Author Archives: David Mullich

Dice and Drawbridges Inspire Games Designed By Scouts At Balboa Oaks Spring 17 Merit Badge Midway

Several times a year I volunteer at local merit badge midways to run workshops for the Game Design Merit Badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. On Saturday I led a three-hour workshop at the Balboa Oaks Merit Badge Midway in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, and as with every time I’ve run these workshops, I was impressed with the wide variety of games these young men designed.

My workshops always begin with a Socratic-dialog-heavy talk about the various elements that comprise a game, the different ways we can describe a game’s play value (what makes it fun to play), and how intellectual property rights apply to games. I then do an exercise with the boys in making changes to game rules to see what effects those have on players, using set of Spider-Man tic-tac-toe sets.  (You’d be amazed at the number of variations on tic-tac-toe the scouts have come up with over the past couple of years).  With each of these topics, the scouts satisfy various merit badge requirements.

The more advanced (and most fun) requirements involve the scouts proposing a game concept, and once I approve it, prototyping their game and playtesting it with other scouts.

Here are some of the games the scouts designed last weekend.

 

Illuminati
by Dylan M, Troop 1003

Video games are the most difficult type of games to do at these merit badge workshops because of the limited time to make improvements to your game after making your playtest observations. But Dylan M. of Troop 1003 managed to earn his Game Design merit badge with this platformer.

Vision Statement: A single-player electronic 2D platformer set in a medieval kingdom in which the protagonist must defeat enemies to save his kingdom.

Play Value: Challenge.

Set-Up:

  • Player starts at the left edge of the level with 4 Lives, 10 Health and 0 Score.

Progression:

  • Controls: arrow keys (left, right= move left, right, up=jump).
  • Enemies: All enemies die upon collision.  However, unless the player jumps on them from above, collision also takes away 1 Health from player.
  • Scoring:
    • Killing an enemy: 5 points.
    • Collecting gold: 2 points.

Resolution: The game ends when player gets all the 4 keys and unlocks door, which completes level.

Resources: Score, Keys, Health, Lives

 

Match Em
by Nathaniel Y, Troop 773

This dice game looks deceptively simple, but I found it to be the most engaging game of the day to play.

Vision Statement: A free-for-all dice game where 2-4 players roll dice in an effort to be the first person to collect 3 Match’em cards.

Play Value: Challenge.

Set-Up: 2-4 people can play.

  • Three cards are taken from the deck and laid on the table, face up. Cards will display a picture of 6 dice. The object of the game is to roll your dice until you can match what is displayed on one of the cards.
  • Each player has six dice. Players will roll 1 die to determine who starts the game. Highest roll wins. Players who roll the same number must re-roll against each other until a winner is determined. Once the starting player is determined, turns move clockwise from the starting player.

Progression:

  • Three cards are taken from the deck and laid on the table, face up. Cards will display a picture of 6 dice. The object of the game is to roll your dice until you can match what is displayed on one of the cards.
  • Each player will take turns rolling their dice once. After a player rolls their dice, any matching numbers can be placed next to the card they want to obtain. Those dice are now “locked in” to the card. Any non-matching numbers will be taken back to re-roll on their next turn. Multiple players can work on the same card as other players. The first person to match all 6 dice on card wins that card and they take it from the table. All dice that were locked on that card will be returned to the players and a new card will be pulled from the deck to replace it. The first player to obtain 3 cards wins the game.
  • Take back rule: At the beginning of their turn, a player has the option to take back all their dice and re-roll them. This can be helpful if a player wants to work on a new card or attempt to steal a card that another player is currently working on. This must be done at the beginning of the player’s turn. No dice can be taken back after the player has rolled on their turn.

Resolution: The first player to collect 3 Match Em cards wins.

Resources: Dice, Match Em cards

 

Medieval Quests
by Grayson R, Troop 1

This was the most visually impressive game at the workshop.  Grayson R of Troop 1 created this board game to teach players about knights, kings, queens, people, weapons, foods, customs and other information of the medieval time period.

Vision Statement: A medieval board game in which 2-4 players answer questions related to Medieval times in a race to reach a castle.

Play Value: Novelty.

Set-Up: 2-4 people can play.

  • Each player takes a game piece and puts  it at the starting point, on the brown tile.
  • Place dragon cards and treasure cards in card holder.
  • The youngest player goes first.

Progression:

  • Each Player takes drawing a white dragon card and reading the question to the player on his/her left (the answer is located underneath the question).

  • If the question is answered correctly, then the player who answered the questions correctly will move the amount of spaces indicated in the parenthesis after the answer.

  • If the question is answered incorrectly, the player will remain where they are and not move forward.

  • If a player lands on a red tile, a red treasure card will be drawn and the directions followed.

  • The person to the player’s left has the next turn.

Resolution: The first player to get to the castle will win the game.

Resources: 40 dragon cards (white), 12 red treasure cards (red)

 

As always, the scouts were very inventive, given the limited resources and time they had available.  Even better, they were not only proud of the games they made, they really enjoyed playing other scout’s games.  After all, as I explained to them, creating fun experiences for others to enjoy is what game design is all about.

