Play Journal: November 2014
by Thom Kiraly
Ah, Novemeberr, the misspelled month. The cold carefully creeps closer and my alliterations are clearly cleverly cunning as ever. What does this have to do with the Play Journal? Nothing, of course. Should I actually be writing my term paper? Yes, but let’s just get this over with. If, for some reason, you want more once you’re done here, check out my BlackBox CPH post, which was originally part of this post. Blablablablabla! Aaaaand here’s stuff I’ve played in Novemibör 2014.
November saw our game design group move into full, actual production. In keeping with our sacred bible and guiding star, Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop, we went for an early playtest. We’ve also made sure to test a bit for the other groups, both for the goodwill (favors for favors etc.), but also because it’s exciting to test clunky shit and then watch as it grows (or slowly folds into a miserable little pile of secrets)
My words exactly! – I am so used to playtests being an exercise in civility/not crushing someone’s hopes all too much that I was pleasantly surprised by this prototype. Not only is it one of the few (if not the only) boardgame designs among all of the game design teams, it’s also really good and has been good from very early on. Second playthrough wasn’t as smooth as the first one, though. This was mainly the fault of feature creep probably brought on by the game being more or less finished at such an early stage. Idle hands and so on and so on.
My Words Exactly! is a word association game with a couple of clever twists. Not only do you try and get a player to guess what word is currently ”taboo”, you also try to predict what words other players will use to try and make the guesser get to the right word. If you predict well enough, you get the chance to basically steal the initiative and lead the guesser towards the taboo word, scoring points for both of you.
This is a game I’d really like to play with people (no, I don’t consider other game design students people, #sorrynotsorry). It has the tension of time-attack games, the deliberation and strategy of a tactical and competitive game, and the maniacal laughter of people (i.e. not game designers) I usually only meet in dreams.
KobraKitez – One thing I really appreciate in a design is when it’s clear that the people behind it have made an effort to use the platform’s affordances to their advantage. KobraKitez (apparently only a working title) does this in a couple of different ways. In this handheld touchscreen game, two players face off in a sort of “coopetition” where they try to gather as many points as possible by shooting creeps spawning all around the screen, shoot ’em up-style. The big twist is that if either of the spaceships are destroyed, the game is over for both players. A second, tinier twist is that at certain points, the game allows for the view of the game to be rotated by the two players actually rotating. This comes in handy in boss fights, where the main creep actually has to be avoided by rotating.
It’s been exciting to see this thing grow and become a game in its own right, rather than a 2P version of one of the most classic game types there is.
You & Eye – This is my group’s game. It’s a local multiplayer game for 2-8 players, supposed to be played in a party setting or wherever local multiplayer nerds gather. The main version of the game pits you and a teammate against a team made up of two other players. You share a controller with your teammate and use one stick each to control an end of an elastic rope. Together, you swing, roll, jump and tumble around trying to kill the other team, get through their levels and make it all the way to the end with a McGuffin-thingy.
We brought christmas beer for the Alpha test, but our professor didn’t drink it. He did hold it, though, and we’ve made our other testers hold cans as well… as a proof of concept, I guess. Though we have a couple of technical issues, the core gameplay is solid, hectic and makes people scream. These are all good things.
Nordic Game Day 2014:
As w00t Pop-Up‘s first official gig, we headed to Vallensbæk library to play games with people there as part of the Nordic Game Day. Apart from some technical setbacks, it went well.
Baking with Friends – I wrote about this game last month, and apart from me being a bit better at it (I actually made a cake instead of a hotdog this time!), not much has changed. That is to say: I still like it a lot.
LAZA KNITEZ!! – We brought the trusty ol’ Babycade with us to Vallensbæk and I managed to play a couple of games before the whole thing crashed due to USB hub overload bullshit. I’ve mentioned before, and it’s still true, that I have a hard time giving n00bs a fair game in LAZA KNITEZ!!. I usually am OK at feigning incompetence (haha, yeah… I’m “feigning”), but I think that the fact that you always move forward in LK makes it harder to stay passive. This is of course part of the wonder of the game as you’re forced into tense situations all the time, but I’ve beaten people even when I didn’t use the controller AT ALL (!!).
