed the game more with later playtests, indicating that each game is unique enough to be enjoyably replayed. Changing the game from a word game to an image game made players perceive the experience as more creative. A strong central theme (beyond the fill in the blank mechanic from the word game iterations) helped focus players while also giving them a range of possible features to create. Strong language the rules was more important than I anticipated, as the verbs “draw from the deck” and “draw a new feature” were often confused and required the elimination of the word from the rules. Allowing players to see their creations by keeping both the generation deck and the previous creatures created acted like a progress bar and gave players a deeper sense of accomplishment upon winning a round than when animals were reshuffled into the decks.

Visual Affordances and Player Experiences

A while ago I was talking with a friend about the ledges in Uncharted 4. She said, “Oh, you mean the bird poop ledges?”

climbable-sections-are-generally-marked
Uncharted ledges from two different sections of the game.

Odd that the game is trying to direct the player to reach for an outcropping of bird droppings. Joke aside, the ledges worked: My friend and I noticed them.  I call these repeating visual motifs that translate into instructions ‘affordances.’ An affordance in traditional design is: “…the possibility of an action on an object or environment.”–Wikipedia. These motifs are a staple of contemporary game design. They function as shorthand instructions for the player. The process goes something like this: player sees the affordance, player translates the visual cue into an option (example: Move to this ledge or to that ledge), player executes an option from the mental menu brought up by the affordance. In theory, these cues have the potential to function the way they do in product design: invisibly guide the user’s experience towards a target feeling.

1200px-pitcher_28beer29-svg

For an example of this, look at pitchers. Have you ever tried to use a pitcher and not pick it up by the handle? The handle (its shape, appearance, and texture) compels you to manipulate the pitcher in a very natural way. It’s so intuitive that you don’t notice you’re being manipulated. You just experience the pitcher through your desire to get what’s inside it. The pitcher is designed with your desires in mind. Games also have desire-goals (example: get 20 headshots, find out who stole the MacGuffin, etc.) that their affordances also point to. However, in games, the affordance is often experienced as if it was a desire-goal. In Uncharted, instead of feeling like I was as savvy and traveled as Nathan Drake as I swung from ledge to ledge, I felt like I was just searching for high-contrast areas and clicking on them. The experience became so focused on finding affordances (because they repeat and are easily recognizable) that it pulled me out of the world it was trying to immerse me in. Seeing the affordance and knowing it’s an affordance destroys the experience the cue is trying to silently manipulate. Uncharted’s ledges are not all bad, as the affordance does try to blend with the game environment. When a game explicitly points out it’s affordances, this effect gets compounded. Take the explodable walls in Batman: Arkham Knight:

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The first time you see this wall, the game will tell what to do when you see it again. Instead of having a thrilling moment of genius in which the player gets to blow something up, they press a button (three times in this case) to get through an obstacle that was meant to be a source of engagement. A wall with a crack = A+A+A. The player doesn’t solve, imagine, or contemplate their actions when they’ve been given a mental formula.

Design affordances are subconscious contracts between experience and user. When a design makes them conscious, affordance finding reduces the game to a series of tasks.

Designing Chateau Vorace: Table Top Adventure

Problem Statement: The combat heavy table-top adventures I have played lacked mystery and puzzles. Though my friends and I traveled together in the adventure, we rarely interacted with each other. How can I make an adventure that focuses more on player relationships?

My initial adventure consisted of an environment, a few distinct NPCs, and a timed goal. I was careful not to create a rigid world, as suggested by Patrick Benson. The players were invited to attended a banquet at a mansion in which they would be honored for their achievements through an induction into a secret society. They would be confined to the mansion, which consisted of the banquet hall and the kennel. The party was full of indistinct guests, one Host, and one Oracle, all of which were members of the secret society. Upon arrival, the players would be told that only two of them would be accepted into the order and the other would be stoned to death for the glory of the society’s “Foremother.” The guests at the party would vote for or against the three players depending on how they acted during the banquet. The guests had 3 hours to make their case or find another solution (this was 10 player actions = 1 hour.) I also further simplified the Roleplaying 101 system to better conflate the players’ identity with that of their player character and generate clearer player stories.

Character Creation and Mode of Interaction: Before being informed of the predicament, players were asked to announce why they think they were chosen to be part of the society. Was it their great mental prowess, social fluidity, or physical might which brought them glory in life? The attribute players pick grants them +3 to their chosen activity. For example, if a player chose the social stat, they get +3 when talking, flirting, harassing, etc. The players are made aware of this bonus before they chose. I did this to encourage a wide spread of stats and/or to get players of different stats to work together. Players must roll to judge every action (since they are being scrutinized by the guests.) Players may act alone or together, but they must decide before an action is taken. The same player cannot take two actions in a row; another player must take a singular action before the first may take a new singular action. Collective actions (ex: We all shove the door open) may occur at any point.

Initial Puzzles: The initial version had two puzzles: Get the monster the society worships out of the cellar (destroying the castle and giving you a way out) or Get the society to vote in your favor. I wanted to present the players with tough choices: Either way, one member of the group must be sacrificed.

  • Monster puzzle: The steps for this puzzle were fuzzy, to allow for the players to arrive at any steps to get the answer. I would accept the puzzle as solved if the players used any human flesh as bait to lure the creature out. I hinted at this through the monster’s reactions to player presence near the grate the monster was underneath.
  • Voting Puzzle: Any action in view of the guests would be judged via die roll. An 11 or higher was a vote in your favor; less was a vote against you. Players could sabotage other players’ chances by starting rumors, tripping them, etc. At the end of the 3 hours, the player with the lowest vote score would be sacrificed.

 

Ideation Playtest

I have never GM’d before. As I started to flesh out the narrative, I realized the need for a playtest. I ran the adventure with a friend, which resulted in this analysis. I did not record interest curves for this playtest. The goal was to practice leading an adventure, find out how long the adventure took, and test puzzle difficulty.

Duration: Since I cut character creation, the game lasted about an hour and a half. This was too short for the assignment, but felt too long for the player because he couldn’t figure out the solution to the puzzle. Eventually he gave up and accepted his fate as the stoning victim. I want the stoning to be a valid ending, but not because the player gave up. If the players chose to work against each other, then the stoning is a reward for their hard work of destroying the reputation of their friend. This was a problem because the player played alone, and did not have the other players to bounce ideas off of. I think more options and things to explore might help, as well as extending the amount of player actions that constitutes one hour.

Puzzle Goals: Frequently the player expressed that he didn’t know what to do. As he became more frustrated with the puzzle of getting the monster out of the cellar, I gave him more and more information that wasn’t tied to his actions. I wanted him to talk to the NPCs for this information, but he rolled low when talking to them. I had tied the amount of information given to the roll, which made him perceive them as having no information of use to him. I should have only tied reaction to the roll, not the amount of information critical to navigating the play space. After play, he said he knew that he had to get the monster out of the grate (the goal I had envisioned for that puzzle), but he could not figure out a way to get there. This calls for interlocking parallel puzzles to take a break from this one or clearer hints. The player was also conflicted about the vote system. He wanted to solve the puzzle (he said he was aware that “Shit is going down in that other room”), but he felt like he was being too scrutinized by the votes. He said he felt like he had to choose between solving the puzzle and winning votes. He was also confused about how to get votes in his favor. I had assigned positive votes to natural rolls (not impacted by any +3 player stat bonus) 11 or above, and negative votes below. This seems to have made the voting feel completely out of the player’s control. Players should be able to influence votes cast on other players, so this needs to be amended.

Characterization: The player said he wasn’t sure what he was roleplaying or if he was roleplaying. He often asked me who he was and what he could do. I responded with, “You, and you can do anything.” This was a bit overwhelming for him. He said that if he was at a party he would just stand there until it was over, regardless of if he risked dying at the end. This indicated to me that the stakes in the story are not high enough to cross the threshold of player engagement. He did not feel as if he was in danger (either him or his player character.) He never tried to break the party environment or do something unexpected, but he did spend most of his playtime in the room away from the party. He was also confused as to why he was at the party. His invitation: “You are invited to attend a dinner party at Chateau Vorace in honor of your precocious achievements. The Rapacite Order welcomes you into its ranks.” Was too vague. He wanted more reason to be there and more information on his character.

Information Overload: The player asked for a map twice. I definitely want to make a map, which I think will help players remember what is in each area and provide an opportunity for environmental storytelling (cutting out the need to talk and bonusing characters with mental abilities.) He said the description text was very visualizing and he really felt like he was in at the party, but he could not pull relevant information out of the descriptions. I had only described relevant objects in the room, but he was still unable to remember the action points in each room. He completely forgot about The Oracle NPC.

Materials

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Map images were covered until players entered the room.
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The invitation sent to the players a few days before the session.
bedchamberMap
The Bedchamber
hallMap
The Hall
kennelMap
The Kennel
kitchenMap
The Kitchen

Story Notes

Player action: Any time you want to do something, roll the d20 to check your success. Players may either act singularly or you can all act together (which counts as one player action). If you chose to take a singular action, you must wait until at least one other player takes an action before you can take another action. There are a fixed number of player actions that can occur in one in game hour. All players must agree on the turn method prior to a turn. If they can’t, they roll to see whose method will be run (highest d20 roll earns the run.)

Story Campaign

OPENING

Invitation: You’ve been invited to a party in which you will be inducted into the illustrious Rapacite Order. You should be honored: the order’s members include Nobel laureates, great humanitarians, and beloved authors. Only the masters of their field are invited to be a part of this organization.

Opening: Your town car slithers back into the forested drive, tires silent, melting back into the cool night. On the other side of the drive sits a massive oak threshold carved into swooning and glinting carnal images. Beyond that, a sprawling complex of vaulted rooms and the distant lilt of music and laughter. You have arrived at your fete at the Chateau Vorace. A small, rugged man with pulsing, raw knuckles guards the entry. He watches you, the chapped skin of his hands flaking off in the moonless darkness.

WAIT FOR ACTION

Before you can DO THAT an arm grabs ACTIVE PLAYER and pulls them into the manicured bush by the valet. From within the thorny visage of a swan, the arm’s owner (a young, unwashed man smelling of fry grease) begs your forgiveness, but he must have a word.

IF YES: The man’s eyes light up with ravenous gratitude. He pulls out a pen and wrinkled notebook from his jacket pocket. “I’m on the scoop of the century,” the man stumbles, the excited words fauceting from his lips. “I’ve been trying to get into this party for months!” He exclaims, “The current owner of this castle and reputed leader of The Rapacite Order, is a notorious animal abuser. I’ve heard she’s never seen with the same hunting dog twice! Rumor is, she’s keeping an illegal exotic pet chained up! I need you to help me save those dogs and get whatever she’s keeping into a safe environment. Will you help? Can you find some proof at the party?

IF YES: “Great, try the kennels!”

IF NO: “Please, at least check the kennels!”

IF NO: You leave, hearing him shout about saving the dogs or some other nonsense.

WAIT FOR ACTION

Approach The Bouncer: As you approach the bouncer, he grows with every step. Turns out he’s only small compared to the archway he’s standing it. “Invitations.” He says. It is not a question.

WAIT FOR ACTION

Entering the Castle: The grand oak doors groan apart, slowly revealing the glittering banquet hall. Immediately to your left stands an iron cage full of polished obsidian stones. Crystal candelabras swing gently from the high vaulted ceiling, reflecting and refracting the masked guests below. Marble busts on rosewood pedestals line the feast with watching eyes. In a great crest the roasted scent of braised potatoes swallows you, followed by the rich sizzling of buttered beans and thick, generous pools of sweating steaks.  The hall is flanked by two sets of great doors, with another to your right with a heavy lock on it. At the end of the table, before a massive hearth topped with a crystal faced grandfather clock, sits a middle aged woman in a severe silver dress. She must be at least ten feet tall. She rests her head in her hand, swirling her Champaign flute with the other. Beside her stands a quivering youth with heavy golden puck around his skinny neck. He devours the food before him, though he is the only one eating. The woman notices you, her gaze afire. With her attention follows the guests, whose chatter abruptly ends. Genuine smiles dart over their faces as they point at you. The door closes behind you with a creak. You hear a dull thud from the other side.

WAIT FOR ACTION

The woman stands, drawing every head. She taps a silver appetizer fork to the side of her glass, the sharp shimmer of the golden bubbles reflecting from the gilding of the utensil to the effervescent eyes and into the blades of the high crystal chandeliers. She speaks, sucking the breath from the room: “Welcome, friends, family, and honored guests,” she gestures at you. “To my humble home on this, the night of our Foremother. May I congratulate you all on a wonderful year! Bertram’s cancer cure has now saved over five million lives. Kella’s cold fusion reactor has eliminated the need for fossil fuels while simultaneously creating a massive new job market. Bravo, bravo to all!” The crowd cheers, beaming. “Tonight we celebrate our honored traditions, including the embrace of these new ones. As you know, the Rapacite order only recruits the best. We hope that these new members will contribute to our repository of knowledge and help us make the world a better place,” The crowd chuckles quietly. “Tell me, newcomers, why do you think we have invited you into our hallowed halls? What puts you among us? Mental Prowess, Physical Might, or Social Acumen?”

PLAYERS CHOOSE STATS: Mental Prowess, Physical Might, or Social Acumen. +3 to action attempts in their given category. Players may also indicate a backstory for their character here.

“Great feats,” The woman continues, her icy honeyed words hanging in the air. “Known all around.” The crowd applauds, impressed. The Host claps to, but her hands seem to stick together and shine with a clear film.  The claps die down. “But, as is tradition, only two may remain in our ranks. Tis the will of our Foremother, handed down through the generations. So, as we have done every year since the Testament of the Foremother, we shall hold a vote. Current Rapacite members shall vote for their favorite of the newcomers. Remember, each member may only vote once, but you may vote in favor of or against a newcomer. The top two shall be inducted into our ranks. The unlucky third shall be subject to the traditional volley of stones to the death,” She lifted her flute to the cage of obsidian rocks, each small enough to fit into the palm of the hand. “Dearest family, it is nine. You have until midnight to cast your votes,” The great grandfather clock rings out in chocolate overtones and simmering, stocky booms. Nine, lonely booms. On the ninth boom, the woman raises her glass. A flock of stemware joins her in a toast. The clock falls silent, and the woman returns to her hearth. Chatter resumes among the guests.

 

MAIN PLAY

Every 20 player actions = 1 hour. At every hour the clock should tick down.

 

THE GREAT HALL

ON ANY ROLL IN THE GREAT HALL: Any roll 10 or above succeeds, otherwise fails.

SUCCESS: A woman in a fox mask walks over to you. She is holding a scrap of parchment and a long, feathery quill. She fauns over you, asking questions through her mask that you can’t quite understand. She begins to giggle. She uses her quill to scribble something on the parchment. She waves goodbye to you and makes her way towards the cage of stones, where a gilded chest sits unguarded. She drops their paper into a slot at the top, then makes her way back into the mix. You’ve been voted for.

FAILURE: A couple in fox masks sneer at you from a few feet away. They draw back from you, murmuring to themselves so faintly that you cannot hear. In their shaking hands you spot strips of parchment and long, feathery quills. They give you one more look, then the man shakes his head. He stays to watch you as the woman scurries off into the crowd, gone you’re your sight. You’ve been voted against.

THE HOST

The Host: The thin woman is middle aged, her skin is drawn tight over sharp cheek bones. Her eyes sag as she looks at you. She’s giant, towering over you. “Yes, newcomers?” She murmurs, the effortless voice sifting into your ears. She takes a sip from her flute, red lips leaving no residue.

The Host personality: She is uncaring of the newcomers until they newcomers start making trouble. She likes having control and order and she will do anything to keep herself in power, including violence.

The Host motivation: keep herself in power over the society, keep her members safe, kill the next child of The Foremother

THE ORACLE

The Oracle: The skinny youth’s face lights up. He is buzzing with excitement. “Welcome to Chateau Vorace!” he says, “I am the Oracle of The Foremother, keeper of the tradition. When midnight comes, I will write your name in our books of lore.”

