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Posts Tagged ‘Game Design’

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that it’s already been a month since I deleted Marvel Puzzle Quest from my smartphone.  I played the game for almost six months and had a decent roster of characters built up.  And yet… almost every single change that the developers made during the time I played the game made the game less appealing.  I finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to like it any more, and gave up.

The sad part is that the core gameplay is actually really solid.  The puzzle combat isn’t finely balanced, but I’m fine with that, as I don’t mind a bit of imbalance.  It is well crafted and adds some nice twists to the Puzzle Quest formula.  If the game can be taken purely on its combat, it’s a fine addition to the pedigree.

And yet, the progression scheme and monetization scheme (intricately tied together, but even without monetization, the progression would be awful) just kill the game in the long run.  Of course, that’s “kill the game for me”, since it’s apparently still live and gathering clients, but I would really love to see some numbers on what sort of churn they are seeing.  It is very much a “winners win more” game, with elements that skirt the dreaded “pay to win” area.  Some of the judgment on the latter depends on how you define the phrase, but for me, it’s clearly designed to give an edge to those who spend inordinate amounts of money on the game, in no small part because of how glacial the progression system is, and that you can pay to speed it up.

This is not anything new in the F2P arena, to be sure, and it’s less grievous than being able to flat out buy victories, but it does undermine what could be very satisfying PvP combat puzzling.

In the end, though, it wasn’t any single huge change that made me uninstall the game.  It was a death by degree.  The poor progression scheme.  Nothing worth spending money on (which saved me money, but it was still what I thought of as poor design).  New characters introduced fairly regularly… but predominantly at the rare tier, so recruiting them was a crapshoot with their slot machine sort of character acquisition.  (Almost everything in the game is tied to a random chance of acquisition or absurdly overpriced… sometimes both.)  The change in healing so that it was limited to the combat of the moment.  Damage persists after a fight, limiting the ability to play multiple rounds in succession unless you heal in the fight or pay for refills between fights.  You get a few free refills, but they don’t last long if you’re in a heated race to top the competition boards to get some character you’d like.  You can buy refills or wait for them to recharge, 1 every 35 minutes, and you can hold 5 at a time.  (With 3 characters in combat, that’s not a lot of healing to go around.)  Competition is mostly PvP of a sort (never against other players; the AI just takes their team and runs it), which isn’t terrible, but PvP really needs to be balanced to be fun, and when character levels can be as disparate as they are in the game, it gets old when you play a few successful rounds and then get matched with an overpowered team you have no chance of beating.  Normalized PvP (like Guild Wars) where skill and team composition rule would go a long way to making the game better… but that sort of level playing field is harder to monetize.

Playing the moment to moment combat was still good fun.  It’s just… everything else isn’t, and the combat alone isn’t enough to save the game.

On the other hand, there’s Slingshot Braves.  It’s sort of a weird mix of PS1-era graphics (so it still looks good; I’m playing on a phone for crying out loud), Squids and Angry Birds, with a gear upgrade system that feels a bit like Puzzle & Dragons (consume hundreds of little pieces of loot to level up your gear) and a newly introduced gem/slot system that is a bit like socketed gear in a Blizzard game, but you can also level up the gems by combining several of a kind, and you can move some gems around, so it has a slight FFVII flavor.  It’s simple, but the five weapons are fairly elegantly designed, each with its own niche.  Leveling gear is slow, and the only way to make your team stronger, but it feels just fast enough to be acceptable.  Marvel Puzzle Quest’s character leveling is very, very slow by comparison.

Acquiring gear is only done via very rare loot drops or by the “Gacha” system.  It’s effectively a gear slot machine.  This is a bit annoying, but the game provides you with enough “gems” (the currency you can buy directly or earn via play or the occasional promotion) to get the occasional new bit of gear in that system.  Gear is in four tiers (C, B, A, and S, increasing in value), and you’re guaranteed at least a B level bit of gear in the Gacha.  It’s a bit annoying in that the best gear seems to be in the Gacha gamble, but at the same time, you can level up your gear and evolve it to a higher tier with enough little loot drops, so you can grind into some good gear eventually.  It’s slow, and annoying to get great new gear that you then have to level up, but that’s the quirk that comes with leveling gear in general.  It’s still much faster than MPQ’s system, and less frustrating.

