Summertime Fun: Making a Board Game

I really thought that I would get a lot of work done this summer. I have always been able to write while visiting my family for the summer on the east coast (Canada). For whatever reason, this summer I have not been able to write. At one point, I just had to accept it, and get on to the vacation part of my annual “working vacation” (coupled with the decision to head back home early to actually get some work done).

My nephew (7) is a very creative, bright little guy. He loves math and numbers (was sad that they did not do division in grade 1!). When I got here at the end of June, he was excited to show me a board game he had made – on looseleaf paper. We played a few times, and then decided that we should make our own, full scale board game. We spent the first few days just chatting about what kind of things he finds fun (prefers math and word games over drawing and acting of stuff). We spent a few days talking about what we wanted the board to look like, how many squares, what the goal of the game would be, etc. etc. In the end, we ended up with a game that had challenge cards (both math and word challenges), wild cards (called DK cards, since the game is called DK10 – standing for the first letter of my name and my nephew’s and 2010 – the year we made it… ) which allow you to move an opponent back, switch places with an opponent and other standard board game moves.  We went to Staples (office supply store) and bought all the supplies we needed. Since it is designed to be a ‘kids’ game (but fun for all ages ;-)), we bought snap-able containers to keep the cards in, velcro tabs to stick the card boxes to the actual game board; the board itself is a large 2×3 ft foam-core board. The instructions were written out by hand (my sister doesn’t have any ink in her printer…). I bought a plastic document cover that I taped to the back of the board to keep the instructions in. A lot of effort went into finding ways to keep the game pieces together and durable (how many times have I gone to play a game when I was a kid and half the pieces were missing?!). Designing the board was the biggest challenge (or rather, drawing it out).  The 75 squares spell out DK10. It took some fancy thinking in order to make the game play from square to square flow and keep things interesting (instead of a snakes and ladder layout). We bought stickers to jazz it up a bit. My nephew loves cars and roads – so there is a street theme to the game. When you land on a square that has a police car sticker, you lose a turn; when you fall on a square with a postal service truck, you get to pick up a DK card; two taxis that ‘slide’ you over to the next part of the board, etc.

We did a trial run (play test) once it was all done, and realized, no matter how much planning went into it, there were inevitable glitches that had to be reworked (from reward and penalty distribution to the difficulty level of the challenges that would make the game ‘fun’ for the whole family to play). Play testing is an important part of any game design ;-). I spent the last few days plastifying the game cards (my nephew is 7 after all). When we started the project at the first of the month, I didn’t realize how much went into making what I thought was a simple children’s game. But as we got into it, my nephew was adamant that he wanted a game he could play again and again. It was definitely learning experience – trying to balance fun and innovation.  While relatively rudimentary(my artistic skills have decreased significantly over the years).

Ahhh, summertime – while I did not get to write as much as I would have liked, I don’t think I would trade this experience with my nephew for the world – heck, we even got an inside offer to front us some hedge money if we ever wanted to make this game for the rest of the world.

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Borderlands: Initial thoughts

Picked up Borderlands last night. A little late to the party of course, but at least we showed up! So, we pop it in, waiting for the ‘intro’ .. waiting … waiting… and then I pipe up with a “are we going to hear the story?” – and no sooner than those words were out of my mouth, did the narrator kick in with “so, it’s a story you want eh?” (not sure about the eh, but I am Canadian, it’s how I remember things). The contextual intro was very brief, and in sketches. Different. One of the things that lured me to the game is the animation of it – I really enjoy games that go for something other than the “let’s look as real as possible” thing.

Borderlands Awesome Animation

Anyways – after a very brief context setting, no rest for the wicked plays in the background (really like the song, so it was a nice bonus) – in comes the bus of reject warriors. I really like the way they introduce the characters – an animated select screen of sorts – again, different. I like it. When the gameplay gets going (and to be fair, I am talking about the first 30 minutes here) the one thing that I find really jarring – and really not liking – is the ‘guardian angel’ that guides you, much in the same way as Mercury’s radio voice in Mirror’s Edge.

