This Saturday I again volunteered at a local merit badge midway to run a workshop for the game design merit badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. To earn this merit badge, the scouts not only have to create a game of their own design, but also engage in the process of playtesting and redesign for at least three iterations. Now, the average merit badge takes about ten hours of a scout’s time to complete, and Game Design is no exception. So, in my three-hour workshop, I help scouts to either get started on the merit badge or to finish it up. And therein lies a problem: how to deal with a dozen scouts at different stages during the limited time I have with them.
This time, I decided to try something different. Although I did my normal process of doing a “classroom lecture” about the elements of a game, different types of play value, game design terms, and intellectual property protection, I broke up the lecture into four segments for the scouts who were just starting their merit badge, this time I had these scouts do playtesting between the segments for the scouts who had already completed their games. This had the double benefit of breaking up the lecture for the scouts starting their merit badge, while providing playtesters for the scouts who were finishing up. And overall, it worked quite well.
To playtest a game in my workshop, scouts must first contact me with a vision statement, play value description, and initial set of rules for a game they want to make, and if I approve it, they can proceed with making a game to bring in. Only three scouts did the prerequisites this time, but the rest who attended the workshop got to playtest their games.
Here were the games that we playtested.
Vision Statement: Crayon Wars is a free-for-all party game where players uses crayons as money to defeat the opponent. The game has play value of challenge because you have to practice to be better. It has stimulation because it is exciting and threat because you are challenging each other and it is fun to play
Set-Up: Each player is given 2 crayons for lives and two crayons for buying stuff.
Progression: Players take turns moving play around the circle to the left
The first player can buy something or skip and save up for later. Each turn players get 2 crayons for money. You can also attack after the first round.
There are 12 items you can buy
- plane 2
- helicopter 3
- army men 4
- bazooka 5 strong against planes +1 crayon
- 5. jet 5
- health pack 6 plus 2 health
- take it 7 2 crayons health taken away
- tank 8
- hill 9 stops tank
- Godzilla’s wife 10 stops Godzilla
- Godzilla 11 defeats volcanoes
- volcano 12 +2 crayons every turn
To attack, you pick a token to attack with. It damages the other player’s token or their health the value of your token and your token will go down in value the amount of damage you did. You can attack the other players health after attacking all of their resources.
Resolution: The game ends when someone’s health goes to zero.
Vision Statement: Around is a free-for-all board game for 2 to 4 players in which players roll dice to move along a circular path to reach the end.
Set-Up: Players place their pieces at the Start, receives $50 in play money, and then rolls the dice to determine who goes first.
Progression: The game is played in turns.
- The player rolls the dice to find out the number of turns to move.
- After rolling the dice, the player moves that number of spaces anywhere on the game board.
- Some spaces will take or give money to the player.
- The player must move the exact number of spaces to reach the Finish.
Resolution: The game ends when one player reaches the Finish.
Vision Statement: Diamond Dreams is a Minecraft-themed board game for 2 to 4 players in which players try to reach a diamond block that rules everything.
Set-Up: Players place their character in one of four gray boxes around the edge of the board and are given 10 health points. Players role a die to determine who goes first.
Progression: The game is played in turns.
- Each player rolls a die to determine the number of spaces to move.
- The player can move only left, right, or forward.
- Some spaces have special properties:
- Lava: Lose 7 health points
- TNT: Lose 8 hit points
- Creeper: Lose 5 hit points
- Hole: Returns player to start
- Armor: Adds 5 hit points
- Wolf: Lowers damage done by monsters by half.
- If the player looses all of their hit points, they return to the start and regain them.
Resolution: The game ends when one player reaches the Diamond.
Of the three games, I’d say the scouts most enjoyed Diamond Dreams. It had the best presentation, the most complete rules, and the greater depth of game play. Of course, earning a Game Design merit badge is not about creating the best game, but learning what it is like to be a game designer — that the game does not end with the initial design, but is refined and polished based on the experience of the players who are playing the game.
The first class that every Los Angeles Film School student takes — regardless of whether he or she is enrolled in the Film, Animation, Entertainment Business, Music Production, Recording Arts, or Game Production program — is Introduction To Transmedia Design. If you are unfamiliar with the term, transmedia design (also called transmedia storytelling, transmedia narrative or multi platform storytelling, or cross-media seriality) the development of stories and characters across multiple mediums and platforms, including films, music, books, games, webisodes and social media.
The purpose of the course is to get students thinking from the start of their careers not just about the entertainment medium they are focusing on, but to be aware of how both traditional and dedicated transmedia entertainment studios are beginning to embrace transmedia storytelling techniques in search of a new storytelling form that is native to networked digital content and communication channels. Whether students will eventually be working in film, music, or games, their creative work will likely be just one piece of a larger entertainment framework.
Specifically, the course practical strategies to increase audience engagement, create new revenue streams for producers, open up a project to multiple demographics and prime a project for generational success. Students learn the basic creative strategies and value propositions governing the transmedia space and, most importantly, how to use them to optimize projects and media throughout the entire entertainment spectrum.
Students present their final project — a transmedia project proposal built around a well-known franchise and encompassing film, television, music, literary and/or game components — at a monthly Transmedia Showcase event. I attended last Friday’s Transmedia Showcase, and my favorite presentation, not unsurprisingly, was based on a popular video game franchise: Fallout. To extend this classic post-apocalyptic role-playing game into other media, the student team presented a wide variety of concepts, including a novel, song, television series, and board game. What really sold their project to me, though, was a live-size diarama of one of the shelters, called Vaults, from the game.
The concept of transmedia storytelling is not new. When I worked as a video game producer at Disney nearly thirty years ago, we worked with film and television properties that were extended not just into video games, but also into books, records, and consumer products. However, more and more entertainment producers are now developing projects not just as a single work, but as stories told across multiple forms of media that are not only linked together, but are in narrative synchronization with each other. Lucasfilm, for example, created a Storytelling Group a couple of years ago to ensure that their Star Wars novels, comic books, movies, video games and TV shows were all narratively consistent with each other.
Emerging technologies also enabled projects to include real-time multiplayer experiences such as alternate reality games, which interactive networked narratives that uses the real world as a platform and transmedia storytelling to deliver stories that may be altered by players’ ideas or actions. The USC School of Cinematic Arts has run a semester-long ARG called Reality Ends Here for incoming freshmen since 2011. The game involves players collaborating and competing to produce media artifacts. In 2012, Reality Ends Here won the Impact Award at IndieCade, presented to games which “have social message, shift the cultural perception of games as a medium, represent a new play paradigm, expand the audience, or influence culture.”
The Los Angeles Film School’s own transmedia program is just getting started, but I’ll be very excited to see how our own students take to the challenge of inventing new play paradigms themselves, and what the cultural fallout from new forms of entertainment will be.