I’m not sure there’s much that offers good value for real money here, either, but at least progress in the game isn’t as tedious as is is in MPQ.  You can buy gems, which allow character renaming, larger loot libraries, Gacha “pulls” and stamina refills (each mission you play consumes stamina, which recharges slowly; a standard F2P throttle).  Still, it’s not necessary, and most importantly, buying gems doesn’t have a huge effect on your success or pace of progress.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the only multiplayer system is a cooperative one, so it’s OK if someone else is stronger than you.  You both win faster that way.  There is some light competition among scoring leaderboards on some events, but the majority of the time any reason you have to care about the gear other players have is in how much it helps you, not how hard it is to beat.  That’s a huge underlying shift in assumptions and goals, and it makes a world of difference.

…and is it telling that the progression scheme is the first thing I write about?  That’s really where these games live or die, since that’s where they monetize, usually.  It’s also where things get annoying, and where MPQ got worse as time went on, SB just keeps getting better.  Loot drops have been made more frequent, promotions give people more goods to work with, the gear Gacha was split into a weapon Gacha and an Armor Gacha (anything that increases player control over the slot machine is a Good Thing for players), and the new socketing system makes gear more flexible.

But how does it play, moment to moment?  Largely like Squids, where you fire your character in a direction and watch it bounce around the arena, beating on foes or careening off of your ally unit or the walls.  Maybe it’s just the billiards fan in me, but I love that a good eye for angles and thinking ahead pays off in the game.  It’s a simpler game than MPQ, but it still seems to reward player skill, and that’s one of the things that I appreciate most in games.

So, while Marvel Puzzle Quest’s fortunes in my library sank, Slingshot Braves has risen to be the game I most prefer to play at the moment on my phone.  Tiny Dice Dungeons is another great contender, but it hasn’t seen as many “live” changes.

I find it striking that MPQ made most of its changes to try to squeeze out more monetization, and it’s obvious.  SB wants more money too, certainly, but their changes have almost uniformly felt like they were improving the progression scheme, and occasionally the combat engine.  My visceral response to the two development teams couldn’t be more opposed.  The more I see each in action, the more I like SB, and the less I like MPQ.

In a world where games can mutate and adjust over time, I think it’s critical that the changes feel like they are making the game better, and that’s really the difference between these two when it comes to whether or not I play them and recommend them.

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Last time I noted some of the great bits and a few of the bad bits of this fancy new Marvel Puzzle Quest.

It turns out that the game is still more or less in beta, and the developers are still monkeying around with the character balance, progression system and monetization.

And it turns out that most of those changes are making the game slower, harder and more expensive.

I’d still buy a single player offline version of the game, and I still recommend at least taking the game for a spin, but I cannot recommend spending money on it.  I had hoped that the continuing development would mean that the problems I highlighted last time would be alleviated.  It turns out that such a hope was, at least so far, merely a dream.  Almost every change I see on the developer forums over thisaway winds up being what I’d call Bad Design, sometimes even Twinkie Denial choices.

I actually don’t mind slower, more tactical battles on the whole, but PvP and PvE scoring races mean slower battles tilt the scales ever so slightly more in the favor of established players or those who spend more money.  With the overall “rich get richer” system in place, it’s really not a game to play if you want to make steady progress.  It’s a game to play because the core puzzle combat design is really good, and the progress side is something you can ignore.

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Seems I poked the ant nest a little, sparking a bit of a conversation with my last minipost.  Not that I’m claiming credit for anything but sparking some thoughts, though; these fine folk are doing the heavy lifting:

Syl

Rowan

Klepsacovic

I’ve commented at their places, so I’ll keep this short and hit something I haven’t touched on there, speaking of specialization and generalization.  (Since one of the tangential topics is about players and their approach to their characters, as well as how characters fit into MMO design.)

From Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Disclosure:  I work at a small gaming studio, where I’ve carved out a niche of being a multifaceted employee.  I’m primarily an artist, but I dabble in design, animation, even scripting.  I love that I can be a bit of a generalist, as it makes me valuable in more situations, and keeps things interesting.  I’m not as fine of a painter as my concept artist buddies, who paint all day every day, but I’m happy where I am.  This is also why I’m not a minor cog in a big studio like Disney or EA, where I would be a specialist.  I’ve been there, and I didn’t care for it.  That said, those specialist positions don’t threaten me… they just don’t interest me.

