Pulsipher Game Design

This blog contains comments by Dr. Lewis Pulsipher about tabletop games he is designing or has designed in the past, as well as comments on game design (tabletop and video) in general. It repeats his blog at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/

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Screencast (Video) Gameplay Depth versus Variety

Lewis Pulsipher
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This is a two part screencast:





Here is the text of the slides; I say more in the screencasts, of course, than that.

Gameplay Depth versus Variety
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
PulsipherGames.Com

A Difficult Topic
Because everyone seems to mean something different when they say “depth”
And because there are several kinds of depth
My main focus here is on gameplay depth
But we’ll talk about breadth (variety), and about other kinds of depth in games.

Gameplay Depth
A matter of making good choices:
When there are several plausible choices
Only some of them viable (likely to lead to success)
Which viable one is best depends on the situation (there is no always-correct solution)
And which one you choose makes a difference in whether you succeed
Furthermore, in deep games, choices tend to lead to other decisions you may not have been aware of beforehand

A Large Number of Decisions?
NO!
Gameplay depth comes not from the NUMBER of decisions, but from the quality of the choices and their importance to the outcome of the game
If there are too many decisions, ultimately no individual decision really matters
Or if some decisions are much more important, why are the trivial ones still in the game?????

What if you Can’t Lose?
Think about this: if you can’t lose, can it be a deep game by this definition?
If decisions don’t really make a difference, what does it matter?
This is the case with many video games
Even in Rogue-likes, you can get out of the game, copy the save file, then go back
Lack of losing is also in the nature of puzzles, and most single-player video games are puzzles more than games
Yes, you can give up before you solve the puzzle

Transparency
In a transparent game it’s easy to see what the right decisions are
So someone can play once or twice and know most of what he/she needs to know to play as well as just about anyone
You can’t play a deep game a few times (or for a few hours) and then have a good handle on how to win/succeed
You just haven’t seen enough of it
But most (especially tabletop) games these days are designed so that you DO have a good handle, after one play
This avoids frustration/work for the players
But often results in a game that is only played once or thrice

Decisions without Always-Correct Solutions
Games that repeatedly put players "on the horns of a dilemma", decisions that do not have always-correct solutions, are more likely to have gameplay depth.
Resource management games can put you on the horns of a dilemma as there's always more you want to do than your resources allow. But the consequence is quite different than from, say, a wargame
And there’s often a single optimal solution

Depth in Wargames
In a wargame, if you make the wrong decision, it could result in losing a territory, or having a ship sunk, or an army destroyed.
In a RM game, it results in less-than-optimal progress
In RM you're looking for optimal moves, and there usually is a solution.
In wargames, especially multi-sided (more than two) games, there may not be an always-correct solution (almost never is in multi-sided)

Other Kinds of Depth in Games
I’ve been talking about gameplay depth, but there are other kinds of things that people call “deep”
Puzzle depth
Model depth
And even story depth
But these are not about gameplay decisions, they’re about other aspects of the game
Well, puzzle depth is about decisions; but in a never-changing, ultimately predictable, environment

Puzzle Depth
Depth here in the sense of a long sequence of choices leading to ultimate success
Where you must make the right choice
Keep in mind, puzzles have always-correct solutions
Which means always-correct choices
And an essentially static environment
Beyond formal puzzles we have “games” that are solvable, such as chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe

Puzzles
Beyond that we have single-player games that may not involve random elements such as “dice”
When you solve it, you “beat the game”
Any game you can “speed run” in a few minutes is essentially a puzzle with an always-correct solution
Even if there are some random elements
Good games don’t have always-correct solutions (a “dominant strategy” is bad)

Story Depth
Lots of branches to the story, lots of choices that make or break the participant(s)
The old Final Fantasy games have a lot of story, though the gameplay is quite repetitive (and shallow)
So “depth” here is related more to intricacy than to right choices
Face it, in many if not most great stories, the protagonist is very lucky in his choices (and in what happens that he cannot control)


More in Part 2


Model Depth
The question here is, is the game a good model of whatever it is depicting?
Don’t confuse looks (photo-realism) with decisions
Are the decisions you make the same kind of decisions, same kinds of choices, a person could make in that real situation?
Do the things that happen in a game correspond with things that happen in the situation depicted?

The more that decisions, choices and occurrences correspond with the actual situation, the better the “model depth”
So, for example, FPS fail dismally as models
World of Tanks has the trappings of model depth to attract “war buffs”, but what you DO deviates immensely from reality in several vital respects
Same for World of Warships
Which isn’t to say they cannot be fun, they’re just not good models of war in the most important respects

Contrast with Variety
When contemporary gamers talk about “depth” in a game, they often mean variety
They confuse depth and variety because they haven’t played many games with real gameplay depth
There’s a lot of decisions because there’s a lot of variation
But those decisions don’t necessarily matter, both in what you choose and in how it turns out
Moreover, if there are too many decisions, individually they tend to cease to matter, even if there’s a winner and loser
Especially in single-player video games, which can quickly get quite repetitive without sufficient variety, because there’s no human opponent

Variety is Breadth, not Depth
Perhaps they don’t recognize actual depth because they play games where you can respawn and can go back to saves
Variety is providing more things to do, but the decisions and choices don’t change their character, decisions don’t lead to “deeper”, hidden decisions
Instead, some of the parameters of the decisions change
Such as, when you play a spell-caster instead of a hack’n’slasher
You do things differently, but there’s nothing deeper about it
The result is breadth rather than depth
In a loot-fest like Diablo III you don’t even have to stick with your decision, you can change when you like (skill allocations etc.)
Think how much players like customizable characters
But what they choose mostly doesn’t matter to the outcome

