Good news everyone, I didn’t die. Thinking no longer feels impeded by a cloud of cotton wool, so I’m in a good state to go through last week’s post and see which of my fever induced notions has any value from a design point of view. As a whole excercise hopefully it’ll do something in terms of giving some insight into how I develop concepts and can offer some hope to people labouring with difficult ideas that even bizaare fever dreams can give rise to something interesting. Let’s begin.
I seemed lucid enough in sharing some of the project art that’s being developed. I’m really interested to hear what poeple think of the style. It’s not what I’m used to from my 3DTotal games but I feel that as a way to signal a lightweight game that can be picked up as easily by orchestra folks who aren’t gamers as by gamers who aren’t orchestra folks I think it’ll do the job. What do you think? I’ll replace my traditional image breaks throughout this post with a few pieces to give you some idea of what they’ll be like.
So the first new idea I wound up playing with was using magnets for a board reset. In the cold light of day, this is an idea with a lot of drawbacks. The primary one being that magnets can’t be uniquely paired – if you did reset a board by shaking the pieces until they stuck they’d end up in random starting positions rather than their own.
In principle this could be overcome if the pieces were interchangable, as in checkers. I could imagine some sort of abstract time travel game, perhaps along the lines of The Stars are Right in that players are trying to arrange pieces to achieve some particular pattern (so pieces belong to neither player and have no particular differences between them as individuals) and periodically the loop restarts and all of the pieces are shook back into their starting configurations. Progress could be achieved by matching cards off the board that give some extra movement options for the pieces in future loops.
This might open up some novel design space, particularly if the starting position of pieces can be changed by changing how the magnets plug in to the back of the board, but ultimately I think it’d feel like a gimmick that wasn’t adding enough to gameplay to justify the extra cost of the components. The advantage of having really thematic time travel would be at least partially negated by the need to have a somewhat abstract game due to making the pieces uniform.
The idea might have more merits outside of the time travel genre in which it was initially concieved. Input randomness is often more fun that output randomness – that is to say that players often enjoy scenarios where they’re given some random pile of resources and ask to make the best of them but tend not to enjoy having their ultimate victory determined by a random event. Setup also takes a while with a lot of games and sometimes you just want to pick something up and start playing. Some sort of game based around creating a start position by throwing a pile of pieces at a board and seeing where they stick could have legs.
You’d need an appropriate theme, but chaotic situations can be the most dramatic. Perhaps there’s been a shipwreck and the players and their assets have washed up on shore and they need to build shelter and find food and so on before the night falls. The density of magnets lets the majority of their kit be near the reck, but the mechanics make things expendable (or perhaps some portion start in the water and are lost if not recovered quickly enough). It could be nice to have a game like that in which setup is *shake* *shake* *place* Okay this is our start state – what’s the plan?
The next idea that I started playing with was about having the physicality of pieces being important, but without a game containing a dexterity element. I like this, but I’m not sure that being able to do things slowly necessarily means that a game wouldn’t have a dexterity element. Operation exists after all.
The difficulty would be in restricting the moves that are possible in a way that doesn’t generate a dexterity advantage. For instance saying “You can move a piece so long as you don’t touch any other pieces” gives an edge to someone who can manouver a piece through a narrow gap without hitting anything else. However saying “You can keep moving the piece until you’re satisfied” would give an edge to someone who could use it to nudge all of the other pieces on the board into some sort of optimal position.
Perhaps there would be more to adding pieces to the board to enjoy free play physicality. Adding something to a game in a desired position would be achievable the vast majority of the time, games that rely on players not being able to perform this skill typically go to great lengths to make the playspace unstable or unfriendly. The question then becomes what sort of game would benefit from this?
What makes the core innovation special is the sheer amount of freedom offered. Being able to place a piece anywhere and having its spatial relations matters offers a lot of freedom, so any themeing and other mechanics would need to play into the strenghts of that. I could envision a themeing in which the players have a lot of power, perhaps as heads of vast global conspiracies trying to influence the world towards their own agenda.
Players put elements of their conspiracies onto the board and the relationships between them impact the values that the players are seeking to change. For instance one player places a “economic crash” token in one place, another places a “diplomatic incident” nearby and the result is that there is a war which may or may not suit their objectives. Then if someone places a “aliens spotted” nearer to the diplomatic incident than the economic crash then the result is a press coverup rather than a war which might suit different player’s objectives.
The goal would be to engineer a game in which the interactions between the tokens seems obvious and intuitive and players can feel like they’re making amazing moves when popping a token in just the right place leads to flipping three or four different situations and ultimately manipulating the world into their vision of it.
That’ll do for riffing off the fever induced ideas from last week. Hopefully that shows that the gibberings of a dying man can be as good a starting point as anything else and that the fundementals of game design are not so much coming up with a brilliant idea as they are being able to refine that. All of the ideas above are slight refinements on last week’s comments with a little practicality added in, but they’d need to be refined themselves many times over before they moved from being a pipe dream to being a real working game.
That’s it for this week, but I just wanted to remind you of the start of this post having reached the end: What do you think of these examples of possible art for the Muddled Musicians game?