Player Experience is Other People

This is the third topic in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” You don’t have to read the others first, but it does reference several concepts from before, so I highly recommend it.

“L’expérience, c’est les autres”

— with apologies to Sartre

When designing a game, there is one major factor which is nearly impossible to predict, and accurately accommodate for, all combinations of: The other players around the table. Since most games are competitive, players are attempting to beat one another, overcome the obstacles put into place by each other, etc. Therefore, a huge aspect of Player Experience is necessarily who is sitting across the table from a player[1].

A troll player who disregards the intent of a game, or intentionally goes out of his or her way to grief the other players is going to cause a negative experience for them. Likewise, a player who never wishes to “step on toes” may also impact the game negatively by failing to drive in-game battle economies as expected. Continue reading

PX #2: The Familiarity Spectrum

This is an installment in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” I highly recommend you start at the beginning, but it’s certainly not required 🙂

The experience a Player has with your game is going to vary based on a lot of factors. Imagine someone brand new to your game. Thay have no familiarity with any aspect of it, though perhaps they have seen the box. Maybe they have read the rules, but there’s no way to know. At the other extreme, lies you, the designer. You’re not only familiar with all the aspects, but also the history of each component, and the full evolution of each mechanic and each system. Anyone who sits down to experience your game is going to fall somewhere along this spectrum of familiarity. Continue reading

Player Experience (PX) Series #1: A Primer on User Experience and Interface Design

This is an installment in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” feel free to start at the beginning, or just jump right in!

Valour with TeapotTo begin our exploration of Player Experience (PX), I feel it’s important to take a step back, and understand some underlying concepts. Luckily, there have been decades of research on human-centered design (and, turns out, board games are intended for consumption by humans). So to set down some vocabulary around fundamentals, we’ll begin with an analysis of board games from a raw “User Experience” or “UX” perspective.

No discussion of User Experience or Human-Centered design is possible without a peek at the research of Don Norman. In his seminal work, The Design (‘Psychology’, in some printings) of Everyday Things, he lays out a series of terms for describing an experience a user can have with a system. He’s gone on to clarify many of these topics through successive editions of the book, and a great online presence. Continue reading

Designing the Player Experience (PX)

IMG_4515When designing, it’s easy to get hung up on the details in front of us — the mechanics, the theme, the components. But ultimately, the point of designing games is for others to play them.

And why do they play them? In my view, it’s to facilitate a rich human-human interaction, unique from just about anything else. Competitive, fun, an centerpiece for conversation, a reason to get together with people you may not see frequently, and so on.

Because these interactions are fundamentally human in nature, we designers have a responsibility to understand the user experience, or, as I’m going to not exactly coin, (as there is a bit of previous research on this) but to champion the term “Player Experience” or (PX), even if that’s a bit on-the-nose as an adaptation from the software world, where the emphasis by good product teams is the “User Experience” or “UX”. Continue reading

Yearly Goals 2015 Roundup

A few folks have been harassing me about the open loop I left from last year’s goals, and want to know where things landed. Seems appropriate that this should come out in February, given that the original post didn’t make it out until February either :).

I sent 9 monthly Valour updates, out of 12 months. Oh, were you not signed up to get them? Start here: flightless.co/valour

I did not sign with a publisher, but got really promising feedback from one, and I learned what that process looks like, so now I know how to move on that.

Production delays in Q4 for SSRPG meant that we didn’t hit the holiday launch window I was hoping for, nor did it launch with two stories, but a focus on building the process while publishing the first story, and getting authors queued proved more efficient, and now the process is practiced and more stories are coming.

  • Mobility on Demand
    • Sell out our first run of inventory.
    • Get our second product underway.

Mobility on Demand sales were slower than anticipated during the beginning and middle of the year, owing to a lot of factors. But I think we’ve learned that we have a product people want, and that each of several parts of the marketing machine each work at an effective level, and it’s a matter of connecting dots.

Most of the Ignite Boulder events in 2015 didn’t sell out until the very last minute, so the secondhand market didn’t necessarily need a ton of facilitation, making the value prop for optimizing ITS’s user flow wasn’t totally there.

  • Travel to Sweden
    • For years I’ve been fantasizing about a really unique trip to Sweden, and this year it’s finally going to happen.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that the Sweden trip I’ve been planning in my head might be more of a …something I want to do mainly because I decided long ago rather than something I genuinely still want to do… I bet the Germans have a word for that. With Andrea’s help, I did, however, make it to Europe for the longest vacation I’ve taken as an adult.

  • woodar.dj blog (here!)
    • Weekly posts.

