Sunday, March 14, 2010

Designing a Hybrid Card Game

I'm working on a design for a card game that incorporates a mobile device into the game play. It's for my game design class final project, which is intended to have us solve a design problem of our choosing. I believe creating a hybrid card game is a great problem, since incorporating something like an iPhone would take a lot of careful thought to avoid creating something cheesy, forced, or just plain boring.

(I have to give credit to my husband and fellow computer scientist, Andrew, who first suggested this idea for my project.)

I think there are a few different ways to make good use of a mobile device in a card game. The key is to take full advantage of the extra computing power, and do something that would not be possible on paper, or with the state that can be represented and actions taken with the cards. One possibility is to simulate a complicated process that would be affected by the cards employed by players, or storing a more complex player or game state than would be possible otherwise. The computer might give a player some special ability while they hold onto it, such as being able to investigate hidden data. The computer might also be used to provide more interesting visual feedback to the player, such as through augmented reality, though this risks being superficial.

When I started brainstorming game concepts, the most compelling idea was to have a creature live on the computer:
This would allow for more complex behaviour and action results related to the creatures, where the goals and the allowable actions would still be defined by the cards. Another interesting aspect of having the creatures not available each turn is that some actions might allow you to gain access to the computer when you aren't normally supposed to (thus interrupting another person's access). Players will also not be able to have the entire state of their place in the game placed in front of them, as would be the case if everything were represented by cards alone.
I've come up with a few possible stories to base my game on using this idea. My favourite involves geneticists:
Players are scientists vying to win the top prize in genetics. They each want to develop the "best" creature in order to claim the glory. The "best" is determined by each creature's performance in a final challenge at the end of the game. The challenge is chosen by the scientist, and can change throughout the game (though not often). In this way, players must try to guess what final challenges the others are preparing their creature for; they might want to adjust their strategy accordingly, or try to sabotage their opponents' plans.

To prepare their creatures for the final challenge, players will have several options, depending on the cards they are dealt. One possible way to do this will be through mini-challenges with other players. For instance, if one player wanted to increase their creature's intelligence, they might have it duel with another player in a trivia challenge (and hope to choose a player that has a less smart creature). Other cards may allow them to boost one characteristic at the expense of another, and so on. What players can do will be partially determined by the luck of the draw. It may also be interesting to incorporate some resources, like money, political capital, and so on, and outside adversaries such as PETA might also be possible.
I'm quite excited about hammering out the details of the game in the next couple of weeks. I intend to design my own cards and eventually implement the game for the iPhone. I would love to hear what you think of the concept, and if you have any other neat ideas that would work well with it!


Oliver said...

Here's a favourite of mine I've been holding onto for when I get the chance -- create a cameraphone-based pokemon-style game where the creatures you encounter are hidden and generated based on the snapshots you take.

Each snapshot yields a creature who's on-card and hidden attributes are generated by various evaluation functions which use the image data as input. This presents an easy way to create a massive and difficult-to-predict variety of creatures for that gotta-get-em-all addiction, and encourages people to explore the real world in order to acquire the variety of snapshots necessary.

My favourite example of an evaluation criteria is to hash down the colour values and intensities and correlate them with different powers and levels for those powers, along with selecting a subset of sprites to assemble the actual creature appearance. Eg. A photograph in the best parts of autumn would yield a high concentration of red/orange/yellow from the leaves on trees, and depending on colour composition, this would translate into a variety of fire-related creature types, like the classical firebreathing dragon, etc.

If we wanted to tie in augmented reality, we would have tooltips overlay on the camera's viewfinder to provide hints on the creature properties that might be located in your current snapshot.

My initial thought was that such a game would be ideal for encouraging photography students to seek out shots which exhibit interesting elements of photographic theory like depth of focus, repetition of pattern, framing, etc.

P.S. I totally claim royalties if someone gets rich of this. :P ;)

Gail Carmichael said...

Sweet idea!

rouli said...

Gail, in your concept game, the cards represent genes, and the AR presents the phenotype resulting with that combination of genes the player currently holds?

Because such a game cool be very cool, some kind of a card based Spore.

Gail Carmichael said...

@rouli: Although that's not quite how I pictured it, that would also be pretty cool! I'm guessing that "geneticist" might actually not even be the right term for it... I'm picturing the cards representing various actions you can take to try to massage your creature's abilities, if you will. Some might be pretty arbitrary, like somehow upping strength at the cost of intelligence or something, and some will be through the 'mini-challenges' I mentioned (winning a fight gives more strength, etc). I'm in the process now of fleshing out the details so it's not fully formed yet. :)

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