James Wallis levels with you

Short creativity and clay-imagination

Gamecamp 5 was last weekend (May 12th) and went about as smoothly as one of these events can. The schedule was filled with great sessions from clever people, and once the day was begun there was a lack of logistical nightmares that made it one of the first GameCamps that I’ve been able to relax at (I’ve been on the committee since GameCamp 2). Plus many old friends and new contacts, excellent food, and a spirit of cooperation, collaboration and the free sharing of ideas that makes the British games business such a lovely place to work.

There’s a tradition at GameCamp that we always give out a neat game-related freebie on the door. As time has gone on we’ve specifically tried to find items that will act as ice-breakers and will encourage attendees to talk to strangers and—even better—play games against them. Last year everyone got a random Lego minifig with a three-line game attached: I blogged about it here.

This year we left it a bit late and by the time we started to phone suppliers we found we’d missed their deadline for printing, threading, engraving, enamelling or whatever else. Oops. It looked like we weren’t going to have anything for the event. Then the week before GameCamp I was in our local toyshop and noticed little packs of modelling clay like Plasticine, six different colours to a pack. Not as cool as Lego but undeniably creative…

So I proudly present the second Gamecamp social game:

Rock Scissors Wha…?

Challenge another player. The challengee chooses the clay-colour for the contest.Ask someone to referee. They shout Go! Players have 45 seconds to sculpt something:

a) recognizable and the correct colour;
b) using all your clay of that colour;
c) that would win a fight against the other player’s sculpture.

After 45 seconds the referee declares which sculpture would win the fight. Artistic merit only counts if both players sculpt the same thing.

The winner gets all the loser’s clay of that colour. At the end the person with the heaviest ball of clay wins an underwhelming prize.

Like the Lego game at last year’s GameCamp, ‘Rock Scissors Wha…?’ is designed to be creative and social, not big or important enough to distract from the main business of the day but fun enough that if you found yourself sitting next to someone you didn’t know, issuing a challenge came naturally. We didn’t end up with an eventual winner—which is a shame because David Hayward had dug up a prize that was truly underwhelming—but I think that in a very real sense everyone was the winner.

Rock Scissors Wha…?’ is a blend of two themes that show up over and over again in my work: creativity and simplicity. The game doesn’t tell you what to make, that’s completely up to you, and I really hoped that people would increase their power-levels over the day, so the final show-down would be on the level of Cthulhu versus the Heat Death of the Universe. It was huge fun to watch people play, partly to watch people engage their creativity and imagination as they sculpted.

Once Upon a Time and Baron Munchausen both challenge their players to create stories from fresh cloth: they supply templates and guides, but they never dictate. And I’ve been working on a new creative game with the amazing Jenifer Toksvig—the working title is ‘Framed!’ but our design brief is to make a drawing game that isn’t Pictionary. Because pretty much every drawing game is either Pictionary (Draw Something is just asynchronous Pictionary, like Words With Friends is asynchronous Scrabble) or Exquisite Corpse, and Pictionary is charades with pencils.

The other theme is simplicity. This is the fourth game I’ve designed in a year that’s small enough to fit on the back of a business card. The whole of ‘Rock Scissors Wha…?’ is a hundred words. Condensing a game down into its barest essence requires mind-bending discipline and it has professional relevance as well: I’ve spent the last few weeks on a fantastic project writing riddles and puzzles short enough to fit into a tweet (140 characters). I’m trying to get permission from the client to write a couple of blogposts about that, if only so I can start an article with the words “I’ve been writing for Stephen Fry again.”

Categorised as: game design

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