Thursday, October 4, 2018

Spider-Man for PS4

Here's my nickel review of Spider-Man for PS4. My Spider-Man is seen here overlooking Washington Square Park, near where my son Nick goes to school.
I generally don't like superhero stories much, unless they're played for laughs and acknowledge how ridiculous the situations are (c.f. Deadpool, Guardians, Avengers I, Thor: Ragnarok). I haven't found their stories compelling, their settings or cultures realistic, or their heroes human and interesting, and I have come to hate that they nearly all end with one side with arbitrary superpowers battling another side with arbitrary superpowers, leading to an arbitrary-squared resolution that I really don't care much about.
I love video games, but I don't see them usually as a great way to tell stories. There are some exceptions (e.g. Mass Effect I, Gone Home), but most of the stories, even the engaging ones, are pretty bland.
So, my expectations for a superhero videogame were pretty low, so much so that I wasn't even going to buy it. But the reviews were good, and I'm on sabbatical, so it seemed like I had time to try it. In a word, wow.
The gameplay is enjoyable. It's really fun swinging around, and the fighting and the powers and gadgets are fun, if a little repetitive. I'm not terribly familiar with the Spiderverse, although I know the main players well enough to recognize most of them in broad strokes (e.g. I'd never heard of most of the supervillains). New York City is presented at a condensed but real-seeming scale, and with many places I've been to represented with great geometric precision.
What elevates the game way above this is the story and the voice acting. It's far beyond the cardboardy quest-chain stuff of most games. Peter is human, funny, sincere, and a good soul. His human counterparts are deeply constructed and well-portrayed. You get to play as some of them, as a brave but normal person, for many parts of the game, which is great as a change of perspective and character. The plot is tainted by the usual super-silliness, but the non-silly parts are really, really well done, and even the silly parts are good.
Definitely worth a look. Even if you think superheroes are dumb and played out, which I totally still do. I really liked this one.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Doctor Esker's Notebook is on the way to being real

I just took a huge step on what's been a slow, twisty, often stalled journey toward publishing a game. I sent art for my puzzle card game, Doctor Esker's Notebook, to a printer.

I'll talk more as I get up and running with sales about the finances that went into this and the process of starting up this venture, but for now, it's just exciting.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Esker card game quotes and pricing

Getting some quotes back from manufacturers. A big variety in price points and discounts. The game is at a minimum 72 cards in a tuckbox, although I have considered extras like a two-piece box and an instructions sheet. I already have an instructions card, but it might be cool to have that be more obvious.

Here's what I have so far for quotes.  Tuck = tuckbox, 2P = two-piece box, I = small instructions sheet.
Some notes:
  • Ace (aka PlayingCardsIndia) is coming in at the most economical. They only bid for one print run, so they may have even steeper discounts at higher orders - I just extended their line so that I could see them relative to others. 
  • A two-piece box is way more (+$1-2) for some companies and not much more (+$0.50) for others. 
  • At a potential retail price point of $12 or $13, assuming I use my own art and don't get it redone, I'd probably be able to cover other costs (advertising, equipment, my time) at the Ace bid, but not necessarily too far above that. I don't want to order too many to start, because it's an unproven product in an industry that I know well as a customer but in which I have very limited experience as a seller. 
  • I've checked into selling at Amazon, and for something like this, they'd take about a $3.40 commission per order for just providing a purchase link and collecting orders for me to fulfill, and $7.00 if I have them do the whole fulfillment thing (they warehouse and ship the game, including via Amazon Prime). I'd like a presence on Amazon, but I don't know which option to go with. If I'm paying $5 per game to print, there's almost no margin for the Amazon fulfillment, but if I'm at $2 per game, then I could still make a few bucks that way. If I do the packing and shipping, then the margin is considerably larger, but I lose the Amazon Prime advantage and have to do the work myself, which may include equipment and will include my time (though not likely too much).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

New Puzzle Game - Dr. Esker's Notebook



I've been working on a new puzzle card game over the summer. It's modeled after an escape room experience, but based in a deck of cards. The cards have a series of puzzles to solve, each with differing mechanics. It's been a fun time, and I've tested it with a lot of folks, including family and friends. I also sent some copies to volunteers my college class, which I figured would have some puzzle enthusiasts.

