Like A Rolling Stone

August 31, 2010
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I know I have been neglecting my duties as a transmitter of Martian activity of late but the Mars Rocks! are posting once more…

Mars Rocks! - broadcasting potential fact from the red planet...


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The Clarkson Clonk Test

August 30, 2010
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Of late I have been having what could only be described as cock all luck with my car. It’s been in and out (mostly in) of the garage for a month now and managed to break down some 300km from home yesterday.

The Clarkson Clonk Test - as good a test as any for working out if a car is crap or not...

Thinking what a terrible buy the motor turned out to be I was reminded of one of my only ever efforts to build a website. It was inspired by a test that Jeremy Clarkson used to prove that a Cadillac CTS was a rubbish car, so I dubbed it the Clarkson Clonk Test.

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Level Up!

August 10, 2010
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Lifts (elevators) are never far from my mind, I work in a building that, at the turn of the year, had four decrepit ones, and it was rare that all of them were working at the same time. These lifts are currently being replaced – one has already been done and we call it the “space lift”, because it moves at about twice the speed of the old units and its doors open in the blink of an eye. Despite this exciting development, it still seems like the lifts go everywhere expect the floor you want.

Building owners - encourage your tenants to take the stairs...

My workplace is seven floors up and I’m fit enough to take the stairs, but I rarely do. The worst part is that I probably waste just as much time waiting for the lift as I would taking the stairs, so for the same amount of time I could be fitter.

Obviously, I had to be reading an article about game design (Ernest Adams on Sim Tower and its elevators, to be precise) before I could think of a solution to my problem. Fundamentally, I need to be incentivized, I need a reward card where I get points for taking the stairs, even for part of my journey, instead of taking the lift. In return for installing and operating a reward scheme I would take fewer lift journeys and reduce the load on the system, meaning the machinery lasts longer and everyone else gets where they’re going faster. Win, win, surely.

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How to Make a Competition Winning Game in Just 8 Years

August 9, 2010

On Friday the 23rd of July I got a telephone call that I really, really, deeply, seriously hoped I would get but really, really, deeply, seriously didn’t think I would get. It was from Andrew Baker, who founded and runs IQ Ideas, a New Zealand board game company. This year they ran a competition for board game submissions and I won the game without a board category. Perhaps I shouldn’t have described it as a board game competition.

The original version of this press release had me down as living in Aukland, which is pretty weird, because Dell tried to deliver my new laptop to Aukland too...

However, this was no overnight success, no Girls Aloud/Busted rollercoaster of wish fulfilment. Heck no.

I first conceived of Posers (my winning game) in the autumn of 2002. As a teenager I had a 12 inch wooden mannequin in my bedroom, which my parents had bought for me to encourage my drawing, but which me and my friends used to grab and shake, just to see what pose it would end up in. Most often it looked windswept, its limbs all angled in one direction like an exposed tree on the coast. On a fateful autumnal weekend near the turn of the century two of my school friends were visiting, a Mr Rendall, student of the then relatively new technology of the internets and a Mr Taylor, a practitioner of drinking and expert in the art of fake bruising. Despite the intervening years the pair remembered the old mannequin shake and spying it still in my possession they couldn’t resist a fling, for old time’s sake.

I believe the mannequin looked like it was doing something specific, such as stroking two rather diminutive horses, at that point, rather than its usual leaping dancer look, and the idea of a game where you could pose mannequins to convey words and phrases sparked into life within my grey matter.

On the Sunday night, after the visit I found myself alone and, while watching the Coral on ‘Later with Jules Holland’, I split my time between trying to make a hovercraft and writing a list of words and phrases a game of such devising as Posers would need. The hovercraft failed but the list came along nicely and reached actual list status in a matter of seconds, so it was technically finished in no time.

That was the easiest part of the whole process… Over Christmas I painted two mannequins with gloss paint so as to render them wipe clean from dry erase markers. I wish I could remember how I had that idea, or even if it was mine (gasp). I’m pretty sure it was my idea (sigh).

That was the beginning of two thousand and three, A.D. By the end of the year I’d managed to transfer all the words / phrases to individual cards. They might even have been in hand-made boxes by this point, but they certainly were by the end of 2004.

November 2005 and my brother’s 40th birthday was approaching. He’s always liked games and this seemed like a win, win – I got to finish the game and he got to play it.

