Land of the Cyclopean Deathpiggies!
It never ceases to amaze me how different my games turn out compared to my initial ideas so I thought it might be fun to chronicle that evolution this time around.
Part I: The Idea
Zombies + Lack of Coding Confidence + Greek Mythology + Questionable Artwork + a Young Child = Cyclopean Deathpiggies
Nobody has ever asked me where I get my ideas but I trust that someday I’ll be a rich and famous game developer who is asked that All the Time and so I figure I’d best start practicing my answers now. Some years back I played a game called Zombie Dice. In short, it involves rolling dice in an attempt to eat brains and not get blasted by shotguns. The dice have different colors, with the shotguns being a more likely outcome on red ones, less so on green ones, etc.
I wanted to try creating a similar “press your luck” type of game that requires players to routinely decide whether or not they are willing to risk their gains for a chance at greater reward. The first change I decided to make to the Zombie Dice concept was to add a game mechanic by which the Bad Outcome could occasionally be countered. The second was to add a selection mechanism by which the player had a level of control over the amount of risk being taken. The third was to portray the game through cards instead of dice… largely because I didn’t think I could do dice justice from a coding standpoint. Cards, on the other hand, would be easy.
Then came the theme. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the right theme can elevate the game’s fun-factor considerably. Given that I’d been playing Minotaurus quite a bit at that time I had Greek mythology on my mind and decided to try something along those lines. Teams of Greek warriors could be charging through a labyrinth, trying to collect gems and avoiding the minotaur within. A few minutes later I had my first card icons: a gem, a sword (for fighting off the minotaur), and the minotaur itself.
The initial version of the game in hyperPad was simply five cards that you could flip over and which were randomly assigned a status of gem, sword, or minotaur. You had to reset the game to play the next hand and all scoring/rules/what-have-you were handled by the humans involved. It was sufficient; my initial playtester (age 5) insisted on playing it for a good 20 minutes. The only real catch was that said playtester also wanted to know why there was a pig on the cards. I pointed out it was a minotaur. She pointed out it didn’t look much like one. (She, too, had been playing Minotaurus.) A pig it was then, but it needed to be a pig with gravitas; a pig to worth fearing. Hence “Deathpig,” which – when chanted repeatedly by a 5-year-old – quickly turned into “Deathpiggy.”
And yet it felt like it was still missing something. One adjective later we had “Cyclopean Deathpiggies.” I didn’t have a good reason for tacking on “Cyclopean;” it just sounded fun. In retrospect I think I was subconsciously still trying to slip Greek mythology in there somewhere. Then came the hard question: “Jungle of? Island of? Land of?” The last option seemed to roll off the tongue best when being said with a proper Pulp Adventurer sort of voice so there it was: Land of the Cyclopean Deathpiggies!
The next step was to flesh out the game a bit…
 I wouldn’t say that I play games because I want to be better at making games; I just like to play lots of different games. Still, it is a great way to get ideas, to see what works, to learn what doesn’t, and to discover interesting and different ways to approach various concepts.
Part II: Version 1.something
Before trying to create a version for the Hub, I created a mental list of the minimum set of elements I felt would be necessary to make this a playable game:
- Two player capability
- Track the current number of gems with the expedition (e.g., gems that could be lost)
- Track the number of gems safely at “Home”
- Identify when a player won with 12 gems at “Home”
- Track pig attacks, taking into account the pigs that were countered by swords
- Identify when an expedition was lost due to pig attacks
- Instructions for play
- A splash / menu page with a play button (which isn’t necessary a requirement but always makes me feel like I’ve made a slightly more professional product)
Instead of nice buttons I used what has become my standard short-hand for button creation, a bright yellow label with applicable text between brackets to show it’s clickable, like so: [Play]. Having done that a couple times now, I think I want to change my process and use a set of generic graphical buttons. That way when I have the actual button image I want to use I can just switch the image of the object and don’t have to go in and change the target object in the various behaviors. Note to self: make a set of generic graphical buttons.
I did end up adding some visual effects that caused the numbers of gems and pig attacks to pop when they changed to try to help the players notice that happening. I don’t think the end result is sufficiently eye-catching so there’s certainly still work to be done there. The game would benefit from many more visual effects that clearly depict events as they occur (e.g., pigs being countered by swords, gems being added to the expedition party total, gems moving to Home). This would have the benefit of making it easier for players to track what was happening within the game and, if done right, could be fun to watch in their own right.
One of the toughest aspects of the project was creating the set of instructions. It ended up a long page of text that, frankly, wasn’t particularly clear. A benefit of hammering it out, however, was that it forced me to think about how I wanted to refer to each round / turn / game. I thought it might make things easier to understand if I had some consistent terminology that fit the narrative I was trying to create, like:
- Each time you are dealt cards is a new Day of exploring for your Expedition.
- Each time it is your turn it is a new Expedition.
- Your Expedition is over if you end any Day with three uncountered pig attacks. (Assuming "uncountered" is even a word...)
- You only get credit for gems if your Expedition ends and the gems are taken Home. (Of course, that meant I then had to make sure there was a spot on the screen that specified where Home was.)
Some of the terminology feels like it has promise but I'm not entirely sold on it yet.
As a side note, I really like the idea suggested in the game comments (once it was posted to the Hub) of having an in-game tutorial so that’s on the list of to-do items for the next version. I will not lament the removal of the Instructions screen, I'll tell you that much.
Personal playtesting of the game at that point revealed that it was easy for there to be confusion about whose turn it was if the players weren’t paying close attention so I added a break screen that ensured the acting player was ready for their turn. (Ok, what really happened was that my 5-year-old playtester would push the button to end her turn and – if I didn’t notice – would happily start playing my turn as well.)
The end result was a skeleton of a game but it worked… even if I spelled Cyclopean wrong:
Part III: Brainstorming Screen Layouts
I’ve had a few ideas about how I might arrange things to make the screens more interesting visually (and to accommodate some of the changes I want to make with the game.)
First up is the Player Selection screen. I’d like to get away from using Player One, Player Two, etc., so I’m considering use of characters. Each player could select a character they’d like to have representing them (not unlike Clue.) If only one character portrait was selected this would initiate a single player game vs. an AI. If two to four portraits were selected then it would initiate the multiplayer version of the game.
The Player Ready screen would use the character portrait to indicate which player goes next.
And the character portraits would appear on the bottom of the game screen along with their collected gems so you can tell how everyone is doing when it is your turn. (The active player’s character would be highlighted.) Another change to the game screen would be to eliminate the current pig counter – which is confusing at best – and replace it with a visual representation of the three members of the expedition team. One team member would be crossed off for each uncountered pig attack. If the third member is crossed off then the team and any gems they collect have been lost. I considered coming up with character portraits for the team members as well but I think I’m going to leave them as faceless NPCs. From the view of the narrative they are replaceable and only as important as any gems they might have. Also, this way I won’t end up getting too emotionally attached to them and decide to bring them safely home when the better play would be to send them out for another round of gem gathering.
Finally, there’s the updated Help/Pause screen. The list of rules is going away because there will be an in-game tutorial to explain how to play. In its stead would be a cheat sheet of the likelihood of each result for each type of card... whatever they end up being.