Nick BentleyUnited States
Before they release games, publishers like us send pre-release copies to reviewers.
And those reviewers get to have a good time. They get to play all the games long before anyone else and present them to the rest us like future-divining shamans. The popular reviewers float through convention halls with contrails of groupies (reviewer groupies exist btw) as publisher after publisher tries to catch their eyes with hopeful, upturned faces. It's good to be a reviewer.
It occurred to us there might be a fun opportunity here. What if we could give our fans a taste of what that's like? We can't provide groupies (lacking any ourselves), but we can send an unpublished game to a small group of fans to review it and crow (or complain) about it before the world.
Interested? Read on.
An insiders peek behind the (iron, wood, and brick) curtains at NorthStar. Stay current with Evolution, Oceans, Wits & Wagers, Say Anything and some of the awesome shizzle in the pipeline. If that sounds interesting, click on the subscribe link to the right. Cheers!
Archive for Life @ NorthStar
12 Jun 2018
- [+] Dice rolls
Evolution: The Video Game is launching on Kickstarter today. A look back at some ideas we trashed to get here.
12 Sep 2017
Nick BentleyUnited States
Today, we launched Evolution: The Video Game on Kickstarter.
We've been working on it for nearly 3 years. We could have made almost 4 babies in that time! Instead we've been trying to craft the best digital tabletop game ever made. Life is exciting when you shoot for the moon, so we're shooting. Some features:
fully cross-platform for Steam, iOS, and Android
fast and fluid: you can play a game in 10 minutes
beautiful animations that enhance gameplay instead of slowing it down
online multiplayer mode that matches you with similarly skilled players
campaigns offering new ways to play that don't exist in the physical version of the game
a learn-by-playing tutorial that makes learning effortless
We've come a long way. We've posed hundreds of design questions and answered each dozens of times, always looking for a better answer than the one that came before.
In celebration of our launch, here's a look back at our progress through the lense of just one of those questions: how should a species be represented onscreen?
We started with two design maxims, diametrically opposed:
1. All information needs to be present when it's necessary; nothing is hidden behind a click.
2. The screen needs to have high over-the-shoulder appeal, meaning somebody walking by would say "that looks pretty".
We came up with 64 different solutions before finally settling on one. I won't show you all 64 because I'm not insane, but here's a chronological sampling:
First, the beginning. A screenshot of our first full-screen mockup:
This was as close as we could come to the look of the tabletop game. It immediately revealed a problem: the scheme wouldn't allow for more than two players. There wasn't enough room onscreen to add more species for the left and right players.
Another problem: early testers didn't look at the mix of population, body size, and traits, and see a "species". They just saw a hodgepodge of stuff. We wanted players to identify with their species and understand it as a creature. We begin experimenting with putting a picture of a species in the center of each species to tie all of the information together. Enter the species “badge”:
This helped tie things together and also allowed traits to be smaller. But in making the traits smaller, we realized we should emphasize the outline of the creatures on the trait cards to make them easier to distinguish from one another:
We also had the challenge that for population, a player has to know how many population are fed and how many are unfed. So we added population markers:
We wrestled a lot with how to best show this mix of fed and unfed population:
The above is the one we settled on for the first working prototype of the game. Population was represented by the bubbles on the left. This design carried us all the way through to the second version of the game, complete with production code:
The transition to 3D resulted in another variant of this badge, complete with a dynamic body size label that grows as the size increases:
Then we took it to our first public showing, at PAX East, and quickly realized we had two major problems:
First, players didn’t like counting lots of little pips.
Second, it wasn’t intuitive that the population pips are a “hotspot”. To add a population, you needed to drag a card to exactly the population area of the badge. A line of pips didn’t make an obvious target to drag to.
With that, once again we dove into another round of trying to get perfect mix of each of the elements of the species: population, fed and unfed states, body size, traits, and clear target hotspots:The “Stone”The “Paw Print”
Having a number for population, and displaying the food eaten, proved particularly difficult.The “Flower”The “Slash”The “Smile”
And finally, a mere 64 versions later, we give you...drumroll please...The Claw!
The absolute perfect mix of art, user interaction, and information, in an elegant package. Hope you like it. If not, no problem, no doubt Mark, Bree, and Jesse would love to crank out another 64 versions. Otherwise...back our Kickstarter campaign!
(among other things, it's the only chance you will ever have to get in on the game during its beta stage)
- [+] Dice rolls
PAX East - photos of one of the most amazing conventions I've ever attended. Now I understand why I keep hearing about PAX.
27 Mar 2017
I went to my first PAX earlier this month and had a fantastic experience. I highly recommend going even if you don't play video games. PAX East had over 100 tables dedicated for open board gaming, a sizable games library, tons of fun events, and seriously knowledgeable volunteers. Unlike GenCon, all of the organized events are free!
This story begins like many others, with a road trip...
(We did not see that coming.)
Tom Vasel and J.R. Honeycutt hosted a charity Wits & Wagers gameshow event that drew 600+ people.
That's all folks!
Let me know if you want to join the NorthStar Demo Team for one of our upcoming shows. In exchange for two 4-hour booth slots, you'll get a t-shirt, a game, tasty snacks, and an awesomely fun time with the North Star crew! Unfortunately we cannot provide hotel or transportation. Sorry.
Dice Tower Con
- [+] Dice rolls
Happy Crappy Birthday Variant
Our graphic designer, Jacoby O'Connor, created a variant that we like so much, we're considering changing the rules for the next print run. I just posted them under the Crappy Birthday rules variants.
Quite honestly, it took me by surprise at how much fun I had with these rules. I've seen all the cards a 100 times and talked about the merits of each one and the exact wording for over a year including ... blah blah blah. I've played the game to death over the past year as we've tried to figure out the best version and what makes a good card. But playing with these new rules (even with the same old people) somehow brought the game back to life. After the first game, my wife asked if we could play again, which was surprising since A) she is not much of a gamer, and B) she played this game a lot when we were testing the cards. When the second game ended, I was having so much fun that I wanted to keep playing.
We're going to continue testing with both rule sets for the next 6 months before we decide what to do, but for now, my sense is that we will change to the new rules for the next print run.
An Actual Crappy Birthday Party
My son Daniel had his first birthday party over Labor Day weekend, so I decided to test out Crappy Birthday in exactly the way it was intended (given as a gift and played at the party it is brought to). This is a report of the occasion:
Crappy Birthday was among the other gifts that Daniel received. To my dismay, the packaging failed at being noticed. In fact, Daniel passed it up repeatedly for other gifts even though I put it as close to him as possible.
This demonstrates a flaw in the packaging design.
When I finally got him to sit down and play the game, it was obvious that he did not grasp some the rules. For instance, he like to reveal the cards to everyone before he played them.
This demonstrates that the game is too complicated, or that the rules were not clearly written.
We finally got him to understand that the cards are to be played secretly...
... when we ran into another problem. Daniel thought it was MORE fun to eat the cards than play them:
I looked through the rules, and sure enough, nothing addressed this problem! Daniel thinks it is a glaring omission, and I have to admit that I'm not sure how to counter that argument.
With all of this negative feedback, I was expecting Daniel to give Crappy Birthday a bad rating...
... but I was pleasantly surprised. Daniel says he had a wonderful time playing and he recommends it to anyone over the age of 11 months.
He also wants me to let everyone know that Crappy Birthday will be available at Barnes & Noble starting next week. Cheers!
- [+] Dice rolls