Monday, December 19, 2011

Summoner's Quest by 4x4 Game Studio

First of all I'd like to introduce the team I was a part of during the making of Summoner's Quest. 4x4 Game Studio was one of 4 teams formed in December for Design Project I at Full Sail University. My teammates were Russell Currer, Joseph Madden, Daniel Rodebaugh. Before getting to the game, I want to talk about the history of the design of the game, which is still in beta right now.

The game started off with us listing off certain aspects of games we liked, which were Tabletop RPGs, TCGs, and Console-style RPGs. We thought of making a game that took a typical board game concept, and added in aspects of more complicated systems to allow the game to be accessible and fun for a novice, while allowing for the expansion of concepts into more complicated games, such as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.

The other thing we wanted was to make sure the game would end. One of the biggest issues with games such as Monopoly is that it takes entirely too long (3+ hours) while we wanted a game that could end as early as an hour in. We knew that the game would still take time, but there was no reason to let it take forever. We wanted players to not only fight each other, but to be fighting for a goal within the game as well.

At first we had the game require the destruction of 4 bosses. The meant that we would have to complicate the combat rules, which we wanted to keep simple. So we then took the game to another place, which would be to have the players use Mana to unlock these temples, which would then have a way of allowing them to win the game. We still couldn't quite get it to work, because it negated the other aspect of the game: combat and summoning.

We focused on thinking of a way to make the game about combat only, but we ran into the issue of players dropping from the game, and having to wait until the end before they could play again. We did not want people to just be sitting there. Instead we wanted the point where the game starts to end, to be a point where the game finishes quickly thereafter.

We went back to the Mana Temple, and changed them into a gate that would allow access to the center of the board. The game at this point becomes a king of the hill game, where the winner stays in the middle for 3 rounds. The benefits of this is that it gets the game focuses on one point, forces combat and gets the game to a point of finishing rather quickly.

The change of the cards as well, as we started balancing the combat so that the summoner tokens were powerful yet dangerous to use in combat, while allowing summoned creatures to be useful and have a purpose for being summoned. Summoning monsters requires mana, which in turn is also needed to unlock the Mana Gate. Though a game can be played without going into a Mana Gate, it is the least optimal path towards winning the match.

Within the first incarnation of the game, we had 3 types of spaces a Summoner could land on: Focus Points (where they can draw a card), Teleport Points (to move them across the board faster) and Mana Temples (which reduces the cost of certain cards). When we finally decided to add the Mana Gates, we eventually connected them to the Mana Temples, since it made more sense to do so.

One of the last things we added to the game, was the concept of making the summons to relate to folklore from around the world. We focused on 4 folklore/myth sources: Nordic, Japanese/Modern, Greek and Amazonian/Brazillian.

The board's basic properties have remained the same for most of the design of the game, 8 spaces per section (6 focus points, a teleport point and a Mana Temple). We were using generic tokens for most of the game, at least until we decided on the theme of the game, at which point we created specific summoner tokens.

There are certain aspects of the game I'd still like to develop further, such as the combat (especially the combat). Though that could be brainstormed and thought of later. The following is straight from our Game Design Document:

Game Components
  • Game board with 32 spaces and 13 spaces in the center.
  • 4 Summoner tokens
  • Monster Damage Counters (20 White Counters)
  • 40 Summon, 20 Spell, 20 Equip, and 20 Trap cards
  • Life Counters (40 Red Counters, 10 for each player)
  • Mana Counters (48 Blue Counters, 6 for each player at start and a pool to add from)


The objective of the game is to become the most powerful summoner. Each player tries to destroy all other players and their minions, with the ultimate goal of trying to become powerful enough to enter the Halls of Myth and attain unlimited power. Victory is achieved by either being the last summoner standing or by entering the Chamber of Victory and remaining their for three consecutive turns.

Each player rolls a six sided die (d6). The player with the highest roll goes first, the player with the second highest roll goes second and so forth. If two or more players tie, they roll to break the tie amongst them, while still remaining within the same turn as they originally rolled. Each player chooses a starting space at one of the Mana Temples and places their summoner token on there. Each player gets 10 life stones and 6 mana stones. Play starts when the first player rolls two six-sided dice (2d6) and moves that number of spaces.

