Building Build-A-Frank

The design process – Joe

Going into the project, I was excited to make a board game because of the creative expression the medium allows. There has been an explosion of adult board games and card games in recent years, with games like Cards Against Humanity and Catan proving that there’s more to the genre than Monopoly. One of my favorite aspects of these new games in particular is their unique designs. Some games like Exploding Kittens feature whimsical artwork that contribute in a crucial way to the game’s overall atmosphere.

Beyond these games, my inspiration for the card designs came in large part from the advertisements I saw on the subway in New York City this past summer. The subway is supremely overwhelming: the heat, abject grossness, and frustration that I associated with these rides was often made slightly less bad by the surprisingly beautiful advertisements featured above the seats. The things I loved most about these advertisements were their bold, bright color schemes that made them pop. They were unique, handsome, and made me feel like the brand was professional. Knowing that I was after all an amateur gamemaker, I wanted the card design to mimic these advertisements to lend that air of legitimacy to the game.

I selected the font Baskerville for the text of the cards for several reasons. For one, its letters have serifs, which make it look professional. At the same time, I think the font is attractive enough that it doesn’t quite look like something you would write a research paper with. It makes sure the cards remain fun.

As for the images, I designed three versions of each body part to coincide with the three tiers of cards. For common cards, which are the worst ones to get, I drew the bones in Photoshop to look like a decomposed body part. I used average looking body parts as inspiration for the uncommon cards, and muscular parts for the legendary cards. I knew how to use Photoshop before the project due to my interest in graphic design, but I did pick up a few new skills.

Legendary headOne such skill was designing a custom pattern. I wanted polka dot backgrounds for the cards, because it was a lively pattern that still wouldn’t distract from the artwork. However, Photoshop doesn’t have a built in polka dot stamp. Using YouTube tutorials, I was able to create three versions of the polka dot pattern, one for each card class. I was inspired by the video game Fortnite in determining the colors for each tier of body part. In Fortnite, weapons come in five tiers, and are colored to correspond with their tier. Gray weapons are the worst, blue are very good, and gold are the best. As such, I used those colors in the three polka dot patterns for their corresponding three tiers of body parts.

For the back design of the cards, I wanted to continue with the polka dot motif while evoking Frankenstein, as the game was supposed to be about the story in some way. As such, I used the traditional Frankenstein color scheme of green on black. I found the font Runaway, which had a monstrous feathering on its edges that fit in perfectly with the game’s themes.

Lastly, I needed to make a logo. Since I loved the look of the legendary head card, which was a top-hat sporting gentleman, I re-used the head and added the game’s title in Runaway font.

Back design

Formulating rules – Kevis

Designing the game was a fun task, and I had three important factors that I wanted the game to follow. I wanted the game to be easy to understand and play, as the game would be presented to strangers who wouldn’t be willing to spend ten minutes on rules and mechanics. Second, I wanted the game to be complex enough to feel like there was real depth and strategy. Finally, I wanted the focus of the game to be progressive, with a discrete system of gains and progress.

One of the first themes I thought of when creating a board game was the deck-building card game, Dominion. It is a game that uses the building of a personal deck to win the game and I liked the aspect of collecting cards to progress. We used a similar theme for Frankenstein, as the monster was made up of cadavers of different people. As part of game development, we considered previous games that people have played before as a basis for the game. Primarily, using things such as dice can add randomness and forms of variance while being very easy to understand for most. By keeping core player actions tied to dice, it flattens the learning curve and makes it easy to play from the beginning.

Another game that I took inspiration from is Not Alone, by Ghislain Masson. The aspect of this game that I took was to have several different locations that players could visit in attempts to progress in the game. From this, we thought of the four zones, the university, the chapel, the black market, and the graveyard. These different locations add elements of strategy. Different locations should have accompanying advantages and disadvantages. Players should feel like they have personal efficacy in the outcome and progression of the game. This is an essential part of what makes a game enjoyable as a player. In our game, the choosing of locations serves as the primary form of independent selection within the game rules and structure.

