Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category
Part of my job is playing every social and mobile game that crosses my awareness-field (I’m a robot, so I have an awareness-field, whatever that is). It helps to get a sense of what’s going on in the marketplace, see who’s doing interesting work, and see if there are any cool new mechanics or themes out there.
Bravo just put out a Real Housewives social game. Now, admittedly, I am not the target audience for this game. I have seen a few episodes of the various Real Housewives series over the years; my wife is addicted to them and likes to watch episodes on her computer while getting ready to go out.
The game has some polished but generic graphics. At its core, there’s almost zero innovation; it feels like Sorority Life or Top Girl/It Girl, a gossipy skinned light RPG where you do menial tasks like chatting with people or dancing with clubbers to earn more stats to unlock more quests. I suppose if I was a woman or a bigger fan of the shows, then I’d appreciate how you can interact with game versions of the reality TV stars. But I’m not. And I have a personal hatred of Bravo TV’s Andy Cohen which borders on the irrational. Cohen was the executive for several of their TV shows, and somehow he wound up becoming an on-air personality and the host of all of the series wrap-ups and even has a nightly talk show on Bravo now. So when he wandered into the club and my fictional housewife got to meet with him, I pretty much checked out right there.
Really great post from game designer Dave Sirlin on the Olympic badminton controversy, and how the rules that led to this are really, really flawed:
Game Night last night was a fun affair, with a mix of “quick” games (I’ll say why that’s ironic in a moment). We played a five-handed game of 7 Wonders, and I finally won. Going technology (or whatever the green cards are) proved to be key, due to the cards-of-the-same-type-squared scoring formula. I had 25 points for 4 of the same type (16 points), plus 7 for one of each type, plus 2 for the other two cards. And that let me win by a lot.
Then we played Cards Against Humanity, which again is a brilliant game. Some folks remixed Apples to Apples, making a much more fun version with a whole bunch of really inappropriate cards. Sure, you can’t play it with kids (well, you shouldn’t), and the designers and writers seem to have an odd obsession with Glen Beck. But making a pseudo-haiku with cards like “fiery poops” and “Robert Downey, Jr.” really fulfills my innate immaturity. Jordan won that game by a lot, doing a great job of adapting his awful/hilarious answers to the person judging each round.
And we finished the night out playing Munchkin Booty. This was the second game of Munchkin that we played that took over two hours to finish. While it’s still fun, Munchkin tends to get exhausting when it drags on this long. We had a couple people drop out of the game due to getting killed/reset. And a lot of folks hung out at 9/10 levels for a really long time. Somehow, I eventually managed to win, due to some major buffs. And despite losing the three ships I’d acquired in my role as a Level 8+ Navy dude.
We’d love to find more quick games. Most of the stuff we have that we really like takes well over two hours to play (or requires an exact number of people). We usually wind up playing a Munchkin set or 7 Wonders or Small World. And while those are all good games, some more variety would be nice.
We moved offices last night to fancy new digs down Wilshire (literally just down the street from where we were before — the cross-street is where our old office was!)
The new space is much fancier and larger. And we get to share it with two cool companies, including an incubator. Soon, our space will be filled with tons of smart people. We should have lots of interesting folks to converse and go for lunch with.
Here’s some pics (the first one’s scaled smaller so it doesn’t overrun our sidebar).
A view on the main seating area.
Our awesome view.
Our conference room.
Howard and me.
But first, some news…
We’re in the home stretch on mystery game #1. It’s looking very nice. Stay tuned for more news.
Last week’s Game Night marked the debut of BANG!, a Spaghetti Western-themed card game that we’ve had in our office for around five months. We finally got around to playing it. BANG! is kind of a cross between Mafia/Werewolf and maybe a really dumbed-down Magic: The Gathering or Dominion, sans deck-building.
Players take on a secret role, except for the sheriff, and try to kill or help each other out secretly. The hidden role dynamic, variety of cards (we played with a super-set with several expansions), different characters, and other bits make for a fun, quick game. Plus, all the cards are in Italian and English, so you can practice your fancy accent.
This week, we brought out Small World again, for a four-handed game. It was the first time playing for Michael and Tom (Web Designer). But the great thing about Small World is that it’s pretty simple to pick up, a quick play, and fun. Despite some inadvertent cheating on my part, I managed to win the game, just barely. This was the first time I’d played any games with Emily where she didn’t win (although she did come in second).
