Hatchlings Games

Web Gaming 2.0 Revolution

Some Game Design Links

As a game designer (or wannabe), we have to read, think, write (mostly for definition and communication), draw (mostly sketches) and blink a lot. What do we really think about? Here are some questions and attempted answers by various authors. Also, it would be really great if you can leave a comment here to tell me who is reading. I want to know what other game designers are reading this blog.

What are games and what is fun?
a Theory of Fun for game design by Raph Koster (slides, book).

This is one of the favorite book of mine. I read the whole book in borders and to date bought three copies of the book. I find it extremely entertaining and fun and instantly won my heart and mind. It touched on the fundamentals of fun and games.

I knew was true but could not express in words (or pictures) like what Mr. Koster did. I knew it was destined to be a game industry (and education) classic. Some bloggers (Emily Short, Gameology) have written superb reviews about the book so I don’t have to write my own. As a company, we are truly inspired.

This is a compulsory reading for any intelligent, fun loving game developer.

Note: At his talk (design for everywhere) during the recent Austin Game Developers Conference, Raph mentioned a new book on game grammar, he tries to define what are the building blocks of a game from a reductionist point of view. Iris and I are really looking forward to that.

What are games and how do we make games for everyone?
Design for Everywhere, Raph Koster’s talk at AGDC 2007 (slides, mp3). Another brilliant lecture by Raph Koster! The MP3 is not free and I can’t distribute the file openly but we can listen to it together on Skype or Second Life.

Do games have to be difficult?
Game Design Essentials: 20 difficult games
by John Harris.

What are Open World games?
Game Design Essentials: 20 open world games by John Harris.

What do parents think about games?
The GamerDad blog.

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September 29, 2007 Posted by | Education, Game Design, Game Development | 5 Comments

World of WarCraft vs Habbo Hotel

Habbo Hotel vs WoWDuring this year’s Austin Game Developer’s Conference (the leading MMO developer conference) we saw (or read, like I have) mind battles between MMORPG developers and the web social web world developers. One of the aftermaths of is this in the form of Gamesutra Question of the Week: World of WarCraft vs. Habbo Hotel. The exact question is:

“Following the Austin Game Developers Conference last week, how important do you think online worlds such as Habbo and web-based social gaming in general is to the future of online games, compared to existing game biz successes like World Of Warcraft? What can WoW learn from Habbo, and vice versa?”

I can’t wait to know what people are saying on it.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Game Design, Web, Web 2.0, Web Gaming 2.0 | Leave a comment

The evolution of Igna, or how Quasr isn’t Magic

(Note: This article requires the knowledge of the game. To learn how to play Quasr, please visit the Quasr website to sign up. But I’ll try to make it as general as possible.)

Now that Quasr is online for some time already, I figure it’s about time to talk about the design and development of the game. I’d start with a general article, but it seems like I’ve written it already. Check out “The color pie and the color salad bowl“. I’ll go into slightly more specific subjects, in the mean time touching on some history of the game, and how did it come about.

I can’t talk about Quasr without mentioning Magic: the Gathering – Indeed, if there’s one game that changed my life, it has to be Magic. Back in early 2000 I was studying high school in Singapore. I just checked in to my dorm after the year-end vacation, when I noticed my room-mate and few other friends playing ‘poker with pictures’ in the room. It didn’t take me long to get hooked to Magic. Now, studying abroad under scholarship and staying in a Presbyterian hostel isn’t the best time and place to start investing in a ‘Satanic’ (as my teacher puts it) game. I’ve gotten into a fair share of trouble which I don’t want to mention again.

Two years later and I was in junior college. That meant a new dorm as well as new room-mates. Among my five room-mates, one was, for a lack of better terms and I hereby ask you, Michael my ex-room-mate, for your forgiveness, a chess freak. While my other room-mates were quite accommodating of playing any game, Michael and I seemed to be at two ends of the gaming spectrum. I never understood chess for the lack of strategic thinking, and he never understood Magic for reasons that I don’t know. Oh, and there’s Edison, who doesn’t play anything other than Diablo 2, until I introduced Magic and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to him.

