Week 10: Games for X and Empathy
Navigate through the darkness and faceless voices and survive.
The design for Amygdala was very personal. I wanted to create a game that represented how I felt during a dark time in my life. This game served as a way for me to process that moment and also to prove to myself that I’ve overcome that experience by being able to show it openly and freely.
Mechanics and Play Design Elements
Peel off tiles
Can only move 1 tile (cannot move diagonally)
Roll the same or higher than the number under the tile they remove to progress to that tile
Draw a card after the claim the tile
When a positive card is drawn, add a die to player’s rolls
During the concept phase, I thought of the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to create a game about a dark time in my life to serve as a way of me overcoming it and processing that moment. I thought about how I felt during that dark time in my life. I envisioned the negative thoughts as voices from faceless mouths in the dark and I wanted the game to evoke loneliness and worry.
The three things I remember hearing back then that really broke me were made in cards with significantly larger fonts. I wanted these three to be the main focus cards that stayed in front of the player throughout the game.
I thought about having the player wander “aimlessly” in the dark just trying to survive. Even trying to “move” was difficult and nerve wracking. So I thought about the negative thoughts hounding the player every time they made a move.
Despite the game having dark themes, I wanted to end it on a positive note, and like my situation, it got better through the help of friends who were supportive and encouraged me. I wanted to portray this too, so I added positive cards with encouraging words. These positive cards would also serve as cards that would replace the three main negative cards.
Prototyping and Internal Playtest
In terms of mechanics, I wanted to recreate that feeling of being lost and wandering while having to deal with negative thoughts and voices. This gave me the idea of having the player draw cards with “negative thoughts” each time they moved. The first iteration was an 8x8 tiled board where the player would just move around flipping tiles and trying to overcome the number. This was of course very repetitive and boring. To speed up the game as well as giving the player a sense of progression and growth, I added 3 positive modifiers that would help the player overcome the numbers more easily as the game progressed.
The first idea was to have these 3 positive items shown on the board, and the player would make their way, collecting all three. However, this wasn’t accurate to my experience, as I didn’t know where to look for help. So instead of showing the positive modifiers, I thought about having them hidden. To do this, I turned it into cards.
I tried having the three positive cards shuffled into the deck, but after doing some internal playtest, one game ended quickly due to the 3 cards showing up within the first 15 moves. To counter this, I manually put the three cards in specific places in the deck. I played a few rounds and tried to get a feel for when the game would start to feel like it slowed down, and that's where I placed the positive cards.
Class Playtest and Observed Dynamics
During the playtest the playtester approached the game differently than I had intended. I expected players to retreat from high numbers that they had a lower chance of beating. However the playtester decided to stay and kept rolling until they were able to beat the tile. Another thing I noticed was their reaction to certain cards, they either nodded or commented with “oof” or “ouch”. This gave me the impression that they related to the quotes on the card or understood the intention of the cards.
I also noticed that the playtester was making their way to the opposite end of the board, despite nothing being said about the end of the board being a goal. Along the way, when they ran into a number that was impossible to beat, rather than backtracking, they still tried to move in the general direction of the corner of the board.
The cards that were drawn every move were also spread out on the table when drawn as opposed to being stacked on the side. The player also tried to align the cards into sections based on the 3 main negative cards.
Aesthetics and Feedback
The playtester mentioned that the theme and aesthetic was on point. The playtester also pointed out the difference in font for the negative and positive cards.
One feedback for the game that I would like to consider is the creature on the board. The creature was meant to give the player a little bit of anxiety, however the playtester mentioned that when they got into the game, they forgot that the creature was there. They suggested maybe having the cards being pulled from the mouths of the creature.
The playtester also suggested that some of the negative cards drawn from the deck have negative modifiers to the roll, to make it more difficult.
“The tactile feeling of peeling the tiles back is super satisfying”
“It was like a little surprise”
“It’s like those scratch offs”
“The first card hit me”
“I saw a 7 and I was like ‘I can’t do that’”
“I had more choices than I initially thought”
“I can go anywhere”
“I could get more help, but I didn’t”
“I was simulating how I feel in these emotional moments”
“I was rolling the dice on the board so it wouldn’t make any noise”
Evaluation and Ideas for Next Iteration
This was a fun play test and very satisfying for me to design. I think going forward, I definitely want to consider ways of giving the creature more of a presence. Perhaps creating a slit in the walls, where the players can draw cards from, or discard their drawn cards into.
Mechanics wise, I want to create negative modifiers for the cards that are drawn. I think the state of the game right now isn't as realistic as my experience was. It wasn’t a steady rise, there were ups and downs, and I think adding the negative modifiers in certain cards could help convey that idea as well.