Too many decisions:
Too many for the player to keep track of
So many that each one, individually, doesn’t really matter even if there’s a winner and loser
This is one reason for keeping games fairly simple, if you want a deep game rather than a broad game

Ideally . . .
Ideally you have both depth and variety

But some game players don’t want to think hard, to work to find the hidden decisions
For them, variety is quite sufficient
I think this is much less true for strategic wargame players, than for gamers as a whole

Digression: Another Kind of “Depth”?
Audience suggestion that there’s another kind of depth, that requiring highly-developed physical skills
In other words, we might call it Athletic Depth
And it’s only going to apply to games requiring dexterity, eye-hand coordination, etc.
This does also involve making good decisions related to the physical needs of success
It also requires a very high standard of athleticism, so that most people just won’t be able to do some of the harder things
Like the proverbial “200 actions per minute” in Starcraft
It’s more a part of “athleticware” than of “brainware”

Just scratching the Surface
I’ve written more than 6,000 words about depth in games
And I have to revise and extend it!
These videos are 135-140 words per minute . . . 6,000 would be about 45 minutes
But this will have to do for this course
I am planning a separate advanced course just about depth in games


Party games don’t have much depth, but may have breadth. Traditionally, hobby games had depth. Now, they tend to have breadth – variety - or puzzle or story depth, not gameplay depth]
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Fri Apr 3, 2015 3:35 pm
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Video (screencast) 10 “Need to Knows” that Make a (Hobbyist) Game Good

Lewis Pulsipher
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The following is the text of the slides; there is more to the presentation, of course, than just this text.

10 “Need to Knows” that Make a (Hobbyist) Game Good

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Pulsiphergames.com

“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Overall considerations
Doesn’t matter whether it’s a video game or tabletop
You can’t say “because it’s fun!” – “fun” depends on the player, there is NO UNIVERSAL FUN
Know your audience (NOT you, unless you’re designing only for yourself, not for publication)
You have to satisfy what they think/feel is “fun”
Playtest with your audience
Keep in mind the three kinds of games/game players:
Math (chess)
People (multi-sided games)
Story (Japanese RPGs)

We can’t specify universal “Good Traits”
Because types of games vary so much
party games, family games, kids’ games, games for adults, “adult” games, single-player games, games for more than one player (or more than two), cooperative games, drinking games, etc.
So here we’re talking primarily about “hobbyist games”, games played by adults for whom game-playing is a hobby
Even within hobby games:
some people “hate dice” (chance), some people like them; some people dislike “long” games (however long that is), some people prefer them; some people want to challenged, some just want to relax; etc.
K.I.S.S.?
If it’s a game: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery
If it’s actually a puzzle: complexity may help make the puzzle harder and the “game” last longer before it’s solved
Most single-player “games” are mostly or entirely puzzles
“Multiplayer solitaire” is a puzzle

The List
Interaction (with players, with the game)
Interesting, non-trivial choices
Replayability
Memorability
Player control
Balance (fairness)
Customization
Easy-to-use interface
Asymmetry
Hook/early play

And we have an 11th that isn’t something to make games good, it’s something to make games more marketable: visual appeal

Interaction (with players, with the game)
Two major types of interaction
With the game (the environment, the system – PvE)
With people (which, obviously, requires at least two players - PvP)
Single-player games/puzzles have virtually no people interaction
And several flavors of people interaction
Targeted (hinder or help specifically and immediately)
Or Anticipatory (blocking)
Direct (player-to-player)
Or Indirect (temporarily controlled intermediating entities involved)
(I will do a separate screencast about interaction…)

Interesting, non-trivial choices
Sid Meier’s (Civilization, Pirates) definition – a series of interesting, non-trivial choices (or challenges)
As for trivial:
Chutes & Ladders, Candyland, LCR (Left Center Right), have no choices at all
For children or for (slightly drunk) partiers
But they’re not “hobby games”, either
And “solved” games have no choice in practice, such as Tic-tac-toe

Replayability
Avoiding “sameness” in a game, providing new experiences
Phases provide replayability, of a sort, within a single game
See my blog post, http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120624/172937/Ph... (Sorry I can’t make that clickable)
Or my screencast about level/adventure pacing on my Game Design YouTube channel
Replayability can come from depth (nature and quality of decisions), or from sheer variety, or both
Designer can include variable setups (such as Settlers of Catan’s hex tile board layouts), additional scenarios, characters, other asymmetric aspects

Memorability
The events in the game are so striking that players discuss them after (and long after) the game is done
“Water-cooler moments” or “the anecdote factory”
How do you make a game memorable?
It’s harder to do with an abstract game (even one with an “atmosphere”)
When events can be related to some reality, they’re easier to remember
Variety, whether from lots of options or from depth of options, can throw up memorable moments
Games where players “write their own story” (emergent, sandbox)
And a game where the story is imposed on the players is memorable (but that quickly wears out, it’s kind of a one-shot) (progressive, linear)

Player Control (?)
Hobby gamers like to feel that they have some control over what happens to them
Especially the really “serious” players
On the other hand, some players, especially casual, are happy to go along with a story (I call it, “being led around by the nose” – I like control)
So one person’s feast is another person’s famine

Balance (Fairness)
Fairness is important in the West, not so much in East Asia
Appropriate reward for effort & skill (single-player)
An equal chance to win (more than one player)
Balance of power of character classes (in “experience” games)
No advantage in going first (or last) in turn-based games
Chess is very unfair (white wins far more than black), but tournaments are organized to account for this

