Thesis

Week 11: Research & Playtests 11-12

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Another week playing the Gotcha Game with friends! This time with two rounds of playtests and not one, but two modes of play! To date 75 different people have playtested my game since I started this process.

Conversation with game developer, Jane Friedhoff
I also struck gold with an opportunity to speak with Jane Friedhoff this week. Without necessarily planning it this way, I realize how helpful it’s been to talk with experts throughout my process—at the beginning, in the middle, and now at the end. As a brand new game designer, I haven’t always known what to expect, and now that I’m nearing the end, Jane helped me consider how to approach refining the game. Here are some of the takeaways:

  • For any game, she starts by testing the smallest thing first (i.e. the core mechanic). Then she changes one thing, and tests one change at a time.

  • Notice what makes people laugh or smile the most. Ask: what can you do to make that thing happen more? Might you need to take something away in order for that to happen more?

  • Related to the above, she asked me to identify the moments that I love.

  • Rules eventually start to set themselves.

  • In the rules refinement stage, I should start to try weird words.

  • Also, as I near the end, just give out the rules and let them be. Pretend that you are not in someone’s living room.

  • On receiving game feedback: people are right about their experience, but not always right about what should happen. But always make not of what people are saying anyway.

  • Regarding documentation: she often hires people to film.

Playtest Notes
This week I playtested in my friends’ home and also co-hosted the ITP TNO (Take-a Break Night Out! aka Thursday Night Out) at a bar near NYU. Folks seems to have a good time whether they’re at home or at a bar…yay! Here are some highlights:

  • I playtested two versions of the game: 1) collect a target number of word cards to win and 2) get rid of your cards first to win. Some people like having multiple words in their hand because of the choice it affords them. Others found their attention divided and focused too much on the possibilities to use them in the future; they preferred to have one card to be more present in the conversation. From both nights, players agreed that they felt more pressure with the one-word-at-a-time game—the stakes felt higher. At least one person commented that the round felt faster when playing with one card. People enjoy that the game can be played multiple ways.

  • Overall my rules are solidifying, and my instructions are succinct. I threw out a rule on how much time players have to all gotcha on one another—wasn’t needed because the conversation moves quickly and you only have so much room in your working memory to retain information. Either you can gotcha the word or you don’t and you move on. There didn’t seem to be any issues from nixing this rule.

  • Now that the mechanics feel good, I can tun to the to content again. For TNO I came up with a deck of really fun words to say out loud that directed the conversations in some hilarious ways. Need more of these!

  • I’m starting to get tired of my conversation questions, can I refine (get rid of the serious ones) and come up with new ones that are silly and fantastical?

  • Make people say, “gotcha!”—this is a really fun big moment that I love and would like to see repeated. I’m sure the setting and drinks help, but the vocabulary no doubt plays a role, too.

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Week 10: Playtests 8-10

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Three playtests in three days! This past week I tested the game with my target audience: good friends. SO MUCH FUN! There’s nothing like laughing hard uncontrollably.

I also tested new equipment for documenting gameplay (new camera, mics, extra light for nighttime, and a gimbal). Taking cues from Kickstarter game campaigns, I realize that it will be more effective to show the game and not just talk about it. Not only did I learn considerations for how to do that better, but I also realized important aspects of the game through my camera lens that I had not yet noticed.

Here’s what I observed from the playing the game with my friends and filming them play:

  • First of all, this game jumps to a whole new level with good friends because you have a sense of when they are speaking out of character or telling a flat-out lie. And when you catch them it’s even more hilarious.

  • With the physical cards, gestures are a big part of the gameplay, such as the dropping of words on the table and the flipping over of one to prove a point.

  • The end of the game is a regular highlight because each player reveals their snuck words and recounts the moments and contexts in which they were used—thus retelling a story of the conversation.

  • In all three cases, groups played an hour of straight, only to be cut off by previously-scheduled commitments.

  • While players took advantage of choosing their new question cards throughout each round, sometimes it wasn’t necessary. Everyone kept on a roll, often jumping off on tangents from the original topic question.

  • Playing to a target of four cards to win felt too short, so they often sent the goals higher themselves.

  • One group made up an entire new way to play the game in which you start with 4-5 words in your hand, and the first to get rid of all wins.

I’m so glad I practiced video documentation. Here are the topic points for me to remember for the future:

  • Get the main mechanics: the initial taking of cards, the reading of the topic question, guessing right & guessing wrong, the word reveal at the end.

  • Lighting is key, of course. For the two afternoon sessions, I scouted ahead and found bars with corner tables and tons of natural light. But my new camera performed quite well in the

  • Smooth shooting: use a gimbal or tripod if I can.

  • Audio, especially in a louder venue, such as a bar, is tricky. My new camera has a pretty good mic, but lavalier mics capture individual voices better.

  • Field of view: I need to make sure you can see the cards go down on the table and how folks have arranged their cards in their space.

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Week 9: Research & Playtests 6-7

Working with Word Lists & Office Hours with Allison Parrish (Monday, April 1)
I’ve been wondering how create dictionaries of “Goldilocks words”—words that aren’t too easy to slip into conversation on the sly (e.g. an, the, in, but) but are not too obscure either. One idea to determine word difficulty is to use its frequency within a particular corpus.

