TerrorBull Games Blog / The latest news from TerrorBull Games, a satirical games publisher based in Cambridge, UK. Game development blog no.6 /blog/2013/april/game_development_blog_06/ <p><strong>This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: <a href="/blog/2013/january/game_development_blog_05/">Game development blog no.5</a></strong><br /> <br /> It's been a long, long while since we wrote a blog. A mixture of 'real life' intruding and keeping us both busy on other projects and also a lack of anything devastatingly new to report has kept us quiet, but we're back!</p> <p>There's so much to write about and catch up on: the death of Thatcher, Chavez, Obama's ever-murkier drone war and the "Kissinger" wikileaks. But first let's get the boring stuff out of the way: game development update ahoy!</p> <p><a href="/blog/2012/december/game_development_blog_04/">Kleptocracy</a> is still bubbling under. It's not dead by any stretch, but it is a big project. Recently I've headed back to doing more research on the subject of corruption - there's something fascinating about how corruption takes root and self-propagates (and is then really difficult to get rid off). I desperately want this insidious root-taking to be an organic part of the game, but without understanding the causes better, that's never going to happen.</p> <p>Meanwhile we've been steadily (and very gradually) testing and improving Drunk Prophet. Living up to its name, it's a remarkably suitable end-of-evening game for our Tuesday testing group before we get chucked out of the pub. What's interesting is that despite my desires to make the game a little more intellectually rewarding - a bit more <em>meaningful</em> - it's the simplest version of the game that keeps prevailing.</p> <h3>How to play Drunk Prophet</h3> <p>So here's how it plays currently: There are six decks of cards. This is the drunk prophet. The game takes place in ten rounds as the drunk prophet issues ten commandments. The topmost card is revealed from each deck in order, forming a (frequently confused) decree. All players have a hand of "theme cards". These themes are things like 'forgiveness', 'atonement', 'temptation' etc. Everyone holds the same themes and players have a short time to select a theme that they believe will represent a unique reading of the Drunk Prophet's words, but still relevant enough that it can be expanded upon. Everyone reveals their selected theme. All unique readings then get a chance to talk for 30 seconds, explaining and interpreting the Drunk Prophet's words with regard to their chosen theme. All non-playing players (those that didn't manage to select a unique theme) then vote on which disciple delivered the most compelling reading. Repeat ten times. That's it.</p> <p> For me, the game has two high points: realising that anything can be interpreted is both funny and instructive. You really get a sense that authority and profundity comes not from meaning, but from context. If you read these phrases in the Bible, it's monumentally different to if you scribbled it down drunk. But the most surprising moments come when Drunk Prophet comes up with something unusually cogent and germain. I think we've encountered everything from the horrific to the genuinely thought-provoking and even the occasional moment of profundity.</p> <h3>Introducing ... Drunk President</h3> <p>On a whim, I reprogrammed my Drunk Prophet generator (yep, I've made such a thing - maybe a future app? (joking)) with a load of stock political buzz-words for the purposes of seeing if "Drunk President" was worth pursuing. Don't worry, this isn't the start of a pointless "Drunk ..." empire, there's a reason for this...</p> <p>Politics was actually the original context for this whole mechanic - seeing if nonsense political arguments could be made sense of and discussed quite normally. The original goal for Drunk Prophet was something much more Orwellian - examining the potential for language to make the abnormal normal.</p> <p>I decided to change the gameplay slightly: Players take it in turns to be the beleagured Press Secretary to the Drunk President. They unveil the nonsense policy and are then quizzed on this by the other players acting as the press corps. One player sits out each round and acts as the general public, allocating points to whoever they feel has swayed their opinion.</p> <p>It's more raucus than Drunk Prophet - much more of a free-for-all - and it requires greater commitment. You need to embrace the role far more and perhaps it's also a little more demanding. I feel the people enjoying it most would need at least a vague knowledge of current affairs. But this is only off the back of one playtest.</p> <p>Anyway, the first outing was remarkably successul. Almost depressingly so. I've strived so long for the sort of reaction the "Drunk ... " games have got - and yet to achieve it with a slightly cheap language trick is both a little frustrating and comically inevitable.</p> <p>We've started work on producing some prototypes of Drunk Prophet for beta testing. This means we're fairly serious about making it. So if you'd like to help us improve and test it, <a href="/contact/">get in touch</a> and we'll start co-ordinating stuff over the next few weeks.