Customization
Ways for a player to modify the game as they like
Especially in character creation
Or as in Risk Legacy, where customization is available (and, MOST unnecessarily, destructive)
Games that lend themselves to variants, such as Diplomacy
Level editors in video games
Relatively easy modding in video games

Easy-to-use interface
All games have interfaces – ways to manipulate and command the game, and to find out what happens
Board and card games have been around so long, interface tends to be standardized
A poor interface can ruin the experience of playing a game, especially a video game
Moreover, Interface is one of the parts of a game where non-standard methods should be avoided
They throw players off their game

Asymmetry
Symmetric – everything/everyone starts the same
Asymmetric is the opposite – typical in two-player historical wargames
Asymmetric presents more problems and more opportunities – built in replayability
But it’s much harder to balance (my bane: Britannia)

Hook/early play (21st Century)
In days of Instant Gratification, you have to grab a player early in a game, or they might quit
Really, before he or she plays the game (this is where miniatures make a big impact – the “toy factor”)
A strong hook is also important for marketing in days when there are thousands of games published, instead of dozens
“Discoverabilty” is a big problem

“What happened to Story?”
All games have narratives (an account of what happened), but thousands have no formal story (something constructed to entertain, with plot, characters, conflict, climax, resolution, etc.)
Historical games are more or less in between
Some players aren’t interested in games without formal stories – but most players don’t require them
I have to say, many video game designers appear to be frustrated fiction writers
See/hear “Are you a game designer or a fiction writer” on my Game Design YouTube channel

Marketing (Modern): Visual Appeal
Many modern games depend heavily on visual appeal
Take a game as simple as (and as solved as) Tic-tac-toe and make it look really good, and some will buy it
Battleship is an example, a traditional graph-paper game made to look much better (and 3D) at great cost
People who don’t even play chess will buy fancy chess sets
Miniature figures sell lots of not-very-good games – the “toy factor” is powerful
Fun?
A graphic about the variability
of fun
From Rob Donoghue
on Google+

Made with RPGs in mind, I
think, but applies generally.
Lots of possible axes, not just
Challenge and Story

More details in . . .
All of these issues are discussed at much greater length in my book-length audiovisual course, “Learning Game Design, as a job or a hobby”. See PulsipherGames.Com for information (and a discount).]
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Wed Mar 11, 2015 8:19 pm
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Video (screencast): 7 ways to learn game design

Lewis Pulsipher
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North Carolina
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This is primarily for beginners, not for experienced pros, of course.



Here is the text of the slides. The video includes much more than this text, of course.

7 Ways to Learn Game Design
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

It’s not Game Production
Game design isn’t about programming or art or sound
It’s about specifying how the game works, how it plays, which has to be enjoyable for players in your target market
Video games are software, but nothing in game design requires software
See “10 ‘Need to Knows’ about Game Design” on my Game Design YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/LewGameDesign )

Preliminary Considerations
You won’t be good at it, when you start out
Just as with most anything else that’s complicated
Just as with most big games you might play!
If you think it’s simple, you’ve got a big problem to overcome
What makes you a good game player, isn’t what makes you a good game designer
So forget about your gaming prowess
It’s not about “getting ideas”, it’s about execution

It’s a list, but not either/or – do several at once
Start with tabletop games
Start with Gamemaker
Start with the combination of Unity and Playmaker
Make small modifications to existing games
Read - a lot (and listen)
Take online classes
Earn a degree

Start with Tabletop Design
You don’t need programming skills to make tabletop games – you do need such skills (which have nothing to do with game DESIGN) to make software
You can’t “hide behind the computer” in tabletop
You can make quick changes and see how gameplay changes
Much harder to do with software games

I discuss this at greater length in my “Learning Game Design” online course

Start with Gamemaker: Studio
Originally created for learning (on PCs), but there are some commercial games made using this engine
Free version (though there’s a “pro” as well): https://www.yoyogames.com/studio/download

Drag and drop interface, no coding required
But it has coding built in
Excellent tutorial books available

Start with Unity and Playmaker
This is a favorite combination of university instructors
Unity is a professional, but inexpensive (free just for learning) development system
Used now by many developers for commercial games
Can be converted to many platforms

Make Small Modifications to Existing Games
For video games, this would be levels, using a level editor included in the game
More extensive modding requires extensive programming skills
For tabletop, make variants of well-known games such as Risk, Settlers of Catan, Diplomacy, even chess

Read - a Lot - and Listen, Too
Read about game design
Books, magazines, blogs
But also, read about how the world works, good history, good economics, good literature, etc.
Challenge yourself in your reading
Listen to podcasts, watch videos
Take online classes
But lots of classes with “game design” in the title are actually about game development, especially programming

In fact, aside from my own classes, there are just one or two MOOCs that are very basic

I recommend my own classes (of course!)

Take a degree in games
Be very careful
Lots of private, for-profit schools take advantage of student dreams
Many “colleges” are not regionally-accredited colleges, so the degree generally doesn’t count as a real degree
National accreditation, oddly enough, doesn’t count
Many “game degrees”, even when called game design, teach almost no game design, or the instructors have no clue
Often because the degree is offered to provide students for programming instructors to teach
Even not-for-profit degrees are very expensive (exception: community colleges)

In the end, you must Complete games
There is no substitute for completing games
Who cares about half-completed (half-baked?) games?
No one who counts in game development
You have to show you can do it if you want to be hired
Intention counts for little, it’s ACTION that counts
You have to submit a complete game to a publisher, not something partly finished, certainly not just an idea
More detail?

I discuss this topic at greater length in my online courses “Brief Introduction to Game Design” and “Learning Game Design, as a job or a hobby”
More info (and discount URLs (coupons)) at PulsipherGames.Com
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Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:09 am
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Video/screencast: What Attracts backers to Kickstarter Board and Card Games?

