Some Things to Like: Castle Danger, Keeps & Moats (first in a series)

A Montage of Matt Worden's Games as of December 2012As I mentioned in my previous post, Grant Rodiek is one of the designers whose blog I read on a regular basis.  He recently wrote an intriguing post on the idea of purposefully designing joy into games.  It got me thinking about my own approach to design — how I go about it, what I focus on, and why I put things together the way I do.

It made me realize that when I’m designing a game, I focus mainly on creating problems for the players to solve, providing them some limited tools to solve the problems, and then forcing some tough decisions on when and how to use the tools available.  Usually, those tough decisions work around the player choosing to give something up in order to gain some advantage.  This means that while I usually start with a theme and then form mechanics within it, I’m really a mechanics-first designer … since the mechanics play a more important role for me.

This does a few things:  It means that I usually am able to get the elements of a design to work together mechanically very quickly, making it easier to test things at a mathematical/physics level. But, more critically, it means that I’m relying quite a bit on the players to convert the theme and what I think may be a nifty combination of mechanics into the “aha” moments of joy that Grant wrote about. And, even more critically, it clarifies for me what causes some players of my games to respond with phrases like “missing that magic spark” or “dry” or (more painfully) “soulless.”  I’m not sure what this means for my on-going designs yet, but I think it it will cause me to take a wider view of the design, and focus more on the overall player experience. (I just don’t really know what that means yet … but willing to learn.)

So, as an exercise, I thought I’d walk through some of my more-or-less completed designs and comment on a piece or two that I really like about each of them. Quite likely, these will be related to the game’s mechanics (due to what I wrote above).  The first two games I’ll cover are a couple of my earliest — Castle Danger and Keeps & Moats Chess.

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So, hey … how ya been?

Matt Worden Games Logo

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  It’s summer time and everything seems to be going on at once.

I’ve been coaching my daughter’s travelling softball team, and working the day job.  I’ve spent a little time working on game stuff, but not enough.  And, there’s been a severe lack of camping and fishing so far.  But we are hoping to get that to change in July & August.

My game-related priority right now is to get the DANGER! Expansion for Dicey Curves finalized and published via TheGameCrafter.  I’ve sent my rules draft over to a few designer friends for review and got some very good feedback, which I need to incorporate.  So, yes — very, very close now.

My secondary game-related priority is to get copies of Subtilla out to reviewers so that people can get to know that one better.  And, my third priority has to do with getting a couple of my current prototypes ready for testing in front of other designers.

There are two up-coming games-related trips that I had put on my calendar for this summer:  Protospiel, a couple weeks from now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and GenCon Indy, in the middle of August.  Not sure I have the funds or time to make both … so, I may skip Protospiel and use the time to go camping/fishing/canoeing with my family.  We’ll see how are plans go.

Also … I have a computer-based game project brewing … not exactly sure of the form that it’s going to take yet, but I’ve broken open my Visual Studio again for the first time in quite a while and I’m tinkering … so, let’s see what comes of that.

That’s all for now.

Michael Fox Allows Me to Ramble On and On (Little Metal Dog Show)

Little Metal Dog Show's Jump Gate Ship

Oh, Michael! What has your dog been eating?!

Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show — an always-interesting podcast about board gaming — recently interviewed me via Skype for the show.

That conversation is now part of the latest episode of the LMD Show!  And he lets me ramble on and on about things … for over 20 minutes! 🙂

I will suggest that you listen to the whole show, because he starts with a very interesting industry topic — board games getting develop for iPhones and iPads — and ends by interviewing Stephen Avery and Tom Vasel about a game they have in the works by the name of Capo.

However, if you really just want to hear *my* nasally monotones counter-point with Michael’s brilliant and lovely pear-shaped lilting, you can start around the 23:15 mark.  And, yes, I was serious about my part being over 20 minutes long … and that was after some skillful editing!

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Possible Fantasy Football Fix?

FootballI’ve broken open my programming environment once again for a new (and, yet, kinda old) game project.

The NFL lockout has me worried that I won’t be able to watch my world-champion Green Bay Packers play football next fall … but, even worse, I may not get to play fantasy football with friends and family.  It has become an important and very entertaining part of the football seasons for me.

So, I’ve been toying around again with an old, old computer game idea I’ve had around an American football coaching simulator.  Originally, this was going to be a single player game, but had the potential to allow multiple players … and, it won’t take much to expand it into handling a full “league” of players.  So, the new twist is on how to make it more fantasy-football-like; make it conducive to a smaller group of people who know each other playing in a league together.

