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6:37pm on Tuesday, 30th October, 2012:

Game Design Exercise


Every year, I give groups of my CE217 students something with a variety of properties to make a game out of during one of their classes. Today was that day. The aim is that they identify the properties (the "dimensions of change") that make one of the objects different from another in the same set, and leverage that into a game design. Usually the end result is that they realise game design is a lot harder than they thought it was.

It's not just useful for the students, it's useful for me: I can tell from what happens how many of them have a potential future in the games industry. There are always some (not all of whom want a future in the games industry — some want to earn 150% as much being regular programmers). This year, though, there are seem to be a lot more than there usually are as a proportion of the students taking the module.

The things I gave the groups to make games out of were: a deck of John Waddington's playing cards jokers from different packs; a set of Dragon Dice; a collection of red Lego roof tiles; 100 covers from Penguin books; 300 or so playing cards from partial, incomplete decks.

The group with the jokers made a pretty good 4-player card game that could easily be given a skin for marketing purposes and sold.

The group with the 300 cards eventually did the same thing the ones with the jokers were forced to do, that is they ignored the official front of the card and started to play with the back instead. This is an example of a paradox you see a lot of in games: adding more constraints can increase creativity (so long as you don't add too many).

The group with the Lego were floundering to start with, but (I may be mistaken her, but I believe) by actually applying what I'd taught in the lectures narrowed down the features available and came up with a cross between Dominoes and Crazy Eights that also had the potential to be skinned in a number of ways.

The book cover group were quickest to produce a game, which they then refined in a number of ways. It was educational, in that after playing it for a long period you'd probably know when each of the 100 books were published, but of course that means you can't really play it for fun thereafter as the guesswork has gone. They were really hot at focusing on the dimensions available to them.

Finally, the Dragon Dice group had probably the hardest job, in part because their group was bigger than the others so it was harder to arrange a consensus. However, the variety of dice, in sizes, colours, sides and the symbols on them, made it difficult for them to find anything to get a hold of. Given that they were designing a game for dice that had themselves been designed for a game, it was actually a lot trickier to design a game than you might suppose. In the end they did come up with a fun one, though, which was helped by its not being the same as the original Dragon Dice...

In the end, then, all the groups were successful to some degree. In previous years, I've always had groups that hit the buffers.

I'm actually looking forward to seeing what they'll do with the choose-your-own-adventure game they'll be doing at the next class in a fortnight.

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).