The plan worked! Come his birthday I manage to give him the only copy of Posers game in existence.

At this point I was sure what would happen next would be as follows:

1. Brother would play game

2. Brother would like game

3. Brother would think “hot damn, with my knowledge, experience and contacts of the business world I could take this to market.”

4. Brother would take the game to market and it would be yachts all round

Well, my bro played the game, he played it with the family, he played it with friends. It went down a storm. My brother told me this, he also said I should do something with it.

I could never be a cat, I have no skills at getting others to do my bidding.

So Posers sat around for a while and occasionally I would think about doing something with it.

In terms of getting Posers into the big wide world I would forgive anyone for thinking that it should be pretty easy for someone that makes video games for a living to get a look in with board game makers. It might be for others (although I doubt it) and it might be for me, but for my abject poorness at self promotion and studied expertise at being unfocused. Want proof? Look at the list of blogs in the side bar, all of them have been started this year. It’s taken me over two weeks to write this post.

However, earlier this year my esteemed concept artist colleague, Mr Peter Freer, told be about a competition being run by IQ Ideas, New Zealand’s biggest board game maker. Naturally, I knew what I was going to enter. I also told all the designers at work about the contest, and then wished I hadn’t. I have to utmost respect for these gentlemen, I didn’t really want to have to compete against their skills.

Knowing exactly what I was making and how to make it, I did nothing to advance the second pressing until two weeks from the deadline. Printing and cutting out the 700 odd word/phrase cards was an early victory, which made me complacent, so I went back to eating toast and lounging about. I also made a wonderfully poor move painting the mannequins, applying the odd coat of spray paint every now and then, pretending I was making great strides.

Rogue particles from spray painting give you Space Specs!

Like all sensible people, I love spray paint – you can cover large areas quickly and you don’t have to faff around cleaning brushes afterwards. But I knew that spray paint wasn’t the right kind of paint for the mannequins. After several coats I tested a dry erase on the painted mannequins. Why i thought the mat finish paint would resist the pen I don’t know. Not only was the finish not pen resistant, my coverage was not too hot either. I threw good money after bad and bought gloss finish spray paint too, could it save me? It was meant for appliances and they sure are glossy. The mannequins became tired of the fumes and I found them trying to escape one day. I should have gone for the tried and tested gloss at this point. I didn’t.

Despite a synchronised dive my mannequins failed to get very far...

The mannequins weren’t the only thing giving me jip. My timer was flat-out eluding me. Egg timers aren’t as prolific as one would hope and Pete had warned me that I would find none in Wellington. I chose to pursue a two-pronged attack on the problem: By day I stalked two dollar stores and charity shops for cheap board games to plunder. By night I tried, at Pete’s suggestion, to make my own. The first prong found an hourglass, but it was broken, its little glass funnel shattered and bleeding sand throughout a plastic outer tube. Damn. I was lucky I didn’t regret not buying even a broken timer though, as the fine sand is hard to come by.

The second prong turned out trickier than I anticipated. I had little glass bottles that I thought would be ideal for the bulbs of the hourglass, and they were but I had trouble with the nozzle between the two. So I bought some cheap transparent plastic pens, with a plan to cut the tapered nib ends off the cases of. Gluing two together would create the required funnel, I figured. But, pens in hand, I thought “sod,it, I can take the innards out of these pens, stick them end-to-end, put a base on either end and there’s an hourglass”. A quick test encouraged me that this was a quick and easy idea, much faster than cutting the ends off the pens, but I had no sand, so I used salt. This proved the concept but salt cakes and I had to shake the timer to get it to flow. Knowing this would happen before I tried it didn’t make the result any less frustrating.

Sunday night, less than two days before I had to post Posers off and, while on my way to a friend’s birthday, I popped to the beach along Wellington’s Oriental Bay. Although the middle of winter and night time in the southern climes, there was many a person strolling along the prom prom prom. Stepping onto the sand I entered covert mode and pretended I needed to tie my shoelace. I should have untied my shoelace before I got out of the car, having an untied shoelace takes the pretending out of tying your shoelace and makes the whole thing work better. As it was, I untied my shoelace when I crouched down and probably looked like someone pretending to tie their shoelace. While crouched I scooped sand into one of my foolishly small glass bottles. The sand was damp though, so I had to push it with a finger to force it into the jar. I expect I looked more suspicious for attempting this espionage action than I would have by being bold and open. Perhaps I looked like a KGB trainee so talentless he can only be trusted with soil samples.

