Hello there.

Peter has asked me to put together a cheeky wee post by way of introducing myself as brand, spanking* new member of Blazing Griffin. So hi, my name is Stephen Hewitt (Kitkat to some) and I’ll be joining the team in a Design capacity.

Right now, I don’t have a proper title so I guess I’m just ‘DESIGNER #1’, which sounds a bit like one of those red-shirt-wearing guys on the Enterprise who gets an invite down to a suspiciously peaceful-looking planet. Risk of face-sucking parasites aside, though, I can tell you folks are a cool bunch of people, so I’m looking forward to chatting to and working with you all. 🙂

Apart from this cool red outfit, and hand-held scanner that only works two feet away from quivering, be-tentacled life-forms, my background is working on ‘AAA games’ — I was last working on Realtimeworlds’ APB. Now suffering strange changes in scale, I’m none-the-less keen to move from those big games — with long development cycles — into shorter, indie projects, on shiny platforms with smooth curves (like iOS). I also think Blazing Griffin has got plenty of guts and enthusiasm, so we’ll be going places.

Like…

Distant Star

At the moment, my main focus is on Distant Star, looking at everything from the game design to usability and art style. So far I’ve had zero input into releases while I get up to speed with what’s going on, but that’ll gradually change.

While Distant Star is already out there — with some awesome work from Trevor, Peter and a host of insightful volunteer testers — we’ve been looking at the feedback and talking about where we take it next.

There’s plenty we can put on the list. But pulling a solitary thread out for now, one thing Distant Star probably needs is a clearer idea of what the strategies are (particularly as we plan to add a bunch more stuff). While there is already fun to be had, a number of game decisions made by players could probably do with clarification as to benefits and tradeoffs.

With this in mind, I invented…

The Diagram of Interesting Decisions

A useful design tool I came up with for Distant Star was what I call the ‘Diagram of Interesting Decisions’ (or DOID). As strategy games are all about making interesting decisions moment-by-moment, I thought it would be good to create a diagram of everything a player could choose to focus on in the game. This diagram provides a overview of the key decision areas (like fleet manufacture or tech development) as well as other supporting decisions, like ‘grow population’. Where I could, I clumped decision areas that were related (for example, ‘building new technology’ and ‘awareness of comparative levels of tech’ go together).

The next step will be taking these highlighted areas and ensuring they are represented in a ‘valid’ form in the game: it must be obvious, for example, what growing population does for you, why you might choose to do this instead of building fleet for a turn, and what the pros and cons are. In short, we need to make sure players can make informed, strategic decisions, across the whole ‘decision space’ of the game.

Sounds grandiose, but while the player should just have a warm fuzzy feeling of coherent fun, designing that structure takes design organization under the hood.

With or without a fancy diagram, we’ll need to consider the decision space in relation to things like interface design (for example, key decisions should be understood as important and easy to find in the higher levels of interface. If building fleet is vital, it can’t be an obscure option hidden off in the guts somewhere).

Similarly, if an immediate, tactical overview of the whole galaxy is important for battling your opposition — quickly seeing military build-up on other planets, for example — we need to provide for that need. We can also look at any particular decision and think: what if the player decided to do this and nothing else? What are the natural limits? Is this a ‘god strategy’? Or even consider how one decision flows into another (e.g. how tech development flows into fleet-building decisions), and so on. And perhaps most importantly, simplification: making sure decisions are intuitive and fun to make, while trying to ensure the overall game is compellingly hard to master.

So there you go. I guess that’s enough about DOIDS for now — it does rather sound like an 80s arcade game.

Hi, hello, and I’m off to go play Distant Star 🙂

Stephen.

*there will be no actual spanking.

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