I'll run Alien Frontiers and Flash Duel (Co-op mode) at U-Con this year, November 20-22 in Ypsilanti; plus Terracosm and Mirage, two unpublished prototypes of my own game designs.

Alien Frontiers. Friday 7p-9p.
Roll and place your dice to gain advantages over your opponent and block them out of useful areas of the board. Use Alien Tech cards to manipulate your dice rolls and territory bonuses to break the rules. Steal resources, overtake territories, and do whatever it takes to get your colonies on the map first!

Flash Duel - Co-op Mode. Friday 10p-11p.
Up to five fighters spar against one player who is the Deathstrike Dragon. Play a number card to end your move on an opponent's space by exact count to land a hit. When attacked, reveal the same number from your own hand to block the hit. But choose wisely when to show your cards to your allies-- one of them is secretly on the Dragon's side!

Unpublished Prototype: Mirage. Saturday 12p-1p. Sunday 11a-12p.
Players are leaders from an isolated coastal community which has just opened up to the outside world, rich in opportunity and hazard. They quickly agree to split up, and explore the surrounding desert and ocean, competing to establish the most far-flung network of trading encampments. By laying tiles, you will seek to claim regions of sand or dirt with your camels, and regions of shallow water or deep water with your ships. When someone encounters an oasis in the desert or an island in the sea, the player with the most camels or ships in the regions attached to it will set it up as their own trading encampment (a tent). Can your foresee uncertain spots in the geography, indeterminate in the distance? Will they resolve in your vision, to reveal your verdant destinations? Or evaporate into salt and sand?

Unpublished Prototype: Terracosm. Sunday 9a-11a, and 2p-4p.
Control the weather cycle. Dominate the food chain! Change the position of discs on the track so your own actions arrive earlier. Place your carnivores, herbivores, and plants where they will not starve or be eaten. This is an unpublished but highly-playtested prototype.


  1. It's in the $50 to $60 price bracket.

  2. To maintain dramatic tension in the end-game, don't allow the players to be certain that the game is about to end. That works for other games. Not Habitat. To accomplish this:

    • Each time a stack of discs is depleted, put a "Comet Disc" in the bag. If three Comets are on the track at the same time, the game is over.

    • Each stack of terrain tiles should have one tile, shuffled into the bottom three copies in the stack, which ends the game when revealed.


  3. Players don't know how to make moves that advantage themselves until halfway through their first game. Most successful games have this problem, but it's avoidable.

    • A simplified pre-designed "intro setup" will be crucial for new players to get comfortable with the system.

    • Accommodate what everyone intuitively expects about nature. For instance, if a predator has no prey when it needs to eat, it should starve and leave the game board.

    • The default scoring system is now simplified. If there are going to be end-game bonus multipliers, they should be introduced in subsequent play-throughs. Allow experienced players to mix and match from a selection of complex variants in the back of the rulebook.

    • "When a terrain tile leaves the board, it is awarded to a player as a fossil."

    • "When it leaves the board."

    • "When it leaves. Leaves." <-- Pantomiming picking up a tile off the board. The 12th time this question was asked by the same player. I think the fossilization rule has a problem.


  4. This game is definitely ready for me to stop using the generic discs that I use for many of my prototypes. The mechanics have come along far enough in development to spend the time on graphic design to enhance the theme, which in this game is very strong and unique.

  5. "The best Euro-style game I have played at Protospiel this year."

I prepared for this year's tournament more meticulously than any before, but got a worse outcome than ever before. Contestants: I hear you, I understand exactly what caused this, I have a plan to fix it, and it will never happen again. Previously, I have never had such space constraints that I would have to make it clear to the programming team that my event needed tables empty for an hour beforehand to set up the tournament. That was my downfall.

