Sunday, February 26, 2012

Game Analysis: Amtgard

      While working with my programming partner, I overheard one of his roommates talking about Amtgard, a Battle Gaming organization that he is in. Naturally, I was interested the game considering my favorite childhood game to play with my friends was "hit each other with sticks." I decided to go to Amtgard to see if swinging around pretend swords was still fun, so I invited two of my roommates to come along and we drove off to the park.

      It was the most fun I have had since the last tile I swung around, only the rules were more sophisticated and the sticks were covered in foam so I wasn't constantly being injured. In my head the park slowly transformed Despite my excitement, I still couldn't help but analyze the games I was playing.


      The reasoning behind some of the rules were obvious. All weapons must meet the safety standards laid out in the handbook, and fall into various categories, such as dagger, sort, long, throwing, etc. Neck, face, and foot shots don't count. if your hit in the arm or leg, you lose use of that limb, and a torso shot is a kill.

      Three different games were played, trenching, warlord and Capture the Flag Battlegame.

      Trenching was the simplest game of the three. Everybody divides into two hopefully even teams and the teams fight to the last. Once one team has been eliminated, the winners give their first slain to the losing team and they line up again to fight again, and again, and again. The second game, warlord, introduced slightly more complex rules to the fighting. It begins as a free for all, anyone killed steps aside and counts to 30. they then come back as a warrior serving the person who killed them, and follow any orders. Anyone they defeat serves the warlord. If the warlord is slain, his underlings are free agents again. The game ends when one warlord stands unopposed by other warlords or free agents. The third game was the most complex. flags were placed on the opposite sides of the park and ropes were laid out to mark a river that could only be crossed at bridges, laid out in a different color rope or "waded through" on your knees. Players also have special abilities based on a class of their choosing: warrior, archer, healer, etc. players have limited lives and must try to bring the flag back to their base.

Rule analysis:

      Something immediately apparent it the rules it its emphasis on enjoying yourself and making sure others do as well. The weapons can be swung at full force without injury (mostly), and it is up to the stricken person to accept be honest about their hits and not cheat. These show through even in, trenching, the simplest of the rule sets, as the game would be impossible to play without this mutual trust that your opponent will be honest and that his weapon wont bruise. I took plenty of accidental shots to the face, and my foe always stopped to ask if I was ok, to which I would respond that I was actually glad, since they didn't hurt much and I could still keep fighting since it wasn't a legal strike zone. In trenching, the rules are simple, but the play can be as complex as any actual melee. All you have to to is try to hit you opponent and not get yourself, but doing just that is such a complex task that schools are made around teaching just that. I have been thinking about my fighting style long after the game is over. The winning team handing over their first dead helps maintain balance on the teams, as the most skilled players are likely to be the last ones dead, so chances of them being on the same team are lowered. It is also nice to see the teams change slightly as it goes on, and even encourages some interesting play by the brave, or foolish. My roommate, wanting to contribute to the team, dove straight for the legs of the other teams more seasoned warriors. He was killed instantly, but he managed to take the veterans leg. he put himself at risk, being our teams first dead, and possibly breaking a record, dieing within a second of the start of the game, but, being new like me, he knew that just wounding someone else was a worthy trade-off.
      Warlord felt less like simple play and more like a game, though i don't necessarily mean that it was better, but had more complex mechanics. The players spread out and slowly engage in small battles or duels. I noticed that as free agents players seemed to engage much more cautiously. Without a lord to serve, they could amass a force of their own. However, waiting too long could mean that a talented warlord might have slain a free agent or two and could surround and outnumber you with his growing army. I took a balanced approach and just stabbed people in the back. after being slain many times, I found there were many different lords. Some were tactical commanders who ordered us in the most advantageous way possible to win, introducing team tactics to the chaos of this semi- free for all game. Other lords seemed reluctant to be lords and just preferred fighting. The only orders I received from one such lord was to spread chaos. I obliged and charged the closest foe i could, who wasn't actually a foe and almost killed him, we teamed up on a real enemy who took my leg before he fell. My lord was far away so I still had to follow my last order. It was probably quite a comical to see me shuffle around on my knees trying to spread chaos with one use able leg. The last sort of warlord I served under was the fun warlord. He was obviously skilled, as he had half of the battlefield under his command. His command was to walk slowly with swagger and attack with flash and impractical spin attacks. sadly, in our first battle he was one of the first to die, so everybody immediately became free agents and chaos filled the battleground once again. The game continued for a surprisingly long time. With the main mechanic of getting more warriors as you won battles being a positive feedback loop, I expected the fight to continue much longer.

