Global Game Jam Experience - Part II - Tabletop Redemption
In another post not too long ago I had shared my experience trying to produce a digital game during the 2018 Global Game Jam.
Well... as may be readily surmised, that did not go quite according to plan.
Friday ended and it was 8 o' clock Saturday evening.
Windows updates and Malwarebytes Anti Malware had, between them, massacred a few precious hours of the limited time allotted to the game jam.
I was alone, clueless as how to proceed and powerless to work on such without access to his one computer. Things were looking pretty dire.
But I did have options. I knew that I could pull this off, one way or another - but I had really hoped to pull another one out of the bag with a digital game.
However fate was such that it was not to be.
"That's it... I'm making a tabletop game!"
This I declared in a voice mostly lost to the rumbling murmors of others around me busying on with their own games.
However the words were spoken and in that moment I'd made up my mind.
I calmly walked out to my car and opened the boot. From within I gingerly retrieved a rather large black fabric bag. Shutting the back with a small slam and taking mental note of the chirping sound of the alarm reengaging, I walked back into the room.
Nobody noticed me as I walked past - and I was fine with that. I'm just that weird dude who chose not to team up with others for 'reasons'. Maybe they presumed that I thought myself too good for them... but the truth was that I had concerns about getting stuck in digital development from the start - and couldn't risk miring others along with me.
It frankly felt lonely - and I did dwell upon whether it made any sense to go solo for a game jam - yet again - but even if I 'could' have done all of this at home - without a game jam going on - a game jam just fills me with the edge of a sense of purpose that would otherwise be missing. I guess that I work better and harder under pressure.
I laid the bag upon the table next to my windows-update-infested laptop, trying not to contemplate how much longer it planned on taking. From within I brought out one of these 'Powerfix' tool bit cases that you can sometimes pick up from Lidl for less than a fiver.
Within, I could see a pretty generous variety of bits and bobs that I'd been collecting from here and there (especially toy stores) that felt would be useful.
From the bag I also brought out several tubes of "decorative crystals" as well as christmas silver or gold decorative chunks that I'd picked up during the January sales. Surely I'd find some use for these.
Clearly I'd been thinking about tabletop game development for a while.
What I hadn't given much thought to is how I'd take the jam theme of 'Transmission' and transfer it into a tabletop medium. It time that I could have stolen back during the windows update debacle - but at least I got to try and be as social as a relative introvert such as myself could be, visiting the domains of other teams and getting a feel for how far they've come along. There was talent in the room. And then the present tense begins to flood back.
Oh! The guys are going to be ordering delivery chinese are they? Don't mind if I do get in on that action. Heck knows that I could use a bit of comfort food. So I pony up the dosh and get back to thinking.
I think about what little progress that I've made with regards the digital game.
Perhaps it wouldn't be ridiculous to try and port it into a table-top equivalent where nanobot battles occur upon the table until a winner is determined (or until destruction - if I were to use wave mechanics as per 'Asteroids')?
This line of thinking obviously has its merits - but something tells me that I cannot pull off such a conversion (with reconfiguration to a tsabletop format) in time. Besides, variants of such are already done.
So I spend a fair bit of time looking through the bits in my box, looking for inspiration. It is while I flip some cardboard hexes in my hand that a thought strikes me - and I revisit the premise of the original game.
Perhaps I can stem from the original concept without actually making it a nano-bot versus nano-bot fighter game as originally envisioned. Perhaps through just a little re-imagining I could build something entirely different.
I idly place the hexes together upon the table's surface to produce a honey-comb pattern. I contemplate the option of starting with a battle-map procedural generation process - which might have been intereting - but not with the number of hexes that I have at my disposal - and any more would probably make it unfeasible for publication into an actual tabletop title.
And then it hits me. What if I were to draw inspiration from games like 'Pandemic' to set the game upon a global stage?
And then my mind goes back to the backstory of the digital game that wouldn't yet be. I ponder its text and make a number of modifications. By the time the chinese food is delivered I am quite pleased with the changes.
