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The Fair Law

In cooperative games, players have 1 common enemy/objective to complete. A game with no adversaries or obstacles would be unchallenging, which is why we usually find some kind of Artificial Intelligence within a cooperative game, the one with a sole purpose of challenging and stopping players from achieving their purpose.

In video games, AI are usually built with a set of coded behaviour and ran automatically by the program (the game), sometimes creating an illusion of free willed action, but in board game it’s a different case altogether. The common enemy in cooperative board game are so far from the definition of intelligence, it will be far more suitable to call it Artificial Reaction or Artificial Law. It is merely a set of rules of cause and effect that is set within the whole game flow to create a certain kind of situation in response to players’ action.

When I was working with one of my board game, I had a playtest session with a group of friends, and the funniest reaction I ever get was the fact that one of my friend complained and said that he felt like he was being deceived and bullied by me. It was an honest reaction and one that make me realize that not all people can actually came into such conclusion if they don’t actually see the game designer when they are playing. And that reaction made me realize that the whole game rules was not sufficient enough to engage the players.

When players are enjoying their time, they will become unaware that the game they are playing is actually a set of artificial law, the kind of law that have no actual effect (think of genuine law such as law of physics, the ones that actually have real impacts on you), and yet players are willingly doing their acts in accordance with those laws and rules, just because it makes sense and they don’t feel like they are being cheated or bullied around.

Therefore I believe the sense of fairness within a game rule is the most important key in creating an engaging game, one that can be achieved only by considering players’ wishes and expectations.

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Go Ahead and Play Test It

semi palar

In the last few weeks, Kummara had a wonderful opportunity to share our stories about designing games to the middle school students of Semi Palar in Bandung. It’s a class project, initiated by Kummara and the teachers. For the first week, our team brings some board games to the school, to introduce varieties of board game with unique gameplays. On the second week, we ask the students to make their own board games.
Soon after the initial meeting, the students make their own concept, some gameplay ideas and description about the games they want to make. Most of them don’t have a fixed idea on how to play it yet. So on the next meeting we ask them to get into groups of 4-5 students, according to the most similar game concepts, and discuss a more elaborated ideas about how they want the game to be played.

After a while, we gave them some blank components to make a prototype of their games and go directly into a play test session. Only after they tried to play it, they realized the problems in their game concepts. One of the groups now know that a trivia game has a tendency of repetition and low replayability, another one just realized that their designed track was actually too long, the one group making a dice game now understand the many possible outcomes of a dice roll, while the one creating an area occupation game found out that their game is actually too complicated and need to be simplified.

All these insights are instantly accessible once they’ve tried the prototype. We tend to think that designers always have a clear idea on how to bring their ideas to life, while it may not be the case. Even the best designers may come to a place when they realized that their ideas must be modified or even pushed aside to make way for a better ones, and the best way to find it out is by trying it out.

Sometimes, what matters most is not the “How” to accomplished a purpose, but “What” is the purpose itself. By trying the prototype, the students now have a better understanding on what to do next, it is to modify the gameplay in order to improve it, making it better. The purpose is still there, to create a game of their own, a good fun game that they imagined, but how the game will be played, might not be the way they wanted it in the first place. Nevertheless, I believe they will came out with many more great ideas in the next few weeks, and I’m eagerly looking forward to try the final prototype of their games.

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Game or Simulation

The Sims might be one of the most well known game franchise in the world. Most of us have spent some of our working hours just to choose the right furnitures, dress, or hairstyle for those little fictional people with alien language. The title itself gave us a clear description of the whole purpose of the gameplay, it’s a SIMulation game.

What is the difference between a simulation and a game? According to a paper by Louise Sauvé in The Journal of Educational Technology & Society, we can distinguish simulation and game as two distinctive concepts, mainly from their attributes. Attributes of a game are : player or players, conflict, rules, predetermined goal of the game, and its artificial nature. While a simulation basically have different features, which are : a model of reality defined as a system; a dynamic model; a simplified model; and a model that has fidelity, accuracy and validity.

By these definitions, game and simulation have different purposes, a game have no obligation to take a real life model/system, which is mandatory in simulation. A simulation based on a real life model may have no conflict or predetermined goal (endless loop). So, in the end, a simulation game is actually a middle ground between the two distinctive concepts. A way to make sure a simulation more engaging by putting conflicts and goals, while learning and grabbing the system built from real life model will turn it into a simulation game. A game inspired by a real life model/system, adapting it into its gameplay will also leave us with the same thing.

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Syllabus Project Part IV : Design (Layout Revision after Test Play)

After our first test play using the early prototype, some feedbacks are noted and considered for the next design process. For the cards layout, our main concern is the lack of differentiation between the left cut cards and right-cut ones. It’s causing confusion when player have to choose and combine the cards.

Based on this feedback, we will have to create 2 types of layout, to differentiate between those 2 types of cards. There are some options that we can use to do so, such as difference backside image of the cards, placing a different sign on the frontside of the cards, or perhaps using different colors for the dgfev online casino elements/symbols within the cards.