Quasr, then titled ‘Battle Chess’ for a lack of imagination and product research, was born in search of the middle ground between Chess and Magic. The rules are a combination of both – defeat your opponent’s ‘King piece’ (the Aspect) using cards from a deck you build. There were numerous iterations between the first design and the current one (In fact, the current version that you see on the site is undergoing some changes as well). These changes happen when we learn new things that we never knew before. One thing we did not know was how strong direct damage can be.

Due to the expanding nature of the game, one of the aspects of Quasr design was conserving design space for future use. For each ‘faction’ (in quotes because of the lack of a better term;we wanted to change it but have not thought of a replacement yet), the idea was to pick a strategy and go all the way with it. This leads to several problems along the way, but right now I’ll just talk about ‘Igna’.

Igna was one of the three starting ‘factions’ of Quasr. Each of the three factions corresponded to a creature stat (Windia, whose details I shall leave unwritten for now, corresponded to the now-obsolete ‘Movement’ stat, or how many squares a creature can move per turn). Igna’s stat, as it turns out to be not too hard to deduce if you have played the game, is Attack (ATK). Igna’s creatures have been big-fisted and small-butted ever since the first card list, as the saying goes “Offense is the best defense” – When you’re busy attacking, there’s no need to hold back. The idea of ‘attacking’ extended from just creatures to Hacks, the ‘spell cards’ of Quasr. This is where the problems started, and the whole point of this article.

There was this one little card in Magic that I stole into Quasr:

Shock felt generic enough to be in any card game that had creatures and combat. It feels just like ‘extended combat’ – attacking with something else when your creatures can’t. Thus, a similar card found its way into Quasr’s set file.

Whack
R
Hack
THIS deals 2 damage to target creature or Aspect.

The ‘R’, which stands for ‘Range’, is the card’s cost, defined by either the number of rows or columns between the player’s Aspect and the target, whichever is greater. Soon enough its cost was increased to R+5. It might not even make it past the next iteration.

Balance is a tricky thing. Just because it’s a common that doesn’t get played in Tier 1 decks in one game doesn’t mean that the same card would not dominate in another game with slightly different rules. The difference – the board – turned out to be not so slight this time. Whack, in a land of one-grid-per-turn movers, was considered ‘cheating’. It was the gun in the fistfight, the Brazilian in the Malaysian football team. It could take out a creature from a distance, or a finishing blow to an Aspect being hurt by similar cards (Igna is full of these). While the Igna player gains no card advantage by scrapping a creature with Whack (what is known as a ‘one-for-one’ trade), it makes up by gaining the player tempo advantage – You save the amount of turns used to move towards your target and attack it. This advantage is even more significant when a creature can only move one grid per turn, a rule implemented to counter the imbalance of fast movers. (We’ll talk about this another time.)

Playtesting makes it so clear that the addition of the board into Quasr makes it so much more different from Magic. A more experienced game designer might spot that out immediately but hey, we’re all learning.

Related Posts:

June 26, 2007 Posted by | Game Design, Quasr | 4 Comments

Game Design Novice

Recently I found a website called Game Design Novice. It is indeed a website for those who passionate to be a game designer. This will be a good start.

Check it out for details.

Other relevant websites:

Theory of Fun

Designer’s Notebook

Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design

June 12, 2007 Posted by | Game Design, Sharing | Leave a comment

The Evolution of Quasr’s Design

Game Profile

Game Name: Quasr

Old Name: Battle Chess, Card Chess, Encephalon

Platform: Web

Genre: Trading Card, Board, Multi-player

Key Features:

  • A mix of developer and user generated content
  • Free to play
  • No additional client download required

Inspirations: Trading card games, chess, board games, turn-based strategy games, web 2.0, social networking, World of Warcraft, Raph Koster‘s a Theory of Fun

Quasr is a web 2.0 trading card / board game. The game is like chess but you play with custom pieces that you collect and customize. These customizable pieces are similar to cards of those trading card games. Quasr.com is a web 2.0 application that is light-weight, features user-generated content, developed with an agile programming methodology, and is about radical trust.

Continue reading

March 25, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Hatchlings Games | 8 Comments

You pray Encepharon?

This incident happened a few days ago, and I didn’t really pay much heed to it until it really back when Slade and I were discussing about marketing the game.