I also play a Druid character in World of Warcraft.  It’s the most flexible class, and I latched onto it precisely because it does allow the greatest variety in play.  And flight form.  I love that.

(Oh, and as I noted at Rowan’s place, I’d push it further and let passive and maybe even active abilities persist on the character, no matter the class.  I loved Final Fantasy Tactics for how I could build a strong character by pulling from a variety of jobs/classes.  I could keep a Ninja ability on my Knight, and it was great fun.  I’d love to see that in an MMO.)

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So… PAX is ruffling feathers with their “diversity” panel.  Seems like comments around the web range from outraged to offended to offensive to dismissive.  Coincidentally, a few days earlier, I made a comment on diversity in literature over at tor.com (#7) that pretty much covers what I think about diversity and how I’m fond of MLK’s dream, and ran into a person (comment #8) who espouses a position that I find… baffling.  I suppose that their position is where Affirmative Action comes from, though, and I’ve always thought that to be deeply flawed.

It seems that a lot of it comes down to what I think of as tribalism.  You know, the human reflex to want to associate with those who are like you, or who are perceived as like you, and shun those that are not.  That “other” guy isn’t part of the tribe, so he isn’t to be trusted.  It filters into everything, from politics to gaming.  World of Warcraft is one easy example to point to, with their strict divide between factions, even to the point of enforcing it on otherwise genial Pandaran characters.  It’s an easy thing to leverage in game design (and psychology); whip up some fury against the Other, and the emotional argument can stay ahead of logic and evidence.

For the Horde!  Go, go, Alliance!  …or whatever.  (And ultimate victory goes to the cabal pulling the strings or jockeying for money or power, never the people doing the fighting.)

The whole core of “diversity” as a concept enhances the subconscious categorization of tribes, since everyone gets tagged and filed away in neat little categories.  It fosters continued contention as factions jockey for position and prominence.  It has always seemed to me to be Sisyphian, or perhaps Schroedingerish, where the “cure” perpetuates and even creates the problem.

When it comes to games, though, there’s an extra wrinkle.  Some people play games and imagine themselves in the game, and want their game avatars to represent them.  They want to connect with the characters on a personal identity level.  This isn’t how I play games or read books, but it’s an understandable approach.

In fiction, this is less of an issue since books aren’t assumed to have a high level of interactability.  Games, though, bank on giving players some level of autonomy, so it makes sense that players would also want their identity to be a part of that.  I don’t care about it as a player, but it’s something game designers should keep in mind because some players do care.

For a point of reference, two of my favorite books in my teens were The Blue Sword and Sabriel, despite being neither a necromancer nor a kelar-gifted horseback warrior.  I loved the heroines of those stories for what they did, and their gender and other “diversity” flags didn’t matter.  (In fact, to this day, it sticks out to me that there’s a bit in Sabriel where the lead character thinks a bit about her period.  It just seemed shoehorned in to show she missed her mother and to bracket her age… and that she’s a she.)  Rather, they were fascinating characters with interesting choices in intriguing scenarios, and I learned about life seeing them grow, even though I didn’t really identify myself with either of them.  I didn’t need to.  To quote Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

In games, we are given the ability to make choices.  I think this is crucial to the whole point of making a game in the first place.  It seems to me that choices are the best vector to really look at diversity.  I do love a Final Fantasy and its plucky band of teenagers and token minority characters out to save the world via weird leveling up schemes and oddball weapons, but it’s trite storytelling sometimes.

So… it’s not something that really bugs me, this push for diversity, except that I think it embraces the wrong priority.  I think that a greater diversity of motivations, choices, conundrums and consequences are the far more important direction for creators to address.  With luck, as the medium matures, this will happen naturally… though given the PAX kerfluffle and that quota-based mindset evinced in the tor.com article, I’m not sure that it will happen significantly quickly or profoundly.

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I thought this worth noting:

Allods Online is experimenting with letting players change the class of their character.

I endorse this game design, though their implementation is timid, expensive, and extremely limited.  I’d love to see this as a crack in the MMO design gestalt.  It’s a simple little thing, but it could create some interesting ripples.

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Blizzard sent me their occasional “come back and play pleeeeeeease, so you’ll get hooked and buy more subscription time” email recently, and I decided to take them up on it.  Of course, they pitched it as “come take part in the Siege of Orgrimmar“, but since that’s a raider thing, I chose to interpret their email a little bit.

