November 26, 2008

Design Notes

I just posted the "completed" versions of Worrywart and Stressor, and I thought it might be fun to give a look at the brainstorming that produced them. Below are the notes I took as I thought them out. Normally, my notes aren't nearly so coherent, but for whatever reason I was grammaring as best I could when I wrote these.

I should note that these notes lead to incomplete designs. I took these notes while waiting for a delayed flight, and after I thought for a while and came up with the designs that I eventually submitted, I stopped revising the notes and started writing up the actual submission. So if these notes seem to lead somewhere other than where I went, that's expected.



- Not dependent on what others do, so this should either be solitaire (i.e. with a finite ending) or a race
- The less sleep you get one night, the more you should get the next (round-to-round beneficial negative feedback loop)
- Insomnia: The longer it takes to go to sleep the harder it is to go to sleep (turn-to-turn harmful positive feedback loop)

Represent "subjects of thought" as cards. You need to replace the bad thoughts (worries) with good thoughts, but the mind tends to wander.

So maybe give cards their value, make certain suits good and certain suits bad. Each turn you trade in a card for a random one. If the total bad-good is lower than a certain threshold (which changes based on last night's sleep), you go to sleep.

Where's the choice? As is, you always trade in your worst card. Obvious Optimal strategy ftl.

How to use the Insomnia aspect of this? It would seem to suggest that the easiest time to go to sleep is the very start, but that's no fun.


Is there a way to design this more dangerously? Yes. Now find it.

Is there a way we can work with cards as a series of rectangular planes? 4 groups of 13 or 13 groups of 4?

Would need to relate Insomnia to pattern-building or find some spacial aspect. That might be difficult.


Possibly work with a series of acceptable thoughts that can be ruined by a bad one? Try it:

Red cards are good thoughts, black cards are bad ones. Need to pick up a certain number of consecutive cards that are acceptable. For a black card to be acceptable, you must get rid of a red card of equal or greater value to nullify it (distract yourself).

Maybe you start out with black cards to represent the insomnia, and you pick up random cards as the hours roll by. Gives a good chance to never sleep.

The goal is to play a certain number of rounds without ever having to play a black card.

Again, there's no choice here. Goddamnit.


Think systems.

We've got a harmful feedback loop already in the form of insomnia. That's the villain.
Now add a beneficial feedback loop to act as the hero's weapon. And then a themed justification.
It would be nice to just include "tiredness" as the opposing force of insomnia, but that really defeats the point.
What about a positive beneficial feedback loop? The shorter the time til sleep, the more likely you are to sleep? That's just inverse effect of insomnia.

Accelerating chaos is a good way of defeating a harmful positive feedback loop. See DotA.
So take more cards each turn? Give lower chances at success, but more opportunities and/or they count for more benefit.

Maybe allow player to pair good cards with bad ones of the same number (new perspective), allowing them to be played as good.
Increases the importance of random cards.


F**k convention. Let's make it a social storytelling game.

4 players take turns being the protagonist. He's trying to go to sleep, and they narrate his stream of consciousness in turns.
The protagonist is trying to reach a happy plausible conclusion to each line of thought.

The antagonists start the game by taking one turn each to establish a "worry", and give some initial detail to the essence of that worry. Each worry is permanently associated with a certain suit, with the remaining suit being designated the "happy suit" (I suggest hearts).

After the initial worries are set out, the deck is shuffled and cards are flipped from the top one at a time. If the suit of the card corresponds to that of a worry, then the least-recently-speaking antagonist takes a turn addressing that worry. If the suit of the card is the happy suit, then the protagonist takes a turn trying to resolve as many of these worries as is possible.

Each turn consists of adding a thought to the protagonist's stream of consciousness. Each thought may reference one new detail of the protagonist's life. All details immediately become canon. If a player violates the game's canon, the other players should point this out and give a chance for revision.

The protagonist wins when he has brought all worries to some happy conclusion, almost certainly because the right cards came up in the right order. But competition isn't the point here.

Sample playthrough excerpt:

Clubs: Gosh, I don't think I can pay the rent this week. I've only got $404 in the bank!
Diamonds: And without a home or a job I certainly won't be able to impress the girls. Sarah hasn't even looked at me all day!
Spades: And then my only comfort will be the heroin that I've just gotten addicted to!

Club: I shouldn't have bet all my remaining money on McCain winning. The loan sharks will probably be after me soon.

Heart: The heroin probably isn't that much of an issue. It's a fun problem to have, so far,
and there's always the methadone clinic that just opened up down the street in case things get bad.

Club: Then again, the clinic isn't free, and I don't have the $50,000 it takes to get admitted.