</p> Sun, 14 Apr 2013 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2013/april/game_development_blog_06/ Game development blog no.5 /blog/2013/january/game_development_blog_05/ <p><strong>This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: <a href="/blog/2012/december/game_development_blog_04/">Game development blog no.4</a></strong><br /> <br /> So what started out as a determined and candid record of development of our next large-scale game has, in fact, exposed the entirely chaotic and fractured reality of game design. I think each post has introduced at least one new game idea.</p> <p>But it's not something I'm altogether unhappy with - the idea that there is ever a linear, logical process to creativity is just an illusion anyway. For some though, it is more wayward than others. So if you can forgive our constant jaunts off-piste then, without further ado, allow me to introduce the latest splinter-game ... "Drunk Prophet". </p> <h3>Drunk Prophet</h3> <p>As we keep wrestling with a rule-creation mechanic for the President in our larger project, 'Kleptocracy', we started messing with various forms of language-generators. We were looking for something that might provide a (randomly generated) framework for a law, but give the President enough wiggle room to interpret as s/he saw fit.</p> <p>In the middle of an already quite involved game, this soon showed itself for what it was - lunacy. However, it did feel like it could almost support an entire game in itself, so that's what we did.</p> <p>The idea of interpreting a confused and random string of words planted the scene for a religiously-themed game. Religion isn't a subject we're desperately keen to embrace to be honest - not because there's nothing to be said on religion, but it's a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. What can you say that isn't repeated <em>ad nauseum</em> and known perfectly well by everyone already?</p> <p>However, there was something irresistibly funny about these random phrases having all the gravitas and feeling of a religious decree, but being absolutely meaningless at the same time. Make the players fight over the meaning of said random phrase and you have almost instant ingredients for some silly, faintly satirical, discussion.</p> <p>But the game really only took shape recently with the title of "Drunk Prophet". This made the game itself the protagonist and the players became well-meaning but relatively helpless recipients as the Drunk Prophet spews forth. As well as vying with each other to come up with the best, unique reading of the Drunk Prophet's words, there's also an underlying spirit of we're-all-in-this-together having to deal with this crazy, drunken divinity until such a point as he passes out and we can all relax.</p> <p>I am constantly reminded how framework and context - something as basic as a title sometimes, but ultimately it comes down to the narrative of the game - can radically alter how it's played and perceived. </p> <p>This is such a simple party game that honestly it could almost be released tomorrow. But there are ingredients here to create something a bit more <em>meaningful</em> without forcing the issue. There are so many "let's laugh at funny words" party games that I don't feel there's much value in creating yet another. I still have this fantasy of using the ambiguity of the dynamically created language and feeding it back into the game - this is the step-too-far that all other language games avoid. Mainly because it's nigh-on impossible, but for now I'm still chasing that rainbow.</p> Thu, 31 Jan 2013 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2013/january/game_development_blog_05/ Game development blog no.4 /blog/2012/december/game_development_blog_04/ <p><strong>This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: <a href="/blog/2012/october/game_development_blog_03/">Game development blog no.3</a></strong><br /> <br /> Several weeks have passed since we last updated you on "the corruption game" - aka, Kleptocracy. We've been redesigning the game from a fundamentally different angle. Which isn't to say the first attempt wasn't working - I think there's mileage in that still - but I find a mixture of destructive and iterative approaches to game design bring out the best results.</p> <p>So this new direction is inspired by - brace yourselves - Monopoly. I know what you're thinking: we're either idiots or this is another one of our cynical marketing ploys. Both, probably. The truth is, many years ago, I wouldn't dare go near Monopoly and all its heavy baggage. It's over-familiar, clichéd and hated amongst gamers (a hate that is only semi-justified, incidentally). So what's going on?</p> <p>Well the core idea of Kleptocracy is that of working your way around a society, insinuating yourself in various circles, gaining influence and trying to keep others from becoming equally influence - all the while syphoning off big bucks. When we took a step back from this, it was clear that we could quite naturally represent this as your prototype, roll-and-move board track. Why not? Because it's both unoriginal and mechanically flawed (it rests on a frustrating amount of luck), that's why. But suddenly those things start to look like challenges ... Can we make a roll-and-move game that is rewarding to play and familiar-yet-different?