About Me

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My goal is to make a difference in the world, and I think the way to do that is through games. My education is in programming and 3D animating, and I have worked in e-Learning and game development. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Match 3 and Poker Words Playtest

My final playtest this semester tested the changes to my match 3 card game and my new poker-style word game.

Match 3 Changes

Second deck to draw into hand
Each player has 3 cards in hand at all times until that deck runs out
Spite - on opponents turn, steal a set they just made
Trap - Replace one card on board, if opponent flips this the lose their turn

Match 3 Feedback

Relying on memory makes it more of a puzzle and maybe not the right pacing for a family game
Could try dealing all cards with directions visible (more strategy less memory)
Newly added Spite cards are fun but too powerful
Possible fixes for Spite - skip net turn or don't draw card back
Cards in your hand have information on both sides, makes it confusing
Could "attach" trap or other cards by sliding them underneath existing cards on the board

Poker Words Rules

Each player is dealt 2 cards
Round of betting
3 cards are dealt to the middle (anyone can use them)
Round of betting
Each player may choose to trade cards with the deck
Each player is dealt a 3rd card
Round of betting
Two more cards dealt to the middle
Final round of betting
Each player chooses from their letters and the litters in the middle to make the highest valued word they can
Point system and letter distribution based on Scrabble
Player with the highest scoring word collects the pot
Part way through the playtest I removed betting, so play is basically the same but without rounds of betting, and at the end both players get the total number of points in their word (keep score each round, play to 100)

Poker Words Feedback

Flows better without betting
Seems like a good game for kids to play in the back seat on a car ride
Feels like a fun, quick, casual game
Could use a twist or interaction between players to add interest
Should cards be reshuffled each time or set aside so deck runs out?
Realized the deck was somehow missing A's...
Is there a way to hide/reveal info more?
Maybe swap cards in hand with center cards somehow?
Overall more fun than the two previous games

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Steering a Ship

I once heard a designer say "I'm steering this ship" as an explanation of his role on the project, and I have often thought of that analogy since then.  If the project is a ship, then the designer who is tasked with finding the creative direction would make sense to be the person steering (or at least the person navigating).  Steering the ship seems like an exciting job, you can see your destination ahead and all it takes is convincing the ship to go in the right direction.

So the ship is the project, and it is afloat on the great open sea of ideas, and you - the designer - are steering it.  Ahead is a beautiful island that you know to be your destination, it is near enough that you can just make it out, but far enough that you are not sure how long it will take to get there.  In the beginning the sailing is smooth enough, the only trouble is the wind and water keep changing direction, but nothing your trusty crew can't handle.  As you continue along you start to notice your ship is veering left and right, and it is hard to stay on course, but you are not discouraged, you can still see the beautiful destination island ahead, and you know it will all be worth the trouble.  Then you start to notice other problems: the rudder no longer works, parts of the ship are falling off, you didn't bring enough rope, half your crew has gotten sea sick...Still, that island is growing ever nearer...Or you think it is.  That's when you notice that there are actually 5 islands ahead, and your crew look to you to pick one.  At this distance they all look the same, but you know that only one is the right one, which one to pick?  You try to convince your crew that you should visit each island in turn to determine the best one, but it is futile, the ship can only make the journey to one island if you are lucky.  So you make your best educated guess, you point your ship toward an island you think is the best and you forge onward.  The wind has been steadily picking up, and at this point it blows into a full storm.  Morale is low as your crew clings to the ship and tries to hold it upright, wondering if they will survive this storm as they have survived the storms of the past.  The storms clears and the remains of your ship and crew wash up onto the shore of an island...is it the right island?  After all you've been through, you can't even remember, but your crew runs ashore cheering and dancing in the sand, and it's the right island now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nov 4 Playtest Match 3 Card Game

I playtested the match 3 card game with Antonio, a fellow designer, and received some great feedback:

 - To set it apart from digital games, it could use more card game elements such as a 'hand' of cards the opponent cannot see, and ways to counter the opponent
 - Would be interesting to have other rules or instructions on one side of the card
 - Needs more complexity, another variable beyond color and direction of movement
 - Could add a way to score points, maybe each card could have a number of points on it as a variable
 - Some cards should be able to affect other cards
 - Would be fun to set traps for the oponent

Potential ideas for changes based on this playtest:

 - Each player has a hand of cards, and can use them to swap out cards from the play area
 - Card in the hand can be used directly against the opponent (counter)
 - Have special instructions on certain cards
 - Might need a separate deck for cards dealt into the hand

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Match 3 Card Game Update

After giving some thought to this card game and the feedback I've been receiving for it, I've decided to make some changes.  I've decided that having cards that can only move one direction makes the game progress a bit too slowly, so I think all cards should have 2, 3, or 4 options for direction.  Also my playtesters seemed overwhelmed by "remembering" what was on the card, and rather than having a game about memory my intention was to make it more about surprises.  I used a couple of wild cards in my playtests, but the 'wild' part was clearly displayed on the front, and the back just had direction arrows.  Now I think the wild part should be on the back, and no arrows (wild cards can either move anywhere or not move at all).