I missed posting on thirteen weeks out of fifty two in 2015, (includes two the two weeks I was on vacation). Which means I posted thirty-nine of those weeks. 75%

  • Crossfit
    • Sub-7 minute “Annie (Nailed it Jan 13!)
    • Clean & Jerk 225# (Gotta clean up the clean form a little and I’m sure it’s there.)
    • Muscle Ups (Need to speed up the transition.)
    • Pistols (Ankle flexibility is the pits.)

I hit my Annie goal in January before the post even went up, and I’ve since repeated, so I know it wasn’t just a fluke or mis-counting Annie’s 300 reps :).

I Clean & Jerked 225# during workout 15.1 of the Crossfit Open, nailing my goal. I later repeated that weight from the hang (which I’m told is occasionally easier? :-]) while prepping for the 2015 Highland Games.

I also hit seven muscle ups during 15.3, though I haven’t been able to repeat anything like thae since :-[ But Coach Dave saw it, so I know I wasn’t dreaming :).

Pistols remain elusive as ever.

  • Financial
    • Eradicate the last of my debts.
    • Rescue my Michigan house from the piece of shit bank that owns the mortgage on it.

Credit cards balances and loan debts from my startup founder days are all history. There are still some back taxes from the same timeframe, but those are almost gone as well. The default payment plans the IRS makes up are ridiculously slow.

House is SOLD, so is definitely free of any sort of tomfuckery from the assholes at Ocwen and Greentree, who long ago acquired the loan from my original mortgage company. With all that shit out of the way, money is an awesome topic :-$.

Not a bad year, all-in-all. A few things didn’t make it across the finish line, but with a focus the future rather than mistakes, I think things landed in a good place. I have some equally challenging 2016 objectives lined up, but I’m excited about them.

Lots of games this weekend!

Big weekend for gaming! I hit the trifecta on Sunday: Worked on my game, Valour; tried out a new game; taught an old favorite.

Got all the components for Valour uploaded to The Game Crafter, so now I’m ready to start sending out blind test prototype copies to those far-flung fans who have been asking to give it a try! This week is also your last chance to get on the Valour mailing list if you want the February update!

Then, got a chance to try out A Study in Emerald (2ed), a Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft crossover game (…I know, right???) which just came out with its second edition. The rules were dense, and there was a lot that may have been peripheral, but overall, it combined several modern game mechanics in a really elegant way. None of us at the table had ever played before, so I think the strategy began to dawn on everyone just as The Old Ones were cinching a victory, but I would absolutely play this one again. See my friend Dave’s review, which was based on this play session.

Afterward, I introduced a group of (mostly) new players to Battlestar Galactica — one of my perennial favorites. I love how well it captures the tension of the series: The paranoia about Cylons among the humans, and the continual panic while fending off attacking ships. I do tend to forget the rules for most of this, like space combat and details around warping the ship around, since it’s usually tabled so infrequently, AND because, in my opinion, all of that ‘stuff’ in this is merely backdrop for the real game: sowing mistrust among the humans, and throwing Cylons out the airlock. I knew my feeble poker skills left me out of my league with this crowd after the following exchange (which I know won’t make sense if you haven’t played… but count that as one more reason to try it):

Nick: “You’re card-counting the Destiny Deck, aren’t you?”
Megan: “Of course I am.”
Nick: “HOW??”

Cylons ended up winning by a hair, but only because an ‘outed’ Cylon served up a crisis card to the still-hidden Cylon who was able to use it to drain the final Population from the Human fleet 😐 Good stuff!

I’m working on a slightly larger post where I’m going to put a stake in the ground around some game design concepts, but it’s going to require a little more research than most of my posts based on experiential learnings. So count this week as a multi-game “review” week 🙂

A Study in Emerald: Worth a try if you can get your hands on a copy, but I’d recommend playing with others who have all either never played, or are all experienced. N00bs would get worked by even second-time players.

Battlestar Galactica: Why haven’t you played this yet?? If you’re in Boulder and want to give this a go, hit me up and we’ll try and get it tabled 🙂

Announcing “The Wackiest Race” — Short Story RPG Adventure #1

Short Story RPG adventure #1: The Wackiest RaceIt’s finally here. The first adventure in the Short Story RPG library: “The Wackiest Race” is on sale now!

Graham Elliot of Denver weaves a nostalgia-soaked adventure through a world born out of love for 80s cartoons. One player takes on the role of ‘StoryMaster’, facilitating a collaborative storytelling experience with four other players, each of whom plays a member of the intrepid Channel 9 News team, investigating a mysterious letter which arrived at the station.

Check it out here!

“…Wait, but what is Short Story RPG!?”