When a player acquires a Summon card, they may expend the designated number of Mana points to place the card on the board at their location, after that, they control the Summoned card similarly to how they control their own token. A player may not cast a summon if there is another player or summon on the same square as their player token.

Cards (Your Hand)
The player can hold up to 5 cards in their hand. If they have 5 cards and want to draw a card, they must first discard a card so that they have, at most, 5 cards in their hand.

Discarding Cards
Cards may be discarded for any number of reasons. Certain cards, like spell cards, are one-time use items. Once they are used they must be removed from play by means of the discard pile. The discard pile may not be interacted with until all cards have been drawn. Once there are no more cards in play the discard pile must be shuffled and used as the new drawing deck. Once the deck is shuffled, a new discard pile is formed.

Mana Temple (Start Point)
Every player starts at their own Mana Temple. Whenever a summoner token lands on the Mana Temple space, they are able to use cards from their hands at a minus 1 Mana cost, to a minimum of 1 Mana cost. When a summoner token crosses over the Mana Temple space that they started from, they gain two additional Mana Stone. If at any point, a power or ability causes the player to go backwards past a starting point and they go through it again, they only gain additional Mana Stones while going in a clock-wise direction.

Focus Point
There are six focus points per side of the board. When a summoner token lands on the space, they draw a card unless they have 5 cards in their hand (see Cards above). Drawing cards occurs as a Space Effect, and therefore occurs after equipment, traps and combat effects (see Order of Operations below).

There are four portals on the game board. Portals are used to move to the next portal when a Summoner token or a summon lands onto a portal. If you land on a portal you have the potion of using it or not, but must move in a clockwise direction to the next portal if you decide to use it.

Mana Gate
Mana gates are unique type of space on the board. There are four of them, attached to the portal spaces and are essential to one of the two victory conditions. If a player wishes to open a gate, they must spend 10 mana points to open a single gate. Once a gate is open, any and all players or summons may cross through the gate freely. Each one of the spaces counts as one movement space.

Halls of Myth and Chamber of Victory
The halls of myth are the spaces directly past, and including, the mana gates. Each space counts as a single move space. This is a one-way path and may not be backtracked unless under the effect of a spell, trap, or ability that reverses movement direction. The chamber of victory is a single, large space that must be held for 3 turns, starting at the beginning of the following turn. Once on the space, the player, or any residing summon, may not leave that space unless evicted. If a player or summon loses a session of combat while occupying the victory space, but not the halls of myth, are evicted from the chamber of victory and placed back to the portal just outside of the gate that the player who initiated combat entered from. If a player in the victory space has a monster with them and the monster loses, the attacker moves one space outside of the victory space. On the next turn, the attacking monster may reenter but the defending player stays in the victory space. Players must still roll for movement for their summon if they have any outside of the chamber of victory. If evicted by any means, the amount of turns that they must hold the victory square is reset and they must hold the center for an additional 3 turns.

Movement is determined by the roll of 2d6 dice. The player has a few options when deciding to move. The player moves the full roll of the die when moving only the Summoner token or a summoner. If a Summoner token and a summon that player owns is on the same space, the player has the option of halving their roll and moving the Summoner token and their summon at the same time. Round down when halving the roll (if an 11 move 5). Summons have the option of moving backwards instead.

Combat (Attacking)
A player attacks when they move their token or summon onto a space occupied by the token or summon of another player. In the event that the contested space contains multiple player tokens or summons, the attacker chooses which one to attack, unless the defending player chooses to use a summon to defend their Summoner token (see “Combat (Defending)”, below). To resolve combat, each player involved rolls a d6; the one with the higher roll wins the combat and deals damage. If the attacker is a summon card, the damage dealt is specified by the “Attack” entry on the card. If the attacker is a Summoner token, the damage dealt is a base of 2 plus any modifiers from spells or equipment. If a Summoner token attacks a summon card, they deal damage equal to their current number of life stones, instead.

Combat (Defending)
A player defends when another player moves their token or summon onto a space occupied by the token or summon of the defending player. If the defending player’s Summoner token is being attacked and they have a summon in the same space, the defender may choose to defend using their summon, forcing the attacker to attack the summon instead of the Summoner. Combat then proceeds as stated in “Combat (Attacking)”, above.

Post Combat
If the attacker loses combat, they must move back one space from where they initially landed and initiated combat, and then can activate the space effect on the space they are pushed back to, as specified by the “The Order of Operations”, below . If the attacker wins, the defending summoner token or summon is moved backwards one space, but it does not activate space effects.

