Journal: 10/28/2017

Final Final: Last night was a pretty big deal for me at work. We declared Final for The Sims 4 Cats & Dogs, which is a project some of us have been working on for years. Typically an expansion is about one year, but Cats & Dogs requires a fundamental overhaul of our engine to allow for quadripedal movement (among other things) and it's a really long haul.

I'm a producer, so I can't do much at the super early stages regarding technology and such. I can work with design to ensure we specify the designs and features we think we'll want, and that think is key as we're also working on other projects. We have to make a handful of really good guesses based on the past, our aspirations, what the community wants, and go. But also, we have to find time for the art team to create visual targets for the pets. How does dog fur look? What about a poodle? A boxer? What about cats? I personally spent a LOT of time examining hundreds of breeds of dogs, mixed breeds, and cataloging ear shape, tail shape, head shape, nose shape. Why? Most of our pets are built on a handful of pieces. You can then combine the pieces in a variety of ways, slightly extend the nose, slightly widen the face, slightly tilt the ears, and boom, you have a completely different breed. Fun Fact: If you use a Labrador Retriever as your base chassis, you get a TON of breeds. Naturally, a French Bull dog's face, or a Pug's tail, are one-offs. But, then you can make infinite mutts with those pieces.

Anyways, it was a really long, difficult pack. It's also the pack that has the highest fan expectations. There's also a lot of pressure for it to perform well because it's more or less the gem of our catalog. It's a big deal and I've literally been dreading it since 2010. I've been a part of three Pets packs now on The Sims 2, The Sims 3, and now The Sims 4, and it never gets easier. 

So, yesterday we declared final. It's done. Finally.

Now, of course we'll patch it where need be to ensure it works and any bugs we missed are caught. But, for the most part, I'm finished. It's a huge relief.

The team celebrated with alcohol, food, games, and karaoke. We had a hilarious Two Rooms and a Boom game going on between two conference rooms. A few of us were playing Abandon Planet. But, then many of us spent hours in karaoke. The highlight for me was singing the part of Roger with a co-worker singing Mimi in Rent's "Another Day." I'm not a huge musical guy, but I love Rent. Love it. When I was a freshman in high school I played in a semi-pro youth jazz band in downtown Houston. My mom worked out a deal with a senior from another school who drove there. She'd drop me off, he and I would get Chinese food, listen to Rent, and would go to jazz practice. I listened to the album so many times, and ultimately in high school saw the live theatrical performance twice. I just loved it. 

A musical has to be either very funny (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) or have great, modern songs (Rent, Hamilton) to interest me. Les Miserables is an exercise in misery for me - it isn't just a clever name. The idea of sitting through Oklahoma! makes me suicidal. But Rent? I love it, and I can sing Another Day from memory. My co-worker Maya sang Mimi and we got all dramatic with it. It was fun. When it was done it was almost like I did it for real and I was sincerely tickled by it.

So, final, Rent, boneless chicken wings.

Abandon Planet: I've played Abandon Planet by Don Eskridge twice now. You may not know the name, as the designer has only created one other title, but it's a big one: The Resistance. This is the social game that put Werewolf on the map as it dramatically reduced the play time, got rid of player elimination, and focused everything down more. Without it, we probably wouldn't have the excellent One Night Ultimate series, the pretty good Secret Hitler, and more. It's a very important design.

Therefore, Abandon Planet has my interest from the start. But, after two plays, I'm not sure it'll keep it. The game is clearly social in nature and from the outset seems to be trying to be "social but with some meat." As a publisher, I think there's a big opportunity for social and party games that add a smidge of complexity. If Coup, the Resistance, and other such games have brought in a whole generation of gamers, then it's the natural next step. But, Abandon Planet has the problem I think all of these designs will need to overcome, which is that it has so much game that the social takes a back seat.

In Abandon Planet, you and one other player have to escape the planet together to win. Earth is being destroyed by asteroids. Instead of leaving it completely open, in a six player game, you can partner with anyone except the people sitting immediately to your left and right. I think this is a good constraint. To escape, you and your eventual partner need to have 1-4 of a handful of generic resources (orange hammers, yellow batteries, green plants). Fictionally, supplies to escape the planet and live anew elsewhere. 

There are a handful of spaces aligned on spokes numbered 1-6. Based on the number of players, one spoke is destroyed, constraining your options. So, you can only go to spaces 1-5, as 6 is gone. Each round, you simultaneously pick a spoke to visit to gather its resource. Spoke 4 may have yellow batteries and green plants. The spokes are randomly placed, and over time they'll change slightly. It's simple and nice in a Donald X. Vaccarino style of randomization. 

Over the course of the game as you begin to gather stuff, you can start to infer who will go where based on what they need. But, one spoke gets hit with an asteroid every round. The first time it's replaced with a crappier new tile: the resources get harder to acquire (which naturally forces collaboration). The first player knows which spoke will get hit. They can share this information with others. Initially, sharing is pretty open. By the end, as partnerships solidify, this sharing gets more sparing. 

You gather things, you have ways to steal, and prevent stealing, from others. You have some double think that you always have in games with simultaneous destination selection. And you have a bit of humor. One that kept making us laugh is Dave looking Gibson in the eye to say "We're partners right? I got you." Then without missing a beat looking two inches to his left to look at me and say "I'm lying, I'm actually with you, Grant." 

Ultimately, the game feels inevitable. You get what you need. There isn't much alliance making, because it'll be clear that person A and B have what they need, so boom, they're partners. In the end, you either have the special token you need to prevent somebody upsetting you, and you escape. 

I think it's a little too much game that hinders true social exploration. I also think it's a little too long at around 45 minutes for what it provides. At this time I think I'd say yes to playing it, but I'm not looking forward to it. Curious to see how other designers continue to solve the "social game with meat" challenge. I'm glad Eskridge took a whack at it. Curious to see where it goes next. 

Edit: I removed a section. Sorry.

Hook 'em: No, not the Longhorns. Screw those guys. I may be from Texas, but I went to OU, baby. No, I'm talking about The Game Crafter's recently announced Hook Box Challenge. This really appeals to me in its simplicity, but also because I have an idea I sorta made years ago for a similar challenge. I want to refine the idea and take another stab at it. "But Grant, you're working on so many designs?" True, true. But, Five Ravens is finished. My deckbuilder is in a slow testing pattern, i.e. I can't do much with it until I test it, York is in a holding pattern, and that really sweet wheel prototype I made I just need to test. Basically, I have bandwidth.

The last time I worked on this idea was for the Real Time Design challenge from Dice Hate Me. I think. I can't remember. 

The gist was that you'd have units, represented by horizontally placed poker cards. In real time, you would count, then move them a number of spaces. The notion was that you were a sergeant counting steps and it was ridiculous and silly. You'd use the shape of your hand to act as a ruler, which mostly worked (though I have a refined approach). Ultimately, your team was trying to fight this stupid, real time Waterloo.

I like the notion of a war game with cards. I like the notion of using your hand as a ruler (with refinement). I don't love the counting (too loud) or the real time (too frantic). I also have the old York art that I can use, and, I hate leaving it sitting alone. 

I'm going to tinker with this on my run today.