Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

Tag: #1GAM(Page 2 of 3)

Scapa Flow: My #1GAM WWI Submarine Game

For my April one game a month challenge I “finished” my submarine game. Finished is in quotes because there are still things I want to improve but it’s playable. It’s unlike other submarine games in the sense that there are no battle tactics, only conversational tactics. And unlike the last post on this game, it now has a title: Scapa Flow.

Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland which served as a base for the British Grand Fleet during both World Wars. The base closed in 1956 with only three known u-boat incursions. The title of the game alludes to the frustrations on both sides of the war: the English feared u-boat infiltration and the Germans knew that successfully attacking Scapa Flow was a pipe dream.

I have previously written about some of the design rationale. This post is about the current state of the game.

If you want to play the game please contact me as it’s in private beta right now.

Scapa Flow Gameplay

The player takes on the role of commanding a German U-boat during the First World War. They navigate open waters near a coast with relatively heavy shipping and protection from the British Royal Navy. The goal is to sink British ships while not getting caught, you can be caught by engaging with a civilian ship giving away your location or a British ship finding you.


Scapa Flow is set before February 1915 when the Germans announced that they were engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare. Which means that the player needs to discern which is an enemy combatant ship and which isn’t. There is only one clear way of doing this in the game as some civilian-looking ships are actually Royal Navy ships. The way to figure out foe from anyone else is to use radio.

The use of radio in the Great War was amateur at best because of the newness of the technology and a lack of training on how to use it. In the game, I made it so the only use of radio is for conversations with nearby ships. This may be a bit of a stretch but it gives the player agency beyond guessing. If you’re interested in learning more about radio at this time you can read Wireless Waves in the World’s War.

There is no clear way to win the game and that is on purpose. In Scapa Flow game, even if you “win” by sinking enemy ships you’re not rewarded for it. The only thing that permits the player to keep playing is to not bring the Declaration of Paris – which is harder than you think!

The goal of the game is to point out the rules of engagement that were used in the early stages of the Great War. When talking about the early land war I often find people reference cavalry charges against tanks (which is a myth and not even during WW1); however, there is truth to the claim that generals were having to relearn how to fight. New technology and powerful weapons literally change the shape of the battlefield. Having to adjust to new techniques was not isolated to just land battles – it extended to sea battles too.

At the start of the war the British and French destroyed German surface shipping. Britain had the largest navy at the time and the Germans were considered quite weak. So, the Germans were essentially blockaded – except for their u-boats. Now the tides had turned and the weaker naval force could cause considerable damage.

The Germans were able to sink Royal Navy ships but they also wanted to stop war material shipping. This posed a problem of whether or not naval warfare ought to follow the ‘old’ rules of the sea. That means military ships should only attack other military ships and not attack civilians – as that would be considered piracy. At first, the Germans followed the anti-piracy rules known as the Declaration of Paris.

Captains were supposed to message merchant ships, let them know you’re searching their ship. Then, if something is found, let the crew evacuate the ship. Thus leaving the ship to be scuttled or taken as a prize. The problem with all of this, is that u-boats need to surface to do so.

A surfaced submarine is vulnerable. The British (knowing that the Germans were following the prize rules) started putting hidden guns on merchant ships so when a u-boat surfaced near a merchant ship the u-boat was vulnerable and could be attacked.


The Germans were told that if they used their u-boats to target merchants that the USA would enter the war. America entering the war so early would increase the probability that the Germans would lose the war and lose access to the material the Americans were selling to both sides.

All this time, the French and British submarines were sitting essentially idle at dock with nothing to shoot at.

Nobody wins in the Great War, one side just lost less.

Designing the game:

Like other months, I create some design goals or challenges for myself. As always, there are technical limits (or new tools) I place on myself and thematic tasks too. This time around I had two technically related choices set out for myself:

On the thematic side, I wanted to explore making a serious game that had a short gameplay experience which could encourage a class discussion. This worked out quite well for a game built starting at a jam as the scope wasn’t insane.

As you can gather from the above description of the game play I likely went too far in scope. At the same time, it’s a short and simple game. It took some time to get back up to speed on some Unity things but once I did, everything started to progress at an OK rate.

Using Unity was a good decision, and most of the games I make for the rest of the year will be in Unity (That being said, my next game uses GameSalad).

I should have been able to do all of this in C#, instead I decided to use PlayMaker and I’m not sure it made things easier.



Playmaker is a visual editing tool that is designed for people who aren’t familiar with programming. At first I was pretty impressed by it as it’s obvious that one can build an entire game using PlayMaker. By the end of working on Scapa Flow I found it frustrating. The reason for this is less PlayMaker than it is me starting to learn C#.

If you are planing on making a game using PlayMaker I suggest that you use only PlayMaker and to not try to integrate text-based scripting with it. Another thing to keep an eye on is how you use the scripting on game objects in Unity. I decided to create a camera controller script separate from the conversations players have with ships and this ended up being more trouble than it was worth. If I was to do this again, I would structure the game objects in a more logical way for PlayMaker whereas the structure I used makes sense for non-visual scripting.