The sign-up sheet was almost full. The tournament was scheduled to start at 4PM. I was scheduled to be in the Penguicon Board of Directors meeting from 3 to 4 PM, so I got some minions to set up the tournament. I gave them setup instruction sheets and one pre-assembled material packet per table. Unfortunately, there was a presentation going on in the Private Dining during that hour, so all the tables were full of gamers. My minions are kind-hearted and would never kick gamers out of the only places available to play. Due to space constraints, they would effectively close down the entire game room, end all the games in progress, and kick pretty much everybody out. I was the only one assertive enough to do that, and I was in a meeting.

As a result, setup did not take place, and the tournament started almost an hour late in a huge panicky disorganized rush, while the room was crowded with contestants. A lot of our signed-up players walked out during this time, meaning we had to re-organize the seating chart, and it took even longer. There were some setup errors, so some games had cards in them which I did not intend, resulting in extremely slow and/or swingy games.

How to fix it:

1. A sign on each table at the start of the day, saying "Please be done with games on this table by 3PM, to allow for Dominion tournament setup".
2. Do not accept being scheduled to do something else during setup.

Congratulations to the winner, Mike Riverso! He jotted his contact info and shipping address on Evernote on my phone. As soon as he left, it gave me a "java.io.IO" error and lost his information. I put up a sign in the lobby, and he sent me his info through email, so all's well that ends well. He will receive a copy of the new Dominion expansion, "Guilds", in about a month when it is published.

New things that went well:

Penguicon's new Dominion collection. The convention now owns two copies of every Dominion product, so we had enough cards. With thirty-two players and eight simultaneous games, it was the largest Penguicon Dominion tournament ever, so we needed it!

Using a megaphone. No more shouting myself hoarse.

I ordered plenty of "Estate" "Duchy" and "Province" ribbons to hand them out to each contestant. I have next year's supply already.
The French illustrator Naiade is my favorite game artist. FunForge has started cranking out games that immediately grab my attention with his art. So naturally, Tokaido caught my eye.

This is a game that moves quickly, and only takes about forty-five minutes.

It has a very light and non-violent tone. This is a game of vacation planning. You attempt to have as good a trip as possible along the East Sea Road ("Tōkaidō") in medieval Japan. Eat sumptuous meals, view gorgeous panoramas, buy beautiful souvenirs, and meet interesting people. Each stop along the track gives you one of these in the form of a card, which you keep face-up in front of you. Mostly, you are trying to collect combinations of cards.

The gameplay is simple: if your pawn is the farthest behind on the road, it's your turn. Move it forward to one of the tourist attractions, and take a corresponding card. Whoever is now in the back of the line-- even if that is still you-- takes a turn.

The attractions can get too crowded. Each attraction can only accommodate one or two guests at a time. In order to make sure nobody crowds you out of an attraction that is important to completing a set of cards that you need, sometimes you should pass an empty attraction and skip ahead. You can usually have exactly what you want, if you are willing to sacrifice.

The first question you will hear during an explanation of Tokaido is "So, as my first move of the game, I can go all the way to the end of the road?" There are inns at the conclusion of each of the four legs of your journey. You are required to stop at each inn and wait for all the other players to catch up. Besides, you wouldn't want your first move to go as far as the game rules permit, because your first leg of the journey would score you only six points (your meal at the inn), while your opponents would soak up all the luxuries you skipped. Probably the most subtle and crucial decision in the game is when to skip an attraction.

Be advised, each player starts with a different character who confers a unique advantage. The tacticians among you may wonder if your choice of character at the beginning of the game has an undue influence on who wins. This is also a game in which you are unlikely to win if you focus on yourself. Observe which sets of cards your fellow travelers are attempting to build.

The production values make the equipment a joy to use, the play is suitable for children and adults, and it's short enough that I found myself wishing the East Sea Road was a little bit longer.

Voxatron

Oct. 31st, 2011 09:39 pm
I've been looking forward to Voxatron for a while. And now you can name your own price (even one cent!) to get the alpha version, with free upgrades to all future versions!
It turns out someone will be at Ann Arbor Gaming Group tonight, at Amer's on State Street in Ann Arbor, 7:30 PM, with a copy of Eminent Domain! (Rules on this page.) I can't miss the opportunity to finally play it-- so I plan to be there.