…and really, I know that this sort of “play for a few days for freeee” email is meant to lure back in players who have been out of the game for a while, but it seems to me that isn’t limited to end-game raiders.  Especially since it seems like you have to be out of the game for four or more months for them to even extend the offer, and by then… are you really on the cutting edge of raid content any more?

Anyway, I did break down a while back and buy a Collector’s Edition of Mists of Pandaria.  (It was something like $35 or so, which netted me the art book, soundtrack and DVD that I really wanted.  The other extras were icing on the cake.  Oh, and the game expansion was nice.  I’ll make a Dwarf Monk at some point.)  You see, WoW and I, we have a tenuous relationship.  It’s a game I could easily spend a lot of time in, mostly just looking around at the nicely realized world and art.

And yet… what time I do spend in it is torn between “ooh, that is a good screenshot opportunity” and “man, this game design needs work”, with a fair bit of mindless questing and dungeoneering in the murky middle.  The combat isn’t terribly engaging most of the time, but sometimes, that’s exactly what I want.  Sometimes I want involved, tactically awesome combat, sometimes I just want to zone out for a bit before I go to sleep.  It’s a bit like watching a Stargate SG-1 episode I’ve seen before; I can just sort of turn off my brain and enjoy the ride as I coast to a stop at the end of the day.  WoW is a game that I just “graze” in, really, and that’s OK.  I’m happy to just putter around here and there during those times when I’m in the mood, and I love that my Druid has flight form and the cat form’s stealth so I can poke around in places where I’m not generally supposed to go.

This is also why the subscription model is such an awful fit for me.  I don’t binge on the game, or commit to it.  I just play it a little bit, and the value calculations of a subscription make that an expensive bit of gaming.  For the $15/month I might pay to play, I’d get in maybe 15-20 hours, tops, and even getting that much in would mean not playing any other games or working on Kickstarter (Go, Go, Tinker Deck!) or other art projects.  I just don’t do that sort of single-game thing any more.  For that same $15, I can buy three Humble Bundles or the like and get hundreds of hours of gaming over the next year or so.

What stood out to me last night, though, wasn’t the value proposition.  No, it was the design.  My Tauren Druid was tasked with fetching rattan switches for this quest:

A Proper Weapon

And as it happens, there’s a bunch of these switches by a neighboring merchant.  That Wowpedia link describes it a bit if you want detail, but I, quite mindlessly, as is my wont when I’m doing these bog-standard fetch quests, just grabbed one of those switches.

And then the merchant started yelling at me.

Immediately, my response was to right click on the guy and see if I could give him back the switch.  There were plenty in the neighborhood, and I was sorry I took his.

This quick incident was at once intriguing and disappointing.  For once, a character in the game exhibited small signs of an AI that was more than just “be present in the world”.  That was awesome.  It was a glimmer of what the AI in Everquest Next might get up to (and I hope that they make it interesting; there’s a TON of potential).  I thought it delightful that a NPC would chew me out for an admittedly stupid minor theft.

And yet, and yetI couldn’t react to it.  I couldn’t give him back the switch.  I couldn’t attack him and kill him for his insolence.  (I didn’t think of that option until later, as it’s not a reflexive response for me, but I still couldn’t do it, even if I had wanted to.)  I could /bow to him or /laugh, but there wasn’t really interaction there.  It was little more than a scripted event that’s just barely beyond what most NPCs do.

Still, it was an NPC reacting to something I did nearby, not something I did directly to them.  That was a nice touch, and I’m looking forward to seeing games take that further.  There’s a long way to go, and it’s sad to see only the very rudimentary efforts when there’s so much potential, but I choose to see that as a glimmer of hope for these MMO things.

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Some time ago, Psychochild mentioned his friend, Dave Toulouse, and his crazy awesome indie game development ways.  He runs a blog over at Over00, where he writes about his efforts.  I’ve been following them both on Twitter, and a couple of days ago, they announced Toulouse’s latest project, Bret Airborne, which he has written about a few times on his blog that I totally have been neglecting.  I’m so bad at keeping up lately.

Anyway, I gotta say… I like it.  A lot.  Like, enough to play it and write this post about it instead of working on my steampunk poker stuff like I probably should be doing.