Here are examples of what some of the cards look like now:


I also want to change the functions of the wild cards.  The lightening bolt cannot move, but if it is put into a set of 3 the player can collect every card that is touching the lightening bolt.  The heart can be moved anywhere on the board.  And the 'anti-wild' cannot move but can be a part of any set (it represents any color). 

I have also had some random ideas about having cards that have a different color on the back, and once you turn them over they don't turn back.  I'm not sure yet how to use this in the game, but it seems interesting. 

Here is a picture from playing my game:




Waking Mars

So far this blog has been devoted to my ideas, my playtest documentation, and general ramblings about design.  Today I feel like trying something new - analyzing a game I am playing.  Yes, I've had to do this in the past for classes or for research, but this time I am doing it out of genuine interest in the design behind a game I am currently enjoying.

Waking Mars, a game created by Tiger Style Games, I believe exhibits some truly unique features.  The core mechanics are nothing new, but cleanly execute - a 2D scroller that lets you walk on the ground or float up and down with a jet pack, and clicking to throw objects.  The movement control and physics simulation are comfortable and fluid, and not frustrating or cumbersome as I am accustom to in 2D games.  The story is interesting and not entirely over-used - an explorer discovering life on Mars.

The unique thing is the lack of violence...or perhaps the approach they take to removing violence.  There is violence towards me, the player, because the world is fairly hostile, however there is essentially nothing I can do to fight back against the world, I can only endure.  The world itself is fraught with danger - jagged rocks, crumpling caves, and steep drops if I forget to use my jet pack - but there is another danger: ferocious Martian lifeforms.  My defenses against these creatures is to distract them while I try to get past, quite a fascinating mechanic.  There is nothing I can do to harm the creatures or the world, however I can witness the creatures harming and killing each other, as I am a helpless observer of nature.

I have not beat this game yet, so I will likely post an update once I complete it, but I can already say that I highly recommend this game.  It is unique and innovative, and the art and sounds are compelling and the world is very immersive.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Texas Hold'em Word Game

New card game idea!

Essentially follows the structure of Texas Hold'em - each player is dealt 2 cards, then a round of betting, then 3 community cards turned face up in the middle, another round of betting, another community card, another round of betting, one final community card (for a total of 5) and a final round of betting before players show their hands.  The difference from Texas Hold'em is instead of trying to get the best poker hand the players are trying to get the highest scoring words.  Each letter would have a different score value (initially based on the score value of letters in Scrabble) and words of different length would be worth different points.

Ideally, after playtesting and iterations this game would diverge from Texas Hold'em in play style, and would digress from the Scramble scoring system, to eventually become its own unique game.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Match 3 Card Game Second Playtest

For this playtest I watched 2 of my classmates play the game while I took notes.  Here are my notes and their feedback and some potential changes:


  •  Having the board wrap around for movement may be confusing since collecting a set does not wrap around the board
  •  Players seemed interested/engaged when a card they could move caused a different set (that did not include the card they flipped)
  •  Allowing players to choose not to move a card they flip can lead to stalemate situations, it may work better if a player MUST move the card they flip
  •  Based on other match 3 games some players may want to make multiple moves to clear several sets at once (ex. Puzzles and Dragons)
  •  The game feels like a digital game (as most match 3 games are)
  • Players sometimes moved the same card back and forth to hinder their opponent
  • Players would like to keep cards direction-side up once flipped so they don't need to remember
  • Anti-wild card moves to easily

Match 3 Card Game Playtest

Solitaire (played by myself)

I printed out 8 of each of the 4 colored gems and 4 wild card (can be any color).  Each wild card has one direction it can move (right, left, up, down).  4 of each colored card can move one direction (left, right, up, down), and 4 of each color can move 2 direction (up/left, down/left, up/right, down/right).  I dealt the cards out into a 4x4 grid and began making moves following the rules explained in a previous post.

During this test I realized 2 issues - first, the order the cards are dealt makes a huge difference and since both sides of the card have the colored gem there is no way for it to be random.  Second, sometimes a set of 3 is dealt onto the board.