The Tabletop Game's Back-Story:
"It is the none too far future and humanity has rushed ahead with applied advancements in both artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Everything was going so well – with lifespans theoretically quadrupling and global prosperity but within our grasp.
The story goes that rogue hackers triggered a runaway hostile mutation in nanite technology – causing some models to replicate uncontrollably. Others believe that a shadowy government agency was responsible for an insidious targeted assassination gone awry. Others still believe that one viral cat video too many might have pushed an AI over the edge. It is surprising how many back the last of these possibilities.
Aiden, a blockchain-based artificial intelligence supposedly named after the Garden of Eden, has turned upon humanity, and in turn the nanites that it used to use for the betterment of humanity’s health became its tool for assassination.
For once our backward nature of withholding our best from the rest of the World turned out to be humanity’s saving grace. Those not imbued with the latest nanites and not in a nanite-infested zone stood a chance.
Unfortunately much of the technology that we had grown to depend upon had either turned against us or was withheld from us. Much of the internet was lost to us. Such is now the domain of Aiden and Aiden does not share nor does it care.
Furthermore, Aiden is coming for the rest of us. Already it has taken over much of the World where it held not a hold. Only areas that were able to hastily engineer anti-nanite electrical forcefields were able to hold them at bay. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess. This is humanity’s last stand."
Well - a slightly more rudimentary version of the above was arrived at before the next crisis was sourcing a fork from someplace as the delivery people didn't think to include any with the order. At this point I am genuinely pleased, gaining a grim satisfaction from working within my strengths.
No, this isn't Aiden - this is the mascot for the Institute for Digital Games in University, and was built three game jams prior.
Whats more, I have a plan - and as I carefully slurp up noodle and curry chicken I gaze towards a computer screen done with updates (about... time! ¬_¬; ).
I am soon idly flipping through various World Maps online - and eventually settle upon one from mappily.com. The map I choose just etches the outline of the various landmasses - and that is pretty much exactly what I want.
I have a lot of ground to cover - but I do cover a few basic yet essential things before I retire for the night, past the midnight hour.
Sunday comes along. I arrive at a reasonable time of half past eight, set up and get straight to it.
I cannot help but notice a fellow jammer fretting in one corner on the phone saying something along the lines of his computer being dead. I know the guy. He is the only other person I've known to undertake a jam solo and I have a great deal of respect for him.
I'll admit that it crossed my mind to not assist... but I look past the laptop at the older, limited computers of the institute. Upon them I would find installed the basic software that I need - most likely.
With leaden feet I rise and walk across the room. I let it be known that I'd heard of his problem and I listen to him telling me that he couldn't simply use another computer in the institute because they haven't the software that he needs installed.
I offer him use of my laptop - which shouldn't have those kinds of problems. We have a little cute back-and-forth about how he couldn't take a computer from somebody who is solo. I tell him matter-of-factly that I'm pretty sure that I could handle the rest of my game's development process on the institute computers.
Then somebody else (in a team) pipes in and says that he just happens to have a spare laptop that this guy can use.
Yay for the game jam spirit (and I get to retain use of my laptop while still feeling like I've done the right thing - bonus!)! ^_^
The space-time continuum warps for but for a little. Now a month has passed since the date but that which follows is an approximation of what was going on in my head - and how things went with the development.
With that cleared up - let us return to that hectic Sunday.
I settle back into my space.
I've 6 hours to really make this work and all I have is a map, a story & some ideas.
Not a bad start but I definitely need to get things rolling.
I return to the World map. Its not bad - but the background needs to go.
That and I think that a hex grid would look good.
Done and done. Thank goodness for Paint.NET.
Hmmn. I am noticing a bit of a problem. Unsurprisingly the World map doesn't well-conform to the grid layout. It cannot be helped - and besides, I haven't decided what to do with 'sea tiles'.
