I’ve finished up three hobbyist projects, one long-term, the others not-so-much. I wanted to include some personal notes for posterity here, without dwelling too much on them.
1. ClickJam Baltimore.
What Was It About? Clickteam, the developers of the software I use to make video games, wanted to throw a world-wide game-making event, as their original event was canceled due to sharing time and place with the most recent Olympic games. I stepped up to host the Baltimore location, and ClickJam Baltimore was born.
To Sum Up: This was fun. I was able to use my day job’s office setting to let some folks geek out along with me for a day. I bought some fruit and muffins, made some coffee, and the first arrival was at 7:30am on Saturday morning. Shortly afterward, we were in the computer lab tinkering away with our own projects. A third person arrived around 10am, and the event surged onward in earnest. At the end of the event, around 2pm that day, all three of us had some nice-looking and smooth-playing projects to continue into the future.
One Strong Point: the fact that Clickteam was generous enough to offer free copies of their software, or no-cost upgrades to those who already owned it (such as myself and the two other participants). Regardless of the motive, it certainly sweetened the deal and likely encouraged more participants to jump in.
One Weak Point: the lack of turnout was discouraging. I’d been contacted by folks as far away as Philadelphia and other locations in Virginia, but they later had to bail for one reason or another. Expected turnout was around 8 (including myself), but it turned out to be 3. I’m not sure how to do better with this in the future (I’ve historically performed poorly with promotional aspects of events I’ve hosted in the past), but even with Clickteam’s website, forums, and incentives turnout was still low. Fortunately, it is still easy to collaborate and network with folks via the Internet, and make games.
2. The TDC FUNtition.
What Was It About? A video-game-making website I frequent decided to host a competition with the theme of “summer fun.” I stepped up to be a judge. All told, there were 14 entries. Just yesterday I turned in my assessments of them all.
To Sum Up: I originally wanted to host my own contest earlier in the Spring, but the admins at TDC had mentioned to me that they were planning something a little special for later in the year. Sure enough, not only did they host the contest, but Clickteam decided to offer up some prizes. This left me plenty of time to sit back and enjoy playing the entries that came along instead of truly officiating and dealing with the other logistics.
One Strong Point: Critically examining games is one thing I honestly enjoy, as it plays to my natural curiosity and wonder of “how things work.” When one asks themselves, “why do I like this game?” or “why isn’t this game fun for me?” you begin to look beyond the fact that it’s a finished product for one’s entertainment, and deconstruct it so you can examine its components individually. Aspects such as sound, graphics, and coding are compared alongside intangible (but still craftable) aspects such as gameplay aesthetics, thematic adherence, pacing, and design. I always enjoy that aspect, and it helps me become a better game-maker.
One Weak Point: I have my own personal biases towards certain types of games, and it was nearly too late that I realized that this impacts my judgment of otherwise fine games. There was one entry in particular I hadn’t liked much at all, primarily due to the difficulty and challenge aspect of it. I initially marked it poorly.
After a day of mulling it over (because I honestly felt guilty about it…it really was good! I just sucked at it!), I re-examined my assessment, re-ranked some of the categories, and edited my initial remarks. I felt better after my editing, as it no longer seemed like vindictive rantings of a bitter, opinionated gamer. We’re all hobbyists on the website, so it’s much more important to maintain a constructive perspective while offering critique. I appreciated the fact I could be back in touch with my humility, at least for a moment. I also have to give credit to my girlfriend for encouraging me to reconsider, as she saw where I was from the outside and granted a fresh perspective to the situation when I shared it with her.
3. RISK Legacy
What was it about? Late last year, Hasbro released the latest iteration of one of their long-standing game titles with a new twist: games would build off of previous sessions, and during games there would be some irrevocable changes taking place. For example, sometimes players are instructed to place stickers on the game board to grant permanent bonuses or penalties to players who control that territory. Sometimes, players are instructed to write on the board itself. Sometimes, players must destroy game components, ripping up cards and throwing them out of the game. This all takes place within a 15-game “campaign,” and I wanted to have a go at it.
To Sum Up: Earlier in the year, I recruited four of my friends to join me on this 15-game stretch. After about 8 months, we finished it all. We opened up all the special packets, played out all the factions, and changed the game world from one session to the next. We finished the final game of the series last night.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the game will ever be played again. On the whole, the game wasn’t enjoyable for the group. Partially I’m to blame for this, as just because I consider these people my friends doesn’t mean that they would necessarily consider one another friends; asking relative strangers to hang out and compete with one another for up to 2 (or sometimes more) hours at a time really isn’t the best idea. But also, there are some issues that we all found to be a problem with the game that were more or less beyond our control, due to the fact that they were built into the structure of the game.
One Strong Point: Well, at least the components were super-cool. I can imagine myself using them as place-holders and components for my own game prototypes.
One Weak Point: I’ll spare you my thoughts on the group’s cohesiveness (maybe to discuss in another entry at a later date), and focus simply on the game itself. I think it’s fundamentally flawed with the classic “runaway leader” issue. Even in a game where randomness is so much a part of it (another major sticking point with several players, regardless of the game’s title), the fact that many significant benefits are granted to previous winners of the games automatically stacks the odds in their favour for each and every successive game.
In our instance, there were two players in particular who consistently jockeyed for the first-place spot, but there was always a third player who pretty much ended up last in every game and didn’t come very close to winning after five or so games had been played. In any case, we all felt that the player was so far behind the “winners” that it came as no surprise that he obviously enjoyed the game less than the rest of us might have.
I thought this might have been a good game to use as a “gateway game” to more sophisticated games, but now that all 15 games are done it seems like newcomers would accuse the game of being “unfair” to someone who’s not a hardcore tabletop gamer. I don’t know how I, as a “game event organizer” or whatever, can fix something like that.
Oh, and the “legacy” concept? It’s like trying to combine the “persistent world” aspect of role-playing games with the tabletop game mechanics and conventions. It has potential, and I’m curious to see what the big studios do with it next. One of our group is interested in developing their own game using the same type of mechanics for his own idea, which sounds promising. We’ll see…