Final Reflection Essay

When I first entered the class, I definitely had concerns about my lack of experience in game design/development. My undergrad is in linguistics, my coterm in CS is on the AI track, and I’ve only taken a handful of HCI classes before. I had no Unity experience, and I wouldn’t consider myself a “gamer” either – I played board games with friends pretty frequently and enjoyed “cozy” social simulation games, but I generally preferred other forms of media in my own spare time. I also had a more narrow conception of game development that involved large game franchises and primarily first-person shooter games, which I was not interested in. 

I think one of my biggest takeaways from CS377G is that I now have a much wider conception of what a game is & what it can be. I really enjoyed the guest lecture on artful games from Kunwoo, and I also have a much deeper appreciation for the craft that is game design: everything that goes into constructing an interactive experience and delivering a message that is inseparable from the form or medium. I think as someone who has always been more drawn to writing, I’ve learned a lot about how games occupy a unique space in their ability to deliver stories that I want to tell. 

I enjoyed each of the assignments (albeit some more than others), and they each taught me something special.   

  • P1/P4 Olympic Resistance

The first (& last) game I worked on was Olympic Resistance, a multiplayer competitive board-game about Greek Mythology. It’s the first board game I’ve ever designed, so the initial versions of the game lifted many mechanics I found interesting in other games (Catan, Ticket to Ride, Cardinal Rules) and combined them together. By pushing ourselves to continue refining the game for P4, I genuinely think we were able to improve a lot upon the existing game mechanics and make the game more unique, complex and engaging. I learned about how hard balancing was (!), how to encourage a diversification of player strategy, and how to glean valuable insights from each playtest. It was also incredible to witness my talented teammates develop a cohesive visual language for the game that was indispensable to the game’s educational objective. 

  • P2 Purpose for Those Without

P2 was the game closest to my heart, even though it was really challenging to work on. Before starting, I played several interactive fiction games, including Creatures Such As We, Howling Dogs, Queers at the End of the World, which inspired me a lot in terms of the possibilities presented by the medium, and I especially wanted to engage with the question of choice & how it can be subverted

My game was about trying to save someone by finding the right words. It was inspired by personal experience, so even set in this post-apocalyptic world, the process of writing often involved me sitting & ruminating about alternatives to what I could’ve said and imagining all the paths that could’ve led to. For a long time, I struggled with the “point” of the game, but that changed when I realized I could have the game question its own creation: when we use games to embody and work through a personal experience, what purpose do these constructed worlds serve, and how does that storytelling transform our understanding of the real life story it’s based on? 

Despite putting a lot of effort into the writing, I can’t imagine my game taking the form of a short fiction because of how intertwined the message is from the interactiveness of the game. I learned about how effective utilization of the medium can make all the difference, and I definitely think I will make more interactive fiction games in the future. 

  • P3 Tax Hero 

It was hard to decide on a system to model for this game – we had a number of crazy ideas, including modeling how evolution keeps evolving things into crabs, but eventually settled on the topic of taxes & how rich people evade them. In hindsight, choosing to make a digital game instead of a board game definitely ended up adding a lot of work, but I was still very grateful for the experience. I think working on a single-player digital game required a completely different vision for mechanics/interactions, especially since our system was quite dense and complex, and I learned A LOT about how to reimagine & abstract a system without undermining its complexity. 

The development experience was also interesting to go through. Overall, the experience reminded me of hackathons, where all of the devs on the team ate and breathed the game for days, sitting together either in the same room or in slack huddles as we coded away. As tiring as it was, I think it actually built up a lot of camaraderie, and I was blessed with teammates who were very proactive/meticulous about communication, so despite us abandoning best development practices (oops), we almost never had merge conflicts/hiccups/repeated work. While looking for inspiration, I also got introduced to a lot of very simple webpage games that were incredibly effective (& addicting, rip the many hours I spent on Universal Paperclips)  – it showed me that digital didn’t always mean 3D Unity, and even simple HTML/CSS could be enough to hook people in.


On a broader level, apart from all the technical skills, game design theory and design practices, this class showed me how to derive joy from creating again. How it is difficult, but always worthwhile. How I can always just have a seed of an idea and start sketching, writing, designing, coding from scratch – by myself or with other people -, and reiterate on it until I have something I find acceptable, or that may bring someone else some enjoyment. Just recently, I was able to host a game night and watch my friends enjoy Olympic Resistance – not even as a playtest, just as a showcase of something my team has created. I took this class because it fulfilled a requirement for my AI concentration without being an AI class, and it basically just reaffirmed to me that I am in the wrong concentration because what I love about coding is executing my (creative) vision and building anything that occupies an insignificant and strange but unique place in this world. On some level, I do wish we were able to play more digital games as part of the coursework, since I think most of the course was quite geared towards board games, but I also appreciated the wide variety of analog games I’ve been able to play this quarter, and I also really enjoyed many game recommendations such as That Dragon, Cancer, and What Remains of Edith Finch. 

Stepping into the future, I want to develop visual design & music design skills (the two areas of game design I didn’t get to explore much in this class), continue improving upon my narrative writing, but above all hold onto the passion & joy and believe in my ability to make small & interesting things no matter what I end up doing for a career <3.

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