Apr 172011

First, I gotta admit, I’m watching another season of the Real World and I’m amazed how the more things change, the more things stay the same.  Should be a good reunion show though.  And I still wonder how much different I’d look with some film crew on my life vs how I perceive it.  Someone should sell that service.

Anyway, I read an article on how some games are lame – like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders or Hi-Ho Cherry-oh.  And they put it well, with the fact that there is no decision making in the game.  You get a color or spin the spinner and then you follow some rules and that’s the game.  No choices for kids to make.  So games with choices are good for the kids, cause you learn to play by rules and you learn to strategize as well.  I hadn’t thought about it so explicitly, but liked it when it was spelled out for me.

So what was that guy playing with his kids instead?  An RPG.  Which made more and more sense the more I thought about it.  Sal likes to role play when we’re driving.  If he can’t be playing Spore, he’ll talk about playing Spore.  If his mom doesn’t want to play Spore, they’ll play “Animals” instead, which, after I heard them playing for a while, was basically Spore Creature Creator.  He’s sneaky.  But he’ll also want to “play” Star Wars or Monster Trucks or Ninjago or Pokemon.

But our “play” lacks rules.  Though it’s fun for me to try and probe for rules (he won’t let me be the Death Star when we play Star Wars) it’s not a really a game.  Adding some of the structure of an RPG could give the game some more focus for him so that the game could get extra depth instead of just the breadth that he’s getting right now.

So at breakfast, I drew a map on the back of his menu at Hobbee’s and I downloaded a D&D die program for the iPhone.  And he walked through the maze, trying to rescue his mom, running into skeletons and treasures on the way.  This was based on the Ninjago storyline at first.  Sal, being a treasure hunter ended up exploring too much instead of bee-lining it for his mom, and died just before he finished his hi-hat hashbrowns.

He took it pretty well.  Better than I thought I guess and followed up with a quick – “Can we play again?”

Of course we can.  And this afternoon, we’ve been talking about all sorts of expansions to the game that he wants (pet dragons, ninja stars, backpacks, sushi rolls, etc) and as I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking it’s something that I’d find easier to keep track of with a program rather than crayons and menus.  Plus, it seems like something that can get him drilling math without really caring about the fact that he’s drilling math.  When attacking, odds numbers were misses and evens were hits.  So he’s getting practice with that.  And he did the calculations for hit points as people were doing damage to each other.  Over time, I imagine he’ll get more curious about probabilities and the differences between rolling a 6 sided die vs a 20 sided die.

Seems like, if I write a program to do this, I could prompt him for the math answers and his character could gain experience points that way too.  Depending on his “level”, the math probes could vary in both difficulty and rewards.  The rules could get more complicated too, once the character levels up enough, to introduce division and fractions and such.  And instead of “gold pieces” which is generic and useful enough for those well versed in our currency, we were thinking of using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, so one would have to get used to doing the math involved with how much loot one did find (ie – “you found 4 pennies, 3 nickels a dime and 2 quarters – how much is that?”).  Every chance to get the math in there…I figure the more he’s doing it, the more likely he’ll work at creating a system to do it faster…

The tie in to making the math drilling fun is meaningful to me because there was a game I wanted to show Sal on the iPad and his first response as I called him over was “Is it going to be a fun one or one that tries to teach me math?!?”  Fortunately, it turned out to be both – Super 7 – a nice cross between flight controller and math drills.  Review coming over at Catherine’s site.

But anyway, as Sal and I are drawing up the rules for this game, I’m thinking, iPad app would be convenient to play, but server side app would probably be more convenient to prototype and update…and it’d still be accessible on the iPad.  But then again, the dad that’s talking about playing the RPG with his kids likes to build up mazes with the kids in the house and your character walks through the game and turns over cards that reveal monsters or treasures. There’s something to be said about having the manipulation in the real world I think.  But then I go back to being a lazy programmer and think it’d be so much more convenient to maintain experience points and rules and the dice if it was all bundled up in a program…so that’s got me back to keeping the game virtual.

I’m also wondering if anyone has other pointers on how to design an RPG game, period (both game dynamics as well as an OO approach).  Websearching has lead to some strange places.  One recommended RPG was Dungeon Squad, which I thought was good, but then was a little surprised when it’s wiki page had a comment that it was designed for teenagers.  Still, we might use similar rules – kind of making them up as we go along – but would really like suggestions if any more experienced dungeon masters have any.  I never really got to play D&D till I was in grad school – and even then, it was a little odd cause one guy kept on spending way too much time rolling to see if he could find any invisible items in the room.  Over and over again.  And again, one more time just to be sure.

Cause I guess it’s kind of hard to tell the difference between not seeing any invisible items in the room and well, not seeing any invisible items in the room.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep invisible items out of my game with Sal for a while.

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