Metabox 005 - Pacing is Everything

 "Com'on already!  It's been, like, 5 days... Just make your move!"

"Com'on already!  It's been, like, 5 days... Just make your move!"

Last time, we talked about direction and how our elevator pitch has helped us shift from a wide-open exploration phase to narrowing down the game on a more holistic level. Like the kid in Phillip's artwork above, it's easy to get sucked into a single turn, which can bog down the pace of an entire game.  In our circumstances, we started getting drawn into rabbit-hole concepts that weren't easy to resolve, so with similar effect, it slowed down our ability to iterate because individual components became overly distracting and time consuming.

Once we all aligned that this needed to be a 'fast paced game', natural selection kicked in and obvious components started to float to the top.  We didn't have to outrightly reject any of the work-in-progress ideas, but this alone gave the broad strokes to a 'whole game' that we all emotionally connected with.  More importantly, after some rounds of play testing, was fun.  

Turn handling.

This was, in my opinion, a fundamental characteristic that was missing in our first rounds of exploration.  Not only is turn-handling important for driving the game, it lays out the possible face of the game itself and how players interact with it and each other.

How do you move?  Do we need a board?  What can or cannot happen during a player's turn? What role does chance play in shaping a game? 

I had doodled a series of closed rings and challenged the team to explore our options.

At this point, we've decided to concentrate on tiered track, two concentric circles with distinct tiles.   Not only do we think it will look cool, but it offers a system to 'unlock' or shift the game into a different mode or pace.  It mirrors some key concepts of Meta Olympia, particularly around discovery and delineating sports (like recreational activities versus hardcore, structured competition). 

 Single track worked well-enough, but just a little too constrained for what we're after.

Single track worked well-enough, but just a little too constrained for what we're after.

This turn-handling/board configuration, combined with the 'Athlete' deck building component, the notion  'Action Cards' and the introduction of a credit system, suddenly gave us a framework where elements from the backstory started to organically fill in the details, like bringing in the soul of the game.  It's was a pretty gratifying moment.

Of course, the devil is in the details.  Our journey is far from over.

Next post, I want to share with you how we are envisioning introducing variable 'sport types' to effectively have mini-games within the game.  This is a direction we hope will keep the game interesting while also creating conditions that force players to make strategic choices on getting to the end-game.

 A game for the whole family!

A game for the whole family!

Metabox 004 - The Old Guy

 "Young people, these days... back in my day, you weren't playing the game right unless you were getting ridiculed for it!"

"Young people, these days... back in my day, you weren't playing the game right unless you were getting ridiculed for it!"

Indeed, I am the 'old-guy' of our crew, so I know what it feels like to be a social misfit for enjoying nerdy things.  It is refreshing to pull together a team of young people to work with that don't have this kind of baggage.

This week we had a real-life, work session in Vancouver.  I was at SIGGRAPH 2018, and two of the project contributors are based in Vancouver, so it was easy to pull over Laura from Edmonton.

Up to this point, we've experimented with many different pieces, largely independently, with weekly conference calls. We have always had the belief that things would magically stitch together, but this round, we  made that concerted effort to make it so. It was going to be our Frankenstein-moment for us to see what sort of monster would emerge when we were all together.

There are so many different types of gameplay we like.  Naturally, we've gravitated towards those that were a little more novel to see if we could find something more unique, but it's hard to know when something is a dead-end, or whether it just needs more time to figure out.  Making those calls are difficult because it is so fun let concepts percolate, but this consumes a great deal of energy and can send you off in strange directions.

I thought  an elevator pitch exercise was a smart way to start the day.  We hadn't circled back the high level view of the game in a while, sucked into the weeds, so jotted a few notes down on the flight in:

Meta Olympia is a fast paced sci-fi board game where players compete to win the most matches and tournaments to dominate the emerging landscape of sports on Mars.  It is a time where humans are awkwardly rediscovering the lost thrill of physical competition after decades of preoccupation with survival and colonization.  Players collect medals by build teams that compete in events and gamble to earn extra resources to gain athletic superiority while simultaneously trying to thwart opponents and undermine their team building strategy.

Intentionally abstract, I just wanted a description that painted a picture while establishing a few of the key characteristics and notes that hope to hit.  I tend to like creating scaffolds that give enough rope for interpretation that allow each person to bring in their strengths, so starting loose and progressively iterating in a common direction is what I like most about collaboration.

