Formal Game Representations

There are a few different specialized “languages” out there now for describing games. Perhaps because Abstract Strategy games are often quite “simple” in terms of rules complexity, these sorts of game description languages typically have examples that are abstract strategy games. (But also, I think, there’s probably an overlap between people interested in this topic and people who are interested in games that require an extraordinary amount of logical analysis to play.)

I have been very interested in this topic many times over the years as I became aware of various projects and aspects of this topic, and this post will be my attempt to outline some of my findings.

Early game description work / History

There is a relevant “History” section of the Wikipedia article on General Game Playing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_game_playing#History). This is a page on Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can play multiple games – as opposed to a specialized program that just plays a single game like Chess, for example. The article says that this concept was first proposed by AI researcher Barney Pell in 1992, with something the article called a “Metagame System”. Pell’s research, at least some of it, is still available via the wayback machine, and I read through one article called “Metagame: A New Challenge For Games and Learning” (https://web.archive.org/web/20070706185808/http://www.barneypell.com/papers/metagame-olympiadUCAM-CL-TR-276.pdf) from 1992 that was surprisingly readable (and fascinating). In it, Pell says:

“In order to write programs which can accept a set of different games, we must specify how these games will be represented. Although fully-general representation languages are possible (like first-order logic or Turing Machines), it is likely that classes of games will be much more specific, especially those which can actually be produced by a generator. So, any representation language can be used, so long as the games produced are guaranteed to be unambiguous in the chosen representation, and so long as the semantics corresponding to the representation is clear. A natural method of representation, pursued in ([Pel92]), is by means of a game grammar.”

Metagame: A New Challenge For Games and Learning

“[Pel92]” here refers to a companion article titled Metagame in Symmetric Chess-Like Games. This second article does get far more into the weeds with details about the game grammar used to define games that the Metagame-playing AI will learn to play. I found it actually kind of disappointing, because much of the article is dedicated to defining the types of game the grammar will describe, and it was surprisingly limited in scope.

It’s worth saying a bit about the context of these papers, and noting that this research is all about developing AI. The premise here is that an AI that can play multiple games would be more useful than an AI that can just play one game. The whole point of this project was to be able to pit different AI against one another in a tournament. This grammar was going to be used both to more easily facilitate the AI learning the games, but also to generate new games so the AI would be playing something never before encountered.

This is probably worth repeating: The earliest effort to formalize a language for describing games was only undertaken in service of an effort to teach games to computers.

Zillions of Games

I remember playing a program over 20 years ago now called Zillions of Games (http://www.zillions-of-games.com/). The copyright on the ZoG website says 1998. I remember using it to play Othello and many Chess variants, and (perhaps more importantly) explore a ton of other games that I’d never heard of before Zillions. They were probably also games that it would have been near-impossible at the time for me to hunt down in physical form.

Zillions of Games came bundled with ~250 games, each of which was described individually in a .zrf (presumably “Zillions Rules File”). If you owned the full unlocked copy of the game (this was the shareware era when game demos were near ubiquitous), you could import your own ZRFs, and there was (amazingly still is!) a community of folks who spent time implementing new games.

I have a very distinct memory of liking Zillions of Games enough that I wanted to learn how to develop games for it. But I was in college at the time, and distracted by many other things vying for my attention.

You can find some information about ZoG, and the language used to encode the games, on the website, but also on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zillions_of_Games). The description language for ZoG is lisp-looking, (with parenthesis everywhere). I only call this out because it’s influenced future projects with this gaol. ZoG had lots of limitations. It was notably not suitable for card games or other games that required any hidden information, probably because ZRF had no concept of variables!

It’s worth noting that, while it’s not exactly the same thing, I do see a parallel between ZRF creation and other platform-specific game creation languages, like Game Maker Studio’s GML, or Godot’s GDScript. Zillions of Games was a Game Engine as well as a product that allowed the user to play the games made in that engine. The games just happened to be board games.

Ludii

More recently, (in the last few years), I’ve been aware of a project called the Ludii General Game System (https://ludii.games/). This is (at least partially) the brain child of Cameron Browne, a game designer, computer scientist, and author, who is very well known in some abstract strategy game design circles. He wrote a book on connection games that I have on my shelf.

