CS/INFO 3152: Introduction to Computer Game Development

Communication Lab 2
Revising Ideas

Due: Thursday, February 11th at 11:59 pm

Your concept document will be due at the end of the week. This is your first major document, and without it you cannot procede further with your idea. In particular, we will reject ideas that are not feasible or interesting.

You already did some brainstorming in the previous lab. And while many of you came up with interesting themes, the games themselves are not yet compelling. That is because you have not thought enough about your mechanics yet. Your actions are either too vague or too generic. Therefore, you should spend this entire lab trying to understand your game mechanics. Once you think you have at least one solid, new mechanic, you can start work on the concept document due at the end of the week.

You do not need to understand all of the mechanics in your game. That is the point of gameplay specification which comes after the nondigital prototype. However, you do need to know enough to prove that your game something original and interesting about it.

If you are stuck on coming up with your mechanics, please call on a staff member to come over and help you. They have all been through this process several times and they can help you when you are stuck.

Revisiting Gameplay

The biggest problem that people are having are the actions. Most of the actions are either too vague, or they are generic actions like move, hide, and shoot, found in many other games. Actions are the core of your game, not the theme. So you most work on improving them.

In part, this activity is a repeat of mechanics portion of the previous lab. You should have received some feedback in CMS about your initial ideas. If you have not read the feedback yet, please read it now.

In this section we expand the activity a bit to give you some more help and improve your ideas. We also highly recommend that you review what we talked about game mechanics in class when thinking about your actions.

Brainstorming a Unique Mechanic

The first thing we want to do is for everyone to take their theme and come up with a unique mechanics for that theme. Remember that a mechanic is either an action, an interaction, or a combination of both. So that mechanic could be a unique verb that the player performs, like shrinking or growing. It could also be an unique interaction such as two laser streams crossing over each other. Combinations are also good, but for now concentrate on an action or interaction.

To figure out an action, take the player avatar and think about what that avatar can do. For example, what unique things can a teddy bear do? Does the fact that it is a stuffed animal make it different from a person? Is it harder to kill? If you remove stuffing can you kill it or just slow it down? Is there a reason the teddy bear might want to remove its own stuffing? What could the teddy bear do if it removed a body part like an eye, or an ear, or even an arm?

Another strategy is to think about a challenge, remove your most obvious way of overcoming that challenge, and then brainstorm a new way. For example, suppose I need to hold off a hord of enemies. The obvious way to do this is to kill them. Suppose I cannot kill at all. What else could I do? What makes your new idea more interesting than killing?

In building on your actions, the other thing we want you be aware of are the limitations your actions might have. For example, the teddy bear only has two arms, so it can only remove two of them. And does it suffer any ill affects when it does not have any arms? You do not need to be too detailed about the limitations; just give us a high level idea of the restrictions.

This is hard challenge and should be taken seriously, as it is the key thing that will matter in whether or not your concept document is accepted. Generic games are not acceptable. Story-heavy games with no mechanics are not acceptable. If you have to change theme to fit the mechanics, then do so. Themes are place to start, but they are not the most important part of your game.

Build Upon the Mechanic

Once you have your unique mechanic, build upon it. If it is an action, add interactions that can combine with it. If it is an interaction, add an action or two that can can combine with or affect the interaction. You also might want to think about how two interactions might combine with one another. For example, if a collision produces a sound (one interaction), might this sound alert someone (another interaction)?

Let us return to the teddy bear example. Suppose the teddy bear can remove an eye. Does the game have a fog of war that only allows the bear to see what is around it? Perhaps the eye allows the teddy bear to look at two places at once. What would be the advantage of that? Or better yet, suppose the bear left an arm attached to a lever. Could the bear the pull that lever no matter how far away it is from the arm?

Ignore any mechanics that do not immediately combine with your core idea. You may need some basic actions like movement or shooting. You can assume you have those, but keep them to the bare minimum. Focus on the more interesting things you can do.

Show Off the Mechanics

Finally, we want a player mode diagram showing the player using your core mechanic to overcome a challenge. It does not have to be a fancy illustration. It can be a quick sketch with stick figures. It can be a picture taken of a whiteboard. Whatever the case, it should clearly show the player in action, as covered in the first design lab.

This diagram is not supposed to be something that your designer spends hours working on. We want something drawn in no more than 15 minutes. Save the good art for the concept document.

Concept Document

If you have time left over, we recommend that you spend class time on the following two parts of the concept document.

Follow the links above to read the instructions for each of these. The unique mechanic that you have decided upon should be the central feature of both of these. It should be clearly spelled out in your high concept statement. For example, look at the following high concept statement for Forgotten Sky

Eons after a forgotten catastrophe drove mankind to take refuge deep within the earth, a young man has the audacity to dream of the sky. With nothing but a thin, swaying rope preventing an untimely end, guide Caelum through the ruins of past shelters as he ascends to the surface.

This was a game where the character used a rope like a grappling to move everywhere. This immediately obvious when you read the second sentence in the high concept statement.

Your core mechanic should be the very first feature in your feature list. Your feature list should also contain any of the mechanics you have built to combine with your core mechanic. Finally, your theme is also a feature, for those of you with a unique and original theme.

If you come with some ideas, ask for Traci Nathans-Kelly to come over and she will give you feedback on them. We also want you to turn in what you have on Thursday, so that we can comment before the concept document is due.


Due: Thursday, February 11th at 11:59 pm

We want you to turn in whatever you came up with during lab. We want your unique mechanic, and any additional mechanics building upon that. We want your quick player mode diagram. If you have a high concept document ready to go, we want to see that as well. That way we can give you feedback before the document is due.

With that said, we only want you to turn in what you have completed during lab. If you did not finish all of the activities in lab (particularly the player mode diagram), we do not want you working on this outside of class. Spend your time on the concept document instead.

Because of the player mode diagram, we ask that you submit your work as a PDF. You should do that even if you did not get to the player mode diagram. Create a file called mechanics.pdf which addresses all of the points above. You only need to submit this file once for the entire group.