Summon Abilities
Most summons have a unique ability along with their base stats. In most cases these abilities require mana to cast. The cost of the ability is noted on the card. The effect of an ability is clearly denoted in its description as well as its range and damage. If for some reason, an ability has an effect that would affect another player or a summon and it does not have a denoted range then it is assumed that the ability must be used on a summon within the same space or must be used during combat. All abilities must be activated prior to rolling the dice to determine a winner in combat.

Traps cost no mana to place on the field and can be placed on any space on the field. When placed on the field, they can be tripped by anyone, even the player that placed it. When a Summoner token or summon lands on a trap, that player must roll a die which decides if the trap is activated or destroyed. The roll required to successfully negate a trap is depicted on the card. In many cases the roll is depicted as a greater-than-or-equal-to statement. Therefore, a requirement of 3+ means that the player must roll a 3 or higher on the 6 sided die to negate a trap’s effect. If a player is traveling with a summon and they land on a trap they may choose which one of them is to receive the effects of the traps. Some traps effect summons differently than they would a summoner.

Casting Spells
Spells are “at-will” cards that may be used before or after movement. They have a specific mana cost and a set range at which they may operate. A number in the range section denotes how many spaces away, starting at the edge of the occupied space, that the spell may affect or reach into. If a spell affects only a single target as opposed to the whole space it will say so in the description. Cards without a range or a range of 0 may only affect those in the same space that is occupied by the player who is casting the spell. Once the spell has been cast, the card is expended and is sent to the discard pile.

Equipping and Using Items
Equipment follows a unique set of rules. Each item has the potential for unique effects that are depicted in the card’s description. Each equipment card has a required cost to use. Some are expended upon their use and take effect immediately while others are perpetual. A player may choose to equip an equipment card before or after their move. The abilities that a card bestows (such as Mjolnir’s lightning bolt) may also be used before or after a move. Only one equipment’s “at-will” ability may be used per turn, but does not prevent circumstantial effects (such as evading one trap) from activating. After an equipment card is expended, destroyed, or the player simply wishes to remove their currently equipped item it is sent to the discard pile. Equipping a monster requires the summoner token to be at least within one space of the monster.

Mana Stones
Players start with 6 Mana Stones. Whenever they use mana for any reason, they take mana from their active pile and move it to a used mana pile. At the beginning of a player’s turn they recover two mana stones from the used pile into their active pile. Whenever a player’s summoner token crosses over their starting space they gain two additional mana to their maximum mana count into their active pile.

Life Stones
Players start with 10 Life Stones. Whenever they lose life they can discard that many life stones. Life stones can not be gained past 10. The player can recover life through card affects or summon abilities, but in no other way can you regain lost life.

Monster Damage Stones
When a summon takes damage, put a white counter on the card for each point of damage received.  When the number of counters reaches the amount of life of a summon, that summon is destroyed.

A player may only equip up to 3 items at any one time. In order to equip a new item once a player currently has 3 equipped, 1 item must either be destroyed by an opponent, or discarded by the player.

Status Effects
Status effects may be accumulated by spells, traps, or monster abilities. A player may only be affected by up to 3 effects at once. Once an effect has ended, a new effect may be applied up to the maximum of 3 at any one time. Monsters may only be affected by one effect. Any new effect will override a previous effect on a monster.

The Order of Operations
Events play out in a specific order as a player moves. The order of operations is as follows: Equipment Effects, traps, combat, and space effects. This is the set order of operations to ensure that equipment will first negate traps, combat, or other circumstances if it can. Traps are then sprung as though any residing creature is lying in wait. Combat then resolves after traps are sprung or equipment is activated. Once the summoner resides on a space the benefit may be experienced.

Also here is the card list of possible cards to draw.

Creative Commons License

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NaNoWriMo Failed; other stuff

Quite frankly, I think that I have too much on my plate right now. So this month was a 5k word exercise in failure. Which is quite okay, because one of the reasons I had trouble writing was because I wasn't happy with the story. On the other hand, I've written more on the novel I've been trying to write all year, which is good.

I've been checking with myself, and quite frankly, I don't have the ability to do school work, regular work during the busiest time of year, and be a father while writing. So instead, I'll continue things at my snail pace until I get to January, where regular work will slow down.

