Earlier this week I “hosted” a game design workshop at the local independent bookstore. “Hosted” is in quotation marks because no one attended. I redeemed the time by having a lovely chat about homebrew gaming on the VIC-20 with the owner, and then working a bit on a board game prototype I will blog about soonish.
One of the exercises I had planned is basically cribbed from Una Lee’s Tumblr. It’s about using verbs as a way to build mechanics. A concept I first learned via Anna Anthropy, who probably invented it. I’m likely butchering both these ladies’ work in this post, and for that I’m sorry.
To do the exercise, you’ll need to print and cut out this page, it contains every object in Level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. (Plus some Koopas)
Since games are by definition interactive experiences, a good starting point for a game design is to decide what the player will be doing, the verbs she has to choose from, then build up from there. In Space Invaders you get two Verbs, each with their own control, a joystick for MOVE and a button for SHOOT. Pacman has only MOVE, but the context of that Verb changes when he eats a power dot, he goes from MOVING FEARFULLY to MOVING AGRESSIVELY. World of Warcraft has a bar of buttons, each corresponding to a different Verb, that as you approach the end of the game, fills nearly a third of your screen (1) (2)
One of the most elegant games ever made is Super Mario Bros. for the NES. Verbwise, Mario can WALK, RUN, JUMP, CLIMB, and sometimes SHOOT, using two buttons and a four-way D-pad. (3)
For this exercise, think about your ten favourite games, and list a bunch of verbs from each.
Now, choose one of those Verbs to add to Super Mario Bros.’ five. Think about how the ability to FLY or PAINT would change the core experience of Mario. In what new ways could the player affect the world with these Verbs. Don’t worry about whether or not your ideas could have worked on the NES, just write down a couple things that Mario could do in this new paradigm. (For example, in the Original Super Mario Bros. Mario could JUMP on top of enemies to squish them, or up into question blocks to release whatever was inside)
Finally, take the level pieces, and assemble a level that brings those actions to the fore. Feel free to add your own level elements and characters cut out of scrap paper. Maybe Mario can FLIP GRAVITY, and you have Goombas and Koopas on both the floor and ceiling, or SHRINK and you have tiny areas for him to explore.
I think that this could be a really effective tool for brainstorming game ideas, and don’t feel limited to Super Mario Bros. Just about any video game designed for controllers with less than five buttons could be re-imagined this way. If it sparks an idea for you, go ahead and build it, Mario is kind of the framework that every subsequent platformer has built from, (Almost) so you would be in good company. (4)
2: In the board game I mentioned at the start of this post, every turn players may MOVE or DIG, and if they encounter Bandits, FIGHT. I’ve chosen a different sort of minigame for each action.
3: To RUN instead of WALK, the player holds down “B”. If he has touched a Fire Flower, then pressing “B” will also SHOOT a fireball. This is one of the finest examples of elegance in game design.
4: Here are some examples of people basically doing this exercise with full games:
I said I was taking a break from Cats in the Kitchen. Apparently I meant from posting anything anywhere ever… Sam left and I kind of slipped into an existence of watching a lot of Farscape and eating the same things four days in a row. I’ve got a lot of food in the house, a lot of it in the freezer in the form of leftover chilli and somewhat mushy macaroni from my Mom’s birthday dinner, and chicken legs. So I’ve been alternating between Chilli and Butter Chicken, while finding out new ways to use up macaroni after it’s been frozen (I made biscuits out of it tonight)
No matter how much I actually do I never feel like it’s enough. So after three weeks where I actually haven’t been accomplishing much, that feeling has really started to compound. Illustration work has been hard to come by of late, so I’ve decided to focus on building my skills and portfolio for a bit. The title image for this post is going to be the header for my new portfolio website, that will have all of my previous work from 2008 on, organized in a much more approachable way than this blog is currently.
This is a sample image I made up trying to get a job doing the art for a series of children’s iOS Bible stories. I didn’t realize until afterwards that they had asked for a specific scene, and it wasn’t this one, so I need to start over.