Ludii has some very interesting project goals, but more importantly, the project has now written description files for literally over 300 games. (There are over 2,000 games with descriptions for use in Zillions of Games, but that software is quite old now, and I think Ludii is far more interesting.)

You can download Ludii now, and play all of the games it comes bundled with, and even create your own .lud files and load them into the player. There is a language reference for Ludii (https://ludii.games/downloads/LudiiLanguageReference.pdf) that is 386 pages long!

To really dive into Ludii development, unfortunately, I don’t think the language reference is going to be enough. There is also a Ludii tutorials document, but I found it a bit disappointing in its brevity. As of this blog post, there are really only two pages that are particularly relevant to writing your own .lud files. This one on the “basics”: https://ludiitutorials.readthedocs.io/en/latest/lud_format_basics.html and another one on recreating the game Amazons in Ludii: https://ludiitutorials.readthedocs.io/en/latest/tutorial_amazons.html I also watched a nice introduction to Ludii on youtube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTkO8h8RBBI)

I’m in the process of posting a few different places (in various BGG forums) to see if there are better tutorials that I’ve just been missing.

Other systems

For the sake of putting everything I know about this subject into this post, it’s worth noting there is another competitor to Ludii that may have been around even before it, called GDL, or Game Description Language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_Description_Language) GDL looks like it was developed at Stanford, very likely in conjunction with some AI coursework. I’ve dug around some of the GDL related sites and there are broken links galore, but there’s lots of information about it online. Some of the earlier Ludii papers reference GDL, so I’m fairly certain it came first.

There is ALSO a javascript project called Dagaz (https://github.com/GlukKazan/Dagaz) which shows quite a bit of promise, and has been used to port all of the games at MindSports (https://mindsports.nl/) from java to javascript. The author of Dagaz write a very nice article on some of this stuff (which someone else translated to English), which you can read here: https://habr.com/en/post/481868/

One more footnote is that there is another comparatively young project aiming to do some of this same kind of stuff in python called Zero Play (https://donkirkby.github.io/zero-play/).

Conclusion

So it seems to me that there are a few reasons someone might be interested in describing games (in a language tailor-made for that purpose):

  1. To improve and teach generalist AI to play multiple games.
  2. To generate new games programatically.
  3. To use a common codebase to facilitate the playing of games.

I am interested in all of the above. Although the implementation details of AI optimization and improvement are not in the circle of my particular venn diagram, access to generalized AI is of interest to me. (I thought about splitting #1 into multiple bullet points.) It’s worth noting that the last project mentioned above (Zero Play) is named after AlphaZero, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaZero) a general game playing AI that was created by the same team that made AlphaGo. (AlphaGo being the Go-playing AI that famously beat one of the best human Go players in a series of very public games in 2016.)

The second bullet point is definitely one of the goals of the Ludii project, and one that Cameron Browne has extensive experience in. Games which have been created by computers are listed in a “family” on Board Game Geek (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamefamily/22566/misc-computer-generated-games/linkeditems/boardgamefamily), (containing at this time only three entries, two of which have Browne listed as designer). Probably the most well-known AI-created game is Yavalath (http://cambolbro.com/games/yavalath/), which Browne created using an earlier program (called LUDI) while he was working on his Ph.D. in 2007. While the earlier work by Barney Pell definitely indicated this was an objective, I didn’t find any evidence that it succeeded.

Finally, it is the facilitation of a general platform for game playing (& playtesting!) that I think a description language will be most valuable to me, personally. This is the primary reason I am interested in Ludii. Ludii’s platform (java application, but also online multiplayer) seems very stable, and has an increasingly tantilizing list of features. There is a category of simple games in particular (with simple rules) that seem to be a very nice fit for the platform. On their forums, the Ludii team have said that web-playability is on their roadmap, and that will lower the barrier to entry even farther.

I am going to try and implement some games in Ludii, and evaluate whether it’s a good platform for playtesting new games. It already includes features for analyzing games like 1st player advantage, and branching factor. These are metrics for their games that every game designer will probably find interesting.

Update:

After writing this post (and promoting it on BGG), Cameron Browne actually pointed me to some additional resources relevant to this discussion, (which led me to even more resources) and thought I’d drop some additional bullet points in here.

