(UPDATE) Midterm Brainstorming Process

Published October 18, 2017

UPDATE (Oct 25, 2017):

This post is about the project concept and interaction design elements of our midterm.  For more about the construction and coding process, see Yifan’s post here.  With a midterm project idea as simple as ours – “oh!  it is kind of like Skee Ball” – we were able to delve quite deep into the details of the interaction design and execution for our game.  Because the goal was simple (to have fun), and our success in that goal immediately obvious when watching someone play, our process was not bogged down in navel-gazing or ruminations on the nature of play.  Instead, we were able to create a working prototype and watch people play!  Here is some of what we learned:

  • Either ITP students are hungry for distraction or the appeal of ball-games is even greater than I imagined.  Whichever the case,  I was glad to see that the game did have a natural draw.  Though never announced, except by the loud bounces of many missed shots, many students came by and asked to play.

  • The game’s difficulty varies drastically from person to person.  We didn’t specifically or numerically plan how difficult the game should be (e.g. “an average of 2 goals for every 3 misses”) and had no idea how difficult it would be until it was fully operational.  After our first few times playing, however, we decided to add somewhat larger “baskets” to effectively increase the size of the goal.  I believe that the size and shape of these baskets has a drastic impact on the game’s playability.  Because there is a simple and natural way for a player to dial in their personal difficulty level – by moving closer or further from the goals – the baskets simply act to assure that those balls which make it into the goal area don’t bounce out.

We spent much of our time working on the scoring system of the game, which we hoped to make as fun as the game itself.  This system has the following elements:

  • Rounds: rather than choose an arbitrary goal count for a player to reach (e.g. 5 or 10 points) to declare a winning state, we instead use a count down timer to delineate rounds.  It is no secret among arcade game designers that time restrictions increase excitement.  Also, not knowing exactly how many goals each set of players would be able to make within a given time, this also seemed a good way to avoid frustrating players for whom point-limited rounds would be either too short or too long.

  • Visuals: in addition to displaying the score visually, we show a reward in the form of an animated gif for each goal made.  This is in keeping with our aesthetic choices throughout – which prioritize fun over all else.  We would like to have this gif chosen at random from a series of gifs, such that the exact reward is new almost every time.  This has the added bonus of making the game more fun to watch for an ‘audience’ of people waiting to play.  Additionally, and perhaps most importantly with regards to the visuals, we plan to project them onto a wall behind the game.  This larger than average scoreboard should bring some excitement to the scorekeeping aspect of the game.

  • Sounds: we play a dance track from youtube’s free music library, along with sounds for goals made.

Next Steps:

This game could do a lot more to increase physical interactivity between players as well as between player and game.  Here are some of the ways we’ve discussed to push this game toward a novel interactive experience:

  • The game looks somewhat like a face, with the two goals presenting themselves as eyes and the mouth (and long tongue) making up the ball return.  We have done little to emphasize this, but fully realized, this face could present both a new way for the game to ‘play back.‘  With eyebrows, the game could both emote, and potentially increase or decrease the difficulty.  The face could “spit” balls back toward the player, rather than politely letting them roll down its tongue.  The game could cover and uncover its goals randomly or according to a predictable timing scheme..

  • Scorekeeping: there is always work to be done on creating a fun scorekeeping experience.  I have never been particularly amused by pinball machines, and their excessive trailing zeros.  Just because a score is no longer 10, but 10,000,000, does not make the game 1,000,000 times more exciting.  It simply makes it harder to read.  On the other hand, bowling alley animations – terrible motion graphics held over from the early days of computerized scoring systems – hold a place that is near and dear to my heart.

ORIGINAL POST (Oct 18, 2017):

April and I began our brainstorming process with a surprisingly aligned set of goals for and approaches to this midterm project:

  • We knew early on that we wanted our have both a physical input and output rather than using a serial connection to a computer or display of some sort.  This decision to keep our project strictly real-world was, for me, a challenge to focus our energy on the interaction design, rather than delving too deep into the granular coding requirements of building a mixed physical-digital experience.

  • We also knew that we wanted to make a game – something approaching arcade or carnival style games: Whack-A-Mole, water gun games, Skee-Ball, etc.  Interaction though gameplay has an instant feedback loop in that is either fun or not.  Because the purpose of its interaction is clear –  to have fun – and our experience of fun (or boredom) is emotional, it is easier to analyze a game’s success than an interaction whose purpose is less specific.  A work of art has much more complex of a purpose and a solely utilitarian device (a tool) has a much less emotionally focussed purpose, so neither presents as compelling a case study as a game.

With these two goals in mind, we eventually chose to work on a Skee-Ball style game in which two players would throw ping-pong balls into two holes in a board and rack up points.  Competition can be very fun, so we baked in two elements of competitiveness into the game’s design:

  • The players would play simultaneously, throwing two differently colored balls into two differently colored holes. The implicit competition is that the players are racing to rack the most points up.  While the winning condition (first player to 5 or 10…) may well be unclear without instruction, the fact that the players are next to each other playing separately (as indicated by the color-coded gamepieces), should strongly indicate (assuming previous experience with some games…) that the players are playing against one another rather than together.

  • The players would also be given the option to throw their ping pong balls into their opponent’s goals in order to deduct points from their opponents.  This should add a second level of competitiveness between the players as well as giving the players a strategic choice on every throw between whether to increase their score or reduce their opponents.

With these goals and game elements in mind, we made up a few quick sketches on paper…

…before mocking up the game in cardboard…

and finally starting the game build it in foam core.

Unanswered  logistical & interaction-design questions:

  • How to identify whether a ball has gone through goal / how to identify balls by color?

  • How to display score?   Can this score board be physical and accurate enough without requiring a digital display?  I think the display element could provide a chance to set the character of the game aesthetically as well as reflect the scoring system to the player.  This display could be absolute (0-5 for each player) or relative (player A is higher or player B is higher):

    • If absolute, we could use two sets of motors/ leadscrews/ leadnuts to move pointers along two score-card (0-5) to indicate that first player to get 5 points wins.

    • If relative, we could use an old-school elevator floor indicator (as found above the elevator doors in the lobby floor of older buildings), which uses a sort of a semi-circular scoreboard with a 0 score position at the “noon” position.  As players racked up points, the pointer would move toward their side.  This could indicate a “win by 3” scoring condition by the fact that the pointer would  have an obvious stop at “3 o’clock” or “9 o’clock” and the numbers 1-3 would be written to either side of the 0 at the “noon” position.

  • About the option to deduct from your opponent’s points: how do we indicate to the players that this choice is available to them besides simply telling them? Perhaps some sort of colored LEDs around the holes which blink from one color to the other at a specific interval and allowed players to try for deductions (i.e. the blinking ghost mode in PacMan).  What parameters as far as scoring would encourage players to use this mode, or make this mode at least a 5050 choice for players?  By how much should your score increase when you make it in your goal and your opponents score decrease when you make it in theirs?  2 to 1?  I want to ensure that this doesn’t (like the card game “war”) feel like the game will never end because scores constantly fluctuate up and down.