It also seems like New Zealand is going to be covered... I'd need to seriously distort the map to bring it within the expected boundaries of the tabletop mat. Maybe after the game jam. My priority is to make 'a' game.
OK - that looks pretty good.
Now... what does it all mean?
Hah... I notice that the United Kingdoms are more or less at the center of this map (yay for political 2D representations of the World).
I 'can' see the epicenter of any Aiden takeover occuring in Europe - so why not?
The center of the map 'is' thus "AI-Central".
Now... what about player locations? Where do they start? Why? Do I want them to start too close to the AI?
Well...If I lay triangles along the hex grids at the edge of the map it kind of looks like I've got an octagonal play area. I'm bound to be able to use that to some effect.
What if I number each of the resultant eight corners of the map? Perhaps in that way I'd have players spawn in from the corners of the World.
However I also want there to be a little chaos involved. We're talking about the potential end of humanity and that 'can' lead to less distance between humanity and Aiden.
This would be so cool if I find the time to automate the AI player.
Yes. Yes it would be cool - but I'll have to come back to that after the main game is made.
Where was I? Oh yes. Setting up starting positions for players when starting a game.
So... dice it is. There are eight corners of the map and so I'll begin with a d8 (eight-sided dice). Whatever number is rolled determines which corner of the World the player is going to spawn from.
I could have players simply do that... but thats not chaotic enough. I notice that the edge hexes have three sides with hexes facing the map. Maybe if I had players roll a simple d6 (6-sided dice), I'd be able to determine which way the player is going to be moved - with another d6 to see how many hexes are moved.
OK - its not perfect.
- 1d8 for origin point
- 1d6 for direction (And since the result is distributed among 3 valid sides 1-2,3-4,5-6 determine the valid direction)
- 1d6 for number of hexes moved.
Meh... Its a little complicated but I'll roll with it.
Next! What 'kind' of a tabletop game do I want this to be?
Absolutely 'not' incorporating cards. The last jam that I made cards involved a lot of cardboard cutting, resulting in pained hands - and a lot of time invested - and one thing that I don't have is time.
OK. Since thats not an option then I'll need to focus upon on-board gameplay.
OK so I can definitely use either the poker chips or the droughts chips to represent bases. Thats easy enough. Done.
Since this is a game about an AI and nanites going rogue - I'll definitely want to incorporate nanites... and I've just the bits to use! The golden and silver 'decorative chunks' are perfect for this.
OK. So Bases and Nanites. Players and the AI can fight for dominance over the World using nanite networks.
Its a start... but I cannot help but think that Aiden and the Humans would go beyond just nanites for their struggle. In true 'Terminator' fashion they'll duke it out with heavy weapons. Whether its cyborgs and robots or mechs or whatever - I don't have time to truly get into here - but it'll be awesome either way.
I haven't really got suitable bits... so I'll use the wooden cubes to represent 'military units'.
Thats probably enough going on upon the board for the moment - but it looks kinda stale. Am I going to let it become a game of chess? I've decided to let the AI act after every player - who each themselves take it in turn.
I look at the decorative crystals. Green, red, blue and pink...
Hmmn..... let me finish the map first.
Pasting images into a simple Word file it isn't too long before I am ready to print it.
It takes 'ages' to get the machine to print it out (should have emptied the pen drive I guess) but I'm satisfied with progress and use the time to think about how to refine the system. It 'has' turned afternoon by this point and so the anxiety is creeping up within me by this point.
I will 'not' be using cards... but perhaps player matts would be fair play.
The more I think about this (and it takes but a few minutes to do so, as time 'is' short) the more I find that I like it.
Using matts I could knock three birds with a single stone.
- A matt makes for a convenient in-game means of guiding players on rules
- A matt could also help organize and in-game resources to be managed
- A matt could provide a guide for and sense of player progression.
And at this moment all three sound good to me - but first I need to get the core mechanics right.
OK. So I've decided that the AI player will act after every single Human player. My inspiration for this stems from another game called 'Pandemic' where 'bad stuff' gets to happen after every single player's turn. In this way the game scales well regardless of how many players are at the table.