The Oracle knows: information about the society, about the player, and about the mansion. He also knows the history of this ritual: there have been years in which all 3 newcomers were stoned. He knows about the Foremother: a great being who bestows the society with eternal youth in exchange for flesh. His friends last year tried to poison the food. His friend who died last year had a large scar over his eye.

The Oracle’s motivation: He wants to prove himself. He became a member last year by throwing his friends under the bus and proving his worth with his eidetic memory at becoming the new Oracle. He is afraid that the order will lose use for him and dump him in a ditch.

Objects:

  • Food: It smells as good as it looks, but everyone is politely waiting for all of it to arrive before eating. Everyone except for the youth with the gold puck.
  • Obsidian rocks: In a gilded cage sits the rocks that will pelt one of you to death in a few hours
  • Gilded chest: a box with a slit in the top for casting votes
  • Clock: It’s ticking down the moment until your death
  • Door behind the hearth PLAYERS RIGHT: Kitchen door
  • Door behind the hearth PLAYERS LEFT: Kennel door
  • Door to the right: Bedchamber door
  • The Host
  • The Oracle

 

THE KENNEL

This room is very dim, with only a sparse smattering of candles providing any light. The place reeks and rattles with the cages of rabbits, dogs, and rats. A steady drip feeds into a drainage grate at the back. A rusty lock clamps around the grate in a pool of viscous clear goo. Nearby sits a tarnished golden hand bell.

The Grate: the underside of the bars are covered in sticky, clear mucus. The smell hits you first. A few notes of summer strawberries in the sun, amplifying as through a field rustling with wind. Sugary, fragrant, natural. A sourness begins to infect the sweet, a rotten, too-sucrose charge of electric rot. The odor is massive, inescapable. Then the sound. Wet, squelching, sputtering with hard crunches. A deep, bony sequence of cracks from the throat of a giant drum. Growing, racing, it pulses, the drone from underneath. Finally you catch a glimpse: just little points of light, blinking in unison. Each point glitters, focusing. For a moment there is stillness. The starry points converge and a maw opens, saliva glittering off enormous, writhing tentacles.

Objects:

  • bell: The Foremother will bring you the key, think you are her dinner.
  • Grate: see grate text
  • Goo: slightly sticky, odorless, but thick and viscous
  • Door to the Great Hall
  • Cages of animals: they stink but their mostly empty or full of odd patches of fur or bones. Perhaps abuse or perhaps food?
  • Carnage: sucker marks on every inch, but very daintily pulled apart and only certain parts are eaten, as though whatever was eating had a distaste for the remainder.
  • A rusty lock: so old and fragile that might just crumble in your hands

 

THE KITCHEN

A flurry of apron-clad servants whisk and chop at a mountain of aromatic vegetables on the center island. A wall of knives lines the back wall, each locked into place with a thin silver chain. A beanpole of a man, bald, holds the complementary keys in his shallow apron pocket. They jingle as he pivots around the kitchen, his gaze commanding corrections without a single word. In the sweltering fire of a great central hearth sits a massive, roiling sauce pot. Tarragon and nutmeg fumes swell from its lip as the chef with the keys checks its consistency before sliding on to inspect a tray of meat. A bowl of transparent goo sits precariously near the food.

THE CHEF

The Chef: Towering and spindly, The Chef spiders over his work, meticulously garnishing a flight of filet mignon with perfectly balanced towers of rosemary. His long fingers, sinewy bones between burly knuckles, contract on your entry. He takes a ragged breath, and choses to ignore you, turning his attention to a bubbling platter of cinnamon baked apples.

The Chef Knows: Who feeds the Foremother, The Foremother’s taste and biology, what happens to stoned individuals, he has a key to The Host’s bedchamber to bring her food and will give it to the players if they agree with him

The Chef’s Motivation: Create a work of culinary art in honor of The Foremother, a treat that will cause her to laid an egg containing the next host. He also believes the Host is interfering in this ritual somehow and will give the players a key to her bedchamber if they agree with him.

Objects:

  • Knives on the wall: chained up. The Chef seems to have the keys
  • Herbs: Hemlock and nightshade are hanging next to rosemary
  • Goo bowl: Clear mucus in a very ceremonious bowl. A rim around the edge shows that some has already been used in the food.
  • Cookbook: It’s open to a page for a recipe requiring 200 pounds of human flesh.
  • A salt outline: it’s human shaped, in preparation for one of you.
  • A caldron: full of a rich, earthy soup full of tomatoes and spices. And soon, one of you.
  • The Chef
  • Servants who bring food out every few minutes
  • The door to the Great Hall

 

THE BED CHAMBER

Your shoes begin to resist your steps as you cross the threshold. A series of portraits lines the walls, each face nearly identical to the woman who gave the toast. A vanity sits in the corner, soaking up most of the room with side tables laden with little bowls brimming with visceral substances. Nearest to the mirror is a stack of carefully folded letters, well read and well loved. Every surface is glistening with a layer of clear mucus. Layers have built up, congealed unevenly across the floor. This is what you have stepped into. On your right you see a fleshy, gooey cocoon from which something has thrust form, ripping pieces everywhere. In the center of the floor lies a severed tentacle and a bloody knife. The tentacle is still twitch with firing nerves.

Objects:

  • The scared skull: A skull with a deep gash that tried to heal. The wound was inflicted pre-death. It reminds you of something The Oracle said.
  • Bowls: Each bowl is filled with a human looking body part, some preserved, some desiccated.
  • Letters: Each sings the praise of “The Host”, the woman in the silver dress. They are addressed from various members of the order, all of which thank you for her care and dedication. They really love her.
  • The tentacle: The tentacle flops as you approach, but it is completely brain dead. A gray hair has fallen nearby, probably lost in the amputation. Who else has gray hair?
  • The knife: an old kitchen knife. Matches the silver set in The Kitchen.
  • The Cocoon: Odorless, but covered in the same clear goo as the floor. Umbilical in nature, a human imprint seems to be left in the slime. It’s almost as if someone has sprung forth.
  • The Portraits: they are all of the Host
  • The door to the Great Hall* if you are caught leaving it the host will confront you

 

 

PUZZLES

If the PCs seem to be on an interesting track, construct a new puzzle in response.

Voting: Figure out a way to gain votes for yourself and get votes cast against the other PCs.

Casting Votes: The first and smaller puzzle was figuring out how the NPCs cast votes. Players were given the information that NPCs were allowed one vote, but that vote could either be for a character or against a character. The puzzle for the players was determining what behaviors would win them positive votes. A roll 10 or above for any action within view of the guests would result in a positive vote. Nine or less was a negative vote. Figuring this out was an “ah-hah!” moment in my first run through of the story which caused the player to use actions in his chosen skill (mental) to maneuver around the hall, as this increased his chances of getting positive votes with his skill bonus. Players can also chose to sabotage others and make them look bad, causing votes against them. If the game ends without the player figuring out the other two puzzles (or a better on that they make during play) the votes are tallied and the losing player is stoned to death by the others, who throw the first lot. The dead victim is then fed to The Foremother, continuing the process all over again.

  • Consequences: One player is stoned to death.
  • Steps: Any action revolving around sabotage, rumors, or reputation
  • Hints: Any actions judged with high rolls win votes in your favor. Any actions judged with low rolls (below 10), counts against you.

Submitting to the Will: The clock strikes midnight with twelve, echoing booms. The guests in the Hall slowed, then stopped, frozen with anticipation as The Host before the hearth stood, her flute empty. In the silence, she raised the glass and tapped the edge with a desert fork. Twice. Two guests emerged from the hushed throng carrying an ornate chest. They bow before The Host, placing it before her. She runs her hand over the lock, clear mucus runs from her palm. The lid springs open to reveal a bounty of parchment slips. The Host clears her throat, “Is there any case you’d like to make for yourselves before we begin the tally?”

WAIT FOR ACTIONS

The other players stone the chosen to death and the cycle begins anew.

 

 Destroying the Castle: Players are confronted with the existence of The Foremother as a large being who can destroy the castle by The Oracle. They learn her dietary preference for human flesh from The Kitchen or The Chef. Inspecting the grate in The Kennel will reveal The Foremother, who will provide them with the key to open the gate while saying she’s ready for her meal. If the players do any action which involves using human flesh as bait to lure The Foremother, they solve this puzzle, which results in players getting a sequence of actions to make it out of the castle as it crashes down around them. All the other characters die, except for The Foremother herself, who escapes into the sea.

  • Consequences: One player must be sacrificed. All party guests die.
  • Steps: Players enter the Kennel>Players open the grate>Any action revolving around baiting or luring using human flesh of any character
  • Hints: The Foremother does not eat the rabbits, dogs, or rats. The Foremother will become excited and reach for the exit when PCs appear in her line of vision. The Rapacites feed the stoning victim to the mother.

Poisoning the Food: Players are introduced to this idea by The Oracle, who claims his friends from the year before tried and failed to do this. The Kitchen is full of poisonous herbs, and a jar of The Foremother’s slime, which is openly explained by The Oracle or The Chef as the substance which gives the order eternal life. Without the goo, they would die. Players may choose either substance or find another suitable poison for the food. Successfully getting the poison into the food in The Kitchen or The Great Hall solves this puzzle, which kills all the guests except for The Host, who is not human. She will lament the death of her subjects and offer all the players the chance to be leaders of a new Rapacite order they found together.

  • Consequences: All party guests die. Players may die if they ingest the wrong food.
  • Steps: Players enter the Kitchen> Players find a poison>Players manage to get the poison in contact with the food
  • Hints: The Chef uses hemlock to spice The Foremother’s dinner. The clear mucus is caustic to those not born of The Foremother (The Foremother and The Host).*If this is used as the poison then the Host lives. Food leaves the kitchen about every 15 minutes and is carried by the same server.

NPC Motivation and Creation

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The Host: a 10ft tall middle aged woman slowly becoming a foremother. The protector of the order; they love her.

  1. Actor source: Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman
  2. Traits: severe, conservative, quick to action, protective
  3. Love: Being the leader/Shepard of her people; keeping them safe and seeing their happy faces
  4. Fear: Being usurped by the next Host to be born (she’s been killing them as they hatch for several years)
  5. Status: Highest “human” status. Second only to the Foremother, who does not communicate directly with the group.
  6. Arc: Uncaring for the plight of the PCs as she prepares for the murder she will have to commit->Understanding of the players, becomes subordinate to them if they confront her
  7. Function: Tutorial, Antagonist
  8. Room: The bedchamber
  9. Objects: portraits of her around the room (identification that this is her room), her cocoon from her birth (she is a daughter of The Foremother), trophies from the cocoons of those she’s killed (each new Host takes the appearance of that year’s stoning victim), stacks of letters from the order singing genuine praises (her people love her), the goo she emits on every surface (she is a child of The Foremother), a bloody knife and a severed thin black tentacle (she is becoming a new Foremother and doesn’t want to.)

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The Oracle: a youth with a golden puck around his neck. He became The Oracle at last year’s party after demonstrating his photographic memory and making a deal with The Host: he would be spared but he had to serve as the keeper of traditions (a slave) to the order for the remainder of his eternal life.

  1. Actor Source: Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club
  2. Traits: bubbly, eager to help, show off, subservient, self-serving
  3. Love: the traditions of the order (the stoning and replacement of the Host) and the honor they represent
  4. Fear: The order will lose use for him and kill him
  5. Status: Low status, subservient to all members
  6. Arc: Helpful to scornful if your actions will displace him; support will flop to Chef if players help The Chef->will realize that he is selfish and let his friends die if confronted
  7. Function: mentor/helper
  8. Room: The Grand Hall
  9. Objects: the food in the hall (he’s the only one eating it)

prestige-baleThe Chef: an artist. Each year it is his job to cook the stoned member in an offering to The Foremother. If the meal is a nutritional masterwork, she will give birth to the next host. The Host has not changed in many years, causing The Chef to grow suspicious of the current host. Surely his cooking is not the problem.

  1. Actor Source: Christian Bale in The Prestige
  2. Traits: jealous, glory-seeking, judicious, arrogant
  3. Love: cooking, his craft, and being a master chef
  4. Fear: that he will fail The Foremother, who will cease to give him eternal youth
  5. Status: High ranking, but below the host
  6. Arc: A negative arc: jealous and seeking justice at first. He says he will vote in their favor if they help -> if the PCs help him, he will turn against them, changing the rules such that two must be stoned to death for his new masterpiece as the new Host.
  7. Function: Puzzle key, antagonist
  8. Room: The Kitchen
  9. Objects: the salt outline of a human on the table (preparation for his dish), a chained-up wall of knives (he doesn’t trust anyone with a knife), a cookbook open to a recipe calling for 200 lbs. of human flesh (his dream dish), a wall of toxic herbs (to spice The Foremother’s food), a jar of clear slime (the ingredient that gives the order its eternal youth)

The Foremother: a giant monster who emits a clear mucus that grants eternal youth to humans who ingest it. She only has to eat once a year, after which she gives birth to a humanoid who will lead the order. This humanoid is meant to be replaced each year so that there are never two Foremothers.

  1. Traits: picky, shy, change-avoidant
  2. Love: human flesh, but only once a year, as a treat
  3. Fear: that she will be forgotten and not fed
  4. Status: Ultimate high status of the order, though she chooses not to communicate or associate with them directly
  5. Arc: is monster
  6. Function: tool/puzzle
  7. Room: The Kennel
    1. Objects: clear slime, the grate, locks on the grate, *she gives you the key to them, a mutilated corpse (a previous victim), a bell (she rings it to get The Chef’s attention)

