Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Mods

In this article, game designer Sande Chen examines how modding board games and sports can inspire creativity.

One of my first mobile projects was on porting the board game Scrabble to mobile devices for JamDat, which would be later acquired by EA to become EA Mobile.  Scrabble is a familiar game.  Most everyone has played Scrabble, yet, as I found, people play by different "house" rules.  As Brenda Romero mentioned during my visit to see her installation, Train (See Reflections on Train), part of the board game experience is that the board game players can change the rules.  In fact, one player of Train decided that some of those passengers could make it to Switzerland.

Have you ever "modded" a board game?  If you don't like how Monopoly takes so long, how about creating a rule that alleviates that?  Have some fun taking a look at some old favorite board games and see what ideas you can generate.

The programmer of Scrabble and I used to take breaks by playing ping-pong in the office.  We would invent new ways of playing ping-pong:  Double Net, Double Hit, etc.  Every day, we would try to come up and play new variations of ping-pong.  For BarfBall, we used a Nerf ball that the dog had chewed up and spat out.  This gave the Nerf ball some weird properties when hit with a paddle.
Book version

For a recent assignment in A Crash Course on Creativity, I was challenged to come up with a new sport by looking at common household items.  If you are interested in seeing what others came up with, you can do a search on YouTube.

Here's my take:

I definitely looked at different "sports" and tried to see what I could modify to combine all these elements.

I think it's great that aspiring game designers can "mod" computer games.  But remember, you can always do these thought experiments as well.  "Mod" a board game and see what you come up with!

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Play a Little: Office Space

In the book, InGenius: A Crash Course On Creativity, by Tina Seelig, the author points out that as toddlers, we are surrounded by bright colors and stimuli to encourage discovery. Through playing, we learn. But as we go through the school system, this creativity can be stifled.

Do you remember your old high school or elementary school? Were the desks lined up in rows? Schools were patterned after military barracks. There’s this picture of the teacher as the “fount of knowledge” and the student as the “vessel.” Then, as we graduate, we may find ourselves in similar spaces: cubicles or tables lined up in a row. The message is that the workplace isn’t a place for play, but for serious effort.

I’ve been at companies with the cubicles and even one where all personal surfing or e-mail had to be done during lunch breaks on a computer set aside for that purpose. But I’ve also been at companies where it’s alright to take a walk or play a couple rounds of pinball. I’ve seen some companies set aside a “fun” location, where there’s the consoles and a stack of games. That’s supposed to be the appeal of working at a game company – that it’s different, it’s fun, and not your regular corporate work-slave place. We’re in the business of play, right?

What does your office space about your company? In the Stanford design school where Seelig teaches creativity enhancement, the classroom is set up more as a performance stage than a lecture hall. The chairs and tables aren’t bolted down, but are props for exercises. In her book, she interviews several firms that value creativity. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of workplaces with scooters and slides. One of the most interesting case studies was a design firm who encouraged a culture of constant re-invention. If a colleague went on vacation to Paris, she might come back find her workplace transformed into a mock sidewalk cafĂ©.

I know that when I see the prototyping supplies at NYU, I do get flashbacks of pre-school from all the bright colors of the fun “toys”, like the rubber bands, blocks, Legos, Post-Its, and dice. If you want to capture that spirit of playfulness, then think about promoting an environment of playfulness. It’s too easy to get mired down in sameness. Creative solutions and creative products don’t come from sameness.

Play a little.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Volunteering

The following article was written for the IGDA Newsletter. 

As someone who has led a volunteer organization and participated in many other volunteer efforts, I can tell you that what you put into it is what you get out of it. Disappointed that your IGDA chapter or SIG is not doing enough? Volunteer to make a change! Once you start, it’s contagious. Other people will step up and start volunteering too.

As I mentioned in a previous article, Wednesday Lunch in New York, I volunteered to set up an ARG SIG meet-up. From that initial meeting, I met people and we decided we wanted to do a monthly NYC-based Drink Night. It would be a low-key event, just a gathering. It didn’t matter that we started small. One has to think about current commitments and what a person is capable of doing. There’s no sense promising a gala event when there’s no one to help with it. It really is like production planning. Evaluate your resources and see what you can do in the time frame permitted.

Of your resources, the most important is the people! Treat your volunteers well and let them know how much you value their contributions. They could be doing other things with their time. Always remember that your volunteers need to benefit from this activity, even if it’s just your appreciation. No one wants to feel used or abused, especially for a volunteer activity. If your volunteers aren’t having fun, then there’s something wrong.

Treat yourself well, too. If you can’t secure that elusive speaker, then oh well. What’s the alternative? Sure, it would be nice not to have the same speakers all the time, but you work with what you got. The sky’s not going to fall down. Don’t overtax yourself. Remember, starting small is alright. As more and more people come to events, there will be more ideas for events and more people willing to work on them.

Another important item to remember is publicity. You put in the effort and so did your other volunteers, now will people come? Try to get the message out wherever you can and send out reminders, if you can. Most chapters and SIGs have a Facebook group to facilitate this. If you don’t have one, start one.

Good luck and have fun!

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

November 2012: Mods

Welcome to November and a new topic for GDAM:  Mods!

I noticed that when advice is given to aspiring game designers, they are often told to start with mods, or modifications, of games.  Many big games come with tools so that players can build new levels and share with the game-playing community.  Many well-known game studios have a modding background.  Large projects may need a team but there are also tools for smaller games or games that can be developed by one or two people.

I would like to hear about your experiences as part of the mod community and what advice you would give to aspiring game designers who want to get started.  If you are interested in contributing an article, please look at the submission guidelines and e-mail the article to me.

Here are some questions to get you thinking about the topic.
  • What valuable lessons can you learn from modding?
  • What skills do you need to get started?  How hard or easy would it be to pick up? 
  • Do you have any success stories or memorable experiences to relate?
  • What is the community like?