Next steps:

To be honest, there are still some bugs in the game which I’m squashing as I work on May’s game. Keeping up with getting a game a month completed is harder than I predicted (no shock there) and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back on pace soon. Still, some progress is better than no progress.

Regardless, I may need to decrease my scope for the rest of the year’s projects.

From an earlier version of the game showing the periscope view.

From an earlier version of the game showing the periscope view.

Here’s a rundown of what I want to do with the game before making a big release:

  • More play testing
  • Finish accompanying lesson plan
  • Fix minor game bugs
  • Add more conversation branches
  • Get it working on tablets (maybe)

Once those are complete I’ll put the final game out in the wild.

As with many recent projects, I must thank Ali for a whole bunch of help.

My previous #1GAM games:

January – Gnome Oppressor
February – Village of Cards
March – AstroDoge

AstroDoge: A Game Inspired By Dogecoin


AstroDoge is available on both the App Store and Google Play! You can download it for free right this very instant.

Really, it’s a frolicking adventure about saving “doges” while avoiding asteroids.

What is this?

I’ve been trying to release one game a month and have so far succeeded, and now I’m even ahead of schedule. AstroDoge came out of the blue one day when Ali (a co-conspirator at Wero Creative) said he wants to make a game about saving lost shibes in space. If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, that’s alright.

AstroDoge all started from our love of Dogecoin (read my post on it here) and surpassingly worked as a game. In the Dogecoin Reddit community we refer to each other as shibes because the doge dog is a shiba inu.

We began making AstroDoge the day I sent out this tweet; note the mockups on the computer and the paper prototype:

Under a month

In under a month we conceptualized the game and created a very small marketing plan for our admittedly ridiculous game. Heck, we even found time to create not one but two(!) trailers:

I usually do more detailed write-ups about the design and implementation of my #1GAM games and I’ll do so with this one in a future post. For now, you can go and enjoy the game!

Google Play

If you’re a rich shibe you can send us dogecoins: DBzQb5MUoJqs8oHzuXGYoJ6XMLsLuy6z3z

Village of Cards: A Canadian ‘House Of Cards’ Game

Card mockups

Early card mockups complete with spelling mistakes.

First off, the fact that House of Cards was released the same month I set out to make a card game on Canada’s electoral system is merely coincidence. If you haven’t seen the show yet – you should!

In House of Cards the characters are striving for personal power or wealth, but that does not reflect what I’m looking to cover. I’m looking to make a comment on Canada’s horrible state of elections that has only worsened over the last decade. Of many,many, many issues that have surfaced around bad election (and related) policies the most recent is the move by the Conservative party to make elections less democratic.

That’s federal. On the provincial level we have seen attempts at electoral reform fail while corruption seems to grow. What’s more, on the municipal level Montreal has gone through more mayors than I can keep track of and in Toronto we have the worst mayor the city has ever seen.

Beyond the above issues, voter apathy is increasing and traditional political participation decreasing. I have found this state of politics in Canada frustrating and what better way than using a game to express my frustration?

Thus: Village of Cards now exists.

The name Village of Cards is a nod to history and etymology of Canada. According to Wikipedia: “The name Canada originated around 1535 from the Saint-Lawrence Iroquoian word Kanata meaning “village”.” And, the name change hopefully lowers the likelihood that I’ll get sued.

The game:

Play testing the game

Play testing the game

The goal of Village of Cards is to win an election by getting more votes than your opponents!

The game runs for four “weeks” (AKA rounds), and each week has five “days” (AKA turns). Every week the front runner is determined (who has the most votes) and a news event is randomly drawn. Players then need to react to the event while playing their cards to beat their opponents.

Players play action cards once per day of the week that allows them to:

  • Earn votes from active voters
  • Steal votes form an opponent
  • Modify their (or an opponent’s hand)
  • Block an opponent’s card from having an effect

It’s meant to reflect what it’s like to run an electoral campaign in Canada.

Designing the game:

The game itself is meant to not be clearly in support of any particular party nor to pick on any party (despite how tempting that was). I also knew that this game had to have three or more players. If it only had two players it would be less fun and be interpreted to reflect the two party system in the USA.

Here are some the goals of the design process:

  • Not be indicative of any level of government
  • Show that voters will not vote because of ‘bad’ behaviour of candidates
  • Demonstrate that voter apathy impacts elections and campaign strategies
  • Be engaging to people who “don’t care about politics”
  • Have a short setup to play time (less than 5 minutes to explain the game)
  • The game has multiple strategies to win it

Only one of the goals was not fully met and that would be the last one. But, let’s go through each of the above.

Look at this guy testing!

Not be indicative of any level of government
Canada has three levels of government and they operate in a similar way when it comes to elections. Indeed, only municipal elections tend to diverge amongst the country. As a result all I had to do was not be explicit on the cards about which level the game is set at; indeed, I did the opposite and included scandals and issues from all levels.