Anyway, it's been a fun project. So fun that I've made up another two puzzle decks. The thing is called Doctor Esker's Notebook, and the conceit is that a mysterious professor has left behind a puzzle-filled notebook. The game cards are scans of pages from this notebook (which I actually made in real life with, like, glue and stuff).

Website is here: http://planktongames.com/esker

I'm wondering if this is something I could print and sell - got bitten by that bug again. Might go through with it this time.

Ludum Dare #41: Mortal Keybat

Screen2.jpg

I didn't post about this back when I wrote it, but I did an entry for Ludum Dare #41. The theme was "Combine Two Incompatible Genres," so I did a Karate Champ style fighting game with a typing tutor. I did pretty well in some categories of the judging, and it was a fun time.

The game page is here, with a link to the playable game.
https://ldjam.com/events/ludum-dare/41/mortal-keybat

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ludum Dare game - Tycoon

I completed my fifth entry in the Ludum Dare game competition last weekend. I wasn't sure about how fun it was at first, but it seems to be garnering a mostly positive reception. Either that, or the LD judges are just being kind, which I think sometimes happens. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Battling the final opponent, Vladimir

Play Tycoon Here (HTML5 in browser)

Ludum Dare judging page

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My first new boardgame design in a while is in production at TheGameCrafter.com. Very cool feeling!  It's a worker placement game set at the end of the world. Tentatitve title: Wrath.

We'll see how fun it is (and how completely unbalanced, like nearly all prototypes) in about a week's time.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Results over Four Ludum Dare competitions

I just got the ratings for my Ludum Dare competition game, Domain, written from scratch in 48 hours last month. They were good - this is the second-best finish for me in the ratings, I think. I was curious how I compared, so I did some graphs with my four entries over the past few years. The competition is rated in eight categories, with "Overall" being the most important. My four games were as follows:
Here are the results for those four games, first by percentile (vs. other games in the competition), then by overall rating (1-5 stars). In each graph, the categories are sorted by my average performance for all four games.


Apparently, Audio and Graphics are my weakest categories, which isn't that surprising. Theme and Innovation seem to be my strong suits. Teeming (blue line, my first entry) was clearly my worst showing in nearly all categories, and Evo (red line) my best (by percentiles), but Domain (purple line, most recent entry) actually was rated higher in terms of stars. I wonder if the judging has gotten easier over time? Or the games better? Hard to say. Anyway, I seem to be improving as I do these, which is cool. I'm hardly going to sprout an artistic sense in my late 40's, but it's fun to do these, and I still get some props for innovative, so that's OK by me. 


Ludum Dare 37 - Domain

I competed in Ludum Dare #37 in December, where you create a game from scratch in 48 hours. This was a rough one - it came right at the end of the semester, which is tricky, and it was also happening right after my wife had surgery, so I was focused on her needs first. The theme was one I'd voted against - "One Room." Many creators just ignored the theme, or made whatever game they wanted as long as it nominally fit in one space. Only a few really integrated it. That made for a lot of similar games, all limited in scope. So, not the greatest competition topic, I think.

I had a hard time figuring out a concept, but I ended up making a game which was a tank game, but in a weird world where you're trapped in a room and just shoot the walls, not at other tanks. I thought it came out OK, although I didn't have much time for polish. I did it using Unity, which I've been experimenting with for a few years, as opposed to CraftyJS, which I used for my previous three games. I turned it in a few hours early, actually, so it's not as polished as I could have gotten if I'd ignored the rest of my life, but that wasn't in the cards.

The game, called Domain, is playable on the web here. Let me know what you think. I did OK on the ratings - made the top 100 games, sitting at about the 90th percentile of the 901 games submitted for the single-author competition. My competition page (with rankings) is here.




Monday, July 11, 2016

Aaaand we're back...

Wow, it's been a long time. But I'm back, and let's kick the dust off this blog. I've been working this summer on a project I first started way back in 2006 or so, which is a word game based on anagrams. It's been through several iterations, first as one of quite a few puzzles in a multi-puzzle game kind of like the old Fool's Errand game. That one I never finished, but I kept this idea around and developed a Flash version in 2009. It's here. I also never took that anywhere, but it still seemed fun, so I kept the idea around.