It was like this. So I stopped by my favorite comic store as I headed back to Cyberjaya from home (I had to go back to help my mum do some typing and data entry), and I chatted a bit with the store owner before I left. The owner was a Chinese woman, probably in her mid-fifties. I’ve been quite a regular for the past five years or so, and I told her quite a lot of stuff about me. So I was telling her about this cool online card game we’re developing, and it was then the problem struck.

“What’s the game called?” She asked.

“Enc…” It hit me for a moment that no matter how slow I pronounce the word, a person who never spoke much English just couldn’t pronounce Encephalon. Not that she doesn’t know much English, but I’ve never heard her speak English and I just assumed so. In any case, the question just struck.

How are non-English speakers going to pronounce Encephalon?

“你要玩Encephalon吗?”

“一緒にエンセファロンを遊ぼう?”

“Voulez-vous jouer Encephalon?”

(Pardon my foreign languages, I just used Babelfish.)

Do they sound right? It’s a subject worth studying into, but I just cannot imagine a person inviting another person to play our game in another language. It appears that we’re in need of a better name. Any suggestions?

January 28, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Quasr Concept | 12 Comments

When the tough gets grinding…

So I had one of the more frightening dreams last night…

Oh dear, not another post about dreams. But I guess this one’s more relevant. Back to the topic, I don’t think I have dreamt of such a scary thing for a long while. No, I didn’t dream of headless ghosts or flesh-eating monsters, that’s too grade school.

I dreamt that I was playing the piano.

Now before you say “Oooh, scaaare-rey!”, I assure you that I spent the subsequent afternoon and evening in a troubled state, because I can’t seem to get that dream off my mind. So I was sitting in front of the piano (the same one I have in my house), and there’s this score in front of me. I can’t really remember what happened when I started playing, but I eventually reached this part with a lot of complicated chords. As I struggled along, the meaning of the piece somehow became more and more evident in my mind. In fact, I think there was a small printed footnote about the meaning of the piece.

The piece was about the end of the world.

Now the tune gets weirder and weirder as I slog through the bars, I still remember this part where my right hand had to go C-D#-C-D# for half a minute. The whole piece was chaotic and depressing. I was about to quit playing (and wake up, I guess), when I took a glimpse of another footnote in the next page. “Peace and happiness”, it said. After all this weird crap, I get to play something light-hearted, I told myself. So I was compelled to continue on, C-D#-C-D#-ing all the way, and I woke up before I ever reached the next page.

How many of you readers find games like this?

I haven’t done the statistics, but a lot of games seem to be fun at the beginning, then the fun just suddenly gives way to dreary grinding. While some players would stop playing at the first hint of boredom, most continue their arduous trek to the final destination, in hopes of getting their well-deserved reward of a satisfying ending…

…Or is there one? Unfortunately, as computer gaming slowly shifts its cumbersome rear onto the web in the form of MMORPGs, there just seem to be no end for the players to sit back and pat themselves on the back for a game well concluded. Well duh, what happens when a player finished a game? He uninstalls it! The relationship opportunity for publishers to milk players of their money is over! So the players grind on day after day so they have bigger numbers in their statuses, until they decide that all this is just a waste of time and dump the game.

I was chatting with Roshan over dinner, and we eventually talked about Maple Story. Now Maple Story is one of the few games which I installed and uninstalled on the same day. Roshan complained about how his girlfriend could just sit in front of her computer and press ‘C’ (the key for attacking) the whole day just to gain one level for reasons unknown to him. I remember Iris saying the same thing about her younger brother and Maple Story. And as far as my experience with the game goes, it’s all about walking around and pressing ‘C’.

I know you Maple Story fans out there will be saying “But MS is also for the community!” Well, why bother playing a game, which is supposed to be fun, when the fun doesn’t come from the game itself? Why not join an IRC channel, or even better, get out and start socializing? It leaves me dumbfounded that people actually spend real cash to buy an item that allows you to gain more experience points! A game that capitalizes on how boring it is? Count me out.

It seems like I’m not really talking abont Encephalon here, and I could say that I’m not. It’s just a rant that came from a dream.

Here’s to smart people playing smart games.

Related links:

January 18, 2007 Posted by | Drama, Game Design | 4 Comments

The color pie and the color salad bowl

While staying overnight in the office helps productivity in the sense that you could just sleep on the desk with your fingers still on the keyboard, nothing could compare to the satisfaction of stretching out your arms and legs on a nice, proper bed.