  • Brown pointed me to an article by Jacques Pitrat from 1968 called “Realization of a General Game Playing Program”. In his words: “… doesn’t specify a GDL as such, but shows that the idea of GGP has been around for more than half a century!”(https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Realization-of-a-gener…) Alas, I haven’t yet found a way to access the paper.
  • Jon Orwant wrote his Ph.D dissertation in 2000 about what he calls the EGGG (Extensible Graphical Game Generator): https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/9164
  • Stephen Travener’s program Ai Ai uses a description file type called MGL, for Modular Game Language (http://mrraow.com/index.php/aiai-home/mgl/). It’s worth noting that Stephen Travener is a person quite relevant to this discussion, as he has worked on both Zillions of Games and Ludii, as well as his impressive Ai Ai software, which is also capable of playing and analyzing hundreds of games.
  • Browne pointed out that there are description languages for card games (I haven’t done any research into this yet.) and Video Games. Specifically, he pointed me to General Video Game Description Language (GVGDL), which I haven’t been able to find in a quick search, although there are plenty of hits for VGDL, and I haven’t really looked into that yet either.
  • Finally (again), the Ludii project website has a history page that I hadn’t read until after posting this. It outlines the history of a few other projects that led to Ludii’s creation, including Browne’s previous project Ludi, which I at least mentioned earlier. Well worth a read if you’re interested in more on this topic. (https://ludii.games/history.php)


Design Journal Notes for 2019

Most people I know have heard me talk about how, back in 2016, I tried to write in my game design journal every day. So many good game ideas came out of that experiment that I’m still designing and developing games from that year to this day. (Notably, I had the idea that eventually became Thrive in that year.)

I always meant to write a “wrap up” post about that experiment, but I got bogged down in trying to categorize all the journal entries. I have a spreadsheet I started with a row of 26 checkboxes for each entry. The column headers were:

  • Board Game
  • Video Game
  • Mobile Game
  • Physical Game (Not board game)
  • VR Game
  • Idle/Unfolding Game Idea
  • educational game
  • mechanic only
  • puzzle
  • story
  • expands on previous idea
  • expanded on in later post
  • made prototype
  • feel really has merit
  • multiple ideas in one post
  • 2nd second entry that day
  • 3rd third entry
  • felt rushed or inconsequential
  • short (under a paragraph)
  • long (half a page or more)
  • could be complete (playable if prototyped)
  • would need a team to implement
  • skipped for blog post
  • expanded on in blog post

I clearly made the task extra difficult for myself by including whether the post was expanded on elsewhere, because it was no longer just skimming through the journal, it was also cross-referencing my blog, as well as other entries in the journal. I only made it through categorizing 3 months of posts before I lost steam.

Since 2016, I never really “stopped” trying to write regularly in that journal, but I was definitely not diligent about writing every day. I spent some time and just tallied up number of entries in that journal per year (yes, this was more time than I probably should have spent), and here are the results:

52010 (and undated, before 2010)
12011
72012
162013
302014
322015
3122016
372017
1792018
1952019 [was 183 as of this post date]

[It was only the 19th when I write this. I updated this post with the final 2019 total on Jan 2nd 2020.]

This means, if my math is correct, my game design journal contains somewhere around 802 entries. It’s currently a 254 page single spaced gDocs document (so I can update it from anywhere).

I took some notes about each month in 2019:

2019-01

  • 16 entries, 1 from a dream
  • A few entries about the Thrive expansion
  • Some ideas & feedback from Protospiel MN (Especially about the “pyramid tile” game, which I had as a prototype there.)
  • An entry with a bunch of ideas I had at Global Game Jam, but didn’t have time to implement there.

2019-02

  • 10 entries
  • A notable entry about a Puzzle Prison “static puzzle” mode (which is a good idea, and I should do it)
  • More Thrive entries, three of them about multiplayer

2019-03

  • 9 entries
  • Month started strong, then no entries for a couple weeks (Only one the entire week of GDC!)
  • Hard to believe this was the month the Thrive kickstarter ran.
  • There were 3 entries about Thrive puzzles (which I spent several days actively designing toward the beginning of the month)

2019-04

  • 7 entries
  • One of them was when I first started thinking about the “next” version of Ship Deck (which I have only recently sent off to get printed at Game Crafter) – Interesting that it took me 8 months to finally act on those ideas.
  • Some important Thrive rules clarifications & revisions.
  • Only one real “new idea” from the entire month!