I worked on it some a couple of years ago as I was getting up to speed in Unity, and I realized it would probably work as a mobile game. This summer, I got back into it and finished it up. So, later today, I'm going to launch it (as a public beta at first) for Android phones, with an iPhone version coming soon. It's my first foray into mobile gaming (although I consulted on early pre-smartphone versions of Snood for mobile). Here are some screenshots:



PlayStore link is here - should be live soon. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Scoring Tracks

Here's an interesting post by a fellow game designer (and one-time fellow improv comedian) Nick Bentley on scoring tracks in games.  I think he makes some great points about the pros and cons of scoring tracks.  As a designer, I've used them a lot in my more complex games. I think they can be useful and fun, especially if scoring is constant and in small intervals, or episodic (e.g. scoring rounds) and needs to be shown to let players know where they stand.

I have to say, though, when I open a game that has a scoring track, it always gives me a little twinge of dismay.  This comes from several places.  One is, a game with a scoring track is often a game that gets bumped into the "too complicated" category, where I'll have trouble convincing people (at least the people around me) to play it.  There are exceptions, of course, one of which is Ticket To Ride, which my non-gamer friends and family enjoy (as do I).

Another source of dismay is that the track always takes up a lot of the gameboard, often with fiddly little stuff that doesn't deserve that much table space and is easily knocked out of place.

A final source of dismay is that it's much cooler to have the game objectives be more obvious, more visceral, than mere points scored.  Think of a Risk board covered with your little armies, or a mass of cards on display in Seven Wonders - cool, obvious indications of success.  Of course, Seven Wonders uses points at the end - the only small clumsiness in a very elegant game, but a necessary one.  In Diggity, I have cards (gold nuggets) that represent their score, so there's no need to mark it separately, and in Horde, I have a limited number of scoring tokens that people collect as the game progresses, both of which methods I like better than a scoring track.


That said, I played Tikal with my son and my dad last week, and had a great time (even as I lost in pathetic fashion).  It's a complicated game, and it has scoring rounds, so the good parts of the scoring track are there - you can see who's ahead, and by how much.  There are only two ways to score, though, so I think it avoids Nick's critique of the track, which is really more of a warning to designers than anything players should worry about.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ludum Dare 26 Results

Here are my results from the Ludum Dare competition this time around.  Not as good as the last time, but better than my first entry.  My audio didn't work on Firefox for the first period of the judging, so that may have hurt me a little bit (probably not much, since Chrome is more common for LD users and only about half the ratings came in while it was broken).

Some of the games in this competition were really great, and it seemed like fewer of them were terrible than in earlier sessions.  The theme was a challenge; obviously, if you're going for minimalism, it's hard to shine in some areas (particularly sound and graphics, but also depth and complexity of gameplay).  Art's not what I'm good at anyway (see above), so Minimalism should maybe have helped me out :-).


Ludum Dare 26 entry

Here's my entry from Ludum Dare 26.  The theme was Minimalism.  I went with a game set in a Piet Mondrian painting that only has one control.  The Ludum Dare page is here.  A direct link is here.  I was pretty happy with it; I spent a little too much time on the dialogue opening (also minimalist, I thought).  I got some really nice comments, too.  Let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

CraftyJS examples

I've been pretty excited about learning more about JavaScript and HTML5 programming.  I've been working with CraftyJS, a cool game-design library for browser games.  I've mentioned a few of my projects before (e.g. Cairo, Evo, Teeming), but I've also been doing an independent study course this January with a student.  She's made great strides in working on this kind of thing.  As part of helping her learn this stuff, I made a couple basic demos, heavily commented, for CraftyJS; if you're looking for an easy way to do some pretty neat things in JavaScript, have a look at Invader and Platform - they're bare-bones and hardly games at all, but you can see even from these tiny examples that the library runs well.  View source to see the code.  Plenty of other information at the CraftyJS site.

Great post on publishing process

I found this post by James Mathe from someone in the boardgame design community on Google+.  It's a really great summary of steps to publication (and a cautionary tale for prospective publishing enthusiasts).  It includes a lot of costs and steps you probably haven't thought of before.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables Report Card


Spoiler warning, if it's possible to spoil a 150-year-old book or a 30-year-old musical.

Pretension warning: I never write like this or talk about movies this way.  Beware my crude attempts at artsiness.

My Les Mis Movie report card, more or less in order of appearance:

Hugh Jackman: B- (thought he would be better; ok singing, acting consisted of staring slightly to the left of the camera)

Russel Crowe: C+ (but better than I thought; mediocre singing, good acting, especially towards the end)

Anne Hathaway: A (better singing voice than I expected; suitably tragic.  You should get your hair back in the afterlife.)

