Thursday, August 23, 2012

Card Games? Card Games.

Haven't been up to too much lately, except hating stuff.

There's been a whole lot of uncertainty on where I'll be living and what I'll be doing over the next few months - and, by extension, years - over the last month and a half. It has left me less prone to working on things and more prone to stuffing my face with donuts and watching Batman cartoons. Not kidding either. I've gained like 10 pounds in two weeks, or something. (Back on a diet, for sure.)

But excuses are like donuts: delicious, easily consumed three at a time, and make you feel better in the short term, but will always leaving you feeling guilty in the long run. Excuses may also cause weight gain, I think science should be back with an answer on that one any minute now.

So, like I'm quitting donuts, I am also quitting excuses. I've been a lazy unproductive slob for far too long now. Will be back at it soon.

Weird transition: I spent a few days making a card game prototype.

Ah, see, I wasn't completely inert for the last two months. While some of that time was being spent playing Parasite Eve, I was pretty interested in the fact that it was a horror RPG. The thing was, though, that even though it was a pretty good game, it wasn't all that scary. When your moves are all metered out for you and there isn't a whole lot of danger or uncertainty, it tends to undercut the horror.

So I started to think about what it would take to make a horror RPG that might actually be scary for the player. I thought that the fear of "uncertainty" would be a big part of it. Not knowing if what was happening was real or not can be very disarming. The fear of overreacting or under-reacting to a threat would be the main drive of the experience.

I was envisioning a real video game RPG system, but those can be hard to create, and since I was dabbling in some uncharted waters here, I decided to paper prototype it first - I attempted to make a card game version of the system to save time and effort.

What I ended up with was a game I call "Evil in Shadows." The idea is that the player is trapped in some dark place. Maybe its a haunted house, evil hospital, abandoned ghost town, nightclub bathroom, whatever. All around the player, shadows are moving closer and closer. The shadows might be a real threat (a monster, demon, whichever you like) but they might just be nothing, just a shadow that looked like something. The player has items with them that they can throw at the shadows to find out if they are a monster or just their imagination.
The blurriness is a side effect of all the horror you're feeling right now.
At the beginning of the game, the player flips over an Event card, which essentially gives the player a goal. Something along the lines of "Survive three waves of shadows" or "Find a specific item in the Item deck." That card will tell the player how many Shadow cards to place on the table. These Shadow cards could either be enemies or just shadows; the player won't know until later. The player draws five Item cards, and then gets to work. Finish the goal on the Event card, draw another one. Finish three Event cards and you win.

The player can choose to attack the shadows when they're far away or let them get closer, but each option has its risks. Attacking a shadow from far away can give the player a head start on killing them, but if the shadow isn't a monster it causes the player character to lose grip on reality. Letting a shadow get closer can relive the player character of some panic, but is dangerous if the shadow really is a monster. Pretty simple.

At first it seemed like the system was working really well and I started thinking about just making into this a legitimate card game instead of just a prototype. So I started doing that, and then I noticed things really weren't working that well, and even when they did work well, it seemed like maybe this wasn't such a great idea.

After some long math-involved sessions of counting numbers and dividing things, I realized that this system might work really well if a computer was handling all the background numbers for the player, but it was too much for a player to do. And there really wouldn't be enough room on a reasonably-sized table to fit enough cards needed for all the facets of the system I wanted, either.

So I started to simplify the game. I doubled up the use of certain cards, broke some logic for the sake of simplicity, and tried to make it as easy as possible. This succeeded at completely breaking the game. I looked at the problems from every angle, and got this tug-of-war without a victor: make the game balanced by making it too complicated or make the game understandable by breaking it. When considering both options, neither of which I wanted, I realized an even larger problem with this game.

It's a single-player card game. What the hell kind story-based card game would someone want to play by themselves? So really, the whole thing was folly to begin with. It still functions as a paper prototype for this RPG system I'd like to make, but as a card game, it is total garbage. I'm thinking I might redesign it from the ground-up as a multiplayer card game soon, though. I like the idea of horror card games as well.

Weird transition: I'm also currently paper prototyping a strategy board game about bunnies. I'm actually quite excited about this one, but I'll leave that for another post.

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