kaminazo

Level design career quest chronicle and other game-related nonsense.

Question Quest and the Art of Gamifying Education

I live in Japan, and one of the only full-time employment opportunities for foreigners is teaching English. So, I became an assistant language teacher, or ALT. It’s really hard. Really, really hard. And it’s taken time away from making the games and mods I’m used to. But in the process, I’ve had to create educational games, worksheets and gamified activities for students to build their skills in the classroom, while keeping them engaged. It’s excellent practice for game design.

Right now the trend in ESL/EFL instruction in Japan is changing. In the past it has been really popular for ALT’s to be a sort of game master: always in charge of preparing games for students to play. More recently, we’ve found ways of combining them with a particular grammar point they’ve covered in the textbook. These games include things like Go Fish and Crazy Eights. I’ve also done variations on Battleship, Jeopardy, Uno, Guess Who, Bingo, and a slough of other games. Teachers like them because the kids aren’t bored, but they’re using the grammar. Students like them because they get to do something fun in class with their friends that doesn’t involve listening to a teacher blab on for an hour. But, the educational community is becoming increasingly anti-game in the classroom.

Why doesn’t academia like games? There are a few reasons.

First, most popular games are (at their core) anti-educational. They are based on the premise that you play them to compete and win. To escape real life. To do things that are taboo, unacceptable, or completely impossible in the real world. The majority of the most popular games of the past couple of years are won by killing and stealing things (Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed 4, Grand Theft Auto 5). The rest, aside from two or three, are won by exploring an impossible fantasy world with an unrealistic or fictional character (Final Fantasy XIV, BioShock Infinite, Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds).  If you notice, every one of these games is a sequel: a testament to the popularity of their genre. The acts of killing and stealing are not in line with current morality education even if they are fun because we SHOULDN’T do them in real life. Moreover, the fantastical settings are engaging because we CAN’T go there in real life. Those things are only done for entertainment.

Second, games require an investment of time and money. The teacher has to take the time to teach the rules of a game, and hope that all the students (regardless of level) understand and can perform. For more complex games, this can take away from the time they are actually able to learn the target information. Also, games require materials. Sometimes those materials are expensive and/or can’t be changed to fit a particular lesson unless they’re hand-made. Ten Uno decks per class per school adds up quickly. Administrators may not be keen on the idea of budgeting money for games and teachers don’t have time to design, create, and implement a new game for every lesson.

Third, research shows that the retention rate of information through game-taught methods of learning is the same as lecturing, around 20%. This is quite low when compared to task-based learning, 60%, and self-directed study, 80%, and teaching the material to someone else, 90%. (I took these figures from a lecture by a professor at Fukuoka University which I saw recently.) Of course we want students to retain information. This signifies to me that the games are being used improperly in the classroom: 1) by a lazy teacher to only occupy students, 2) to take the place of introducing new information, 3) to do something other than express practice of what they’ve already studied. The other problem might be that the games used for this research were ineffective examples of “gamified activities for retaining information.” What does UNO really teach? A) How to have group conversation? B) How to use colors and numbers? C) Nothing. It’s just a game of random chance to pass time. The last and potentially most important correlation to the above percentages is that students retain more information the more responsibility they are given to direct their own learning. This can only be achieved through motivation, goals, and tasks. This is where game design becomes very important.

Fourth, students become more invested in winning a game than succeeding at the language. Students will perfect a strategy of using the required words or phrases to gain points, minimize their real understanding of those words or phrases, and sacrifice any genuine input or original thought for efficiency. A friend of mine giving a seminar on gamification said it best,

“Students will always take the path of least resistance. Design your games in a way that encourages them to be creative without cutting corners. They will always spot and exploit your game’s flaws and use them to their advantage. A game that is both fun and challenging will create perpetual motivation. It’s our job to make that happen while still cramming all the essential knowledge we can into it as well. We must essentially trick our students into learning.”

As designers, we have to be diligent in achieving a seamless duality between motivation and knowledge retention/application. Some games tend to take the language out of its context and place it where it can be used solely for entertainment. It’s like giving a kid a hammer and telling them to hit as many nails into a board as they can in one hour. Now they know how to build a house, right?

I just did a lesson on gerunds and we played Battleship. The grid was made up of six rows and six columns. Each row had a question starter, such as “Do you like~.” Each column had an object in present simple tense, such as “play tennis.” Player one would ask “Do you like playing tennis?” (changing the grammar to use a gerund) Player two would respond “Yes, I do like playing tennis.” if their ship occupied that square, or “No, I don’t like playing tennis.” if their ship wasn’t there. The game was good for pattern practice, and the students were engaged in the activity, but what did they actually learn? Can they understand what it means to “enjoy making lunch”? Do they know in what context in real life they would ever say “I started studying English.”? If I ask them in a week to make a gerund sentence using “finish” and “brush my teeth” will they be able to do it? But can they sink their opponent’s imaginary ship on a grid by connecting two phrases: yes.

Where games do succeed is at their ability to portray amazing narratives filled with artistic creativity and task-based problem-solving. They are already engaging, so kids won’t need convincing. It’s adults who need the convincing. I believe that with the proper design, these aspects of games can be utilized for effective education. But, in order to succeed, there will  be a lot of convincing to show theorists that a game can be student-centered, focus on cooperation and healthy competition, use conversation in a meaningful, genuine way that promotes original ideas, and provide situational context so that the students will remember how to use the grammar and apply it in real life.

That’s where Question Quest enters the picture.

Question Quest is a card game specifically designed for teaching EFL and promoting conversational English. I was recently introduced to the creator of Question Quest, Sean Anderson. He is also the founder of Quest Maker Media, a small group of developers devoted to modernizing the way we teach English and making language learning thrilling. QMM is made up of a linguist, a designer, and an illustrator. What they have created is a game that pushes the boundaries of what a game can do educationally. It really does effectively bridge the gap between entertainment and learning and provides the best proof I’ve ever seen that a game can facilitate language learning.

I’ve always been interested in creating a game for myself to learn Japanese. I am a great visual learner, but a terrible book studier. In school, I honestly believe that playing games like Number Muncher and Word Muncher improved my mental computation and spelling skills more than reading and writing in class. The only thing I’ve found to do this for Japanese is a one-man programmed RPG computer game called Slime Forest. He had the right idea, but the RPG format and simple pixel graphics made it boring. I still had to read all the dialogue, and not being able to progress in the game (“Who do I have to talk to to finish this quest??”) hindered my ability to progress at the language.