We’ve all been heads-down cranking away on finishing up our first game (which is really cool, by the way — the feedback from VCs, analysts, gamers, folks at social networks and media companies, etc. has been fantastic), so I’ve been a little, well, very, remiss in updating this blog.
So first, what everyone’s been waiting for — Game Night updates.
We skipped Game Night 1/4 of the last set due to being too busy. The furthest back was Dominion — a great card/deck-building game that does away with the main problem with Magic:The Gathering (if you want to be competitive in the game, you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a single deck, and if you want to play multiple decks, draft regularly, or collect the cards, you end up spending a lot more than that) by having complete sets and expansions with all the cards in them guaranteed. When you no longer have the “collectible” factor in a CCG, you do away with the randomness and expense. Sure, you lose the fun of busting packs and trading cards, but you also save yourself a ton of money. And it makes it a lot easier to figure out strategies when you’re not dealing with tens of thousands of cards.
Emiley kicked butt at Dominion, winning 2/2 games her first time out.
The next week, we played an epic four-handed round of Talisman, with some heated competition, purposely killed-off characters (I have the 2nd edition, which is super-old school, including insanely unbalanced characters that range from awful to god-like), and putting the game on hold until we could finish it the next week during lunch. For those who haven’t played it, Talisman is essentially D&D in board game form, and has a cult following. The game came down to Emiley and I locked in heated battle for the Crown of Command. But as she was two Health Points ahead of me, she won the game. Barely. Her first time playing.
Hmm, maybe we should stop playing games with Emiley she hasn’t played before.
Yesterday, I missed Game Night. Because I was up in San Francisco for F8, the Facebook Developer Conference.
It was my first F8, and it was a great experience. There was a buzz about the entire convention hall, and I really liked what Zuckerberg and company announced. It’s no secret that Facebook wants you to spend more time on the site and to share more about your life. That’s what “Zuckerberg’s Law” is all about. And they came up with a pretty cool way to do that, allowing app developers to create their own actions for any object. So instead of just posting photos or liking things, you can now interact with pretty much anything through an app — reading books, watching movies, listening to music, cooking food, hiking a trail, running a marathon, etc.
The implications for games are pretty cool, as you can now socially share things like beating someone in PvP combat, besting their high score in a blitz-type game, playing a neat word in Words with Friends, or finishing a quest — in a far more meaningful way than the spam wall post and requests that social games have become known for.
The other big announcement was Timeline, which allows you to customize your profile, share a lot more info (if you want to), and automatically saves and rolls up anything you do share from the past. Plus, you can fill out profile info going back to your birth.
The new Timeline profile looks a lot nicer, too, with a cool, widescreen Cover Shot instead of just your tiny profile pic and a scroller of a few other pictures.
Like all Facebook revamps, this one seems to have met with some dislike. People were up in arms earlier this week about the News Feed and Ticker, which are both a prelude to Timeline. So it’ll be interesting to see all the hate when Timeline fully rolls out.
But I think the new changes are good ones that should make Facebook stickier and more social, and allow app developers to make a whole new generation of apps that are way more social than what we’ve seen before. The demos from Spotify and other music and video services were really, really cool, letting you see what friends are listening to and then click on it to check out the music yourself.
Oh, and we started some new people that I should probably mention — Gabe Hidalgo (whom we worked with at Acclaim/Playdom/Disney) as our QA Manager, and Randy Casey (out of EA, among other places) as engineer. They’ve both been here a little while now and are doing great work, so I should definitely give them a shout out. Belated welcome aboard, guys.
I should also say that we’re putting the finishing touches on our first game. Look for interesting news about playing it in the very near future.
It was Emiley’s first Game Night with Gamzee and she came out swinging. We tried Small World, a game I recently picked up and played a couple of 2-player rounds of with my fiancee. It is a game that I highly recommend. As board game fans know, good board games are expensive. Small World’s no exception, costing $49.99.
But Small World’s worth it. Aside from the gameplay (which I’ll get to in a moment), it features beautiful art, four different boards (for 2-, 3-, 4- and 5- player variations), nice thick cardstock race tokens, and nicely-designed and robust money, turn marker, custom pieces like mountains, heroes, a dragon, and fortifications, and a custom die (turning a 6-sided die into one that shows 0-3).
Gameplay is great. Unlike a lot of Eurogames, your time investment is limited due to the turn marker (8-10 turns, depending on the number of players). And the designer took time to craft four different boards for the varying amounts of players. It’s a very fun, well-balanced game with a clear strategy and a good amount of variation. The goal is to get the most victory coins, mostly through conquest, utilizing one or more races with different abilities and randomly-selected special powers.