      The last game was the most complex of the three but it was my favorite. Players choose from a list of classes and get abilities unique to that class. Every week a player participates in Amtgard they gain a point in their class they played that day, and get new abilities for their class. Being the sort of person that I am, I chose assassin as soon as I was told about it. Each class seemed to have its own strengths and weaknesses, with classes having hard counters, classes that have distinct advantage over others. For example, a healer or a wizard can stun a barbarian with a long incantation and he or she is stuck in place (more like chooses to to play fair and obey the rules of the game). That same barbarian or a warrior with a big shield is easily going to destroy a scout or assassin like me (unless I jump them!). That same wizard has powerful skills, but abilities granted to  "lights" like assassins let them easily kill them and run. Though I normally dislike hard counter systems, I found that the depth of strategy and richness of play was not diminished. All the abilities were fun to use, but a talented fighter with no abilities and one shortsword could be even more valuable than a teleporting assassin or archer with a bow.

     Amtgard was nostalgic for me, bringing back memories of my middle school friends and I sparing with whatever branches we could find, though Amtgard uses formal rules to structure that fighting from my childhood to make combat more formal, and with the introduction of rules, the fun of organized games can be combined with the sheer fun of whacking things with foam sticks.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Extreme Naval Gazing

      For a lot of games I played, coming up with a good build is not all that difficult. Whether playing Diablo II, Starcraft 2, League of Legends, or any such game that requires builds, it never takes too long to get enough of a feel for the game that you can understand why a build is good, or even be able to make your own build. with the time and resources available in these games, getting together something that works well doesn't take too much effort. I am not talking about an optimal build, but something that works fairly well. Though the games are all rather complex, they aren't so difficult to grasp that a player cant figure out something workable.

      However, I run into difficulty when I try to think about what skills I want to develop as a game designer. Many sources that I rely on for understanding game design, such as Extra Credits or The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, answer the question of "What should a game designer know?" with "Everything that ever was and ever will be." When I first heard this, I thought, "Great. I'll do that," but time is precious. I am only able to spend a finite amount of time to learn what I need to be a great game designer. In my textbook, it lists "some big ones" as
-Creative Writing
-Public Speaking
-Sound Design
-Technical Writing
-Visual Arts

      Nobody expects a game designer to be a master of all of these things, but, as a gamer, I can't help but wonder what level of skill should I attain in each of these periphery skills. I don't really know how to feel about this. I sometimes think about how I would like to live dozens of lives, and attain the experience of each, but the thought of specialization, of a unique set of skills chosen for the purpose of making better games thrills me, that I get to customize my life in a way that gives me a unique way of designing games.

      All of this is interesting to think about, though I think I will be a better designer applying life to games, rather that applying games to life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Game Designer Focus #1: Brenda Brathwaite

      Okay. Time for some actual content! I want to start off the real content of this blog with the first of many posts focusing on well known game designers. My reasoning behind this is twofold. First, These people are famous for a reason. They are good at what they do, so I obviously have much to learn. Second, as a game designer, I ought to know who these people are. Brenda Brathwaite stated it better here. Which brings us to our first designer, Brenda Brathwaite.