Language requires two people. That’s why Question Quest succeeds where Slime Forest failed. Format. A multi-player card game is a much better format than a single-player computer RPG for language practice. Group games fundamentally require conversation, whether it’s haggling over a property in Monopoly or strategizing over how to beat the traitor in Betrayal at the House on the Hill. But QQ cannot substitute for introductory learning of new words or grammar, and it requires a judge (teacher) to monitor the game and make sure it’s being played correctly and fairly. Although, once the students become familiar with how the game is played, they can judge one another. So, to succeed, QQ still requires classroom grammar lessons and introductory materials.

To see how the game is played, watch their YouTube videos.

It’s really easy to come in and view a work and critique it, then find the flaws once it has been made. It’s another thing to try and make it perfectly the first time around. But Question Quest isn’t perfect. So I’d like to point out a few of my observations on the game. I have yet to actually play it, so most of this comes from a very limited knowledge of its gameplay and from the conversation I had with Sean.

First, how is this useful to teachers?

The easy answer is that is does the job for them, mostly. It puts the language practice in the hands of the students, literally. One deck can easily supply a group (2-6 players) with language content and keep them busy for a full class period. It reinforces basic English grammar and dialogue, and introduces some new words and concepts that might require them to self-study a bit. It’s a bit task-based, even though students aren’t necessarily working together to win or achieve a goal. But language strategy and temporary alliances can be formed to achieve small personal goals. It is well designed, full-color, illustrated, easy to use, and has fun characters: all which make it more interesting for students. It can be altered by taking out higher or lower level cards to meet the needs of different learners. Adaptability is very important for multiple skill levels and difficulty progression. It’s not a substitute for normal lessons, but it’s a good way to have a regular practice/ or a solid review activity.

Second, does it really help with English education?

It gets students speaking to each other in English. Japanese students, especially, are painfully shy and constantly worried about making mistakes. Language is all about making mistakes. It’s the outgoing ones who really excel at this. (They tend to be the lower academic level students.) Question Quest requires conversation solely in English with question and response dialogue. Even the shy students must participate to succeed at the game. But, the outgoing students must perfect their grammar in order to excel. Talking to one another in small groups makes the students less nervous to perform. The cards in Question Quest also include the basic foundational grammar forms required for inquisitive communication. Interrogatives, modals, and helping verbs are a fundamental part to each round of the game–the responses to which require original and genuine answers within the format and guidelines of the initial question. This requires critical thinking, which is key to education.

Third, is the game well designed?

The art is beautiful. I think that is the key to getting a wider audience interested in the game. Most people can appreciate craftsmanship. The illustrator for Question Quest has created six original characters engaged in very well crafted images to describe the question/answer pairs written on each card. They are reminiscent of taro cards, Japanese manga, Magic the Gathering cards, and build your own adventure books. It immerses the players in an East-meets-West fusion of medieval fantasy and culture. The design of the cards is also very high quality. Quest Maker Media’s graphic designer did a stellar job of arranging the cards so the major items are clear and hierarchical by importance. Great care was taken when drafting each question, as well. The cards provide specific examples in very small font at the bottom as a cheat-sheet to help the questioner draft their own original questions or identify any problems in the other player’s response. Now let’s get into game mechanics.

There are many potential road blocks. First of all, the object of the game is to get points. The higher points the card is, the more difficult the question and the better your chances of stumping your partner. How will this affect a conversation between a half-Filipino student with an English-speaking father and a full Japanese student with no exposure to English outside the classroom? Won’t the first student have a better chance of winning every time?

How do you get points and eventually win? Your conversation partner must fail or make mistakes. That’s how you win. Or you can interrupt someone else’s conversation and win. Wait…is this the way English conversation works? Kind of. But do we really want to punish students who try and make minor mistakes and reward students who just interrupt a conversation? Seems anti-motivational for the slower learners and motivational for the extroverted students to use rude behavior. But, that’s the exact nature of debate.

If you think about it from a debate standpoint, which is the sport of interactive argument and persuasion, you do want to strategically stump your partner into a standstill with the clever use of language. But is it a genuine interaction between interested parties who are trying to gain a deeper understanding of one another through conversation? Not really. Although, to be able to use language in debate does illustrate a more sophisticated grasp of it. That happens a bit by accident as the game is played, once the right questions are asked and answered, and if the students are invested enough to remember or understand each other’s answers. But perhaps after repeated use of this game mechanic, students will learn that it can be done in real life, as well.

If you haven’t watched the gameplay videos on YouTube by now, you’re probably a bit lost. Well, go back and watch them now! What are you waiting for?

Final Thoughts:

Question Quest isn’t perfect, but it’s the best attempt I’ve ever seen to gamify language learning. Let’s remember this phrase from now on because it is becoming vernacular in education: gamification. Language learning is also driven by an interest in culture. If I didn’t have an interest in Japanese culture, I wouldn’t have an interest in learning Japanese. My love of anime, games, ukyo-e prints, Edo period design and aesthetics, sushi, cute characters, and travel enhances my motivation for learning one of the most difficult, confusing, time-consuming and opposite languages to English in the world. Likewise, a game must also be culturally immersive. Language and culture are entwined by the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the things we find beautiful, the gestures we use when we emote, and the situations we react to positively and negatively. Think of the differences in these categories as they relate to 16th century Italian Renaissance language vs. 18th century Japanese language.

Gamification is not respected in formal education because it is seen as childish, anti-educational, immoral, and for entertainment purposes. Desire for educators to remove games increases as learners’ age and skill increases. But the validity of gamifying activities still remains.

I think it is essential for language learning at all skill levels. Gamifying the use and repitition of conversation (in the right way) can provide students with motivation, situational context, cultural awareness, retention, and positive cognitive responses to an otherwise boring, difficult, and anxiety-enducing language lesson. Roleplaying is necessary to provide context for language when it is impossible in the primary country. I can’t take my whole class to the supermarket and expect them to shop in English with a Japanese store worker. But, my Harry Potter Hogwarts School Shopping roleplaying game allows us to do it right there in the classroom.

“Games” also give clear tiered levels for students to achieve. Learners need to visualize their progress and be rewarded for using language properly. It is difficult to quantify someone’s grasp of a language over time otherwise. And games can be more interactive, team-building, goal-oriented, and culturally immersive than tests. They display a learner’s critical, real-time thought and creative problem solving skills where tests only represent a learner’s ability to memorize facts. Gamified language activities also allow for variation and improvisation where tests are inflexible and require one, precise solution.

I’ve been working on a large-scale gamified motivation and reward system for a month now. I plan on unveiling it here as I implement it at school. It puts into practice many of the points I discuss here as it relates to Question Quest and the art of gamifying education. Look forward to it in my next post.

[End]

Love & Hate & Free-To-Play Time Based Strategy Games with Micro Transactions

That title is a mouthful. Let’s break it down a little. First, I want to talk about one of my favorite App games: Clash of Clans. I want to talk about it because I both love and hate it. I’ve played it to death, so I have some experience grinding through all the little nuances.

