Contactics – part 2: Bringing the game to the players

Without a player, there is no game. Following up on my last article, here’s how I brought my game to the players.

EGX Rezzed: ONE MORE GAME ON THE SHOW FLOOR

Other than the #Contactics hashtag and posting the game on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, I didn’t have any plans for its distribution.

“I’ll improvise. It will be fun!”

The official twitter account for Rezzed was talking about all the cool games that would be playable on the show floor, and I mentioned mine. People asked for copies, so I made sure to meet these people and hand them some.

I didn’t want to take the game developer’s hard earned space, so I placed some cards around the food hall and tweeted about it.

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There were so many Nintendo 3DS consoles around, I changed my Streetpass greeting to mention the game!

It was a great chance to meet game developers I admire: Rami Ismail (Vlambeer), Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone), Dean Hall (DayZ), Ed Stern (Splash Damage), Paul Dean (Shut Up & Sit Down), Team 17, Creative Assembly, Destructoid and Boneloaf to name a few!

I handed each a copy and their faces lit up once they realized what it was!

“I brought home invaluable amounts of motivation.”

GAMASUTRA: THE first article

After coming back, I published my first article on Gamasutra. It got featured, and stayed on the front page for two days! The readers shared it, which lead to the game popping up in a lot of websites.

If anyone mentioned the game on twitter, I thanked them!

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This was a big milestone for me. Having learned a lot from reading articles on Gamasutra over the years, it was my chance to help other aspiring game designers.

MCM Dublin Comic CONTACTICS

Next up, I brought it to the first MCM Dublin Comic Con!

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Canada Photo Convention

I left the coolest one for last! One of the organizers for the Canada Photo Convention saw my game online and thought it would be a great way to break the ice and get people networking.

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She asked me for some adjustments to better suit photographer’s business cards, I looked up Creative Commons and, starting from April 22, the game will be at Canada Photo Convention 2014!

“Suddenly I have players on the other side of the world!”

Better yet: every person who registers will get a copy of the game and the one who collects the most business cards during the event will get a prize!

Designing the game is just the start. Don’t overlook the marketing aspect! Without a player there is no game.

Contactics – part 1: Game Design

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I needed a business card.

Soon after booking my tickets to EGX Rezzed I realized there were only a few old cards left. While I could just print more of those, they felt outdated. They were made three years ago and they represent a very different phase of my life.

“Could I fit a game there?”

It was not the first time I had poked around the idea of handing out a game as a business card. I remember checking the prices for printing Carousel to give at events, but the printers would only accept orders of large quantities and that made it very expensive and cumbersome to carry around. Worse of all, if it was cumbersome to the person I was handing it to, that would have ruined that first impression.

I wanted a simple game, which would not take long to learn but dynamic enough to provide different playthroughs. I wanted to prove it was possible.

The following were the main design issues, and how I solved them:

Design issue 1: Components

What will the players play with? Can the game be in the card itself? Sure, it could be a crossword puzzle which would reveal one of my contacts when complete, but that wouldn’t be that original and, frankly, it could turn out boring. It would also require some work from the person, and I didn’t want to create an obstacle.

Then I thought of using coins, but this idea was short lived. Even if they were used as tokens, I didn’t want money to be a part of this. Also, it would be too easy for the player’s coins to get mixed, and that could lead to heated arguments.

“What will the developers carry with them at all times? Smartphone? Keys? Wallet?”

Then it dawned on me. Business cards! Just like me, the other developers will be networking. Some might be looking for publishers or teammates, and they will be handing out their cards to promote themselves and their games.

My card only needed to provide the rules for you to play, and the cards you collected would form your deck. It fits the networking theme. Better yet, if the winner got one card from the player, it can even facilitate it!

Design issue 2: Whose cards are they?

I couldn’t expect each player’s deck to have a unique look, so I used the card’s orientation to define that. One player pays their card in portrait and the other in landscape.

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Design issue 3: Filtering types of cards

The cards can have so many shapes and sizes but I had to find a way to make them all fit. My solution was to create a system which would filter them into categories. You go down a list of features and you stop once one matches. Each category would have its own special property, which would take effect when you played it.

Initially I had a lot of categories, but I realized it could be really boring to go through the list, especially when learning how to play. The size of the card was also a factor which contributed to having only three (and an “other” category for unpredictable ones that don’t fit the list).

Design issue 4: Balance

I couldn’t really predict the shapes and features of cards people would be handing out. I made a rough estimate by looking back at the cards I had been given at such events and from print shop prices. Even if these estimates were right, I had absolutely no way to predict which ones the people would have with them at the moment, so I left that open.

This turned out to be a good decision, because that brought deck building to the game! It gave the reward some appeal, and a great excuse to play more than once as your deck improves.

Design issue 5: Fitting everything into the card

I wrote the rules down and instantly noticed they were a lot longer than I could fit on a card. I started searching out for alternatives (like foldable cards, which would give me four faces instead of two), but Sara Mena quickly mocked up a couple layouts which proved me it was possible. I then simplified the text and used icons to convey mechanics, making it more appealing.

“When it was done, I had more than a card. I had a fresh idea.”

This card represents what I like to do the most, and it was built around a solid core concept: More than just having ideas, I can develop them, use the limitations in place and work with what you have.