However I have spoken of 'bases', 'military units' and 'nanites'. I 'could' go the way of traditional 'Euro' games and have them race to control the map - but it seems obvious to me that I will want to introduce conflicts where all the aforementioned can be lost to combat.
Having had a fair bit of experience playing various tabletop games - including (losing at) war-gaming, I decided to put conflict resolution down to a simple dice roll on the attacker's part. On a roll of a 4, a 5 or a 6 (50% chance). The enemy unit of the same type will be destroyed.
Now this could work for military units duking it out with each other but I am less inclined to have the same be so for nanites. Whats more, I am even less inclined to have nanites and military units be able to attack each other - at least not by default.
I envisioned an ocean of both friendly and hostile nanites coexisting within the same territory, simply providing the infrastructural support to win the war for their respective faction while paying little heed to each other unless so designed.
And so I deem that, by default, nanites cannot attack each other (or other things).
Furthermore, since bases are, as per the game's background narrative, designed to keep nanites out, nanites would not be able to directly attack bases ever.
I never really paid thought to the possibility of adjacent enemy bases fighting each other.
I contemplate the prospect of unit upgrades and that takes me head-first into needing to determine what, if any, resources players would be needing to better their situation and bring about victory in the game.
I quickly decide that I'd like players to develop their military and nanite research. Economic research soon followed.
As I think things through I plot the resource colours accordingly. Red for military. Green for economics. Blue for nanites.
Pink for...? Well automatically my thoughts drift to a human heart - and 'Leadership' is the word that comes to mind.
However I am just a little more ambitious than that - and decide to dual-name it 'Humanity' and 'Inhumanity' according to which side it refers.
As I contemplate the resources some more my thoughts drift into the specfics of how they will work:
- How will players get resources?
- What can various resources be exchanged for?
- How will players keep track of this (Matt)?
And it is around this time that I decide that another mechanic that shall be at play upon the table is the concept of 'Action Points'.
Each player shall have a number of actions per turn based upon the number of bases that they each possess.
Quite a lot of mechanics to keep track of - but if there is one thing that I hold no doubts of my proficiency in then it is my knack for game mechanics and balance (although I recognise that I can overcomplicate things at times - something that I try to reign in).
I work on the matts with confidence.
Four kinds are made.
- An AI Technology Progression Matt
- A Humans Technology Progression Matt
- An AI Resource and Guidance Matt, &
- Four Human Resource and Guidance Matts
I have decided that I want the struggle between the AI and Humans to be inherently 'non-uniform'.
While the AI begins with twice the bases that any singly human player has (meaning an additional action per player turn compared to a starting human player), the humans will be able to share the Technology progression matt.
I also spare a further thought to bases. It would really be nasty should a player lose their base early on. While I do not fully solve the issue in this initial version of the game I do determine that while I'd still want extra bases (and actions) to be very expensive, The fortification of an existing base would be relatively inexpensive, providing a base with an effective 'extra life' and a +1 on defense.
So... with all that more or less done and just a couple of hours to go, I get into the technological advances that human players and the AI player can invest in.
To the earlier question of how the players gain resources I decided that the best way to go about it is for all players, AI and human alike, to roll a dice, adding the number of bases in their possession, and comparing such to a single "scarcity" dice. Each player gains a number of crystals of their choice as per the positive difference.
Well... the initial version of the game came together just in time for the demo phase.
I felt a fair bit of pride, even though the event heavily favoured digital games.
Funny thing! The guy who experienced a laptop failure went on to win the contest locally!
Really happy for him, of course, and happy also to have produced a working prototype.
It doesn't look like much but I have hopes for its development.
Well... that closes that chapter for the moment. ^_^
Do you have any comments about all of this? I look forward to hearing all about it and meeting you down in the comments section below.
Also, if you did find this to be useful or otherwise helpful then you could show some love by resteeming. That is always helpful and appreciated! :c)
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