Speaking of January, I'm making plans to attend the LA GGJ, so if you're going to be there, introduce yourself! I'll be introducing myself as Pangoria. GGJ or Global Game Jam, is a 48 hour lockdown of game making. I'm really excited for it. One cool thing is that this month's class, Design Project, is a culmination of this year's classes. The goal is to make a board game as a team. We've had three meetings so far at about 2 hours to 3 hours each, and I must say, I'm loving the progress we are making.

I went out tonight and bought some materials, and I'll probably spend tomorrow working on a practical board for the game. Though we have a game mat that we could easily use for the game, I want to experiment with different design patterns. To do this, I got a foam board, and some sticky notes. I use the notes to arrange the "tiles" on the board. In this way, I can easily try different layouts.

This will be the second board game that I'll be making since I started Fullsail, and considering the team I'm working with, it is quite a bit more ambitious than Milk Money, my first board game. We don't exactly have a name for the game yet, since we want to finalize more features and game mechanics before we start in on it.

There is quite a bit of news that came out during November, and I'm sure you have all been reading and keeping up on it. I'll instead focus on any news that comes out lately, and if there is something really interesting to talk about from it, though some subjects that came up would be interesting to explore in more depth, it would be old news by the time I get around to writing about it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Week 4 - Wrap-up and Result Dissonance

Well, I've managed to complete about 10% of my novel so far. I have to wrap up for my assignment, which means looking at what I've done so far. Some key things about the novel is that I was exploring the idea of paradigm-shifts, cognitive dissonance, and how people express their feelings.

So far in the story, we have seen the sister's actions not match her thoughts, the difference in how she and her brother view the world, their reactions to suddenly finding themselves in each other's bodies, their in ability to let go of the fact that someone else is in their body, and I focus repeatedly on how each interprets the other's expressions, instead of saying what the other person is thinking.

Facial expressions is one of those things that I often tend to misread. Because of this, shows like Lie To Me are really interesting. I've tried to study other people's facial expressions, but I tend to only understand the faces of people I've been around a while with. I took an Empathy Quotient test over at and scored an 18 (people with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning Autism score and average of 20). As a counter to that, I actually scored lower on my Systemizing Quotient with a 14. I'm not sure if this says more about me, or about the quizzes. This really confused me since EQ and SQ tend to be opposites. Either way, it means that I think rather equally with both sides of my brain and that in both cases, I just don't do so very well.

Part of what I'm trying to explore with this story is not only how to write expressions and reactions, but also to learn and understand them a bit more myself. Also, the story is about two kinds of people that I've never been myself. In this sense I'm trying to create the lives of an outgoing person and a highly emotional person, and trying to find a way to make the imitation not only into reality but as a way of understanding why people like them behave the way they do.

As for how organized I've been with this project, I must say that I really wish I had less demands on my time. Even the one week I had less work to do at school, I ended up having over-time at work. So even then, I could not have the time I felt I needed. Instead my writing was gorilla style, typing in hundreds of words when I could. In the end I've probably only spent a few hours actually writing, when I had wanted to spend tens of hours.

At the rate I'm writing I would probably need another 27 weeks to finish my novel. Regardless, I'm planning to use this weekend, and next weekend to get as close to the end as I can. If I can beat last year's word count of 30,000 words, I will be very happy.

I'll be posting up my word counts, including my word counts of today and tomorrow, by tomorrow evening, and I'll post a final wrap up at the end of the month.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Week 3 - Time Management and Self-Accountability

Wow, three weeks have passed already. In fact, I am on the home stretch for my school project, but... I am far behind in my writing. I have a graph of all the work I have done. Four days worth. That is one day out of every week, where I have worked on this project. That is a literal definition of 20% (or close enough to it). The thing is, that it is nowhere near enough to be done with the novel by the 20th. Doesn't mean I won't keep writing even after the class is over. I still have until the end of the month. Instead the issue is whether I spent the appropriate amount of time on my project.

My goal to write a novel this month is not something that I could accomplish with 20% effort. In fact, 20% effort would get me to about 10,000 words, which is about what I will write by the end of the month at my current pace. Most of my work for this class is done, and I've spent every night writing. I must say that my very hands are tired from the exertion.