The third consideration for the game was interaction between players and the interaction with the game. I thought that a turn-based game would be the best choice for our needs. A turn-based game requires less explanation and is conducive to a simpler setup. It also allows each player to see the actions of others for strategic planning. For our goals of an easy-to-play game with strategic elements, this option made sense. Finally, Joe had a great suggestion for a money system. After weighing some options, we decided it made sense to tie in money gain to turn progression. I also seriously considered creating another zone: one to earn money in. This way, players would have even more freedom in deciding to either spend more time to gain a consistent progression through money or using the graveyard zones. Ultimately, I decided that it would complicate the game and make it too complex for us, the game designers. Balancing the money path and the “digging” path would be too important for the game, and I did not want to bog planning down with something like that. Game balance image.

Uncommon head

We divided up the tasks for actual game creation. I wanted to add checkpoints as a proof of progression and as another interactive factor, and I created events to fill this. Events are additional actions that occur that affect all players and are a definite sign of the game progressing. This way, turns were divided into groups of 3 cycles of all players, after which events would occur. In addition, this allowed for a defined time limit for players to complete the game. After the first player reached the end goal, other players would have the remainder of that turn group to also complete the game. It was a nice balance that allowed others to catch up instead of one instant winner while not forcing the first player to finish to wait too long for the completion of the game and rewarding that player for finishing first. I used a software called Nandeck for creating the event cards. Joe created the decks involving the body parts and the bones, which led to an interesting challenge of integrating my work with his, as I used this software and he used Photoshop. I spent quite some time considering how I wanted the events to affect players and balancing giving player interactivity and not affecting game state too much. I decided to err on the side of less impactful events; however, if this were to be a published game, I would likely make events a core aspect of the game’s progression. A few of the events allowed for the players to directly interact with each other. Given more time, I think I would add more aspects of this into the game, as the iteration we presented kept inter-player gameplay to a minimum.

Making it come to life – Leah

One of the coolest parts of my job was the game instructions. I emulated the format of the instructions sheet from some of my own favorite childhood games, such as Uno and Parcheesi. Additionally, I was able to create the logo for the game, which I made with the head and fonts Joe had made for the cards. I decided to use the head from the legendary skeleton because of the dapper top hat Joe had artfully included.

While the formatting was part of my assigned tasks, I really enjoyed the process of making the rules as it was the most collaborative part of the game making. We all took part in creating the rules; seeing which ideas worked, which didn’t, and which would be expanded upon to create a functional board game. The rules were changed and developed throughout nearly the entire process, evolving even through our first few game plays together as a group. As we made the final touches and tweaks to the rules in our playthroughs, it was truly exciting to see the game go from being a concept to being a reality. Granted, it was a lot of details, brainstorming and creativity from three different people, but it made for one cohesive, and pretty awesome, final product.

In addition to formatting the instructions, I was also in charge of finding and editing the images we would use for the board itself. The images I chose for game board were inspired by many of the Frankenstein media forms we explored in class, including both the 1931 and 1994 films. In keeping with the theme, I continued to choose black and white images to create a game board that looked as though they belonged together. I just made sure to add three little circles, using Joe’s font, on one image that would keep track of each round played.

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Game instructions

Although the digital work was manageable, I really thrived at the non-digital crafting of the game. Next to our group collaboration on the instructions, working hands on with tangible objects was my favorite part of the process. I spent a few solid, serene hours painting each individual wooden money token and a few game pieces. Each gold and silver wooden coin got three layers of paint while my fingers received a few hundred. In addition to purchasing the tokens, paint, brushes, board and game pieces, I was also in charge of the printing, laminating and cutting of the board images and each individual playing card. It was time consuming and a learning process, as I discovered three different lamination options and several more options for printing paper in regards to size, thickness, and quantity. However, with (four hours worth of ) patience, a tedious manual paper cutting machine, and a very helpful Office Depot employee, I succeeded in helping to create a final product I was proud to be a part of.