Sleeping at home makes me remember my dreams better too; just yesterday I had quite an interesting dream of traveling with my mum on this helicopter-like contraption, where you could just point to a place on a Google Earth-like 3D map and you’d be there instantly. The other day I dreamt that I was back in my junior college uniform and going to school on hoverboard. It actually felt pretty real; I just had to tilt my body slightly to control its direction and speed.

Seems like I’m thinking too much into the setting.

Futurustic dreams aside and still on a personal note, Planar Chaos, the latest expansion to the popular trading card game Magic: the Gathering will be released in a couple of weeks’ time, and I’ll be attending the prerelease event (as I have always did for the past six years) this coming weekend.

While being a long-time fan of the game, I can’t help but to wonder what the guys at Magic R&D smoking when they designed the set. While a lot of fans might find the upcoming set a brilliant set, there are some players (including me) who feel slightly put down by the execution of the set.

You see, they messed up with the color pie.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

(Credits to billythefridge from the MTGSalvation forums for the picture)

To most people out there who don’t play Magic: the Gathering and were wondering what’s up with the title, the color pie is a term used in the design of the game. Basically, there are five factions, or ‘colors’ in the card game. Each color has its own characteristics which were defined as the game evolved. Using these definitions, technically any card made for the game could belong to one or more of these colors, and technically some cards cannot be of a certain color(s). Some cards, however, could fall into a grey area of can-ness and cannot-ness.

Planar Chaos is full of these. I mean, the name of the set itself tells you that it will be breaking a lot of rules. I suppose one of the disadvantages of having a ‘color pie’ – where all the flavors of cards belong to either a slice or another – is that your game is limited by the pie crust, the ‘outer layer’ that players perceive the game. Having damaging spells in white, a color traditionally associated with protection, healing and upholding of the law, feels like mayonnaise on apple pie – no matter how good you try to justify it, it just tastes weird. (I guess it would be different if there are people who are actually brought up on apple pie with mayonnaise… not that I want to know)

Encephalon tries to use a different approach on classifying cards. With reference to the color pie, I call it the ‘color salad bowl’. I could call it a ‘color soda fountain’ too, but I’m not sure if that many people actually like to mix their soft drinks likeme. Anyway, the pie has its ingredients all baked inside, while a salad bowl holds salad taken from a salad bar. The salad bar could hold every single card we can think of, and if we want to add more stuff, we just mix it with some other vegetable.

I guess the above comparison is very vague, and some people preferred baked pastries over raw vegetables, so I’ll just write down some points here.

(1) Encephalon allows expansion of factions. Each faction would just have one or two things that they’re good at, and slightly different things could belong in the same or another faction. In this sense…

(2) Factions actually don’t matter that much. A big portion of the cards are generic, while factioned cards are more of a rarity and are really good at what they’re suposed to do. Even if you have a lot of generic cards, they’re ‘spiced up’ by…

(3) Customization allow cards to be the same but still unique. Customization is one of the biggest selling opints of Encephalon, in the sense that you can actually ‘slot in’ and ‘take out’ stats and abilities from a card and put it in another. It’s like how you don’t pick out and eat the corn bits first. (Excuse me if you do)

In short, we’re not trying to make how deep a faction can go, but rather how far can we expand this game. I wouldn’t say the salad bowl is flawless (In fact I could point out a couple of flaws right now, but I’ll leave the homework to our competitors), but we just want to try out something new. We’re aiming for seven factions now, but of course, we could always get a bigger salad bar.

Related linkses:

January 17, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Trading Card Game | 5 Comments

Life of a Pawn II – Encephalon v2.1

A few weeks back, Hatchlings Games Lead Game Designer no-wing posted an article, Life of a Pawn. The popular article was a by-product of a certain discussion by our game design team. We were trying to resolve certain issues with Encephalon’s gameplay mechanics.

Granted, no game developer has infuse elements of trading card into a board successfully yet.  And granted that Michael Ooi, Lead Game Designer of an older Malaysia-based game development studio, John Galt Games did highlight to us an old but defunct trading card / board game called Guardian was fairly successful during its time. At one point, we switched our approach to the design of Encephalon from a trading card game perspective to a board game perspective. We analyzed Chess; one of the key features of Chess was the role of the Pawn.