U-Con

Oct. 25th, 2011 06:25 pm
My car is fixed! And affordably, too. It was just a leak.

I plan to be at U-Con gaming convention November 11 through 13. It has a new home, at the Metropolitan Hotel in Romulus near Detroit Metro Airport. I think this is a great move! Check out what they now can offer.
Moving out of the confines of the Union allows us to offer some things we've never had before:
FREE PARKING. Let's say that again: parking for U-Con won't cost anything, and you don't have to worry about tickets! This has been the most common complaint we hear about the Union, and believe us, the staff have shared your pain.
All events on one floor, with convenient access to exits for wheeling in carts of minis or dealer merchandise.
We're in a hotel, so we'll be able to offer rooms on site at a discounted rate of $65 $60/night (a limited number of larger suites are also available; email us for info).
24-hour gaming space.
Free WiFi access in all function space.
Free continental breakfast for hotel guests.
Free shuttle to and from airport
I have updated the online game I am developing, Falconers. This time with greater variation... and challenge!
I programmed this dice game to teach myself the JQuery library for Javascript, and to improve my Javascript skills. There will be many more features. If you think the current version is neat, you're really going to like it. I'm excited. And oh, yes, the visual design will also improve. But you know what they say: launch with the mimimum viable product.

Shout-outs go to my friends on the Lojban #jbopre IRC channel for their patience in answering my questions: rlpowell, chrisdone, kpreid, and Tene. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] _jer for his professional tutelage and for hosting the webspace.
Protospiel was fantastic. I got a lot of excellent feedback on Falconers. I also played several extremely promising games-- including one which will be published, to which I am now attached as illustrator.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a Q&A with a representative from LudoFact, a game manufacturer in Kalamazoo. I got to ask questions I have wondered about for years. Read more... )

...and so on. He sent me several amazingly detailed documents.
Click through, and click the magnifying glass for high-res versions.
Falconers, a strategy game in which dice are falcons. Developed and illustrated by Matt Arnold.
Canyon detail:
Detail of canyon illustration.
A laser-cut prey figure:
A laser-cut prey figure.

Falconers

Jun. 28th, 2011 08:27 pm
I invented a clever technique to paint nests very fast. I should write a tutorial.



At Origins this weekend, I repeatedly playtested a strategic dice game I invented, about falconry. I kept getting comments about the uniqueness of the theme, so a big thank-you goes out to Jody Raiford for that idea. I have been playtesting it with the local gaming groups for a few months, with a good reception, but it's always advisable to find strangers to give you the straight dope. The Origins gamers liked it enough that I decided to spend the extra time on illustrations.
Councilroom.com is a fan site for the card game Dominion that analyzes statistics from logs of all games played online at dominion.isotropic.org.

They put out the call for some graphics, and I have begun to submit some! For instance, I made the favicon which you can see in the title bar, depending on which browser you use.

I am sending them a lot of unlockable achievement badges, which they are gradually programming into the system. For instance, if you look at the player page about "theory" (who is one of the best players), you will see which awards he has so far under the "Goals" section. And here is my player page. Hover the mouse over a badge to see what it is for.

Have fun playing around with the interactive graphs.

In other news, Dominion itself is unlocking some achievements, so to speak! It has sold more than a million copies. Congratulations to DXV! (That's Donald X Vaccarino.) A half-size expansion titled "Dominion: Cornucopia" is soon to be released, as well as a large expansion late in 2011, and another promo card to be distributed at game cons. From the promotional text to "Cornucopia":
It adds 13 new Kingdom cards to Dominion, plus 5 unique cards. The central theme is variety; there are cards that reward you for having a variety of cards in your deck, in your hand, and in play, as well cards that help you get that variety.
I guess that prevents me from releasing my Trevor Jagoda Penguicon card, as a Victory card worth 1 VP for every two differently-named cards in your deck at the end of the game. Something like that is bound to be in Cornucopia.