Why do I love it? Well, it’s free. It’s really well-programmed. The graphics are crisp and stylish. And building and destroying bases is really fun with your friends in a clan. That said, the game is potentially ruining modern games for independent designers–and ruining mobile and app gaming in general, putting profit over playability. First, it’s free to play.

What? It’s free! Awesome! This company must be a bunch of suckers, right? Well, it ain’t such a big deal for a big company like Supercell in Helsinki, Finland.

They have a lot of things most indie designers don’t have, namely a $12 million investor. But also, they have a big server, a giant advertising campaign, and a team that can crank out lots of new content and tons of updates to breathe new life into the game as it ages. They make their money back on a relatively new concept called micro-transactions. A free game like Clash of Clans looks a lot more appealing to the casual App-Store surfer than the indie designer’s $0.99 game.

Patience is a virtue some gamers possess if they are grinding–repeating a task over and over again to gain a skill or item. But many gamers have zero patience for a game that slows them down in any way. My patience disappears when a timer won’t even allow me to try. Micro-transactions are like a clot in my gaming heart. I’m about to unlock a dragon! I need to upgrade my Town Hall. But–”You don’t have any builders, they won’t be available for another 3d 4hr 36min 5sec.” My heart arrests. “Buy another builder for 30 gems.” I only have 10 gems. My left arm goes numb. But I can buy a chest of 20 gems for $9.99. So either I fork over ten bucks or wait half a week to play my game?! HEART ATTACK.

Hang on. Let’s start over. So I can play your game for free and test it out. Or I can buy a different game up front for $0.99 without playing it?

No-brainer. But now that I’ve put some time into your free game, you won’t let me play it unless I pay 10x the normal game price for an exhaustible in-game resource? But once I spend the gems on another builder, I’m back to where I started “Wait for 2d 3hr 45min 10sec.” Am I supposed to buy gems every time I make a decision just so I can play?!

Why didn’t I just spend $0.99 on ten different games? (facepalm)

Let me propose an analogy. Micro-transactions are to gamers as heroin is to everyone. You gotta have a lot of money to support the habit, but in the long run it becomes an addiction. It’s like all games are becoming online gambling. Oh, and screw poor people. If you’re poor, you can still kinda play the game, but you’ll never have the same opportunity as the money-players. Have fun waiting!

These game stimulants go by many names now: Micro-transactions, In-App Purchases (IAP), Unlock Keys, Downloadable Content (DLC), and Apple’s newest genre for games that are free (at first)–GET+. The industry seems to be catering more and more to this format of game design and it’s disturbing. Clash of Clans is actually a good game with lots of well-designed and fun content. But, games will get simpler, more derivative, and more locked down. On second thought…

“GAME OVER.  CONTINUE? (2 CREDITS)” The coin clinks into the slot and Jin lives another day to uppercut Yoshimitsu.

Maybe the industry is just modernizing the way that games made us plug more coins into the machine in the past. The home console killed the arcade machine (the old skool IAP), now the mobile device is avenging its death in a way?

Not exactly. If I put up the money to buy my own arcade box, you better believe I won’t be using quarters. We’re already coughing up $400+ on mobile devices, but they don’t seem to have free play buttons. Is it just me or has the coin slot been twisted and made much worse? The quarter for credits system was much simpler. Now we need a device and App Store credit to get a game with micro-transactions for gems to kinda-sorta play for a bit. The industry knows it can get gamers hooked and undercut the non-free-to-play developers while raking in dough. They will continuously profit off our impatience without having to release new games all the time to keep us interested. Cower as the rise of the GET+ game cometh. I think the way it’s going, they’re gonna tear us all a new coin slot.

iDesign Therefor iPad, Part II: Codea

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A commenter on Kaminazo just referred me to a more sophisticated game editor for iPad. It’s called Codea. Available directly on the App Store from Two Lives Left for $9.99.

Finally, I have what I’ve been wanting since I began using Game Salad: an editor program that functions directly on the peripheral. Now I can create games from my mobile device and test them directly on it in real-time as I program.

Codea uses a programming language called Lua that I am not familiar with. But after previewing its functionality on YouTube and checking out the in-App tutorials and sample projects, LUA doesn’t seem much different from all the other scripting languages I’ve encountered. The App also gave me access to forums and tutorials on the basics of both Codea and Lua.

I’m most excited about the potential for designing 3D environments. Perhaps this format will be good for the tower defense game I’ve been working on.

As I delve deeper into Codea and begin working through the tutorials and beginning stages of design, I’ll blog again.

If you’d like to see Codea in action, check out this video:

Codea on YouTube

Algorithms

The answer...is three.

The answer…is three.

“We’ve updated our algorithm so the hardest enemies don’t spawn until you reach higher levels.”

I’ve heard this phrase, or derivatives of this phrase, ad nauseam since I started learning game design. “What the heck does that even mean: updated our algorithm?” I told myself. At first, I thought it was just a fancy word game designers threw around to simplify an update they couldn’t really explain. I resigned myself to the idea of an intangible string of complex mathematics on a scientist’s blackboard that I’d never understand. I just figured they were above my head and I’d never understand the concept, or how to write them.

The fantasy of the algorithm in Hollywood is a hacker circumventing the complex electronic lock on a steel vault. “My mojo is way better than this corporate hack’s algorithm. Cracking it will be a cinch.” Turns out I’ve been making those algorithms all along. Of course, they’re much simpler and not used for security systems.

Hail to the 90's.

Hail to the 90’s.

All games use some form of algorithm. In the past, I had referred to it as “game logic.” It’s an OK term, but we should use new vernacular. It was exciting to learn that I had been doing something I thought was reserved for mathematicians. They look and function exactly like a flow chart. There’s a question that goes through a series of causative statements, following the pathways until it arrives at a final output. Let’s deconstruct the idea of an algorithm into practical terms to better understand it.

Say we’ve got an actor, let’s call her GunGirl. We’ve placed GunGirl in our level. Now let’s make an attribute for her, we’ll call it “dead.” It’s a boolean attribute, which means it produces two outputs: true or false. Let’s set the default to false. When the level starts, there’s GunGirl, and she’s alive.

Now let’s put another actor on the floor in front of her. We’ll call this one “grenade.” Let’s pretend it has a timer set to zero. So when the level starts, it explodes. Now let’s tell GunGirl that “if grenade time = 0, and GunGirl position < grenade position + 5, set “dead” = true.”

The game starts. GunGirl has about a split-friggin’ second to live. It’s just long enough to notice something at her feet…BOOM! Grenade explodes, Gungirl’s position is checked against the blast radius of the grenade, “dead” outputs true, and GunGirl goes “POOF .”