I tackled the weekly, time sensitive material first. Even this blog post, which is part of my project, took priority over the actual act of my 20% effort. Which is why I'm typing this over the novel currently. Lucky for me, all I have left is this week of writing, and a concluding post this weekend, as well as an analysis of the whole concept.

In that case, my focus has been accurate. Thought I may or may not complete NaNoWriMo this month, it will not stop me from continuing to write throughout the year. It also will not prevent me from trying to finish the project after the due date.

One issue I have is Self-Accountability. I seem to be more productive when I'm accountable to other people. When I work by myself, it becomes almost guaranteed that I will goof off instead.

Part of the question is, whether I'm happy with how the story is going or whether I think that it is any good. Quite honestly, though this is based on an idea that I had, the execution is altering the concept repeatedly. Part of it comes from writing for writings sake. At some point the story gets lost in babble.

Quite honestly, this project has helped me focus on things about myself that I thought I understood, but that in the end was only a surface understanding. I still believe that I can write a novel, but I'm not sure that I can do so in such short a time.

Part of it is also how I'm thinking about the novel. Thinking in word count can make it difficult to focus. Instead, I want to be able to focus on 2k blocks of story. Short stories that tie into a overall narrative might make it easier for me to write. I will try to apply that concept to this final week to see if I'm able to observe any difference.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week 2 - Continued Low Self Efficacy

I started this writing project with a high sense of self efficacy. I believed I could write 50,000 words in one month. After 2 weeks, and only being 1k words into the project, I'm quaking in fear. Though I may have 25 days in NaNoWriMo, I have only 14 days to finish up this project. That is 3,500 words a day. Between work and school work, this feels entirely impossible.

Part of the problem is my own fault. Every time I feel I should write, I play instead. I am sabotaging myself. I'm not exactly sure why. Either way, my current self-efficacy is low for completing NaNoWriMo this month.

I'm currently experiencing cognitive dissonance. I'm trying to justify it somehow, but all I have, is that my own actions were poorly chosen, and that I have placed more work and stress on myself instead. This made it even harder for me to tackle the issue. Instead, what I did to reduce the dissonance, is to accept that I have a larger workload, and plan to schedule harder set times to write.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Week 1 - Terrible Failure

Arrgh! It's like everyone I know is against me actually sitting down to write. So I'm 9000 words behind my goal. This in and of itself isn't too horrible, since the idea of 2000 words a day is supposed to be an attainable goal. One of the reasons I'm so frustrated right now, is because I know I can write 2000 words a day. Not doing so is creating a cognitive dissonance to my self-efficacy of writing a word count each day.

Now there are several things I can do at this point. I can justify that other people took me away from writing, or I can say that I was too busy with other things, and that I'll just have to work harder. But none of these things will allow me to accomplish my goals. Instead I have to explore a way to set up time and talk to my loved ones about my goals. Support and open communication are the keys to setting myself up to succeed after failing.

So while we have established that the story is about a paradigm shift that will occur from a brother knowing more about his sister's life, and experiencing a different life, the actual reasons that he dislikes his sister is because she has strengths that he does not (and vice versa). As a matter of fact, his sister is a representation of his shadow (Jungian Shadow). To explore this, part of the shift is to take part of what his sister does differently that he is weak at, and strengthen it. By the end of the story, he will not hate that aspect of his sister, and will understand it better because of how his paradigm has changed.

How exactly this is to occur is still being worked out and is probably on the level of a Freaky Friday or Parent Trap type scenario.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breaking apart a Novel

My starting point, a story concept that I previously came up with, is from one of my random, quick write it down, locations. I have 4 choices that I think would be appropriate. I labeled them each 1-4 and rolled a d4. The roll of 2 means that I will writing the following:

Brother and sister switch bodies, and learn to get along better. A Modern (present day), Humor, Slice of life, Sex story. The main problem facing the protagonist will be: The brother needs to find a way back to his body before his reputation is ruined and continue living the life of the sister, which has several complications such as friends, boyfriends, homework, and using the bathroom. Possible settings of the story would be: High school, downtown, house party, home.

The protagonist would be the brother. The antagonist would possibly be the sister, as she tries to ruin his life, as she imagines he is ruining hers. She could do things like fail tests that he is taking (he would be good at school), get him cornered by her boyfriend, and make him become ostracized for being gay in high school.