By consideration, when players play the game, most of the time the card’s front side will be more visible. However, using different backside will also help players in categorizing their cards. So we will simply use differentiation for both sides. The backside of the cards will use different colors to help players categorize them instantly. While the frontside of the cards will be embedded with a helpful signifier showing the cutting side. However, all elements within the cards will use the same symbols to ensure a consistent visual when they are combined.

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Syllabus Project Part III: Design (Layout Draft)

Based on the character matrix arranged by Brendan as a guide for the game mechanics, we can create a simple draft for the character’s card layout. The draft will serve as a template in layouting the cards component later in the development process.

There are 2 types of cards, those with left cut and right cut. Both types of cards will contain some elements in it, which are characters image, health points, and some will have special skills description. Character’s image will be placed in the middle of the card as the main visual, health point will be placed on the left side (both for upper part or bottom part, so it will be on one line when the cards are combined), while the special skill descriptions will be placed on the bottom side, under the character’s image.

The next step in the development now goes to asset/artwork development, guided by this template.


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Syllabus Project Part II : Design (Game Components Design)

In this third month of the syllabus game developing project, we now have our basic gameplay mechanism and general plot of the game’s story. From those elements of the game, we can now make a list of game components that will be created in the development process.

By the gameplay concept and mechanics, the main component for the game will be the character cards, collected by the players, and used in the game as a battle card. In each game, player will be able to combine 2 cards to come up with the best tactic in winning the battle. By the component design, there will be 2 kinds of cards, those with left side cut (being the left side card in card combination) and those with the right side card. We decided to try on an approach of 2 different kinds of characters to create the combining (symbiote) effect for each cards. So the left side cards will represent characters of (A) types, while the right side will represent characters of (B) types.

Each card will contain some information within it, including : character image, character health points, and special skills. These information, provided in the card, will determine game assets that will be developed by the game illustrator/designer.

Each card will have 2 parts on it, lower part and upper part. Upper part will contain image of the character’s head, while the lower part will contain the body image. It is essential for the artwork (body and head) to be interchangeable with each other. The upper part will also contain the character’s main health points, while the lower part can be embedded with special skill and/or extra health points.

All these considerations for the components will be delivered to the artist/illustrator, and to be discussed together along with the game designer to decide the best style of artwork for the assets before we move on to the layouting draft process in the next month.

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Syllabus Project Part I : Concepting (Theme)

All these times, we’ve been telling you some of our stories and experiences in game development process in this blog. As a part of our next step to share the joy of our work as game designers, for the next few months, we will try to develop a simple new game, and we will take you along in the process. Each month, there will be articles telling you the progress of our game design process by Brendan (focusing on the game mechanics), Rio (on the theme), Rezza (on visual development), and also Septian (focusing on ambience and music). As the first part of this project we will start by talking about concepting the game itself.

The game idea came from Brendan and Andre, 2 members of Kummara team, an idea to make a simple game that will be easy to play, easy to get, but nonetheless fun for kids. It is targeted to be published by Manikmaya. And so, the brief came along with these main requirements. The main target audience will be kids of 8 years old and above and it is especially designed so the kids will be able to play it over and over (high replayability).

By the provided brief, Brendan and Andre began their brainstorming idea and came up with an idea to redesign a well-known game mechanics, which is card tossing, where 2 players toss cards on each other hands and whoever came up with a facing up card is the winner.As an additional mechanic, players will be able to combine 2 cards with different skills to use. Based on this, we will try and find a suitable theme for the game.

From the basic mechanic, it is clear that the game will about battle between players, and so the whole theme can be simply decided to be based on a game of competition, players will be competing to win against another players. And then, let’s take a look at the playing activity. Players will toss their cards, both cards will bump into online casino each other as if it’s fighting.  The mechanic is so simple that we barely have any limitations on developing any story/theme for it. The only basic premise that we will have to fulfill is just the battle itself. So I see this as a chance for our team to create a whole new story, or if you prefer to call it, an IP of our own. We may create any characters we want and develop a whole new universe.

However, the additional mechanic of card combining actually provided us with a story frame of 2 characters (or things) that work with each other in order to make a powerful combination. So I imagine a universe, where the creatures are able to combine/symbiote with each other. Trying to find the best combinations between them in order to be the strongest one (or two?). The whole story and characters will be based on this general guideline. We can create any characters we want and try balancing them in skills and ability, and hopefully the players will be excited in collecting the cards and play the game.

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Role of Game Theme

How important is it for a game to be built around a certain theme? Is it mandatory for game designers to assign some world/theme setting for a game they are creating?

Taking the game development process overview, there are two starting options in creating a game, based on mechanics or based on the themes. Choosing one of the options, will not eliminate the needs for the other, instead it will determine each other. Choose to start with a mechanic, and immediately you will have to decide on a theme. Start with a theme, and the next step is to talk about what are the mechanics. In game design, the “what” and “how” question are always connected and heavily affecting each other.

