Game Design Improv is a digitized game design exercise which I use to quickly produce ideas for games in all forms. It’s all about quickly creating game ideas based on limited information in a fun way.
In making this game I wanted to take something from the physical world in the digital as an example I can use in class. I also wanted to explore how the game would change in that process. A spin-off effect is that now anybody can play this game and they don’t need me there.
The way to play it is to use what’s presented on the screen in a short ~1 minute game pitch. In class we keep it quick and it works as a fun, quick, useful activity.
Designing the Game
Game Design Improv at Board Game Jam 2011
Game Design Improv (GDI) started at Board Game Jam a few years ago and was a hit amongst participants and spectators. The participants were at the front of the room and had to think up a game pitch based on the cards they pulled from a hat.
It started simply with a few decks of cards divided into: theme, object, game mechanic, and something random.
The goal of the game is just to produce the most game ideas in a short period of time. For Board Game Jam there was also the goal of making people laugh, thus the word improv in the title. (Terrance stole the show). The game proved to be fun right from the start.
Then I ran into a problem….
Making it digital
The first pass of the game
The original card deck has been lost forcing me to start again from scratch. So I figured it made sense to go digital.
This time around I first tried providing the categories of theme, narrative, game mechanic, genre, and something random. Each category was initially populated with 40 items each. It was quickly revealed that narrative and theme were too close to one another in subject and that having both limits creative freedom (thanks to Denis & Aaron).
I ended up merging narrative and theme into one: story.
This looks like a challenging game.
That meant room for one more category so I chose to go back to the original version and re-add object. Earlier players of the card version found that the object category contained non-objects and so I figure calling the category ‘thing’ is a fine solution.
On the first couple passes it was clear that 40 items per category aren’t enough so the number has been upped to 80. It greatly enhances the randomness of what shows up. Here’s an example of the repetition that was occurring:
Game idea repetition
There is the one problem that the game doesn’t feel like much of a game without the live interactive portion. As a result, I’m thinking of evolving this into something more than just a fun idea generation tool into an app for storing one’s ideas for games as a whole.
I’m sure that there’s going to be criticism around my use of genre and story as categories and what they contain. Let me be clear: genre is really for marketing so in the GCI context take it as you will; story is purposefully vague to encourage more creativity.
On the technical side, I used the open beta of Unity 4.6 with enhanced UI capabilities. I ran into a bug which kept destroying the main menu scene which was rather frustrating (that’s why it’s in beta). Still, I’m impressed with the easier UI creation in Unity 4.6. It’s also the first game coded in C# entirely on my own until I ran into that menu bug. Marty (from 13am) helped me identify the issue: don’t create a class named Main.
I’m just testing the build right now on my iPad and will be submitting it to the App Store later this week.
Das Game is a tongue-in-cheek look at the genesis of some modern philosophy from German existentialists. The gameplay is abstracted and purposefully confusing. The player needs to figure out what to do – just like in life.
I’ve been trying for some time to combine my interest in philosophy and my love of making games and this is the first stab at it. When teaching philosophy in class (it comes up naturally in design courses), I find that students are either intimidated by the subject or have trouble relating. Thus, I set out to make a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and won’t turn people away who are new to the subject.
Philosophy can be a hard thing to get into for a variety of reasons, one such reason could be that finding clear-cut answers is nearly impossible – something that internet culture is not good at. For example, if one was to ask what are the similarities between Sartre and Nietzsche, one would have to also look at Plato, Hegel, and Heidegger – a large task. Another option would be to watch videos about their thinking but that means getting an interpretation of complex materials which can vary.
On top of all of that existentialism can be scary for people. Thinking about why life is and what happens when we die doesn’t come up in everyday conversation.
With luck, Das Game will encourage people to find out more about modern philosophy. If it doesn’t, then hopefully players will have a laugh.
Some activities within the game are hidden while others are obvious. As mentioned, above the game is purposefully abstract and confusing. What the player does impacts a score calculation (which can be a negative total) that ultimately means nothing, err something.