Manage Your Game Dev Career By Thinking Like An Entrepreneur

One of my Facebook friends is a fairly well-known figure in the game industry, and today I asked him how things were going at a new venture he joined not too long ago. “Not well,” he confided in me. “I haven’t received a paycheck in several weeks. So, I have to keep plugging along until either I get paid or find a new gig — whichever comes first.” Man, do I empathize with his situation, because I’ve been there too many times myself. In fact, any one out of a couple dozen of my Facebook friends right now who is in a similar professional pickle could be the person who shared this with me.

Many of those thinking about working in the video game industry only consider the imagined rewards of creating a hit game and reaping in millions of dollars of revenues. Unfortunately, the vast majority of game developers simply earn a regular paycheck. Yet a middle-class salary isn’t a guarantee, because the game industry is as full of risk as it is reward, and that risk includes working for months without pay to get a start-up going, or being laid-off from even a successful company when times are tough. According to a survey conducted by the International Game Developers Association in 2014, the average game developer held four jobs in five years.

Working in the game industry involves a lot of risk, and to survive, it helps to think like an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. In this case, the risky enterprise you need to learn to handle is your own career.

Here are some tips for applying entrepreneurship to a career in the game industry:

  • Be passionate about video games. Game development isn’t just a job; it is a competitive industry where you will be spending long hours trying to create a product that will stand out from all the others on the retail shelves and in the digital store.  You will be a much more attractive candidate if you really care about video games enough to know what the competition is like and what makes a game stand out. But it’s not just enough to be passionate about playing video games, you have to be passionate about making them. Entrepreneurs have a drive to build things that are successful, and that’s what you need to be constantly doing to have a successful career.  It’s their passion that gets them through the tough times.
  • Be devoted to your career. I once worked for a manager who told me, “If you’re not working sixty hours a week, even when you’re not  a deadline, you’re not a real game developer.”  While I don’t believe it’s a good idea to constantly be in crunch mode, game development is hard work and sometimes involves long hours. But a devoted entrepreneurs doesn’t mind such hard work and late hours.  Devotion to the game industry is also needed to the constant cycle of losing one job and finding a new one, as well as the day-to-day frustrations of programming bugs, equipment failures, and playtesters who don’t find your game to be as fun as you hoped they would.  Entrepreneurs aren’t deterred by such difficulties; they realize that it is all  part of the journey and are willing to fail a little now in the hopes of succeeding a lot later.
  • Constantly reinvent yourself. The game industry is constantly changing: new technology, new platforms, new business models, new companies. If you don’t keep up with the latest and greatest, you’ll quickly fall behind, but the more you learn, the more you’ll earn.  Entrepreneurs place value on learning about what’s happening in the world around them and are constantly reading.
  • Be confident but not cocky. Your prospective or current manager and co-workers want to be sure you have the skills and experience to do your job, but don’t oversell them on your abilities to the point that it doesn’t look like you are unaware of the risks. While good entrepreneurs are very confident of their ability to deliver value, they know they constantly need to make improvements, even in themselves.
  • Keep sight of the big picture while tackling your individual tasks.  Entrepreneurs dream big, and in game development, that big dream is the vision for the game on which you are working and the hope for its success.  Since games are made by teams, everyone needs to share that common vision and do their part to achieve it. That means getting your assigned tasks done. Entrepreneurs understand that they must take care of all little details so they can achieve the big dream.
  • Learn to be comfortable working both on your own as well as part of the group. Entrepreneurs often burn the midnight oil doing things that no one else can do, and boy, is that ever true with game development. Most members of a team are specialists who have skills and knowledge that are their own unique contributions to the team as they work on the invariably tight schedule.  Not only does no one have time to hold your hand, no one else may be able to help you on some of the tasks assigned to you.  So, you’ll have to find ways to keep yourself motivated, especially when you are working late into the night to meet a deadline and not let the other members of your team down.
  • Remember that working smart is even better than working hard. Hard work is unavoidable, but too often you have hard work because you (or someone above you) didn’t work smart. While best entrepreneurs are not averse to working hard, they’re more interested in working smart. You should constantly looking for ways to be more effective and efficient so that your productivity give you a competitive edge over everyone else.
  • Know when to hold, and when to fold. Good entrepreneurs aren’t afraid of risk, but they have an exit strategy for when that risk isn’t paying off.  Unfortunately, too many game developers working at a failing studio fall victim to the Sunk Cost Fallacy: reasoning that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, those resources being the time they spent working at that studio.  When your employment decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you have made to an employer, you may not rationally appraise whether the company is worth your investment, and the harder it will be to abandon it.  You should always be looking out for the next opportunity and be emotionally prepared to switch jobs if the current opportunity doesn’t look like it will reward you for the risks you have taken by joining it.

Above all, remember that you need to be the one to make things happen for yourself, whatever the odds.  No excuses. No wavering. No delays. If you don’t have the skills or experience you need to land a job in the game industry, get them. Any way you can. And then start knocking on those game studio doors until one finally opens.  And if one day you find yourself kicked out into the street, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and find yourself a new position. Game development is for those who can’t imagine themselves doing anything else, and if you are truly thinking like an entrepreneurs, you aren’t going to let anything stop you from making your career happen.