How it went

  1. Pre-game: Player received an invitation via email to a banquet in their honor.
  2. Arrival: Players start outside the banquet. They wish to talk to the bouncer, but before they can approach, someone pulls player 1 aside. They players are confused for a moment when asked to roll of the success of any action. She converses with this other man, who asks her to help him save the hunting dogs and the exotic pets living in the kennel of the castle where the party is being held. She tells him to “fuck off.” The three players approach the bouncer and give them their invitations. He lets them in, the door locking behind them. The players take a moment to look over the newly revealed map of The Hall and speculate over what the objects might be. The players listen to the description of the room and NPCs, intrigued by the cage of stones (“Oooh”), the fact that The Host is 10 feet tall (“Woah”), and that The Oracle is the only person eating (“No, don’t!”) The player first decide to check if the grand door is locked, which it is. The players are now accustomed to rolling for every action. Here they stumble over understanding if they are acting as one character when they chose to act together. I re-explain. The Host asks the players for their skill background, and the players chose their skills and backgrounds. Player 1 choses social, Player 2 choses physical, and Player 3 choses mental. They chose without consulting each other, but agree afterwards that the division was a good choice. They do not give a back story. Upon hearing about the stoning ritual, the players ask for the information to be repeated, and Player 2 exclaims, “Only two of us can stay!?” The players seem very interested in this.
  3. Hour 1: The players discuss what to do. They ask if their characters knew each other before the banquet. I ask the same question back, and Player 1 says yes. They use this information to rationalize trying to work together because they have opposing strengths. They make a plan of action, considering if they want to make sure they all get out a live or if they want to fend for themselves. Player 3 wants to work together, and Player 2 agrees. Player 2 expresses that he thinks he has the biggest advantage with his physical skill (he wants to kill everyone.) Player 1 becomes the unspoken leader and gives the others tasks based on their skills. She tells Player 2 to intimidate the NPCs and Player 3 to convince the NPCs to keep them together. They argue that these are not their skills. They dissuade the physical player from killing everyone, agreeing to try social means first. Player 1 decides to take notes. They agree to split up. The social player talks to The Host and the mental player investigates the food. These tasks are self-determined. The physical player agrees to eat the food (on a successful roll) and receives a vote for. The players make a short comment on the vote, “Makes sense.” They move on, and do not attempt to change or gain more votes. The social player talks to The Host. The mental player wants to explore, on a high roll, and is voted for. The player expresses confusion on whether this is a good thing. We stop to talk about meta-knowledge and I explain that every player knows all the information learned by the others in this game. The mental player enters The Kennel, groaning as they see the map. The social player remembers this location from the man outside. The social player talks to The Oracle on a low roll, receiving an against vote. The players, “ooh” as it happens. The Oracle explains the clear goo, The Chef, The Kennel, the vote system, and the ‘poison the food’ puzzle on the request of the social player. She also asks about the dogs, recalling what the man outside had mentioned, and receives information about The Foremother. The mental player is hesitant, but decides to explore The Kennel. The mental player begins the ‘Destroy the Castle’ puzzle by inspecting the grate. The physical player enters The Kitchen, gaining a vote against. The players take a minute to look over the room. The players ask about the guests in The Hall and why they are wearing masks. The mental player grabs the key. The players debate over whether or not to open the lock on the grate. The mental player does not want to confront the thing under the grate alone. The other players come to The Kennel and open the lock and grate with her. The players ask for more information about the tentacles. They decide to feed the tentacles, first looking for food around The Kennel. The realize the monster likes human flesh. We stop to re-explain the advantage, over time, of collectively acting. The players discuss asking The Oracle for more information. Player 3 misunderstands and thinks the others want to feed The Oracle to the monster. She says, “People don’t like him, but he’s not bad.” They clarify that they just want more information. The players reason that the silver key given by the monster might work in other places. The mental player doesn’t want to feed the monster until she knows more information about what it is. They agree to confront The Oracle about it. They take a moment to discuss the voting system and that when they all get a positive vote, nothing happens in to the final tally. The physical player notices that there are silver keys and silver locks and gold locks. The social player asks The Oracle for information on the monster with a high roll, receiving a positive vote. She is relieved by it. The Oracle and the player converse, with the social player interrupting to ask clarifying questions. The conversation escalates with information, with the social player exclaiming, “Oh my God.” The players decide to visit The Chef and to open the locks on the knife wall. Upon seeing that their silver key and the silver locks are a perfect match, the players get excited. The player who defended The Oracle suggests jokingly that they should sacrifice The Chef to The Foremother. The players decide to steal The Chef’s gold key while talking with him to create a diversion. They ask what in-game hour they are in. The social player appeals to The Chef’s ego, having heard that The Chef considers himself an artist. The social player agrees to do a favor for The Chef and investigate The Host and is given a gold key. Afterwards, the social player tries to get the other players to steal The Chef’s other keys, regardless of their effect on the plot. The players attempt to unlock the knives on the wall, and are given a knife by The Chef. The players agree to unlock the gold lock in The Hall.
  4. Hour 2: (at 1 hour 2 minutes) The players discuss using a diversion to make sure The Host does not see them unlock her chamber. The social player agrees to talk to The Host, while the other two enter the room. The social player rolls low, receiving a negative vote. She brushes it off with, “Sure, whatever.” The social player has an eloquent conversation with The Host, taking into account her motivations and ego. The players laugh over a joke about The Chef. The other two players enter The Bedchamber on a low roll, verbally expressing their anxiety as NPCs catch them in the act. The laugh over the descriptive failure to open the door. The mental player wants to investigate. The players look at the skull with the scar and remember a previous mention of a scarred cheek, but they cannot remember where they heard it. The players investigate the tentacle and discuss the evidence that it belongs to The Host. They reason that it does, and that she cut it off herself. The social player interrupts play exclaiming that she remembers where the scar came from: The Oracle’s companions. The players discuss if this is proof of The Chef’s claim. They spend a few minutes deciding what to do before choosing to look for more evidence. They find new information but aren’t sure what it means yet. The social player asks The Host more questions while the others try to figure out what this means. They have another very eloquent conversation in which the player makes aggressive inquiries. The other players decide to re-investigate the room for specific information after listening to the conversation. They discover a hole in the ceiling and deduce that The Foremother’s eggs are coming from there. The mental player recalls that the smell from the hole is the same smell from the grate in The Kennel. The players debate where in space they are. The mental player does not want to leave The Bedchamber, but wants to investigate the mirror because of its position on the map. They look into the mirror and find the backwards reading inscriptions on the bowls. They look at the scarred skull bowl, but don’t seem to connect the information as proof of The Chef’s claim. I feed them three rounds of extra hints as they stare, unable to jump the gap. They note that the extra information is interesting, but still aren’t sure what to do next. They re-investigate the room and discuss the information. They take a small snack break and ask for clarifying information, which I give through reminding them of what NPCs have said before. They debate about who is really a bad person. They are stumped by the fact that The Host is killing people, but the order members seem to love her. They remember that the only person who doesn’t is The Chef, and then remember he is looking for proof that she is interfering with his plans. The players return to The Hall, where The Host meets them. This distresses the mental player. The social player tries to cover for them, but fails (even though the role was high.) The players decide to confront The Host with their discovery. She flounders, and offers them a way to survive at the expensive of someone else. The players don’t like this option.
  5. Hour 3: The mental and physical players decide to show The Chef proof of The Host’s killings of other new hosts. The Chef turns on the players, making his announcement (the mental player is excited to hear it) that The Host is a fraud and that he needs to kill two of the players instead of one. Immediately after the announcement is made, the social player says, “Alright, this is what we are going to do,” and gives her plan to confront The Chef with the option of using The Host as 200 pounds of meat because she is so tall. She then retracts her plan upon remembering that The Host is not human. The player discuss who to talk to, with the physical player suggesting The Oracle. The social player agrees, appealing to The Oracle’s sense of tradition to get him on their side. This fails. They decide to talk to The Host, who confronts them with their rejected deal. Their appeal works, and The Host reminds them that they just have to get human flesh near The Foremother. The players ask how she knows The Foremother will always produce a child, and The Host admits she’s been murdering them every year. The mental player wants to sacrifice The Chef to The Foremother. The social player reasons that they don’t need him anymore, and the mental player settles for just attempting to kill The Chef instead. They decide against killing The Chef. The Host incentivizes the players by offering them leadership in the order if they sacrifice The Chef to preserve her status. The players realize that if they feed The Chef to The Foremother, he will be reborn. The mental player does not want this to happen. The social player rejects The Host’s offer, citing that she doesn’t trust her. The player discuss who they want to kill. The Host leaves them with one last bit of advice: don’t taunt The Foremother with the flesh. The players discuss the option of not feeding The Foremother, which they want to try. The Host reminds them that if they reach the end of their third hour without taking action, the vote will come to a head and two of them will be stoned to death. The players then agree to sacrifice someone, but then remember that they can tear the castle down. They discuss who to use as bait, and chose The Oracle. They appeal to his love of The Foremother and convince him to come with them into The Kennel. They discuss just tossing The Oracle into the grate, but reason that this would not taunt The Foremother into coming out and would cause The Oracle to be reborn, which they don’t want. The 40 minute mark until the vote is announced. The players get closer to the grate, trying to push The Oracle to the edge. The Oracle makes a note that The Foremother speaks telepathically, which interests the players. The social player makes a plan that all the players should curse The Foremother mentally. Since this is a mental action, the mental player is even more interested and handles the group roll. The players continue to taunt The Foremother and convince The Oracle to speak aloud to The Foremother, and each shared their mental taunts aloud with each other. The players back up and decide to cut The Foremother’s tentacles with the knife they got from The Chef in order to make The Foremother angry. The players want to keep agitating The Foremother. They clarify that they don’t want to give The Foremother a sacrifice. They say they want to kill The Foremother. They discuss their options, noting that they would probably die if they tried to kill The Foremother. Instead they chose to keep annoying her. They toss their knife into oncoming tentacles. The tentacle grabs The Oracle and the player decide to try to save him. They fail to save him and cut down another tentacle. The Foremother lunges at them, bringing down the castle around them. They run from room to room, rolling as they run to avoid debris and avoid a giant tentacle chasing them. They chose to escape through the hole in The Bedchamber where The Foremother’s eggs drop. They make it out. Everyone around them is dead. They ask if they’ve killed The Foremother, but see her swim away into the distance. The final vote tallies:
    1. Social Player: 10 for, 5 against
    2. Mental Player: 7 for, 0 against
    3. Physical Player: 8 for, 2 against
    4. Puzzle Description

I included one small puzzle in the game and two possible large puzzles prepared for how players would want to play in the space. I wanted these puzzles to be fully integrated with the space and objects of the story.

Casting Votes: The first and smaller puzzle was figuring out how the NPCs cast votes. Players were given the information that NPCs were allowed one vote, but that vote could either be for a character or against a character. The puzzle for the players was determining what behaviors would win them positive votes. A roll 10 or above for any action within view of the guests would result in a positive vote. Nine or less was a negative vote. Figuring this out was an “ah-hah!” moment in my first run through of the story which caused the player to use actions in his chosen skill (mental) to maneuver around the hall, as this increased his chances of getting positive votes with his skill bonus. Players can also chose to sabotage others and make them look bad, causing votes against them. If the game ends without the player figuring out the other two puzzles (or a better on that they make during play) the votes are tallied and the losing player is stoned to death by the others, who throw the first lot. The dead victim is then fed to The Foremother, continuing the process all over again.

The players did not chose to work the vote system or sabotage one another. Once they figured out that actions in The Hall with low rolls got negative votes, and actions with high rolls got positive votes, they chose to resist their fate in the story. They actively worked together to earn as many positive votes for each other as possible by discussing who should do which actions based on their skill bonuses. They divided the three skills evenly such that each player had a three point bonus in a different skill. Yuxing, the physical player, ended up doing most of the traversing, as entering and exiting rooms required a roll for attention. Sina, the social player, stayed mostly in The Hall and had long conversations with the NPCs. The other players avoided talking to NPCs in The Hall to avoid risking a negative vote. The mental player tended to be hesitant and followed the physical player out of The Hall whenever she could. Since players could perform actions in parallel to conserve time, as long as the physical player rolled for the action, she could coast from place to place without being voted against or for. This following behavior may also be the result of me not providing enough explicit benefits to being a mental player, or may speak to the mental role as I designed it. Since I decided to give out information regardless of the value of a roll (and just flavor the roll badly with a negative vote for low rolls), the mental player had no incentive to act individually after an initial observation roll on places and NPCs. This came up after the adventure when the mental player expressed that she wished she had more to do. We talked about the frequency of mental narratives in games versus books in class, with internal struggles occurring less in games. I stumbled upon the explanation here: mental reasoning is dependent on individual players. I gave the mental player the pieces, but no puzzle to solve with her bonus. Her incentive to act ended with finding the dots, not connecting them. In other games mental tasks include hacking, repairing, or dealing with technology, but these are really represented as physical tasks in games, not mental deduction. The mental skill did come up in the Destroying the Castle puzzle, surprising that player then, but I needed more of that moment in the voting puzzle in order to keep the votes high stakes for all three players/skill types.

Destroying the Castle: Players are confronted with the existence of The Foremother as a large being who can destroy the castle by The Oracle. They learn her dietary preference for human flesh from The Kitchen or The Chef. Inspecting the grate in The Kennel will reveal The Foremother, who will provide them with the key to open the gate while saying she’s ready for her meal. If the players do any action which involves using human flesh as bait to lure The Foremother, they solve this puzzle, which results in players getting a sequence of actions to make it out of the castle as it crashes down around them. All the other characters die, except for The Foremother herself, who escapes into the sea.

The players figured this puzzle out very quickly at the end of the third in-game hour. They solved the puzzle quickly, deducting each step on their own with only one hint from me that was not a planned description of the consequences of the players’ actions. The Kennel was the first room they entered, and they rolled for and were given all the introductory puzzle pieces of information at that point, but they chose to talk to the NPCs first. This is an interesting discrepancy between the events and the way the players perceived the hints occurring: in both their interest curves and their post-game comments, they liked that the pace of information reveal was steady. In reality, they were given the puzzle gate at the beginning of the game, then only returned to the puzzle location at the end after talking and exploring their way around the party. I reminded them of the puzzle using The Oracle character once, mid-way through play, and they responded in conversation with each other that they knew what to do, but wanted to learn more about the NPCs and organizations in the game first. Interestingly, this led them to debate over which character to sacrifice to The Foremother in the puzzle. They wanted The Chef, but ultimately chose The Oracle because they thought he would be easier to trick. This choice was interesting because they chose along their skill levels and not the narrative antagonist (in their game The Chef declared that he wanted to kill two of them instead of one, becoming the objective antagonist.) Narratively, this means they were more emotionally invested in saving themselves than acting just or fair. When reminded that destroying the castle would kill all the cancer doctors and Nobel prize winners at the party, the players had no difficulty in choosing to save their own hides. Mechanically, this means that they were more invested in their own ability to influence the world rather than a revenge narrative. The end of the puzzle fell flat, as I tried to increase the pace of rolls and the pressure of the experience by urging the players, but I also tripped up a few steps in the end of the puzzle, ruing the pacing experiment when I forgot to send them to the next step. I also hadn’t written out description text for each step of the puzzle, so my delivery became less consistent as well. Overall, this puzzle became the ending of the game, which I wished I could have practiced more. I learned that in this case, players will act in their own self-interest when there are no morally pure options in their choices. I also noticed that regardless of when puzzle steps are actually completed relative to the game’s timeline, if players discover and move through the puzzle steps at their own pace, they will enjoy the puzzle more. For that reason, I think the puzzle was effectively entertaining, as indicated by positive trends in the interest curves at the end of hour three when the bulk of the puzzle was solved and the post-game comment that the game felt unpredictable.

Puzzle Steps:

  1. Learn about The Foremother:
    1. First hear about The Foremother: 9 minutes 15 seconds, no reaction.
    2. Get details about the identity of The Foremother from The Oracle: 47 minutes 41 seconds, upon learning that The Foremother takes up the foundation of the castle, the players reaction with an “oh.”
  2. Need human flesh:
    1. Figuring out it’s Dinner Time: 40 minutes 42 seconds, the players look for food in The Kennel to feed the tentacles. They chose to look at a dog carcass, reasoning that the monster does not like it. They investigate a skull, reasoning that the monster did like the human flesh.
    2. Realizing the Stoning Victim is Fed to The Foremother: 48 minutes 55 seconds, the social player asks, “You mean one of us is going to be eaten by The Foremother?” in conversation with The Oracle. She is alarmed.
    3. Freudian Slip: 43 minutes 21 seconds, one player misunderstands the others and thinks they want to feed The Oracle to the monster when the other just wanted to talk to him. She exclaims that The Oracle isn’t bad, just annoying. She doesn’t want to feed the monster until she knows more about it. They clarify that they won’t kill The Oracle.
    4. Exploring Options: 54 minutes 13 seconds, the player who defended The Oracle suggests they sacrifice The Chef instead. The others laugh, but decide against it.
    5. Remembering Human Flesh: 1 hour 41 minutes, the social player wants to convince The Chef to use The Host as 200 pounds of human flesh to feed The Foremother instead of two players, but retracts her plan after remembering The Host is not human.
    6. Picking a Target: 1 hour 49 minutes, the players agree to use The Oracle as bait because they think he will be the easiest to lure into The Kennel (because of his love of The Foremother.)
  3. Inspecting the Grate:
    1. Inspecting the Grate: 28 minutes 37 seconds, noting that they don’t have a key to unlock it.
  4. Receiving the Key:
    1. The Foremother’s Tentacles Hand Over the Key: 29 minutes 27 seconds, players “Ooh,” and excited ask the engaged player to get the key. The tentacles distress the engaged player.
    2. The Players get the Key: 35 minutes, they take a minute to decide what to do next. The engaged player is hesitant, and does not want to unlock the grate alone.
  5. Luring the Foremother:
    1. Opening the Lock on the Grate: 38 minutes 40 seconds, the players agree to open the grate.
    2. Hint at the Lure: 1 hour 45 minutes, The Host reminds the players that any human flesh near The Foremother will arouse her.
    3. Don’t Taunt: 1 hour 48 minutes, The Host reminds the players not to taunt The Foremother with the human flesh in order to not knock down the castle.
    4. Do We Taunt?: 1 hour 51 minutes, the players discuss just tossing The Oracle into the grate, but reason that this would not taunt The Foremother into coming out and would cause The Oracle to be reborn, which they don’t want.
    5. Mental Taunts: 1 hour 53 minutes, the players discover that The Foremother can be telepathically communicated with and they curse her in their minds.
    6. Don’t Kill Her: 2 hours, the player decide that killing The Foremother would probably kill them, so they decide to keep taunting her.
    7. Save the Sacrifice: 2 hours 3 minutes, the players try to save The Oracle from being eaten causing further taunting.
    8. Cutting a last Tentacle: 2 hours 4 minutes, the players cut off another tentacle. The Foremother lunges for them, bringing down the castle. The Players solve the puzzle.