</p> <p>Additionally, while you inevitably invite the scorn and dismissal of the elite for producing something that looks superficially trite, you also make everyone else relax as they can immediately recognise something familiar and known to them. And in this day and age, giving new players a visual or emotional anchor is vital to retaining their attention while you go through the rules. </p> <p>All that said, I'm clearly a little uneasy about my own choice as I'm spending so much time pre-emptively defending a design decision that hasn't even been fully implemented yet. Time will tell... Meanwhile, something within this game has lead to a new game:</p> <h3>Another new game? Spare us!</h3> <p>Sigh, yes, sorry. While trying to work out how the "make up your own rules" mechanic might work for the president in Kleptocracy, I stumbled onto the idea of laying out key rule "ingredients" and having the president interpret them or manipulate them into a new rule. I really liked the idea of the law being fuzzy and the head of state being the person to interpret the law in their own favour.</p> <p>After a day of messing around with cards with single words and phrases and even making my own random word generating script, I realised this was a whole other game. And the perfect theme suggested itself - instead of a president interpreting the law, what if players were high priests interpreting the Word of God to suit their own agenda?</p> <p>This seemed much more fun! I built a quick prototype in a day and we tested it last Tuesday. When I say test, I unpacked it, explained it, then repacked it again. There was a crucial flaw that would allow players to vote not for the best interpretation of the divine message (what I was after), but to vote strategically for whatever would best help them in the game. This is a pretty common problem and there are numerous work-arounds from anonymising the source to giving incentives for voting for something else that doesn't directly benefit you.</p> <p>I've done neither of those and instead made it into a bit more of a bluffing game where the personal interests of each player are far less known. Let's see how it works tomorrow. My ideal is still to make a very open language game that is supported by robust scoring/ voting, but I think I need to learn a lot more about both language and player psychology before I can pull that one off.</p> Mon, 17 Dec 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/december/game_development_blog_04/ An early Christmas present /blog/2012/december/an_early_christmas_present/ <p>One year ago we launched <a href="/wotapp/">War on Terror, the application</a> on the App Store and were very pleasantly surprised to see it shoot high enough up the charts to (briefly) beat Risk. That's all we ever wanted from life, so thank you, everyone who contributed to that.</p> <p>We've occasionally dropped the price of the app for brief periods now-and-again, more as experimentation than any planned activity. For those of you interested, mindless fiddling with pricing has very little effect on an app that has little or no exposure.</p> <p>But to celebrate one year on the App Store (and let's face it, it's a small miracle we got accepted in the first place, let alone still there after a year) we've gone a bit crazy and will be making the app completely FREE, for the first time ever, for a limited period, from tomorrow: <strong>Wednesday 5th December</strong>. <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/war-on-terror/id421716803?ls=1&mt=8">Get it here</a>.</p> <h3>And that's not all ... </h3> <p>Remember that top-secret app we've been working on? No, of course you don't, it was top secret. Anyway, we're just going to leave this here for now:</p> <p><a href="http://guantanagotchi.com/">www.guantanagotchi.com</a>.</p> Tue, 04 Dec 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/december/an_early_christmas_present/ Crunch to hit Russia /blog/2012/november/crunch_to_hit_russia/ <p>As we reported previously, Russian publishers, <a href="http://igrato.com/">Igrato</a>, are licencing <strong><em><a href="http://www.crunchthecardgame.com/">Crunch</a></em></strong> and it's set to be released later this month (obviously, in Russian, just in case that's not clear).</p> <p>The fun bit is that when we started talking, Igrato asked if we could include a special card for Russian audiences. That sounded like a great idea and we went through the game anew and came up with a choice of 4 possible "russacised" cards.</p> <p>We tried to produce a range of card ideas from "cheeky" to "uncomfortably near the knuckle" since we didn't know Igrato's tastes at this point. Well, when we presented the cards to them, to our delight and surprise, Igrato wanted all of them.</p> <h3>New Russian Cards</h3> <p class="textcenter"> <img src="/imgs/blog/russian-crunch-newcard01.png" class="left" alt="Distracting Propaganda" width="300" height="443"> <img src="/imgs/blog/russian-crunch-newcard02.png" class="left" alt="Friends With Putin" width="300" height="443"> </p> <p class="textcenter"> <img src="/imgs/blog/russian-crunch-newcard03.png" class="left" alt="Pesky Journalist" width="300" height="443"> <img src="/imgs/blog/russian-crunch-newcard04.png" class="left" alt="What Pesky Journalist" width="300" height="443"> </p> <p>à<br />For those in need of a quick refresher, these cards refer to (left-right, top-bottom): (1) Putin supposedly <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/12/vladimir-putin-greek-urns-ridicule">"discovered" two ancient Greek urns</a> while on his third scuba dive. He emerged with the remarkably clean artefacts just as some passing journalists were on the beach. (2) Putin