I think I have a good design worked out and I’ve just started some initial programming to test out some of the concepts.  If I’m able to get something ready-to-go by the end of summer, and the NFL is still locked-out, it could possibly fill my need for a fantasy football fix.  Stay tuned.

Summer’s Over — Time to Get Busy Again

I had a very good, busy summer.  Got to camp a bit, fish a few more times than I had expected, coach some softball with my 10-year-old’s team, and visit family & friends.

Didn’t do much games-related stuff, though … so, now it’s time to pick up the pace on that again.

I have a design in mind for the Protospiel card game design contest … but I’m not ready to say much about it.  So far, it seems good on paper and maybe even fun when I play through it in my head.  But, I still need to build the complete rough prototype and truly walk through it in a physical sense to see if it all works.  The first somewhat solid things are due to the contest by October 15th — so, I should have something to say about it by then.

However, I think this is the year that I will get back in to computer games.  I first plan on finishing my game-dev libraries, and using them to build a couple simple games.  Then I have something a bit more expansive in mind … we’ll see where that goes.

Spotlight on … Air Rally Ace

Air Rally AceI started Air Rally Ace too late.  I had just gotten to know the DXGame Engine pretty well (a game library targetting VB6 + DirectX8) from having made Gem Raider, but the life of VB6 and the DirectX8-friendly version of Windows (that would be WinXP and earlier) were fading.  To finish it off, the developer behind DXGame decided to go in a different direction — so he sold the rights to the engine to another developer (who had a pretty cool baseball game that used the engine), and that pretty much sewed-up the end.

This lead me to set off learning some new technology (.Net languages & SlimDX), which someday I’m hoping to use to make some new computer games.  In the meantime, my board game designs have been occupying most of my game development attention.

But, before I put the project on indefinite hold, I got the “rally day” racing portion of “Air Rally Ace” ready for a Tech Demo.  This part of the game was intended to be the “bonus” levels, to be played in-between the more challenging parts of the game.  (The challenging parts were going to be about trouble you went through as you travelled from one rally day event to the next.)

Here are some in-game pictures … complete with captivating colored smoke!  (Click them to see big versions …) Continue reading

Spotlight on … Keeps & Moats Chess

Keeps & Moats Chess ScreenshotThe game Keeps & Moats Chess is my example of the phrase “oldie but goodie”.  I came up with the idea for the game sometime in 2003 and released the PC game a few months later.  I am still getting contacted every few months about the game, and the free demo keeps a pretty consistent download traffic.  It does not use any special graphics or sound libraries (like DirectX), so it should work on most Windows machines found today (from Windows98SE all the way through Windows7). 

Like with a lot of abstract games, I’m not a very good chess player.  I’m way too impatient and aggressive and don’t have a natural ability to see the whole board and envision how things will play out a few turns into the future.  This was the initial basis for the design … Continue reading

Spotlight On … Gem Raider

Gem Raider Screenshot (Black & Orange Baddies)

My most complete computer game to date is, without question, Gem Raider.  I had been working on one version or another of this design since I had started programming computer games.

In fact, one of the first games I coded for Windows (using VB3! in the mid-90s) was called “Skater”, and was a very early prototype of the design.  That one had moving enemy crafts, a very stuttery feel, and horrendous graphics.  I’m quite happy with how Gem Raider turned out.  As mentioned on its page, it’s my favorite of the games I’ve made so far (and my wife’s too).

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Two Games Added to “Free Computer Games” Page

AstroMiner Screen PictureIn cleaning-up my files for this site update, I ran across a couple of games that were my entries into some of the Coding Contests held over at — a nice community of indy game programmers.

“AstroMiner” is an Asteroids Clone with a few extras thrown in, and “Elemental Reduction” is an original puzzle game about mixing classic elements.  They are both now available for download on the Free Computer Games Page.

Welcome to the new!


Matt Worden Games LogoThe new year has brought on a new focus and new approach to my games projects.

First step was giving my website a much-needed overhaul.  Instead of hand-coding things like I’ve done in the past, I’ve decided to make use of WordPress, a popular open source blogging system.  It has definitely made it quick & easy for me to apply the facelift to the site … and I expect it will continue to make it easy for me to keep things up-to-date.

So, keep an eye on this space.  Subscribe to the RSS feeds, post comments and give me feedback in whatever way works for you.

Now that the site has been updated … onto step #2 …