Game Idea a Day – Week 16

I got a Vive set up in my living room this week, which you might imagine would lead to a lot of VR ideas, and it did! But possibly because I was also rather busy, most of my entries ended up short and scant on details. I had a couple of ideas that I then later found close close corollaries on Steam. The project also took a backburner several days this week, and occasionally became (sometimes literally) a last minute scramble.

4/15 – This was my longest entry this week, and I flushed out some of the details around an idle game where the key factor that increases over time (rather than some currency) is distance. So the game is (in a way) an endless (auto) runner, but in the beginning you tap for every step. But of course by the end you have purchased planes trains and automobiles to make that distance go by faster and faster.

4/16 – I laid out some (very high-level) ideas for a game that uses 3D models from Google Maps to allow you to virtually travel to a city. Then I got the Vive setup, and (later that week) spent some time in the Realities application. It’s not exactly what I was describing, (I can’t see that it uses Google city data), but it’s pretty darn close.

4/17 – A virtual model train set in VR, where you can mold the hills and add trains and setup towns and tracks wherever you want. But you have to have resources to make tracks and add trains and you get resources by having trains go between cities. I think this could be HUGE.

4/18 – I had a lunch with my friend Lloyd, where he mentioned wanting to stomp around in a VR city and destroying it (a’la 3D rampage). This was straight up cheating, (since it wasn’t my idea), but I outlined some details in my journal. Then later in the week I found this video of Maximum Override in VR. (Which is also available already on Steam.)

4/19 – This started by thinking more about action puzzle games in VR, and led to taking a beat from Tetris Giant, and thinking it would be cool to have a game with giant in-game controls that would be impractical in real life. No game really, just thinking about controls.

4/20 – Three entries for some reason on 4/20. The first was just some thoughts about Puzzle Prison as imagined without VR, (and themed to be Donutron specific). The second was someone else’s idea. The third was a two-player board game based loosely on Battleship, but you can only choose a space (fire at a space) that is within one space of one of your own pieces. So you give them a hint every time you fire. Additionally, you can take a turn to move one of your ships instead of firing with it.

4/21 – Prince died yesterday. It saturated social media, and at some point I saw an article headline that said it was “The end of Prince’s Purple Reign”. As sometimes happens, I couldn’t stop thinking about the phrase (especially the homonym, Purple Reign). Eventually I sketched out a game where you are like Harold from the children’s book “Harold and the Purple Crayon”. In my idea, you draw the world (in VR, sorta like TiltBrush), and the game will recognize if you are drawing the ground line and change your height in the environment, turning jagged lines into steps, and automatically “stepping” up them as you draw. It would also recognize lots of other shapes and allow you to interact with them. Rectangles at appropriate heights would turn into windows, for example.

Where the F’ do Ideas come from?

This whole “Game Idea A Day” project has me fairly often musing on creativity and how to most effectively generate new ideas. This was already a topic that I have some strong opinions about, but I’ve rarely taken the time to articulate (that I remember). I’m actually not going to do that now anyway, but instead I’m just sharing some links that relate to the subject. They’re food for thought on the topic of food for thought. I guess they are idea recursion.

First, an earworm!

Ze Frank is one of those “internet celebrities” you probably cannot accurately describe other than by saying he’s a “personality”. (He makes youtubes, and blogs, I guess?) Anyway, he wrote a song about creativity like 10 years ago, and its hook is where I stole the title for this blog post. It’s (obviously?) not safe for work, but there is also a clean version. It’s worth watching all two minutes, because of the song, IMO.

Isaac Asimov’s new article

What prompted this blog post is that my wife sent me a link to an article about a newly posthumously published article by Isaac Asimov about creativity over at the MIT Technology Review. Asimov suggests that you need both a depth in your field, as well as the ability to put two ideas together that might otherwise not be connected.

Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

I think this is definitely true in game development, and a lot of my best ideas (chess/tetris-attack, go/tetris) are combinations of game mechanics or otherwise disparate game ideas. Asimov also suggests that eccentricity is another desirable trait.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

He doesn’t define crackpot, so I couldn’t possibly guess whether I’m one of those, or merely unconventional. (Assuming, of course, that I am creative, which is also highly questionable.) The final important piece, Asimov says is, to be prolific.

For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

My feeling is that you have to generate those ten-thousand ideas in order to have the few good ones.

Ira Glass

All this reminds me of the Ira Glass piece on creative work, which, just in case you haven’t seen it, I will also embed below. (Note that this bit is part 3 of 4, and the entire thing is definitely worth watching.)

Essentially, my take-away (and this is from memory, so let me know if I’m butchering it), is that you have to do stuff, MAKE stuff, in order to get better at any creative endeavor. And in the beginning, you have opinions, (Glass calls it your “taste”) that doesn’t match up with the level of work that you are creating. Essentially, if you look objectively at your work, you will see that it is bad, and despair. The solution is of course to not judge yourself. Give yourself freedom to create (make) without trying to figure out whether it’s good or not. Writers get this drilled into them early. Write first, edit later. Put it down FAST, so you don’t have time to nitpick every word or sentence.

John Cleese

You can’t get much more creative than Monty Python. There is a nice transcript of one of John Cleese’s lectures on creativity over at He makes an awful lot of good points, but one of them is that a key ingredient for creativity is play.

There is, perhaps, a whole blog post to be written about how this applies to games.

Credit, where due.

Note that the original article my wife linked me to does have some commentary and good pull quotes from the Asimov article, but is not necessarily required reading. (It was also the source for the Ze Frank video/song.)

Game Idea a Day – Week 15

This week was mostly about board game ideas for me. I’ve still been thinking about that two-player abstract from last week pretty much every day, and I’m working on a prototype. I also missed my second day, again as I was traveling.

I was definitely influenced by some of the great Kickstarter projects that are happening right now. Looney Labs has finally launched Pyramid Arcade, the next iteration of their awesome pyramid game system. I’ve been intrigued by the pyramids since I first played Zendo over 10 years ago, and I’ve designed a few games for them over the years, including a few using a custom deck of pyramid themed cards that I conceived.

Also notable is the two (or 3) player abstract strategy game Santorini. Abstract Strategy doesn’t usually fare all that well on Kickstarter, but that project has a lot of things going for it. First thing is that the game has been around for a LONG time, like 30 years, I guess. Secondly, it’s sporting some fabulous new artwork and custom components. It’s already on the “wildly successful” end of the spectrum, I think.

Here are the game ideas from this week:

4/8 – I was at an indoor playground when I started thinking about games you could play in a ball pit. I sketched out a few ideas, but probably the most notable involves laying a blanket or a jacket on top of the balls, and everyone throwing balls onto that surface, with the aim of having the most of their color on the fabric at the end of some specified time period.

4/9 – Missed a day. :(

4/10 – Thinking about the name “RememberBall”, (and maybe also about the ball pit ideas), I sketched out some rules for a memory game you would play with plastic easter eggs.

4/11 – I had the idea somewhere after (or during) the writing of this post to make all the rest of the week’s games Pyramid games. So this one was a 2-player pyramid game with very specific movement rules dictated by the color the piece. It’s sort of a chess variant, I guess, since it takes place on a chess board, and red pieces move like rooks, green pieces move like bishops, and blue pieces jump like knights. The different size pieces dictate how far they can move, and that’s where the blue piece movement gets a little weird. You may stack your pieces to make a piece that moves like both pieces. Win condition right now is just capturing a set number of your opponent’s pieces. (From this description, you may wonder how you can tell your pieces from your opponent’s, and my idea for that was to have some custom bases that indicate which player’s pieces sit on each base.)