The other thing is that I have less than 30 days to write all of this. Which means that I'm aiming to finish in 25 days. That means, 2000 words each day of writing. No ifs, ands or buts. The goal is to reach 50,000 words. Regardless of whether the story has typos or inaccuracies. The only thing I have to do is give it a beginning, a middle and an end by the 50,000+ word mark.

I'll be giving myself 1 day to research and prepare, 1 day to put the project together, and 1 day to relax or as a buffer.

Ciro (short for Cirocco, ancient Egyptian wind) and Cerise (French for cherry) are the brother and sister. The sister has a boyfriend named Jacob (supplanter). The Mom and Dad will mostly be out of it to keep characters down. Ciro will be a loner, while Cerise will have a friend, in this case Jamie (also supplanter) who will want the brother.

Small Basic Hollywood Style Guide:
Opening Scene - The theme of the story
Setting Up the Story
Inciting Incident
Big Decision
Into the Wide Unknown
Getting to Know the Character
Midpoint - At this point the story has reached the midpoint, but that does not mean I'll be at 25,000 words.
Antagonist Returns
Low Point
Ah ha! Moment
Final Push

If I still need more:
Character Reactions to Plot and/or subplots
Relationship Black Moment
Character Revises Life Goals
Possible Re-emergence of conflict or opposition

Monday, October 24, 2011

One Long Month

It has been one very hectic and busy month. Between work and my school assignments, I was kept busier than a busy bee. I was getting 4 hours of sleep per day. I was to the point of not functioning. Needless to say none of my side projects got done.

An interesting thing is happening for my current class, something that I felt like taking advantage of anyways. It just so happens that my next class's final is a 20% project. This is the concept from Google, where each employee was encouraged to take 20% of their time to come up with new products or ideas for the company. As part of my final grade I need to create something that is measurable, shows where I am at in the beginning, and shows how far I got at the end.

Though the class started today, it will also end in 4 weeks, which is essentially 1 month. This following month is November. November is also known as National Novel Writing Month. I've never written a 50,000 word story. I've done half of that though. So that means that this month, my goal is to write a novel. I'm starting at 0 words in the novel. Blank slate. The one thing I'm going to do is dip into my archive of story ideas, and choose one.

So while I'm doing other assignments and working, I'll be writing a novel. The other good thing, is that this means that I'm going to be using not only this blog as a measuring device, but as a way of exploring the concepts that I'm learning as I apply them to my project.

So this will be a month all about writing! You might even get pictures or a vlog post!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chaos Game Design

Started a Tumblr page to keep track of changes and prototypes created for the Chaos Game.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Star Wars already has 8 Million Registered Users

Just announced today, Star Wars MMO has already surpassed 8 million registered users. John Smedley said the company was thrilled with the success of the game when it originally got to one million users. Smedley said, "LucasArts continues to be an excellent partner, giving our team unprecedented access so that we can continue to create a virtual world that expands beyond the storylines ... in fun and creative ways."

He said that the company was happy and said that he "looks forward to seeing our community and games continue to grow..."

Read more over on Gamasutra.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Punishment in Videogames

At some point in many videogames you either no longer feel threatened or the punishment for death becomes meaningless. In Super Mario Bros. it was when you were able to generate near infinite lives. In Final Fantasy X it’s when you unlock each character’s ultimate weapon, and can finish the last boss in one hit. In Grand Theft Auto, it’s when you turn the game into a sandbox by cheating.

At these points, when the game crosses the threshold of no longer having consequences, a few things tend to happen. Some players use this as a time to feel liberated. They have fun being able to run around, explore, and generally not worry about “running out”. To use an MMO example, this is a level 85 tanking all of Scarlet Monastery for a lowbie friend. It is an exultation of power. By itself though it can become boring very quickly.

This boredom sometimes comes first until the player figures out how to have fun with it. Essentially the game is now a sandbox. This means that players can simply practice, explore, or make up their own challenges. Another way to reach this point is through mastery, as mastery can result in similar situations and feelings as becoming overpowered.

The other side of games becoming too easy is games that become too challenging. In this case, the player may end up simply quiting the game. If they do keep playing, they may or may not increase in skill to get to the next level of mastery to surpass the challenge and continue play. At the same time, there are games that are essentially about punishment (rogue-a-likes) and at that point the game is about player versus designer, where good players begin to be able to predict the designer’s horrible evil plot to kill them.

With all that in mind, what are the positives of punishment in games?