JS Joust – I would probably skip saying much of anything if it hadn’t been for these guys taking jousting to the next level:
Towerfall: Ascension – One of the mainstays of the indie Local Multiplayer scene, Towerfall is basically required play for our game design group. This was the first time I tried the game with four people, but I don’t feel I have enough experience with it to say much of anything.
Speedrunners – Another LMP game we tried out for our game design. This was interesting, but like with Towerfall, I’d like to play it a bit more before saying much. It sounds like I need to throw a ITU LMP party.
Luftrausers – For procrastination time, make it Luftrausers time. That is all.
Arcana – Tried it for potential use in my term paper, but decided not to use it. Won’t play again.
Nidhogg – Our game is turning out to take quite some inspiration from Nidhogg, so some of the development time is spent playing and analysing it to better understand our own game.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – I finished a narrative analysis of S:SoC for school early in Novemibherrr and didn’t play it more after that, but I could probably lose myself in this game if I had the time. I could even forgive the use of the fucking amnesia trope.
Toca Boca stuff (4 games) – First off: a wonderful thing about the Toca Boca apps is that their designers call themselves play designers rather than game designers. It shows in the games. Second, these apps are a whole bag of fun. I spent a good part of an evening getting into all of them myself. The music band app is crazy, and it fits the age category very well.
Malmö Play Club Session – I finally, finally, finally made it to another Play Club session. I seem to average on less than once a month, and that’s just too seldom. Here’s a list of games I remember us playing, but don’t feel like explaining:
Sound and Fury. Bleed tag; 1,2 looking for 3, 4 for 5,6; Chip Chipoing; Bleed Tag + ambulance; Sausages/Fläsk; Say Yes!; Wink Murder.
Mutant: År Noll – My one continuing RPG campaign continued with a session wherein we used our mutations a lot more than ever before. This pushes the system to a point where I wish it would push back, but the consequences seem a bit too weak. Every time you push a roll (rerolling), you run the “risk” of getting more mutation points, but once you reach the max (10) points, nothing really meaningful happens. Aaanyway, the system has a couple of strange holes that keeps bothering me, but I get to play with good people and that makes up for it.
This session was climactic in several ways. The first, and a bit less interesting, was that I finally changed character archetype from “mutant with dog” to… Zonstrykare (basically a STALKER) Which I reckon will be a bit more useful. The second big and amazing thing that happened was that one of my fellow players drove a PC-PC conflict pretty hard and it ended up in him retiring his character. My mutant and his came to blows (almost physical) on a lot of issues that we both feel has been the result of the system and color of the game basically encouraging PC psychopathy. This is a thing we reveled in throughout the first couple of sessions, but once it became clear that we weren’t getting stopped by NPCs, we realized that in order for our characters to become playable, we had to push for that ourselves. So, the result was bittersweet and satisfying in that things were resolved without actually reaching much of a conclusion.
Hit the Hat – This was probably the one of the first proper games for lil’ M. We play with cards and memory bricks all the time, but the focus is mostly on learning numbers and colors of cards or building farms (yes, for toy animals) out of the bricks. A funny and fun thing about playing more structured games with kids (this one being 3,5 yrs) is that it forces you to reevaluate what you think is most important about the game. It’s not always what it says in the manual. This time (and most times, I hope), it drew me towards finding the well-played game. Doing this is helpful for anybody exploring games and what makes people play them, but doing it with little kids doesn’t leave you any choice but to play along, as it were. If you don’t, they’ll adjust by either finding a strategy that works within the game or leaving.
If you’ve read this far you’ve… read this far, I guess. The map is the territory and so on and so on, right?