Little Cosette: A (good voice, good acting, ringer for imagined child version of  Amanda Seyfried)

Sasha Baron Cohen: B- (he did fine, I suppose, but I hate the character; I did laugh at a few of his jokes)

Helena Bonham Carter: C+ (like i said, I hate these characters.  WTH with the John Lennon glasses?)

Samantha Barks: A+ (when she first came on, I remember thinking, "wow, the first one who can really sing" - head and shoulders above the others.  But I'm a sucker for Eponine, too.)

Gavroche kid: A (I normally dislike this character and am almost happy when he buys the ferme, but this guy was surprisingly affecting and sang well)

Amanda Seyfried: A- (better singing voice than I expected, although seemed to be singing in a different style from the others.  I've always wished the character had more guts and more to do than merely obey her dad and moon about over Marius)

Eddie Redmayne: B (Marius is such a lightweight character; he did OK, but I thought he blew it on Empty Chairs)

Aaron Tveit: B+ (Pretty inspiring, noble death, sang pretty well, but goofy hair, even for 19th century France)

Tom Hooper: B (Could we ever get a scene that's not mostly a face-on shot of somebody singing?)

Overall: A- (really enjoyed it; would have been better with a stronger JVJ)

It was really interesting to see the show as a movie rather than a musical.  I caught parts of the story and character motivations that I'd missed in multiple versions of the stage production.  Jean Valjean's progression from desperate thug to flawed man trying to do right while saving his skin to placing others truly before himself.was far more clear here than in the stage productions I've seen.  Also, the focus was totally different - you're focused on each character and can see facial expressions and reactions - the acting becomes as important as the singing, which I found surprising.

Unexpected punch in the gut: Javert pinning the medal on Gavroche in the row of dead revolutionaries.  My daughter said that was counter to Javert's character from the musical; I agree, but I found it a welcome change; it very nicely bridged the gap between Jean Valjean showing him mercy and his suicide, especially after his admission that he grew up poor on the streets. I thought it was very well done by Crowe.

Unexpected non-punch in the gut: Empty Chairs and Empty Tables - This song leaves me crying in my beer even when Brianna plays it night after night while washing dishes.  It was sung kind of wimpily, and I think it needs a stronger interpretation.  Also, the destroyed bar wasn't the same for me as imagining him in the same bar intact but with his friends gone.

Awesome scene:  Defeated revolutionary pushes through armed soldiers to stand with (and be shot with) his leader.  Totally badass.

Scene that was way awesomer in the movie than they could ever do on stage:: Revolutionaries kidnap funeral procession.  Also badass.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Planetside 2, SOE, and fraudsters...

I played a little bit of Planetside 2 over the past week.  It's an interesting hybrid of MMO (but without quests) and FPS deathmatch (but with strategic points), and because it's free to play, it's got a bunch of enticing content and powerups that you can't really afford without playing forever or shelling out some cash.  I really enjoyed Tribes Ascend when I played it a few months ago, and this feels a little bit like that, but with slower, less frenetic gameplay, a different, more complex equipment system (though Tribes has lots of options) and longer protracted battles.  And no jetpacks.  I think Tribes is a better FPS, and there's no beating the jetpack play, but the strategic elements of Planetside (terrain control, the potential for coordinated vehicle/infantry/air assaults) are pretty cool.

With the end of my semester coming up, I thought it might be fun to play some more once grades are in.  So, I tried buying a month pass.  As a shareware author, I very much think I should support the games I like, so I threw some money at Tribes also.  But in this case, I entered my information, but my card was declined when I tried for the payment.  I tried entering again, and it didn't even let me enter the information.  I had to call the credit card company to get my card returned to service.

So, what does this mean?  They instantly assume every transaction with Sony Online Entertainment is fraud?  I, a guy who buys video games pretty regularly, couldn't even pay for it.  That's got to reflect badly on the nature of users of online games, particularly Sony customers, and on the state of credit card fraud. I know, one datapoint and all, but it was definitely a surprise.  I wouldn't want to be Sony in this case.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transatlantic Yoggity

Yoggity is off on its way to Bochum, Germany for the Hippodice competition.  The game cost me $20; shipping was $30, and the entry fee was 10 Euros ($15 after Paypal fees).  Entering these contests isn't cheap, even though it sort of seems like it is when you get started. Of course, the Hippodice fee is very reasonable for the hassle they go through hosting the contest, and the rest is just my costs.

