game design

Author, Geek, Game-Maker

I’ve got a ton to work on today, so I’ll try to be quick, but I wanted to get you guys in on some fun ideas I’m playing around with. I love the idea of gamification—structuring regular pursuits into well-designed incentive structures with quick feedback and a sense of fun and/or competition to induce a state of flow.

I’ve been playing around with ideas for a long-running game-like system for my readers and fans and fellow writers. On the idea side, here are a couple possibilities I’m throwing around:

  • The Obvious Baseline: Players can earn points or tokens or whatever for buying and reading books, spreading the word on social media or otherwise, becoming patrons, etc. These tokens let them level up, get badges, place on leaderboards, get fun prizes, upgrade their virtual flying fortresses, or whatever.
  • The Fun Co-Op Element: Large-scale cooperative goals that let players band together to achieve milestones that will unlock new content, accelerate book launch dates, or trigger fun events or prizes for everyone.
  • The Writers’ Guild: Throw in some challenges for fellow writers. Let people earn tokens for building word count, commenting on each other’s work, publishing books, etc. Set up competitions or gentlemen’s bets where authors can go head to head or try to meet a challenging goal with tokens at stake.
  • The Monte Carlo: Set up a pretend casino and/or racetrack where players can bet their tokens on games of skill and chance whose outcomes depend on story elements or writing progress. Post odds on the outcomes of cliffhangers, the number of appearances a character will make in the next episode, or which author/project will increase most in word count.
  • The Wall Street: Let players invest their tokens in different stories or projects and give dividends as word count increases, sales rank improves, or specific milestones are reached. I find this one extra-interesting because if we set it up right it could actually start guiding production and/or predicting success.
  • The Grand Adventure: Create a series whose actual storyline depends on the game. Players who earn more tokens have more sway over the characters’ decisions and/or the success or resources of different factions or characters in the story.

On the implementation side, I was playing around today and discovered that you can set up a Google form to take information in, feed it to an online spreadsheet, have the spreadsheet make any relevant calculations or transformations, and then publish the relevant parts of the spreadsheet to the web with automatic updates.

Throwing in Google Fusion tables opens up even more powerful options. If I continue I will geek out and bore everybody to death, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Point is, that’s enough to get a basic setup for a fairly scalable interactive system with minimal setup and decent capabilities. I can work with that.

What do you think? Does this sort of thing interest you at all? If so, what sort of game would you find most engaging? Badges are fun, but I think it would be really cool to give it some real-world significance and (ideally) even take it beyond just me and my books. Any ideas?

Cheers!

—Ben

Changing The Rules *Is* The Game

In case it hasn’t been sufficiently established, I’m a geek. Maybe you are too. Among other things, I’m perenially fascinated by self-referential humor and reflexivity.

Hofstadter

Source: xkcd.com/917

And emergent behavior, and self-modifying systems. And storytelling. And harnessing competitive urges to create collective benefits.1

And game design.

That’s where this all comes together today. I’m in an experimental mood, so, inspired ultimately by Nomic2 and more recently by GC Gamers Connect and TGIK Games, I present a tiny experimental self-modifying game right here in my own comments. Mind. Blown.

Seriously, though. I’d love to see how this plays out, so if you’re at all interested please take a quick look and join the game in the comments section below.

Cheers!

—Ben


1 A good trade is a simple example. Each person thinks he’s getting the better end of the bargain, and somehow everybody wins.

2 A game where changing the rules is a move, invented in 1982 by philosopher Peter Suber.

“A game of incredible speed and periodic violence”

I have a puzzle for you.

Or rather, I have a puzzle for myself, and I’m hoping to find the sort of people that can help me. You might be one of them. Ideally you’re smart, silly, and into card games. (If you’re just here for the writing tips, I respectfully direct you to this recent gem.)

So here’s the thing. In The Dream World Collective, I got a glimpse of the characters playing a game called Ickleback. It’s just a fleeting glimpse, but the game looks really fun and I want to play it, which means I need to invent it, and I want your ideas. For starters, here’s the entire canonical reference to Ickleback:

“I’m feeling like a breakfast contest,” said Zen suddenly, looking up from his book. “Anyone interested in a breakfast contest? A breakfast-off, if you will.”

The five housemates were gathered in the sitting room, ensconced in a variety of blankets, quilts, and fleeces. Summer was absorbed in a battered paperback and Alex was making his way though the newspaper, occasionally giving it a shake as he turned the page. Otto and Sushi were fiercely engaged in a card game that seemed to require incredible speed and periodic violence.

“I already had breakfast,” Alex checked the time. “Three hours ago.”

“A brunch-off, then,” Zen corrected himself.

“No,” Sushi shook her head briskly and slapped a card onto a pile. “That doesn’t have the same ring. It’s a breakfast-off.” In a blur of motion, Otto rapidly slapped a series of cards onto different piles and then poked Sushi.

“Ickleback!” he cried. “That makes three gambits. I win by means of ickle.”

“Hey!” Sushi poked him back.

“That’s a false ickle,” gloated Otto. He rummaged through the deck for the queen of clubs. “I choose the Termite Queen.”

“Game’s over, dork. Come on, we’re Team Dachshund in the breakfast-off. What’s your team name?” She looked pointedly at Summer and Alex.

“Who said we’re on a team together?” asked Summer, a touch of panic in her eyes.

I’m picturing a game that requires very quick thinking, quick reflexes, and precision of language, in the vein of Egyptian Ratscrew or Dutch Blitz, with a bit of Silent Football thrown in.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Four suits: Termites (Clubs), Onions (Spades), Speckles (Diamonds), and Pecks (Hearts)
  • Jacks are called Pickpockets, threes are called Pickles, aces are called Pips. Cards are named by suit then rank, e.g. the Peck Eight, the Termite Queen, the Speckle Pickle, the Onion Pip.
    • Advanced players may require any/all of the following names (Ace to King): Pip, Pair, Pickle, Court, Cross, Hex, Prickle, Cot, Mews, Deckle, Pickpocket, Quintessence, Pendragon

There’s more, but I’ve realized this is one of those things that gets really boring really fast in text format. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as sitting and reading the detailed rules of a game that’s hilarious and action-packed in real life.

Let’s just say my prototype has thrones, gambles, quarks, and gambits; you can ickle (poke) or spackle (slap) your opponents; you have to declare what you’re doing and if you say it wrong there are penalties; and there are multiple paths to victory but you can’t take them all. And it’s looking like there’s room for some pretty sneaky treacheries.

It’s Friday, and Fridays should be fun, so I’ll leave you with silly mental images instead of rules. Imagine a living room where friends, amid a flurry of card slaps, are shouting things like:

“Speckle Pickle Quint Quark!”

<slap> “Spackleback!”

“False spackleback – I choose the Peck Pickpocket.”

“Onion Odd Flush Quark!”

“The Throne of Four reigns! Long live the Onion King!”

If you have ideas about dynamics that could make a game like this fun, let me know in the comments. And if you really want more of the (as yet untested and unconfirmed) rules, just say the word.

If you’d like to read more of the story, here’s a free download to get you started.

Happy Friday, everyone!

—Ben