I recently finished Anna Anthropy’s “Rise of the Videogame Zinesters”, and it’s got me super inspired. Today I’m going to be hosting a game design workshop at our local bookstore. I haven’t gotten any phone calls from the posters I put up, but I’ll be there hoping for walk-ins. The first day’s project is going to be adding verbs to Mario, then rebuilding Level 1-1, all done with paper cutouts. (I totally cribbed this from here) If anyone shows up, then tomorrow we’re going to write a program for a “Robot” (Person pretending to be a robot) using IF/THEN arguments on index cards, Then on Friday, we’ll be collectively programming a platforming engine in Stencyl.
Finally, I’m going to start listing a sort of “Whatcha Playing?” at the end of my blog posts, ‘cause I’d like to share these with the world, but maybe don’t have time to do a full review…
Gunpoint is a Stealth / Hacking game currently in development. There’s a lot of interesting and unique elements, like a tool that lets you rewire door locks to light switches, or one that can sabotage security guard’s guns from a distance. There’s always a few different solutions to every problem, letting you develop your own playing style. I’ve managed to get on the beta testing crew for this one, though I’m probably taking too long to finish the game to be of any use…
Rayman Origins is the happiest game ever made. Rayman was a favorite of mine growing up, and this is a very similar experience to the older game, but with smoother, more flowing levels, easy jump-in/jump-out co-op play, and simply wonderful art and music. I played this with some of the young teen boys from church, and thuroughly upset their plans for Minecraft cities.
Puzzle Pirates is a game that sticks in your brain. I’ve always considered it one of the best MMO concepts I’d heard, but I only recently started playing in earnest, using it as a virtual space to go on dates with my girlfriend, (It works really well, we can go shopping, swordfight, go pillaging, pretty much all the standard date stuff) And sailing along with a crew of 10+ other real people, running between stations and working together to keep the ship sailing is still some of the most fun you can have on a computer.
Forget Me Not is a bit like Pacman, meets Wizard of Wor, meets Crossroads. There’s so much going on onscreen at any given time, other sprites on screen aren’t so much your enemies, as simply being other things in the world. Also has excelent co-op, and lots of little secrets to learn. Really Fun Old-School Arcade Game.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful is another one of those Really Fun Old-School Arcade Games. It’s got some weird platforming rules (You need to use teleporters rather than jumping, going off the left side of the screen loops you around to the next platform down on the right side) and lots of Bubble Bobble style silliness.
A couple of days ago I watched a bus take my lovely girlfriend back home to Surrey. While she was here we did a lot of weird things that probably don’t make sense out of context: We cooked mexican pulled pork for French people, pretended that a glass bus shelter was an ant farm, jumped on a trampoline in the heavy rain, (I thought this one was a horrible idea immediately before and after we were doing it :P ) made butter chicken sushi - We made so much food; ALL THE FOOD, polenta, braised lettuce, dry-cooked pork ribs, smoked garlic, mushrooms, peppers and cheese.
We went to the open air market and ate things from as many booths as we could, I accidentally shaved my beard off and made her cry, Late at night as we drove to our chaperone’s house at night, I sputtered fatigued nonsense as I tried to keep my van between the yellow and white lines. While Samantha was here we drank tea at least twice a day. While Samantha was here I got a lot more hugs and kisses than I do normally. While Samantha was here, I got to see my town through another person’s eyes.
It feels as though this has been too short of a relationship to be thinking about marriage, but we kind of rushed our emotional intimacy early on, as only two lonely strangers on the internet who never expect to meet eachother can, and even though I feel like a bleeding sixteen-year-old around her sometimes, I can’t see myself ever “getting over” her, like our relationship is some kind of phase.
That said, we’re both pretty broke, so marriage is out of the question. But I think that’s the only real barrier now. She likes my family and friends, they like her, and vice versa… She likes it where I live, I like it where I live, a little bit of money for a ceremony, a reception, and a down payment on a house and we’re golden right?
That’s how these things work, right?
That’s not how these things work is it?