Emiley cleaned up, winning handily.
We are pleased to announce Emiley Flowers joining the team, at least for a while, as a contract artist. Emiley is super-talented, and is going to be helping our art director, John Flynn out with cranking out all the assets making an isometric game requires.
You can check out some of her work here:
On an unrelated topic, as game dorks, we have a weekly game night every Thursday evening. Most of the games we play are Eurogames and/or Fantasy-themed. Frequent favorites are Munchkin, Munchkin Booty (the pirate set), Talisman (2nd edition), and Settlers of Cataan. We actually have a bunch more games, but we usually wind up playing those.
Last week, we tried out Dominion, which John bought. For those who’ve never played, Dominion is a “Living Card Game,” which combines a lot of the appeal of Collectible Card Games, except there aren’t sealed, randomized packs, and you can get all the cards in a set for a low price (saving you hundreds to thousands of dollars versus something like Magic: The Gathering).
In Dominion, you have a varied set of communal cards that you can “buy” to add to your deck each turn. Each player tries to amass the most Victory Points, and play continues until three stacks of purchasable cards are exhausted or the stack of 6-point Victory Point cards (Provinces). What makes it cool is that the base set comes with a wide variety of cards, so you can swap out the purchasable cards with dozens of variants, making each game different with totally new strategies.
We played a couple games, the stock setup, which Sean won outright, and the “Large Size” deck variant, which has a bunch of cards that add cards to your deck (and one that gives you points for each 10 cards in your deck rounded down). That game was much closer, with a 2-point difference between last and first. I won that round
Next week, who knows? Michael’s been clamoring for some Trivial Pursuit. We have Bang!, and haven’t yet played (and I’m definitely interested). And I just bought Small World, but have only played with my long-suffering fiancee.
We have some really cool news that we’ll be sharing on Monday. (How’s that for a teaser?)
In the meantime, since that’d be a ridiculously short post…
One of the perks of being a game developer is that I play a ton of games, mostly social and mobile games (because that’s what I’m working on). I’m a huge fan of the “With Friends” series from Newtoy (now part of Zynga). Although they “borrowed” most of Scrabble, Words With Friends is a fantastic game that really leveraged Facebook well, and also works well for some friendly competition on mobile. Chess With Friends is also good, although none of my friends really play it.
Which brings us to Hanging With Friends. There’s a lot of stuff they do right with it. The graphics are cute, they leverage the whole tile system and bonus placement from Words With Friends. But there’s a serious flaw in the game. Namely, that there’s one dominant/superior strategy. If you want to win, just pick short words. You get more guesses the shorter your word is, but if you lay down something like Japer, there’s almost no way your opponent is going to guess it.
Which means that a lot of what the designer(s) intended — maximizing score and bonuses by playing longer words, trying to show off your vocabulary — just don’t work. If you want to win, just play 4- and 5-letter words every time. If they involve few vowels or unusual letter combinations, odds are, your opponent will get them wrong. If you play anyone else who’s realized this optimal strategy, it quickly becomes a race to see who’ll mess up guessing more short words and fall into the lava first. Not much variety, and not much fun.
The team should rethink this, possibly making players play words of six letters or more or compensating you in some gameplay-related fashion that affects the outcome of the match (not with bonuses or coins or some other metagame function that doesn’t apply).
Just my two cents.
Never thought I’d steal Larry King’s column format, but here goes…
Canvas performance on iPhone, particularly iPhone 3GS (which I happen to have) is awful. On iPhone 4, it’s marginally better. On Android phones, it’s not too bad. I wish iOS 5 was released now. Canvas performance on desktop is pretty solid and almost indistinguishable from what you can do with Flash.
Getting some good resumes in for both regular engineers and our CTO/lead position. As hiring solid tech folks is a pain point for startups all over the world, this is encouraging. I’m also not sure what’s changed in the past week or two that the volume of solid candidates has increased so significantly.
Legos are a great prototyping tool for social games with a building component. And they’re fun.
Seeing your game running on a laptop, a tablet, and your phone — and working well — is pretty cool.
You’d think Indian food — particularly vegetarian — would be healthier for you than it is. Must be all the ghee.
For some reason when I’m not in the middle of designing a game, I forget that around 25% of the design effort is menus/UX and 25% of it is brain-twisting math (not hard math, but frustrating math in getting the balance right or figuring out how to represent something in a simple equation).