Reverse engineering workshop: Paper Hero

Two and a half weeks ago we had the Reverse Engineering workshop with Adam Mayes. The main take-aways from this workshop for me were:

– Deconstructing a game.
– Practicing paper prototyping.

As with the Ernest Adams-workshop, this one started out with a presentation about the assignment and the subject in general. We got a short introduction to reverse enginering that amongst other brought up that:

  • Reverse engineering means breaking down a system to it’s building blocks.
  • Reverse engineering can be used to model the core experience. 
  • The core experience is about dynamics, how the player experiences the game.
  • The player experience is modeled after how the player perceives MDA (Spoilers: As ADM)
    • What are the Aesthetic goals?
    • What are the Dynamics that fulfill these goals?
    • What are the Mechanics that create these dynamics?
  • When modeling the core experience do not add to it or change it. 
  • Random elements should only be used where they make sense in the original context.

Our assignment was to, (in the same groups as in the Ernest Adam-workshop) take a digital real-time game, analyze it, apply reverse engineering and then create a paper model that captured the core experience of the game. We had 24 hours to do it and then we’d put those games up for our classmates to play and critique. It had to be obvious from playing the game what digital game it was based on.

… We did not know any of this when we chose our game. We chose Guitar Hero.

The reason we chose Guitar Hero was because our group had rather diverse tastes in games and party games in general (and Guitar Hero in particular) were the one thing we could all get behind.

This was our rection when we found out what the assignment was:

Unpleasant surprise
Figure 1. “…Well shit.”

How do we make Guitar Hero into a paper prototype? That’s insane! Weeell… turns out it isn’t. And this is how:

We started out by analyzing the game. What is the core experience of Guitar Hero?
This is what we ended up agreeing on:

  • Timing- and rhytm based challenges: “Push the colored button at the right time”.
  • Receiving feedback on your performance.
  • “Being” on a stage with an audience.

Of course Guitar Hero has a lot more features, like unlocking new songs, customizing your avatar etc. But those are not things that we deemed essential and as Mayes told us: “What is the minimum amount of mechanics necessary to create your core experience?”

So our next challenge was to translate a timing- and rhytm-based mechanic onto paper in a way that gave you immediate feedback on how you were doing while feeling like you were on a stage with an audience. After some brainstorming the breakthrough came with the thought that “Hey, we’ll do just that. We’ll translate Guitar Hero directly onto paper!”

Our idea was basically to have a long, moving sheet of paper, with colored rectangles that the player had to tap on as they passed by. To simulate the “being on a stage”-feeling, we’d construct a stage that we’d put up in front of the player.

This was our first prototype:
First prototype
Figure 2. “Guys, this could actually work!”

The idea was: One person would roll the cardboard roll thus pulling the paper through the cardboard “screen” while the other person would play. Our next problem was how to get color onto the paper.

First we tried a solution with folded carboard “fingers” with crayons stuck through them that the player would tap down on, like this:

Crayon tap
Figure 3. “I promise I know how to paint hands and fingers. No really.”

It turned out that the player had to tap really hard on the crayon to leave a mark on the paper and we’d have to make a new music sheet for each new player, which would be an unnecessary amount of work that we did not have time for.

Since there was no laminator at school, we decided to put see-through duct tape on the outlined squares and the ones closest to it but then the crayon barely left any marks. So I and another group member took a trip to the local toy store and bought some… *drum roll please* … finger paint!

Finger paint
Figure 4. “Best. Investment. Ever.”

It worked perfectly (-ish)! The finger paint left clear marks in the squares and could be easily wiped off with some water and paper towels. The sheet got a little smudged after a while but the squares could still be made out so it had to do. We had one “easy” sheet and one “hard”.

We discarded the paper roll-idea since we ran out of scavenged card-board and had too little time. Instead the other person had to simply pull the paper by hand. We added a bump that the player could rest their hand on, a line that showed the player where she/he was allowed to press and a stage with a picture of adoring fans. To get the proper “stage”-feeling we dressed the whole thing in pictures of concerts and stagelights.

This was the final result:

Final result
Figure 5. “Tadaaa!”

We made a sheet with game instructions and a score system that awarded the players stars and a little comment depending on how many points they’d gathered. For the players who wanted to feel a little extra pressure, we added a bonus-stage:

Boss stage
Figure 6. “It’s not shit.”

For anyone concerned, we did ask Adam if we could use him in our game first even if we didn’t tell him how. He didn’t seem to mind much though. 🙂

So one last picture to round it all up:

Boss battle stage
Figure 7. “That’s all folks!”

A couple of thoughts looking back at how it all went:

– We did achieve what we wanted. Even disregarding the name, everyone who tried our game immediately pinned it down as Guitar Hero.

– Those who played it thought it was fun, albeit more difficult than expected. We noted that the person pulling the paper had to slow down a number of times. So there was an element of “randomness” that is not present in the original game, the human element.

– We had some trouble while showing off our game. The music sheet was made of several sheets of paper, taped together and could wrinkle up a little and get stuck at times. Thankfully we had duct tape and scissors on hand and could fix that. The game would’ve benefitted from some more playtesting.

On a personal note I was worried that we had not made the most of the exercise. We DID recreate the core experience in a clever way that translated fairly well on paper but perhaps it lacked creativity. It turned out that another group had also chosen Guitar Hero and they’d turned it into a clapping-game with different gestures that had to be done in a certain rhytm and thus captured the timing- and rhytm-challenge. Their solution was less representative of the original game but felt more innovative than ours.

Once again, well met reader! Have a Saturday-kitten!


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