Solutions:
1. The deal order (for starting game and also for replacing cards) starts at the top left corner of the board and proceeds to the right, then down (like reading).  For example, when the board is dealt the first time the dealer should deal the top row first (left to right) then the second row (left to right) and so on.  This deal order should also be used for replacing cards that have been removed.
2. If a card is dealt that causes a set of 3 it should be shuffled back into the deck and a different card layed instead.  Near the end of the deck, if there is no way to avoid this situation then the entire board should be redealt.  The game ends when there are not enough cards left to deal a full board.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why Designers Need To Communicate

So you want to be a designer?  Me too.  When I ask designers what skills they need to do their jobs, overwhelmingly the thing they say is most important is being able to communicate with the team.  This is fairly straightforward, since designers need to be able to share their ideas with both programmers and artists.

What they don't say is the secret deep down reason designers need to be able to communicate.  I have heard it said that when a game fails it is the designer's fault.  Or at least, everyone blames the designer.  Why?  Because the primary determining factor of a game's success is if people want to play it, which usually translates to if the game is fun.

Fun is the designer's job.  But the designer can't make the game fun, not alone.  As the designer, you may have fantastic ideas for the most fun game ever, but you need an artist to create the world and you need a programmer to make it function.  So if you tell them the idea and they don't get it, then all that "fun" in your head isn't going to be in the game.  What's more - during development as the designer you will probably be playing the game as it progresses, and you may notice problems with the functionality or the art, things that are stopping the fun, or you may have ideas for how the experience could be better.  And if you don't say these things well, or worse if you don't say them at all, then the game progress will stagnate, it will not improve.

Communication doesn't just mean talking.  Communicating with your team means getting ideas out of YOUR head and into other people's heads.  You can do this by talking.  You can do this with spreadsheets.  You can do this with pictures.  You can do this with paper prototypes.  Communicating also means listening, because you won't always be the one with the good ideas.  Always listen for the good ideas, because they come from every member on the team, and as the designer you have the power to take those good ideas and make them a reality.  If the game ends up fun and you didn't communicate with the team, then you weren't really the designer.

Progress for this week?

This week does not have a lot to update for my card game designs - I'm ordering some plastic sleeves so I can print and play my match three card game, and I've started brainstorming ideas for a third game.  What did I do this week?  I attended the Captivate Conference in Texas, and I realized how desperately my website needed updating.  So here it is, finally updated!  http://meganlaurajohns.com/  Still needs some more work, but it is so much better than it was last week!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Playtesting "Perfect Lunch"

In order to expedite the playtesting and balancing process, I have taken the advice of a colleague and built my game using part of a regular deck of playing cards (it translates well since there are 4 suits).

Testing Details
Date: 10/1 10:30PM
Players: Megan and Rod
Rounds Played: 4

Results

  • Each round lasted no more than 2 minutes
  • The results felt "too random"
  • Strategy was not evident
  • Very little interaction between players


Changes Made and Improvements Needed

  • Each player starts with 2 cards and draws 1 card, then may discard or lay one card face up (only one of each suit)
  • Players can pick up cards discarded by other players
  • Need to try with multiple people, might be fun with more than 2
  • Need to change the deck contents so not all 'suits' are equal
  • Need to add wild cards and ways to hurt opponents


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Card Game Idea 2

Match 3 Card Game Design

Inspirations:

  • Set
  • Memory
  • Bejeweled


Cards have 2 sides, one side has a gem (blue, green, orange, or purple), and the other side has the same colored gem with an arrow of the direction(s) it can move.  This game is for 1 or more players, and is turn-based.  Cards are layed out in a 3x3 grid with the arrows facing down.  Players take turns turning over one card, if desired the player may move the card following one of the direction arrows.  If the move creates a set of 3 matching cards in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) that player may collect those cards.  The board wraps, so cards at the edge may move to the opposite side of the arrow points off the board.  At the end of the game the player with the most sets wins.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Introspective Look at My Feelings on Design

Why do we live? We live for the good feelings. Happiness, joy, satisfaction...My joy in life derives from creating satisfying experiences for others – I watch people play to see them have fun. My ultimate goal is always to give the player something they didn't have before, and this focus causes me to be continuously pushing my designs to be the best they can be. I am never finished. I am passionate about creating engaging experiences. 

Good feelings come from many different places - successful encounters, accomplishment, entertainment, relaxation, companionship...What can we as designers give to people that they can't get for themselves? I do not study games, I study experiences. I watch people enjoy what they are doing in any environment, to try to learn how I can give that enjoyment to others. 

Henry Ford wanted to make it possible for every person to own a car; Bill Gates wanted everyone to have a personal computer; I want everyone to have fun. I believe we should treat fun as a commodity: it can be given or taken away, people will pay great prices for it, and it is something everyone wants though they may want it in different ways). 

