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30 Sep 2012

Game development blog no.1

In my last post I declared a desire to document our game development process. This normally stays behind closed doors until late in the day (virtually until we're ready to release), so what you're going to see here is pretty rough round the edges. The world of prototyping is not a pretty one.

On a side note, I find that working with deliberately bare and scrappy prototypes has two key advantages:

You Started It

You Started It prototype
Those "streams" of cards are arguments going back-and-forth about who started "it".

This might be described as our fore-runner right now. It's a two-player game, which is odd because that's not something we ever set out to do. In short, both players are nation states squabbling over various historical events and establishing who started them by means of alternately broadening and narrowing the context of each event to best suit them. It's actually pretty fascinating to see the patterns that emerge in the grid of card-events and it's possible to read quite a complex narrative across them that sometimes eerily mirrors the real world. So what's wrong? Well, because it's largely card-based, there's not a tremendous amount of engagement with the game. Then, the cards are played without the player having much control over when or how they turn up, so it has a slight feeling of two-player solitaire.

Our evaluation: promising theme; needs more fun.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised prototype
These are essentially the actions available to the public players. Shoes in the game represent both selfishness and collusion with the system.

I've always wanted to design a variation of the party game Mafia that, instead of hinging on the uncertainty of a secret foe, uses a known enemy and gets its tension from the (in)ability of the "victim" group to organise and group together. Self-interest vs. group interest is what I really want to examine here and this theme keeps cropping up in a number of game prototypes and ideas. In "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", individuals in the "victim" group make a core decision about whether to stay home and watch TV or take to the streets and start a revolution. There is of course a curfew in effect so anyone out on the streets at night is liable to be arrested by the state player(s). The couple of games we've had have been quite good fun, with promising psychological gambits taking place. However, it's very 'tippy' at the moment and needs some refinement before we test again.

Our evaluation: the combination of being difficult to test, difficult to work on and very hard to market means that the reality is this game is way down our priority list. Shame because it has the potential to be the most fun.


Starting life off as a game about Orwell's Newspeak and the "memory hole", it then mutated into a game about embedded reporters and is now about editorialising headlines. Whatever the theme (I really liked where embedded reporting was going), the game essentially derives from an idea to make a language game that showed the political power of selective word use. It's quite an advanced game that gives players a starting headline and then asks them to fold in one or more key words, while at the same time making the headline hit a prescribed emotional goal (eg. "More morally righteous", "More dismissive" etc.). It's only had one outing and that game was amazingly successful, going down well with the mixed group we had.

Our evaluation: pretty broken and very open to being 'gamed' so not for everyone. Also quite a demanding game in terms of creativity and even vocabulary so ... who knows. Maybe a "mini release" is on the cards if we can polish it up some more.


Strawman prototype
Inset you see Brett of 55 Cards literally struck dumb with effort.

Another language/party game! I don't know what's got into us ... Well the reason for this was a misheard phrase that lead to this game going from idea to prototype in a record 2 hours. The idea is very basic - you have to argue with an opponent, deliberately employing a rhetorical fallacy as the basis for your point. As you progress in the game, you have to work in stupid movements and sounds into your argument-making so that by the end of it you look and sound like an idiot. The hope is that by forcing people to argue badly, we'll teach them how to argue better. (Credit is due to this beautifully presented collection of logical fallacies whose icons I hastily nabbed for our prototype).

Our evaluation: It's really difficult! It takes some serious language (and rhetorical) skills to deliberately construct a fallacious argument to order. However, there was a lot of silliness and laughter in the one playtest we've had so far. Again, maybe a light-hearted mini-release at some point?

Top Secret App!

Top Secret App screenshots
Two partial screenshots. Yes, that is Donald Rumsfeld on the right. Don't pretend you didn't know.

So immediately going against our new-found spirit of openness and collaboration, I have to insist this one stays a bit of a surprise. The reason is that this app is (I don't mind admitting) basically just one joke - taken to a rather dark extreme in an attempt to make the theme really hit home. If we tell you too much now - even the title - it'll basically spoil the joke later on. So here are a couple of screenshots ... a world exclusive!

Our evaluation: This one's definitely happening, but since I'm teaching myself how to code as I go along, progress is slow. I'm hoping to finish it before the year's up.

Posted by Andy S on 30 September 2012 - 6 comments

Comments so far:

  1. That is totally W G Grace next to Donald Rumsfeld!Jake from The Internet - 1 October 2012
  2. Your openness is greatly appreciated! The first two proto-games in particular look interesting. Have you considered starting from a classic sociological/psychological situation, like the prisoners dillemma or the Milgram experiment, and building a game around it? I also like the idea of 'spin', but think about putting it in a format that puts politicians/spindoctors against journalists, hiding the facts v.s. uncovering them. Like 'clue', but if the spinners meet certain criteria they can change the 'truth'. Or something like that. ;-) Anyway, more power (and EVIL, can't have power without EVIL, right) to you!David Holt from Amsterdam - 3 October 2012
  3. David, thanks for your comments. I'm quite heavily influenced by those infamous psychological experiments; I see them as games in their own right. And I really like your suggestions for 'Spin' - I'll definitely explore that avenue of pitting two sides against each other. And I love the idea of a Clue-type "unknown" in a game about truth and message. Very apt. Hmmm... lots to muse on.TerrorBull Games - 7 October 2012
  4. Great Stuff! Try and get a release for all of them, if possible, as they all sound worthy of being created and played. Personally, I particularly like the 'you started it' idea. But as The Beatles B-sides still have validity so would the release of the games that are not currently front-runners. (I can see that 'The revolution will not be televised' is certainly based on the 'volunteer's dilemma').BEN from SWANSEA - 9 October 2012
  5. Thanks for replying! Happy to know my ideas are of some use! Now, to take over the world, for Justice! And Ice Cream. ;-)David Holt from Amsterdam - 10 October 2012
  6. Hey Ben, really appreciate your vote of confidence! Wouldn't it be nice to have a B-side parallel in the games world? The revolution game - and maybe even both the language games - could potentially all be released as print-your-own freebies at some point, depending on their various trajectories. There's something about a party/group game in particular that feels wrong to constrain it with rules and pieces and dice etc. If I can, I want to move away from that and keep it more "pure". TerrorBull Games - 17 October 2012

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