The Tool Box
Where we consider what different media and tools would bring to our creation, and choose how to make it tangible. This Week you will:
Be showered with what communities of play/game creators have shared to support making
Reflect on how the core of games/playful experiences can be preserved or changes across media
Make the final choice for the tangible building of your creation (or not)
Welcome to Week Four, where we will support you in creating the playable prototype of your game/playful experience! But what is the best way to make your experience into something tangible? What technologies or techniques can best support it? Well, if we will be discussing (and linking lots of resources to) the technological/digital side of making play and games, keep in mind that:
- First and most important, we do not want to limit ourselves to digital games. Yes, they are quite the rage nowadays, but there’s so much more.
- (As game scholar Jesper Juul wrote) games and play are not so much a single medium as collection of media with different strengths.
- We want to reflect on what each of those media can bring to and/or take away from your intended experience.
This Week, throughout our usual three Missions, we are going to take a subtractive approach to finding what might be the best medium for the game/playful experience you are creating, trying to find the simplest way to convey everything that constitutes the core of it. ‘Cause, as Einstein used to say, “everything should be made as simple as possible (echoing the First Principle of design, Keep It Simple, Stupid) but not simpler” (that is, don’t lose the core of your creation just for the sake of simplicity).
What will you need?
A very complex game you like and know well (even better if it’s digital)
The Toy Box we built two Weeks ago. I know you missed it.
Good connectivity to sift through a ton of resources, and to share your thoughts using #gchangers
Stuff we Recommend to Watch/Read/Play
There are a number of resources available to help you think about the topics we will be covering. Have a browse!
You should, at this point in the Course, have a full design outline of your game/play experience, inclusive of reflections on its intended audience, on its core loop and mechanics. So where do we go from here? We need to find the most appropriate tool to make it tangible and playable.
This Mission is extremely straightforward but, just by itself, might take over the whole course, given the huge amount of game making tools that are out there. To discuss each of them, however, is something that goes, at the same time, beyond and below the scope of this resource. This is, indeed, a job for a community! (and indeed you might notice that most of the following links are community built/based) So what I will be doing now is giving you a few links to explore, and setting you free to roam. It might take most of the week, but don’t worry.
Yes, that provides some useful, basic information (e.g. whether you need to know how to code or not), but maybe you would like some guidance?
Here it is, second link: Zoe Quinn’s also excellent SortingHat tool.
All good, but definitely too digitally oriented, for sure. Well, paper based game/play creation is even more open ended, and can be done with anything starting from a basic word processor and image editor.
Still, here’s the third link: BoardGameGeek’s Huge List of DIY Resources.
Still too structured, you are interested in something even more open ended, playful, and toy-like?
Here you go with the fourth link: the toy-making subsection of DIY.org
This should be more than enough to keep you occupied for quite a while. Feel free to explore and branch out, I will be waiting here.
…Are you back? Great! Now choose your favourite tool and/or resource, and discuss why they are so perfect for your specific game/playful experience idea, and share your thoughts on #gchangers!
Or are they? Sometimes we really like a new, fashionable technology, and risk twisting our design to better adapt to it. While starting with a technological constraint is a legitimate creative strategy (and it actually kicked off the whole, huge Game Jam Movement), we should not forget our original aims and our audience. So let’s take a step back.
We’ll try to find a compass to navigate the above discussed messy tool box with (another!) “game changing” exercise: think of the most complex digital game that you know well (as in, something that you have played thoroughly, that you can identify and deconstruct into its core loops and understand how they connect into the intended experience). Now let’s convert it into a paper based version!
Obviously, this is not the easiest task, especially for a complex game. For example: how would you convert something like World of Warcraft into a board game? The apparently obvious, easy answer is “you can’t”. Things is, they already did it. Twice, actually. Then they made a trading card game. Then they made another trading card game, but this time they made the card game digital, and this game is even more successful than the original!
Thing is, obviously these games are not the same, both due to the constraints of their different media and to specific design choices. It fundamentally comes down to how different media generate different kinds of feedback systems: digital games are particularly good at manipulating and hiding lots of information, and at automating even complex systems, even over large distances.
Paper based games (board games, card games, role playing games), on the other hand, need to be “operated manually”, and therefore they need to lay their systems bare to be seen, and better enable social play, including playing with the game itself (just as we did last week).
This means that, while it’s much easier to manipulate, modify and redesign a paper based game, we also have to renounce some complexity: when you try to convert a complex digital game into a paper based one, you will have to choose what aspects of the game to preserve, that is, you can choose a thematic route or a mechanical route.
If you follow the first, focus on the aesthetics and narrative of the game, and try to convey the story and the setting. If you choose the mechanical route, you will have to try and abstract some of the loops that constitute the experience of the game, and approximate them as something that can be operated without complex computations.
Both choices are equally valid, but in both cases bringing back the “Toy Box” from week Two might be especially helpful, as you will be able to scavenge it for mechanics and components that allow you to approximate the original game experience. When you think you have a good conversion, share your “prototypes” on #gchangers! It will be especially interesting to see how many completely different versions of the same famous digital games we might be able to come up with.
You don’t know or like many complex digital games, or want to take this exercise another step further? Then try and think of how would you convert your favourite paper based game to something that might be just played with your bodies in a public space. This of course means stripping down the systems even further, but allows you to realise how powerful of a tool can your body and acting be, and how the edge of the “magic circle” has a very different character in public spaces.
Again, share your ideas (or photos of the performance) on #gchangers!
Now that we are aware of the implications of the technologies that we choose, we can go back to consider and actually build our intended game/playful experience. Let’s go through similar steps, considering each of the “media” we discussed on its own:
- What would the hidden information and automated complex systems of a digital game add or subtract to the play experience? What graphics would better convey our story? Would connectivity and multiplayer function contribute to it? Do we have the technical know-how to actually implement all this? What are the additional constraints that our intended audience or selected issue impose on our choice of digital technology?
- What would the bare rules, manual system operation and social play of a paper based game add or subtract? What social dynamics would it generate at the table? What materials do better convey our intent, and how easy are they to find and work on? What are the additional constraints that our intended audience or selected issue impose on our choice of materials?
- What would the embodied, emotional character of physical play add or subtract? Would the core loop suffer from not having much “props” to rely upon? What would the best space be to play this? Would it be feasible to open the experience to passerbys an involve them? What are the additional constraints that our intended audience or selected issue impose on our choice of physical acts and spaces?
Consider these questions, and share your thoughts on #gchangers! Once you have ticked all these pros/cons boxes, you should have a better idea of what is the best tool (if any!) that you want to use to implement your game/playful experience. However, you actually don’t need to make an exclusive choice! Remember that games and playful activities, today more than ever, are not just one thing or the other: they are on a spectrum, and can be deeply hybrid, transmedial. Just two words: Pokemon GO , possibly the most researched game ever and a great example of how hybridising technologies can be a great resource for playful design.
So how would you mix the physical, the paper based and the digital? Reflect on the aspects of your game/playful experience that can be best brought out by mixing media, and share your hybrid thoughts on #gchangers!
You should, at this point, have chosen the most appropriate tool (or set of tools) and be in the process of building an actual, playable prototype (or ruleset) of your game/playful experience. What’s left to do once it’s complete, you might ask? Well, to refine our game/play experience, and most importantly to ensure that it can stand up out there on its own, without you there all the time to sustain it.
That is, to finally Test it in the real world! So see you for Week Five – the Test Drive!