That’s an algorithm.

Now, I just had this thought: “Maybe all this time I was confusing the word algorithm with logarithm.” Turns out that it’s just a case of continents vs. countries. Logarithms are the smaller calculations (mathematical formulas) that help the more complex algorithm. A logarithm’s basic function is to search a list of things, or log, in the most efficient way possible. Then it retrieves an answer and gives it to papa algorithm. Think of logarithms like little slobbery golden retrievers. Some algorithms even contain little sub-algorithms that behave like logarithms. When logarithms get to their smaller, programming language selves, that’s when they become the math-heavy enigmas that are best left for programmers.

Let’s look at the if/then statement we created before. Something has to govern whether the grenade timer counts down, the radius of the grenade and GunGirl overlap, and whether GunGirl is alive or dead. There’s actually about a dozen more sub-algorithms the game engine has to check, plus an exponential amount of little logarithmic calculations before our parent algorithm resolves. Each one of these actions can potentially trigger another algorithm. They’re all part of a massive web of causes and effects that make a game function.

If you get the chance to use a program like GameSalad, Creation Kit, or UDK, you’ll find that creating algorithms is 75% of game design and 100% of what makes a game function. Learning how to make them, and simplify them to their most basic math is fundamental for a game designer, in my humble opinion.

An algorithm, as seen in GameSalad.

An algorithm, as seen in GameSalad.

 

An algorithm, as seen in the dialogue tree of a Skyrim character's attributes in the Creation Kit.

An algorithm, as seen in the dialogue tree of a Skyrim character’s attributes in the Creation Kit.

 

Another algorithm, as seen in Unreal Kismet in UDK.

Another algorithm, as seen in Unreal Kismet in UDK.

Now, hopefully, we understand the phrase at the top. For fun, let’s put it in the context of ice cream, cuz who doesn’t like ice cream?! If Baskin Robbins has 31 flavours of ice cream, they’re bound to have some nasty ones that didn’t make the cut. A child who has never had ice cream before (lvl 1 N00b) will go for the flavors that are easiest to swallow: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate chip. A man with a clipboard (we’ll call him Assistant Manager Logarithm) records the number of cones each customer buys. The flavours that aren’t popular with the younger customers are now put in a separate place. That’s the job of Senior Manager Algorithm. The craziest flavors, like mint popcorn coffee marshmallow surprise, are only given to long-term return customers (lvl 100 badass). These guys are much more likely to try them and stick around to try another, instead of running out of the store vomiting.

Get it?

Interrogative Games Pt. 2

quizupscreengrab

The easiest of easy questions I wrote for level 0 noobs.

Let me outline a few quick things that come to mind when before I attempt to recap the editing process I went through in collaboration with Plain Vanilla Games, the makers of Quiz Up.

1. Not everyone wants quality when they’re on a deadline. In fact, most will settle for anything in high quantity as long as it functions.

2. Teenagers make awful collaborators.

3. Free labor/internships afford you all the work and none of the control.

4. Published doesn’t mean available.

5. If you put in the effort and communicate with your industry contact, they’ll give you better tasks.

6. None of it matters once it’s out there. You can always update.

I guess that about covers my experience with the Anime topic project for Quiz Up. I mentioned before that I was given editing rights to a document of 600+ questions. It took a few days to go through them all. The file had a list of contributors with editing rights and access to the file who had added questions in a random and unsupervised capacity.

I started adding my own questions to the file before tackling the existing questions. Lots of them were already flagged for problems like going over the maximum character limit for use in the game. One of my contacts at the game company told me that most of the contributors were teenagers with poor writing skills. I sorted them all by title to get a grasp of how balanced the question pool was and added my contributor tag (D.G.) to all of my own content to keep it straight. After putting in about 30 hours proofreading, editing, and organizing the file it was ready to go.

Then, trolls. A few days later I logged in to add ten more questions. Someone had done a little editing of their own. I’m guessing that someone didn’t like all the work I had done and decided to delete about 50 of my questions, rewrite some of them, remove my contributor tag, and revert all the questions they had written to their original form. They undid lots of hours of work.

So, I did my best to go back through and fix the immediate problems. I emailed my contact and he booted the person responsible. I went through one last time and flagged all his poorly written, typo-filled questions quickly with a comment marker. I wasn’t about to redo all that work. It was an unfortunate thing that had happened.

Later the same contact emailed me back saying he was reinviting the culprit to edit the file after it was published in its current form. Salt in the wound. It’s hard not to take something personally when you’ve put a lot of quality effort into it.  So I was done.

I stood my ground and told them how unprofessional and unfortunate it was for the game to allow this user to stay. They agreed. A day or so later, they offered me the chance to write the topic description and reward titles for Anime and Avatar: the Last Airbender. A nice little consolation prize.

The topic was published a few days ago. But, it hadn’t posted until yesterday. I obsessively checked the game every day until it finally showed up. Apple takes a few days or so to approve even small updates.

The 40 or so questions with bad editing do bother me when I play the game, but the community of players it has created were worth it. It’s in the list of the most popular categories still. Most of the people I play have already grinded their way up to level 30. That includes people from all over the world. It’s quite an amazing feeling to have something you’ve created entertain the world.

Like I said before, once it’s out there all the drama just doesn’t matter. There’s always future updates to make it even better. I encourage you to download the game and give it a try.

Interrogative Games

QuizUp_Logo

The lightning bolt is for…answering questions…fast!

Recently, my wife and I have been playing a trivia app game called Quiz Up. It’s a fast-paced trivia game where you race against a random parter to answer questions about your favorite topics. The topics range anywhere from Logos to Star Trek. It’s wickedly fun and has a lot of little perks that make gaining experience fun. There’s also a wide enough pool of questions that you don’t revisit the same ones much, if at all.

Quiz Up is made by a small app development company out of Reykjavík called Plain Vanilla Games. The company allows users to submit a 15-question application for potential submission to the game. You even unlock an achievement if your content is used in the game.

Recently, I did just that. I submitted two applications. Rather than expand on an existing topic, I wanted to create a new topic for Quiz Up. Under the TV category, there’s an Animation subcategory. But, it’s very broad and general. It contains a lot of questions about animation like cartoons or movies from Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. I wanted more anime.

I received emails back almost immediately from two Content Editors with Plain Vanilla Games. They said that they were psyched about an Anime category. Apparently there was a big enough demand for the topic. I spent the next week writing 130 new questions and answers (1 right, 3 wrong). I came up with a list of 100+ mainstream anime that I felt should have some presence in the quiz.

