Before this class, I had known about serious games like Papers, Please, but I hadn’t really thought about board games. I knew about some elements of game design from taking CS 247G, but I had forgotten a lot of details and didn’t apply those learnings to actual games.
In this class, although making the games in such short time frames was rather stressful, I learned a lot about thinking about game mechanics more intentionally. I learned about how the game can provide feedback to reinforce player learnings, and how to make the game mechanics fit the game’s fiction. I also learned about how difficult game balance was, which also showed the importance of playtesting. Only by playing the game multiple times can we catch all the problems that aren’t obvious in development.
Working with board games this quarter was interesting because I personally play very few board games, and I prefer playing single-player video games. A lot of interesting dynamics emerge when playing with and against other players, so learning how to incorporate those elements into our games was challenging. Especially with P3, because we had started by wanting to make a cooperative game. We quickly realized how complicated it would be and what potential problems would arrive when players had to work together. Real people are not as predictable and orderly as game AI, and one player could dominate the game and make it less fun for other players. When we playtested the competitive version of the game, it was fun to see how players would behave, and we ended up getting situations with broken balance that we didn’t predict. After observing the players’ actions and their reasons for making certain choices, we had to change the numbers in the game with each iteration. This taught me about how important it was to consider player motives. The game mechanics had to make the choices meaningful. Each available option should be incentivized, so players had to seriously consider which one was more advantageous. In addition, because board games are not automated like video games, I learned to simplify the game to its core mechanics. When the players had to manage all of the mechanics themselves, adding too many rules quickly became overwhelming, so we had to identify which elements were the core, essential parts of the game, and which could be discarded.
My favorite project was the P2 because I had never done any kind of interactive fiction or creative writing before, and it was fun to develop characters and a world for my story. I play a lot of narrative-based games, so I knew pretty early on what kind of story I wanted to tell. I wanted the player to make a decision between going home or staying in a new place, and I structured my story around that choice. The challenging part was making that choice meaningful. It was difficult to come up with a situation where both choices would be equally compelling to a player viewing the story from an outside perspective. After receiving peer feedback and listening to the storytelling podcasts, I realized that characters were often more compelling to readers than plot. I created a new character so that I could tie the new world with a person and give players a reason to be invested in staying. As I wrote out my story, I also found that there were very few moments for decision making, and the story progressed linearly until the final choice. I learned how to add more opportunities for player interaction throughout the game. While I was making this game, I was also playing 428: Shibuya Scramble at the same time. That visual novel taught me a lot about how the game medium could be used for storytelling. I adopted the text scrolling format from that game, and I wished I also had the time to incorporate audio and images.
In the future, when I make games, I will spend a lot more time designing the core mechanics and prototyping early. Making P3 really taught me that I could spend all my time coming up with a mechanic that I think is great, but when I actually sit down and test it, it’s not fun or interesting at all. Coming up with paper prototypes is very fast, and a very effective way of trying out core mechanics. I tend to dive right into implementation, but spending more time in the early planning stages will help me avoid redoing mechanics from scratch later in development, after I realize it’s not fun or exciting. I will also leave more time at the end for playtesting for balance, because I realized it’s a much more challenging process than I previously realized. I will also make sure to get other people to playtest, because I learned that players will never behave as I expect them to. Now that I know that I’m capable of creative writing, I also want to try coming up with more narrative-based games, or developing my P2 further.