July 27, 2009

Game Design Challenge

I found a very interesting blog named Game Design Challenges through an article by Tesh. The blog is manned by Brenda Brathwaite Whose blog is here and Ian Schreiber whose blog is there. The blog is meant as a course on game design, be it tabletop, card, or video games and is very interesting. The book which is par for the course and the course itself do pose some challenges for aspiring game designers.

So here's my take on the first challenge: building a "race to the end" game.

Without further delay, let me give you:


After some earthquake unearthes interesting stones on the slope of a volcano, a score of Geologists decide to get a closer look and make a friendly wager on the stones each will find. But... doesn't this earthquake hint at an awakening of the volcano in the near future?

Core Mechanic:
-> Race to the end
-> Resource gathering/management


The field is divided in 3 "tiers" on top of each other. Yous tart from the bottom, and the closer you get to the summit, the more chances you have of unearthing quality stones.

There is the "easy" way, which snakes from bottom to top, and the "hard and fast" ways (2 and 4 cases long) which a direct.

Material needed to play:
-> 1-4 players. Yep, you can play alone ! Even here, soloists are welcome ! So... 4 pawns.
-> Pieces to be put on the board. Each has a "Lava" side and a side with either dirt, a rift, or a number (1, 2, or 4)
-> Green "Mining" cards containing simple rocks (0 points), Pyrite (1) and a flawed sapphyr (3)
-> Orange "Mining" cards containing one simple rock (0), some pyrite (1), some gold (2), and some strange fossils (3)
-> Red "Mining" cards containing some unique rocky formations (4), diverse precious stone (5) and a Dead Sea Scroll (15)
-> 8 "Equipment" cards (rope, ice pick, 10 feet pole...)

The board pieces are shuffled, then randomly placed on the board with the "Lava" side up. Once they are all on the board, turn them on the other side.
All the "Mining" cards are shuffled, and the three corresponding stacks are built.
Equipment cards are shuffled, for every player missing, draw out 2 cards and get them out of the game. Then, the first player pickes one, so does the second, etc until no more cards remain.
Place all the pawns at the bottom of the slope.


First part: the Ascension
Each turn, a character gets alloted 4 Action Points. Using these, a character can (Action costs are indicated in the relevant sections):
-> Climb
-> Mine
-> Cheer
-> Hinder
A character does not have to use all its AP in one turn. It is possible to start spending APs on an action during one turn, and finish on the next, but you have to finish your action, and only get the result once the points are spent.

Climbing the easy way costs 1 AP per square
The "Hard and Fast" slopes cost 2 APs for each square you advance, unless the character has the ice pick, which reduce the cost to 3 APs per 2 squares
On a rift, a character needs 3 APs to advance, unless with the 10 feet pole, which reduces the cost to 2 APs.
Characters are free to go up or down the slope.

On squares with a number, spending that AP amount enables you to draw 1 card (on the "1" and "2" squares) or 2 cards (on the "4" squares) in the corresponding stack (green for the first tier, orange for the middle, red for the high tier)
There is no limit to the amount of stones a character can carry.
The mining pick enables you to draw an additional card for 1 AP. You must then choose and discard one of the additional cards.

A character can cheer another. When being cheered, a character must select one of its stone and give it the to the cheerer. The cheerer loses as many APs as the value of the stone (potentially making him lose turns if he loses more than 4 APs), while the cheeree gains as many APs (usable immediately, with no upper limit).
If equipped with the rope, the cheerer only loses 2 APs for every 3 he should have lost. The cheree still gains as many.
If equipped with the bright suit, the cheree gains an additional AP.

If a character lands on another character's square, he can hinder him by spending 1 AP, making the other lose 2 APs.
If equipped with the sieve, alternatively, he can draw a random stone from the character for 2 APs, instead of hindering him.

As stones are collected, the total value of the stones must be tracked: as soon as the number gets bigger than 20, the eruption begins !

Second part: the Descent
From now on, the eruption has started, and lave begins to run down the slope. At each turn's start, lava advances ((Total accumulated points)-20) squares (flip each piece to show its "Lava" side). Lava comes down every slope at the same time (but at the same rate). If Lava reaches a character, he's immediately immolated (unless he has the Lava Suit, which saves him for one turn), as well as his equipment and mined stones. They still count for the lava's speed.