Diamond: If only I had a girlfriend to comfort me. I haven't had a chance ever since my friends told all the girls in town that I'm impotent.

Heart: I know! I'll solve my money troubles and my romance issues at once by becoming a male prostitute! This plan is flawless.

Spade: Of course, prostitutes don't have a good record with getting off heroin.

Club: And I need a lot of money up front to pay off those bad McCain bets.

Diamond: And business will be slow until I prove that dastardly rumor wrong.

Heart: At least I have $404 to spend on heroin in the meantime. That should last me for a month thanks to the new discounts.

Worrywart and Stressor

This week's Game Design Challenge (from was to design a card game around the theme of "insomnia". This was tricky. Insomnia generally isn't a choice, so figuring out how to model it while including an interesting choice was difficult. I ended up with two very different designs, both of which are complete games that I'm somewhat proud of, so I figured that I'd show them here as I submitted them. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Worrywart and Stressor!



The topic of insomnia is serious, weighty, and grim. This game isn't.

Worrywart is a wacky social game of collaborative storytelling, which employs a deck cards for pacing and structure.

There are four players. Each player is assigned a suit at random. The player who gets Hearts is designated the Protagonist, and the other suits are assigned amongst the Villains.

The worrywart is trying to go to sleep by putting his worries to rest, but his insomnia keeps them in the fore of his mind. Each turn consists of one of the players narrating the worrywart's stream of consciousness, keeping in mind the details of the past. The Villains try to amplify the worrywart's worries, while the Protagonist tries to bring all of these worries to a happy conclusion.

The game starts with each of the Villains introducing some independent Worry that strikes the worrywart while he lies in bed. Each Worry can be as ludicrous or as plebeian as the players like. For example:
"Gosh, I wonder if Sarah from work likes me; we had a bit of an argument today."
"I must've been in the wrong frame of mind thanks to the heroin addiction that I just picked up."
"But not even heroin can comfort me after today's hostile encounter with alien invaders. How am I ever going to convince them not to blow up the planet?"

The deck is then shuffled and placed between the players. The game then proceeds in a series of turns. During each turn, a card is flipped from the top of the deck and discarded. The suit of this flipped card indicates which player is active this turn.

The active player gets to add one small bit of narration to the stream of consciousness. There are three rules that must be followed here:
1) Each turn may only add *one* new factual detail about the worrywart's life.
2) The new narration must be based on the original three Worries introduced at the start of the game.
3) Previous narration is canon, i.e. all details introduced by previous players must be regarded as true.

This creates an interesting dynamic in which the players must combine good facts with bad. A possible scenario, alternating Villain and Protagonist turns:
"Gosh, I wonder if Sarah at work likes me; we had a bit of an argument at work."
"Well, we've always been pretty friendly in the past. It's probably nothing."
"Although I probably shouldn't have made that sexist joke so loudly."
"I guess the joke didn't really matter in the long run, since we've got a hot date set up for tomorrow."
"A pity that I'm gay. I always get the wrong hot dates."
"Wait, silly me! Sarah is a guy! What an unfortunate name he has; I always get confused."

The story will rapidly get crazy as the players try to one-up each other. This is OK.

The game ends when the Protagonist brings all Worries to a happy close, as judged by consensus (it's not really a competitive game), or when the players agree to stop playing or start over.

The use of card suits ensures that the Villains will have three times as many turns as the Protagonist, so winning will be a difficult matter, but insomnia isn't supposed to be easy to beat. The Protagonist's strategy is generally to try to combine the Worries in creative ways so that he or she can deal with them all in one fell swoop. For instance, the Protagonist might try to put his Worries to rest by deciding to take Sarah on a date to an alien methadone clinic. Or something.



This game attempts to abstractly model the individual experience of insomnia. The design is based on three premises:

1) An individual's insomnia is not correlated to any other person's, so the game should be solitaire-type or based on a mutually independent "race" structure of competition. (Stressor uses the latter.)
2) Although sleep should always be difficult, the less sleep a player gets in one night, the easier it should be to get to sleep on the next night, as the insomniac is more tired (a long-term beneficial negative feedback loop).
3) The longer it takes a player to go to sleep on any given night, the harder it becomes to fall asleep, as the insomniac becomes stressed about sleep itself (a short-term harmful positive feedback loop).

The game is played over a series of seven rounds, each consisting of four turns. Each round represents a full night and each turn represents two hours of intended sleep time, from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.

For 2-6 players.

How to play:

1) Round begins. Shuffle the cards and deal two to each player. Cards represent "subjects of thought" which can either calm your mind or stress you out even further. Hearts card are "good thoughts" and all other suits are worries. The magnitude of effect of each card corresponds to the card's number. Face cards act as tens, and aces count as ones.