Lewis Pulsipher
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13+ minutes
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube


Notes
I’m going to use the abbreviation KS for Kickstarter at times
I’m only talking about KS for board and card games – board games seem to fare better than card - not for video games or anything else

It’s Different – a “Dream machine”
I recently realized, “[Board and card] Games are works of and for the mind, not for the eyes.“
Traditional-style games are about thinking, not about looks
But that’s not how KS works
KS is a “dream system”, not a pre-order system (though sometimes it’s used for that, usually for an established franchise)
People go “all-in” for dreams, even others’ dreams; they don’t go all-in for pre-ordering, or for “pros”
They want to feel like they’re part of something new and cool


Selling “Dreams”
I received this tweet out of the blue one day: “ @lewpuls Soccer & design lovers should have this board game! RT and help making our dream come true!” [sic]
[RT = retweet, send to your followers]
Make our dream come true
People want to be something more than a “consumer”
And some people value intentions as much as actions
Young people value intention much more than in the past, I think. Older people tend to remember “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


Feeling “in at the beginning” (or “part of the process”)

So expressing the intention to publish a game, is good enough for many younger people, not enough for many older people
Backers want to feel part of a creation
They want to see their name as a contributor
Backers love polls and votes about features to include in a game
They love reaching stretch goals that change the game
Consider the popularity of paid betas in video games (especially on Steam). People want to be part of something that isn’t yet complete, hoping to influence it!


Eye-candy Sells, Especially on KS

Especially, miniature figures, but also lots of “cool” art
The quality of the actual gameplay is secondary with many backers
Or perhaps, they assume the gameplay will match the minis and art
Of course, there’s little or no correlation
Cool dice, even
And I’ll admit, I’ve supported three dice projects – but no board or card game projects


Lower than MSRP?
Getting a “deal” seems to be secondary
James Mathe suggests a five dollar discount is sufficient
Read everything James Mathe has to say about KS
Now when KS is acting as a pre-order/”P500” system, a larger discount may be expected, as is typical for P500

“Pre-reviews”
Maybe it’s my age, but I see “pre-reviews” as a call to “shenanigans”
And paying someone to do a review for you? Good heavens!
Why would anyone trust such things?
But this comes back to intentions, I think. Younger people don’t seem to be suspicious of what might be happening with these “pre-reviews”
If a large company did this, though, I’ll bet there would be far more suspicion
It’s a matter of “the little guy’s dream” and trust in that dream

“Momentum”
It’s not just in sports
There’s a bandwagon effect in KS, and reverse bandwagon
This is one reason why you “go low” with your goal and then push the stretch goals, to help encourage momentum
If you haven’t made the goal as the project winds down, Kicktraq.com will predict failure, and potential backers just won’t bother
Or will pull out!


Oddball Pledge Offers

These seem to work often enough to be worth trying, since a lot of $$$$ is involved
Autographed games, play a game with the designer, get a lengthy phone call from the designer, and so forth
I’ve seen offers taken where the designer of an RPG flies to the backer’s location and GMs a game for him/her and friends
(Sea Kings example)

Highly professional can be a barrier
A highly professional presentation may be a detriment!
Backers think, “they’re pros, they don’t need help”
Pros are often using KS as a pre-order system, not a “dream system”
Newbies, or “little guys”, elicit sympathy if not empathy
For example, “Lew Pulsipher” as designer does little for a KS; does more for normal marketing and sales
I’m not only established/have a track record, I’m OLD!


The Exception
When the game is a new edition or special reprint (e.g. Ogre, Age of Conan), then the audience already exists, will hear about it, and will support it
And a game with lots of eye-candy (especially miniatures) will work regardless of origin
Age of Conan has lots of minis; so did the special edition Ogre

Separate categories of publishers
Traditional publishers – self-fund and use traditional distribution (FFG especially)
P500 publishers – direct sales and distribution (GMT)
“Kickstarter” publishers – direct via KS, a little distribution (Minion etc.)
Gamesalute may be unique in doing more KS than any game company, but then their own direct sales and distribution

Is Kickstarter a good gauge of how popular a game will be (how well it will sell)?
I doubt it greatly
The games don’t sell the KS to backers, dreams and intentions sell to backers
But that’s not how games sell in a shop, nor online
Stores and KS have different clienteles


Typical?
Matt Green recently described the audience of Dice Tower as: “chrome-obsessed 21-40 years olds with short attention spans.”
This might describe the largest portion of Kickstarter board and card game backers, as well
As one publisher said, “The sense of entitlement that pervades KS is a difficult thing to combat.”
This fits with Matt’s description, and with the Millennial generation

I don’t think we apply these generalizations to people who buy games via traditional distribution

So to succeed on KS, it helps to:
Sell a dream
Seem like a “little guy” even if you’re not
Offer participation in the form and content of the final product
Appear to need help, even if you don’t
Offer eye candy
Or, go to an established clientele . . .


An Addendum
Do card games do less well than board games on KS?
So I’ve read
If so, why?
There are no miniatures
Card games seem simpler, less a “big deal”, and so less worthy of the all-in excitement typical of very successful KS project funding

Resources
http://www.jamesmathe.com/dead-men-tell-no-tales/
Anything by Jamey Stegmeier (Stonemeier Games)
In RPGs, Fred Hicks

4,438 games successfully funded on KS (11/13/14)
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Mon Jan 5, 2015 4:01 pm
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Video (screencast) What a convention or conference can do for a game designer

Lewis Pulsipher
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What a convention or conference can do for a game designer



Text of the slides is below. Of course, there's much more to the screencast than the slides.