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The laboratory

We made a trailer for our game—check it out!

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Seveneves: The Role-Playing Game!

 

[featured image taken from https://www.nealstephenson.com/news/2015/05/26/seveneves-site/%5D

When you were a kid, did you ever play those games where you would look up to the sky and imagine the clouds as bunnies, dragons, or anything in between? Did you ever play the ever-popular “the floor is lava” game? If so, fantastic, because as a kid you’re sort of expected to have an active imagination. But why does this expectation fade over time? What about “growing up” means that you have to lose your creativity? Well, we believe there is absolutely no reason for that imagination to wane, and in this blog post we’d like to suggest a fun way to keep your inner kid alive and well.

It’s called a role-playing game (RPG for short), and you may have heard about more popular ones, like Dungeons & Dragons, as there has been a resurgence of interest following the use of this particular RPG in popular culture (think Stranger Things). We made an RPG that was a combination of Dungeons & Dragons, Stars Without Number (a sci-fi RPG), and Seveneves (a science fiction book by Neal Stephenson). Ours may not be the best RPG out there, but if anything we hope this blog post shows you how, without enough time and thinking, anybody can have a great time making and playing an RPG.

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The idea of the RPG is one that has been solely rooted in the fantasy genre, and by association, the wider genre of romance, something that we have discussed at length in this class. The RPG brings together a group of people, often with varying skills and interests that offset each other, with a shared goal. There is usually some form of quest, self-redemption, or self-revelation that occurs, and because RPGs are more focused on player character development than most other forms of interactive media that we discussed, we thought it best to use to remediate a science fiction novel. Additionally, we both have years of experience playing role-playing games such as D&D and Pathfinder, and have planned our own campaigns before as well as played personal characters in others. All of those campaigns were solely in the fantasy genre, however, so if we were going to make a science fiction RPG, we would have to do a little research.

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The first order of business was understanding the book in which we were basing our RPG. Internet synopses can tell you more than we can here, but this is the gist: the moon was destroyed by an unknown “Agent,” and in the two years before the moon rocks crash to Earth and destroy everything, humanity stashes itself in space to return thousands of years later as collection of seven races, stemming from the seven fertile women who survived in space. You can see more contextual information later in the post and in our notes, or if you’re really invested you can even read the book. The point is this book was perfect for creating a sci-fi RPG.

Furthermore, we scoured the Internet for tips and resources on how to make a sci-fi RPG. From Googling those exact words to thumbing through Reddit threads, we took a few days to amass as many ideas as possible. We settled on the system Stars Without Number, as this RPG system was freely available and seemed to be quite well developed for our purposes. Specifically, this system did a great job at reframing D&D classes into various jobs and skills that were more suitable for life in space, rather than a fantasy world, and the system itself was flexible enough to modify.

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Why would we need to modify the system? Well, our goal for this project was to develop a “one-shot” game, or an RPG that is meant to be played in a single session rather than in a multiple-session campaign. With this in mind, our primary concern was providing the players enough time to explore the world we were creating. We easily adjusted the mechanics for making skill checks to be less based on players stats and more based on intent and narration. In more practical terms, players could essentially do whatever they wished without all the role-playing and messing about that takes time, so the Game Master (GM) could provide more narration about the environment. It worked out pretty well, as you can see in the videos we’ve placed here and throughout the post.

There are many other mechanical considerations you have to make when planning an RPG. Where is the game set? What is the history of this setting? What is society like? What maps do you need to make? Who might the players encounter, and what will that encounter look like? Is there a point system? Since we based our game on the world of Seveneves, we had a lot of the contextual questions taken care of already. We answered the RPG-specific questions, and you can see our notes in the Google document link in this post later on. The doc can speak for itself, but we’d like to briefly elaborate on the point system, which we developed from the ground up. Normally “points” in the RPG world are experience points that accumulate to level up the player. However, we used “assets” as a way of measuring how well the players were forming bonds with the species on Old Earth, and so whichever team (Red or Blue) had the most assets by identifying and succeeding in more opportunities by the end of the session won.