4/12 – I’ve done some thinking previously (over a year ago) about a pyramid simulator application. Something 3D, where you could play all the pyramid games in a sandbox, a bit like Tabletop Simulator. This brainstorm expanded on those ideas to make it a VR experience. I imagine being able to shrink myself to the size of an ant and walking around in a surreal landscape made of pyramids. It really would be fun to work on such a thing.

4/13 – Another abstract strategy pyramid game I’m calling Pyramid Piggyback. This actually went through a couple of iterations, and deserves some playtesting. In this one, the gameboard is made of different colored LARGE pyrmaids, and each player has two different colors (not used for the gameboard), but they only use the medium ones. You play your pieces with caps (SMALL pyramids) made of all the different colors. You can move in a direction only if there is a gameboard (LARGE) piece matching the piece’s cap color in that direction. You can spend a turn to add one of your medium pieces to the board, or a cap to any of your pieces, or swap around two large pieces. Capture an opponent’s piece to take their caps as victory points. The pool of caps is shared, and when it’s gone whoever has the most victory points wins.

4/14 – This entry is borderline abandoning the pyramid game constraint, and it was already the second video game in only 4 entries. So I’ve decided to abandon that constraint for future entries. Essentially it’s a lemmings and/or pikmin inspired swarming game… where all the little characters are looney pyramids. The anthropomorphized pyramids run around where you tell them to, stacking when you tell them to, and operating doors and switches based on their sizes and colors. In general, I would love to see some video games with the pyramids in them, I’m not sure if we ever will, given potential legal issues, sadly.

A Brief Guide to Playing Games at GDC 2016

I’m giving a short talk tonight at igdatc as part of a bunch of folks talking about their GDC experiences.

Let’s face it, playing games is the best part about game development. This is essentially a guide to where you could play games at GDC this year. (It’ll probably be better with my commentary, but then again, maybe it won’t!) Here are the slides:

Game Idea a Day – Week 14

Just going to jump into the recaps this week. (Apparently I had area-enclosure on the brain, but I frequently — and erroneously according to BGG — call it area control below.)

4/1 – I wanted to think up a game that had a bluffing mechanic (for April fools day), and ended up with an area control game where everyone can lie about what area they control. I think it needs more thinking to be interesting. (It’s actually a little too simple right now.) But the idea shows promise.

4/2 – I spent some time thinking about Flatland inspired mechanics, specifically how objects in 4-dimensional space would appear to our dimensional senses, and how to make a VR game featuring them. (One of my favorite authors, Rudy Rucker, features this sort of “extrusion” in his novels pretty frequently. One of his earlier works, “The Sex Sphere” is basically all about it, but it features prominently in several others as well.) Two ideas came rapidly to mind:

First concept is to allow you to rotate an object (somehow in all 4 dimensions, the controls might be… interesting). Of course you would only see the intersection with your 3D space, and then somehow you would have to guess the “real” shape. I’m betting this would probably be extremely hard to imagine for most people. Not to mention the problem of: how do you show the ones for them to guess? Also, it might not be that fun. But maybe it would be!

Another idea is to approach it like the inverse of Miegakure, and have a traditional 3rd person platforming game where instead of rotating the world through 4D, you rotate collectible objects (found in the world). You might find a baseball for instance that turns into a ramp to solve a platforming puzzle, or a pebble that rotates into a cathedral needing to be explored.

4/3 – An area control video game where you simply claim points (I could have also called them locations or coordinates) on a gameboard in real time. After each point, there is a cooldown before you can claim another point. The cooldown is directly proportional to the amount of area of the gameboard that you already control. Each point has a sphere around it that is directly influenced (primary influence sphere). If no other influence is exerted, that area will be under your control. Each point also has another sphere (call it a secondary control sphere) that will be influenced if it intersects with another of your point’s secondary control spheres. If a primary influence sphere under your control has territory that is under more influence due to your opponent’s points than your own, that point’s primary AND secondary spheres will shrink proportionally. For instance, an equilateral triangle where the primary spheres of influence overlap all the points of the triangle, made up of two of one color and one of the third, the third would essentially disappear entirely, since the other to points would shrink its influence to zero. That’s it. Basically you want to balance putting points closer together for more stability with getting more territory. Note: this could be 2D or 3D.