Poisoning the Food: Players are introduced to this idea by The Oracle, who claims his friends from the year before tried and failed to do this. The Kitchen is full of poisonous herbs, and a jar of The Foremother’s slime, which is openly explained by The Oracle or The Chef as the substance which gives the order eternal life. Without the goo, they would die. Players may choose either substance or find another suitable poison for the food. Successfully getting the poison into the food in The Kitchen or The Great Hall solves this puzzle, which kills all the guests except for The Host, who is not human. She will lament the death of her subjects and offer all the players the chance to be leaders of a new Rapacite order they found together.

The players did not chose to poison the food. They mentioned the possibility of poisoning it when The Oracle mentioned his friends attempted it, but ultimately ignored that path. This might have occurred because they learned about this option through the lens of failure: these characters attempted this puzzle and failed, so we shouldn’t have done this. As a GM, I did not remind or push them towards this puzzle as they figured out the destroying the castle puzzle on their own. The players felt as though they had uncovered and taken steps toward destroying the castle by themselves (without my hints), which was a more compelling experience.

Interest Curves

PregameInterestCurve.png
My prediction pre-game
AllCurves
What actually happened.

Key:

  • 2A, 3A, 4A, and 5A = End of hour 1
  • 2B, 3B, 4B, and 5B = End of hour 2
  • 2C, 3C, 4C, and 5C = End of hour 3

Post-Mortem Analysis

Curve Analysis:

The players chose to divide the curve by in game hours. In all of their curves there is a gradual positive trend from hour mark to hour mark, with only a few slight dips. This indicates that the players enjoyed the experience, but could not remember any significant events which caused a spike of interest or disinterest. The shallow lulls of disinterest may correlate to moments of plot stagnation when the players were briefly stuck on what to do next or were discussing instead of pushing the story forward. The lack of interest spikes indicates that no event was interesting enough to be distinguishable from the rest of plot. This matches post-game comments that the narrative had a good pace of revealing information and was generally unpredictable. Interestingly, all the players enjoyed the integrated character creation scene, which may correlate to the unlabeled hump at the beginning of G1. Toward the end, I felt that the narrative became boring as the players tried to finish the puzzle and get out of the castle. G2 and G3 mirror this with plateauing at the end of the curves. In the F curve I perceived a lack of interest at this moment. In the E curve I thought the glimpse of The Foremother escaping would create a small interest peak at the end of the story, but the players interpreted that as failure to kill the monster. In the original E curve I expected the players to remember significant events and to return to the same level of interest in at these events before the climax, instead of a gradual curve. Since all of the player curves are generally the same, it can be said that all the players felt similarly entertained and were not singled out.

Insights:

  • Skill roll advantage leads to team work: The way in which players interact with the system changes their choices in the narrative. To open up the available actions in the story and get to playing faster, I chose to use a very simple rolling system. All actions required a d20 roll and fell under social, mental, or physical categories. Players got to choose social, mental, or physical skill buffs when creating their character in the integrated character creation scene. Finally, players could choose to all do one action together for one action or go their separate ways for individually counted actions. An unknown number (to the player) of actions filled an in game hour. The players realized that if they chose to work together, the hours would be longer. Since the players all chose different skill buffs, if they performed an action together, the person with that skill buff would roll so that their extra three points would be added to the roll. These factors came together early in the story when the players were discussing if they should work together. The reasoned that since they had complimentary skills, they should work together to get the order to save all three of them instead of sabotaging or following the vote system. This led them to work together to destroy the castle, resulting in a much more traditional hero arc for the PCs. They sensed an advantage to team work based on a triad of skills, which they thought would give them a better chance of getting out of the story together.
  • Moments of content building: Players comfortable with the narrative want multiple ways to influence it. At two points in the story the narrative paused for explicit player input. When players built their characters and backstories at the beginning of the adventure, I asked them what skill they wanted a bonus in and if they had a reason for choosing this skill. In this first moment, none of the player volunteered a back story. However, at the end of the game there was a scene in which the players taunt The Foremother with telepathic insults. I paused here and asked each player what their insult was, which they announced gladly. At this point in the narrative, they had more power as characters and a goal within the story: taunt The Foremother into appearing. They had identities within the world. I think this made it easier for them to open up and enjoy this latter social moment. This moment also provided a change of interaction mode from declaring an action and rolling for its success, to a more open-ended way of manipulating the story. This empowered the players by giving them another gateway into shaping the end of story the way they wanted to.
  • Adjusting the timers to create tension: Keeping some information hidden from the players gives the GM more room for story fixes or spontaneity. The point of having the in-game hours was to provide a sense of tension and a progress bar for the players. I did not tell the players how many actions made up an hour so that I could cause a sense of dread whenever I reminded them that their time was running out. I started the first hour at 20 player actions, and towards the end the players started asking what hour they were in. They indicated to me that the hour was too long. The tension was lost; they didn’t feel pressed for time. Since the players did not know the number of actions in an hour, I made the second hour 15 actions, and the third hour 10. They did not ask for the hour again, and the pace of the story seemed to quicken, which was the initial goal of the feature.
  • Meta-knowledge: Allowing the players to know everything all the player characters know encourages teamwork and makes puzzle solving more energetic. I designed the experience so that all information learned from one player character was accessible to all the others. I did not hide information from one PC conversation from the others. There was no loss of information if players were in different rooms. I explained this to the players who understood. Hiding the information was technically difficult. I think this also contributed to the players’ choice to work together. If they were all gathering and think about clues, they could solve puzzles faster. This led to several breaks for discussing what to do next and riffing off of each other’s possible puzzle solutions. This led to a feeling of unity when they reached puzzle solutions (signified by collective “ah!” moments.) The players felt like they worked together to solve problems.
  • Repeating puzzle reminders is annoying: The failure of the voting puzzle was caused by repeated exposure. Every time a vote was cast, the NPCs behaved in the same way. The rolls became predictable as the game continued. Each action in The Hall resulted in a vote, so there were a lot of repeated little scenes. This eventually caused the players to have negative reactions or no reactions to votes. Since the vote system was meant to cause division in the player party and be threatening, this lack of reaction made the puzzle boring and not worth pursuing for the players. I should have come up with more varied ways of announcing to the players that votes were occurring based on their rolls.
  • Infrequent puzzle reminders create dramatic moments for players (not player characters): Providing enough information for a player to recall an earlier clue makes them feel smart and renews their interest in the moment. These moments are player based, not player character based. For example, when the players entered The Bedchamber and chose to look around, they saw a skull with a scar on its cheek. The players’ reaction was exuberant, they remembered hearing about a scar on a cheek before but couldn’t remember the source of the information. They discussed it with passion, trying to remember that they heard it from The Oracle an hour earlier (they eventually did remember.) This conversation was much more compelling than what the player characters were doing (standing and looking around a room.)
  • Spectacle moments must be integrated with the rest of the narrative and the interaction system: In contrast, spectacle moments for the player characters sometimes came off flat because their player side moments were not compelling. For example, when the players were running from the tentacle at the end of the game, I tried to quicken the pace by having the players roll very frequently for many different small actions interspersed with brief text based reminders. I thought this change of action would create a sense of urgency for the players and help communicate that the castle was fall down around them. Instead, the players still wanted to discuss and solve for a way out, stopping to talk between rolls. This halted the urgent feeling in its tracks and was just awkward for the players. I needed to gradually wean the players off of a discussion based, teamwork system of rolling to something that could get them moving faster. The system I used was better serviced for slow-burn stories (like noir.)
  • Spectacle moments have the potential to create interest: By wrapping plot beats or character motivations to off details in the story, players remembered them and flagged them as important later. For example, at the beginning of the story, I mentioned that The Host is 10 feet tall. The players were very interested in this point, which I highlighted to show that she was a main character who wasn’t entirely human. At the end of the story, the players remembered her height and wanted to sacrifice her to The Chef who was looking for 200 pounds of human flesh. They reasoned that a 10 foot tall person must weigh at least 200 pounds. I had not expected this detail to resurface, pointing to the sticking power of a single off-seeming detail within an expected world.
  • Performance in conversations: Playing talent should be rewarded beyond narrative progression and reputation. One of the complaints from the social player after the game was that she felt she was not rewarded for her conversations, which were quite clever performances between her and me acting as an NPC. I gave her more information when she asked a good question, and complimented her abilities, but this was not enough of a reward for her to feel satisfied. In this case, I think a temporary skill buff to another skill or a power up may have been a good reward choice beyond opening the next section of narrative.
  • Agency: Another complaint was that players felt that their rolls were arbitrary. This arose from my decision to give out information regardless of roll value and use the voting system as punishment and reward for rolling. Since the players lost interest in the voting system, they did not feel challenged by these punishments. Their rolls simply flavored how they interacted with the world. I need to find a balance between passing enough information so that the players never feel stuck, but also feel like their rolls are the cause of their progress. I could do this by changing the quality of information passed or the difficulty of clues.
  • Mechanical pleasure: Extreme rolls generate the same excitement as unexpected story moments, so I tried to supplement them with interesting moments in the narrative. Rolling a 1 or a 20 was an exciting moment for the players, even before they knew what reaction it would have. Even through their relatively low experience was RPGs, the other players came to the game with an expectation that 1 meant bad and 20 meant good. I tried to use these expectations to my advantage by coasting off the emotional spike. If a 1 was rolled, I made a joke about how clumsy the player was while trying to do their action. If a 20 was rolled, they received compliments.
  • Diverging paths: The players wanted to yank the narrative off course several times; using story logic to guide them back resulted in more interest in the original narrative arc than saying “You can’t do that.” At one point the players decided they wanted to try waiting out the story and breaking the cycle by not feeding The Foremother. This was not an ending I had planned for, to I used an NPC to remind them the vote would occur at midnight if they took no other action. This would result in two of the player characters being killed and fed to The Foremother, which would continue the cycle. They consider this, and decided they would have to sacrifice someone. This returned them to the destroy the castle path, which they then began to ask NPCs about and investigate/plan how they would go about it. This occurred after a lull in activity, so the merging refueled their interest in the story. In contrast, when players would question logic (such as asking for the reaction of the bouncer when the player was pushed into the bush in the beginning of the game) and were given generic answers (in this case, “He didn’t see that.”), they were less interested in investigating that path further.
  • Imbalance for skill types: In this system, all skill types should have valid play options and unique methods of influencing the story. Another post-game complaint from the players was that the mental player had less to do. In play, this player was very hesitant and avoid The Hall to avoid the voting system. She took fewer actions that the others. This may be because after her investigation skills were used, she had no application skill to use next. The social and physical players did all the doing. I needed to have some sort of puzzle or activity for the mental player to excel at and use to push the narrative forward. This less can be applied to the other branches of this system too: I think there should have been more unique options for the players to use. Regardless of skill, all the players did the same basic actions: enter rooms, look around, and talk to NPCs. While skill buffs made some players more likely to gain positive votes for these actions, they were not unique to each play style. I needed to give more play options dependent on skill type to give each player a more compelling experience.

Conclusion

Overall, the adventure did address my initial problem statement by manipulating the players into working together. There were many discussions between the players about how to proceed, and their ability to solve the puzzle together outside of their characters gave them a sort of comradery. The player characters, however, were a bit imbalanced in favor of the socially and physically skilled players. There were less opportunities for mentally skilled players to contribute to puzzle solving or pushing the narrative forward. The core issue I struggled with was how to expose information in a consistent manner. I chose to always give out information and use poor play performance to flavor the way information was given. The adventure ended up lacking agency for some players’ skills but did deliver information in a gradual, unfolding way that players found unpredictable and enjoyable. I have found that this struggle between agency (the player’s amount of influence through mechanics) and narrative interest is common in game stories. There is often conflict between the skills of the player within a world (and their ability to problem solve a story using these abilities) and the allure of the strengths of a traditionally written, linear story. In the table, top format, I explored, I learned that as a storyteller I had to trust the players to connect the dots of puzzles within the world. I tried to make their choices and actions matter, but since I rewarded them with information regardless of their rolls, my attempts registered as colorful description rather than the effects of their actions.

Player Motivations and Open World Maps

Open world games come with the promise of exploration. Exploration is a key player motivation cited from Richard Bartle’s MUD player taxonomy. Players are driven to look behind every corner and wander worlds, and most contemporary games facilitate this motivation with a dynamic map. This overlay functions as a progress bar and a tease: a dynamic map will show the player where they have been and where they’ve left to go. The way dynamic maps reveal information changes the way players feel when exploring and shows the narrative priorities of the game: Is this about the journey or the destination? Is this about exploration or another of Bartle’s player motivations, achievement.

Destination Focused Maps Promote Achievement

Locations of interest in The Witcher 3 are pre-marked on the player’s map. At level 1, the player can open the menu to see a vast landscape of question marks indicating that something is happening there. The indicator remains a question mark until the player reaches the location in game and discovers what’s going on. This also occurs with objects of interest in the mini-map. Players see an icon for flora they can interact with, but don’t know what the plant is until they reach it.

2851139-witchermap1
Question marks indicate un-explored points of interest in The Witcher 3.

By showing the player a glimpse of the reward, promising them that their exploration here will be rewarded, The Witcher 3 caters more toward achievement motivated players than exploration motivated ones. The indicators make exploring efficient, making sure that the player only goes unrewarded for their exploration if they want to. Traversing the world becomes about getting to the question marks, discovering the drama there, and ticking another ? off the world map. As long as ?s populate the map, achievement based players will feel compelled to keep exploring. Interestingly, this feeling is compounded by the player’s traversal abilities. Players can only fast travel from sign posts and boats to sign posts and harbors, a limited set of locations. However, the player always has access to their horse, making land travel very quick. The player must travel through the environment to reach a destination, but usually does so with a focus on the destination. This, in conjunction that most of the open environment is not interactable, focuses the player on gameplay (stopping to fight a monster) and narrative moments (stopping for a conversation with a local) that function like mini-destinations on their way to the question mark. Interestingly, this does not occur with sign posts, which must be discovered by travel or by reading about the area.

Journey Focused Maps Promote Exploration

Locations in Skyrim are found similarly to sign posts in The Witcher 3: you hear about a place or you stumble upon it while travelling. Like the Witcher question marks that become icons upon arrival, these locations have an inter-arrival grayed out state that indicates to the player that they haven’t been here yet. This appears in the player’s HUD as they approach a new location and only appears in the world map upon discovery. Players can view an area they have not visited on the map, but will not see an indication of what is there until they travel there. The area is a mystery.

4929-1-1325462215
Note the large patch of empty, un-traveled  map on the left and the grayed-out locations.

By allowing the player to do the work of finding new places, Skyrim’s HUD element and empty map caters more toward exploration motivated players than achievement based ones. Unlike The Witcher 3’s ?s, Skyrim’s map will never tell you if you’ve missed a location. It is up to the player to find everything, and not every journey promises a reward. This focus on travelling allows the player to sink into the environment and learn landmarks. Travelling is also rewarded by traversal methods, as the player can fast travel from any discovered location to any other discovered location.