Y’see, I’m a fan of Puzzle Quest.  And Puzzle Kingdoms.  And Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.  And Gyromancer.  And I’m a huge fan of Puzzle Pirates.  Muckbeast’s Tower of Elements is similarly sweet.  I’m a gamer, have been for decades, but I never did pick up the attitude that “match 3″ or other simple puzzle games are unworthy of attention.  I like puzzle games, and though they may be “light” gaming fare most of the time, that’s not a bad thing.  I also happen to love RPGs, so splicing in some RPG DNA into puzzle games is a Good Idea in my eyes.

Bret Airborne is definitely a mutation of the Puzzle Quest school of design.  This is an expression of praise, at least as far as I’m concerned.  It uses some of  the standard match 3 game design elements, with swapping items, new pieces dropping in from above, that sort of thing.  It is basically PvP puzzling, like Puzzle Quest is, complete with special attacks (using energy from matches you’ve made) that you can use to make the experience a bit more strategic.  It’s pretty simple to understand, and the learning curve is kind.

BretAirborne

It builds on the Puzzle Quest design in a few important ways (that I’ve seen, there may be others), though.  First, the playing field is split between the two players, though it’s still technically a shared space.  If you get matches of 4 at a time or more, you can push your zone of control of the shared space into the opponent’s territory (that bar in the middle scoots over, opening up a new column to control), messing up their plans or using their resources.  At first, I thought this was too constraining and potentially too swingy, but it actually plays very nicely.  I thought the scoot was persistent, silly me.  It actually resets at the beginning of each player’s turn.  It certainly penalizes bad luck and bad defensive play, but it just feels right, like my own play is more important than luck.  This is a Good Thing.

Second, and I can’t emphasize how much this made me happy, you’re not constrained to making moves that create matches.  You can make a move that sets things up for the future, though if you don’t make a match, the opponent gets a boost to their zone of control on their next turn.  I have always loved Bilging in Puzzle Pirates for exactly this, the ability to shuffle things around without the necessity of matching every time you make a move.  In that game, you do take a scoring penalty, but if you play smart, you can set up big combos that more than make up for the penalty.  This freedom is a beautiful thing, and it’s awesome to see it in Bret Airborne.  This also means the board will never reset itself if it gets into a locked position, which again facilitates planning over randomness.  This is a subtle thing, perhaps, but it’s something that makes the game a joy to play for me, rather than the frustration that the persnickity prototypical Bejeweled clones tend to offer.

It also has a few of what I call “quality of life” improvements.  One that made me smile was that matching two sets of three in an L or T shape doesn’t just register as two threes, it registers as five at a time matched, with the concurrent zone increase bonus.  Again, it’s a subtle thing, but it really helps me enjoy the game.  No longer do I have to choose to match a four in a row (to get the zone bonus and extra move) and leave a bit of clutter with that fifth piece as the odd man out.  If the gems are in the right formation, I can play with an eye to keeping the board cleaner, which enables further tricks down the road and still get the bonus for matching more than the baseline three.  Maybe this is “easy mode” to purists, but I love it.  The suite of tricks that you can learn to make combat more interesting are excellent, too.  There isn’t quite the array of abilities that Puzzle Quest has, but then, it doesn’t have the class system, either, so it’s nice and flexible.  One other, simple thing… it lets me click over to my second monitor without freaking out, crashing or nuking my computer.  No Alt-Tab necessary.  This is a little thing, but I love it.  It’s like Star Trek Online in that regard… and it’s something that WoW, in all its pomp, still fails at sometimes.  (Alt-Tabbing out of it crashes the game half the time for me.  It’s a jealous game.)  Bret Airborne runs in full screen mode nicely on one monitor while I do my thing on the other, like writing this post, and it doesn’t try to wreck my workflow.  It’s a genial game.  Again, simple quality of life improvement, and it’s a shame I have to mention it as an aberration, but I appreciate it.

Oh, and it’s Steampunk themed.  This also makes me smile.  The art is fairly simple, but it’s clean, readable and stylistic.  It won’t compete with Bioshock Infinite (since y’know, that’s important or something), and there are some things I’d do differently (I’m an artist, after all), but that’s just me nitpicking.  The play’s the thing, and Bret Airborne is simply a joy to play.  Maybe it’s a little “plain Jane” to look at, but it’s a beauty in action.

Go get the demo.  Play it.  Buy it.  It’s worth it.  I’ve been picky with what games I buy lately, mostly because I don’t have time to play, but this is one that I’m happy to have found.  I recommend it highly.