For a long time, I’ve been of the opinion that tabletop role playing represents a really powerful and unique way to interact and bond with friends and family. People are being cheated of these experiences by imposing barriers to entry — from complex rules, to weird dice, time commitments, and too-nerdy genres. With Short Story RPG, I’m going to change that. Short Story RPG employs: very basic rules, dice you can borrow from your Monopoly set, stories you can complete in one sitting at a dinner party, and themes everyone can relate to reaching across all genres. I hope you’ll give it a try. Our first offering, “The Wackiest Race” involved a lot of work by a group of super talented individuals: Graham Elliot, Charles Reid, William Niebling, and Jared Diganci.

And this is just getting started — the production pipeline is built, and several adventures are currently underway. Make sure to get on the mailing list to get the early drop on new stories as they come out!

Woohoo!

 

Refactoring the Casual Gaming Revolution Con List

Casual Gaming Revolution posted a great list of all the major American gaming conventions happening in 2016. You should go check out their original post here. Looking at the spreadsheet, I had trouble parsing out some of the information I wanted to glean — which cons were closest to me? Which ones would dovetail best with my schedule this year? Could I take a list of the websites and try and run it through some of the data gathering tools leftover from my failed startup to find more information than what’s in the list?

Answering these questions was tough, because the data were spread across several sheets tabs, one for each month, plus a summary sheet. I can understand why they did it — the most common question is probably “Hey I wonder what’s going on in June, anything interesting?”, and I guess I could see this format being slightly easier for the public to add new items to the list (slightly). As I was digging, I felt like this issue was something akin to a premise I’ve held for a long time “be strict when sending, and tolerant when receiving”, in this case, having a rigorous, complete dataset, and presenting 12 separate ‘Views’ into that dataset would accomplish the same job of showing Cons by month, while simultaneously open the full data set up to more interesting queries and manipulation.

I spent an hour or so copying/aggregating/refactoring a copy of the original spreadsheet, and then another few minutes cleaning up some of the data that didn’t fit exactly fit my new ‘schema’.

Here’s the refactored spreadsheet.

After that, I was off to the races. I popped over to FusionTables, an oft-overlooked but quite awesome sidealong product to Google Drive Sheets. I imported the sheet from Drive, and plotted the new aggregate “Location” column to a map, which gave a really cool view:

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.50.01 PM

Interactive Fusion Table Map of 2016 Gaming Conventions

Discoving immediately only two cons in my home state of Colorado :(. The fusion table can do more cool shit as well; The map can be filtered by the start date of the convention, so if you know you’ve got some vacation coming up, and want to see what’s close and convenient timing-wise, you can do that.

Moral of the story is, when you’re organizing data (and this includes building a card or component list for a prototype), the most important thing is to consider what’s going to provide the most flexibility in answering questions. Most likely, that’s going to be served best by a full data set, with each individual data element stored in their most granular form, and then fields aggregated together via functions, and records split by criteria, rather than trying to merge post-data entry.

I reached out to Casual Gaming Revolution and I’m currently working with them on a way to get these refactors merged back upstream into their primary document. Look for an update there real soon!

Yearly Goals 2016 Edition: In OKR Form

Goals are back… in OKR form!

Goals are back… in OKR form!

I’ve fairly well documented my feelings on resolutions, and focusing on New Years in general, so I won’t rehash it. Instead, I’ll present publicly, with little commentary, my goals for 2016. After wrangling an (as usual) too-long list of things I wanted to accomplish, I realized that they fit into several basic themes. At the same time, I was working through assembling my departmental OKRs for Rapt Media, and it dawned on me that while somewhat “corporatey” for personal goals, it might be an effective vehicle for framing things in 2016. However, I’m cheating a little, because some Os and some KRs are for 2016 overall, and some are for 1H2016. There are also a few Key Results I’ve left without actual metrics. It’s a process 🙂

Here they are:

  • Objective 1: Personal Growth (or something like it)
    • Key result: Replace at least 1/mo staple items with updates.
    • Key result: Smile more. (Hard to measure… anyone have ideas?)
    • Key result: Learn German. (Measure with DuoLingo Progress, eventually benchmark by conversing with a native speaker)
    • Key result: Spend only [specific percent]% of monthly take-home.
  • Objective 2: Make Rapt Media an awesome place (I got pretty specific with some internals I can’t share publicly)
    • Key result: Keep team happy and grow it.
    • Key result: 2…
    • Key result: 3…
  • Objective 3: Sow the seeds of Empire for Flightless.Co
    • Key result: Ship one game in Q1.
    • Key result: Seize ‘agency’ regarding Valour publishing.
    • Key result: Get “Project T” out the door and acquire some users.
  • Objective 4: “Beach Bod 2016”. I spend dozens of hours a month Crossfitting; might as well look the part.
    • Key result: 3 on / 1 off WODs
    • Key result: 1 GHD day / week
    • Key result: 1 mobility day / week
  • Objective 5: Push Mobility on Demand to self-sufficiency
    • Key result: Land a distribution partner
    • Key result: Sell original break even number on owned & operated site

Soon I’ll round up the 2015 wins and losses and share that too. Thanks for reading, y’all. Posting these in public is uncomfortable, but it’s good to feel a sense of obligation to deliver after doing so.

