Tag Archives: plugs

Game Design Toolbox

One of my favorite assignments in Game Design was building the Toolbox. We had to think of games we’d played from every year starting when we were 5 years old, and jot down a useful memory about the game. Useful in terms of something we learned from it game-design-wise. It was a very useful tool, and I’m always adding onto it.

However, I wanted to do two things: 1) Put the toolbox in a format that would be easily categorized, searchable, and easy to add on to, and 2) A format that was easy to share with others.

As such, I’ve started a new blog: Wertle’s Game Design Toolbox

I’ve already copied over the information from the original toolbox, but there is still MUCH to add. For example, as a preliminary exercise, I made a list of every video game I can ever remember having played EVER. Now I have to add each one to the toolbox with a corresponding memory.

I have about 200 entries to add, and that’s just video games. I haven’t even started a list for other types of games!

This is a huge project, but I intend to catch up, so that eventually adding new entries will be gradual. I also intend to make lots of tags, so that I can look up entries by system, by genre, or by insight.

How long do you think it’ll take me to add all my games?

Defend Your Honor

I post links on twitter a lot to various short indie games that I like, but I’m trying to get into the habit of making more thoughtful journal entries on them (like I did for Continuity).

Today’s game of choice is Defend Your Honor, a Flash fantasy-themed tower defense game. I went into this one cautiously, because I’m generally not a huge fan of tower defense games.

This one, however, was great! It has a silly story and a rudimentary but appealing art style, and the music is quite enjoyable (the theme that plays when you’re out in the dungeon picking out which door to go to is delightful and addictive).

I think the theme wrapper of the game as a sort of classic, D&D-style dungeon fantasy adventure helped hook me in. The units you control are quite simple, and the battles themselves are relatively short. I never failed a battle more than twice, but there were plenty of close calls that made me feel clever and kept things interesting.

Having the meta-game of getting the keys and statues to progress through dungeon rooms really helped to break up the pacing, as tower defense games I’ve played in the past have exhausted me with their format. Plus, having the units be introduced to you as characters is a nice little tie-in, but they didn’t overdo it by trying to over-explain things (like how you can buy multiple units of what appears to be a single character). The lightness and crudeness of the story makes this tactic acceptable.

I played through the whole thing in an evening, but it does save your progress. So, if you’ve been “meh” about tower defense games in the past, give this one a try. It’s quick and fun!


If anyone’s been following my tweets recently, you’ll notice a fair amount of the recent ones were about an awesome little web game, Continuity

This game is a combination slider puzzle, maze, and platformer. Basically you move the tiles around to arrange the space for your little guy to traverse. You can’t move between two panels if their walls (or floors or ceilings, depending which direction you’re trying to go) don’t match up. Get the keys and reach the door, pretty simple, but a very elegant game.

Continuity demonstrates something very strange that happens when you inject simple movement interaction into the main stop-and-think puzzle solving part. It does delightful things to the pacing! It’s as though the simple act of moving your little guy is a reward for how clever you are for solving which panel to put where. It also helps break up the heavy thinking in the later, more difficult puzzles – just work at finding one piece you can match up, and getting to move there is a reward. The platforming is very mild, even in the later levels, but you do eventually have to do tricky things, like jumping up into a panel, then pulling out and switching out the one you’ll fall into.

It also makes beautiful use of the music to communicate which mode you are in – puzzle slidy mode, or move-your-guy mode.

The other thing it does really well is ramp across all of its levels. Every time a new tricky mechanic is introduced, you face an extremely simple level where just that mechanic is involved, so it’s very clear you will have to use that little trick in the upcoming levels.

Lastly, I love that there is no formal instructions in the game. You figure out what you’re supposed to do and how to move by the constrictions of the first level, and then you’re all set for the rest of the game.

I beat the last level today, and of course yearn for more. I’m very curious about the process these guys used to design their puzzles – if they had a step-by-step method or if they were something more reverse engineered. Puzzle design is something I take for granted.

Anyway, I hope you try it out. Enjoy!

Fun Facts

Did you know that I have had illustrations published in two places?

The first is in Brendan Adkins’ fine collection of short stories, Ommatidia. Even if you haven’t been following his 101-word short story project at Anacrusis, I highly recommend this book as a fun and swift read, full of variety and intrigue. Seeing the stories in print adds a sort of magical quality to them, and if you are looking about for a new book to purchase, I’d suggest you give it a chance.