Our latest changes to the game design (let’s call it Encephalon v2.1) have turned a Creature Card‘s life to one that resembles the Chess pawn. Let’s recall that Encephalon is a game with upgradable, customizable, tradable cards on a Chess-like BOARD. Note that Creature Cards in Encephalon < 2.0 could move x amount of squares, in any direction, every turn.

In Encephalon v2.1, a Creature Card by default cannot move more than 1 square. Unlike the Chess Pawn which can only moving forward, the basic Encephalon Creature can move backwards and also left and right along the board ranks. Also unlike the Chess Pawn, you cannot get promoted if you get to the other side of the board. Note that in an older version of design, way back when Encephalon was called by the codename BattleChess, Creatures Cards at the opposite end of the board can use action points to “attack the opponent”. The attack reduces the opponent’s life & resource, which was a shared resource.

Let’s come back to Creature Cards in Encephalon v2.1, where they only move 1 square. Game mechanics design decisions are mostly made to solve design problems (i.e. too much noise, dominating strategy, etc). And the reason we adopted this mechanics was to balance and to control the mobility factor of cards.

There was a major problem that Iris and I noticed during playtesting where mobility was a dominating strategy for a player. At one point using mobile creatures to control territory could be a one of the strategy for players. Mobility control & balancing became a major problem after we changed a subtle but game-changing battle mechanics that improved both the player’s tactical and strategic choices. No-wing or I could write about that change if there are enough requests for it through comments.

Now that most Creature Cards can only move one square, we found a REAL use for the next type of card – the Field Cards (i.e. terrain cards which modifies the board grid that they are placed on). Players can now play multiple Field Cards to form shapes (e.g. Tetris shapes). Each Field Card has a list of shapes which if formed accordingly will activate a certain stated ability. Each individual Field Card in a particular associated shape will grant Creature Cards on them a corresponding ability. Note that for Encephalon v2.1 Field Cards are not modifiable.

A major ability of the Field Card is Creature Card Launching. This is similar to the Chess Pawn’s first move; In Chess, the Pawn can move two squares during its first move. With good emergent gameplay rules for the deployment of Field Cards (which we believed we have), players who wishes to deploy mobility strategy can plan for it. Since the player has to plan for it, positional control using and giving mobility control becomes a concrete and deployable strategy. This feature allows emergent gameplay where players pit their deployment planning skills against each other.

The interaction and synergy between the Creature and Field cards due to the changes made in Encephalon v2.1 fixes many “noise” problems found in Encephalon < 2.0.

Related Links:

January 17, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Trading Card Game | 6 Comments

Fighting Noise?

The battle between me and the noise begins…

From the previous post, I’ve explained noise in game design but what kinda noise does Encephalon have anyway?

Lack of Preparation Stage

Every time when I play Encephalon I have no idea what to do first. I know is a strategy game and I needed to think of a strategy to win beforehand but… there weren’t enough information or anything that I can plan ahead. Ok look, I’m holding a bunch of cards which we call it the deck then 2 cards are drawn to be laid on anywhere on the first row of the board. Alright, the cards are randomly drawn and so hopefully I’m lucky enough to get the card I want so that I can think of a strategy later.

Newmw made a comment about my previous post at my personal blog:

“I remember the first computer ‘games’ being all about randomness. Around the beginning of the 80s designers creating viruses just battling each other. That’s pretty random too”

Randomness can be a friend(signal) or an enemy(noise) but the randomness that “attacked” Encephalon will then change our game from a strategy game to a chance based game.

“…hopefully I’m lucky enough to get the card I want so that I can think of a strategy later.”

So why is this preparation stage so important? Duh, it is a strategy game.

Let’s take a look at soccer (I’m not a soccer expert). A soccer team consist different type of players with different positions (Ah yes… is the team building that matters, not individual spoon-feeding!). Imagine the team playing on the soccer field without any preparation or some strategy… even playing among friends, I’m sure you will at least say something like “Hey, Ben stay there and be good” *pat* *pat*. Thing is, the customization feature of our game concentrated on individual card building rather than team building or the deck building.

More problems to solve ahead 😉 but we will have to think out of the “BOX” first…

Related post:

January 9, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Game Development | Leave a comment