2019-05

  • 6 entries
  • One entry was a list of the types of game ideas I want to have. (Seems like a cop-out in terms of actually generating ideas, but even looking back on it now I think it’s probably a helpful exercise to clarify the purpose of the journal periodically.
  • 4 of the 6 ideas were about a tile-and-meeple board game prototype I made that I still think shows promise.

2019-06

  • 6 entries, 1 from a dream
  • Made a lego copy of Thrive
  • Low volume, but high quality this month. Every entry (except the dream) was an interesting idea that I continued working on (or at least thinking about) in some way.
  • Last entry was a game with transparent pieces with arrows on them that I prototyped and play tested a few times. (As well as continued to think about.)

2019-07

  • 11 entries, 1 from a dream
  • Only 2 entries before 7/23, which is when I decided to begin trying to write an entry every day again. I probably felt guilty about the creative dry spell.
  • Notable entry that included lots of the pieces (mechanics) of a game I’ve been thinking actively about this month (in December, so 5 months later). What’s interesting, is that my thoughts on this game lately have been inspired by Innovation (Innovation is a Carl Chudyk game that until this month I haven’t played in many years. I’ve been playing it turn-based on BGA.). But when I wrote this entry, I definitely wasn’t thinking about Innovation.

2019-08

  • 25 entries
  • Many (at least 3) of them about a engine-building game I’ve since prototyped, tentatively called “Black Box”. The basic idea (and theme) came from a conversation with Adam Rehburg and Ryan Lambert in the car on the way back from GenCon.
  • Had the idea of playing games via FlipGrid.com (still haven’t tried this)

2019-09

  • 25 entries, 1 from a dream (not mine!)
  • Several play testing notes, including Black Box, Pyramid Tiles.
  • But also some notes from games I’d played, including Cabal (https://www.walkingshadow.org/cabal)
  • I prototyped a game with 18 identical cards for a ButtonShy game design contest. Didn’t do anything with it.
  • Wrote down a game idea that was from a dream my kid had. (That was not my only entry from that day.)

2019-10

  • 20 entries
  • A few entries about a game idea that I think shows a lot of promise, but I haven’t prototyped yet. (It’s got a unique hook that I’m not ready to post publicly yet.)
  • Some ideas / entries for ALT.CTRL.GDC that I never took the time to prototype

2019-11

  • 31 entries, 2 that feature ideas from dreams
  • One notable entry with a chess variant / VR hybrid idea. The chess variant could actually be playable on a tabletop, if I gave it a little more thought. The VR does make it slightly more interesting though probably not required.
  • Several “new idea” entries, probably a higher ratio of those to “continuing ideas” entries than previous months.

2019-12

  • 17 entries (so far!)
  • [Update: total for Dec. was 29 entries. I finished the year very strong with several new game ideas, including a small-hex-grid game I’ve since prototyped, and definitely want to get to the table soon. At protospiel in Jan, at the latest.]

Since I got serious about this project again in July, I’ve also been keeping track of my “streak”, or number of consecutive days I remembered to write in the journal. My longest streak was 25 Days, 29 Entries, and it ended on 2019-11-10.

I’m not sure if I’ll continue to keep track of the streak, but I’m definitely going to continue trying to write daily. The actual title of the document is “Game Ideas”, but I definitely want to treat it more like a journal, and I’m formally giving myself permission to wax on about the design of other games I’m playing, or anything else game design related. (Although the goal is still to have at least one new “design idea” in each entry.)

Finally, I was surprised by the number of ideas I wrote down from dreams. I do also have a dream journal, and it barely ever gets written in (I’m guessing only 1-5 entries a year). I wonder if any games have actually been made that started out as an idea from a dream. Maybe I’ll have to make one.

valuing quality in video games

This morning, I had a discussion with my daughter, trying to explain to her why I didn’t want to install a particular idle/incremental game on her iPad. Without naming names, it’s one of those idle games that just doesn’t have an end. I don’t think it’s a particularly bad game, but once you learn its systems, (which I do find interesting!) there’s nothing left to it but grinding for more of the same. I don’t particularly want my daughter playing games that are 99% grind.

This led me to think philosophically about why I want to play those games. I do value new game systems, and I think incremental/idle games have some of the more interesting systems being designed today. Depending on the game, it can take a while to reveal all the systems in play, but I think, if I’m being honest with myself, I am liable to play far longer than it takes to understand the systems. Or maybe by the time I’ve played long enough to understand them, I’m invested in my progress in the game, and feel compelled to continue.

