Friday, July 22, 2011

UX11 and Design Through Story

A couple of weeks ago I was at UX11, which was entirely excellent and everything I hoped it would be. Tim Train from Zynga was there and his words about the dynamics within a social game were particularly useful - instead of writing down notes that related to the games he was talking about, I was able to apply the information directly to notes about a game I am working on.

One thread that ran through all the talks, as it should, was the notion of 'story', in all its forms and scales. Find the story or stories and you're away, whatever you're doing. 

But the best example of how to apply story telling to design, and how deeply you should apply story telling to design, came from Alex McDowell, who's a production designer. He's worked on a few odds and sods like Fight Club, Minority Report and Watchmen.

Alex McDowell...

He talked about designing the house that featured in Fight Club, the one that Tyler lives in. Yeah, it's a house that's a bit dilapidated in an industrial wasteland. True, but the story goes much further back than that. Alex told a story like the following, but better...

The house was originally built by a wealthy family, so it's a respectable size. Also, there would have been servants, so each room has two entrances. This is important for a significant part of the greater story of the film (he says, skirting around the issue of plot spoilers, just in case). Over time the family's fortune dwindled and the land around the house was occupied by industry. Then the house was sub divided, meaning that a second staircase was put in, again useful for the flow of characters in the house and causing a significant schism in the decor. The industry died away, leading to the wasteland and useful privacy. Squatters moved in and lit a fire, causing some damage. Finally, Tyler comes across the place and moves in to cause some serious bedlam.

The lesson I learned - I need to do a lot, lot more thinking about the back story of everything.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nice Mechanic - Not 100%

The world of board games is a rich hunting ground for ideas and game mechanics. With this in mind I task myself with the not very hard job of playing board games as much as possible, which isn't half enough.

One game mechanic that's really impressed me of late is in a board game called Colosseum (read my review here). In it you have to buy and trade performers (gladiators, horses, lions, stuff like that) in order to use them in spectacular shows. These shows have defined requirements, for instance one might require 2 gladiators, 2 horses and 2 lions. However, you don't have to have 100% of the required performers, you can have one or two missing. You take a penalty for this, but you can still progress.

You see versions of this often - you might not have to come first in a race to unlock the next or you only need half the stars to finish the game - but I especially like it applied to a shopping list criteria like this. I'll be borrowing this mechanic for sure.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Get To The Chopper

There are now quite a few independent game developers in Wellington and, naturally, the iOS devices are generally their target platform. One such developer, Rocket Jump, is the venture of my former colleague Antony Blackett. Check out this video of his game, Get To The Chopper.