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Subject: The design of the board rss

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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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I have written a designer diary (to be posted soon) in which I explain how the Big*Bang idea crystallized from the physics laws to the game mechanics. Here I add a discussion about how, once I got the mechanics, I decided the size and shape of the board.

Since I had started with nestorgames as a publisher in mind, nothing more natural than using one of their games, Gardens of Mars, for prototyping!



I used the game board (left) and some of the plastic discs. The hexagonal structure 6 cells wide has 91 cells. The design required that all the pieces (of 4 types) filled the board from the start, and then began fusing and annihilating, but the highest multiple of 4 below 91 is 88, so I had to leave 3 cells empty. The game worked very well, and then I decided to print 'my' first board (on the right above). As you see, I chose the 3 central cells to be the empty ones at the start, and marked them with an asterisk.

All ingredients were already there: the background picture from the Cosmic Microwave Background, the victory conditions on one side, the player aids with the allowed combinations on the other. However, the cells were too small! In Gardens of Mars you place the discs, in Big*Bang you take them, and with cells almost as big as the discs it was very cumbersome. Since the board size of nestorgames is fixed, the only option seemed to be reducing the size of the structure.



The one 5 cells wide (left) has more room between cells, but has only 61 cells total. So the number of pieces would be reduced from 88 (4x22) to 60 (4x15), and there would be only 1 empty cell at start. I liked needing only 1 empty cell, the central one (seems less arbitrary), but having only 15 pieces of each type made the game too short. And limited the longer term strategies, since the options were also reduced and the game became more tactical, just reacting to the few possibilities available for the opponent. It felt like a good/quick training for the real game, but the number of pieces had to be higher. So I came back to the 6-cell wide structure, while improving the graphics a little bit (on the right above).

And then I realized I was being stupid! Why would I need an hexagonal structure of a given side width? Why not an elongated one? After all, I had a lot of room on the sides, and the original background picture is an ellipsoid (left):



So I adapted my final version graphics to an elongated structure (right). The structure was 5 cells wide vertically and 8 cells wide horizontally, giving 88 cells: almost the 91, but with much more room between cells. However, the 4 outer cells on the 'corners' laid almost outside the ellipsoid, but again: why did I need a regular grid? So I removed the 4 'corners', which would give a more personal and unique touch to the game, and left me out with 84 cells, still a multiple of 4.

Now I only had to choose the colors and tune the graphics. I played with the background picture, and I found a palette I liked (left):



But Néstor found the board too 'bright' for deep space... So I played with darker versions, and my daughter liked the one on the right above the most. Dark background, clear grid. But I still didn't like, and I thought it didn't evoke the original picture enough.

And then I succeeded making a brighter version of the background, that looked like 'light' (it is light, the oldest one in our universe!) and that provided a good contrast with the darker grid:



And this is the final result! meeple

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Néstor Romeral Andrés
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Looking forward to the diary. Will you mention that it's been published as a GAPD Journal paper?

(I have a GAPD-released diary submitted myself, too)


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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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nestorgames wrote:
Looking forward to the diary. Will you mention that it's been published as a GAPD Journal paper?

Yes I did, but I got no answer at all from Eric Martin, the diary has been 'pending' quite some time now (which makes me edit it from time to time!)...

BTW, this is a sample of the GaPD paper.
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Néstor Romeral Andrés
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franchi wrote:
nestorgames wrote:
Looking forward to the diary. Will you mention that it's been published as a GAPD Journal paper?

Yes I did, but I got no answer at all from Eric Martin, the diary has been 'pending' quite some time now (which makes me edit it from time to time!)...

BTW, this is a sample of the GaPD paper!


Eric seems to be one of the busiest men on earth. So patience....
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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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franchi wrote:
So the number of pieces would be reduced from 88 (4x22) to 60 (4x15), and there would be only 1 empty cell at start. I liked needing only 1 empty cell, the central one (seems less arbitrary), but having only 15 pieces of each type made the game too short. And limited the longer term strategies, since the options were also reduced and the game became more tactical, just reacting to the few possibilities available for the opponent. It felt like a good/quick training for the real game, but the number of pieces had to be higher.

In the end I got BOTH the game and the quick training, since I included a variant called Little*Bang using the same board but only 4x15 pieces! meeple
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Charlie Mote
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I think it looks best with the highest contrast possible - your third iteration I think:



I also think you'd be much better off using transparent discs so you can see the board under them (and you'd get the advantage of the color shift of the board as seen through the elements as represented by the discs.)

Really like the idea and theme but the current board is very bland and washed out.
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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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Thanks Charlie, but the picture does not make justice to the final board, if you get it you'll see that the contrast is great! meeple

CharlieMote wrote:
I also think you'd be much better off using transparent discs so you can see the board under them (and you'd get the advantage of the color shift of the board as seen through the elements as represented by the discs.)