Therefore it made sense to reference the Conservative robocall scandal; Kathleen Wynne’s feeble attempt at social media; and of course smoking crack.

Play testers often debated which level of government they were campaigning for. “I thought I was going to be the Prime Minister, and you thought we were fighting for Premier?”

Show that voters will not vote because of ‘bad’ behaviour of candidates
The game has two voter pools – one of active voters and one that contains apathetic voters. To capture the reality that voter participation is decreasing with each election the apathetic voter pool starts with 50% of all votes. That’s not enough though, I made the cards more inclined to discourage voters more powerful and plentiful to reflect the current state of Canadian politics.

This mechanic is in the game because as I often say to my students: the mechanics are the message.

Demonstrate that voter apathy impacts elections and campaign strategies
This is directly related to the above design issue. The mechanics of the game make it so one valid strategy is to drive people away from voting and to just steal votes from your opponents. However, this makes it really difficult for the other players ensuring that there is a constant cycle of votes between active and inactive voters.

Each candidate just needs to have more votes in their pool than other candidates to win. Like in Canadian elections, it’s possible that you can have less than 30% of total votes and win a majority.

More play testing

More play testing

Be engaging to people who “don’t care about politics”
The name choice was inspired by a joking comment by a friend and Village of Cards stuck. Playing off of the popularity of House of Cards will hopefully help people ease into the game. But I can’t just rely on a TV show.

This is where play testing with a diverse group of people revealed more than normal. Everyone has an opinion of politics – even people who are self admittedly ignorant and apathetic. With people who are into politics at more than a cursory level they instantly got into the game and wanted more political jabs. Others didn’t get the tongue in check political cards I made but they did get how the game works – indeed it even inspired players to ask about the first past the post system we have in Canada.

To appeal to people who don’t instantly buy into the political angle I had to ensure that the game needs to be easy and fast to learn.

Have a short setup to play time (less than 5 minutes to explain the game)
Because this was an ongoing concern of mine from the beginning of the project it was reflected in all the design decisions I made. When it came to actually explaining the rules I got it to be shorter than five minutes every time.

From setup to playing took basically no time; however learning the late game strategy was a challenge for every new player.

The game has multiple strategies to win it
Players can adopt three basic strategies for the game but most of it doesn’t matter until the final week of the game.

Ideally I wanted a player to be able to front load their campaign and get a ton of followers the first week to win the game. This was never play tested to be true as the first week was always haphazard and the last week players were playing their most powerful cads. In some ways this does reflect reality, but it means that the game is less fun (and remember I want to appeal to people who don’t love politics).

As mentioned, above, allowing for multiple strategies is the only design point that I didn’t achieve. The reason for this is a lack of cards that have entire game impact (I assume I’ll constantly be updating the cards). The framework of the solution is already there – I just need to amp it up.



If you’d like to play this game and happen to be in Toronto – let me know!

As always, thanks to all those people I subjected to testing this game with me!

My previous #1GAM games:

Gnome Oppressor

Find out more about #1GAM here.

#1GAM January: Gnome Oppressor

Gnome Oppressor

Gnome Oppressor is a game about a gnome flying and dealing with enemies. I created it for the Game a Month challenge and it’s the first game of (ideally) 12 that I’ll be a part of creating this year. As a personal challenge I’ve also decided to give myself design constraints on each game.


For January I decided the following:

  • Make it in GameSalad
  • Use only art from CatLifter or creative commons licensed material
  • Only use open sourced audio
  • Incorporate procedural generation
  • Have the game entirely played in one scene
  • Use the Video Game Name Generator for the title

Gnome Oppressor

The rationale behind some of the above is to show people who don’t have artists on their team that games can be made using the creative commons. Only two art assets from previous work were used in Gnome Oppressor (the plane and bomb button) which was done by the very talented Krys Chiem.

Most of the visual art game from the platform pack made by and the amazing people at the now defunct Glitch. The team at Glitch decided to toss all of their beautiful art into the commons, which is awesome of them. If you’re an art director you’d be screaming at me for all this mismatched art.

By far, it was the easiest to find audio for this game. Audio was also from and some sound effects from OpenGameArt.

Procedurally generating content in GameSalad isn’t the easiest thing to do for a variety of reasons that are boring to go into. However, it is possible; additionally, I wanted to see if I could make an endless runner style game. When making CatLifter one of the bottlenecks in release was level design which is why I opted for procedural generation.

Go gnome!

You can play Gnome Oppressor soon, I’m submitting it to the App Store and the game will be available for free.

Disconcertingly, mid-month I discovered that one the mechanics I wanted to use nearly impossible to build in GameSalad. This meant that in order to have semblance of fun I need to rethink a mechanic and that led me to add the bombing mechanic.The game could use more love and attention from me, it’s still not fun enough. So be it, I need to keep moving along with my game a month goal.

This is my second game that uses gnomes because gnomes are awesome. If you want to know more about gnomes then you should get the definitive resource on gnomes.

Thanks again to all the people who play tested this game!

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