rose through the ranks of the KGB and then the FSB and is widely reported to run the Kremlin in a similar manner. (The text was our attempt at translating "KGB Yearbook" into Russian. It's since been corrected!). (3) Outspoken critic of Putin and the Kremlin, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Politkovskaya">Anna Politkovskaya</a> wrote the shocking book, "Putin's Russia" and was a general annoyance to those in power. (4) Tragically, like several journalists before her, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Anna_Politkovskaya">she was assassinated</a> ... on Putin's birthday, no less. </p> <p>As well as bravely licencing Crunch, Igrato are also desperately trying to find a way to bring <strong><em><a href="http://www.waronterrortheboardgame.com/"> War on Terror</a></em></strong> to Russia, using ex-military balaclavas, no less. And of course Igrato are also behind our recent interest in Russian politics and <a href="/blog/2012/october/game_development_blog_03/">the game that is crying out to be made there</a>. So show them some love; they're doing great work.</p> Fri, 02 Nov 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/november/crunch_to_hit_russia/ Game development blog no.3 /blog/2012/october/game_development_blog_03/ <p><strong>This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: <a href="/blog/2012/september/game_development_blog_02/">Game development blog no.2</a></strong><br /> <br /> The Corruption Game is now going by the working title of "Kleptocracy". Unfortunately, I have to report that this development is probably the only satisfying move in the right direct that the game has taken over the past week.</p> <p>Last night, on the surface, we had a very negative playtest of the game as it stands. This game is split into roughly two areas of focus - one is each player (a member of the Russian cabinet) trying to build up as much influence as possible in various areas of Russian life (Church, Media, Business, Energy, FSB etc.) and the second is the role of President that gets passed around between players and deliberately distorts the whole game in the president's favour.</p> <p>We only played two rounds, before the analysis of the game overtook any immersion in the game and we stopped playing. The game was too bitty, lacked focus and was all about the president while the other players didn't have much a sense of identity or many meaningful choices to make. There was also no risk for the individual cabinet members as they sought to gain influence - their actions didn't intrude upon anyone else's, nor were there any particular tricky decisions to make <em>en route</em>.</p> <p>Out of all those very valid criticisms, I'm only concerned about the lack of focus and the lack of risk or jeopardy. Everything else I pretty much expected. It's a tough leap of faith to take, but I know well enough by now that the games I design feel pretty broken until they're about 75% complete. I put this down to relying on human interaction as the "glue" that holds everything else together. So, for example, something that would feel bitty and unstructured in an abstract strategy game can work wonderfully as distraction and pressure in a game that plays off the players. </p> <p>The game does indeed need a focus though and I think I might be getting too bogged down in this idea of the President being able to make up rules - I might shelve that temporarily while I work out what the heart of the game should be.</p> <p>The other problem is risk. I did wonder when I decided upon the game's narrative whether there is much natural risk in those roles. After all, when you're a member of the power elite, how much risk do you really run? Losing your power? And what does that mean, is it just falling out of favour with those more powerful than you? Is it losing opportunity and prospects to advance your position? It's a hard thing to define.</p> <p>This is where political game design makes things so difficult. To stay true to the objective of the game and to keep the game as a useful satire, the risk the players need to be introduced to has to also be meaningful; it has to stem from something recognisable and real. </p> <p>You see, with "regular" game design, if you need a game element like the introduction of risk, you can do almost anything. Granted you are probably thinking of a theme and a narrative and you need something that is intuitive, but otherwise your options are wide open. The freedom is there to bolt onto the game whatever is required. But this rarely works with "critical games", where the mechanics and the theme are tightly interwoven.</p> <p>The process that I'm now faced with is a bit more convoluted - I have to go back to source, re-read about the nature of endemic corruption and probe the subject until I can identify a real-world risk in that system ... then I have to retranslate that risk back into the game in order to arrive at a conflicting mechanic that not only makes sense, but heightens the realism and roleplay elements of the game.