Regardless, I'm happy to do it; Hippodice gives useful feedback, which I haven't found to be the case for many of the contests I've entered, and I really like the way they have the contest set up.  Looking over Yoggity again, I was very grateful for Jason Greeno's terrific artwork - I think the game is great, too, but his art and design really makes it much more fun.

Probably won't hear anything until next year - but I'm glad to have the opportunity.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yoggity makes the cut at Hippodice 2012-13!

I just found out yesterday that the folks at Hippodice have requested Yoggity for their second round.  That means I have to get a physical copy to Germany, which is a challenge, but it should be fun to see what they say.  They got 150+ entries; I'm not sure how many made this cut, but I assume it's no more than 50 or so, maybe 20-30, because they have to play them all.  Pretty neat.

Kickstarter a no-go for stores?

Via Tom Vasel at GameSalute, Gary Ray at Black Diamond Games has put up a pair of posts (here and here), where he says he's not going to support Kickstarter projects for his retail game store any more.  He says they just don't sell, at all, so that seems like a reasonable business proposition.

It's also a different criticism than Kickstarter game projects usually face.  Normally, the knock on them is that they are incompletely tested and of lower average quality than traditionally published "mainstream" games.  In this case, Ray suggests the problem is that Kickstarter just works too well.  Everybody who would buy a small indie game has done so already on Kickstarter, and often has received special funder awards and bonuses.  Nobody goes looking to a game store for such a project.

I think there's a distinction between true indie projects, that is, one-off titles where the creator funds just one game through Kickstarter, compared to companies that use Kickstarter to generate interest and funds for new projects (e.g. Tasty Minstrel and GameSalute).  My guess is that companies still have pretty significant testing and development filters in place, and their games are likely to be (on average) of higher quality than the one-offs.  However, Ray's point is that it just doesn't matter - because neither of them sell - and his stated policy is now that he won't stock any game that says "KickStarter" on the box.
That's an interesting policy, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It seems like a broad stereotype; some Kickstarter games can and do have broad appeal, and probably do sell to markets beyond the Kickstarter/game enthusiast audience.  But I've done enough work in my shareware business and with large organizations to know that sometimes you need a general rule because the simplicity far outweighs the marginal benefit of making exceptions.  That might be the case here, and Ray is in a better position to know it than I am.
  2. It sounds like it would be pretty dumb to put "Kickstarter" anywhere on a box.  That really rings true for me.  Anybody who funded your game on Kickstarter already knows it was funded there, and for anybody who doesn't, it's either neutral or negative.  In Ray's case, it's negative because he won't buy it. In other peoples' cases, it's negative because there's a perception, right or wrong, that Kickstarter games are inferior to traditionally-published games.  So, there's no upside to indicating that on the packaging.  Unless maybe the fact that your game made it through a successful campaign some how says it's quality?  I doubt that influences many people.
So, is leaving it off dishonest?  Not really.  People who read reviews and do their legwork (and this probably includes most store owners like Ray) will know that it's a Kickstarter game, but they'll also likely know whether it's a good game or a good fit to their tastes.  Casual browsers will buy it or not for the same reasons they do all other games - does the art look good?  Is the box copy convincing? Does it look cool?  So, I think leaving off the Kickstarter is probably just good business sense.  

Also, other companies don't tell you the source of their funding, which could be more cockamamie than Kickstarter.  I've seen published games that totally suck that seem to be entirely self-funded, and they don't have that on the label.

Interesting stuff to ponder, anyway - the game market does seem to be splitting between the traditional route (which is growing and expanding on its own) and the Kickstarter route (which is growing and expanding tremendously).  I'm not sure where game stores fit in, but I know I love going to them, and I'll often buy something.  I'd hate to lose that in a sea of Kickstarter projects, even though I've bought and enjoyed several Kickstarter games already.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Great software design and visualization - Space Sniffer

OK, this isn't game related, but I just found a really great disk profiler.  I realized last night that my SSD is filling up on my main Windows computer, and I was trying to delete things to make more room, but I couldn't find much to delete that made a difference.