I got this idea from noodling around with wordsapi.com (a dataset of 350,000 words, of which 18% include a zipf or frequency score) and was later confirmed in my conversation with Clay Shirky. I started pulling random words for different parts of speech along with their zipf, a decimal number to the hundredths between 1-7. My notes are incomplete here, but it seems that I didn’t trust the data for some reason, and I kept getting duplicates. In retrospect, I could have kept track of repeats, but any event, I research word frequencies and discovered the work of Mark Davies, a linguistics professor at Brigham Young University. His projects include Word Frequency Data, from which I retrieved a clean and robust word sampling with frequency and parts of speech data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). This contains over 560 million words and is the “largest freely-available corpus of English, and the only large and balanced corpus of American English.” I trusted this data, but it listed word frequencies at a large scale for which I wasn’t sure how handle at 3am, from 21 to 6332195 so I queried the words against Words API to get friendlier numbers. (Allison later taught me how I to calculate the zipf score myself: it’s called math.)

In the end, I created three lists of words with from different ranges of frequencies, each with an equal allotment of nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. Each word was labeled with one part of speech, which of course is problematic considering that words can be several parts of speech depending on how they are used. I created physical word cards from these lists, which the thought that one day I’d test a point system. For example, easiest words worth two points, some worth three, and the hardest ones worth four. What kind of mechanics are needed when you’re aiming to reach a total point score instead of a total word score?

Allison and I spoked about technical ways to create word lists from texts, and some of her tutorials include:

She also pointed me to an open source word list here and books of parlor games from the 1800s! Many of the word games in those reminded me of mid-20th century games that I found on boardgamegeek.com during some of my early research, many of which involve some form of deciphering hidden words from rhyming clues or charades play.


I also ran two very different playtests this week! Here are the highlights:

Playtest 6 • Tuesday, April 2 (ITP Quick & Dirty Show)
The Quick & Dirty Show provided an opportunity to test out a few things:

  1. Parts of speech: are there some that are easier to detect / sneak than others?

  2. A new introduction script with more precise language and organization

  3. A new mechanic when guessing someone else’s word: if you’re right you take the card-in-hand of the other person and add it to your pile; if you’re wrong, they take your current card-in-hand into their stack of points.

  4. Slogans and login design: which resonates more?

In total, seven different groups of people played for nearly 2.5 hours straight. The included a mix of current ITP students (1st-years, 2nd-years, and residents), friends of current students, and prospective students. I personally knew about half of the people who played. Of course the context of the event is to test work, so folks who sat at the table did so ready to play. It was a blast! The introduction and the guessing word mechanics felt right—much fewer questions overall compared to past playtest sessions. International students suggested it would be a fun way to practice English (this is a repeating theme). My unscientific assessment was that adjectives and adverbs are too easy. “Sincere Competitive Chitchat” seems to be winner.

Playtest 7 • Tuesday, April 3 (ITP Feedback Collective)
Early on in this process, Greg Trefry suggested that I play the game in a variety of groups, even with folks who don’t really want to play. My sense is that I checked this box by forcing the game into context of the only formal crit group at ITP. The atmosphere was completely different from the festiveness of the night before. In comparison it was eerily quiet and only three people played across wide classroom tables while others looked on—which added an off-putting performance vibe into the mix. Attendees included one professor, one resident, four 1st-year students, and myself. It was useful, however, because it helped me see a recurring theme when people who do not know each other personally well, and who are not seeking to play the game, are wrangled into it: the conversations invariably lag and there’s feedback to include a timer to pressure people into speaking. I also tested something new and presented a choice of themed words: the most-searched Shakespeare keywords (source), keywords from A Brief History in Time (The Foreword to Chapter 6) (source), and keywords from the two most recent State of the Union Addresses (source). Players chose Stephen Hawking. This throws an extra layer of meta into the game: 1) keeping up with the conversation, 2) planning how to insert your word, and now 3) considering the context of the words’ theme to help you catch them.

Going Forward, some notes for the next three weeks:

  • Pick a target audience: This game has a different feel and might need different mechanics for different contexts (an ice-breaker for people who just met, a parlor game for friends and family, or language fluency practice with vocab words—an inkling that I’ve had since the midterm presentation. I probably need to focus on just one group for the remainder of this semester: let’s do friends!

  • Schedule events: I need to plan rendezvous with my friends.

  • Documentation: …and start filming said rendezvous. Since the final thesis assessment is a presentation, it will be imperative that I show the game in action in order to explain well it to the audience. I’ve ordered a shotgun mic for my smartphone and additional filming accessories for a lightweight yet quality video recording rig.

  • A digital version? Ideally, I’d like to code a digital version to test out a variety of dictionaries as it takes so much time to make word cards) so I’ve started coding a possibility. I feel good about the mechanics of the current paper prototype, but I’m not sure how to translate them into a web app exactly. This will be the focus up the upcoming week.

Explaining the game to Seb at the Quick & Dirty Show

Explaining the game to Seb at the Quick & Dirty Show