</p> <p>This approach means every design decision takes about ten times longer than it should and is bundled up in further hours of research into the subject matter, but it's immensely rewarding to get it right. (I think we struck lucky in War on Terror when from the beginning we had this notion of funding terrorism that - once on the board - could be potentially used by any player). </p> <p>So, this week's lesson is: You're going to have test sessions where it feels like there's so much going wrong, the easiest thing to do is start-over. Sometimes that's exactly what you need to do, but sometimes the last thing you should do is listen to every single criticism. You need to identify the critical faults. In order to help me do that, I try and jot down everyone's comments as they speak and then write a brief "counter" underneath each one. Afterwards, when I can view things more objectively, I read through those counter-arguments and work out which still stand and put those criticisms completely out of my mind. I safely dismiss them entirely. After all, if I'm wrong and they're really valid after all, they'll surface again soon enough!</p> <p>Sometimes, a bit of blind faith in your own vision is occasionally needed to see you through the rocky patches.</p> Wed, 31 Oct 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/october/game_development_blog_03/ Game development blog no.2 /blog/2012/october/game_development_blog_02/ <p><strong>This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: <a href="/blog/2012/september/game_development_blog_01/">Game development blog no.1</a></strong><br /> <br /> So in the true spirit of wayward development, on top of the previous four games mentioned in my last post, there's now a fifth, new game. And if that weren't enough, this new game has shot straight to the top of our priority list; it hasn't even been played yet. We did warn you this would be quite a random process. </p> <h3>Corruption (working title)</h3> <p>This latest game is about corruption, specifically corruption in Russia, but it will be built around elements that I hope will be recognisable in any corrupt regime or system.</p> <p>Why Russian corruption? Aren't there countries more deserving of criticism? Yes, absolutely, but there are two main reasons why we've alighted on this subject. The first is that, quite simply, we were asked to consider it. The Russian game publishers, <a href="http://igrato.com/">Igrato</a>, are currently <a href="http://www.boardgamer.ru/cherez-mesyac-vyjdet-russkaya-versiya-crunch">in the process of licencing Crunch</a> from us (more about that soon). One day they said, "you could make a great game about Russian corruption". </p> <p>We thought about it a bit and I started doing some research. I watched this <a href="http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/4od#3268163">great-creepy documentary about the "Nashi"</a> (scarily reminiscent of Hitler youth), this excellent BBC series, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ch_yJYola90">Putin, Russia and the West</a>, and am nearing the end of the rather dramatically titled <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008XM6N8K/ref=oh_d__o01_details_o01__i00">Mafia State: How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia</a> (which to be fair is a pretty gripping read). And of course, <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1843430509/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00">Putin's Russia</a> by <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Anna_Politkovskaya">Anna Politkovskaya</a> is on the list too... The more I read, the more common themes start to re-emerge - and they are incredibly juicy.</p> <p>After all, corruption is a juicy subject - and that's the second reason this seemed like a good pick. Who doesn't enjoy the chance to play a corrupt, evil megalomaniac?</p> <p>What I'm particularly interested in is how a mix of <strong>self-interest</strong> and <strong>fear</strong> allows corruption to take root and flourish. I'm also intrigued by how rulers like Putin and Berlusconi manage to harness such popularity through a mixture of charm, bluster and machismo and how they preside over what is really a <strong>functioning autocracy</strong> that still maintains all the signposts of a <strong>democracy</strong>. What's really fascinating is that someone like Putin has more-or-less unlimited power, but he <em>regulates himself</em> to ensure he never crosses a line that would break this democratic façade.</p> <p> So I've been constructing a prototype for a couple of weeks and because of time constraints, all I got round to last night was laying out the board and elements and talking everyone through the rules. As a side-note, I can recommend this as an excellent first "road test". Don't feel you need a full group to test your new idea - just getting it all out and talking through how it plays (and fielding the inevitable questions) is a really effective way of not just discovering holes in your rules but of ordering your ideas too. Something that feels self-evident to you can suddenly feel bloated and fuzzy when you try and communicate it to others.</p> <p>The game so far uses a mixture of two currencies - money and influence - to help players gain control of the game. Ultimately the win is about getting the most money, but I'm already wondering whether this is too simplistic and whether there shouldn't be more recognition of how "power" is often the goal, with money being a happy result of having power. Also, I think I need to move away from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junta_%28game%29">Junta</a> wherever possible. </p> <p>On that note, I was aware right from the start that escaping the shadow of <strong>Junta</strong> would be a big ask when designing a game about state corruption. Money, violence, bribery, coups, power-struggles ... these subjects are all covered by Junta and retreading this ground is pretty much inevitable. We even played a (rare) seven-player game of Junta last week to refresh our minds of this hilariously chaotic game and as a genuine fan of the game I have the tough task of making sure that any similarity is "homage" and not "ripoff"!