I may be the old-guy, but I know a thing or two about building stuff and there's nothing like actually getting together face-to-face in the same time and same space.   

Over the next couple of weeks, Yili and Laura will be refining the details from this fruitful week and we'll  share more specifics on how we see the game being played and some of the key mechanics we are thinking of!  This will get us back on track with eliciting feedback and re-engaging play testing.  There's always the chance that we'll hit a snag and have to go back to the drawing board, but, fingers crossed, this feels like the right direction!

Until next time!

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Metabox 003 – Risk are part of the Reward

 "Okay, your athlete suffers a broken leg, damaged life-support, dislocated shoulder, and mild concussion... Aren't you glad we don't play sports for real?"

"Okay, your athlete suffers a broken leg, damaged life-support, dislocated shoulder, and mild concussion... Aren't you glad we don't play sports for real?"

For any sort of game, real or virtual, risk and reward are all part of the fun.  

A board game emulating sport and science fiction cannot be a pedestrian affair, so transferring that sense of consequence into Meta Olympia is a fundamental aspiration for our game.

Not only must athlete cards be at risk of potential injury to twist the fate of outcomes, but all the other heart wrenching dynamics of trades, suspensions and even off-field shenanigans that can sideline an athlete or send them down a scandal spiral.

The risk becomes that much greater when you are coming from a near-future where no one in the general population of Mars is a professional athlete, so you are starting from scratch! 

Buffs can counter, like genetic modification for enhanced resilience or rapid recovery; bonuses like natural resistance or adrenaline bursts can help to play through the pain; and get-out-of-jail cards to, well, get out of jail or at least have a good publicist to weather the media fall out...  all these tools can help fend off losing star athletes from your hand and keep you competitive for the next sport (whatever that might be), so you will have to use them wisely.

As the old ABC commentary used to go for Wide World of Sports “the thrill of victory... the agony of defeat”,  these are the same classic driving forces we hope to capture in our rendition of sports on Mars (the game).

Stay tuned!

Metabox 002 – Rules, Rules, Rules

 "At what point does this stop feeling like homework and we actually play the game?"

"At what point does this stop feeling like homework and we actually play the game?"

We live in a rule based world, so quite fitting that we have a love for introducing more of it into our lives through games.

Now, the challenge from the creator perspective is to come up with the right set of rules and context for the intended audience. Those games that are super easy to pick up might run the risk of being one dimensional and fail to provide enough substance to engage players for very long.  On the other hand, those that are overly complicated (whether it be through mechanics or depth of content) can be so inaccessible that the barrier to entry is too great, leaving many an opened, but unplayed sets of games. 

Role-playing games, historically, have a very steep learning curve, but once you get it, this kind of robust framework can deliver deeply engaging experiences that pull at the emotional strings.  Living in an alternate world driven by friend-enablers and only limited by your imagination does set the stage for quality addiction.  One particular drawback , however, how involved it is to play; not something you can pull out and have a quick round to fill in a short gap in an evening.

The beauty of table top games is they can fill in entire the spectrum. 

Hanging out with game designers at San Diego Comic Con was a reminder that there is no shortage of variety out there nor the thirst for new and novel approaches.  

 Gaming and Board games are a staple of most Comic Cons.  If you are are an enthusiast who likes supporting the cause or if you are just curious about up-and-coming new games, it's a worthy stop to make.   Game designers are friendly and passionate people, It's hard not to be inspired and root for them.

Gaming and Board games are a staple of most Comic Cons.  If you are are an enthusiast who likes supporting the cause or if you are just curious about up-and-coming new games, it's a worthy stop to make.   Game designers are friendly and passionate people, It's hard not to be inspired and root for them.

Indeed, there are a lot of factors that determine whether a game will succeed in the market, but so long as there are people compelled to create something new in their spare time (often over years) and a dedicated audience with an insatiable appetite to consume them, we'll have endless new combinations of games and properties to welcome into our lives!

Bring on the rules!

 

 

MetaBox 001 - "Work in Progress"

 "AS FIGMENTS OF YOUR IMAGINATION, WE FEEL IT'S OUR DUTY TO LET YOU KNOW... Um... YOUR GAME KINDA STINKS SO FAR."

"AS FIGMENTS OF YOUR IMAGINATION, WE FEEL IT'S OUR DUTY TO LET YOU KNOW... Um... YOUR GAME KINDA STINKS SO FAR."