Speculation is rife as to what DXV means by "unique card". He is secretive as usual. Perhaps each game you play with Cornucopia will include only one copy of each Unique! Or, perhaps it introduces variable player powers because each type of Unique would only be purchasable by one player per game. As usual, we'll keep arguing about it until the rulebook is finally released.

Laser cutting at i3Detroit, Feb 12, 2011 from Matt Arnold on Vimeo.

This laser plotter has finished engraving the pieces I designed, and is now cutting the perimeters of the pieces. This is 1/4" medium density fiberboard. This is at i3Detroit hacker space, in Ferndale, MI.

It took a couple of tries to scale it up (the advertised thickness of the wood was slightly incorrect), but here is the robot I showed you in the last post!

This robot, laser-cut from 3mm plywood, is a pawn I designed for an entire boardgame made with the laser cutter. I'm still waiting for laser cutter time, to see how it comes out, but I don't mind showing you the schematics now.

The key on the robot's back is just for decoration, but the gears on the board really turn. I used this gear template generator. The gearteeth form a track along which the pawns move, and you can change where everyone is on the track simply by turning the gears. Here are the schematics for the gears and board. Red is cut, black is engraved.

"GEARBOX GRAB" is a working title right now. I'm considering some other titles.

I think you can't really laser-cut cards, because it burns the edges as it cuts them. But you can laser-cut chips and draw them from a bag. So that's what this game uses.
Refreshment
Cost: 0
When you draw this card,
you may reveal it from your hand
to enjoy an ice-cold Diet CokeTM,
available now at the concession
stand for only $4.50.
Type: REACTION
Distributed at the 2009 Gencon, "Refreshment" was misunderstood to mean the owner could exchange it for a free product in real life, when in fact it was intended to motivate players to make a purchase. This got the creator, Veronica Mills of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, fired from her job at the concession stand in Exhibit Hall D.
Superb Oner
Cost: 3
+1 Card
+1 Action
Trash a card from your hand.
During your buy phase,
if the only Actions you played
this turn were Superb Oner,
+1 Dollar.
Type: ACTION
Fifty-seven-year-old Nathan Gleason, an insurance adjuster from Norwich, Kansas, lost his volunteer position working with the youth group at First Greater Wichita Church of Christ due to his invention of "Superb Oner". To this day he sincerely has no idea how the title could be misread (and no one at the church will tell him), leading some to believe one of the youth suggested the title. Mr. Gleason is also notable for being the first member of the Tea Party on record describing himself as a "teabagger".
[ unintelligible ]
Cost: unknown
[ unintelligible ]
Type: unknown
All text on this card is in the faux-scriptorium font used for Dominion logo. Only one copy exists of this hand-painted card, in the collection of Frej Riemann, who only shows it to his friends at the annual board game convention in Essen, Germany. Mr. Riemann insists that this arcane relic was made by Dominion art director Mathias Catrein, designer of the logo, in the final hours of an all-night Lynch/Cronenberg movie marathon. The illustration, reminiscent of the Voynich Manuscript, is painted either in acrylic, guache, or something biological. The bottom of the card has been torn off, with some of the instructions. Opinion is split on whether the remaining instructions read "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons" in German, or "+1 Action. Your left ear traitor, un trust".
In an act of amazing and utter coolness, Rio Grande Games has re-iterated their friendly policy toward fan cards. In so doing, they also asked fan creators help them out, by formulating the name "[My Expansion Name], a Fan Expansion for Dominion" and avoid the formulation "Dominion: [My Expansion Name]" which is reserved for official expansions. This is to prevent confusion. My original three disclaimers still apply as well.

This card can make draw piles as open as the recipe for the OpenSoda that Penguicon serves in the ConSuite. Your deck remains face-up, even after you shuffle it. The only way to get it face-down again is to play another OpenSoda. But you can only use each copy of OpenSoda once, and it will throw itself out of the game. There are only ten copies in the supply.

Sometimes you want to know "Should I play this card which will draw the next card in my deck?" Well, with OpenSoda, you can put your draw pile face-up. Now you're drawing from what used to be on the bottom, and you will always see what's next.