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Why should game designers go to Cons?
I’m mixing video game (conferences) and tabletop game (conventions) in this discussion
(Brief difference: conferences focus on how to make better games; conventions focus on playing games)
Briefly:
Meet publishers and funders
Learn new techniques
Stimulate ideas
Find collaborators
Find playtesters

To meet Publishers / Funders
While much of the world is online/”virtual”, I’m convinced that face-to-face is a much stronger connection, especially for those designers without a track record (newbies)
So go and meet publishers at cons, talk with them, volunteer to work at their booths, and so forth

To Learn New Techniques
Conferences are all about talks to help you make games better
Examples: East Coast Game Conference 14
Putting stories into games
Game pitches
At tabletop conventions, seeing all the new games, playing them or watching them being played
Big tabletop conventions have many seminars (GenCon) about making and selling games
I do them myself at PrezCon, WBC, GenCon, sometimes ECGC

Stimulation of Ideas
When I go home from a tabletop convention or ECGC, I’m full of game ideas
In the case of ECGC, mostly for videos for my classes, and for things that would go into books
I drive (up to 650 miles one way), so I have lots of time to think, recording my thoughts on my easy-to-manipulate PDA-voice recorder
Of course, you have to follow-up once you get home

To Find Collaborators
I do not look for collaborators, but some people work better with another person
If you are looking for a non-local collaborator, where better to look than at a con?
If you hear someone speak about things that interest you . . . Talk with them

To Find Playtesters
As for playtesters, that’s more problematic, but you might find some willing to blind test
Of course, you might persuade people to playtest at the convention, but often people want to play the new published games, not prototypes

Keep an Open Mind. Everything at a con should be stimulating for a designer.
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Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:29 pm
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11 More "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Lewis Pulsipher
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This 12+ minute screencast is primarily for aspiring designers, not for professionals.

This is a followup to "10 'need to knows' about game design" http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20141020/228137/Vi...





The text of the slides follows. Of course, there's a lot more to the screencast than this text.

11 MORE “need to knows” about Game Design

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Pulsiphergames.com

“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Original 10 Wasn’t Enough

I started with 10 “ntk”

But I thought of more than 10, so here some more. Keep in mind, the first 10, taken as a whole, are the most important

But these 11 are also important

The List

Focus on the essence

Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence

Game Design is not Mind Control

There is no perfect game

You probably won’t be good at game design, at first

Games are not just Mechanics

Making a good game takes a LOT of time

Piracy is everywhere (for “digital” goods)

You’re an Entertainer, or a teacher, not a gift to the world

“Fail Faster”

Focus on the Essence

My motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Another form, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

If you’re making a puzzle, complexity might be a goal; If you’re making “an experience”, simplicity may not be a goal. For most games, the goal is to keep only what you absolutely need

Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

[As this has been misunderstood by someone who didn't listen to the screencast, I interject the following: Your primary goal (for most games, recognizing there are specialized such as educational) is to entertain other people, not yourself. The goal is to entertain, the design is for other people. As such, any list of features that you think will make your game a surefire hit will likely turn into a soul-less mess. So perhaps I could have worded the slide, "Professionals work to entertain other people, not themselves".]

Your job is to entertain or enlighten other people

You are not typical, or you wouldn’t be designing games!

So what you like, may not be typical of what large groups like

Don’t rely solely on your own opinions about the worth of a game

I recently had a game published that I didn’t think was a Big Deal, just a nice little game – but others had different opinions

And I have had games I thought were outstanding, but have not been published

Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence


Many designers are self-indulgent, often thinking of themselves as “artists” who are blessing the world with their brilliance – so they do whatever they want

POPPYCOCK! (Though you can do this if you’re not interested in selling any games . . .)

Do player-centric, not designer-centric (or art-centric) design

Game design is compromise. It’s never “perfect”

Game Design is not Mind Control

Some designers want to, in effect, control all that the player is doing and thinking

And if you think about it, a novel can be approached in this way

Though most novelists want to influence, not control

Linear video games can approach this ideal

But most game players want to have the ability to control the outcome of the game (and want “agency” as well)

Better to think of game design as offering players opportunities, not forcing anything on the players

There is no perfect game

There are dozens of genres for a reason

Tastes of game players vary as much as tastes of music-lovers. (I dislike rap. I like classical. Some people love rap. Some hate classical. And so on.)

And there’s no room for perfectionism in professional design

You need to get games DONE. Especially in video games

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns sets in quickly for professionals, less so for hobbyist designers

So at some point, you have to finish even though the game isn’t perfect

You probably won’t be good at it, at first

How often do you start to do something complex, requiring a lot of critical thinking, and yet you’re immediately good at it? Never!

Most complex things worth doing, take a long time to do well

Even playing a game well can take a long time to master

Some theorize that you need a great many opportunities to fail/succeed before you can become good at something

And there’s the “10,000 hours” notion, too, though I don’t take the quantification seriously

Games are not just Mechanics

What matters is the impression you make on the player(s)

MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, “Aesthetics” (I prefer “Impressions” for the last)

Collections of mechanics can feel soul-less

If you choose mechanics based on a model, they tend to fit together; if they’re just collections, they’ll often not fit together

Making a good game takes a LOT of time


Most of what happens in game design takes place in the mind – of the designer, and of the players

Outsiders/non-practitioners tend to minimize the difficulty because they don’t see it happening

Moreover, it’s easy to get a game to 80%, it’s the last 20% that takes most of the game design time and effort

And then, if it’s a tabletop game, scheduling and manufacturing can take many months

Mayfair recently published a game they’d had for 8 years

I have a game that may be published in 2015, publisher accepted it in 2005 [sic]