The guardian angel is not animated in the same style. She looks like she was plucked out of another game. When I first saw her face, I thought of Fatal Frame for some reason (could be ‘static’ they have over her voice).

Borderlands Guardian Angel

But I found it really jarring that the animation was different; like they were actually trying to connect with the player and not the character through the aesthetic. I don’t know – maybe there is a reason she looks different (made me think of an article I recently read for my CGSA presentation actually on different animation within the same piece to denote documentary ideas in a fictional context…. but I won’t get into that here).

Giving the work I am doing at the moment (as described plenty below), I think this might be a worthy example to draw on…

Revelation of the Day

Now I know why gamers have been relegated to playing in the basement… On such a sunny day outside, I have to close the curtains and turn on only one meager lamp for light in order to see where the heck I am going in the sewers of Mirror’s Edge – imagine if I were playing a horror game!!

Playing Mirror’s Edge: Kind of….

Or at least trying. As my gamer boyfriend reminded me again last night, I was never a very good console gamer – all that dexterity and such. I am much better with a mouse and keyboard configuration. But alas, my research is on to console gaming these days, so I have no choice.  As I have mentioned in my last two posts or so, I am playing Mirror’s Edge, and keeping a play journal in light of my working theoretical framework. When I first started, I thought I would have no time to scribble notes since I imagined being so embroiled in gameplay. But the reality is, I spent over an hour last night stuck on the same spot in the second chapter. Pathetic really. I KNOW what I am supposed to do. Where I am SUPPOSED to go – but getting my hands, fingers, and eyes to coordinate with Faith’s hands and body is a larger feat than I had anticipated. So far, I have spent way more time trying to master the controls (over a ridiculously long period of time actually.. I am embarrassed to admit how long) – let’s just say long enough to feel that each bit of advancement seems only relevant to my sense of self-worth and not in any way tied to any sort of progression in the game.

The thing with Mirror’s Edge, is that some of the controls – and what you are supposed to be doing – is tied to this control mastery. In order to successfully make your way across the rooftops, it requires a speed and agility to make the leaps and slides longer. If you cannot accumulate enough speed along the way, you miss the jump (or get squished repeatedly by the closing gate). If my sense of navigation and vision (LS + RS simultaneously) wasn’t so bad, I might have a hope in hell. Instead, I am painfully making my way inch by creeping little inch across the game’s landscape. And so, my identification with Faith, and any hope of getting ‘into’ the game is dampened by my unskilled hands.

Another thing I noticed over the last two weeks of gameplay, is that I am A LOT more patient when I am alone. When I am the only one in the room, I can die and reload a hundred times (thanks to a very quick reload, and close save points – hundreds isn’t a far off count!) – no stress. But when my partner or daughter are in the room watching, I suddenly get agitated quickly at my lack of skill. It doesn’t help that my partner keeps telling me where to go – what direction to head towards; or that my daughter keeps asking me if I want her to take over, and help me across whatever section I am struggling with. Needless to say, I don’t play very long when they are in the room.

On that note, the house is empty, best log in a few more hours of ‘play’ time before someone comes home and offers to ‘help’ me.

Finally – A sense of direction

After much mulling (and many months), I have finally come to the place where I can actually see what my dissertation will look like. Of course, my proposal was written over 3 years ago – and I am happy to say that it hasn’t changed significantly (only the necessary tweaks and updates). But after finally submitting my first piece of ‘writing’ yesterday to my advisor (will hold off on a full celebration of intellectual dam-breaking until I meet up with him later this month) – I can finally see the shape that this work will take – not just a proposal of things I “will” do, but “how” I will do them – present them – as well. This is a big step for me. I tried to write the first bits in so many different ways, finding the one that fits – that flows, is a big step forward.

Now to keep whatever momentum that bit of productivity started rolling will be the key to getting my first draft done by January. Off to play some more Mirror’s Edge (yay Chapter 2!)

Update: The Writing Process (again)

I am pretty sure that I used this title a while back either during my MA, or when I tried to get my dissertation writing going a few months back. Well, here I am again. Facing the daunting task of writing my doctoral thesis. I finished my comprehensive exams last December. It was a momentous occasion – much celebration was had, and I excitedly faced the new year as one that would be filled with lots of deep thoughts and bouts of fervent writing.