One of my client projects right now is a game to teach kids about the dangers of smoking, and this has led to some discussion in the office about the nature of addiction. (Or anyway, some reading of the wikipedia page for addiction.) And I think the nature of these games (watching the numbers increase) is a sort of reinforcing / rewarding stimuli, meaning it’s possible to feel compelled to play, which I definitely do.

In the last year or so, I’ve kept a browser window open on my iMac (which is always on, on my home office desk), and there are usually between 4 and 6 tabs open to various idle games there. These are the type of games that do not have endings. (It’s worth noting that I also don’t like books or comic book series without endings!) I like to think that I basically just play these types of games in tiny spurts. But the truth is that I’ve been spending hours in front of that iMac at night. Hours when I could be making games. (And sometimes I am!) But these are hours that I could also be filling with any number of other higher-quality distractions.

I think playing games has inherent value! But when I think about where that value comes from, I find that it’s tied closely to having new experiences. Solving (and discovering!) new kinds of puzzles is especially satisfying for me, but experiencing new stories is also a totally valid benefit. So it makes sense that it’s the repetition of experience that I find distasteful for my daughter’s gameplaying. (Would I be as reluctant to let her spend hours playing Tetris? No, but maybe that’s a topic for a different post.)

Games that involve some grinding are totally fine. In traditional games, “grinding” is (optimistically) used to enhance the player’s feeling of accomplishment when they are finally strong enough to continue unveiling the story/experience. Pessimistically, it could be argued it’s often just an unintended consequence of the game’s mechanics.

And of course not all idle/incremental games are infinite grinding. The best ones do have an end. (Spaceplan or Universal Paperclips are some good recent examples.) But many do not. I’m not going to stop playing those types of game entirely. (I really do enjoy discovering their mechanics and systems.) I’m just going to try and become aware of when I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, and stop playing then.

This year’s Experimental Gameplay Workshop presenters

For years I’ve been a very vocal proponent of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC. This year’s session hit the internet quite fast (over on the GDC Vault), and I consumed it last night. As usual, I’d definitely highly recommend game designers and developers give it a watch.

Often, I want to refer back to the session after, or follow a particular work I saw there, but it can sometimes be quite difficult to find a list of participants for a particular year. This year’s seemed especially un-google-able, so I’ve compiled a list here:

  • Baba is You, Arvi Teikari – A sokoban-like game where the rules of the game are also pushable blocks, and can be rearranged.
  • Untitled Goose Game, Nico Disseldorp & Stuart Gillespie Cook, House House @house_house_, A game where you play as a goose and interact with your environment and an AI controlled gardener to complete objectives.
  • Everything is going to be Okay, Nathalie Lawhead @alienmelon, This is an art game, or “an interactive zine”, that focuses on using humor to confront modern horrors.
  • Noita, Petri Purho Nolla Games – An action rogue like game where every pixel is simulated, which means they are both destructible and have real-world (and fantastic) properties.
  • Time Watch, Balthazar Auger and Lucas(?) from NGD Studios @ngdstudios – A FPS that allows you to play a single death-match three (or more) times, all the while altering causality.
  • Feng Shui, Saúl González and David Marull from Ludopia @LudopiaNet – A puzzle or architecture game allowing you to place furniture in a room and incorporating the principals of Feng Shui.
  • Luna, Robin Hunicke and Brad Fotsch of Funomena @funomena – Luna is a VR game with music and flowers.
  • Freeways, Justin Smith from Captain Games @manbearcar – A game about drawing freeway lanes and making efficient paths.
  • La Tabla, Chaim Gingold and Luke Iannini @tablaviva – An open source table and projector combination with lots of exciting possibilities for interaction and play.

Of these, I was most surprised by Baba is You. It won two IGF awards, so I guess I wasn’t the only one. I have already downloaded the game jam version from Itch, and played through all the levels. I am definitely going to pick up the full thing when it launches on steam.

I have also been following Dynamicland when I can, and I’d be interested in hearing about the relationship between La Tabla and it. I know that some of the people involved are or were involved in both, but that’s about it. Maybe I can interrogate someone about it at Eyeo Festival in a couple of months. La Tabla is on github, and I’m pretty tempted to put together a table so I can play with it myself.