The second is as card art for Jesse Schell’s Deck of Lenses, a compliment to his book, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. I illustrated one of the lens cards in the deck. The book and the deck are both fantastic tools for the aspiring game designer, or really a designer of any sort. Perhaps you should investigate!

XO Game Jam

(This is cross posted to my mailing list, because I figure not a lot of people are on both)

One of the second year projects here at the ETC is XO Games. This was a student-pitched project to design and build games for the XO laptop for the One Laptop Per Child project. The group decided to hold a Game Jam this past weekend, which is somewhat of a “design and build a video game in 40 hours” marathon, in order to test out the documentation they’ve been creating over the course of the semester.

I decided that this would be a brilliant opportunity to drag some of my non-ETC friends into the ETC experience. Ever since beginning this program, I’ve often thought about how so many of my talented friends would do so well in it, and wished I could share the experience with them. The Game Jam gave me an opportunity to share a sliver of that experience, and so after some healthy peer pressure, I convinced Will, Brendan, and Kyle to come up and participate.

Last Friday, 10 teams of 40 or so people met up at the ETC for the start of the event. The project group talked about the XO laptop and OLPC, and some of the quirks for designing for the laptop, and started us in with a “Hello World” assignment. If you’ve never seen the XO, it is quite amazing! It’s very tiny, amazingly rugged and power efficient, and yet the screen resolution is better than the monitor I’m using right now. The idea is that these affordable laptops will be distributed to children in developing nations as educational tools, and to give them access to computing technology. In many situations, a child may have to travel to the only nearest power supply to charge the laptop, so the battery life on these things is pretty hard core.

After our initial program, my team ventured off to do some brainstorming. Since the XO is going to be distributed world-wide, we wanted our game to use very little to no language. We eventually decided on a pixel-hunt inspired adventure game, where you can click on objects in a scene to trigger events. However, only certain events (and only when clicked in proper timing) will advance the story.

40 rigorous hours later, we came up with “Cake Town,” which I suppose can be called a rough prototype for a game. It only has two levels, and doesn’t have as many interactive scene elements as we’d wanted, and it can still be broken if you try hard enough.

Still, Will’s art and Kyle’s sound design is amazing, and I’m still incredibly impressed that Brendan was able to program the thing to work having had little to no experience with the tools we had to use to make the game (Python and PyGame). You can download it here if you would like to take a look. It’s about a 10MB download (size efficiency was something we struggled with, though the bundle download for the XO is only 2 MB. Still, for a dial-up speed situation, that’s even a bit much).

As for my role, in true producer fashion I jumped in wherever I was needed. This included figuring out the tedious steps for creating an activity bundle out of our game for the XO, helping Will with layout coloring, getting Kyle into the ETC’s sound booth so he could record Will’s voice acting, and eventually helping Brendan with the programming in the last stages. It was an adventure, for sure.

The games that other teams came up with were all amazing. On Sunday we had school children play and judge our game, and there were some prizes for the winners. My favorite thing about this Game Jam was that there were teams comprised entirely of beginners (like ours) and also teams comprised of people who actually work in the game industry. Everyone at the jam helped one another, and it was a good community experience. And of course, it was great to see my friends from home, and give them a glimpse of the sort of stuff I get to do at the ETC. You should check our the Jam’s photo blog if you have the time.

The downside to all this, however, is that I apparently do NOT handle sleep deprivation like I used to. I am quite sick, and my biological clock is completely confused (hence my writing this update at 3:30 in the morning). I’m hoping that Thanksgiving Break will help me get things back in order.

Busy Bee

Since the borrowed internet signal is too weak for any real WoWing, I’ve been getting lots of work done on the Bryan Scary project among other things. Productivity is the best cure for loneliness!

I finally got the ARG! Productions website updated, and boy was it due for one. There’s still some reworking to be done, for example the About section needs to be rewritten, but a clip from the LadyBug short is up there to see.


It’s not very fancy looking, and Will says he wants to spice it up visually, but what with all our work on important things it’s a low priority right now. It serves its function well enough.

Oh yeah, everyone send positive energy to San Diego today. Will is at Siggraph participating in the FJORG! Animation competition, and his team is the ONLY ONE there doing a 2D piece. He called me this morning with an update as he took an unwinding lap round the convention center. This has made them somewhat of a crowd favorite, but it’ll all come down to the judges in the end. GO WILL AND TEAM!