Well – that isn’t quite what happened when January rolled around. Daily life resumed; family needs were tended to; small academic projects were intermittently completed, and the most momentous thing that happened to me over the past six months – I seemed to have conquered my fear of public speaking after a series of guest lectures and presentations. Ironically, it took a change in prep and presentation style to fix my fear. Not to say that I do not get nervous anymore, but the abject terror is now gone!

And so – after a busy month of May that ended with a great CGSA (capped by a pretty decent house party ;-)), I am faced once again with the ticking of my PhD clock getting ever closer to my ‘end date’ of fall 2011. I have to start writing. Not simply etching out directions and keeping track of reading notes – but honest to goodness, content building writing. With a (not so) gentle nudge from my advisor (thank you btw!), I have been working on my first piece of cohesive writing since my comps. It has been a challenge with so many distractions (too afraid to unplug my router and ‘disconnect’  in order to fully concentrate) – the sun is hard to shut off as well 😉 With that, I will try to post a bit here and there about what I am writing, and how it is going. As always – any feedback on writing process / method is MORE than welcome!

Incredibly briefly, my doctoral work stems directly from my Master’s work. I am using the framework that I developed in my MA (based on MMORPG’s) and expanding the analysis to other genres of games to see to what extent my framework is useful for determining the extent to which the process of ‘hybrid identity’ (an identity that is external to the player AND the player-character / avatar; this is explained in my MA thesis in detail) construction exists (if at all).

After a few months of mulling it over, I have expanded the framework to include three overarching categories (feel free to contact me personally to chat more about this – but until it is submitted, keeping some of this close to my chest until I figure it all out). With these two frameworks in hand, I have finally started my “field work” – playing the games that will be my case studies. I am not aiming to specifically unpack one game or genre in particular, but rather to look at how different genres alter the balance of the framework(s)  and how this alters the possibility for the above-mentioned ‘hybrid identity’ (perhaps someday, I will be able to abandon the loaded term identity all together and find something that reflects what it is I am talking about more explicitly – maybe even INVENT a word! =))

So, I started with Mirror’s Edge. I chose this game for several reasons – one of which is the fact that I look quite a bit like the main character – Faith Connors (well, that depends who you talk to but…) . One of my primary arguments over the course of my research is that identity (at least in the way that I conceive it) is not primarily based in representation and identification. My framework seeks to demonstrate all the other factors that go into it. So – I chose a game with a character that I already strongly identify with and feel connected to on a representational level. It is the most obvious point of departure for me and thought it might help me go through the identification and representation literature so that I can come out the other side and justify(?) my claim(s).

I played Mirror’s Edge in the past. Not necessarily incredibly successfully, but I love the aesthetic and flow of the game. Oddly, I am incredibly bad at the controls this time around (guess that is what happens when the only Xbox360 game you play is Zuma!). I spent almost an entire day getting through the first chapter. I am supposed to be recording my game play- but I can only imagine how many dvd’s would have been filled with a series of 74 pathetic failures of the same 5 moves to get across 4 buildings.  The good side being that I have a lot of play notes, and served as fuel for a small fire of writing.

And so, with this, I enter into a cycle of writing that includes playing, writing, infinite distractions, guilt and more writing.  With that, I guess it is time to get back to work!

Pure Pwnage

Thanks to a glitch in my tv programming (which is accidentally giving me ALL digital channels for free – well, with a few exceptions /wink /wink) I saw a commercial for the show Pure Pwnage on Showcase.  After checking out the tagline, it seems like I am a few years late for the party – but better late than never right? Here is the teaser:

Jeremy is a leet gamer, but he still lives in his mom’s basement. His n00b brother Kyle, an aspiring filmmaker, documents Jeremy’s life as he is forced to get off his ass and get a “real” job.

The Pure Pwnage web series has been spanking TV since 2004. Now that the show is an Internet phenomenon with millions of fans worldwide, it’s time to pwn TV as well. Pure Pwnage on Showcase is the next step for this universe of uber gamers.

While it seems to be riddled with every stereotype out there, looks campy enough to be funny.