Game Idea A Day – Retrospective

As should be obvious to anyone following along, (or stumbling onto this series), I basically quit doing the weekly summaries for my “game idea a week” project back in July. There are probably a lot of reasons I suppose, but mainly I got busy. I had 19 daily journal entries in August, so I didn’t fall off doing them entirely. But if I didn’t have time for the daily journal entries, I definitely didn’t have time for the Friday recaps. (Which always took longer than I’ll admit to myself to write.)

Anyway, I felt I should write something here. I’m still going to keep this project going through the end of the year, and I want to write a recap of the entire year at some point, summarizing the number of entries, frequency of certain types, and generally just doing some meta-creative analysis.

Game Idea a Day – Week 28

Almost every week, I get to Friday, and before I start writing this post I’m thinking “wow, the ideas for this week were not very good, this is going to be a hard post to write”, but then I start looking at them, and it’s never as dire as I imagine. (Even bad ideas often have some merit!)

Also, I missed another day this week, and I’m thinking now that even if I skip one day a week, that’s alright. I don’t want this project to stress me out. (And I’ve got plenty of other stuff I should be working on.)

7/8 – I thought a bit about an augmented reality game in VR. So there is a virtual environment, and you put on a “headset” in the game, that then changes some aspect of the environment (either how it looks, or by changing it).

7/9 – Missed a day.

7/10 – A game where you are a walking flower, with littler flowers for eyes, and you collect flower petals to open doors that looks like giant flowers.

Maybe this was inspired by my donut on donut idea from the previous week. I guess idea inception was a theme for the week, since my next idea was basically the same thing for hats:

7/11 – A hat collecting puzzle game. A game where you put hats on cute furry animals. A game where hats are currency. A game with hats on top of hats on top of hats. A game where hats indicate status and occupation and stealing a person’s hat is tantamount to stealing their identity. A game with hats as achievement badges. A game with hats for guns. A game with hats to indicate belts in a hat-based kung-fu with hat-katas and hat-hand to hat-hand combat. Hattastrophie.

7/12 – A game inspired by some conversations on slack about Pokémon Go and “skinner box game mechanics”, labeled simply, Skinner Box: The Game. A game that attempts to recreate a Skinner box like experience as closely as possible. You are a rat in a cage. You have a single button and you are being conditioned to press it.

7/13 – Some thoughts on the milieu/setting/premise for a game set on the construction site for a giant city-sized building. The thing has been “under construction” for hundreds of years and the entire process has been meant to be self-sustaining from the beginning, so you have folks whose job it is to make food for the folks whose job it is to make concrete, etc.

7/14 – A game inspired by packing a moving truck full of boxes. Essentially you have a bunch of different boxes and you have to fit them into a truck. I was imagining this as a VR game, because I think it’s more fun if you have the 3D perspective on it. You could have a bunch of different sized trucks and scenarios. Maybe it starts out just packing trunks of cars getting ready to go on vacation.

Game Idea a Day – Week 27

My game ideas from the first week in July:

7/1 – A sort of turret game where you control the angle, thrust, and explosion intensity of fireworks. Your goal is to line the trails up with stars in the sky above. Maybe this is in VR and you have to also line up your gaze at the right angle too.

7/2 – Had the revelation that it might be worth prototyping the playground games I’ve worked on in the Vive. My original journal entry for the playground games were written back in November 2014, so I’ve been thinking about these for a long time. This idea could use another entry (or two), since there are at least a few different games that could be evaluated whether they would “work” in the Vive, and how.

7/3 – A game you play with keys and locks. Maybe this is a match-2 game. The twist is that there is only one match on the board for each other tile. So it’s actually a lot like the match trivia games I made for Moai, with a sort of fantasy skin. Maybe there are also chests or safes, and any lock next to it is assumed to go with it. Once all the locks are open, the save opens and gives you a powerup, or maybe just another key that you need to proceed.

7/4 – You know how you can play “giant monopoly” at a bunch of different board game conventions? A lot of publishers have giant versions of their board games, and you can even buy some of them commercially. (Giant Jenga and giant connect-four are both playable at the recently opened Up Down arcade in Minneapolis). Anyway, this idea is basically just that you could play those giant versions in VR without having to have enough space for them. I was looking at my shelf of board games when I had this idea, and in particular imagining the game Spiel, (which is a pyramid of dice), and how fun it would be to walk around that game, and throw giant dice around.