This is a new blog series that we'll be posting to share regular progress on our ambitions to develop a Meta Olympia Board Game, which we affectionally refer to as MOG.

The intention of Meta Olympia was never to be an isolated fictional news site; it was just a really great and convenient platform for us to world-build our 60-years-in-the-future-everyday in a real time way.  After months of continuous reporting and amassing so many great concepts and artwork, MOG was a natural branch for the property.

What's happened so far

In April, after doing our homework on the table top games market, we decided to whole-heartedly kick off a board game(s) agenda.  Not only are they cool and popular these days, but they are an actual physical thing that requires human interaction, which, in many ways, is a perfect contrast to the current form factor of Meta Olympia which is trapped in digital content and behind-the-curtain simulators.

Michelle and Yili have been driving the project from Vancouver. 

There were a number of main requirements we set going into this project –  We certainly wanted it to be about our Martian sports and to somehow capture the same tone of discovery and the 'coming of age' for a planet perviously devoid of non-essential functions.  Reflecting our backstory and world is, naturally, a key park of what makes it distinctively our own.

After weeks of brainstorming, we leveraged the help of another Vancouver-based game designer, Edward, to help advise on mechanics for the deck building component.  We wanted to incorporate athlete cards as a core component, leveraging the dozens of headshot illustrations we've created, so Edward was able to simplify our ideas and make a first stab at rules and interactions.

Could it fulfill our requirements? Would it be scalable to build into a whole game? Was it going to be fun? 

Of course, you can't expect a few weeks of brainstorming to magically result in a complete and functioning game.  It was, however, an essential pass to really ask those questions, regroup and iterate.  With everyone on our team coming from a design background, we are all aware that it's about the journey.  After all, you just don't know what is going to work until you've given it a go, so valuing progressive failure and embracing trail and error, especially when you aim to find something novel versus just adapting to an existing game system, is fundamental.

At this point, we've gone through 3 iterations.  Yili's been hosting game nights with an all-important wine & pizza budget to bribe/reward our testers.

The kinds of insights we are getting are indicative of where we are in the process:

  • "Too much luck is involved" – which was something that was carried over from the first iteration. The main matchup needs to be overhauled so players can have strategic play.
  • "How about factoring in skill?" – which was in earlier ideas, but was a different mechanic.
  • "Special compatibility characteristic?" – perhaps something that links certain players together to provide unique benefits/bonuses.
  • Playing your hands to determine matches resulted in too much mental accounting –not what we are after.
  • Daisy-chaining the play of cards is more fun, but slower for more than 2 players.
  • The athlete set result in too many draws. So we need to better balance in the deck.

Rather than just refining card play, I've challenged Yili with testing more concepts in parallel.  There could be broader aspects of the game that could resonate and affect how we will adjust or implement athlete cards. 

 Regular play testing lets us scrap ideas early and pivot the game.  Thankfully there is no shortage of people willing to play.

Regular play testing lets us scrap ideas early and pivot the game.  Thankfully there is no shortage of people willing to play.

Diversifying to investigate parallel themes is something I fundamentally believe in.  We don't have a fixed timeline, so we can afford to ideate more before we get fixated on a single path.  Also, our baseline objective isn't to just 'end up with a game', we want to get the most out of the process of 'trying to build a game' because we believe it will result in actually making a game that we are proud of.

Take Aways

To wrap up this post, thought we share a few guiding principles.  Though these are absolutely generic in nature, they certainly apply to the MOG endeavour:

  • Committing to make something is hard
  • Cranking out anything can be easy
  • Making something you think is good is hard
  • Making something successful is something entirely different, often independent of being good or bad.
  • Only time can tell how things turn out

Next post, we'll delve deeper into some of these specific themes and share more updates about the Meta Olympia Game project.  Over the summer, we will share specific playable rules and downloadable content so that anyone can try out pieces of MOG for themselves.

If you would like to keep posted on our progress, follow us on social media.  If you'd like to somehow get involved in either upcoming play testing or contributing to the project, contact us!

Cheers.

Phase 2 is Coming

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This spring, we've started designing and developing Meta Olympia, the board game.

The proof-of-concept that began last August with the sports news reporting will continue and serve as the ongoing background and inspiration for game.

If you are interesting in helping us over the course of game design, we will be actively sharing progress and prototypes on metaolympia.com and an open Facebook group.

You can read more about how we got here in this Mighty Dynamo post.

Stay tuned!