4/4 – Once upon a time, I took a T’ai Chi class at the U of MN when I was still a senior in high school through the post-secondary (i.e. free college credits) program. I have super fond memories of that class, and when I eventually graduated and had a real job, I started going regularly to T’ai Chi classes taught by the same instructor. I haven’t been in a while, but I got to thinking about how it would be nice to do it in my living room. I do think working out in room-scale VR will be a thing eventually, so I sketched out some notes for what I think would make for a decent Thai Chi VR application. I definitely think there’s a market there, but the tech might need a while to make it practical. (I just googled, and not only is T’ai Chi included as one of the many activities in “Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012” for the original Kinect, but there is also a T’ai Chi specific program for Xbox One called “Body Wisdom”.)

4/5 – This game idea practically wrote itself, so I expect to see one soon: A VR Cloudbursting Game. Lay on the floor and aim your gaze at the clouds. Maybe as the game progresses it gets more and more overcast and clouds are darker and deeper and the entire “feel” of the game changes from a beautiful sunny day on top of a hill, to a dark and dreary day with pouring rain and lightening and thunder interrupting your concentration. This also changes it from game where you can actually get rid of all the clouds to a game where your only hope is to get rid of all the HUGE thunderclouds before they leave the screen, as it would be impossible to get rid of everything.

4/6 – I came up with a maze traversal game idea for the bit-jam, a game jam with the goal to “make a game in 1-bit colour, on a 1px × 1px display with no audio; the minimum (non-zero) feedback that a game could possibly have”. First of all the theme screamed maze game to me since you can generate a maze where each grid coordinate is only using 1-bit to indicate whether it’s a wall or path space. Only two path spaces on the edge, entrance and exit. The player starts at the entrance. Input is directional, either with a controller or arrow keys (or ASDW). The game states: At rest – solid color A; Movement to another space – flash of color B; Hit a wall – solid color A (maybe a MUCH shorter flash of B, or two short flashes); Find the exit – Flashes A & B (until more input is detected, then it generates another maze?). This might not be super fun, but hey, it meets the qualifications of the game jam!

4/7 – Thinking about being an animal in VR, led to thinking about being eaten alive by a snake in VR, which led to thinking about eating yourself as a snake in VR. (Too bad ouroboros was the GGJ theme already however-many years ago.) This may have been influenced subconsciously by the Verge article about being a bear in VR, which I actually thought was about a game by @punchesbears until I read it.

Game Idea a Day – Week 13

Well, I thought last week’s post was late, but this one is clearly even farther from Friday than that. I’m still going to assume this will keep happening on Fridays, so the recap covers 3/25 to 3/31. I’m actually writing this from Clonmel in Ireland, and I’ve been in London most of the week! (So between jetlag and vacation craziness, I have plenty of excuses for being late.)

3/25 – I spent some time musing about games I am especially suited to design (write what you know), and ended up asking myself: What would a game based on resolving text file conflicts look like? I came up with a mutating grid-based game, where you have a “map” of branches, and must recreate the final “resolution state” from the pieces presented. Sort of a puzzle game, I guess.

3/26 – Circles intersecting circles – A 2D game that might look a little like a circular (or arc-based) version of Qix. Maybe instead of inside an area, you start at a point on a circle, and expand your territory outward. You make circles by holding the button down which shoots a line from your current point in the direction your analog control stick points. When you let go, that begins an arc where your point of origin is the center of the circle. The first line it intersects will fill in the arc you have created, and you begin traveling along the path again.