At other times, you have a deck-inspection attack like Pirate Ship, Thief, Swindler, or Saboteur, and you're wondering whether it's worthwhile to play it. If you play OpenSoda against everyone else's decks, you can see if they have some delectable goodies on top, just waiting for your destruction. If someone else does that to you, you can play OpenSoda to put your deck back face down.

I wanted to see if I could design a card that would actually motivate players to buy Curses (a negative one victory point card, which doesn't do anything). Normally no one buys Curses. They exist only to inflict on other people. Kimba's "+1 Buy" lets you buy an extra card on the turn you play it. I'll bet you'll use that Buy to get a Curse card, which only costs zero dollars. This card uses Curses as an incredibly powerful fuel. The question is, can you get rid of them by the end of the game?

Say what you want about Kimba, she did some things that we don't have anymore, in ways that sometimes went unnoticed. This card is useful too-- if you bite the bullet, make the hard choices, and accept the damage of Curses to your deck. I dare you!

They say each good Dominion card tells a little story. The story is about what the card does in the start of the game, what it does in the midgame, and what it does in the endgame. Let's just say the Kimba card had too much of a story on it. I just couldn't fit all the effects I wanted to have. At one point I had Kimba trashing everyone else's Potion cards, because she's a teetotaler. And so on. I was doing too much with one card. So I split some of the effects to their own cards. Like this one:

This card will throw itself out of the game at the absolute last minute. (Perhaps even at one AM on the morning of the convention.) Everybody's holding onto their copies of this, holding out hope, because the earlier you play it, the less it's worth. Finally someone will throw one in the trash to get rid of Gold or Platinum from their opponents. (Canceled plane tickets.) Then all of a sudden everybody is trashing Hhhhhhwil Hhhhhhhwheaton. It's like an extravaganza of Hhwheaton-trashing.

Keep in mind that the trashing effect happens when your card gets trashed for any reason, not just when the card trashes itself. If someone hits your Hhwil with Thief or Saboteur, it attacks everyone other than you even though it's not your turn.

I didn't have the heart to put this person on the card. Suffice it to say that when you take on a job and are never heard from again, it is vitally important that we at least get one message from you, acknowledging that you got our email firing you. Otherwise, no one else is able to do your job, because they don't know what arrangements you might be making behind the scenes.
Good news and bad news. If you read on, I will illustrate my point with a metaphor about kittens. But first an update.

I didn't get the 3D Artist Position at U of M. The bottom line was that they had a lot of applicants with actual paid experience on the job. My next application will be for a User Experience internship at JSTOR.

I really appreciate receiving a followup email from U of M 3D Lab. With over 150 applicants, that's a lot of work for them. They're even going to post (with permission) work from some of the applicants which will give us a sense of where to improve our skills.

The hope of defeating the tidal wave of competition in any branch of the entertainment industry seems more and more like an absurd folly. This Penny Arcade comic painfully illustrates the problems of oversupply of candidates. Conditions are grueling and projects are uninspiring, precisely because hundreds are lined up to replace you.

[livejournal.com profile] jer_ and his associates have been suggesting to me recently that I should consider joining the video game development program at U of M Dearborn. With my Motion Capture Animation certification, programming inclination, artistic skill, and obsession with board/card/puzzle games, it seems to them like a slam dunk.

They have a really good point. I have been mulling it over almost constantly.

On the debate podium opposite them are the articles I read almost monthly on Gamasutra.com or Hacker News, which make it seem that nearly everyone in the video game industry hates their jobs. Imagine you like kittehs and wish to work with them. But so does everyone else. The only remaining kitteh-related career is strapping kittehs into the Pain Machine from The Princess Bride. What do you do? I don't want to have to get up in the morning and go in to work on Railroad Tycoon 14, Tits 'n Guns 9, or the latest Wheel of Fortune.