After some correspondence with the Editors, they expressed their need for someone with more anime knowledge. So I just asked and they were thrilled! Now I have access to their files and am the official Content Editor of the anime category on Quiz Up! Yay!

But, I inherited their master list of submissions (over 600 unedited questions from random users) and it’s a bit of a mess. I’ve got my work cut out for me. Hopefully in the coming weeks, you can play my new anime category live on Quiz Up!

I’d say this is my second game design career win after Tanner’s Ridge Treehouse: something I can actually put on my CV!

The “Impossibles” Genre

Flappy-Bird-1

50 grand a day on ad revenue for 3 days of work. Wow.

Clearly you’ve been missing out if you didn’t get a chance to play Flappy Bird before it was pulled from the AppStore recently. It’s an impressively simple and addicting infinite side scroller designed by one guy in three days. Luckily I still have it. And I’m using it as a basis for my own project: “Finish a damned game already, will you?”

So the recipe is: one part 8-bit graphics, one part cute and familiar character, two parts obstacles and simple touch movements, infinite parts scrolling, and zero parts beatable. The impossible genre meaning that the game is ridiculously hard even though it’s childishly simple to play, and goes on forever with no real end. I decided to go back to GameSalad to design this type of game.

The game is called Burger Bounce. My love of Z-axis design is obvious in this one. You are a burger that is falling from some unknown height, and you must poot air out to the left and right to avoid hitting clouds that slow you down. When you reach the bottom, you get stars for how high you can bounce. The fewer clouds you hit, the higher you bounce off the ground. It’s not infinite, but it is simple.

I plan on making ten levels for the Free Version of the game. Perhaps it will end up on the AppStore in the future.

Castle Craft

I’ve decided to design a tower defense game in 3D using UDK, 3DSMax, and Photoshop. It’s a very ambitious design and I’ve started a dedicated notebook just for it. As I work on game mechanics and design, I’ll throw up my ideas on here. The working title for the project is Castle Craft. Though, unfortunately that name has been taken by what may be a very playable game, but with terrible visuals. I hope to publish it on iOS at some point in the future when I can get the most out of my developers license.

Project Treehouse

treehouse

I finally struck gold.

A mod I created made the Hot Files section of Skyrim Nexus. But it wasn’t without a ton of work, some collaboration, and lots of headaches. I’m very proud of this project because it opened up some new opportunities for me in the future and spawned a new level of expertise for future Creation Kit mods.

To see the mod page click here.

The treehouse of my dreams…or my character’s dreams.

I wanted three things when I started fleshing out this project: a gorgeous yet simple player house, a difficult quest to acquire it (even for hyper-leveled veteran characters), and a unique character with an original voice track.

The idea started when I was watching the Winnie the Pooh movie with my friend’s three year old daughter. Tigger in the movie is searching for his family, and in the process the audience gets to see his beautifully illustrated treehouse quite a bit. “I want to store all my weapons in there,” I thought. “I could totally sculpt that around an Eldergleam tree in the CK,” I started to get excited. Inspiration always grabs ahold of me in the strangest places.

The first step was all aesthetic. I spent weeks making the treehouse interior and exterior in separate empty cells. Working directly in the worldspace locations is a nightmare because of the cell seams and load times of all the vanilla static meshes. Not to mention that it’s super-easy to screw up the vanilla game accidentally if you work in an existing cell. Once the interior designs were finished up, I could just rename the cell and link it to the exterior one in the worldspace. Upon respawning inside it, the player wouldn’t know the difference.

The exterior cell, however, is a whole different story. I designed it to mimic the interior as much as possible, accounting for all the space required for the necessary living components (bed, storage, enchanter, mannequins, etc.). But, the outside was still a bit smaller than the inside. Almost negligible to the average player. We call this a “tardis-effect” because the inside is bigger than the outside like the T.A.R.D.I.S. on Doctor Who. But Skyrim is magic, right? Once the kinks were worked out in the design, adding it to the worldspace for tweaking is as simple as copy/paste. Thus begins the delicate job of tweaking, making adjustments, and testing.

I needed help.

This was already becoming a massive project. I had invested almost 100 hours and there were hurdles coming up that I knew I couldn’t handle on my own. On my previous mod (The Bottomless Pit) I had the pleasure of meeting another modder who was kind enough to playtest the mod for me in several versions. Her feedback and perspective was so helpful that I decided to bring her in on the project. Now I have a design team!

The Treehouse is my first real collaborative mod, and being a project lead was incredibly challenging, but rewarding. This particular pairing was nice because her expertise fell in the places where mine suffered and vise versa. Both of us had experience with player house modding, however. Not being familiar with how to simul-mod on the same file, we decided to trade the .esp file back and forth. Her first turn came when I thought I had nailed down the design of the Treehouse, placed it in the world, and decorated it with all the necessary components, inside and out. I wanted to give her a run at it to playtest and make sure the file operated properly on an unfamiliar system/ with a different savefile. This process was key to our success throughout the collaboration.

Waiting is a bitch.

The process of trading the file was necessary but excruciating. Being at the whim of another person’s schedule is a headache when you’re eager to release a project. But, the upside is that you get to take a break, work on other things, and come back fresh afterward with new perspective and catch things your hadn’t your first time around. Spintochick (her handle) was a stellar collaborator. When I got the file back she had created a work log for us to keep track of versioning and log our changes or any problems we encountered. She also made a list of things she wanted to accomplish on the next runthrough. This gave me a clear goal of what I needed to accomplish before giving the file back to her. Her organization made me a better modder.

I had to learn to balance creative compromise and my own ego.

This was my baby. I wasn’t about to let it fail, and I surely wasn’t going to release something I didn’t like. Working with a second person and letting them wholly enter the creative process was something I hadn’t prepared myself for. When it came time to tackle character creation, I really wanted a female perspective. I took a leap and made spintochick the character designer. I gave her a few guidelines to start with: female, strong-willed, archer/hunter. The treehouse was this character’s property for some reason, and through completing her quest, it would be given to the player. Spintochick knew more about Skyrim lore than I did, and I valued her opinions. She was in charge, from her back story, to her look, to her voice. This is where it got rocky.

It’s not good enough. Now what?

To her credit, she did an amazing amount of work in a very short amount of time. The character design was wonderful: a dark elf, Bosmer, with a cool outfit and bow. She even had a back story about the character, she named her Treebark, that was lore-friendly and quite in-depth. But the dialogue was forced, and the performance was dry. The first change we decided was to add a more relatable first name that had something to do with hunting. Tanner Treebark was born. But what to do about the dialogue?

