May 1st, 2006

Class Playtest #2

Second out-of-class playtest tonight for my students, and man, I am beat. We had about twenty people show up to play-test five different games, which ranged from Math Math Revolution (a dancing-math game) to MacGyver (a Rube Goldberg contraption building game). Some of them were good right off the bat, while others needed a lot more work, but we did a bunch of intensive playing and revising.

For my own reference (you know, in future years far far from now), the games were:

  • Math Math Revolution, a PC-based math game with a custom-built dance-pad. Dance on the pad to add, subtract, multiply or divide and hit your target as closely as possible! Their goal, I think, was to get kids with kinaesthetic learning styles to do math, but it’s actually surprisingly fun to try to think in math terms and then get your body to act it out. They’re having some technical issues, but they’re going to keep developing this over the summer and into next year, which is really exciting.
  • The Untitled Party Game, a moderately multiplayer party game designed for about two hundred people. I think it’s actually going to be deployed at a wedding this summer, which is neat! It started out with a mechanic I’ve tried to use before, with little success: get someone to say your word in conversation. After about two hours of playtest and refinement, though, it ended up being about collecting facts from people, then improvising stories when challenged by someone else’s facts. I think they still need to playtest this with a group of thirty or so, but it improved a hell of a lot.
  • Karmakaze, a PC game which is actually for someone else’s game class, but they showed up to do some mutual playtesting. You herd little beasts around, trying to earn karma points by helping out your friends and hurting whoever your enemies happen to be on this level (for example, you might herd fleas to jump on cats). Unfortunately the karma element still doesn’t quite work, but the herding friends/dodging enemies thing is really entertaining.
  • Return of the Karate Master, a paper prototype for a proposed Playstation game. It’s a third-person adventure game where you play a Japanese-American returned to Japan to investigate the death of your parents. The twist? Instead of clicking on dialogue trees, you have to observe (and record, with your trusty videocamera) and then imitate people speaking - so you’re interfacing via a microphone rather than the controller. The coolest part is the martial arts interface, which is sufficiently original and awesome that I don’t even want to post about it here without their permission. But it is the awesome. Really.
  • MacGuyver, a card game where you’re dealt random objects from a deck, then you and your team have to construct a Rube Goldberg device out of them. This was the most laugh-producing game of the night, but the design team hadn’t really decided if they wanted to make it a social game like One Thousand Blank White Cards or Eat Poop You Cat, or if they wanted to make it more of a resource-management game in the Cheapass tradition. I think it would be great either way, but they really do have to pick just one.

. . . I swear there was one more game there tonight, but I’ll be damned if I can recall it. My brain is a little fried right now, especially since afterwards I met with (most of) my peeps from The Difference Engine to talk about a Possible Game Thing about which I will be mysterious. So there. :)

Reading List: Old Man’s War

Read: Old Man’s War, John Scalzi.

I’m trying to at least review faster than I read, and since I’m plowing through Dorothy Dunnett (who is seriously making me doubt whether I ever want to read historical fiction again), I may actually succeed in doing some catching up. Yay for me!

I’m generally a fan of military science fiction (Honor Harrington is my guilty pleasure!) so when I saw this book, I figured it would be pretty decent. The blurbs on the back made it sound like a geriatric Starship Troopers; I wasn’t actually a fan of the Heinlein, but the twist of old people getting sent to space for rejuvenation treatments so they can fight wars against aliens . . . well, it hooked me.

The follow-through on the basic concept was pretty solid. I’m always looking for good episodic narratives, and this book did a great job of jumping through time and space without losing your sense of place in the story. I really loved the various plot twists, particularly when they find out just what the rejuvenation treatments entail, and the reaction of a whole bunch of old farts finding out that they’re young farts now.

My biggest gripe with the book, unfortunately, was the main character. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a Gary Stu, but he’s pretty much the same character who’s the hero of ninety percent of the military and hard sci-fi books out there. (Look! I’m a rationally-minded, scientifically trained, competent and ruggedly handsome white male nerd!)

Nonetheless, I’ll definitely pick up the sequel, and hope that Scalzi learns to do character like he’s already learned to do plot. When and if he figures it out, he’ll definitely be on my HARDCORE!!! list.

Blogging Boxes

I’m not entirely sure how to explain the 360voice service.  I mean, the technical explanation is simple: it automatically blogs your gameplay logs from your XBox 360.  It records what you’ve played, for how long, what you scored, when you’ve been playing, and so on, and adds in random creepy comments which are, unfortunately, a bit repetitive.

What I can’t really explain is why.  I’m all for people having access to their personal data that they’ve created in a game - but is there really an audience out there for the dead-simple statistics of your gameplay history, beyond marketers?  Would even your best friend care?

Please, my friends, enlighten me.

Otherwise I may need to wait until our 360 arrives and find out for myself . . . .