The character's still have 4 APs and the same action.
But now, the "Hard & Fast" slopes can be climbed down at the rate of 2 squares per AP. However, these slopes are so steep that the character loses 1 random stone for each AP spent. Unless he has big pockets, which saves the first stone that should be lost.

The game ends when no more characters are on the board. The winner is the geologist with the biggest amount of points. In the case of a tie, the one with the least amount of stones wins.

July 21, 2009

Unlocking the LEGO box

I’ve been playing quite a lot of Batman LEGO these last days, finishing the main adventure for both heroes and villains, and reaching something like 80% of completion. But, in the last days, some design decisions have become quite prominent to me, some in good, some in bad.

First, the good: deadly is deadly.
In the LEGO Batman universe, hazards are pretty consistent either for your characters or for the enemies. Which means that radioactive stuff or fumes kills them as much as it kills you, and glacial fumes freeze you and them as well. It’s pretty much a detail, but it made a boss fight far easier for me through a stroke of luck: in the level against Catwoman and the penguin, Catwoman is only a sidekick. You can not beat her with your fists: she will run away from you when hurt, and come back later. And believe me, she can be a pain.
But, as I was exploring the area, one of my hits sent her flying in a patch of radioactive goo. And before my eyes, she dissolved… No more sidekick for the penguin ! Needless to say, the fight went pretty much downhill for him after that (not that he was really winning before that event…)

I like when games have the same set of rules for you and for your enemies. You do not feel arbitrarily limited in your interaction with the world, you do not feel that everything is stacked against you.
Also, I find it helps with the suspension of disbelief: the gameworld is logical.

After that, my beef is with the unlocking system. No, not so much the system (having to use multiple characters abilities to reach a hidden brick that unlocks something, that’s something the Explorer and Achiever in me do like) than the unlocks themselves.

Let’s start with the ridiculous: the multipliers bonus.
In the game, you collect studs, which are used as a currency to buy just about everything: additional characters and vehicles, data, and upgrades (once they have been unlocked through hidden bricks in each level). Some of these upgrades are multipliers: x2, x4, up to x10. The first one costs 1 000 000, the last one 5 000 000.
My first (logical) thought was “Each one will replace the lesser one” or “only one may be active at a time”. A simple calculation showed me that buying them in order would cost me, not 15 000 000 studs, but 4 041 666. Better than buying the 5x directly.
You can imagine my surprise when, buyin the x4, I see the x2 on my screen changing to a x8. Long story short, I reached a ludicrous x640 modifier, making all my studs needs moot (but not my stud’s… nevermind).

This, I did not like. Why? Because up to now, I had choices to make whenever I bought something. I did not have enough money, so every time, I had to ask myself what I wanted to buy. That was my story. Now… Not so much… I just had a laundry list of things to buy, and the limiting factor was to unlock them…
To their defense, it is possible to disable these. I did, but not before going on a destruction spree due the power rush it gave me. Kind of like when Tabula Rasa offered a +2000% XP bonus some weeks before closing down. I gained 7 levels in one evening, then was left with a sour taste in my mouth, having outleveled content I wanted to enjoy.
Power rush is a dangerous thing for the weak-minded... I never said I was perfect !

My next gripe is with suit upgrades.
Most, if not all of them, are Nice-to-Haves: more targets with a batarang, swifter construction and so on. Not gamebreaking, but reducing the time needed for some actions that can be considered “less fun”, thus improving the fun proportion. I’m cool with that.
But then, why is their use limited to the free mode ?! If I take the time to redo a level to unlock an upgrade I’m interested in, why must I be punished by not being able to use it during the story mode, thus enabling me to enjoy the story more?

There was also a bit of cutscene power upgrade, where villains tend to have their abilities upgraded when you’re against them (Catwoman makes huge jump, moth man can glide much longer), but it’s more nitpicking than griping. It’s a minor detail than doesn’t really break the suspension of disbelief.

So, in short, I prefer to see games:
-> Where the rules are the same for the player characters and for the non-player characters.
-> Where upgrades do not suddenly break the game, making everything trivial, or redundant
-> Where, if I take the time to achieve something, I’m awarded the achievement’s result for the rest of the game