7/5 – A VR relaxation/exercise game called Sway. The main game input mechanic is the name of the game. You progress “forward” by moving your weight from foot to foot, swaying back and forth. The game will also prompt you to look left right, up down, for neck stretches, and to swing your arms or spiral them, essentially doing upper body stretches.

Donut on Donut7/6 – As you can see to the right, I spent a bit of time this week (a few hours so far) prototyping a game from this entry. Some friends and fellow MN gamedevs recently conceived and built The Donutron, and I was basically lamenting the fact that there aren’t (yet) any games made for it specifically involving donuts. So this idea is just that you are a donut, rolling around a giant donut, collecting donuts. I’m soliciting feedback on a name for the game. Here are the possible names so far: Donutworld, The Little Donut, Space-Time Donut, It Came Frosting Space!, Planet Donut, Donut Moon, Space Case Donut Race, TorusTime, DonutFall, DonutGame, Donutroid, Donut Donut Donut!, Donut on Donut (on Donut?), Donut Eat Donut, Yo Donut, I heard you like Donuts!, Donut Moon. I’m leaning toward Donut on Donut, or Donut Eat Donut.

7/7 – A few different one-line game ideas yesterday: An open world board game (open in terms of you can do anything at any time). Game where your body is melting as the timer mechanic. Game where your feet are rats and you can’t really control where they go without cheese. Game where the world is a bicycle tire. Game where you are made of lava and melt / burn everything you touch. Game where you head is a book and you have to fill it with words.

Game Idea a Day – Week 26

Some weeks pass so much faster than others. This week felt like an eyeblink. Here were some ideas:

6/24 – I teased two entries on this day in last week’s entry, but the second entry was very much just about some UI mechanics (specifically about menus attached to your controller in VR), and not really a game at all. The first entry was interesting, but also could probably be read as “all the ideas from Cosmic Trip that I really liked”. For instance, I really like the way the teleport mechanic works, how there are discreet parts of the map, tied together by this network of portals. In the game I imagined, they are all regularly spaced hexagons, with potentially different resource types on each, and you can harvest them and craft stuff.

6/25 – A simulator for those cute magnets that come in cubes of 6x6x6. Maybe in VR. The beauty of the idea is that they could be any size! Probably this would be a great way to teach people how to make specific shapes and patterns with them. But you’d be able to shrink / grow the creation at will. Also, you wouldn’t be limited in how many you own!

6/26 – In the same way Zombies!!! made bags of little plastic zombies popular, it would be fun to make a game with little plastic ants. I know I had some when I was a kid, and they were a blast to put all over everything. I’m imagining you set up a table with some obstacles and every player has a bag of colored ants (everyone with a different color). There are some objects on the table that represent food, and you have an ant hole where your ants spawn, and then you make trails of ants to the food nearest your hole. This happens one ant at a time, and no ant you place can be more than one ant-length away from at least one of your other ants. So you build lines and on your turn, you can place one ant then move any of the food objects that are within one ant-length from one of your ants, down the line, one ant toward your hole at a time. When you’ve collected a sufficient number of food objects, or when it’s obvious who will win, the player with the most food wins. Your ants can also fight, maybe, so there could be rules about that too.

6/27 – I think it would be fun to make a game called “Crash Reports” about debugging. (Or maybe just an extended metaphor game about debugging.) The story is that you are a galactic traffic cop, and you have to go to the sites of major interstellar space ship crashes and write up reports.

6/28 – This idea is literally: “just add water!” Basically, a waterproof board game where the box has a fill line and maybe some cups that look like towers. Maybe you have pieces that sink (anchors) and pieces that float that you can attach to them (or not, but you can’t reposition them between turns!). Not sure what the goal(s) would be yet though…

6/29 – A dinner table in VR, you pick up the corn on the cob and play Tetris on it.

Another game: You are a butcher, cutting up a cow in VR. (Butcher Simulator!)

6/30 – Turrets are cool in VR. You are in a circular room more or less the size of your room-scale (smaller than your chaperone). Maybe there are different levels for different eras in time. A castle level, where you have arrow slits and have to shoot out of them with a bow. A WW2 level, with rifles and sand bags. And a future level with cool telescoping windows and laser guns. You are basically just shooting enemies as they approach, but maybe you can send waves of enemies out of your tower… and it’s multiplayer, so you are sending them to your opponent’s tower. Or maybe you build the castle itself before you get into your tower.