Maps as Progress Bars

Note the differences between un-traveled and well traveled dynamic maps in The Witcher 3 and Skyrim:

Both maps show the player where they’ve been, but differ in describing what is left to discover. The Witcher’s ticked off question marks make the map function like a scoreboard. Skyrim’s map is more ephemeral; you may never know if you’ve missed a spot.

Lawn Dice and Fuzzy Dice Development Process

*Videos were taken of all of these playtests, but I’m not linking them here because we did not agree upon public viewing beforehand.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming Notes: A big part of my brainstorming was settling on experiences as I found them. Eventually I made the first die (4 sided Masonite) just to constrain myself to a problem and solve it.

Problem Statement: The act of roll a die, the moment before seeing the result, is exciting and anticipatory. The dice feel good to hold and interact with. Why is this feeling often not present in the remainder of the game? How can I make a game where the feeling of interacting with/anticipating the dice is the game?

  1. Bingo Dice
  2. Ice Dice
  3. Rice Dice
  4. Some game that starts with 6 dice and ends with 1
  5. Alternative ways of Interacting with dice
  6. What is the core concept of dice?
    1. Hand motion, physicality
    2. 6 paths, not 6 options
  7. Assumptions of Dice: always get an answer, always get an answer between 1 and side #
  8. Dice Toy
    1. Roll 2 dice and do something with sum, difference, quotient, or x
    2. What if dice have no numbers: images,shapes,blanks,blank that you can manipulate, blank of freedom (Scrabble), protrusions
  9. Fast exchange between players, two players, all hands must touch dice
    1. About feeling the dice
    2. About watching the other
    3. Chance value or the way dice feel to roll?
  10. Randomness of Dice: numbers, manufacturer fault details, where the dice fall
    1. Materials: dice, hands, eyes, faces
    2. Passing dice from hand to hand to different person without looking at the values
    3. Telephone dice
  11. Location of dice (skill) and number (chance)
    1. Divination Map: regions on map: tell fortune, do something to opponents, player chooses what dice to move (cooperative) once there, number adds to a score in that category
  12. Oujia dice: randomness of group psychology + weird skill/luck dice toss
    1. Skill: where the dice lands
    2. Luck: the number on the die
    3. Is this about dice or the mat/map?
    4. Mat must be reproducible: like alphabet
    5. Alphabet, numbers, words, portraits; physical obstacles on the board that change dice roll on impact which adds to randomness
    6. Oujia boards communicate with ghosts/screw with friends
  13. Divination
    1. There exists Ouija dice 38-sided with yes/no, alphabet/numbers
    2. Dice with different numbers of sides
    3. Lots of dice or just 1
  14. The ROLL as a feeling
  15. The RANDOMNESS as a feeling: drive up anticipation
  16. Owl pellet dice: resettable and goals?
    1. Not knowing and hidden info
  17. One giant die: 10”, 12”,18”
    1. Dissovles randomness
    2. Keeps randomness: toss in air (hollow), kick
    3. Toy: handling the object
    4. The randomness arises from the interaction with the dice: rolling
    5. How can I use rolling to effect/uneffect randomness?
    6. How does the weight effect the action of rolling?
    7. More effort = heightened anticipation of roll result
    8. Genuine roll: truly random (tossing)
    9. “Skilled” roll: spinning on a corner (on 6-sided will lower to 4 way odds), flipping: flip to an adjacent face
  18. Two giant dice: battle
    1. Inflatable? Punch out the air
    2. Who rolls higher number wins: war
    3. Move the other die away from a goal (lawn balls)
    4. Must stand up to roll
    5. What’s on the dice: numbers, foods, actions, pictures, symbols, commands
    6. Tossing dice in midair to intercept roll: complete random anarchy
  19. Enum of 4: cardinal directions, (up,down,left,right), colors
  20. Transforming Chance into skill: throwing the other die out of the air, throwing to get a specific number
  21. Skill curve beyond new players? A game in which skill curve resets each session?
  22. Toy: What’s fun about the toy: handling it, throwing it
    1. A more exciting toss action increases anticipation for result: now put a goal on it
  23. Numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4
    1. Spaces to move
    2. Steps to take *physical because this realtes to the toss action
    3. Next distance to throw
    4. What if no horizontal space? Vertical space or table
      1. Spinning on a corner, throwing, jumping, running
    5. Cause a rivalry or cause cooperation
    6. Things you can do with a giant 4-sided die:
      1. Throw, spin, kick, bump, tump, change a face, roll, follow, read, slide, knock over: KOOB
      2. Transforming chance into skill: begin game with full 180 degree toss, subsequent tosses don’t have to be 180 degrees but you must interact with the die during your turn (die is at 1 and you want 4 so you can use your toss skill to try to get the 4)
    7. All numbers valuable (equally desirable to get a 1 over 4 depending on situation)
      1. Taking steps to a goal
      2. Moves your token closer to the goal
      3. Moves opponent further from goal
      4. Damage done to monster/obstacle/opponent
      5. Tosses you get next turn
      6. 1,2,3 wildcard (full 180 degree toss)
      7. How much territory you get/how many objects in room are yours
    8. Fluid rules:
      1. You start by throwing the die
      2. You must obey the die no matter what, but you can roll it anyway you want as long as it does one full turn (opponent to enforce)->must be a facing action.
      3. You then do something based on the number on the die
      4. Continue, taking turns, first player to the goal wins
    9. Catch placement:
      1. Toss die to another person, wherever their right thumb is is the number
      2. Toss die to cooperate: still toss
      3. Toss die to compete: fun full random 180 degree toss
      4. This is dangerous
    10. Koob-ish but whatever number it lands on
      1. Number on die = how many points are added to your score if you succeed in bowling down one of the opponent’s pins
      2. Highest score wins
      3. Game ends when both players have knocked down all pins

 

Initial Rule Set for Lawn Dice

Materials: 1x giant 4-sided die, 8x blocks

Setup: Each player should set up their 4 blocks in a row such that the rows face each other and are 10 feet apart. Place each block 12” apart in the row.

LD01

Goal: The player with the most points when all 8 blocks have been knocked down wins.

Rules: Lawn Dice is a two player game. The player with the most recent birthday goes first. Standing behind their row of blocks and facing their opponent’s row, player one rolls the giant 4-sided die towards their opponent’s row trying to knock down their blocks. If the player succeeds in knocking down an opponent’s pin with the die, they are awarded the number of points shown on the die (maximum of 4.) If the player knocks down more than one block in a roll, they are only awarded the number of points shown on the die. If the player knocks down their own blocks, they may set them up again. No points are awarded to knocking down your own blocks. If the player rolls and misses, their turn ends with no points. Once a player rolls, their turn is over and it is the next player’s turn. The player with the highest score when all 8 blocks are knocked down wins.

Initial Rule Set for Fuzzy Dice

Setup: Two players face each other standing 8 feet apart, each with a plush 6sided die.

Goal: First player to get a 30 or above wins.

Rules: The first player is the player with the most recent birthday. This player rolls the plush die. The other player may roll/throw their die to intercept this die. If the roll is successfully intercepted (the dice collide and touch), then the intercepting player is awarded the amount of points on both dice. However, if they miss (the dice do not touch) then the original player is awarded the points on both dice. Players do not have to attempt an interception. Players take turns being on the offense and intercepting sides of play. The first player to reach 30 points or above wins.

Playtests

Playtest 1:

2/2/17 at 5PM during CMU Playtesting Night ( playtesters were in early twenties.) My goal with this playtest was to get a feel for how others interacted with the giant dice. I wanted to see if there was a reaction between the two prototype dice: one Masonite/duct tape four sided die and one felt/stuffing 6 sided die. We played one round with the 4d and one with the 6d. I won both rounds (but I have also been throwing the dice around more, which presents an interesting question on skill.)

Addressing the Problem Statement: This game attempts to extend and exaggerate the anticipation of traditional dice rolling by scaling up and targeting the dice. The anticipation of the roll is magnified by the large die, the need for aiming skill, and the accumulation of points based on the skill of the roll.

  1. Time and Replayability: Each round only took about 5 minutes to play through. We took the time to write our scores down on the white board in the room, which kept us from having to remember our scores as they increased each round. I found it difficult to remember my score, even though the numbers were low. After our first round, the playtester was really excited to use the plush die. However, after that round, she didn’t ask to play again or show any signs of wanting to set up the pins again. She did keep playing with the dice on the table while I cleaned up the pins, toying with them and rolling them again and again. I think this indicates that the objects are the strength of the system: the toy is fun, but the game isn’t as compelling. Part of this may arise from the novelty of the objects. I will need to playtest again with her later to see if this is the case.
  2. Ties: Though a tie never occurred while we were playing, we did get very close. I realized I had not included a rule for ties. In the next iteration, I will try a sudden death tie breaker. Each player will place one pin on their side and each will get one throw to score. I think this form of tie breaking relates to the anticipation drummed up by rolling the die.
  3. Anticipation: During the first round with the heavy, hard Masonite die, hitting the pins was loud and kinetic. Pins rolled all over the lab and the die felt good to release.WP_20170202_011
  4. Before playing, I asked the playtester which die she liked more and she said the plush one because it was gentle and felt like a pillow when she held it. After we had finished, I asked her again and she changed her answer to the hard die. She said she liked the sound it made and that she felt more in control when it left her hand. I think this material quality of the die contributed to how the game attempts to address the problem statement. By magnifying the rolling operation, the game blurs the line between skill and chance. The architecture of the space also heightened the moment before each roll, as we each had to get out of the way before the other rolled so we weren’t hit. We also missed pins several times, so anticipation was triggered as much by what number we got as much as if the pin would fall.
  5. Differences between dice: Though the plush die had the chance for more points, we scored relatively similarly each round. The plush die felt more like a bean bag than a die, while the Masonite die felt like a bowling ball. I started the first round, and I used a bowling motion, which may have tainted the results. I need to playtest with others (and without me) to see the intuitive methods of rolling the die.
  6. Strategy: Interestingly, neither of us ended up with a strategy for getting consistent high numbers out of the rolls. I explained the rules to the playtester and said she could get the die across the court in anyway she wanted, but she always bowled. I totally forgot to try a different method, say, a still throw. This might speak to the compulsion to roll the dice in a traditional way (default action around a default object) or the continuation of the feeling of rolling the dice from turn to turn, which would address the problem statement.

Playtest 2:

2/3/17 at 7PM with Game Creation Society members (all game players, all desiring to make games, varying experience levels with design and development.) The goal for this playtest was to see how spectators react to the game and to get a more varied audience (especially male)’s perspective. Considering the events of the previous playtest, I limited this session to just the Masonite 4sided die. After seeing the way the previous playtester handled the plush die, I gave it its own game to better suit natural interaction with the die. This game is called Fuzzy Dice. We played two rounds of Lawn Dice and one round of Fuzzy Dice.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: Using this plush die in the pervious iteration did not provide a responsive, satisfactory experience when compared to the hard die. To fix this, I removed the plush die from the game.

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: How can the plush nature of the fuzzy dice be a compelling, anticipation generating game play mechanic?

Lawn Dice Playtests: Game #1: A vs B (twenties.) B won (3+1+3=7) to (3+1+1+1 = 6).

  1. Materiality: Both A and B agreed that rolling the Masonite die felt fun and responsive: they liked the noise it made and that it disrupted other conversations in the room. This may indicate either the novelty or the compelling nature of the Masonite die.
  2. Skill Disparity: B had a hard time knocking down pins while A bowled them down like a pro. In the end this didn’t have an effect on the score. When asked how they felt about this at the end of the playtest, neither felt cheated.

Lawn Dice Playtests: Game #2: C and D (earlies twenties). C won (3+3+4+1=11) to (2+1+4+1 = 7).

  1. Optimal Strategies: C’s strategy was to hold the corner with the lowest number and toss outward. He believed this gave him a better chance at landing on a higher number, though it really didn’t seem to have an effect from my perspective. He also felt like the die wasn’t balanced because he rolled mostly 1s and 3s, though he didn’t roll enough to get an accurate distribution, so I think this effect maybe psychological as well. C was very interested in the mechanical nature of the die form and gave me a lot of suggestions of how to make it lighter or roll more, so the die captured his attention even though he said it was dissatisfying to roll because it tends not to roll very far. He described his strategy as “rolling and hoping for the best” while he thought D’s strategy was to just to knock pins down. Interestingly, this was D’s strategy, as he had a hard time getting the pins to fall. He said this made him desperate, and I think the audience in the room intensified this feeling. This may also indicate a difference of player motivation: C wanted to win the game, but D wanted to show off. D started the game by declaring he “would kick C’s ass,” so this may have also contributed to his motivation. Since D and C watched the first playtest, this may speak to the appeal of the game and the rivalry it produces, or that watching is fun/anticipatory. Quality spectatorship experience may mean that this game should have a party audience.
  2. Danger: D accidentally hit C in the shin with the 4sided die. C is ok, but I want to limit the damage inherent to the game itself. This may be achievable with more play area, clear warnings in the rules, or rearranging the court so that players don’t stand behind their pins.

Fuzzy Dice Playtest: GCS Members E and F (early twenties). E won 31 to 5.

  1. Optimal Strategies: After the playtest, F said his strategy was to roll the die by finding the lowest number and placing his hands on that side and its parallel. He would then spin the die with both hands, insuring that he never got a low number. E’s strategy was to play aggressively, watching and learning to anticipate F’s moves and his throwing strategy. In the end, E’s aggressive strategy won her more points, though in the first toss she wasn’t fast enough to throw. F was more cautious and his intercepts often failed. This may have occurred because his die was slightly heavier or it may have been his intuitive throwing skill.
  2. Confusion: During one toss, F threw a vertical roll and E intercepted just after it hit the ground. The timing was awkward and presented a hole in the rules. Since E hit the die square on, I awarded the points to E. Both of the playtesters felt this moment was confusing. They suggested having boundaries or a target to throw to which would clearly delineate when die hit each other by knocking them out of bounds. I will try this in my next iteration, as I think having the players face each other contributes to this inability to see a hit (or lie about a hit.) A clear cause-effect system like “is it in the ring?” could fix this.
  3. Spontaneous Round: After I had picked up the game and was getting ready to leave, the playtesters picked up the dice and began to spontaneously play. They made a makeshift ring to throw into and tried to knock each other’s die out. They found this difficult: F’s slightly heavier die was unmovable. I think this round shows that the die are fun toys and the game has potential to be fun as the playtesters returned to play because they just wanted to play. This also shows that the die need to be even weights (and not stuffed with paper towels for cheap prototyping) for the ring idea to work.WP_20170203_009
  4. Materiality: Both E and F both preferred the plush die to the Masonite die. I found both of them playing with them after the rounds, indicating that they are compelling objects.

Playtest 3

2/6/17 in the RPIS hallway at the ETC at 10 with ETC students (mid-late twenties.) In this Fuzzy Dice playtest I wanted to test the target idea as a way of getting correct timing. I did this by making a ring of tape on the ground that was approximately the diameter of one and a half fuzzy dice. If a player managed to get their die in the ring, they got the displayed points, if not, no points. In this Lawn Dice playtest I wanted to test how much space the game really needed, spatial ways to decrease the danger of the game, and to explicitly find out how players feel about their ability to throw the die versus its outcome. To test these factors, I made sure to warn the players and choose a location with ample room. I also made a post-game survey, using techniques from the ETC’s Playtest Workshops.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: A narrow space increases the danger of the game. How does architecture affect the outcome of play or the feeling of anticipating a roll?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: Without a goal to throw to, players are confused about where to throw, when to throw, and what constitutes a successful throw. Does a concrete goal change player’s feeling about their performance and eliminate the confusion? What effect does this have on a player’s sense of anticipation of the dice roll?