But I got my sand. A couple of drinks and I excused myself from the party – “sorry, I have to go make an hourglass.” That was the most my friends found out about my game.

However, the hourglass did not get made that night. The sand was too coarse and I needed to figure out a way of making finer before I could proceed. Oddly, at my parent’s house in the UK I actually have a large iron ball bearing that was made for the exact purpose of smashing grains of sand into finer particles. Owning the right tools for the job doesn’t help much when the tools are on the other side of the planet.

So the next day I was back on the trawl. No games were cheap enough new to pillage, or maybe they were, who knows what I might have if things hadn’t gone the way they did. Thankfully, the Salvation Army charity shop brought divine… er… salvation. A game called “Crap or Fact” was on their shelves for 8 dollars. I strode back to work victorious.

With one final evening of work left my mannequins were tested one last time. The spray paint was too, too, too porous, damn it! Approaching midnight I had a brain wave and went looking for varnish in our cupboards. I daubed the figures in a noxious vanish that probably had warnings about only using in ventilated areas, like not in the house, as I was. It also looked very brown but no matter, it was dry clear, I had faith. I then set about making some playing pieces, gluing together cardboard cubes with high strength bostik and colouring them with stinky solvent markers.

The combination of all three meant it was a while before I realised how light headed I was. I was working through a chemical fog but I pressed on. Finally I fell into bed and had strange dreams.

Five hours sleep and I was up again. The varnish had mostly dried, but not clear. It was like streaks of poo sliding down the formerly pristine 2001-like white mannequins. This wouldn’t have mattered if it weren’t for the fact that they still wouldn’t wipe clean of dry erase markers. I was gutted and was resigned to sending the game off in a dysfunctional state. Rach got up and tried to offer fixes for my poo men but all sounded impossible in the brief hours I had left before I had to post them.

She persevered though and somewhere along the line she mentioned sticky back plastic. Genius! I could use sellotape to cover them. That would work. It took an hour to tape over the hands, feet, arms, legs, torso, head and body of both the mannequins. They still looked too dirty to touch, basically something you wouldn’t want your kids playing with or your friends admitting to own, but they were functional.

Making this bag and the 700 and something cards with words and phrases on that it contains was by far the easiest part of making the game. I was really pleased with the bag too. Sad, sad, sad...

Mid morning and I popped out of work to the post shop to courier my parcel of game play to the Hawkes Bay area, hoping the folks at IQ Ideas drink the fine local wine in copious quantities and have a strange blindness to the colour brown. Parcel in post a huge wave of relief and satisfaction washed over me. Just finishing was a victory. Time for a drink, oh no, back to work.

I’ve been telling everyone I’ve never won anything before, except a jar of sweets in a “guess how many sweets are in the jar” competition at a street party for Prince Andrew and Fergie. And I believe I had to split my booty with Mark Hughes, a good school friend of mine, not the famous footballer. I also think I scarpered with the jar and never gave Mark his half. Children are mercenary creatures like that. I also drew the winning design for my primary school’s first logo (it was the 80’s, logos were really coming to the fore). I come from the village Captain Cook grew up in, so naturally a lot of us drew ships. I have no idea why mine got picked – it didn’t even look like the Endeavour, in fact you wouldn’t have known it was the Endeavour but for the fact that it had “Endeavour” written on it. It only took a few years for the school to realise that you should hire professionals to do graphic design, not entrust it to kids, and my logo went the way of the dodo.

Anyway, this is a major win for me. It’s my design, my work, my effort and mostly my win. I will, however, be forever grateful for Rach’s last minute remedy, it wouldn’t have won without that. It’s a couple of weeks since I got the call but you can still catch me looking chuffed. Imagine me doing a little dance and singing a song with words like “I won a competitin’, That’s so bitchin'” and you’re on the money. I dance and sing in my head though, not out loud or in action, that would be most un-British of me.

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Walk and Play: Dragons

August 5, 2010
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Some time ago, when I was between jobs I had an idea for a range of games that are a cross between Tamagotchi and Pokemon, but with the core mechanic being the act of walking. I’ve seen several things that are similar to this but never anything quite so committed to the idea. Anyway, you can download the full Game Design Document for one version here.

Walk and Play – Dragons GDD V1.1

Walk + Play - Step up and progress...

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