CSUSA Game Development Studio Prototyping

Sunday – course coordinators, meeting our student host Xavier and creating a schedule for him.

Monday – Guest artists arrive and students arrive, JP did an interview with each student regarding what they wanted to do and made groups, four groups, two of 5 and two of 4. All of them seemed balanced. We introduced the students to their teams.

Tuesday – Clients came in and were assigned to the groups based on what we saw as strengths. Then we were off, there was a short period of explanation regarding the problem and then paper prototyping. The goal was to embed the central system into a board game and then have that as a base for the video game to be developed.

Lifeboat Game. This description is from memory, so it may be imperfect. I should have asked for all of the games to be published, that was a n00b mistake. Anyhow the team was tasked for showing implicit bias.

The game starts with a random selection of Age, Gender and Race for each player. This was meant to be quick and to represent those things that might be perceived and that one may have bias against. Each player is randomly assigned and then is put on a lifeboat.

The central idea of the game is that the government knows that the people are out there and is unable to save them immediately so they start to send food. However being the government or thru budget cuts they send less food each day. Each player has 3 life points to start and when they get to zero, they are dead.

Lets assume there are 5 players. On the first day the government sends 4 food and the group must decide who does not eat, then on the second day 3 food, 2 food and finally 1 food. The decisions are made thru conversation and consensus.

How do you win? Well each person is given a goal, “make sure women and children survive” or “survive with a mate” etc, the possible goals have been listed, shuffled and dealt at random to each person. Notice that there are goals that involve the death of the player.

I do not know how many rounds you play, but that is based on the number of life points, I am sure. Anyhow, the game was played, tested, and refined within the group when they were happy with the rules we had another dev team come in and play.

This is where it got interesting, the team that play-tested it ended up being really affected by it. In the decompression they wanted to know more about the other players (beyond made up role playing) they wanted them to have jobs, like captain, engineer and such. They had a visceral reaction to the arbitrary choice they had to make. This was fascinating to me, they didn’t want to make the decision based on their bias, they wanted to remove some element from it. In the end this group created a very powerful game, when I talked to one of the players they said that they did not enjoy the game and did not like the decision process at all, they were very much affected by it and were starting to get emotional.

This was the first game to elicit tears during summer arts, well to make someone misty. I cannot help but think that the team succeeded in achieving their goal, and am somewhat encouraged that the players didn’t think the obvious information was enough. The team that came up with this game ended up scrapping the prototype.

The other teams did well but it became obvious that the systems were not always integrating, that the core purpose for doing the prototype (which was to aid in development) was not fully understood. In the prototyping cycle, I find myself unable to require the use of the prototype, but maybe there is a need for a┬áprototype. in retrospect this should have been the guidance… if you abandon this prototype, you must come up with another to satisfy the game requirements (and test it to guarantee user experience is what you claim it to be).

Takeaway lesson: It is generally better to go over the purpose and method of a task regardless of how straightforward it seems. Help connect the dots even if you have experts in the audience to help remind everyone why we are doing the thing.

All of our teams produced paper games, the team that had the hardest time with it also ended up having some internal difficulties that came up again later. Prototyping surfaced a lot of information about communication within the teams, at least one team built and was able to use the prototype to inform their game.

Do you have a problem that might be solved by a game?

I am looking for experts(relative experts welcome) to work with a development team to create a game prototype to further their research or to help solve a problem. I am leading a summer course and have one or two slots remaining to work with student developers as part of the CSU Summer Arts Game Development Studio.

What does this mean?

I would ask you to come to Fresno on Tuesday June 27 (I can pay a small stipend to cover mileage and a hotel room) and work with a development team to create a paper prototype. We have found that paper prototypes can be very expressive and surface key systems. Provide your expertise and help the development team understand your priorities for the prototype.

Be available via Skype to communicate with your team about the problem and how the solution can be used, advise the team on tasks as digital development proceeds.

Get the prototype at the end.

This is not something to be commercially monetized (without your teams permission of course), but something to further your research, non-profit work or work within an educational context.

The risk is that it will take some of your time and attention, you may not get what you expect out of it, the the reward is that you will have a chance to work with some bright developers on a prototype that could enhance your work.

If you are interested send an email to james.morgan@sjsu.edu and include a basic overview of your problem (or message me), let me know your availability on June 27 and we can go from here. Needless to say, time is short.

Feel free to reach out if this is not a perfect fit, I am looking for the most interesting problems to challenge us.

Prototype One – Ticket to Werewolf


I started out my trip with some awesome friends in western Mass and some prototyping. Emily Boss Care and Epidiah Ravachol met me in Boston and we drove to Greenfield, the trip just flew by as we talked and talked. I had ulterior motives though as I had a vexing problem with a game I just could not quite start, the premise / problem is thus:

Create a game that can be played with an event ticket, the game should help people break the ice and give them a reason to continue to play with others throughout the even.

We started playing with some props I brought and ended up with a few rounds of liars poker (with $2 bills), a fun game that is usually played for the money, but I figure that every ticket can have a unique (though not necessarily unique) serial number.


We kept going and played a little 3 player “are you a werewolf” and followed that up with some rock-paper-scissors.

We added a little twist to the game which put one werewolf and 2 villagers and said that the werewolf was permitted to cheat in liars poker, and added an rps symbol to the ticket that enabled the player to “change their choice” after play.

This became kind of interesting, but we realized that there should be a way to reveal portions of the information to other players to “prove” your results.

An interesting aspect emerged that if a player did really well on liars poker, they were immediately suspected of being a werewolf.


To add a social element and make the players seek out new players, we added a kind of experience points that let the players change roles as they gained them.

The biggest innovation was an overlapping tri-fold that kept some info secret while revealing others. This could facilitate the whole game.

Playing the ELD game days later I realize the greatest challenge is going to be finding the right audience that will play, but our little prototype is pretty good. I just need to find a dozen or fifty people to test it on.

If I see you this summer, we should play…