Game Idea a Day – Week 25

Sorry for the delay on this post (and the short writeups)! Here are the game ideas from last week.

6/17 – A pen-and-paper game with destructible element mechanics. Kind of a complicated last-man-standing tic-tac-toe variant. Co-credit for this game idea should go to Zach Johnson.

6/18 – A connect-the-pipes game in VR. Thoughts on mechanics and UI.

6/19 – A mountain-climbing game, where you realize the mountains you are climbing are actually human fingerprints.

6/20 – A Poi simulator for the Vive. (This came out of the news that the Blarp! source code is available on github.)

6/21 – Some thoughts on shared mechanics in table top games Splendor and Ticket To Ride. I then outlined a game that does something slightly different but draws on those elements.

6/22 – A VR bird-simulator. I’m pretty sure I’ve had thoughts along these lines in the past, but apparently I didn’t remember that at the time.

6/23 – I actually didn’t write an entry on the 23rd. (3rd or 4th missed/skipped day, I’m not sure.) I wrote two the next day to make up for it, but you’ll have to wait till next week’s writeup for those!

Game Idea a Day – Week 24

My game ideas for last week:

6/10 – Three rhyming ideas: Weasel Easel, a drawing app where everything turns into fuzzy animals. Cube tube, a puzzle game played by swapping adjacent tvs, what’s playing on the tvs is how you match things. Two episodes of the same show, for example. Cop Mop, a game where you are the janitor of a police station, and have to clean up messy (bloody) jail cells and solve crimes.

I also wrote an entry about shoving giant blocks around in VR, and how it might best be accomplished.

6/11 – An intriguing idea for a two-player abstract where you move a piece, and then choose a square anywhere on the gameboard to raise. Once a square has been raised, the other pieces on the board would slide away from it, assuming the spaces beyond them are empty. I first started by thinking of this as a chess variant, and it works as that, but I think it also works with simpler pawns and I could imagine any number of different victory conditions. The first thing that came to mind is the last player with a pawn remaining on the bottom level would be the victor. One interesting aspect of this idea is that it would likely be rather difficult to play with a physical prototype, and yet, unlike a lot of my other digital board game ideas that meet that criteria, I didn’t start out trying to think of a game with it in mind from the beginning.

6/12 – A brainstorm that started with the title “VVVVVR”… The obvious idea is just a 3D version of Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV. You are in the platformer, but you can teleport around for movement, and if you teleport onto the ceiling, the whole universe flips upside down. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a literal translation of the mechanics from the original. That clearly wouldn’t work, but it might be fun to take inspiration from as many mechanics as possible. I even thought a bit about one of the possible levels or areas.

6/13 – More thinking about my VR RTS idea from 5/22. I outlined some details for 5 different ship types: Fighter, Scout/Sniper, Shield Generator, Destroyer, and Miner.

6/14 – More thinking about the idea from 6/11. I basically just wrote down more of the details, and outlined some specifics for the non-chess game.

6/15 – A brainstorm devoted to video in VR. Thinking about how we might capture a scene in realtime, both with standard cameras and kinect. This would enable lots of game ideas, charades, hacky-sack, social dance games.

6/16 – A game where you play as a turtle swimming around in a murky swamp. I outlined rules for how you might control a 3rd person turtle character that swims in front of your HMD (head mounted display), avoiding Crocodiles and looking for other turtles.

Today (after doing my brainstorm) I started re-reading Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun, and got to the part about how games take place in a “magic circle”. This reminded me that I had picked up The Magic Circle back at Indie Cade last year, but hadn’t played through it yet. I spent most of this afternoon doing so, and highly recommend it. I think it’s probably the kind of thing where I shouldn’t talk about it too much, or I’d be spoiling it for you, but obviously, it’s (at least somewhat) about game design. This led me to wondering what other games there are out there specifically about the making of games. I can only think of The Beginner’s Guide, and some others that are more accurately summed up as “game developer simulator” games. (Game Dev Story and Game Dev Tycoon are the ones I’m familiar with, but it looks like there are a bunch more on steam.) If you know of any others, please let me know!