Editor vs. Artist

I rewrote it. Not from scratch, but I did attempt to make the dialogue more immersive (natural-sounding). Maybe it was the English teacher in me, but I felt it really lacked any genuine emotion. Keeping the setting and information the same I cut the lines in half. Less is more when acting. I also added some flavorful responses; A “You’re useless.” here and there goes a long way toward suspending disbelief in a performance. I’m glad I took the initiative to rewrite the script. Her second performance was better. She even had professional recording equipment to use, masking microphone distortion and plosives. It was acceptable, but I still wasn’t happy.

I know it’s cliche, but British English makes a better elf.

At that time, I lived in the same building as another English instructor who happened to be from Nottingham, England. I recorded the lines myself to get the proper inflections and emotion I sought for each line. Using them as placeholders, Amy and I listened to each one to give her an idea of what to aim for. She blew me away with her performance. Getting someone completely removed from the project to act out the dialogue was a good move. But as part of the compromise, we released the file with both American and British English versions. Let the people decide.

Quest programming, scripting, and boss fights, Oh my!

It was ambitious. It was way over my head. But I did it! Now that the character, story, and locations were intact, I had to drop in some bosses for a fight. I wanted it to be really hard. Afterall, this house was awesome. I wasn’t gonna just give it away! Spriggans are cool. They’re made of trees. Who better to protect a magical treehouse? I manufactured my own unique spriggans from the game template, beefing them up and making their spells stronger. I also added in some leveled wild animal spawn points nearby. Spriggans have the ability to call animals to fight for them. This combination made for a pretty wicked battle. During playtesting I even had one spriggan call out a dragon from the nearby hills. To get it to work properly required a lot of scripting. I felt pretty good when it was completed.

Tanner requires the player to bring her the head of a spriggan as proof that the deed was done. This was partly my frustration with the vanilla game quests. Characters never required proof of your accomplishments. They’d usually give you a reward without hesitation, which is odd. So I got some practice with texture skinning and static meshing. I truncated the head from the spriggan mesh and edited the skin in photoshop. Then I reinserted it into the game and made it a quest object that the boss would drop upon clearing the area of all threats. (It was really hard.)

Navmeshing is the root of all evil.

Luckily spintochick had some experience navmeshing. She was actually quite excited to do it. Navmeshing is the process of covering the walking surface of a level with flat polygonal pathways to tell an NPC character where they can/cannot move in the environment. That way they don’t run into a wall and keep trying to walk through it endlessly. Unfortunately, she did edit some of the original navmeshes that are required by the game engine to function properly on some systems. It works for 99% of all users, but for the unlucky 1% the game crashes. To remedy the problem I’d have to go back and redo the entire outdoor cell (5 of them) from scratch. Maybe some day I’ll get around to it.

Advertising is key.

I started a comment thread on the Nexus forums around this time to figure out what the best ways are to advertise a mod. I needed some ideas of where to start incepting people and get them talking about the mod. I worked in photoshop and iMovie to make a video trailer, and graphic support materials for the mod page. I also reached out to a friend from the modding community Nightskia to take a photo series of the mod.

Packing a .BSA was made easier!

Once we had playtested the hell out of the mod, I packed the file into a .bsa to compile all of the new voice files and meshes for installation convenience. Luckily programs exist to do this for you simply. We did another round of testing, and some friends from the community offered their opinions and we tweaked it slowly until it seemed ready to post.

Hot File section: the best place to get famous.

Within the first few hours, the mod took off like crazy. I had 1,000 downloads before I could blink. Then the site went down! I couldn’t believe my bad luck. Nexus had a scheduled downtime for server repairs for a full 24 hours, which sucked because the new files section on the main page only shows the six most recent uploads. This makes the first 24 hours really important. But thankfully enough people saw it that when the site went back up, my mod was right there in the Hot Files section. From there the downloads were exponential.

Tanner Treehouse was a huge success.

There are still plenty of bugs and the mod is far from perfect, but the response has been incredible. It makes me confident that I could do this for a living in the future and actually be successful. But it is essential to work with a team of collaborators to make the initial release a success. Since the release, I have been approached by Project Morroblivion to work on their game, as well as many other modders looking for skilled game and level designers. Unfortunately I did just start a new job back in August, and it has cut significantly into the amount of game-related projects I can do. Hopefully there will be more to come after the New Year, so stay posted.

Here’s some community response to the mod on YouTube:

Mechanics of a Collectable Card Game

For the last few months, I have been absolutely engrossed in a new iOS app game called Star Trek Rivals. Pending the release of the new movie here in Japan, this my way of satisfying my need for Star Trek while I patiently wait the release of Into Darkness.

Edit: Saw the new movie and it’s amazing. I can’t wait for new game content to be released!

Star Trek Rivals is a very basic play-by-play iOS app. Players take turns like chess, sending each other game moves which they can respond to at their own leisure. This seems to be a very popular style of app game because of the turn by turn freedom it allows the user. Mobile gamers don’t necessarily have hours to devote to play in a single sitting.

EDIT: I originally branded this as a Game Center app, but for some reason the creators cannot sync STRivals through GameCenter to allow leaderboards and friend matches. Instead basic versions of these features are available in-game. As of now they have no plans of integrating the app with Game Center.

I was lucky enough to start playing this game and become involved with the STRivals community in its infancy. This gave me some inside knowledge and clout as the game progressed through updates and the designers reached out to the community for suggestions.

Cards in STRivals are arbitrarily branded (according to lead designer Thomas Kastner) with an object or character from the J.J.Abrams reboot of the original Star Trek series starting with the movie in 2009. Each card is given a rank and four numbers attached each of the cardinal directions of its face. Based on the strength of the numbers, the rank is higher. There are four ranks: tin, bronze, silver, and gold. Each card then has an upgraded, or Elite, counterpart with stronger numbers and two bars below its rank.

The game is very similar to a mini game from Final Fantasy VIII called Triple Triad, a fact that was tossed around during the first week on the community pages. Whether that’s merely a coincidence, or if the game design was appropriated, has not been revealed. As for this game, each player is given five cards at random from their “card deck.” The card deck is less of a deck and more of a collection. The player who initiated the game goes first by placing a card on a grid of nine spots. This is where the first game mechanic comes into play: a “random” five-card hand. According to one designer, it is actually an algorithm that chooses cards based on your opponent’s “strength” to try and match your cards to one another. That way neither player has a clear advantage. Though, the effectiveness of this algorithm is the subject of much debate, as the pool does seem completely random and unfair at times.

EDIT: It has been confirmed that no such algorithm exists, and all random hands are just that—completely random. (Kastner)

Players take turns placing cards around one another on the 3×3 grid. If the numbers that touch one another are higher value, then they change from red to blue. Your score is tallied according to the number of blue cards on the board, plus the number of cards in your hand. The player lucky enough to go first is also the person to play last. This brings in the second game mechanic: evening the board. Since there are only nine spaces on the board, yet each player has a hand of five cards, the person who goes second does not get to play their last card. So to make it “fair” the remaining card is always awarded one point. So even if the board is completely red when the last card is played, the score will still be 1-9.