Lawn Dice Playtest: Round one: 16 (A) to 2 (B); Round two: 16 (C) to 16 (D) went into single pin sudden death which ended 4 (D) to 2 (C)

  1. Lawn Dice Survey:
    1. Describe the 4 sided die with three words:
    2. Describe rolling the die with three words:
    3. How difficult was knocking down pins? 1(hard) 2 3 4 5(easy)
    4. Do you feel like your ability to knock down pins was reflected in your score?
    5. How difficult was rolling the number you wanted? 1(hard) 2 3 4 5(easy)
    6. Do you feel like your ability to roll the die was reflected in your score?
    7. Would you play again, and if so, who would you most like to play against?
  2. Dominant Strategy: In each match, one player quickly found a slinging maneuver to ensure they always rolled a 4. In one match, this player instructed their opponent how to use this maneuver. In one round, this strategy caused the dominant player to score a 16 against the other player’s 2 (the dominant player was also more skilled at knocking down pins faster.) This made it impossible for the second player to win, though they were obligated to finish knocking down pins, which they weren’t skilled at to begin with, resulting in a humiliating experience. In the other match (with the instructing dominant player), a 16-16 tie was reached that went into sudden death. Players seemed about ready to give up until the tie was achieved (again, the dominant player was more skilled at knocking pins down.) However, the dominant player lost win his flinging strategy failed and the die rolled to a 2, causing the less skilled player to win. Both players agreed the sudden death was reinvigorating and felt fair, ending the game positively for both. Perhaps there is a way to fix the stagnation of the first round with a sudden death ending, while still feeling fair to players of different skill level.
  3. Spectatorship: The second round of players asked to play after watching the first. They said they wanted to play after enjoying the noise and visual action of the first match. They said it was fun to watch, which reinforces the idea that this might be a good party game.

Fuzzy Dice Playtest: 31 (C) to 0 (D)

  1. Fuzzy Dice Survey:
    1. Describe the 6 sided die with three words:
    2. Describe using the die with three words:
    3. How difficult was intercepting your opponent’s die? 1(hard) 2 3 4 5(easy)
    4. Do you feel like your ability to intercept your opponent was reflected in your score?
    5. How difficult was getting the die into the goal? 1(hard) 2 3 4 5(easy)
    6. Do you feel like your ability to roll the die into the goal was reflected in your score?
    7. Would you play again, and if so, who would you most like to play against?
    8. Aggressive Behavior: Again this match had one aggressive player who anticipated and teased the other player into false moves, and one more defensive player who was ultra cautious in rolling. The defensive player also had less skill in getting the die into the ring, which caused her to lose points. I have yet to see a cautious strategy pay off, which may indicate that the game is more competitive-feeling than Lawn Dice. Interestingly, the losing player played both games and said she preferred Lawn Dice (which she won.) As a self proclaimed “sore loser,” she said she felt more rewarded for her skill in Lawn Dice.
  2. Dominant Strategy: When asked if the aggressive player had a strategy, he replied “I just flailed.” I think this refers to his strategy of psyching out his opponent with false starts to rolls, which caused the opponent to roll before he did twice. This behavior quickly grew his points.

Playtest 4

2/6/17 Doherty Hall B Floor Corridor. For this playtest, I really wanted to test skill vs randomness. I wanted to measure knocking down pin skill, getting the dice in the ring skill, and rolling certain numbers skill. I also wanted to compare strategies between experienced players and inexperienced players. In order to do this, I had a pre-game phase for each game in which I asked the playtester to practice. For Lawn Dice, this was three rounds for the playtester to practice knocking down pins. I measured his performance for each round. For Fuzzy Dice, I gave him five practices tosses into the ring and measured his performance. After these rounds we actually played the game. After the game I gave him the same survey from Playtest 3.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: Mismatched skill levels make the game boring for high skilled players and too hard for low skill players. What kinds of skills are at play in the game and how to they affect the feeling of anticipation in the die roll?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: Mismatched skill levels also cause a negative effect in this game. Does practice change a player’s perception of anticipation in the die roll?

Lawn Dice: 13 (A) to 13 (B); sudden death 4(A, as B did not manage to knock down her pins.)

  1. Dominant Strategy: A’s strategy, which he developed mid-game, was to hold the die on the point with the number he wanted, and then underhand throw the die from there. He said this tossing felt better than his initial “Frisbee” technique because the die carries its weight in the corners. Even though Tom did get a few 4s with his strategy, he did roll a few 2s and 1s. He said that this felt like there was always a percentage of randomness and anticipation in his throws. He also commented that the practice rounds made him more confident in throwing the die and more receptive to score strategy.
  2. Pin placement: A brought up that he wished there was more danger in the distance between pins. Since knocking down multiple pins still only awards you up to 4 points, he wished there was more of chance to hit 2 or more pins and if they were closer, this option would feel more present.

Fuzzy Dice: 30 (B) to 27 (A)

  1. Dominant Strategy: A found this game to be more fun than lawn dice because it had “rhythm.” By this I think he was referring to the ritual of psyching out your opponent, trying to get them to throw before you do so you get the points. This dance before the throws was his favorite part of the game, and he talked about it more than scoring or the way the die felt. The skill of anticipating our opponents became more present than the randomness of the die because if your anticipation/interception skills are high, you will win regardless of your rolls.

Playtest 5

2/7/17 at 2 in the RPIS at the ETC  (early twenties, game makers). I had them play one round of each game. My goals with this playtest were to make the pin positioning rule in Lawn Dice more present and the die rolls more structured. To do this I shortened the distance between each pin to the length of one side of the die and required that each die roll make one full 360 degree rotation when rolled. I also wanted to test breaking up the “Frisbee” move that got the third round of playtesters all 4s all the time. I did this by telling the playtesters that the die had to make at least one full 360 degree rotation for the points to count. For Fuzzy Dice I wanted to test with less aggressive personalities. I did not give out a survey during this playtest, but did ask the questions from the survey.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: The skill of knocking down pins is not tested by the game. Does putting the pins closer together make this skill more of a factor? How does this specific skill affect anticipation in the die roll? Do strategies make a player feel better or worse about their skill in the game?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: Aggressive players who frequently intercept usually win. Do less aggressive players have a different outcome and how does an aggressive or passive playstyle change perceived anticipation in the die roll?

Lawn Dice: A (3+3+4+1=11) to B (3+4+3+3=13)

  1. Dominant Strategy: When asked if they had any strategies while playing, both players responded with strategies for avoiding knocking down more than one pin per throw (underhand rolls, aiming for the pins on the edge, aiming for the top of pins), not strategies for rolling high numbers. This was interesting, as I hadn’t changed my rule speech, only the distance between the pins. Neither player knocked down more than one pin at a time. This indicates that the players were more focused on their skill at knocking down pins (and each failed several times) than their scores, meaning that they derived more achievement and worth from knocking down pins. This may have arisen from my 360 degree rule: if rolling a 4 is too hard to master, then the next safest bet is to avoid knocking down more than one pin.
  2. Party Play: When asked if they would play the game and again and if so, who with; both players agreed they would play again. B wanted to play with a clone of himself, which would force him to change strategies. A said he wanted to play it at a party (another success for a party audience) and that he’d like to play it with all his friends at once in a free-for-all. I think this desire comes from the spectatorship of the game and the satisfaction of the die (both players said this game was their favorite of the two, and A preferred the hard die. In my next iteration I’ll try a team based attempt and a free-for-all to see if the party energy is preserved in each case.

Fuzzy Dice: A (4+6+6+6=22) to B (2+2+8+6+4+9=31)

  1. Dominant Strategy: B was very vocal about his strategy (and that he preferred the soft die to the hard one.) I think this might be an indication that he felt more rewarded for his skill in this game. He said he got very good at reading A’s tells (his word, not mine) (they were friends prior to this game) which where a twitch in A’s throwing arm right before he threw and a stance with his feet right before he threw.) He also had a strategy in which he was willing to risk interception if the gap between their scores was getting to high, but he had trouble remembering the scores. I may have biased this, as I kept score on a paper nearby, but may also show that the game needs a scorekeeper role.
  2. Materiality: A did not find this game as fun as Lawn Dice. He didn’t care for the interactions of the plush dice and thought the weight of the hard die was more appealing. Since he had played the games so close to each other he had difficulty not comparing them.

Playtest 6

2/9/17 at 5:30 in NSH 4602 at CMU Playtesting Night .The goal of this playtest of Lawn Dice was to test a team version and to retest with players who had played before and had dice tossing skills. I did this by placing the playtesters on a team, and asked them to talk to each other to determine who should throw the die during what turn. The goal of this Fuzzy Dice playtest was to test if an experienced player (A) had any advantage over an inexperienced player (B.) We played one round of each game. I gave the players the survey after each round.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: What role does experience and skill gaining have on anticipation of the die roll?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: Do more experienced players have a different perceived anticipation relationship with the die?

Lawn Dice: Rachel (4+1+2=7) vs A and B (3+3+1=7 + remaining pin)

  1. Failure to Team: B and A did not talk amongst themselves during play. They simply took turns throwing and did not communicate at all. Afterwards, A said he felt they worked well together, but that he disliked the team version because it cut down his play time.
  2. Skill Retention: Both A and B, experienced players, had no trouble knocking down pins. This did not seem to affect their team skills. Their reactions to successful pin drops were more subdued, meaning that the novelty of the experience has worn off. Their anticipation of the roll, though neither had a defined strategy for getting high numbers, seemed to drop off from their first playthroughs.

Fuzzy Dice: B (6+3+1+6+5=21) vs A(6+9+6+4+6=31)

  1. Skill Gap: The score was relatively close for most of the game. B often did not make successful interceptions, but she expressed later that she really enjoyed the game, found it fun, and preferred it to Lawn Dice. This indicates that the act of tossing the die was inherently fun for B, more fun than the competition of the score. Despite losing, she felt fulfilled. Despite his experience with the game, A did not seem to have a great advantage over B, and he won by only a single turn.

Playtest 7

2/9/17 at 7:30 in Doherty Hall BFloor corridor. In this Fuzzy Dice playtest I wanted to fix some of the mechanical problems with the dice, especially a problem when the dice deflate from carrying them around. Though he didn’t say this to me directly, a professor mentioned to another student that my plush dice wouldn’t “fly in Vegas,” so this was an attempt to remedy the situation. I did this by over-stuffing the dice to make sure they land on a definite face. In this Lawn Dice playtest I wanted to test out ways of solving a stale match when both players are skilled enough with their tossing strategies (particularly the Frisbee toss) to consistently score 4s. I did this by adding another opportunity for sudden death: If a player’s pins have all been knocked down, then that player may declare sudden death. I also changed the arrangement of the pins to add room for more skilled players. The new arrangement of pins looked like this:

playtest6arrangement

I also added the rule that players must toss from behind their most back facing pin. A did not fill out a survey due to repeated requests.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: Returning players find the game does not match their skill levels unless playing with an opponent of similar skill level. Does more/variable distance affect skill ramp between different levels of skill and can the game adjust to different skill levels? Does the increased distance have an effect on anticipation?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: What is the relationship between physicality and perceived anticipation?

Lawn Dice: Rachel(3) vs A (3 in sudden death; winner); Rachel(3+4+7=9) vs A(2+4+2=8)

  1. Difficulty: Both A and I had trouble knocking down only one pin per throw this time. A did not use his (rather successful all 4s) strategy from the last playtest. Instead he mainly seemed to focus on just knocking down pins. This skill element became much more important than the score because of the way it shortened play. If A could knock down one pin at a time and collect a score four times, then he was much more likely to win with a high score than me, who often scored a single score for knocking down two or more pins at a time. This resulted in more situations where is wasn’t worth continuing to play, causing us to call sudden death.
  2. Sudden Death: We encountered a situation which my new sudden death rule did not anticipate. I knocked down all of A’s pins in 2 rolls, resulting in a 7. A knocked down three of my pins and had an 8. Since not all my pins were down, I could not call sudden death. This situation seems to have arisen from the increase in difficultly caused by the stepping of the pins (more likely to hit more than one.) Changing this rule means leveraging skill: should a more skilled player win because their opponent is less skilled or because they earned the win?
  3. Ramping Skill: One interesting idea that came out of the new arrangement of pins was when pins are knocked down and sent flying back, should the other player have to toss from behind that fallen pin (as it is the furthest backing facing pin.) This would add a level of strategy to knocking down pins in certain orders and provide extra challenge for more skilled players as they add more and more distance to each other’s throws. This would also be dependent on the architecture of the play space.

Fuzzy Dice: Rachel (10+8=18) vs A (11+11+12=34)

  1. Timing: We ran into a problem with the timing of tosses: When can a valid interception occur? If a die has already landed in the ring, can an interception happen that knocks it out of the ring, or does the interception have to happen in midair? A preferred collisions that happened in midair. He thought they were more satisfying and dramatic to watch, and causing the interception in midair was harder, making it more of a skill based achievement. The fuller dice made midair bouncing quite a collision, so watching them hit was exciting. In my next iteration, I think I will try a rule that forces players to count down to their throw. This will eliminate anticipating your opponent’s move, but will add more focus on the skill of intercepting the die and calculating its trajectory.

    WP_20170209_012
    Before and after the re-stuff

Playtest 8

2/10/17 at Game Creation Society Meeting at 7PM with gamemakers. In this version of Lawn Dice, I tested the staggered pin arrangement with the added rule that players may call sudden death if their opponent’s pins are all down. In this version of Fuzzy Dice I attempted to encourage in-air collisions by adding a rule that players cannot throw under handed. After play I gave both players (new to the games) the survey.

Lawn Dice New Problem Statement: Since sudden death in ties increases suspense, can it do the same for near-game ending situations? How does sudden death effect anticipation?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: Does physicality have an effect on drama and does that effect anticipation?

Lawn Dice: A (1+1+4+1 = 7; miss+4 in sudden death) vs B (4+4=8; miss+miss in sudden death)

  1. Automatic Scorekeeper: Keeping track of the score is boring compared to throwing the die and knocking down pins. This is a fault of both games, and has been noted in previous iterations. Interestingly, an audience member spontaneously began keeping score for the players, further indicating that this game is meant for a party setting with watchers.
  2. Death of Sudden Death: The players debated whether or not to use the new sudden death clause, and chose to use it when one player had no possible chance of winning. This resulted in a missing back and worth until the player who called sudden death won. This is an interesting upset because the player who was more skilled at knocking down pins won the sudden death, but did not get a high enough score to beat the player more skilled at rolling high numbers.

Fuzzy Dice: A(5+8+3+9+6=31) vs B(9)

  1. Throwing Strategies: The underhand rule did not seem to have any effect on timing issues, fake outs, or aiming. It did increase the number of in air collisions, as it increased the time that the dice were in the air. These collisions or near misses were more dramatic than previous iterations, which I think was caused by this rule and the presence of an audience.

Playtest 9

2/10/17 at Dorm Game Night at CMU (male CMU freshmen.) In this version of Lawn Dice (staggered die, tie-only sudden death) and this version of Fuzzy Dice (any way throw into the ring), I specifically asked the players to look for ways to break the game. Since they were avid game players (this is a bi-weekly event they organize) and not game makers (engineering, comp sci, and language majors) I really wanted their perspective on game breaks. Avid players tend not express solutions when they find a hole in the game, but enjoy finding loop holes. I had them fill out a survey after play.

Shared New Problem Statement: Do party game players find the game enjoyable and dramatic (full of anticipation.) Is this the right setting and audience for this game?

Lawn Dice: A (4+4=8) vs B (2+2+2=6)

  1. Dominant Strategy: After the game, one player announced that he had “cheated” the game (not his opponent, the game.) I asked him to explain his cheat, and he said he had tossed the die so that the flat side opposite the four always faced the ground and then he spun the die forward. This is another variation of the Frisbee maneuver which led to a perfect tie a few playtests back. I asked him if figuring out this cheat made him feel superior to his opponent and he answered with “Yes, but also I felt like I cheated the game.” He was laughing the whole time. His opponent chimed in, calling the maneuver a strategy and that if he had figured it out, he could have won too. This conversation indicates that discovering a strategy is satisfying and feels fair on both sides. However, I still need to solve the issue of this strategy dominating the skill curve. The staggered pins adds difficulty, but no part of the game increases with a players rising skill level.