2) Turn begins. The first player in the rotation is dealt a new card.

3) The first player chooses whether or not to attempt to go to sleep. To sleep, the player must choose a good thought (a Heart card) to focus on. This card is placed down in front of the player, and another card is dealt to replace it in the player's hand. The player must then play a total number of cards equal to however many cards are in his or her hand at this point, picking up a new replacement card after each one is played.

If, after the requisite number of cards has been played, the sum of the values of the worries is less than or equal to DOUBLE the value of the Heart card that is being focused on, then the player successfully falls asleep. Heart cards that are played after the focused card have a value of zero. The player may abort the sleep attempt after picking up a replacement card. Should the sleep attempt fail or be aborted, the player discards all of the played cards and keeps whatever cards are now in his or her hand.

If the attempt is successful, the player turns in all cards and waits for the next round to begin. The player receives a number of points equal to four minus the number of turns that have been completed. For example, falling asleep on the first turn yields 4 points, falling asleep on the third turn yields 2 points, and players that do not fall asleep during a round receive no points.

4) Repeat steps 2-3 for all other players.

5) Repeat steps 2-4 three more times for a total of four turns per round.

6) Repeat steps 1-5 six times for a total of seven rounds. There is one change to step 1: players that did not fall asleep during the previous round may keep one card of their choice from that previous round in their hand and are only dealt one new card at the start of the new round.

7) The player who has accumulated the most points wins.

Later sleep attempts require more cards to be played, so it will become harder to fall asleep as the hours roll by. Also, players who get no sleep will have an easier time falling sleep on the next night since they can carry a card over. This satisfies the original premises.

The key moment of gameplay takes place in step 3. If the player chooses to attempt to fall asleep, he or she only has complete information about the Heart card that forms the foundation of the attempt. Since cards get replaced as they are played, fully half of the "worry" cards that will be available are not known when the choice is made. And although it is generally easier to fall asleep earlier, there is always a chance that a better Heart card will be dealt to the player later on, and a failure is generally devastating, so waiting until a later turn may be the best option. These dynamics should provide a satisfying, interesting choice as the core mechanic.

November 21, 2008

E's First Biped

Below are some renders of the nearly-finished cyberninja character I mentioned in the previous post. I'm pretty satisfied with how he looks, but I'm currently discovering that getting the animations to look right is more difficult than the modeling ever was.

If this turns out well and I can get it imported and working inside a 3D game, I might finally build a game that I've been kicking around inside my brain for a while. It's essentially Armored Core (though this idea came to me before I'd played AC) but with more regular PC FPS controls instead of the slower, heavier mecha feel that AC uses. I had envisioned it allowing the player to base their character on a light, medium, or heavy frame; the biped I'm making now was my conception of the light and agile fighter.

This guy is meant to be speeding around the arena and jumping off walls. The medium fighter would be a more classic FPS feel, more Master Chief than ninja. The heavy frame would hearken more towards the mechs that I usually disparage, but would still lack any autotargeting and would move fluidly. I might make the other characters this spring or summer.

Of course, there's a lot that I have to learn before I can make a game that even approaches the concept I'm babbling about. For the time being, I'm just going to focus on finishing the 3D Modeling course strong. After I've rigged my biped, the last step is to produce a short animation. I'll be sure to post that when the time comes.

November 18, 2008

First Foray Into 3D Art

One of the classes that have been keeping me so busy this term is CS22: 3D Digital Modeling. It's part of the Digital Arts curriculum at Dartmouth, and it provides just the sort of quick overview of modeling that I could put to good use in my games (once I get serious 3D stuff up and running this winter).

The class covers three assignments. First, we modeled, colored, and rendered a room full of stuff. Second, we modeled and rigged a spider using subdivision surfaces. Currently, we're working on a biped that we'll model, texture, rig, and animate. It's this last project that I'm hoping to use in a game. I've elected to make a lightly armored cyberninja character. If it turns out well, I plan on making a medium armor and heavy armor character to go along with them for inclusion in a game of the Armored Core mold. More info on that later.

So far, I've confirmed that I'm not an artist. I can't visualize my goal and then make it happen. I'm pretty good with software tools, however, so I can produce some pretty nice-looking models if I use tutorials or reference images.

Below are some of the renders from my room. The idea was that it would be the ultimate sunroom, and the curved roof would reflect the sun such that the rest of the room was brightly and naturally lit. Unfortunately, the lighting package mental ray bugged out on me at the last second, so these renders are much less impressive than they could have been. Further, I screwed up the image plane for the outside view, which becomes painfully obvious with the mirror. Lastly, I should note that one entire wall is one big mirror (next to the wine table). You can see where it hits the ground in the lower right corner of the first image.