Our game aimed to address the initial design goals set up at the beginning, which included undermining a traditional game mechanic. We did this mainly through undermining a traditional game and player goal. Shadow Box is set up as a murder mystery game. In this type of genre, players usually search for one right answer. However, we wanted to undermine this by allowing for there to be multiple plausible murder scenarios.
The key here was to set up the game in the proper way, to provide the expectation for players that there was not going to be “one” correct or right or true scenario. We set this up with the intro text to set up the expectation that the scenarios they found would be plausible or possible scenarios that they could explore.
Exploration was really our main goal, and with our incredibly diverse web of options to explore, we certainly achieved this.
We achieved our goals by really working with the affordance of our game platform and the medium of games. As Norman explains in his article “Affordances and Design,” perceived affordances of a media project are what truly matter. A game allows for exploration of murder scenarios whereas traditional murder mysteries in books or movies do not. This is really where the strength of the medium of games is apparent. The game allows players to interact with the scenario which allows for the experience of exploration that static text or moving images does not.
Furthermore, Norman says that designed should “use words to describe the desired action (e.g., “click here” or use labels in front of perceived objects).” This was incredibly useful for us. In our playtests, we realized that our controls were not transparent to our players. We remedied this by adding explicit instructions to our game that better allowed players to interact with the game. For instance, many people didn’t know that they could click and drag on objects to change the inference of the piece of evidence. This was of course bad for us because one of the main interactions of the game was exploring these inferences and seeing what scenarios come to be when players decide that the champagne bucket was used as an ice holder instead of for holding alcohol.
Zimmerman’s Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process was also an invaluable source to us. One of our main issues that we encountered was our scope. We started with a large scope, wanting to have multiple victim identities, three acts, and 25+ clues. As our programmers began implementing the game, it became extremely clear that our scope was too big. Every iteration we went through, the game became better and more focused. We wanted our players to be able to explore the different scenarios, but that would have been almost impossible with the amount of clues and inferences we had planned. Iteratively designing the game allowed us to test ideas about what was possible and what was fun for the player.
As Zimmerman says, “Iterative design is a design methodology is based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a work in progress. In iterative design, interaction with the designed system is used as a form of research for informing and evolving a project, as successive versions, or iterations of a design are implemented.”
This was the method that we used. After the programmers would come up with a build, we would play through the model ourselves and then of course with playtesters. We would take this feedback and then go back to the design of the game and iterate on what was suggested.
This really helped the design of our game in several ways. As I stated, it really helped with our scope which was way too big. Additionally, it helped us clarify the goals of the game and the means of interaction with the players. This was absolutely critical to us. Because our game undermines murder mystery genre conventions of there being “one right and correct answer,” it was of vital importance to our game that we create ample set up in the beginning of the game to make sure that goal came across. We learned this when our playtesters told us that they weren’t sure what they were trying to do or couldn’t state what they thought the goal of the game was.
Additionally, this iterative design process is also was extremely helpful because when we were in the design process of the game, we as designers talk about what would be fun for us to design. We came up with complicated stories about what we thought would be neat to write and create. But as we were iterating on the design of the game, we realized that was what was fun for us to create wasn’t necessarily an ideal experience for the player. I think that this was probably the most important thing that I learned while we made this game. I had heard that theory before, but I hadn’t experienced in practice. As designers, we MUST be flexible to what will improve the player experience instead of holding fast to what we as designers think would make “a cool game.”
Our game also seems to have the Four Keys that unlock emotion, as described by Lazzaro. These include
“1. Hard Fun, opportunities for challenge, strategy, and problem solving.” Shadow Box absolutely requires strategy and problem solving in order to determine what inferences match with inferences of other objects.
“2. Easy Fun, intrigue and curiosity. Players become immersed in games when it absorbs their complete attention.” Shadow Box also has a balance of easy fun in that the players can explore the inferences of each of the pieces of evidence, which have explanations of what each of the inferences mean. This exploration can easily transfer the players into a state of flow as they are exploring the possibilities and making stories up in their minds.
“3. Altered States. Players treasure the enjoyment from their internal experiences in reaction to the visceral, behavior, cognitive, and social properties.” Players experience emotions such as “excitement” and “pleasure” when they are able to connect evidence and inferences to form a means.
“4. The People Factor: Players use games as mechanisms for social experiences.” Although our game is single player, Shadow Box can be played by multiple people by having people around one computer, trying to make guesses about what evidence comes together. Alternatively, if friends played the game separately, the game serves as a subject to talk about since there are multiple outcomes. Because of the different outcomes, the players can socialize and discuss why they think their solution is the most plausible.
Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://ericzimmerman.com/files/texts/Iterative_Design.htm
Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html
Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. www.xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames.html