A game is mainly determined by 3 primary components, which are the players, goals, and rules (constraints). A game is a place where players do their best in achieving goals by playing along with the rules.

By this definition, players have a tendency to search for these components at once, when they jumped into a game. The players are clearly defined by looking at the way users are interacting with the game, may it be by using an avatar, first person view, or by any other means. Meanwhile, rules and goals are not always clearly defined at the beginning of a game. Some games demand their players to spend some times in order to grab the rules and goals. In order to do this, players have to be voluntarily staying in the game long enough to learn. And so, the question is how do you assure players to spend some of their times within your game?

When players enter a game, the first question will always be, what game is this? There goes the purpose of themes in game, as a way to answer this question. When we talk about themes, it doesn’t mean it must be a concrete or well defined-well known-one, it can be absurd, awkward, or even freakishly strange. However, a good themes should be the one enhancing players’ engagement with the game mechanics. Themes are most useful when used to make players get more meaningful play, a way to give them reasoning on why the should spend some of their times within a world created by the designer.

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The Perfect Rule

Mankind lives with a lot of rules, led on by instinct and the needs to survive and grow, we created guidelines, evolving it, perfecting it, wishing that one day a perfect rule is achieved.

Designing a game means designing rules, how to create a perfect rule for a game is a great thing to learn as a game designer. Once a game designer got an idea for a gameplay, it is actually the beginning of a long path in refinement and improvement to reach the end goal.

The Simple Rule

“Easy to learn, hard to master”, a statement describing one of many traits of a good game. It was first coined by Nolan Bushnell from Atari. Meaning, a good game should enable players to understand and utilize it in the easiest way, so that everybody have an equal chance to play. However, in order to be the best players will not be  easy, time and efforts must be spent to train and explore, to find the best way of playing.

Following the notion, good games usually have a few basic rules, resulting in so many possibilities that players get to have different experiences each time they play. Simple rules will also provide a chance for players to develop their own strategy in completing challenges (may it be missions/quests, AI, or another player). So it is one thing to implement complex rules when you are simulating a theme, but it is also necessary to decide which rules are actually essential and which are mere gimmicks and features.

Just to be clear, simplifying things is actually a very complex thing to do (oh, the irony). Making sure that the basic rules is actually basic, so the game itself is still open to many possibilities (making it hard to master) and will not end up in a deadlock/dead end is one of the hardest jobs in game design.

Multiplayer Matters

In games, rules are created by the people behind it. Ways of playing are set within boundaries by the creators. But to assume that they came up with a good game simply by working it in their own head is undermining. A game means nothing without the players.

Games are made for players and so the best feedback can come from the players themselves. Each and every person may have different opinions, and this is the most valuable assets, for not even the best creators can replace so many point of views.

Players will have suggestions. Some suggestions might come from a player trying to get an advantage for him/herself, while in some other occasions, a real good suggestion might be denied by another player, just because it means he/she will lose an advantage. Making sure that the rules itself will stay objective and well balanced for all the players is the task of the creators.

By listening to as many people as possible, a game designer can refine his/her game in the best way possible, or perhaps even get new and better ideas.

The Simple Life

It might be too far fetched to compare between gaming world and real life rules (no such save and load button is one thing). But some similarity can always be found, and it’s always good to learn from everything around us.

Just like every players have many different suggestions in improving a game, so does each and every people in the world have their wishes and hopes for the best of the world. Listening to the people, while improving the rules to stay basic and balanced, giving equal chance for every people to play along,  may be the one way to achieve the perfect rule.

As for myself, I choose to try and apply a simple rule, to love life and live love,to do my best and to treat people as people, no matter what labels they carry. It might be not easy to do, but it is , hopefully, easy to understand.

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How Challenging is Challenging Enough?

Playing a game for some people means challenging yourself, completing tasks and getting the satisfaction of achieving completion. It practically became a basic question in game design, to decide, how difficult a game should be? Make it too easy, and players will leave the game if they feel no engagement or satisfaction in completing it. Make it too hard and risk the possibity that many players will give up early. So what is the parameter that should be considered in setting game’s difficulty?

It all depends. The main question will always be, who do you expect to play the game? It became clear once you understand the expected target audience and what response do you want to get from the players? In case of casual game, one that can be played by so many audience with a broad range of age and preferences, it can become a problem and might need some surveys and playtest sessions, but for the games with clear genre, purpose and target audience, then the whole game should be set up to fulfill the players’ expectations.

Considering the player’s response when they face the challenge is the key factor in deciding the game’s difficulty level. Hardcore gamers will expect more challenging and well thought missions/tasks while casual gamers sometimes prefer an easy to do challenges but will be more engaged by the contest factor (high scores, leaderboard, leveling and other things that can show their progress eventhough the task itself might not be so challenging). Deciding a proper difficulty level in game can decide whether the game is good enough to play and will it be remembered as a good game by those who played it.

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