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OK, I’m committed to doing a Kickstarter for my steampunk/gearpunk poker deck now.  Many thanks to those of you who weighed in on it last time!

So… now what?  Lots of things, it seems, most of which I’m already busy digging into.  Mostly, plenty of research on what it takes to make this happen, mad schemes to make it cool and appealing, and finding ways to spread the word far and wide.  Thanks to those of you who have chimed in and spread the word a bit already!

A few questions, then:

Scrusi suggested plastic cards instead of paper cards.  The one plastic card manufacturer that has returned my email has a minimum order of 1500 decks (750 sets of two), at $8/deck.  That adds up fast, to big, scary numbers for a freshman Kickstarter.  I’ll be looking around for more numbers, but that’s a starting point at least.  Paper decks will be cheaper, I assume, but they need to be a fair bit cheaper than the price I’d get at a Print on Demand place like TheGameCrafter.com (about $10/deck) or else there’s not a hugely compelling reason to try to leverage the economy of scale and bulk discounts.  Sure, a Kickstarter will probably bring more potential customers just via publicity, but I’d really like to get a better deal for everyone as part of the bargain.

So… I’m still looking at pricing.  I’d really love to hear what you all think, specifically about what vendors might be optimal in the ol’ cost/quality spectrum.  Paper or plastic?  (I know, plastic cards will be more durable, but are they worth triple the cost or more?  How many players care enough about quality to pay that much more?)  What about brands?  Bicycle has a well-oiled pipeline for Kickstarted decks, and the ability to license their brand name (extra cost, maybe extra perceived value), and a 56-card standard deck that would allow for two cards to be super special Kickstarter rewards.  They also offer custom tuck boxes, which seem like a Good Idea.  That’s certainly not the only route, though, but there are a lot of vendors out there.

…and then there’s the art questions.  I’ve done 12 of the 14 portraits for the face cards, and they lend the suits themes, as well as highlighting important 19th century people.  I like the group I have… but it would be nice to open up the roster and let backers who want to be more involved get their portraits included.  I didn’t start this with Kickstarter in mind, so I didn’t leave room.  One thing I’ve considered strongly is to make the baseline historical figure deck available as a Print on Demand product, and point it out in the Kickstarter, but then open up all of the roster for people to buy into as a special limited edition of the deck.  What think you?

Secondly, and this is perhaps more esoteric… just as an artifact of my design, I’ve altered the layout of the suit pips on the number cards.  This is one example.

6 of Clubs

I chose to do this because of graphic design considerations (the large corner braces), and the desire to make the layout rotationally symmetrical on all cards.  (Pip orientation aside, of course.)  I like how it turned out, but it’s not traditional.  Does that matter to you?  Again, maybe this is where I offer the original elsewhere, and make the Limited Edition (gee, that term is starting to look official and all special-like) use the traditional form.

Offering the original as a paper Print on Demand deck opens up the option to make the Kickstarter a plastic deck project, too… but again, do enough players want plastic cards to make it worthwhile? Maybe this means two Kickstarters in the end, the first one in paper, the second one in plastic?  I’m really not sure on these things since they are largely based on predicting what people might want.  That’s why I’m asking now for as much feedback as I can get.  Will you please help me spread the word and get some opinions collected?

I do have some other stuff planned, some spiffy extras to sweeten the Limited Edition, one of which I’ll tease a bit here:  I work in 3D modeling programs most of my work day, so I’m adept at 3D work.  I spent some time at home the last two evenings and whipped this up, and put it in my Shapeways shop.  (The home of the Gearpunk dice, which dye and paint up pretty well.)

Spade Token (Shapeways render)

Spade Token

It’s derived from the Spade suit pip.  It’s as big as it is (almost 4×3 inches) to make the gears functional.  I can make a smaller version, certainly, but the gears would fuse.  It’s a costly beast, even in plastic.  I’m going to try to hollow it out a bit to save on cost, but it’ll still be biggish to make those gears work.  I’m not sure the gears would ever work if it’s printed in metal, though, so maybe smaller is the way to go anyway to give plastic vs. metal options.  I like that large version, but it’s a bit unwieldy and, well, expensive.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and reading, and I’d love to hear what you all think!

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OK, so it’s not quite alliterative, or a proper tribute to Dorothy’s line, but it’ll do.

Just a few things of interest to note today.