Back from Europe!

IMG_5368Happy 2016!

I just got back from two weeks in Europe with Andrea — and it was great! Since our birthdays are clustered together with Christmas, New Year, (and this year… Episode VII :D), we made a little multi-celebration excursion out of it. Here’s a quick summary of it to kick off this year’s blog posts:

The morning after my birthday and the Episode VII “midnight” showing, we flew to Amsterdam, where we spent a few days, including Andrea’s birthday. That is a really, really rad town. I could absolutely live there. We hit up an awesome Crossfit gym while we were there as well. We were slightly worried about the language thing in class… but it was coached in English. The only drawback was that deadlifts in Kilos were a little demoralizing.

We caught a train from there to Cologne, Germany for some massive Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) action. Glühwein and sausages all day. All day. They were super charming. My December attempt to cram on Duolingo’s German module was basically a bust, as I went full on deer-in-headlights whenever a waiter asked what we wanted. It was almost worse the times I managed to fumble my way through a Glühwein purchase, only to have the total come out €11, or some other number Duo didn’t cover 🙂 We also dropped in at a box in Cologne, huge gym, with a brutal chipper workout and a ton of handstand work. The coach there was excited to try out his English for coaching as well, and it turns out that most gyms still call stuff like “Cleans” and “Chest to Bar” those same words.

After Cologne was Nuremberg, for one final Christmas market, and Christmas Day. We chose Germany for Christmas because they invented most of the traditions we think of as Christmas these days, and we knew they’d take it seriously — though perhaps too seriously, as everything (everything) closed at noon on the 24th, and only started thinking about reopening the afternoon of the 26th. We went on an underground tunnel tour through old beer cellars which were converted to bomb shelters during WWII… which was very weird to hear a German tour guide talk about. This mysterious war that it’s not really clear how it started and gosh Nuremberg really got beat up in the bombing. Most interesting was to actually see around us how the Altstadt (old town) was rebuilt in the late 40s and 50s, in the exact style that it had been built originally in the 1400s. So it all looks old, but it’s actually quite new.

IMG_5312From Nuremberg, we headed to Paris, which, in all honesty I wasn’t pumped about — everyone seems to have this romantic view of Paris, where mostly I expected it to be dirty and smell bad. The train station and metro totally met my expectations, but as soon as we were above ground and headed to our AirBnB in the Marais, my tune completely changed. We found enough things to do, eat, and drink within 4 blocks of our place that we might not have needed to leave, and our apartment itself really charmed me, with a bizarre labyrinth of doors, courtyards, and twisting staircases to enter. We did almost too much to cover in a summary like this, but we hit all the checkboxes: Louvre, Notre Dame (only outside though), the Louvre Jardin, the Champs, Arc, Eiffel tower, and also spent a lot of meals mad chillin’ outside with wine and cheese. The Crossfit gym here was actually the most non-English of them, but I was amused to observe that it’s not “Trois, deux, une, allez!”, even though the coach shouted “Allez!” frequently throughout the WOD 🙂

We did an overnight in Brussels, which is when I decided I’m never counting trips in “nights” anymore the way hotels do… you’ve only really spent a day somewhere if you woke up AND went to sleep there. Andrea found Cantillon on Yelp, which was a little embarrassing that we hadn’t planned on going there explicitly ahead of time, but wandering the brewery was really awesome, since sours are basically the best beers, and their brewery is straight up old-school spontaneous fermentation. But our impression of Brussels was that it’s mostly urine-soaked. We found some cute places, but on the whole, it was our least favorite city.

IMG_5448The next morning, we returned to Amsterdam, arriving with only moments to spare getting into a costume store to rent outfits for the Crazy Wonderland NYE party we had tickets for. The Dutch are so great — the costume store people took good care of us, even though they were basically closed and trying to sit down for evening cake 🙂 The party was another world. Five rooms in a repurposed church decked out as chapters from Alice in Wonderland, a five course dinner, then a series of DJs doing an excellent job, interrupted periodically by performances on a dance floor dais. I think I counted no fewer than twelve things you’d never get away with in the States. Andrea’s gregariousness made us some cool new friends, who we circled back with the next day for beers.

So awesome… I can’t even capture it here, so that’s going to have to do for now. Amsterdam was our favorite spot by far, and I could easily picture a future where I spent an extended amount of time there. One weird Amsterdam tip: Visit the Noord (north) side of the city, it’s really adorable and there’s a free ferry to get across, but for the love of god, don’t book a place to stay up on that side. Shuttling back and forth every day is a real hassle.

And now… back to the regularly scheduled nerd posts 🙂