Playtesting -Informal Learning- at CMGT Hanze

The academic year is nearing it’s end and as many educators can probably tell you, running classes / workshops is not yet the same as it was pre-COVID. The activity that did have a lot of students participate are our playtesting events, Test & Chill.

T&C advertisement, made by Edwin Yanarico

When we started in September with our new study Creative Media & Game Technologies (CMGT) our vision was to have informal activities, that are social and learning in a different way, be more embedded. This means having them scheduled and promoted, even if it means that they overlap with schedules of classes (staff can tell you they certainly noticed this if…). This was also the case with guest lectures and the impact there is less awesome, as they were less visited (in real life a bit more than online). The playtesting events however were a success. These test session organise twice per block were visited well, also after first year students realized they were not mandatory (nothing is) or part of a specific course, assessment.

The social aspect and cooperativeness, helping each other out with feedback, while keeping it casual, seems to be the right tone. And while some courses require testing and this can be a good avenue for it, participation seems more often to go beyond instrumental goals like that. And from the start there were were students bringing their personal non study related projects as well. For some students this seemed a better ‘hook’ to learn: they might be doing ok in courses and show up selectively, but come over to these events with a new prototype made regularly.

In the past we had companies come over to demo, test and recruit students for extra-curricular work. Let’s see if that can be the upgrade this informal learning track event with that again next year (contact me if this is interesting to you!).

Check out the pictures below for a visual impression. The cool workshop location you see is the Hanze MakerSpace where any student can come over for crafting and tinkering, support in learning how to work with the machinery and technologies. Like a ‘Fab Lab’, if you are familiar with that. Another informal resource for students, one with very cool possibilities to make use of.

Test & Chill 2022 week 7 of period 4

GRUNN – A Game About Landscapes

Over the last year there are multiple projects we have been working on a big game production with multiple stakeholders in co-design: GRUNN – Pioneers in the Province. The project has a lot of unique aspects to it, making it very exciting (and a bit scary at start) to work on. So now we are in the later stages of the project, time to share more about it, with the pictures showing the prototype in all it’s stages. The co-creation is done together with Robert Brouwer. Pairing up certainly made concepting and going through the first iterations of prototypes a LOT faster and more fun!

One of the projects is a game for a client that wanted to make a version of an existing game about the history of the landscape in the northern province Groningen in the Netherlands. With the plan to sell the game at museums in the province. Sublicensing and modding an existing game that is famous turned out hard, even though there seemed to be possibilities at first. The project aims to add value to the museums and is subsidized by the province, that does mean there are multiple stakeholders and decision makers to keep on board during the development process.

We pitched our services and started concepting. We pitched 9 directions in concepts and together with the stakeholders defines some important aspects like theme, price point and target audience, making explicit what we aim for in play time, originality, player motivations, amount of complexity and luck. Another challenge with this project is to create a good core game, but have it be expandable with modules that can be collected at all the museums in the province where game is for sale. That meant planning for around 30 modules that somehow change/ add to the game play.

After concepting and iterating on 2 game setups, together we picked the one that is most fitting the design requirements and seemed to be ‘moddable’ by adding modules. Since then, the game has been iterated and tested plenty of times, with small test groups, at museums that participate and and at bigger events such as the game convention SpellenSpektakel, a local urban event Let’s Gro (with a city builder variant) and of course at the monthly tabletop testing nights of the Spellenmaakgilde and at the USVA.

What kind of game is it? As the pictures already indicate every player will create their own province, combining tiles to a 4 by 4 grid of different types of landscapes. There are 6 different landscape tiles in the game, each offering different ways of scoring victory points, offering in game money by developing them and offering building spots where players can build on for additional victory points. Player interaction happens because the tiles are offered in a general market row, where each turn a player takes the first tile and action card combination, or can pay money to skip them for another one down the line.

Each tile can be developed (turn around) reflecting the types of the landscape in the province and how it changed. For example, sea clay areas were claimed and became grass lands (cattle), other parts became famous for the grain. Forest was rare but used for lumber. The project initiator Heidi Renkema ensured the game is historically correct (as much as possible). The game in that sense is play first, yet is educational correct and facilitates learning about the province.