Today, I figured, there must be some kind of software tool that shows you how your drive is laid out, and I did a search for something.  I found Space Sniffer.  It quickly scans a whole drive and maps it out for you. On the diagram at right, the beige areas are folders and the blue areas are individual files.  Each zone is sized according to its size on the disk, and the hierarchical structure is maintained.  Each folder is clickable, and then the program displays the folder's contents in the same way, so you can descend fractally down into your data.  The authors say the visualization technique was developed by a professor named Ben Shneiderman, who apparently also invented the highlighted textual link.  I will honor his work by linking to him:  Ben Shneiderman

Really neat program, and free.  Of course, I still didn't find too much to delete - the whole left-most rectangle is games I still play, and the other stuff all seemed important.  You'd understand if you saw my basement.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hippodice entered!

I've entered two games in the Hippodice competition this fall - Horde and Yoggity.  We'll see how I do - I've made the second round once but never their top 10.  I gather it's very competitive.

A user named Yort over at BGDF looked at my stuff and commented that it might be more polished than they were looking for.  I got that impression when they looked at Diggity a couple years ago - one of the reviewers said, essentially, "why are we looking at this?  we're only supposed to look at prototypes."  Of course, it was a game prototype at the time, just printed up nicely via TheGameCrafter, and well within the Hippodice rules which indicate less than 100 total copies.

We'll see how I do - these competitions are always a little unpredictable, but I really respect Hippodice for its organization and standards.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ludum Dare 24 results

Voting results are in from the 24th Ludum Dare competition.  The theme was Evolution, and I made a puzzle game in which little critters gain traits.  I've got it hosted here at PlanktonGames.com; the competition page with all the comments and feedack is here at LudumDare.

How did I do?  Pretty well, I think; much better than last time.  Here are the numeric ratings and rankings:
Coolness100%
#40Innovation3.83
#44Overall3.75
#55Fun3.58
#89Humor3.15
#145Mood3.11
#216Graphics3.34
#242Audio2.77
#294Theme3.10

The #44 overall is really neat; there were 1006 entries, and I have a lot of top 100 or top 50 ratings in various categories.  I'm not sure why I'm so much worse with the theme, since I actually thought my adherence to the theme was better this time than last, where it was my highest ranking (#71).

Anyway, a good experience, and very encouraging results.  I think I'll try to develop the game further and get it up on Kongregate or somewhere.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bad game design

From The Whitest Kids U'Know.  I think a few of my early designs might have shared this flaw.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

Picture by Tony Mastrangeli,
DarkJedi on Boardgamegeek.com
The kids and I just played a game I'd had lying around the house for a long time - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  We've only played once, so I guess I shouldn't call this a full review, but the game follows a mostly predetermined plotline, so it would be essentially the same every time.  It's an odd game, with some interesting parts, but it really failed as any kind of rewarding strategic experience.

The good:

  • The modular board - fun to put together; fun to reveal different tracks and people as it goes.
  • The structural parts - the ramp spaces up the mountain are very neat
  • The group storytelling - it really recreates the movie pretty well, with major plot points thrown and enacted by the players
  • The pieces - the rings and the scoring racks are cool; the cards are very attractive, and the pawns with full-color pictures and art are really neat
The bad:

  • Choice - There's very little meaningful choice for the players.  You can pick a different character to activate each turn, and this tells different parts of the story, but all the parts will happen eventually, and there are way more characters than there need to be.  They have different statistics, and they can pick up items along the way, but these hardly ever matter much.  If you face a challenge that you have trouble with, you just keep rolling until you win, or you bring around another character with higher statistics.
  • No replay value - the game will turn out the same virtually every time you play it.  There's an elaborate set of 70+ events, but they happen in mostly the same order, and they don't interact much at all except to move people around the board.  None change the overall course of the game, which is destined to follow the movie's story.  There can be trivial differences in path or scoring based on die rolls, but the game will vary hardly at all from one play to the next.
  • Rules - the rules are very short, and they don't really explain all of how the game works.  We figured it out, but there were some events right off the bat that used terms (e.g. ring bearer) that were not defined, and there were other times when we weren't sure how to use various pieces and had to figure it out from cards.  We still don't know how to resolve Nazgul attacks.
  • Scoring - the scoring is a good vs. evil rating that you gain from events on your turn.  Most of the good or evil that you earn comes automatically from drawing an event or is randomly generated via die roll.  It is very difficult to gain very much evil score.  By the end of the game, you will have exceeded the scoring scale in the good direction, and this triggers a crude balancing mechanism - you lose 1-6 points when you come to the end of the track.  So, the player whose score gets reset last, or who rolls highest when losing points, will lose the game pretty much every time.  This is all essentially random, and takes an hour or more of play to get to.
So, relatively good production values and neat pieces for a game that's really not very good. I enjoyed playing with my kids this once, but it was such a trivial experience that I can't imagine doing it again.  The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game is so much better, and I hear Reiner Knizia's similarly-themed game is good too.  I'd recommend either of those over this one.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ludum Dare 24