The reason STRivals is so addicting is because the game is so simple. It takes very little time to play a game, but a very long time to master and complete your card collection. There are many strategies you can use to outwit your opponent, but even the best strategies are limited by your knowledge of all the 172 cards and how well you can place your randomly chosen hand in only five plays against your opponent’s. Of course the game has paid “cheats” a player can buy that allow them a better chance of winning. There are also various techniques players have used to maximize their winning potential.

As you win matches and level up, you earn rewards in the form of credits (red) and Latinum (yellow). Each match yields a maximum of 300 credits and a minimum of 150. (You get more by playing with Facebook friends or people added with a friend code.) Each level increase earns you 2 Latinum at the lower levels all the way up to 12 at higher levels. Possibly higher than 12, though I have not achieved levels that high yet. Credits can be spent on new cards (blue) in the form of packs. A Cadet pack gives you 5 cards at a cost of 1,000 credits with a chance for one “powerful” card. An Ensign pack yields 10 cards at a cost of 2,500 credits with a chance for two “powerful” cards. The algorithm used to generate random cards in these packs is still under question for the percentage of gold and silver cards vs. cost. Community estimates put it somewhere around a 1.5% chance to get S/G cards for ensign packs and 1% for cadet packs.

EDIT: In more recent updates of the game, the percent chance for randomly generated “powerful” cards in packs has been decreased. The percentages have been skewed to less than 1% for both Ensign and Cadet Packs and the exact figures are still unknown. (Results from 1,000 card pool from Cadet and Ensign Packs.)

For Latinum, however, players can buy much more. Both credits and Latinum can be purchased with micro transactions for increasing dollar amounts. Each card in the game has a cost in Latinum. This quickly gave rise to so called “money decks” where people simply buy only the most powerful cards and subsequently “rare smash” their opponents lower numbered cards. Latinum can also be used to buy card packs with an increased chance for powerful cards. But since the percent chance is still unknown, some players are disappointed when they spend 200 Latinum on an Admiral pack (the most expensive one in the game) and are given no gold cards (STRivals Community Facebook member testimony). The final thing Latinum can be used for is to literally cheat during the game. A player can spend 5 Latinum at the beginning of every hand to throw back the five randomly chosen cards from their hand and choose five, themselves. These would likely just be the five most powerful cards available. They can also, at any time during the game, spend 5 Latinum to look at the cards in their opponent’s hand or swap unwanted cards from their hand.

Balancing the ethics of fair gaming and profitability is becoming increasingly difficult because of game elements like micro transactions. Especially in cases where the game is strictly player vs. player. There are a few things Elephant Mouse has done to offset these questionably unethical mechanics to offer the average player a chance of attaining better cards faster, while still making money on their product.

EDIT: There are many additional perks and special events that have been implemented to cater to players in the latest updates.

The first is a “sale of the day” card. Every 24 hours a new random card goes 60% off in the STRivals store. This is a great way for players to use their level rewards to purchase silver and gold cards. The second way is by making card packs available for purchase with credits. Even though the chances are low, I have pulled some very good gold and silver cards from both cadet and ensign packs. The third is promotional codes. Randomly given out for acts of kindness or enthusiastic fandom, the Star Trek Rivals community on Facebook and Twitter has awarded several of these. I was awarded a promotional code worth 50 Latinum for making a fake card of the day series on the Facebook page.

In the update version 1.2, two more perks were added. If you log into the game once every 24 hours, you are given a free card. You can opt out of that card for a chance at a more powerful card the next day until it maxes out. But, if you fail to log in within 24 hours, it resets. Also, now every time you level up, in addition to Latinum, you are given a chance to purchase a random card at 75% off its normal price. This is a massive discount that can fortify even the lowest level players to compete with the money decks. This is great for lower-level players, but bad for veteran players. Now the noobs can power-creep up much faster and achieve amazing collections 20-30 levels sooner. Each level-up discount card is predetermined, so if you were already level 50 when that mechanic was implemented, you just missed out on 50 amazing cards. The worst of which is level 38: Red Matter (the most rare card in the game). I was level 54 when the level-up reward card was implemented. I’m level 82 now and still have yet to get a crack at Red Matter. But many of my 40-something level friends have at least one.

One inevitable trend that has evolved with the increasing popularity of STRivals is a phenomenon called “tin-tossing.” The lowest card ranks are tin and bronze. Your card deck is comprised of all the cards you have collected, which normally includes a higher frequency of tins and bronzes. You can, however, sell any card in your collection for credits or upgrade them to an elite version if you have several copies of the same card. Since the random five card hand is chosen from this collection, the higher frequency of golds and silvers you have, the better the chances that you will draw them. Power players maximize their deck’s rare-smashing capacity by selling, or “tossing,” all their tin and bronze cards, only keeping the rares.

Normally, this would be a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is a very logical way to win. But the problem is that STRivals is branded as a Collectable card game. Yet, there are no perks for maintaining a collection. No benefits. No reason other than to see a higher number in the collection stats: ?/172. So then the designers are communicating to the players that these cards are worthless to us, especially at higher levels. The tins and bronzes make up over half of the entire card pool: 106 out of the 172 cards. So it is a bit disheartening to be forced to discard them in order to progress. As an avid fan of Collectable card games like Magic: the Gathering, I’m waiting for the designers to even the playing field and actually make the game Collectable by adding incentives.

So far the community seems split between the tin-tossers and the collectors: the TT’s becoming synonymous with the money deck players and the collectors being left behind with the noobs. The divide is still very much extant now that the community has expanded and people have had time to level up naturally. A split community has evolved for the tin-tossers and the collectors, the money-players and the noobs. And the only time the two meet up are during friend-code Fridays (when players publish their game ID’s) or in Radom Rival modes. Otherwise, there’s not much point for the two groups to play one another, unless they are feeling rather sadistic or masochistic, or farming for credits.

The STRivals community moderators have consistently asked for feedback and suggestions on the game mechanics, which is amazing practice for junior designers like myself. So far, the designers have implemented several community suggested improvements to the game that have become a reality in one of the many previous updates. The best example being the addition of a Warp-Speed Game mode in the Random Rivals menu. In this game mode, the time-out clock on active games has been reduced to only 1 hour. There was adequate and long-lasting community outcry to reduce the game timeout clock for random games. Originally, the game clock was set at 7 days. This resulted in many of a player’s collected cards being stranded in games with an inactive or delinquent player. So they reduced it to 36 hours. Yet, cards were still stranded in games. (The player is unable to start any new matches if their card deck is reduced to below 5, and unable to reuse the same cards in multiple games.) A Facebook Community member suggested the new game mode with reduced rewards called Warp-Speed that would let players keep many active games going and keep their collection fresh. Later, they also removed the upgrade ban on cards that were stuck in games. (You still can’t sell a card that is in an active game.)