 

Fuzzy Dice: C (34) vs D (16); C (25) vs E (32)

  1. Loophole: A gap in the rules allowed one player to create a new strategy with die blocking. The rule he turned was: On your defensive turn, if your toss causes your opponent’s die to not land in the ring, your interception was successful. He exploited the rule by toss the die before his opponent on his defensive turn and landing in the ring, blocking his opponent (who was not as skilled at aiming) from making an accurate landing with his preferred toss style (overhand, which bounced off the occupying die.) This also led to confusion about fake-outs: if the defensive player tosses and throws due to a fake out, is this different than a defensive block-toss? I think the new strategy is interesting, so I will need to adjust the rules and clarifying about what moves are valid.
  2. Timing: There were several instances of a confusing timing call. This stems from an unclarified rule: If the offensive die has made it into the ring and is then hit by the opposing die, that interception is invalid. What I want to express in this rule is that interceptions should occur within the same time interval. I wanted to keep defensive players from always sweeping a valid die roll out of the ring. I wanted to reward players with aim skill. I will need to adjust this rule to better reflect my intentions and make a clear time distinction.
  3. General Reaction: The playtesters really seemed to enjoy the game. One mentioned “This is the most fun possible with fuzzy dice” and all three were very excited to have a physical game to play at “board game night.” The word fun was passed around frequently. Players also adopted stances while playing, with one resulting in a minute long standoff. They taunted each other and decried each other’s skill in the game, indicating that the match stoked some sort of rivalry.

Playtest 10

2/13/17 at 10 AM at the ETC (late twenties early thirties). For this version of Lawn Darts I wanted to add more complexity for more skilled players to exploit. This includes the staggered pins and the added rule that players must stand behind their furthest most pin, including knocked down pins. This means that if a player knocks their opponent’s pin ten feet away, then their opponent will have to throw from that far back (in line with the pins, no horizontal placement change.) I have a hunch this increased distance will change how players throw their rolls, eliminating the “Frisbee” maneuver strategy as a sure-fire win. For this version of Fuzzy Dice I wanted to clarify the rules. I’m retaining the no underhand throws rule; I think it encourages clearer collisions and adds drama to the experience. I’m also removing the loophole from the previous iteration with this rule, which embraces the blocking strategy that the subversive player used: If the offensive player gets into the ring, they get all rolled point values. If not: and the defensive player rolled, the defensive player gets all rolled point values; and the defensive player has not rolled by the time the offensive die reaches the ring, no points are awarded. If the offensive die lands in the ring, the defensive player has 3 seconds to attempt a roll to knock it out (roll cannot be underhand.) Players must stand at least 6 feet from their edge of the ring.

Lawn Darts New Problem Statement: Skilled and repeat players get bored of previous iterations. How can the game adjust with their skill level such that new and old, skilled and less skilled can be evenly matched?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: How do I prevent players from bowling a successful offensive die out of the ring after the roll has been cast? Is it more fun to have the option?

Lawn Dice Playtest: A (4+4+4=12) vs B(3+4+4+4=15)

  1. Dominant Strategy: Both players made use of the “Frisbee” maneuver (though it failed to get B a 3 in one shot), but the staggered pins added the danger of reducing the score by one roll, as shown in A’s first roll. This added challenge seemed to disengage both players (both gamemakers) from an attempt to win via their strategies and focus on knocking down pins.
  2. Difficulty and First Player Bias: A went first and knocked one of B’s pins back 3 feet. This made it difficult for her to land shots and made her frustrated. She, however, ultimately won by aiming for individual pins. Since she was throwing from so far, she did not get a chance to knock A’s pins back any further before he knocked down all of her pins. This might cause an advantage to the first player. Perhaps adjusting the rules so that less skilled players (both A and B agreed that A was more skilled) go first could even the skill gap.

Fuzzy Dice Playtest: C (5+2=7) vs D (10+5+6+5+7=33)

  1. Underhand: Both players commented that they liked the no underhand rule. They thought it made actions more rivalristic and the die reactions more bouncy. I think the psychological function of being told you can’t throw underhand changes the way a player considers their moves, as their were no fake outs in this round.
  2. Skill Reward: Interestingly, players had a discrepancy between how they thought the score reflected their ability to intercept, but both agreed that the score was a more accurate description of their ability to get the die in the ring. Yet they also agreed that getting the die in the ring was harder than the last iteration they had played because of the lack of an underhand throw. This may indicate that they felt as though their skills were better rewarded, yet the skill they were using was harder and more elite to exercise.

Playtest 11

2/13/17 at 4:30PM at Doherty Hall Bfloor  (early twenties.) For this version of Lawn Dice, I wanted to test edge cases and see how far the pins could be knocked down in space before the game became unplayable. I added the rule that if a pin exited the boundaries of the space (in this case, hit and landed against the wall) then the player should throw from behind their next furthest pin. I also added a rule that the first player should not be the more skilled player, which we reasoned was me because I had played the game more often. For this version of Fuzzy Dice, I wanted to make a reproducible ring that would also stay in place, so I decided on a paper construction held to the floor with tape. I retained the no-underhand rule.

Lawn Darts New Problem Statement: What are the spatial boundaries of this system?

Fuzzy Dice New Problem Statement: What are the material boundaries of this system? How clear can I make the rules?

Lawn Darts Playtest: Rachel (3+3+3 = 9) vs A (2+4+3 = 9); sudden death: Rachel (miss+miss) vs A (miss+4)

  1. Sudden Death: We went into sudden death and retained the furthest back positional rule. This meant that we set up the single pins 8 feet apart, but we still threw from the pin positions we caused each other in the game. This allowed our past performance to influence the outcome of the sudden death, which added more focus to our skill at knocking pins down.
  2. Spatial Boundaries: I expected pins to go flying to edge of the boundaries immediately, causing a problem for tosses after the first. Interestingly this didn’t happen. After the first hits on either side, the distance evened out our ability to knock back pins, so there was only one positional fall back after the first set. We also agreed upon the arena space before hand.

Fuzzy Dice Playtest: Rachel (24) vs A (30)

  1. Single Case of No Points: A pointed out that only one option results in no points, which is confusing to remember. This clause also rewards/encourages non-interceptive behavior which reduces the anticipation of the game. So in this instance: if the offensive player rolls and misses and the defensive player does not attempt and interception, then no points are awarded; further iterations would be needed to find the most antagonistic solution to this, as awarding those points to the offensive player eliminates the need for a ring (yet the ring determines the winner of an interception.)
  2. The Ring Decides: Points need to be distributed at the end of all movement of dice. I think the clearest way to do this is to remove offensive and defensive players and say if a die is rolled, then the owners of all die in the ring get points. I will need to test this.
  3. Dedicated Scorekeeper: The point values are too hard to remember. The game requires a third party to keep score.

 

Final Rules

Lawn Dice:

Materials: x1 giant 4sided die, x8 wooden pins

Number of Players: 2

Setup: Each player gets 4 pins (two flat pins and two rounded pins.) Players arrange their first pins so that they face each other 8 feet apart. Each player then places the corner of the 4 sided die on the edge of their first pin and places the second at the next corner of the die so that there is one die length of space between the pins. Repeat until all pins are in place. You should end up with something like this:

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Goal: The player with the highest score when all 8 pins are down wins.

Rules:

  1. For veteran players, the most skilled player should roll first. For new players, the player with the closest birthday should go first.
  2. The first player rolls the 4sided die toward their opponent’s pins.
  3. If the player manages to knock down one or more of their opponent’s pins, then that player is awarded the amount of points listed on the die (the value on the point in the air.)
  4. If the player knocks down more than one die, they still only get the amount of points listed on the die.
  5. If the player doesn’t knock down a pin, no points are awarded.
  6. Players cannot knock down their own pins. If this happens, just set the pin back up in the position it was in.
  7. When rolling, players must stay behind their furthest back pin. This includes pins that have already been knocked down.
  8. The game ends when all 8 pins are down.
  9. If a tie is reached, players go into sudden death. Players set their two closest pins back up 8 feet apart. Players then return to their furthest most pin and roll. The player who reached the tie number last rolls second. Players then roll for their opponent’s pin, with the winner being the player with the highest score. If the first player to roll misses and the second scores points, then the second wins. If the both players miss, another round of sudden death is played until points are scored.

 

Fuzzy Dice:

Materials: x2 giant 6sided plush die, x1 paper ring, x1 roll of tape

Number of Players: 2, and one dedicated score keeper

Setup: Tape the ring to the floor by adhering tape to the corners saying “tape here.”

fuzzy dicedia

Goal: The first player to reach or pass 30 points wins.

Rules:

  1. Players must face each other, standing approximately their own height away from their edge of the ring during play.
  2. The player with the closest birthday rolls first. This player is known as the offensive player.
  3. Players may not roll their die underhanded.
  4. If the offensive player rolls their die into the ring, then they are awarded the amount of points on the die. Within the ring means any part of the die passes the inner edge of the ring.
  5. Take the point value from the face of the die that is highest in the air.
  6. The opposing player, known as the defensive player, made choose to intercept the roll by throwing their own die at the offensive player’s die:
    1. If the defensive die makes contact with the offensive die and for this or any other reason the offensive die does not make it into the ring, then both point values listed on the dice are awarded to the defensive player.
    2. If the defensive die makes contact with the offensive die and the offensive die does make it into the ring, this was a failed interception and both point values are awarded to the offensive player. This includes any fake outs in which the offensive player tricks the defensive player into rolling before them. In that case, if the offensive die makes it into the ring, both point values go to the offensive player.
    3. If the defensive die does not make contact with the offensive die, this is a failed interception. If the offensive player makes it into the ring, then the offensive player is awarded both point values.
  7. The defensive player may roll at any point during the offensive roll, which ends at 3 seconds after the offensive die stops moving.
  8. The defensive player does not have to intercept. In this case, if the offensive player makes it into the ring then they get the amount of points listed on their die. If not, no points are awarded.
  9. The score keeper should keep score and act as the official for any contact disputes.
  10. Play continues until one player reaches 30 or more points.

Audience Participation Games: Delay, Audience Feedback, Necessity, and Relationships

Audience Participation Games (APGs) are games played through livestreaming services like Twitch.tv and Beam during which the viewing audience can directly influence the events of the game. An example is Twitch Plays Pokemon, an automated experiment in which Twitch users typed commands in chat to control the player avatar on screen. Another example involving a streamer, a content facilitator/host/entertainment personality streaming gameplay video on the service, is Choice Chamber. Audience members use Twitch’s chat interface to vote on obstacles, resources, and difficulty of levels for the streamer playing the base 2D platforming game. Design concerns games for APG play include delay, feedback, audience presence, and community relationships.

Audience Feedback

The minimum delay time for an audience member to see their effect in the stream on Twitch is 15 seconds (and this is assuming the streamer and this audience member have a high quality, high speed internet connection.) This time amount varies across internet speeds too. However, the delay between the audience member input and the streamer seeing that effect (on their side, not in the stream) is relatively quick, maybe a second or two. Without any feedback from the game or the interface, players question whether their input even registered and/or have no idea if their input effected the streamer’s actions. Their identity within the game is buried, and their role becomes unclear. Fixing this requires giving individualized audience member feedback at every possible opportunity. Ultimate Chicken Horse does this by having the names of audience members who voted on chosen obstacles explode out of the object when it is used. However, there is still a 15 second delay (at minimum) before the voter’s input is even recognized, and this input may never be recognized if the streaming players don’t pick that obstacle.

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Image from Clever Endeavor

For games with external Twitch interfaces (like our HTML5 client games), feedback should be given within a personalized environment that at least confirms audience input and at most is smart enough to acknowledge the kind of input in some way. Feedback should also occur in the stream to indicate participation to the streamer so that they can recognize active followers and purely spectating viewers can also see audience player contributions. This double feedback ensures the player is never left hanging and doesn’t attempt to spam input (which can get you banned from Twitch) simply because they don’t know if their input registered.

For games that use chat play, this registration is already handled by the chat message appearing. In my research on streamer desires, I’ve found that streamers prefer interactions that do not clutter their chats, as they use chat to communicate with their audience.

This real-time (relatively) feedback for audiences using the external interface presents a question for games that have input intervals, like Ultimate Chicken Horse or Choice Chamber. Choice Chamber does not show the explicit time interval for votes, which may be their way of solving this issue of accurate timing. Timers showing the time to acceptance of audience input cannot be trusted. The streamer will see an accurate countdown (if based on time or framerate), but the countdown is obviously uneven when viewing through the 15 second delay window. One solution may be to have false timers that tick solely on the client side. The game begins and the audience members see a “30 second” countdown in their interfaces. This countdown is running on their connection, so they perceive it as even (evenness is more important than accurate seconds to the perceiving player.) This countdown is counting until input will be collected from the client. Meanwhile the server is counting down accurate (to the streamer/game) 30 second intervals and pings the client at the end of this interval. Input is gathered regardless of the client side timer. This fuzziness is acceptable because the audience receives feedback at the end of their timer stating their choice was heard (double feedback) and eventually their name will appear in the stream, but the time between those events is not scrutinized because the audience member knows it will happen eventually. Meanwhile the client timer provides the illusion of urgency to the player. It achieves its emotional purpose.

The Essential Audience

 

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One Troll Army’s Steam page. Notice the ability to opt in to having Twitch viewer play.

Another major design choice I’ve come across is whether this game is playable without an audience or fun without an audience. Both options are valid: a game that can only be played with an audience or a game that is fun with and without one. This question is important to answer quickly in development because it allocates resources. Does the team spend time making an AI to handle what the audience input would normally do, or can we always assume there will be an audience playing? Designing levels that are fun for both a single player and a mass audience is hard, and choosing to assume the audience’s presence cuts out balancing for a single player. This also changes the culture around online streaming services as a separate medium for play, and has the potential to democratize APGs. This question is also important for dealing with tech. Is this an installed executable or a fully browser based experience? Part of the draw for current APGs on Twitch is that the games are incredibly lightweight. Entering play is simple and fast, with no major barriers like time to install or a fee to play.

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Streamline’s Steam reviews showing the APG is arguably less fun with no audience.

Designing for Relationships

Streamed games on Twitch that stay popular are designed with elements, intentional or not, that cater to at least 2 relationships on Twitch (and possibly 3 or 4.) Each relationship has differing player motivations. These relationships are:

  • Streamer-Game: The streamer (player) has exceptional talent or lack of talent at this game and their performance is a thing to behold. Games like League of Legend and DOTA 2 (esports) cater this kind of relationship both in their core mechanics and communities. This also encompasses the viewer motivation of being a fan of a certain game, but maybe not the streamer/player themself.
  • Streamer-Audience: The streamer (player) is an entertainer, host, celebrity, authority, or otherwise community facing entity that interacts with individual viewers in someway. This relationship is about community building and management. Games like XCOM 2 and Pokemon are frequently played by these streamers because they provide opportunities for the streamer to give back to the audience with non-integrated feedback like the streamer naming their soldiers for favored audience members, etc. This kind of relationship also generates false Twitch plays, or play throughs of games using third party bots in chat to gather votes that the streamer uses to play. This is also the home of commentators and hosts who comment on automated experiences like Salty Bets.
  • Audience-Audience: This is the relationship of of audience members with other audience members. Merit badges, persistent items/currency, subscriber status, and mod status are all facets of these relationships. Games with persistent interfaces independent of individual streams (like Salty Bets) cater to this.
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Twitch streamer Clarelu‘s persistent viewer of the month tally
  • Audience-Game: This encompasses viewer motivations such as novelty: “Should I buy this game?”, which explains why recently shipped games trend on Twitch for a few days after their launch, like Conan Exiles. This also encompasses viewer motivations like: “I never had this console as a kid so I never got to play this classic game. I wonder what it was really like,” or “I feel nostalgia for this game.” This motivation can provide insight into why classic games usually remain within Twitch’s top 100.