We gathered up some of our friends to play a short one-shot on a Monday. In RPG terms, a “one-shot” is usually a game or storyline that takes one or two sessions to finish (as opposed to usual longer story arcs in regular play). We planned on filming the session to use in our presentation, so we wanted to have every possible race represented. Our friend Penn played an Ivyn engineer, Jacob played a Camite priest, Nick played a Julian aspiring politician, Jamz played a Moiran biologist, Ethan played a Teklan transport specialist, Jordan played a Dinan astronavigator, or “astrogator,” and Matthew played an Aïdan technician. Torie acted as the “GM,” or the Game Master, who essentially narrates the campaign and prompts the players to make various “checks” in order to see if they successfully complete the actions they wish to perform.

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The plot itself was simple: each of the player characters had been gathered as part of a co-racial mission from an orbiting space station around the Earth to explore a newly terraformed surface and investigate for human life. You can read more about it here. You can also see the racial traits and backgrounds we provided for our player characters to choose from. In our game, which lasted about three hours (typical for a standard RPG session, at least for us), our group encountered a race of humans that had adapted to living underwater for over 5,000 years that the orbiting population nicknamed the “Pingers,” after the sonar-esque transmissions they intercepted from their society. While at first a little hostile, our group managed to curtail the growing violence and managed to establish good terms with a group of Pingers. (Here is a video of their “first contact”). They shared technological knowledge and made some vague promises at treaties with military leaders, and were pointed to the underground race of humans (“Diggers”) to assist them in repairing their broken communications device.  

As a player character, or PC, I found the sci-fi context fascinating. Personally, I’ve always loved engaging with any media from this genre; though everything is scientific and futuristic, it’s still all imagined and possible, so it makes me feel optimistically youthful. For this game, we had a mix of rambunctious and withdrawn players, so that made the three hours we played pass with much entertainment. I was in the unusual position of being a quasi-GM, meaning that I was privy to everything that might happen in the game, but I still had to engage as a player who did not know these things. Thus, I found myself motivating the players to pursue various paths that I knew would keep the action in the game flowing. I wish we had had more time to thoroughly explore the world that we had created, but that’s just the nature of a one-shot game.

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As a GM, Torie found that there was a lot of the story that she did not prepare for. Unfortunately, only one member of the group besides us had actually read Seveneves ( a couple of them did read it after the session, though!), and this proved to be a bit of a problem when Torie ended up killing a lot of game time explaining background situations and mechanics of the players’ society and objects to them. Both of us (Torie and Matthew) have been Game Masters for our own games before, and while Torie had over twenty pages of GM notes, we both knew that planning a successful campaign and story took a much longer amount of time than a single month. Even with the most careful planning, though, the fun of RPGs is that the players make their own decisions, which means that there is always something happening that the GM has zero plans for. Torie expected this, and because of it, was able to work mostly successfully with the players’ wishes as they went. We were hoping to have contact with both the Diggers and the Pingers in this, but, after three hours, the group had only made it to the Pingers, and we decided to call it a night. (This is common with our experience as GMs and players, stories always take a little longer to tell/roleplay than you think they will). 

In conclusion, we loved the opportunity to take something we both love to do as a hobby and integrating it with the themes that we have learned in ENGL 3726 with Professor Clayton at Vanderbilt. We have both grown up with these “new” forms of media that we have discussed in class, and have been fans of the fantasy and sci-fi genres since childhood. Being able to put those together in this new creation was a really satisfying culmination of these themes for us, and we know that our friends enjoyed playing through the story with us as well.

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Team 4: Castle Joyeous

Anna Dickens & Zack Goldman

Book 3, Canto 1, Stanzas 32, 41, 63-66

Emerging from the depths of forest, the awe-struck PC suddenly beholds the breathtaking sight of Castle Joyeous, Malecasta’s opulent residence, rising formidably from a spacious green plain. After the battle on the plain, the six knights lead the PC inside of the castle. Upon entering the palace’s walls, the traveler finds himself in a great luxurious chamber, its walls and pillars crafted from pure gold and beset with sparkling jewels. Beautifully crafted tapestries adorn the chamber’s walls, depicting the myth of Adonis and Venus’s passionate romance.