It’s exactly the first impression I wanted to convey!

Stay tuned for part 2, where I talk about how I released Contactics.

Dublin Gamecraft – Unplugged

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I spent last Sunday afternoon surrounded by fellow creatives at Dublin Gamecraft Unplugged. We had about 4h30m to make an analog game. Yep, that’s right! No videogames this time.

The theme was “Grow Your Own”.

I knew we didn’t have much time or materials but I wanted to make something different. A simple adventure game that physically grows as you play. I ended up with “Grow your own Adventure”: an interactive story where you follow a line, choose your path and your choices alter what comes next.

I started folding to see what I could do with one sheet, and accidentally got to this.  Twice! If you had asked me to teach this to you I couldn’t remember how to, but muscle memory brought it back.

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I kept folding and realized you can make very interesting “page turns” from just a single cut in the middle of the sheet. It allows you to hide surprises but, most importantly, make choices that change the layout.

I started drawing a line and improvising. Taking notes, seeing how far I could go with it and how many “faces” I would be able to write on.

In the end, I got to something I’m very proud of. It’s an interactive story system you can fit in your pocket. Your choices change it, so there’s some replayability. It comes from a single page, which makes it possible to distribute as PDFs.

You can see the other projects here.

Fortune Tellers

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My new game is called Fortune Tellers. It’s about predicting the future.

The idea started as a friend told me he wanted to make a game about Nostradamus. He is a great designer with several published games, but he didn’t know how to turn it into one – just found the theme appealing.

A lightbulb lit in my mind!

A while ago I sketched out a game where you combined words to make stories. While interesting as a concept, it’s too vague for a game. I needed something to narrow these stories to something relevant to the game, so this made perfect sense.

I thanked him, he said “I can take the Nostradamus idea”, but I said it’s still his. I don’t want to get stuck with a historic theme. All I needed was the bit where you predict stuff, because shady fortune tellers sound a lot more fun to me.

So that’s it: a game where you’ll predict what the other players will do during that game. You can get more verbs to predict new situations, and more assistants to do more things every turn. In short, two games at the same time!

I was invited to the latest Arcádia meeting two days beforehand. I didn’t want to wait a whole month to try it out, so I hurriedly made the first prototype. Some parts were improvised, I just wanted to check if it was fun to play – and it is!

The players liked it a lot. The “Aha!” moment when a prediction you made happens is a lot of fun, and something I haven’t felt in many games. Of course, it needs a lot of tweaks, like fixing the game’s economy, making matches shorter and even more types of possible predictions. I’m working on that.

Stay tuned! I predict it will be a lot of fun.

Finding an audience

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The latest feedback Carousel got from a very influential partner was that it was too complex for a casual player but too simple for a hardcore one. They weren’t interested in a filler game for a hardcore player.

Among my playtesters are several hardcore gamers who like to play it inbetween much longer games. It’s a puzzle, a braintease where you have interesting choices in every turn. It’s also a race, so it doesn’t drag for too long.

I didn’t develop the game with a target audience in mind because I didn’t intend to sell it. I just found an underused mechanic and had fun with it until I had something original. As soon as I noticed interest on it I started pursuing it. Times are rough and publishing a filler game for a hardcore audience could be risky at the moment.

This means I’m no longer working with Mesaboardgames on this project. I really liked working with them though, and would certainly do so again now that I know what type of game they’re looking for.

What’s next? I’ll be talking to other publishers, having fun with other themes and looking at other ways of putting it out there. Suggestions welcome!

Design isn’t over until release, right?

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Good news everyone! Carousel got picked by a publisher! I’ve been working with Mesaboardgames to make it as good as it possibly can.

There have been some radical changes, but the core remains intact. It’s still about combining and getting the most of those pesky action cards.

First off, the theme. I tried a simple one because it made it easier to explain. You’re a postman and you’re delivering packages across several locatoins. I believe that made talking to publishers a lot more fluid, and good ideas sprang from there.

Second, the coin tokens became envelopes. It’s now harder to guess the other player’s score just by looking at their stash. Suspense!

The biggest change og all though, was giving each player its van. There’s a lot less  upkeep and it allows you to plan your next moves on the other players’ turns.

After a couple radical changes it’s become a more interesting game, with added interaction and strategic depth. These changes need more testing, of course.

Next time I say something is finished, please ignore it. Carousel is still going round and round!

8 Ball Pool is out on iOS and Android

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You know that flat, square thing in your pocket? You can now play Pool on it! It’s now out on iOS and Android and it’s pretty neat.

At 6 months long this has been my biggest project at Miniclip so far, and a pretty ambitious one at that. Besides being our first online title for mobile, the original game already had a fanbase. The goal was to radically change it while keeping them happy.

The reviews and overall online buzz are pretty great! We currently have more than 12 million monthly online players across all versions, which is insane compared to my previous projects.

If you want to know more about 8 Ball Pool’s development, our Senior Producer wrote this cool post about it called “How our Flash game reached 18 million monthly players in two years”.

I’ve moved away from the project at the start of the year to work on other titles such as updating and localising Mini Pets, tweaking Anger of Stick 2 and 3 and helping the revamped Robot Rage, along with promising pitches for future games.

Stay tuned!