3/27 – I’ve been thinking about some game ideas for the Donutron for a while now, and figured I’d document some of the ones that I’ve basically rejected as being unoriginal / boring, figuring, if I write them down, I won’t have to keep thinking about them again:
– A donut-tetris (donutris?) – Maybe standard Tetris with some Donut-inspired bonuses, like making a circle around an empty space clearing the board, (or filling-in with jelly), or maybe it really is just swapping the sprites for donuts (donutronimos).
– A donut-platformer, where the protagonist is a rolling donut, (JellyTron?), and rolls over hills and valleys. Maybe this is inspired by Wibble Wobble, and the floor is constantly moving.
– An idle donut game – Maybe you start out mashing buttons to eat donuts, but then eventually you’ve eaten a dozen, and you get the option to invite a friend to come eat with you. And then you mash some more and invite a few more friends, and suddenly you’re eating a dozen every minute or two, and then you get the option to bring donuts for the office, and suddenly it’s a dozen every second, and you get the option to deliver to more offices, and you are consuming septillions of donuts…

3/28 – The barest hazy notion of an idea for an abstract strategy game thinking about the ways that The Duke and Onitama are similar. I decided I have to come up with an original movement mechanic, or it’s pointless. The closest I came in this entry was each piece having a directional arrow, (or more than one?) and the distance / type of movement is calculated from that arrow (with additional variables). One type of piece might spiral around itself a certain number of squares, starting from the square its arrow points to. Another piece might move diagonally in exactly a specific number of spaces (a different number for each diagonal).

In the past, “ideas” like the ones I had for this entry would probably not have been written down, but I have found that game ideas do sometimes percolate for a few days before producing something interesting. (My entry below for 3/30 is basically the result of continuing to think about these ideas.) While I was thinking on this day, I was also thinking about process, and though my entry doesn’t capture any of it, I was conscious of how this “percolation” aspect of game design has been sort of ignored in my “Game Idea a Day” series. I’ve basically tried to think of ideas “whole”, without giving them room to grow very much, (generally because the following day I need to think of fresh new one). There have been some exceptions, but mostly for ideas I already thought were really good on the first day. I guess this one is not really an exception, because even though I didn’t come up with any specifics I thought were really good, I did think that a game based on The Duke and Onitama was a good enough place to start thinking that it continued in the back of my mind for a few days. Part of that was practical, as my friend Tysen has already been programming an AI for Onitama, and I was also thinking about how to capitalize on that work, even if we don’t end up making an app for Onitama specifically.

3/29 – I feel like this might have already been done, but I saw a broken umbrella in the gutter in London, and it evoked this strangely sad feeling and got me thinking about a game that does the same. You play as the umbrella, tethered to one human after another, helping them get to their sheltered destinations. The wind and rain will change and apply physics meant to pull you out to the hands of your current person. All you control is the angle they hold you from, and maybe how far up they are gripping you? Meta gameplay would be is a bit like crazy taxi; the people walk themselves, all you have to do is keep them dry enough until they get to their destinations. When you fail, you end up in the gutter.

3/30 – As mentioned above (3/28) I came up with what I believe to be a pretty good abstract strategy game. I think I want to keep thinking about this one before I make it public. It’s fully realized (I think), but I haven’t done any playtesting yet. Suffice to say that it has variable piece movement done in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The only piece I’d like to keep thinking about is the end-game condition, as right now it’s basically just stealing that from Chess (and The Duke).

3/31 – I continued thinking about the ideas from 3/28 and 3/30, coming up with another interesting square grid piece movement mechanic. This one involves combining two of your pieces to then move much more powerfully on the following move. Each piece can move a single space (to any of the 4 adjacent spaces) by default. But if you have two pieces on the same square, you can move one of them in any of the following ways: forward one or two spaces, forward two and over one (like a knight), or forward 3 and over one or two spaces. Note that you can only move one of them, so there might be a nice natural balancing thing that happens where if you keep your pieces on the same space long enough, they are much stronger, but also more vulnerable to attack. (Of course, this is probably only true if there are other pieces that move in different ways.) I called this movement mechanic zipper movement. One idea is for each piece to have different specialized movement somehow, but they can only take those specialized moves if they have been “activated” by moving them on top of one of your other pieces first.