The knights usher the enamored player down the length of hallway to a large door at the opposite end. Approaching the door, the PC can hear the faint notes of a distant song and the din of lively chatter, growing ever louder. In the next room, richly attired damsels and squires swirl across the marble dance floor to the soft, undulating beats of a sensual melody. Wine and spirits flow freely. Spanning the center of the feasting hall stands a long golden table, upon which an abundant banquet is spread—plates heaping with braised meats and exotic fruits and mouthwatering pastries.

Awestruck, the PC stands and quietly beholds the magnificent delights of opulent hall, but the knights break him from his state of wonderment and lead him over to the fireplace, where a dark, sinister beauty sits on a sumptuous high-backed chair, her blood-red lips tightly pursed into a sly grin. The PC is then introduced to this captivating enchantress, whose name is Malecasta. The lady of Castle Joyeous, Malecasta is lustful, wanton, and dangerously beautiful. As she regards the PC, her black eyes shine with an amused, almost lustful glint.

At last, night has befallen the castle, and all the guests retire to their bedchambers. Malecasta’s personal bodyguard courteously leads the PC into a comfortable-sized guest room with a large four-poster bed. The PC climbs under the covers and immediately lapses into a sound slumber. In the middle of the night, the door of the bedchamber creaks open, and Malecasta, clad in a white nightgown, slips quietly into the darkness of the room. Slowly and silently, a lustful gleam in her eye, she creeps toward the bed, where the NPC continues to doze in sweet oblivion. When she reaches the bed, she carefully lifts the bedcover, her fingers trembling with animal, greedy desire, and peers under the sheets.

The PC, sensing Malecasta’s presence, leaps up in a state of disheveled shock and instinctively grabs his sword, brandishing it aloft. Upon seeing the sharp weapon, glistening in the silken moonlight streaming in from the window, Malecasta omits a loud, ghastly scream that pierces the silence of the sleeping castle. Immediately, the six knights rush in, and a confrontation ensues in the darkness of the bedchamber. The PC must successfully defeat the six knights in order to leave Castle Joyeous.

Quests:

The Lover’s Quarrel

Quest Items: The love note

Goal 1: Speak to the suspicious female reveler who will prompt the PC to spy on her allegedly unfaithful husband

Goal 2: Search the couple’s bedchamber, finding the love note addressed to the mistress of the castle

Goal 3: Speak to the suspicious female reveler’s husband

At this point the suspicious female reveler’s husband will offer the player monetary compensation in return for the love note.  The player can…

Goal 4 A: Give the note to the husband and receive a gold reward and negative chastity

Goal 4 B: Refuse the husband’s offer and give the note to the suspicious female reveler, gaining positive chastity

Mistress of the Castle

Quest Items: The Bedchamber Key (This key will allow the PC to access the guest bedchamber)

Goal 1:  Speak to Malecasta’s personal bodyguard to discuss the background of Castle Joyeous

Goal 2: Speak to Malecasta and receive the bedchamber key (Malecasta will attempt to seduce the player)

Goal 3: Follow Malecasta’s personal bodyguard to the guest bedchamber

Flight from Castle Joyeous

Goal 1: Go to sleep in the guest bedchamber, eventually awaking to the sound of a scream

Goal 2: Find Redcrosse (at this point Redcrosse will join the player’s party)

Goal 3: Return to the guest bedchamber and battle the six knights with the assistance of Redcrosse

Goal 4: Exit Castle Joyeous

In addition, we would like to implement a basic morality system.  Certain actions taken by the PC will result in a change of morality.  A player’s morality alignment will affect interactions with NPCs.  A given player’s moral alignment will determine conversational options.