Piracy

Piracy of “digitally”-produced games is rampant

And there’s practically nothing you can do about it

Free-to-play helps (in video games), but even the in-app purchases in F2P are pirated regularly

Fortunately, not much piracy in tabletop games (unless it’s primarily a rulebook, such as RPGs)

You’re an Entertainer or a Teacher, not a "gift to the world”

That is, if you want to be a commercial game designer

Publishers are in business to make money (mostly, but especially in video games)

Yes, you can self-publish

But a lot more people want games to entertain or enlighten them, than want games to be “art”

“We want to entertain people by surprising them, so I really don’t think we are psychologists – we are nothing but entertainers.” -Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Donkey Kong, Wii Fit, etc. )

Reiner Knizia (over 500 [sic] published games) also says his purpose is entertainment

“Fail Faster”

You want to find all the ways your game can fail, and eliminate or fix them

So the faster you fail, the quicker you can eliminate or fix the failures

Or start over!

Get a playable prototype done as soon as possible – there is NO Substitute

If you’re doing a video game, try to make a paper prototype first, to try things out
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Mon Dec 8, 2014 3:23 pm
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Video (screencast): Characteristics of Game Boards

Lewis Pulsipher
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Linden
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This video has many more graphics in it (of boards, of course) than is typical of my screencasts.



Text of the slides (please don't comment on the slide text alone, that would be like commenting on a book based only on its table of contents)
:
Game Design: Discussing “The Board”
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube


Describing, not Defining
Because as soon as someone says “definition”, someone else will nitpick it
Given the loosey-goosey nature of English, absolutely clear definitions are nearly impossible
So, I’m just going to talk about game boards, not “define”


Why Boards?
A board is a natural way to depict maneuver and geospatial relationships
Which are virtually required for wargames
Cards don’t naturally do this
Yes, you can use a “board” as a status indicator without any reference to spatial relationships
As in some Eurogames
We’re interested in boards as fields for maneuver that depict geospatial relationships

Is there a formula for designing a board?
I’ve seen novice designers ask for a formula, as though everything in game design can be reduced to rote, to always-correct solutions
In short: NO!
Game design is about critical thinking, the opposite of rote learning
But we can see common characteristics in many “classic” game boards
And common ways to make boards

Square Grid
Chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, Stratego, many others (even the video game Civilization (I through IV, V went to hexes)
Easy to see, easy to make a prototype, easy for players to understand
But movement diagonally is very distorted (1.41 times as far, per square)
Adjacency is a problem: is it four
squares adjacent, or eight?
But if you’re depicting walls or a city
 road grid, squares are very useful


Areas (like a map)
Looks most natural of all boards
Diplomacy, Risk, Axis & Allies, Britannia, a great many games that cover a large geographical area
Often used when more than one piece can be in a location (though Diplomacy allows only one per area)
Provides room for “individuality”, avoiding the geometric precision of squares and hexes

Hexagons (“hexes”)
Hex means six
Adjacency is clear – six adjacent vice 8
The typical wargame grid
Do hexes put people off?
Not uniform
Looked at one way, there are two ways forward
Look at it 90 degrees from that, there are three ways forward
Less distance distortion than squares (but contrary to popular belief, there IS distortion)
Not good for straight lines (such as walls or city roads)
(Illustration is a hand-drawn prototype board for my game Dragon Rage (1982, 2011)


Connectivity
The illustration (a space empires game prototype) is for outer space, but most are for land areas
Allows easy representation of routes, paths, bridges,  chokepoints, impassable terrain

All grids are ways of showing connectivity
Here’s a connectivity diagram of the FFG Britannia map
The relationships between areas are exactly the same
But notice lines crossing in a few places


Other Grids
Circular (IMM prototype board)
Spiral (Four Elements prototype board)
And many variations
Not always Maneuver . . .
Some games only provide for placement, not maneuver, such as Ingenious, my prototype Law & Chaos (Mayfair someday)
These are hex boards, but it’s not always hexes for placement – tic-tac-toe for example
Go, of course, is placement-only, and uses the intersections of a square grid

What do they have in Common?
Number of areas in many classic games doesn’t differ wildly from chess’s 64
When it does, it’s often a hex board
Diplomacy 70-some (IIRC), Risk 42, Britannia 37 +6 seas
This also depends on number of pieces
Tends to be fairly high in games with lots of hexes, such as wargames
Piece count: Diplomacy 34, Risk “a lot”, Britannia about 55


Number of Connections?
If we want to analyze boards further, we’d count number of connections to each area (which I actually did with that space wargame)
Hex board, this is always 6.  Square board, always either 4 or 8, depending on whether diagonals are counted
Examples of Pacific Convoy and DS – number of connections does matter
And we’d relate number of areas and number of connections to typical number of pieces
But you can overthink anything in games.  Try actually playing on a board and you’ll find out a lot, if you pay attention


Think of a board as a connectivity diagram for maneuver (or placement), and go from there to choose the grid that works best for your game.
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Wed Nov 19, 2014 4:39 pm
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Video screencast: 10 "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Lewis Pulsipher
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Note: I saw someone refer to this as 10 need to knows about tabletop game design. No, this applies to ALL game design.



Text from the slides is below. Remember, I say more in the video than is in the slides, so commenting only on the basis of the text makes no sense.

10 “Need to Knows” about Game Design

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

PulsipherGames.com

What this is, and isn’t

This is for aspiring designers – pros likely already know

It’s NOT about the business, not about marketing, it’s about designing games, creating gameplay that entertains (or informs)

10 is an arbitrary number – in fact, I’ll be making another screencast for another 10. I’ve tried to pick the 10 most important here

A List

You are most unlikely to get rich

Ideas are mostly worthless

Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work

Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”

Innovation is Highly overrated

Games are NOT stories

The most important question is, who is your target audience?