Another feature added by popular suggestion was an in-game chat function. Because of some annoying game mechanics, this chat function seemed necessary to many players. The first of these annoyances was the Rematch button. Since the game is turn-based, the player who played first also plays last (a huge advantage over the other player) and thus sees the victory screen first. They then get to decide whether to rematch, regardless of whether they won or lost. The player who rematches first is also the player who plays first on the next game. This means that a power-player can latch onto a noob and rare-smash them repeatedly, always playing first and last and rematching. Rinse, Repeat. There is no function to deny a match request, so the weaker player is forced to try and ignore the active game (which is really difficult because of the yellow rematch button and lack of knowing if an active game is a new match request), let it time out, or suffer through games with a sadistic opponent and always lose. Most instances of this cycle were less antagonistic. Some high-level players are merely seeking to maximize their credit and experience-farming techniques and have a constant flow of active games. The weak players were getting swept up in this practice. Now with the in-game chat function, a player can just request them to not rematch.

I have been on both sides of this coin. Sometimes requesting the player to stop rematching, other times being told to quit rematching them. Now it’s nice to know. It’s also a great way to chat about the game, the movies, the tv show, and trade friend codes with like players you come across in random matches. Originally the game functioned largely on a US-time zone community, as well. So it was difficult to find active players during my peak gaming hours in Japan. It was also frustrating for the US players because I was asleep when they were active. Now when I find a player with my same hours of operation, I can send them a message and add them.

By far my favorite improvement, however, is the Game Mission. Now players can complete goals in order to earn a free Admiral Pack. My hope is that the list of goals will be altered, or that further missions will be added in the future. But this is the closest thing to collection perks (my request to the designers) I’ve seen thus far. By recruiting 5 friends, seeing them level-up 20 times, attaining a flawless 9-1 victory, upgrading a standard card to elite, and so on, a player can have a chance at the most powerful card pack in the game. I have since opened my free pack, which contained two gold cards and two silver cards. Unfortunately, I had to re-complete all the goals since I had already done them before that game element was added. None of the added game perks have been “grandfathered” in for old players thus far. But it was a nice boost to my card deck.

Perhaps now that the second Star Trek movie has been released in all regions (I just saw it in Japan) Elephant Mouse can add more cards to the collection. I requested that they wait until it had been released here so as not to spoil it for the non-US Residents.

Star Trek Rivals is very addictive game from a relatively small game company that has captured the hearts of Star Trek fans. It has also been an interesting experience to witness its evolution from update to update. The amount of game improvements and updates from the original format and mechanics of the game has been staggering. I couldn’t imagine going back to the way the game was in its infancy. There are still many aspects that could use some improvement, however. In future updates I would like to see more cards. Perhaps even another tab above Standard and Elite in the Card Deck. I’d call this new ranked set of cards Prime and include some of the people and ships from the new movie: like Gun Slinger Khan, Emotionally Compromised Spock, Starship Vengeance, the Cold Fusion Device, and the Secret Weapon Missiles.

I’d also like to see a Deny Rematch button on new active games, or for the rematch option to be removed from the victory screen. This way, only the losing player can decide to rematch and each player gets equal opportunity to play first. The downside is that it will remove a happy glitch where two active games are possible with the same friend at the same time if both players hit rematch.

One further mechanic that would keep me playing are collection rewards. Perhaps a Side Mission checklist that rewards players with a unique card upon completion. The side mission goals would be things like: collect 1 copy of each tin, collect 3 copies of each tin, upgrade a complete row of tins to elite, collect one copy of all tins and bronze, etc. For each side mission completed, you unlock a unique card in your collection. But if at any time you sell down below the required amount, you fail that mission and lose the unique card. These unique cards could be extremely powerful, or just aesthetically pleasing. Cards without weaknesses on one side would also be adequate. I imagine unlocking a card once I’ve collected all the standard tins that has 6’s on all sides and a reflective foil or animated image of something like Khan’s secret base on Chronos. Although it would be difficult to offer enough incentive to collect and keep 4-16 low value cards in order to unlock only one powerful card. There would need to be more balance added. Perhaps being able to “turn off” cards you don’t want in your deck once you have completed the set.

I would also like to see the level cap removed. I am quickly approaching it and a player just recently reached level 99 for the first time. I have bought latinum several times on my account, and I’m sure I will not have completed the entire collection of elite golds by that point, so it would be nice to have some incentive to continue past 99. Perhaps to Ambassador Rank? Or at 100 you could defect from the Federation and rise up the ranks of some other faction…? I would like more opportunities to get the standard and elite gold cards. Even a new higher rank of cards in these sets with a purple dilithium medal could extend the life and replay value of this game for veteran players and reduce power-creep if they are only unlock-able past level 99 (and not available in daily deals and card packs at lower levels).

Past that, it seems necessary to regulate regular rival play (non-friend) by their level rank and card collection strength. Once you reach a certain level (40-50), and are able to balance your tin/bronze to silver/gold card ratios to about 50/50, it is unreasonable to challenge a weak player of only level 1-20. The chances of winning at the lower levels are about 1/100, and the chances of tying are only about 1/50 against a player who is 40-50 levels higher. I suggest pairing up random matches by level so that you can never randomly be matched against someone more than 10 levels above or below yours. This way, the most formidable opponent a level 1 player could be paired against would be level 10. And at level 99, the weakest player they could challenge would be 89. This only applies to random rivals, of course, and friend matches would be open to any level.

The final thing I’d like to see is a way to trade cards with my wife. I have three copies of gold Nero, the last card she needs to complete her standard set. I would love to trade her one for a copy of two silvers I need to upgrade. I have been waiting on my last copy of the Jellyfish and the Mayflower to upgrade them to elite. I know this mechanic would be ripe for exploitation, but it would be a nice feature especially if more cards are added in the future. Perhaps it is only a perk that could be earned past level 50, and each player is only allowed one trade per level. Or something like that.

We’ll wait and see what Elephant Mouse comes up with next. I have really enjoyed the daily deals and prizes they have offered for people’s birthdays, like Chris Pine and Gene Roddenberry. I’m glad to see that they are sensitive to and supportive of the Star Trek community at large, and try to accommodate fans of the show and the game with added features and support. I’m now at level 86 in the game and can’t wait to see where the game goes from here. Game hard and prosper.

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