There are other motivations for watching game play on twitch, but these relationships are a high level look at the stakeholders APGs can cater to. These relationships along with audience presence, feedback, and delay are a few of the major design concerns when making APGs.

Ludo-Narrative Lessons from ARGs

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are a unique form of Audience Participation Game (APG). As defined by Sean Stewart, ARGs are:

  • “A story which is broken into pieces which the audience must find and assemble;
  • The story is not bound by medium or platform: we use text, video, audio, flash, print ads, billboards, phone calls, and e–mail to deliver parts of the plot;
  • This audience is massive and COLLECTIVE: it takes advantage of communication tech to work together; and,
  • The audience is not only bought into the world because THEY are the ones responsible for exploring it, the audience also meaningfully affects how the story progresses. It is built in a way that allows players to have a key role in creating the fiction.” (Stewart, 2008)” (Kim et al.)

Stewart’s work revolves around viral marketing. ARGs like I Love Bees and the Cloverfield ARGs, are meant to drum up hype for an upcoming game/product have an end goal pointing toward that product. These ARGs tend to compelling but distinct from each other, with clear terminal states created at the release of the product. This is not the case for ARGs built without a marketing campaign. What happens when ARG designers come together for the sake of art? The massive, sprawling Slenderverse ARG system. These ARGs, games like EverymanHYBRID, TribeTwelve, The Wyoming Incident (not Slenderverse), and Ben Drowned (not Slenderverse) are unique in time. They appear to never have started and will never end because they are seamlessly integrated into the reality experience. Here I will discuss a few of the elements that make these non-marketing ARGs so compelling.

Mechanics and Agency: A desire to solve the puzzle or help the characters mechanically manifests in players seeking information and discussing connections with a larger player base. Finding new information heightens a player’s mechanical agency within the game (the way they reveal information changes the course of the narrative and the way future clues are dispersed) and social agency (returning to the audience with new information brings fame to the player in the community.)

ARG mechanics are usually seeking and “assembling” as Stewart puts it, information about the game. To start the game, the Puppet master drops a Trail Header clue to mark The Rabbit Hole. This is the entrance to the game and a unique, singular experience within the game. Trail headers can be stumbled upon and interacted with by individuals, usually not requiring a community to engage with. EverymanHYBRID’s trail head is the YouTube channel on which the first exercise videos are posted. Ben Drowned’s is a 4chan post. I Love Bees’ was the mystery honey jars mailed to designers and players. Notice that the interactions with these trail headers are player facing. They show the designer’s hand, especially in the case of I Love Bees. This is meant to grab players attention and demark the beginning of the experience. For this to work, the initial narrative hook of an ARG must be obvious (relative to later steps in the game). For example, EverymanHYBRID’s hook is the very apparent Slenderman actor in the background of the first videos.

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I Love Bees hook was a random honey jar containing letters sent to an assortment of participants. (Image from Unfiction)

Once hooked, the games’ mechanic follow a pattern of finding and discussing. This is a very distinct two phase, cyclical interaction. Seeking information can be an individualized activity. It doesn’t have to be, particularly if the ARG has social stakes, but it can be. Discovering the secret forum (The Wyoming Incident) or finding the hidden box in the woods (EverymanHYBRID) are examples of seeking actions. Then this information is taken back to a forum or other discussion panel for the entire playing audience to examine. The bringing back of information creates social agency: hierarchies of players form. In depth ARGs respond to this audience structure, rewarding adventurous players. EverymanHYBRID’s trials (a series of requests directly from the game’s antagonist to the playing audience) did this in parallel with the game’s narrative. While the characters in the video series try to make sense of their hauntings, players who followed the trials were given real world coordinates leading to physical boxes containing clues about the problems the characters were facing.

Asymmetric Information: A chain of one answer that generates two questions and a lack of coherent connective narrative tissue dispersed over multiple platforms brings individual players together to form a playing community through the games’ searching mechanics. Searching the web for more information will bring a player to others who have asked that question.

This seek and retrieve interaction cycle is fueled by asymmetric information dissemination. Clues are passed out through varying platforms at once and never repeats. I Love Bees used mail, payphones, and the internet, for example, with each clue pointing to new information. The allows multiple MVPs to form within player communities (players who achieve fame in the community by returning with information updates) and decentralizes the narrative, making it appear everywhere at once. This is why they are called Alternate Reality Games. I think this decentralized storyteller is one of the reasons why the horror genre has taken hold of ARGs. The internet, which nearly all ARGs use, is an eternal sea of the unknown and it performs the Lovecraftian/Cosmic horror function of the mass of the unknown and unknowable (like the ocean or space does for Lovecraft.) Uniquely, ARGs use their narrative source of the unknown as an interaction platform. This allows them to withhold massive amounts of narrative information that the players reconstruct with their imaginations. (Sam Barlow) This feeds back into the mechanical interactions of the game: it provides searchable space. If the player’s goal is to seek out clues from disparate spaces, then they must be able to use the width of their speculation to inform their search. The speculation and varied interpretations of the narrative then have the potential to inform the future game.

Malleable, Unstructured Plot: Players with a measure of impact on the narrative will feel more invested in that story. The social discussion mechanic of ARGs (a discussion watched by the puppet master) fuels this feeling of mastery by allowing players to speculate connections between events. When new evidence to the contrary is presented in the game, the players scramble to adjust their theories. In this way, a malleable story with holes adds social agency and an unpredictable interest curve to the ARG.

ARGs are malleable stories. Players can both directly interact with the narrative (EverymanHYBRID trials and tumblr questions to the character Stephanie on her blog) and indirectly through public speculation. This makes ARG discussion hubs their own playtesters. The puppet masters of the game are an audience to the audience and change the game to reflect the desires and actions of the community. One example of this is in EverymanHYBRID, in which a player received a prize from the game’s antagonist after completing a trial. The prize was a box mailed to the player containing clues to push the story forward. Instead of opening the box, the player held it hostage, refusing to continue the narrative until the antagonist revealed more information. This hijacking changed the way clues were given out in the story and made the game harder for following players. The community accepted this partly I think because of the game’s age (EMH began in 2010.) The lack of concrete narrative information is supplemented by an active voice in the game which reminds players that the game is always playing. For EMH this is the antagonist character Habit’s twitter. The lose structure encourages moments of change from players who push back at the story, testing its immersion qualities (a test noted by Herstory creator Sam Barlow), and also allows the designers of the game to pull in players with careful narrative pacing (many Slenderverse APGs are slow burns.)

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A tweet from EMH’s antagonist awknowledging a spontaneous change in story after the player who was granted a prize box gave him an ultimatum. (Image from NightMind)

Discussion

Lessons for Livestreamed APGs: There is a definitive line between MMOs and ARGs, though they both hinge on social mechanics and agency. This line is the inclusion of an audience (Stewart); ARGs are both spectated through webseries or blogs (etc.) and played through social outlets. There is also a significant portion of ARG consumers who do not actively seek and discuss information (see NightMind and Unfiction) during the game, but want to consume the narrative as a whole. This sets up an interesting relationship between livestreamed APGs and ARGs (many of which use livestreaming to pass out clues.) Delay between streamer’s actions and the audience receiving the stream, the core issue of livestreamed interaction, is solved in these ARGs. Delay is used as a narrative pacing element. Delay between clues builds anticipation and nervousness, especially in horror ARGs. Delay is also built into the audience’s social agency. When a location-based clue is passed, for example, the community must wait to find out the new information while the closest forum member goes to check out the coordinates. This wait is not orchestrated by the designers, but manufactured by the players to add to the suspense of the game. In voting based games like Choice Chamber, delay is accounted for in the tallying process, but the resulting level is a while coming. Players must wait for the consequences of their vote. Delay in ARGs does not feel like waiting. It feels like the game is progressing without you and is waiting on you to catch up because of the secretive dispersal of information. Have you looked everywhere for the next clue? Even behind you?

TL;DR: Alternative Reality Games (ones not part of a viral marketing campaign) succeed in telling long (years in some cases) stories and retaining audiences through player facing hooks; two-phase cyclical mechanic and narrative structures that use audience-audience interaction to drive a series of malleably connected plot points; and hiding information to encourage social speculation and hierarchy. One particular application of these principles is to livestreamed APGs, which are often designed around delay between a centralized content provider (streamer) and an audience, a structure similar to ARGs. When delay is used to build suspense or bond the audience, it can be a magnet for players instead of an annoyance.

References

Storytelling in new media: The case of alternate reality games, 2001-2009 (Jeffrey Kim, Elan Lee, Timothy Thomas, and Caroline Dombrows) http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2484/2199#p2

I Love Bees Overview (G4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNhurUnOWKQ

EverymanHYBRID Explained (NightMind): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-0gD2jU98Y

Making Herstory – Telling a Story Using The Player’s Imagination (Sam Barlow)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuADjLZjCe4

Collaborating with the Audience: Alternate Reality Games (Sean Stewart) http://www.seanstewart.org/collaborating-with-the-audience-alternate-reality-games/

NightMind, ARG hub: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC58IKuPHnZkdCZ6T5mSRGCg

Unfiction, ARG hub: http://www.unfiction.com/

 

Global Game Jam 2017 Postmortem

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Team: Tom Garncarz, Maddie Duque, Miranda Jacoby, Adrian Biagioli, Matthew Bofenkamp, and Rachel Moeller

Initial Goals

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This year’s theme was “Wave,” however, a very pressing matter on our team was the Women’s March on Washington that was occurring as we made our game. While we prototyped and ate good food with those privileged enough to attend and participate in a game jam, millions of people around the world marched for the rights of those who do not have our privilege. We felt compelled to make something in support. In group brainstorm we thought about waves of emotion and radio waves and we wanted a two player experience. Over the course of making the prototype (this was not apparent at the beginning of our work) we decided we wanted players to be riled up, to feel opposed to yet powerful and able to change their world. We wanted to get players talking, and to experience the utter absurdity of their actions as their voice devolved into a desperate amalgam of rehashed arguments. For our own sakes, we wanted to make a statement on post-truth, post-fact culture.

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After throwing ideas on a board (and numbering them!) we came up with a territory claim and defense game that broadcast player written messages to influence the population of cities on a map. The player would input keywords into what we called a “madlib:” a UI form that contained a sentence with a blank or two for the player to fill in. The game would be two player hotseat style (one screen, turns, and two players with access to all the information at once.)

 

Process

Our team consisted of six game makers from varying backgrounds (cs, hci, fine art, animation, music, and info sys.) Once we had our idea, we split off to build relatively separate pieces of the experience. My focus was on the system that remembered player input and fed it into subsequent madlibs for the player to fill out. My thinking was that this would provide an inside joke for the players and help build their relationship, contributing to the feeling of being in power of the world, yet opposed. I decided to have both players’ inputs to feed into the same database of words to pull from so that the discourse would become convoluted. This meant that if one player was nasty to the other, their nasty words could later show up against them. I set up the madlibs to ramp difficulty:

  • Round 1: one blank. The blank in the sentence was formatted for nouns, though the place holder text in the ui element said, “Finish the fact!” to drive home the post-fact theme. Later players told us they would prefer to be prompted for what part of speech they should enter, which I agree would be a smoother solution while still allowing for grammatically incorrect garbage to show up in later madlibs.
  • Round 2: two blanks, set up for verbs
  • Round 3-10*: three blanks, set up for adjectives. *We later shortened this to 5 because the game seemed to drag. This became a discrepancy in balancing the madlib and tower placing parts of the game. The madlibs of a player’s message to their public quickly became unreadable garbage (ha ha ha yes politically accurate but unplayable design) after round 5 as the madlibs tried to incorporate more and more of the player’s words into new madlibs. The madlib bases (sentences with grammatically structured blanks) would also start to repeat (because we pulled them randomly without checking for duplicates, even though there were about 50 base sentences.) However the tower placing system included a very interesting (and politically accurate) decay system for taking over contested territory. The system awarded more votes to players who had been shouting in the area longer, so for the newer player to make headway there they would have to put two towers in the area. Since one tower was allocated per turn, this ate up two of the newer players five turns if they chose to fight over contested area, causing them to lose in most cases.

Every few hours we would organically stop and make sure we were all on the same page for the design. We let the design change as we went, trying to follow the interaction that made us laugh. Very quickly we found that the madlib phase of the game was getting us there emotionally and was fun, but did not have a direct effect on the world or the game’s outcome. Only placing towers contributed to a player’s win chance. To give the player’s words weight, we had speech bubbles containing the player’s words pop up from the cities/burbs near where the player placed their tower to indicate how the populous felt. This element of juice was a hit with playtesters and really seemed to bring investment from the players.

The relationship between the competing players turned out to be a big piece of the fun in our game. We had strangers play it, friends play it, and people come back to play it (which told us we were on to something.) In each instance players often quickly laughed together and their trash talk escalated dramatically from round 1 to 3. When we asked players their opinions after the game ended, they often would reply together (disagreeing or agreeing about the game in conversation with each other, even if they didn’t realize it.) Players who weren’t already close weren’t now finishing each others sentences, but comradely through mutual mudslinging was established. Rivalry (power within opposition) was there.

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Spectatorship was also present in the game. Those waiting in line to play the game got a kick out of the inane combinations of madlibs the game generated. After viewing, many spectators wanted to talk about politics or the events of the march, which fulfilled our design goal to get people talking about the absurdity of this fault in our society. Since games are made by people, I believe all games are a reflection of the society they are made in, whether overtly political or not. This same subconscious pressure is present in the players of the game, who responded to the pressure points our game poked.

Setbacks and Solutions

As we realized the fun of trash talking the player beside you and watching your citizens retweet it, we also realized the lack of engagement in tower placing. The team was split on this issue. It was important to me that every member’s opinion be heard and integrated into the game. We made changes to the tower system like giving players the ability to move towers and changing the population density of cities, burbs, and rural areas, but players still seemed to place towers without considering their spatial importance or area of influence. One player at the final showcase refused to move his towers after being told that feature was present. He was “perfectly fine with just placing” his one new tower per round so he could move on to the next madlib with his opponent. In the end the team agreed the game felt very split between the two phases and we weren’t able to reconcile the tower strategy part with the generative play of the madlib. I think we could have caught and fixed this issue if we had gotten quick and frequent playtesting feedback earlier in the weekend. Our team had trouble agreeing when to step back and playtest and this severely hurt us. The early (Saturday afternoon) feedback of the madlibs that we got told us that that mechanic was fun, but goaless. If we had gotten the tower piece in sooner, we would have sooner found that that part had the opposite problem: goal, but little compelling interaction.

Acquired Knowledge and Skills

For me this jam was all about people and listening. I learned team encouragement and communication skills, as well as the value of early targeted feedback (a lesson I re-learn with every game I make.)

I also learned technical communication with git. I’ve never been very strong with version control, but I’m much more confident now that I’ve caused other people headaches I had to fix.

Emotionally, we learned that absurdity/humor breeds common ground between opposing players. This allowed us to have a very interesting dynamic between the players who laughed together at targeted attacks. In a way, they were cooperating in an attempt to get the funniest madlib combination; working together by opposing each other.

Conclusion

Games are about people. Making games is about listening to people, making sure all voices on the team are heard. Playing is about engaging people; about the light that enters their faces when they find delight in your system. I want that light; it makes me hungry. Successful games are about others. In the end, our game A Matter of Fact won The Diversity Award for its ability to express diverse opinions. (We acknowledge that we are a group of very privileged white young folks and our team was not particularly diverse, nor were there any representations of characters in our game.)

us

Check out our GGJ game page.