We are now in the phase of details and gearing up for production. After having 3 artists pitch their servives, now Emma Wilson has started with drawing the art work for the tiles and boxes and she has pitched multiple styles of drawing and graphic design, to make the most fitting choices with all stakeholders involved.

For the design we are now in the final stages of testing all the modules (which by the way can be combined!) and develoing a solo game mode. With that the game will facilitate play for 1 to 6 players (updated, 6 players is also possible). The planning is to have the game published after the summer, fall 2022. The game will also have English rules available online on this website.

Currently more art is created and here you can see a preview of the art for the landscape tiles:

If you are interested in receiving updates on the game or it’s release you can fill in the form below:

Tabletop Roleplaying Fan?

My colleague and friend Kjell at Ornate Engineering launched his crowdfunding campaign. If you are into tabletop rpg games and are looking for the ultimate gift to enhance your hobby, this is certainly one to check out! Link to the campaign: Dwarf-Made all-in-one modular tabletop gear

Ornate Engineering sponsored the Dutch Tabletop Game Designer awards 2020 with constructing the awesome looking awards. Global Game Jam participants in Groningen might also recognize his work.

And to increase the coolness (I am biased), if you pledge for 120 euro’s or more, you will receive a copy of my fantasy themed trick taking game Tricky Dungeon! And you can order it as a separate add-on.

To sum it up, this crowdfunding has my recommendation!

Workshop Feedback Loops in MOBA’s

For students of our major Game Design at CMD, Hanze Applied University, I held a extra-curricular workshop on feedback loops. We even had a guest from a local other education (MBO) who was interested.

Split into 2 groups we discussed what positive and negative feedback loops are and how the can be used to steer the player experience in games. Then we started sketching out what happens in MOBA games such as League of Legends (LoL), Defenders of the Ancients 2 (DOTA2) and Heroes of the Storm (HotS). These are real-time team versus team competitive games with a lot of tactical and strategical layers. Plus they offer a lot of depth to explore due to the large amount of different heroes they offer. And in case of HotS also a very diverse set of maps, each with their own extra events and map challenges.

It was very interesting to see how many potential loops there are in the game and how they raise the stakes the longer the match lasts and create spikes of opportunities at certain moments. These are not so much guaranteed counterbalances or reinforcements of success and failure, rather they offer leverage but they leave it up to the players to

A team needs to play well together to capitalize on them, by offering more platforms for skillful play and leaving it fully in hands of the players. This seems to link really really well to the the 3 core aspects of intrinsic motivation: relatedness, mastery and autonomy!

We also discussed how many heroes, abilities and items seemed to have stronger links to feedback loops, or related to it the progression of the match. So which abilities do better if you do well, or have diminishing returns depending on your relative progress compared to the other team. This led to a lively debate on the pro’s and con’s of of certain items and heroes (of wich I knew nothing, as I only play HotS).

For now, the group playing HotS was the minority. But that was ok. Seen from this lens, it is interesting and no surprise that HotS only has 1 hero now, Abathur, that has an ability (talent) that lets you repair buildings: reducing the progress in some form of the opponents. And the other games did not to have such an ability.

The reality of these games is even more complex than we discussed, yet this was insightful and inspiring!

Looking Back: Test & Chill – December 2019

At our study CMD at the Hanze Applied University we held another playtesting event. With around 50 participants multiple student projects were experienced by guests, lecturers and fellow students. In addition, several companies came over for user testing and showcasing, including the academic hospital UCMG with their LEAN game, the big governmental organisation DUO with their app for students and Big Bang Studio with their mobile game. Plus we had some guests over from Tokyo, Japan and Ohio, USA that could check out the prototypes.

Day Jam November Impressions

Once again a few students took up the challenge to develop a game with a preset theme within 24 ours. Design muscles were flexed, custom art was made, the 3D printer set in motion and the lazer cutter burned wood. In the end, with various amount of night time playtesting, 3 games reached the finish line and were played by everyone. Feedback to improve the concept was offered and some games as prizes to all teams. Nice work!