The second most important is, what is the player going to DO?

Playtesting is Sovereign!

Your goal is to complete games!

You are most unlikely to get rich


You might hear of independently wealthy game designers

But they’re very rare

Most game designers don’t make a living, just as most novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, film-makers, and composers don’t

The tabletop games industry is very small, and there’s not much money there

Video games involve much more money, but there are so many games published that the average designer makes little

The tabletop mass-market is likely beyond your reach, and competition there is FIERCE

Ideas are mostly worthless

“Ideas are like ___holes, everybody’s got one”

What you think is a great idea, almost certainly isn’t

And likely has been thought of a hundred times and more

Ideas don’t sell, GAMES sell - no one will buy your idea

No one will make your game for you – they want to make THEIR games

Most game players think they have ideas for good games

But few ever complete a game design

Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work

It’s not always fun, and it definitely isn’t “playing games”

You’ll play fewer games if you’re a game designer

Playing games is pretty unproductive, isn’t it?

And you may enjoy game playing less

Because you’ll be seeing “the innards”, how the game is structured

The tedium of finding a programming bug, or of gluing together boards or cards, is just that: tedious

Innovation is Highly Overrated

“There is nothing new under the sun” – very little, anyway

Surprise is important in games, and a mechanic the players aren’t familiar with might surprise them

But most mechanics have already been used even if YOU don’t know it

Example: Stratego/L’Attaque

Where “new” comes into play in games is in the combinations of mechanics and settings you use

“The idea is like your finger, we all have them, but the implementation is like your fingerprint, everyone's is unique.”

Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”

It’s a small industry (even video games)

If someone steals something, the word gets around

Game ideas aren’t worth much, and everyone seems to think they have good ones of their own

Parallel development happens often

Yes, there are lots of video game clones (deliberate copies), and that’s really annoying, but there’s usually nothing you can do about it because game ideas cannot be copyrighted

Almost always, cloning occurs after the original game is released

Games are NOT Stories

Games are activities. Stories (traditional ones, anyway, novels, plays, film) are passive

Typically, when aspiring designers want to design a game, they think of stories instead of games

There are thousands of games that have no story

Yes, there’s always a narrative – an account of what happens – but not a story meant to entertain, with various standard elements

“An experience” is often a goal of RPG and video game designers – but they still do it through the mechanics of a game

If you don’t know what mechanics your game will use, you don’t have a game – maybe you have a story

The most important question is, “who is your target audience?”

Game design is always about constraints

The first set of constraints comes from your intended audience

No game can appeal to everyone – you have to CHOOSE

And then you have to understand that audience

And test your game with that audience


The second most important is,“what is the player going to DO?”

Games are activities

Players of video games have been conditioned to expect to be doing something more or less constantly

Visualize what the player is doing. Is that enjoyable? Does it fit with your target audience?

Get rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to what the player is going to enjoyably do in the game

Playtesting is Sovereign!

Game design isn’t like other individual arts such as sculpture, painting, composing

Because game playing is active, while enjoying those other arts is largely passive

You cannot be a good judge of the quality

You have to rely on representative members of your target audience

They play the game, you watch, you get feedback, you modify the game accordingly

The longest chapter in my book “Game Design” is about playtesting

Because it’s “the heart of game design”

Your goal is to complete games

No professional, no publisher, no funding person, is impressed with a partially completed game

You’ve got to prove you can make a complete game, the same way a would-be novelist must prove he/she can complete a novel

Another reason why starting with tabletop games rather than video is more practical, you don’t need programming skills

This is the most common advice I’ve seen for aspiring designers: “You must make complete games!”

All of these are discussed at greater length in one or another of my courses, usually in “Learning Game Design.” And there will be 10 or so more in another screencast.
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Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:22 pm
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Really Small Games (Card Version)

Lewis Pulsipher
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I attended a meeting of a NC game designers’ guild for the first time last week. The organizer, Matt Wolfe, asked about my design Sea Kings, which is currently on Kickstarter run by Worthington Publications (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/sea-kings ). At some point I said it was, at about 45 minutes, inevitably a filler game; and he responded, that’s not a filler game any more, fillers are 20 minutes! While it’s true that 45 minutes is sometimes more a serial filler (played several times consecutively), it’s surely not a destination game (you go to a regular game meeting with the intention of playing this particular game). (See http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2014/03/categorizing... for my definitions.) So as the meeting went on I got educated about a segment of gaming I wasn’t familiar with, mostly and often entirely abstract card games that sell for $10-$20 and take 10-30 minutes to play. (Abstract in design and play, but with a manufactured story tacked on after design. Abstract games without a story are hard to sell. Look at a game box sometime, you’ll find a lot more about the story, usually, than about how the game actually works.)

This put me in mind of a game designers’ weekend I attended in Charlottesville, VA about 10 years ago, hosted by Stephen Glenn. At one point one designer said, “I want to play games all day, but none longer than an hour.” I thought (and still think) that was an odd point of view; if you’re willing to play all day, why not allow longer games? Today I suspect the sentiment would be “I want to play games all evening, but none longer than 30 minutes” (which might be a commentary on shortening attention spans and a need for instant gratification).