I took part in the 24th Ludum Dare competition last weekend and produced a computer game in 48 hours (well, more like 15 hours - I had to sleep, eat, celebrate my birthday, and perform in two improv comedy shows at the Idiot Box).  The theme (revealed Friday night at 9pm) was Evolution.

I've now rated around 40 of the other games, and there's a huge variety of ideas, themes, game styles, and choices, and also skill levels at putting games together.  I've gotten some nice comments from mine; like a lot of my stuff, art isn't the strong part (especially with only 48 hours to work), but the gameplay is pretty fun.  Give it a try if you like; it's at:

http://planktongames.com/ld24

The Ludum Dare page for my game is here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

BGDF Contest for August - Grow Up!

I'm waiting for the results of this month's BGDF Game Design Showdown, with the theme of Grow Up!  I haven't entered much in recent months; the restrictions and themes haven't really fit my interests for a while, and I've been working on my novel and other projects.  But this month, the restriction was to include a theme of growth over time and to include game pieces which grew in function as the game progressed, which was interesting to me.

These restrictions were actually pretty tough for me, and although I think I met the requirements in a technical sense, I didn't do so in a particularly inspired way. Reading through the entries, I see that other folks had some trouble with this too.  I'll be curious to see how it comes out.

I made a prototype of my game and tried it out with friends and family; seems to work pretty well, and I was able to tweak and balance it some after testing.  I was inspired enough by this to go ask on DeviantArt for somebody to make some art up for the game.  After re-theming the game towards space/sci fi, I offered up $100 for images for the various buildings and cards I need.  I've got some leads; I hope they pan out.  I hope to work it up on TheGameCrafter.com in not too long, and if more testing is promising, maybe I'll enter it in Hippodice this fall.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Picture worth 1000 words

FatherGeek's kids playing Diggity
From FatherGeek.com
I have to say, one of the neatest parts of the modern world is the ubiquity of pictures.  Nearly everybody has a camera; nearly everybody has the ability to share photos.  This hit home when reading the FatherGeek review of Diggity which featured a picture of his two young kids playing my game.  Regardless of what the review said (and it was positive), the part that was totally awesome was seeing some folks I've never met enjoying the game.

Yay, 21st century... :-)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good post on principles of game design

Here's a post from IrregularWebComic.net with some great principles of game design.  The beginning of the article goes into a historically-sourced explanation/defense of modern games, which is interesting, but not the most salient point for me.

What did ring true was later on, when the author (I couldn't find a name) laid out seven principles of good game design, which I quote here:

  1. Don't knock players out. 
  2. Don't make it easy for the leader to increase their lead. 
  3. Make catching up to the leader relatively easy. 
  4. Avoid kingmaking. 
  5. Give players important decisions to make. 
  6. Give players difficult decisions to make. 
  7. Give players something to think about constantly.
A game that does all of these things at once would be a good game indeed.  The article points out at some length, correctly, that while decisions should be important and difficult, this does not mean they should be complex, and they should especially not be iterative, such that there's a branching tree of possibilities that you need to track down.  The author suggests that randomness is a good solution for this; I think that's generally true, but you need still to obey rule #5.  If there's too much randomness, then the decisions become unimportant, and luck reigns.

Anyway, good things to keep in mind.  Maybe we designers should make a motivational poster with something like this on it to hang over our workbenches.

Friday, August 3, 2012

FatherGeek reviews Diggity

A terrific review of Diggity by FatherGeek!

FatherGeek looks at games from a family perspective, so that's why there's the multi-generational aspect to the review.  I was really thrilled by the detailed discussion of strategy that he got into.  I've always thought the game was pretty deep for having such simple rules, and FatherGeek's testers really seemed to pick up on that part of it.  I'm also really glad they had fun with it!