One, some of my NinjaBee coworkers are out at PAX today, revealing our latest game, Nutjitsu!  I don’t have a lot to show for it just yet, but when we do the non-PAX announcement, I’ll be sure to point to it as well.  I didn’t get to work on this one, but it’s looking pretty good.

Two, one that I did work on, A World of Keflings, is now available for Windows 8, and we’ll have it out for the WiiU later this year!  It’s a little different, controlling the game via the touch screen of a tablet computer, but it’s still the great core game that I’ve had the privilege of working on for a few years now.

Three, there’s this gem from The Rampant Coyote (who worked at Wahoo before my time here, so hey, there’s the common thread), addressing the recent interview with Richard Garriott that has some game devs a bit… irked.  For good reason, as it happens.  He makes some good points, but man… the guy has an amazing ego.

Anywho, I had hoped to have my steampunk/gearpunk poker deck done by now, but tech issues and scheduling conflicts mean I still have 6 face cards to do.  It’s getting there, though, and it’s fun to see it come together.

Updated to add:

This is what the NinjaBee booth looks like out on the PAX floor.  Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood!

NinjaBeeBoothPAX

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Just a quick thought today.  The venerable Big Bear Butt and the inimitable Syl have articles up today that reminded me of one of my old wishes for World of Warcraft: Housing.

Big Bear Butt’s Putting the Pieces Together

Syl’s Off The Chest: Midlevel and Endgame Grinds No Thanks, I Rather Have A Castle!

And just for reference, my old collection of Allods Online screenshots.

Y’see, I’d love to see private Outland/Allod style floating islands as housing locations in WoW.  Wizard 101 does almost exactly this already, and for their trouble, they earned some money from me when I bought my Marleybone steampunk island home.  (That I currently can’t find any screenshots for, sadly.)  I’d love to have a little floating island home out off the coast of Nagrand, or maybe a Dalaran satellite.  Maybe I could have a little research hut out by Area 52 and a winter home tucked in the Grizzly Hills. Of course, these would all be phased, so they wouldn’t be a blight on the world, but that’s OK, I don’t necessarily want visitors anyway.

…it all reminds me a little of the system of outposts I tend to make in Minecraft, actually.  That’s a delightful game that I’ve spend a great deal of time in.  When I’m out exploring a Minecraft world, I build little waystations in interesting locations, and I link them with shortcuts via the Nether, since moving one “grid square” in the Nether is equivalent of 8 spaces in the normal world.  I have developed a good sense of how far to go before the Nether portals don’t just tether to existing portals, so I can leapfrog a series of Nether portals and overworld exploration to cover a lot of ground.  I wind up with the Arctic home, the Swamp home, Anvilania, the cliffside village, the Burrows, the tree farm, the diamond mine and so on… a whole system of locations that fit into the larger world, but that are uniquely mine.  (Get it?  Minecraft?  OK, my humor needs work.)

If I could have a set of private islands or shacks in the World of Warcraft, especially if they were linked via a portal system… I’d spend more time in the place.  It’s even another monetization vector.  Yes, it would cost something to develop, but I think it would be worth it.  I’d prefer the game to go subscriptionless, of course, and note that I’d spend money on said housing… y’know, while I’m dreaming.

And yes, I know WURM Online kind of scratches this itch, as does Minecraft.  I know LOTRO has housing, as does Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates.  I’m not hopeful that Blizzard will do this, and I’m not really looking for them to take over the world.  I just think this is an obvious design area that WoW could go in, and I’d have fun with it.  Just ruminating a bit on a Tuesday morning.

Ah, and many thanks to DÀCHÉNG for taking the idea and running with it over thisaway.  There really is a lot of fertile design space to mine in this housing concept.  Blizzard is missing a trick here, I think.  Maybe they don’t need to leverage the Minecraft/DeviantArt “artist” impulse to be successful, but I’m pretty sure the cost/benefit ratio is firmly tilted in the benefit direction.  Letting players modify their experience a bit and share their creativity is at least partially the heart of the whole “transmogrification” scheme, and that’s been a success.

I suppose I should have made it clearer, but yes, I am assuming that players would be able to invite friends to see their homes/islands/fortresses.  They wouldn’t just be private instances, forever sealed away.  They might be instances, but they would be places that other players could access in some way.

…as far as I’m concerned, that builds community while granting players ownership and letting them invest emotionally.  That sounds like a game design WIN to me.

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