Why would people limit how long a particular game is going to take, when they’re intent on playing all day, or all evening? I’m guessing, because it’s not the way I (or my generation, really) do things. First, you get the ultimate feedback quickly, whether you’ve won or lost. Second, you can switch from one game to another quickly, and play several different games. This is more important in modern short-attention-span times, and also fits with the change from gameplay depth to variety as a goal of a good game. The “Cult of the New” is in ascendance. Third, it also lets you play games with more people in one game meeting, if there are enough people to play several games at once. As you change games, you change the composition of your group. Fourth, you’re not putting your ego on the line when you play so many short games. If you play a three hour game and don’t do well, the psychological effect is much stronger than if it’s a 30 minute game. (And you’re not likely to lose six 30 minute games in a row.)

The ideal, to me, is a game flexible enough that it can be played in 10 or 20 minutes, even if the most satisfying version (to me, anyway) is 30 minutes up to an hour. I have designed several card games exactly like this (point games, not surprisingly), but they all use 110 cards, and 110 is too many for a $10 game, even for a $15 game unless you have a big print run. The inexpensive games I was shown mostly contained 55 cards or 16 cards (versions of Love Letter), not 110. (In case anyone reading isn’t aware of it, the most common card printers do 55 cards per sheet, which may be gradually changing to 54.) AEG has quite a few of these games, which Matt thought were printed in runs of 5,000.

Walking around a recent game club meeting at NC State, with 66 people in attendance, I discovered that the only boardgame being played was one that my group was playtesting (albeit a three and a four player game at the same time). Two people were playing Carcassonne, one group of five or six was playing an RPG, the rest were playing Magic and several other card games. (And that’s without anyone playing Cards Against Humanity, a popular pastime at the club.)

Why card games? A major difference between what card games and board games naturally do is access to information. Card games naturally hide information, where board games naturally reveal information. If there's little hidden information, people try to figure out an optimal move, resulting sometimes in analysis paralysis (why chess clocks exist, to cut off the AP). People can often successfully play card games intuitively, which is much less "work" than playing logically, as well as quicker. So card games can be played more quickly. (I discussed the natural characteristics of board and card games at http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120219/91123/The... )

In boardgames a player usually has several pieces to worry about, complicating decisions, not a problem in card games. Moreover, boards were invented to display maneuver and geospatial relationships. Games with those features may be inherently longer than abstract games without those characteristics (and the latter includes most card games, traditional and commercial). You CAN use cards to make a kind of board (I have three games that do this), but it's more the fact that maneuver and geospatial relationships are important that lengthens the game, not how the board is depicted. (By the way, two of those three are deliberate card-game versions of boardgames.)

Board games with one piece per player, avatars, can have a quick setup (Sea Kings among them). I discuss the trend of using avatars in tabletop games in my video on my YouTube “Game Design” channel, video at http://youtu.be/92Qn3leKA8c, channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/LewGameDesign )

Card games are usually easier to carry, often easier to set up, and easier to put away than boardgames.

Card games are probably less complex than boardgames in general. This is helped by putting rules on the cards, so there are fewer rules to learn before the game starts.

As game manufacturers try to reach broader markets to make up for shortfalls in sales of individual games (because there are SO MANY games published now), a trend back toward traditional card game methods, such as trick-taking and set collection, also makes sense.

It's very hard to make a board game very short, especially non-abstracts and games for more than two players. Yeah, Tic-tac-toe is short, but it's solved, always a draw in perfect play. I discussed short board games (though only two player) in "Really Small Games" (http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2013/10/really-small...).

pulsiphergames.com

courses.pulsiphergames.com

@lewpuls
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Thu Oct 2, 2014 8:11 pm
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Ways for publishers to get out of the “Wargames Ghetto”

Lewis Pulsipher
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With the opening of the Kickstarter for Sea Kings (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/sea-kings), and the prospect of publication of two other crossover games I’ve designed, Seas of Gold and Germania, I’ve been trying to define what these alternatives (or escapes) from wargames are about.

In connection with the “Future of (Tabletop) Wargaming” that I wrote about some time ago (http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-future-o...), we have three broad categories of games:

1) the “wargames ghetto” two player “simulation” games that are often hex board and cardboard counters with numbers/statistics on them. There are wargames that aren’t actually in the ghetto, such as Britannia, usually because they don’t use counters with numbers on them or hex boards, but also because some of them are for more than two players (Brit is all three). They’re still wargames, and many people for many reasons don’t or won’t play wargames.

2) the “crossover” games designed to attract both a significant segment of the wargame crowd and a large segment of the non-wargame crowd. These usually have both a board and cards. This is divided further into two parts:
A) the semi-wargames or “peace games” where players will do best if they are not involved in warfare/violence but warfare often occurs; usually the board and the maneuver component is more important than the card component.
B) the games that may involve habitual violence, and certainly a lot of player interaction, but are not wargames, such as Sea Kings and some race games; the card component is usually more important than the maneuvering-on-the-board component.

In all of these, maneuver or placement, and geospatial relationships, are vital parts of the game, just as they are in wargames. But the primary objective has to be something other than conquest.

3) the games that may or may not include violence (such as a zombie game), do not involve much maneuver or geospatial relationships, and frequently are primarily cardgames. Many of these are “screwage” games (where you mess with your friends). Munchkin, Bang!, Nuclear War are some of the most well-known screwage games, though all of them with large flaws for contemporary players.

There can be exceptions, but most of the above games involve considerable player-to-player interaction. And almost all of them are models of some reality, rather than purely abstract games.

Remember, these categories are related to moving out of the wargames ghetto. There are lots of other categories of games not included here. For example, there’s a vast body of games that do not involve maneuver/geospatial relationships, a vast body that are abstract (that is, not models of some reality), a vast body where most of the player interaction is with the game, not with other players. Some games are all three.


I’ve focused recently on the crossover category, with Sea Kings now on Kickstarter and several race games in early development (such as a chariot racing game).
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