We as designers wage a constant war against misery...our purpose, our job, our calling is to ease the misery of the world, to create a haven of happiness, to find the gems of good feelings and show others where they are. It has been my mission my entire life to make others as happy as possible, and designing games is the means by which I can accomplish that goal.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Design for my first card game for my independent study

Perfect Lunch
A Healthy Eating Card Game


References:
Spoons - take turns drawing/discarding cards until you have a perfect hand
Sorry Revenge - try to stop your opponent from getting a perfect hand
Nines - choose when to end the game, make sure you have as good a score as you can but go out early enough that your opponent doesn’t have a perfect hand


Cards:

Orange (grain):
Whole grain pasta 2 points
Bagel with butter 1 point
Captain Crunch 0 points

Green (fruits and veggies):
Raw Carrots 2 points
Salad 2 points
Apple 2 points
Steamed Broccoli 1 point

Red (protein):
Grilled Chicken Breast 2 points
Salmon 2 points
Almonds 2 points
Tofu 2 points
Grilled Chicken Leg 1 point
Pork Chop 1 point
Bacon 0 points
Fried Chicken Thigh 0 points

Blue (dairy):
Cottage Cheese 2 points
Yogurt 2 points
Ice Cream 1 point
Milkshake 0 points

Black (wild):
Discard this card, draw 2 cards and discard 2 cards
Discard this card, your opponent must show you 1 card
Candy, discard immediately and end your turn

Rules:

Start of Game:
Each player starts with 5 cards in their hand (if anyone has a “candy” card they must discard it and draw a new card before the game starts)
Players decide who goes first
Players take turns with play proceeding clockwise

Each Turn:
Player draws a card (if it is a “candy” card they discard it immediately and end their turn)
Player may play a wild card, or choose a card to discard

Goal:
Collect a “Perfect Lunch” with one card from each color with a value of 2 points
Example: Whole grain pasta, salad, salmon, Yogurt

End of Game:
Any time one player possesses one card of each color, they may choose to end the game by playing those 4 cards face up; the other players then each take one more turn, and at the end of their turn they must choose one card from each color they possess and play them face up
Players may not play more than one card from each color with the exception that the first player going out in a round may play 2 green cards
Players tally the points from their face up cards and that is their score for the current round

How to win:
At the end of the game players add up all the points they have played, and the player with the highest score wins



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Initial Design from CHF Awareness

My initial card game design came from an idea to make an awareness game to help CHF patients stay out of the hospital. It addresses the four major concerns for CHF patients - remembering to take their meds, checking their weight, scheduling an appointment, and watching for key symptoms. I realized after I started designing this game that it is the perfect format for many awareness card games, and I have decided to re-theme it for healthy meals as my first prototype for my independent study this semester. This is the initial design, the re-themed version will follow soon!

Perfect Check-In
A CHF Awareness Card Game

References:
Spoons - take turns drawing/discarding cards until you have a perfect hand
Sorry Revenge - try to stop your opponent from getting a perfect hand
Nines - choose when to end the game, make sure you have as good a score as you can but go out early enough that your opponent doesn’t have a perfect hand


Cards:

Orange (meds):
Took all meds 2 points
Took some meds 1 point
Forgot to take meds 0 points

Green (weight):
Weighed same as yesterday 2 points
Weighed 1 more pound 1 point
Weighed 2 more pounds 0 points
Forgot to weigh 0 points

Red (appointment):
Attended doctor appointment 2 points
Scheduled an appointment 1 point
Missed appointment 0 points

Blue (feelings):
Feeling great 2 points
Feeling tired, called the doctor 2 points
Feeling not too bad 1 point
Feeling tired, did nothing 0 points

Black (wild):
Discard this card, draw 2 cards and discard 2 cards
Discard this card, your opponent must show you 1 card
Readmitted to the hospital, discard immediately and end your turn

Rules:

Start of Game:
Each player starts with 5 cards in their hand (if anyone has a “readmitted to the hospital” card they may discard it and draw a new card before the game starts)
Players decide who goes first
Players take turns with play proceeding clockwise

Each Turn:
Player draws a card (if it is a “readmitted” card they discard it immediately and end their turn)Player may play a wild card, or choose a card to discard

Goal:
Collect a “Perfect Check-In” with one card from each color with a value of 2 points
Example: Took all meds, Weighed same as yesterday, Attended doctor appointment, Feeling great

End of Game:
Any time one player possesses one card of each color, they may choose to end the game by playing those 4 cards face up; the other players then each take one more turn, and at the end of their turn they must choose one card from each color they possess and play them face up
Players may not play more than one card from each color

How to win:
At the end of the game players add up all the points they have played, and the player with the highest score wins

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Designing Card Games

As part of my Master's program, I am doing an independent study on Designing Card Games.  I will be posting design ideas, prototypes of my games, and playtesting results throughout the semester.  My goal for this project is to make several playable card games, do a lot of playtesting and iteration, and end the semester with a fully functioning, enjoyable card game.