In fact what is important is the grid, and the final choice is the one with the brightest, fade background with a very clear 'golden' grid on top. Even when the board is full, as I explained in the OP, the shape and size I chose leaves a lot of space between discs (so that they can be taken easily), that lets the background be visible even then. And when the game moves on, since every move empties 1 or 2 cells, very soon all you see is the background!

Transparent discs would be too distracting, once the game starts the focus should be on the pieces and their combinations, not on the piece of background below them (it is very similar all over the board), so solid discs is the best option gameplay wise. As I explained in the designer diary that will be up soon, the first priority was a very visible grid (the game is abstract) but with an evocative non-distracting background.

I didn't get my designer copies yet, when I'll do I'll post clearer pictures!

EDIT/ You have a better grasp of it in this picture (visible grid, evocative background):

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Russ Williams
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FWIW I go with the game graphic design philosophy that the board should not be too bright / high contrast and distracting and drawing attention to itself. The pieces should be the prominent feature. So the "washed out" board seems better to me than the extremely bright vibrant board.
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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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russ wrote:
FWIW I go with the game graphic design philosophy that the board should not be too bright / high contrast and distracting and drawing attention to itself. The pieces should be the prominent feature. So the "washed out" board seems better to me than the extremely bright vibrant board.

Besides this playability argument, there is a 'physical' one too. In the original picture, contrast between darker and lighter areas had been extremely exaggerated in order to show what they were looking for: temperature differences between different areas of the space around us. But this temperature differences were tiny: just a few ten-thousandths of a degree! Around the average value of the Cosmic Microwave Background, -270ºC (3 kelvin).

So I wanted to convey this message, if possible, in the board design: first, it is light, so I wanted a dark background around the playing area from which the clarity of the ellipsoid emerged; and second, these tiny temperature differences should not distract from the grid, while still being visible.

If you have a look to the two next-to-last tries I showed in the OP, I was smoothing the temperature contrast to make the grid more visible, but the average shade of the background didn't look like light at all. Only in the final board it did.


EDIT/ I expanded here a bit more on the origin and characteristics of the CMB.
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Charlie Mote
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The image I referenced has much higher contrast (each hex is two or three main bright colors) and the final board is dominated by the same light blue that, if you strain, you can see other shades underneath - the board looks the same at each "hex" point obscuring the detail. "If you have a look to the two next-to-last tries I showed in the OP, I was smoothing the temperature contrast to make the grid more visible, but the average shade of the background didn't look like light at all. Only in the final board it did." It's too light at this point - you can't see the detail.

For the thickness of counters you are using, transparency would make the discs stand out as well as still show some of the background of the board at a single layer (using the thinnest possible transparent discs would be a bad choice).

The board is going to end up being covered pretty quickly - how is the board going to distract from the pieces?

As I've said, it's a brilliant idea and I love the theme but I'm not a fan of the graphic design as it is shown here. I'll have to wait and see about the final version (and I agree that the pink board is too garish) but what's shown doesn't portray the same sophistication as the rest of the design.

Thanks for taking my comments in stride.

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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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You're welcome Charlie, as a designer hobbyist it's not the (very little) money I get that I value the most, but the feedback from players and people in general. I'm always curious, and glad to get constructive criticism beyond the "looks great" I get from friends and family!

I think you misunderstood a couple of things though. The game has been published already, so the board design you see in the two pictures above (with the plastic discs) is the definitive one, we are no longer working on it. And the board does not end up covered, it starts covered and very quickly it empties. Every turn players must fuse two stacks (emptying one cell) or annihilate two stack-antistack (emptying two cells). As I said in the designer diary to be published, the gameplay reminds of TZAAR in that sense, making games quick and impossible to stall, but in Big*Bang the rules obey physics laws.

And I think we are not talking about the same contrast. You say that the board is "too light at this point - you can't see the detail", but this was my aim. As I said above, the detail of the original picture had been exaggerated, the details are actually almost invisible, about few ten-thousandths of a ºC. If you search on google for Cosmic Microwave Background and COBE (the first, lower resolution satellite), you'll see very little detail.

So having very little contrast between the different temperature regions of the background was deliberate. The contrast I was talking about was between the background and the grid. The board reminds me in that sense to another game from the GIPF proyect, DVONN (I'm a fan!). You could play it on a dry grid, but they added a fade sandy background, beautiful but light enough to make the grid stand out very clearly.

If you have a look at the rulebook, you'll see that there are very few stack combinations (written on the corner of the board), but you must constantly look for sequences of patterns in order to fuse them, while avoiding being the target of annihilation by an antistack. And to make this recognition of patterns easier it is imperative that the strong colors and contrasts of the board don't distract you.

If one day you have the opportunity to see the real game and play it, I would be curious of your opinion!
 
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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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A view of the board alone!

meeple
 
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