</p> <p>Without a game report to write, I'll leave you with the ingredient that generated most discussion. I want the President in "Corruption" to be able to write new rules into the game. Not select from a range of new rules, but literally rewrite the rules. And I want the other players - and their ability to organise, stick their necks out and work together - to be the only check on this potentially devastating power. </p> <p>Certainly if anything is asking for a game to be broken, it's allowing the players to start making up rules. But then, players do this anyway, whether we (or even they) recognise it or not. I'm just taking that idea to an extreme. And while I had in mind that this would be a side-play to the main game, it sparked such interest and thought that I'm already wondering if it should be brought more centre-stage. I guess we'll find out how successful it is as an idea first! </p> Wed, 17 Oct 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/october/game_development_blog_02/ Game development blog no.1 /blog/2012/september/game_development_blog_01/ <p>In my <a href="/blog/2012/september/the_embarrassing_side_of_game_design/">last post</a> 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. </p> <p>On a side note, I find that working with deliberately bare and scrappy prototypes has two key advantages:</p> <ul style="margin-left: 30px"> <li><strong>1.</strong> You speed up your prototype building (something that quickly wears off as a novelty) </li> <li><strong>2.</strong> If you succeed in pulling players into a game that looks cheap, bland and uninteresting, then you know it's going to be a great game once the theme and all the visual trappings are firmly in place.</li> </ul> <h3>You Started It</h3> <p class="textcenter"><img class="border" src="/imgs/blog/preview_youstartedit.jpg" alt="You Started It prototype" width="421" height="291" /><br /> <em>Those "streams" of cards are arguments going back-and-forth about who started "it".</em></p> <p>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.</p> <p><strong>Our evaluation:</strong> promising theme; needs more fun.</p> <h3>The Revolution Will Not Be Televised</h3> <p class="textcenter"><img class="border" src="/imgs/blog/preview_revolution.jpg" alt="The Revolution Will Not Be Televised prototype" width="421" height="291" /><br /> <em>These are essentially the actions available to the public players. Shoes in the game represent both selfishness and collusion with the system.</em></p> <p>I've always wanted to design a variation of the party game <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mafia_%28party_game%29">Mafia</a> 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.</p> <p> <strong>Our evaluation:</strong> 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. </p> <h3>Spin</h3> <p>Starting life off as a game about Orwell's <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak">Newspeak</a> 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.</p> <p> <strong>Our evaluation:</strong> 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. </p> <h3>Strawman</h3> <p class="textcenter"><img class="border" src="/imgs/blog/preview_strawman.jpg" alt="Strawman prototype" width="421" height="291" /><br /> <em>Inset you see Brett of <a href="http://www.brettspiel.co.uk/">55 Cards</a> literally struck dumb with effort.</em></p> <p>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 <a href="http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/">beautifully presented collection of logical fallacies</a> whose icons I hastily nabbed for our prototype).</p> <p> <strong>Our evaluation:</strong> 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? </p> <h3>Top Secret App!</h3> <p class="textcenter"><img class="border" src="/imgs/blog/preview_topsecretapp.jpg" alt="Top Secret App screenshots" width="421" height="291" /><br /> <em>Two partial screenshots. Yes, that is <a href="http://www.rumsfeld.com/">Donald Rumsfeld</a> on the right. Don't pretend you didn't know.</em></p> <p>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!</p> <p> <strong>Our evaluation:</strong> 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. </p> Sun, 30 Sep 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/september/game_development_blog_01/ The embarrassing side of game design /blog/2012/september/the_embarrassing_side_of_game_design/ <p>I'm really bad at sharing the creative process that goes into designing and making games. It's something that I've often wished I could change, not least because I think it could be a really interesting record and resource for others if I actually talked candidly about work-in-progress. </p> <p>When I try and analyse the reasons for my reluctance to publicly share what we're working on, I can identify a mixture of natural guardedness, protectionism and worry that too much talk will corrupt the (mostly) spontaneous act of creation. However, more than all those things (after all, who is really going to steal one of <em>our</em> ideas and produce it themselves? - good luck to that person!) is the embarrassment of showing the reality of how <em>wayward</em> the game development path is. I feel a twinge of guilt when I look at our small mountain of unfinished games-in-progress and I feel utterly amateurish when I recall how many times I've declared to myself, "<strong>This</strong> is going to be our next game!".