A Good Idea

A Good Idea

Dabbling in both tabletop and digital games, over the last few decades I have amassed a respectable (i.e.: embarrassing) stack of unfinished prototypes. Many still taking up space on a hard drive or contributing to the bowing of a shelf somewhere. The shelf looks happy, so I leave it alone.

But there’s got to be some gold in those unfinished abstracts, right? I figure that any given prototype has at least one salvageable idea. So, over the next few posts, I thought I’d take a look at a few of my favourites and share them with the void.

Let’s start with a quote (attributed to Shigeru Miyamoto) that stuck with me after watching a GDC talk about Ojiro Fumoto’s vertically-scrolling-platformer-SHUMP game, Downwell.

“A good idea is something that does not solve just one single problem, but rather can solve multiple problems at once.”

Shigeru Miyamoto

When Ojiro Fumoto created Downwell, it was first released on mobile. As such, the creator didn’t want a lot of complicated buttons cluttering up the screen. After toying with the idea that the jump button could double as something else, the character in the game ended up with a pair of “Gunboots”. These allowed player to both jump and shoot in a single action.

This became a core mechanic in the game. It fit the minimalistic control scheme, and allowed players to move and attack at the same time. A good idea that solved multiple problems.

Translating this “good idea” concept into tabletop games isn’t always graceful, actions need to be carried out manually by the players regardless. That said, it’s still something I like to think about when designing a game. Can I solve multiple problems with one solution? Can a single mechanic perform multiple functions? Is there an opportunity to apply a thematic sequence of events within an action to promote better game feel?

Years ago I built a prototype for a skirmish board game where each player assembles a crew of cut-throat pirates and battle it out for hidden treasure. Super original. There’s also a kraken of course, which is the salvageable idea in today’s trip down prototype lane.

The game is set on a sinking ship in the middle of a maelstrom. The problem was, running around the same location over and over would probably get old really quick. I needed something to mix it up. Enter the kraken. But like, also… release it? Yes.

Concept – The purple bits are the kraken’s arms. Krakens love ships, ship hugs are inevitable.

Throughout the game, the kraken’s tentacles erupt from the sea and wrap around the ship, creating barriers in different places, altering the layout of the playfield. This produced a sort of living, shifting maze, creating new paths and alcoves where they didn’t exist before. The players could also influence the kraken’s position by attacking the tentacles, causing them to lurch up off the ship’s deck and come crashing down in a new location. This might block a previous route or crush whoever is in the way.

The mobile nature of the kraken solved the primary problem of a static board, creating a dynamic setting overtop an otherwise fixed backdrop. The added tactical options gave players more choice. Left alone, the arms of the kraken are passive obstacles, but with a well placed lunge of their rapier, a player could clear a path to their objective and simultaneously launch a cephalopodic rocket into space whose sole destiny is to come crashing down upon Captain Bartolomeo’s good leg.

I’d like to explore this “living walls” concept a little more sometime, maybe apply it to a bigger dungeon crawl experience. Replace the kraken with a giant snake that blocks or reveals different openings, or walls of poisonous gas that change direction when the players alter the airflow within the halls of an ancient tomb. Hmm.

Whats a good idea that offered multiple solutions in your game designs? Leave your comments below or chat me up on Twitter: @cog5games.

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