1) It adds risk to gameplay. This means is essential to taking a concept from learning to mastery. Things like complicated wall jumps over spike pits, dangerous enemy combinations or bosses that require use of the player’s different skills are examples of this.

2) It adds value to certain resources. Risk makes safe zones, health kits and super mushrooms things that the player seeks out. Suddenly using a health kit is can be an interesting choice, especially if part of the heal will be wasted if you use it too soon.

3) It makes victory feel more fulfilling. Especially if the game is in a high flow state where the player is meeting the challenges and struggling just enough. The risk of dying or of losing a large combo multiplier versus the risk of not successfully accomplishing a goal is an example of this.

On the other hand, punishment in games can easily be overdone. Probably more easily than many other design choices the game maker decides on. It can make players give up at one extreme and it can make players too cautious and averse to exploration on another.

In one of the Fable games, the game would scar the player if they lost. This can lead to quick game resets, where players would rather lose part of what they have done rather than suffer the punishment of scarring their avatar. Punishment can devalue a player’s actions and choices, making the game less satisfying. This makes it more likely for all players to follow a guide rather than explore the game themselves. For example, in WoW, they player’s punishment of not doing enough damage happens when they do not follow predetermined “correct” gearing and talent choices.

One of the greatest forms of punishment, is shaming. This is why in Fable 2 players would reset their game, and why in WoW certain players will do anything to not be called a noob. I remember in Ridge Racer Evolution on the Playstation, the announcer would insult the player the moment they started doing poorly. At the age of 14 that game left me in tears of rage and shame.

Punishment can be used to control player economies, by creating money sinks (I’m looking at you armor repair cost). Resource depletion is one of the most common forms of punishment. This includes ammo in FPS games, or lives in quarter-cruncher style games. Games where there are a time limit, the punishment is often loss of time. For example in Mario Kart, the Lakitu takes a while to reset the player back on the track.

In games where lives are no longer an issue, the punishment is in the form of lost time, or prevention from continuing. In these cases, light shame punishments (You Lose) may be required to create tension for the player.

With all this in mind, the main thing that makes punishment more of a fun thing as opposed to a negative in games is control. The player must not only be able to prevent the punishment, but they must be able to understand why it is happening.

This is one of the major issues players have in PVP against stealth opponents. They feel that they have no control over the attacks. This is where skill shot based attacks do better than target attacks (the difference between casting a Blizzard spell and a Fireball spell in WoW). The skill shot allows for the player to predict the location of the hidden opponent and hit them. The more control the player has, the better they feel when when they lose. Because then it is something they can fix or improve, rather than the game simply being unfair to them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cardboard Box Assembler Review

My son is usually a source of what is fun for me. That said, he has a way of finding interesting flash games online. One of them that I fell in love with, and would love to see expanded upon is Cardboard Box Assembler (distributed by Adult Swim Games). I played the game through the Armour Games online portal.

CBA (Cardboard Box Assembler), is a game where you play a guy running around the outside of a box. The game is a kinetic puzzler to get all the items necessary to open the portal and head through the exit. Movement is fluid. Jumping and running feel visceral, and has weight to it.

New concepts are introduced simply and by themselves before being combined with other aspects of the game. As you run around, you can see the other side of the box, which sometimes can hint at how to get where you need to go.

With that in mind, there is no hint system. If you are stuck, all you can do is skip the level. With that in mind, there are simply not enough levels in the game. The game would require more levels to be a full release to a console or portable device. It also feels that the character should be able to do more. Despite looking agile, the character can not wall jump, or do any other agile movements other than jump and run.

The 3D box effect is what first drew me into the game. It is amazing for a flash game, and reminded me of an old Atari game called Rubick’s cube. The storyline is throw away, and should be ignored, vigorously. I was trying to find out who made the game, and the best I could come up with was that it used to be called Cubesome. I suppose that adding the story is what made it an Adult Swim game, but honestly it would have done better to have chosen a better storyline.

There’s a lot of directions this game could go in, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it expanding beyond a flash game. It is an amazingly fun little flash game that could easily become something more. Especially as a downloadable game on the 3DS or PSP Vita. The game could do more, like having more movement choices for the character, more levels, and more complicated structures (other than just cubes). The storyline is a severe issue though and should be dumped and recreated before release (as it manages to be both not funny and stupid).