Looking back: Test & Chill October 2019

Just before the student Autumn break we had another edition of the playtesting event ‘Test & Chill’, co-organised with the student association Glitch. With around 80 participants -from all study years- we had a great turn up! It meant year 1 card game concepts were played, as were digital games. Check out the pictures below (made by Vasil and me).

Next block we will have 1 or 2 more playtesting events. And before that, to get your design juices flowing, we will have a ‘Day Jam’ on 14 and 15 November. Make a game in 24 hours!

Göttingen Game Designer Convention 2019 Impressions

In the first weekend of July once again the yearly game designer convention was organised in Göttingen. The SAZ has taken on the organisation and the location changed to the Lokhalle. Together with a fellow designer and a game illustrator we participated on Saturday. Time to look back (for more tips and tricks see this blog on a visit 2 years ago).

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Some rough numbers: around 160 designers were present and around 80 publisher representatives. Some publishers were represented by 3 or more, while other publishers had 1 scout that stalked the hall. There were also agents, who scout for prototypes they then pitch to publishers all around the world. It was a very productive event for us, getting interest in many of the prototypes we brought.

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Some personal impressions:

  • We talked to publishers and agents from Germany (most were), Switzerland, Austria, Lithuania, Belgium and Russia.
  • The SAZ indicates who will be there (some companies were not mentioned but still were present). Emailing those companies in advance helped with making appointments. I was a bit late (1 week in advance), and should have done it sooner. Luckily, compared to big conventions like Spiel Essen, it was still possible to make some appointments. Publisher have a full focus on meeting (new) designers at this event.
  • Making sell-sheets, to pitch concept(s) works really well. These can be used to place on your table, hang on the pin-board and put into publishers’s folders they will look into. This year I made them just before the weekend and not emailed them
  • Sunday is relatively less busy with publishers and this year we decided to be only present on Saturday. That did feel a bit short and rushed. Sometimes it was asked whether we would be there Sunday as well, to play a concept or talk more. For next time, I will consider going the full weekend again.
  • When being present on Sunday: the event is then open for the public and they might love to play your game. People enjoying your game is great advertisement, but do keep check if publisher would also like to talk to you.
  • I brought 2 published games that are available for sub-licensing outside the Netherlands. While most publisher look for new concepts I did get some interest in these and could then introduce them to the original publishers.
  • Another Dutch designer could not join, but send me demo-copies of his kickstarted game (Rollecate). 5 publishers were interested in checking it out and accepted a copy to take away. Whether this results in anything we will have to see, but this does seem to work to a degree.
  • Going as a team makes it much more fun. We had experienced this prior and is true still. And we could help each other out with playing a demo and by referring publishers to each other.
  • Some designers had a prototype in a rough state, not much playtested or developed yet. They got useful feedback but I heard one publisher also say they were being polite and not see these talks as useful for them. Seeing how making games takes a lot of effort and time I get that. It is stating the obvious perhaps, but do playtest and bring fleshed-out games. They certainly do not have to be finished, however. Some concept I brought I could indicate what still needs to be done (or how to improve it). There should be a good core of a game that can be assessed.
  • Note to self: make better conversation notes. After 15 talks some scribbled down key words is not ideal to remember what has been discussed and what follow-up has been agreed upon (extra nice: a spreadsheet with names, contacts, summary of talks and what actions you need to to next).

In short: preparation and representation will lead to better meetings!

 

Based on our experiences this is a really good event to pitch and to network. Once you have established a lot of contacts with publishers it might be less needed to go there. However even ‘big names’ are there to pitch (Friedemann Friese, Michael Kiesling). That is actually what makes this event more special: first time designers and veterans are there, all passionate about games and their newest concepts.

This was our 3rd visit and we each brought more different concepts and improved our preparation. In the end all our prototypes got some publisher interest, actually. Of course, the path from interest to publication is perilous, so we’ll see what comes out of it. It is encouraging for sure.

Game on!

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