      I first heard of her a presentation by the Cal Poly Game Development last year.  Though I cant remember most of what was said there, I remember hearing about a series of games called "The Mechanic Is The Message." It sounded quite fascinating to me, as the mechanics of games, the rules that make the game, are of particular interest to me. One of the games, Train, uses the weight and size of the physical pieces to help communicate its message. It also purposely lacks rules for certain scenarios to add to the games tension that it produces. It creates great unease in the players solely with its mechanics, its fundamental qualities and rules. Why the unease? The rules tell the player that they are supposed to take the most passengers to the destination the fastest. The pieces are vaguely human shaped, and don't quite fit in the trains right, and the train cars are light and come off the rails a little too easy. The rules are somewhat undefined. "Half the passengers refuse to board," or "Train ends when it ends." "The person Least likely to admit something goes first." The most unease comes from when the first player to deliver their passengers, learns that the destination is a concentration camp.

      Even though the rules outline how to play the game, the mechanics of the game are influenced by what the rules don't say. like any game, the players have to agree on what the rules are before continuing with play. Do prisoners escape when a train derails? Who controls which train? Do you even have to deliver the passengers? The game ends when the no more passengers can be delivered. This could be interpreted in many ways. Clearly, Train deals with some grave subject matter, and the message it communicates are done entirely through its mechanics.

      This game not only uses mechanics as a powerful means to communicate its messages, but it makes the player think. I honestly hope, that someday I will have the design skill to make a game that can move somebody, with its message communicated by its mechanics.

A much more through review can be read here.

      Sadly, Brathwaite's more famous works, the "Wizardry" series and "Jagged Allience" series were before my time. I have actually only played one game that Brathwaite has been a lead design on. That game is Ravenwood Fair. and it's available for free on Facebook if you are interested. I took a brief look at it, just to be able to say I have played one of my featured designers games. It is self described on its website as a game where you "Clear the forest and build a fun fair." It also could have been truthfully described as "Be a bear and hit stuff with an axe!" I would have been more drawn in on that second hook, but I suppose they are looking for a more broad audience, I have had some prior experience with Facebook games, and in comparing Ravenwood Fair to Farmville and Mafia Wars, I prefer Ravenwood Fair. Much prefer it. I don't think the others are bad games(Well ok, Mafia Wars isn't what I would call "not awful") but Ravenwood Fair just seems more like a game than Farmville. They are very similar. you set up stuff on a plot of land and build attractions/grow crops, but Ravenwood fair seems to have a bit more to it. There are quests to follow, wood to gather, which in turn opens up more land to build on. there are NPCs who visit your fair, and your a bear with an axe instead of some farmer person. anyway, I haven't played it enough to say too much more about it, but I may return to play it to axe down more helpless trees refine my opinion.

      One final reason I felt my first post should be on Brenda Brathwaite is that she is what inspired me to start a blog. In an article of hers on, she talks about the qualities she would look for in a game designer fresh out of college. This is where I realized that I have a lot to do before I am hire-able.

Monday, February 13, 2012

First Post

      Hello world! I have decided to start a blog about game design. This quarter, my classes have me programming more than ever, and have also began working on my first(ish) game KanaKatana, which has turned my mind towards game design again. Part of this realization including that I am one of those game design hopefuls, who really want to design games, but will be competing for jobs with people who can design games.
      This blog exists as a place where I can record the lessons I learn about designing games, and hopefully demonstrate actual improvement in skills pertinent to a game designer. Some ideas I have in mind for regular sections are

1. Game designer of the (week?)
      Inspired by a talk hosted by Cal Poly Game Development, and this blog post by Brenda Brathwaite.

2. Dev Notes
      Updates on games I'm currently working on, and any insights I learn from the experience

3. In-Depth Analysis
      An in depth analysis of a game I have played. Until I reinstall League of
Legends after finals, this section will be dominated by League Of Legends theory crafting.

4. Outside Studies
      Studying something like psychology or communications that can be related to game design or might just be useful to know.

      Though none of this is certain yet, I hope I can teach a little bit about game design as I learn myself. I have a long way ahead, so maybe we can learn together if your willing to stay awhile and listen.