</p> <p>I know that recording my thoughts as I go along will inevitably make these failed attempts and blind alleys public (along with my erroneous and changeable opinions). But it's precisely because of the embarrassment factor that I hope this post alone will provide some comfort and resonance to other game designers. Ultimately, it's OK to be wrong. Game design is also rarely a logical, iterative process of refinement. It's frequently messy and unpredictable but in all the cast-aside ideas, patterns and themes reoccur and eventually a cohesive idea grows from them.</p> <p>Of all the creative pursuits I've tried, I have to say game design is the most challenging. So many aspects have to be right to make a good game that it is often hard to tell you even have a good game until it's nearly complete. And the energy you need to carry you through the process of prototyping-and-testing means that you necessarily have to turn a blind eye to early "warning signs" and plough on regardless. We almost chucked in the towel with <strong><em><a href="http://www.waronterrortheboardgame.com/">War on Terror</a></em></strong>, for example, at least twice.</p> <p>So I'm going to try and turn over a new leaf. The next blog post will be my attempt at writing a development update on several games that we're working on simultaneously. I can't promise that it'll last, but my intention is to document the process of producing our next game a lot more openly. </p> Mon, 24 Sep 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/september/the_embarrassing_side_of_game_design/ TerrorBull team up with Acabo to bring their educational games to the UK /blog/2012/june/terrorbull_acabo_collaboration/ <p>Back in December last year at the Mill Rd Winter Fair, we were happy to see some fellow board game publishers holding a stall near ours. Not only that, but they were selling educational games. What are the odds? It was almost as if the Fates of Boardgame Publishing (they exist, check your mythology textbook) had thrown us together. </p> <p><a href="http://www.academicboardgames.co.uk/">Acabo Games</a> (for it was they) were selling the freshly printed English version of their science trivia game, <strong><a href="http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/85472/the-art-of-science">The Art of Science</a></strong>. We thought it was all very good, but didn't think much more of it until we met down the pub later that evening and we got to actually play the game. (You see, the pub is the common element in all significant events). Well it frazzled our right-hemisphere-dominated brains, we can tell you that.</p> <p>Expecting a rather feel-good, family Trivial Pursuits style game, we got instead a hardcore science grilling. We then learnt that the 2,000 questions were the work of an industrious team of Swedish Phd scientists and that our puny humanities degrees really didn't stand a chance.</p> <p>But the most impressive thing was that we still had a great game. There are a couple of lovely, original twists on the trivia genre that make it engaging even if you're, well, scientifically challenged. For a start, the scoring system is such that you can weight your best subjects at the top, which means you'll be answering more questions in that subject. So by placing "misc" and "tech" right at the top of our score card, we had a fighting chance to compete against chemistry majors. The other interesting touch was the introduction of some "screw you" mechanics (always a favourite component here at TBG). So for example, if you land on another player's square, you can move them to a new square and thus force them to answer their least favourite category next turn. </p> <h3>TerrorBull Games take on The Art of Science</h3> <p><img src="/imgs/products/aos.jpg" class="right" /> When Acabo said they were struggling to get the game into the UK market, the next step seemed obvious. While we admittedly don't know much about trivia games, we do recognise a quality game when we see it - and not just that, but a game with genuine educational intent, born out of love of sharing knowledge, rather than commercial greed. So TerrorBull Games are now the official suppliers of <strong>The Art of Science</strong> here in the UK. Check out the dedicated <a href="/games/the_art_of_science_game.php">games page</a> for more information. It's been getting some corking reviews and reception already. Perfect for your inner geek - or any scientist in your life.</p> <p>Also, check out <a href="http://www.academicboardgames.co.uk/">Acabo Games</a> themselves. They have a great ethos and we've also had the pleasure of playing some of their other games, including a beautifully designed estimating/statistics game, which is several thousand times more fun than my description of it right there. We hope to be able to also bring you this game very soon. </p> <p class="center">û <a href="https://www.terrorbullgames.com/shop/">Buy <strong>The Art of Science</strong> from the TerrorBull Shop now</a>.</p> Sun, 10 Jun 2012 12:00:00 GMT /blog/2012/june/terrorbull_acabo_collaboration/