Now we get to the good news. Independently-published video games are in a boom period, spurred by platforms like XBox Live, WiiWare, and iPhone or Android mobile devices. Minecraft is the poster child. Here is an excerpt from the article "Why Minecraft Matters":
Sounds interesting, you say, but why should I care that a few guys have put together a cool little indie game? The reason you should care is because a team of four or five people using free libraries and cross-platform tools have just made a mockery of the last five years of franchise-oriented, $50 million budget, yearly-release, AAA game development. And it’s not just a fluke. The Humble Indie Bundle, World of Goo, Braid, and a number of other extremely low-budget titles have electrified the gaming community, while games with millions in marketing budget like APB and Kane & Lynch fall flat on their face critically and commercially. Gamer discontent with these barren blockbusters is palpable, and Minecraft is the new poster boy for it.

The game isn’t technically finished; in fact it only recently left pre-beta state. It’s buggy, missing major features, and to make things brief, you kind of have to want it. But it also doesn’t have B-movie voice acting, a scruffy 30-ish white protagonist, DLC, a movie deal, console exclusivity, or any of the other hundred things that plague gamers in practically every major release.
Emphasis mine.

Using a Master's degree in game development to publish an independent video game has a pro and a con:
1. The con: If my goal is to impress myself when hiring myself in a job interview, it is unnecessary.
2. The pro: I might be able to develop the game during the course of the degree itself, rather than look for a source of funding for a startup.
ConFusion was a successful con for me. It spent all of the time in the game room, except for the room parties Saturday night, and giving a presentation Sunday.

The printer double-folded the pocket program brochure, instead of quad-folding it as I specified. They must have been looking at my instructions for the program book. A lot of people said they liked the book this year.

A publisher asked me to bring some of my game prototypes to look at during the con. It went well. I'll blog about that next.

I playtested most of my Penguicon expansion for Dominion. (Man of a Thousand Names, Chuck, Jer; ConSuite, Joe, Sal; Tracy; Aegis, Steve; Matt. Then I ran out of printer ink.) It was popular. I need to make some changes, but I'm very pleased.

The game room closed at 10PM Friday night, because they lacked someone willing to guard the game library past that time. That meant the entire spacious Mediterranean room stood empty and locked, while gamers played in the lobby and Consuite. The next day I went to the nearby coat closet and noticed that it was lockable. At the feedback session I suggested that next year they may wish to protect the game library in there after hours, and let us use the dozens of tables unsupervised. The hotel person confirmed that coat closet is indeed lockable, and they seemed amenable to probably let it be used for that purpose.

Fortunately on Saturday night, Alex Yeager of Mayfair volunteered to guard the game library so we could game until 4 in the morning, after I was all "room-partied out".

If I would characterize my con weekend with one adjective, it would be "lucky":
  1. There were a surprising number of games which I won through more luck than skill.
  2. I was quite relieved to find crash space on Saturday night so I wouldn't have to drive home. I had no such luck finding crash space Friday night.
  3. The AASFA Board held a session to award grant money to anyone who made a proposal for something that would make the con fun. I didn't present a grant proposal this time. Randy Bradakis proposed to buy things from the dealer room and go around the con playing a dice game with attendees to see who would win the items as prizes. I rolled three of a kind in his game and won a copy of "The Windup Girl", by author guest of honor Paolo Bacigalupi.
  4. As usual, I lost things, but this time they were all found and returned to me.
  5. An incident involving whipped cream was the highlight of my weekend.
Perhaps the most important thing for the comfort and social cohesiveness of a con is the quality of its Consuite. This one was kept well-stocked with quality offerings, including fruit, sandwich fixings, tomato soup, breakfast cereal, and an abundance of snacks and drinks.

My presentation on Motion Capture Animation was fun and very well-received. I enjoyed expounding on it, until the audience asked about employment prospects, which is a discouraging topic. Earning my mocap technician certificate was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done, but I will be surprised if I ever recoup the investment. For others, getting employed involves promoting themselves in ways that impress HR departments, which I do poorly. For me, getting employed always involves either a temp agency, or someone who knows me personally and already thinks I'm fantastic. Mocap work is in cities where no one knows me, so I'm not holding my breath.

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