The game is put into three main sections each of which is influenced by a philosopher I’ve found interesting. Really, this could all just be about Nietzsche but a little extra spice is nice.
To experience the true life of Being one needs to do the following:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
—Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann
Now that God is dead how are we to define ourselves? Nietzsche found that European culture hinged on the belief of a God existing and now without that god society and the self will both break down. To Nietzsche, this means we can turn inwards and find meaning for ourselves and at the very least we need a new framework for assessing moral behaviour.
To Be one with oneself can be read to mean many things in this context. Within the game are there are subtle small activities one can play to figure out what this all could mean.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Be one with nature
Martin Heidegger was a horrible human being. He also happened to have some interesting insights for the world of philosophy to ponder. This is best captured in The Question Concerning Technology which examines humanity’s relationship with and essence of technology in relation to Being.
Because he criticized technological modernity’s domineering attitude toward nature, and because he envisioned a postmodern era in which people would “let things be,” Heidegger has sometimes been read as an intellectual forerunner of today’s “deep ecology” movement.
In that paper, Zimmmerman points out (quite rightly) Heidegger was a Nazi and this will forever taint Heidegger’s thinking. However, we shouldn’t discount the problems about existence that he gave us to address. Indeed, we shouldn’t be that worried his thinking will turn people fascist as even “deep ecologists are far more influenced by democratic ideals than Heidegger was.”
There is a joke somewhere here about the game being played on a computer.
Be one with community
Ludwig Wittgenstein is impossible to fully understand. I will never purport to completely “get” Wittgenstein’s work but is fun to explore and play with. Which is why he is the influence for a part of the game.
A key point in Wittgenstein’s work is the use of language and communication. To oversimplify his thinking to an offensive level: if we don’t have the same conception of the meaning of a word then we can’t talk conclusively about the world around us. Words are how we communicate but words are dependent on subjective meaning. Indeed, to take it one step further language itself limits the extent of our knowing about the world around us.
How can we communicate our ideas as philosophers/thinkers/everyday people if we can’t even agree on basic meaning?
Wikipedia has this nice quote from the ever-amazing James Burke about Wittgenstein:
Someone apparently went up to the great philosopher Wittgenstein and said “What a lot of morons back in the Middle Ages must have been to have looked, every morning, at the dawn and to have thought what they were seeing was the Sun going around the Earth,” when every school kid knows that the Earth goes around the Sun, to which Wittgenstein replied “Yeah, but I wonder what it would have looked like if the Sun had been going around the Earth?” Burke’s point is that it “would have looked exactly the same: you see what your knowledge tells you you’re seeing.”
Making the game
The development started as a game jam game and was put on hold afterwards (like so many jam games). Participating in One Game a Month encouraged me to finish the game. The game art was all done during the weekend-long jam except for the game menu and icon. The game’s working title was Sü-zagne until Nick Packwood came up with the excellent title of Das Game (he has been a great help for this entire game!).
Like Gnome Oppressor, Das Game is also made in GameSalad. With Das Game I wanted to explore some of the advanced aspects of GameSalad like using the accelerometer and a score system comprised of multiple variables.
As I mentioned in a previous #1GAM post, I’m learning C# and switching between visual editors and text based is not proving to be seamless. This may just be the last GameSalad game I create, but I will not stop suggesting the tool (alongside Scratch, GameMaker, etc.) to people not familiar with coding.
The score system was easy and quick to setup, same with the rest of the game. The ongoing difficulty is in getting pixel-perfect procedural generation (which I also dealt with in Gnome Oppressor).
Getting the accelerometer to work was easier than expected but its performance is rather…lacking. As far as I can tell there is no way to tell what a ‘resting state’ is for the device. That means that if the player moves their mobile around while playing (standing instead of sitting) the accelerometer could get an improper reading. The accelerometer needs to be coordinated with layout options online. Overall, there was some frustration with how GameSalad mixes their online tools with the installed game editor.