‘Ajoobaa’ means ‘Wonder’ in Hindi. It is a hybrid card-app game for 4-7 players to explore the Seven Wonders of the World with fun and suspense along the way!
‘Ajoobaa’ was made with an intent to educate players about the old and new 7 wonders of the world, and thereby cultivate an appreciation for global culture, history, and travel. It also aims to make a commentary on how the once-powerful ancient civilizations are today in a state of turmoil.
Discipline: Game Design, Interaction Design
Timeline: 3 weeks | November 2017
Technology: Adobe Suite
Work in Progress: Ajoobaa AR App – Sketch, ARCore Android, Vuforia and Unity
Association: Parsons School of Design, MFA Design+Tech Studio
This game will be played in dice and dine restaurants, or parties, after parties, may be used as drinking games, leisure breaks in high schools, college, office breaks, killing time between friends or family weekend time.
Taking a simple concept, I wanted to address the fact that people are unaware of the ancient and new 7 wonders of the world, and that bothers a hardcore traveler like me. The concept of 7 wonders has amazed me since childhood and I want to share this passion with others.
This was the final iteration of my Ideas in Form series for The Seven Wonders where I took a simple fixed idea with fixed criteria and design statement and expressed that idea in multiple forms.
Kick-Start Design Statement
I am defining the term kick-start statement as a design statement that is generated straight from the mind map and the idea without deeply thinking about any specifics early on. Essentially this is an initial design statement that will change and evolve through the design process.
I am creating a game for users of ages 13 onwards to play, have fun, enjoy, connect with one another because of the game, that is engaging and a purpose to kill boredom, that will eventually but may be subconsciously create an awareness to appreciate the world as one entity with many cultures – the theme of this game is based on the concept of the 7 wonders. This game should be played in the context of a party, leisure at home, office, school or family get-togethers.
I have used the term ‘users’ and not ‘gamers’ because I expect this to be a casual, fun game for all and not specifically someone who is looking to play particular games or being a game-critique, etc.
- There are seven orange cards and only six purple cards. The seven are for the new wonders and the 6 are for the ancient wonders that are today non-existent or destroyed, with only the Pyramids of Egypt, the yellow (or golden) card, still standing.
- I intend to make the Pyramid card as the Ace card in the pack – let me call it the Apex.
- The gameplay will be with cards with a central idea surrounding the current round of play or a monument conquest or a race to exchange all cards, or something similar.
What was interesting to me, is that just by creating this concept prototype, it generated so many ideas of game rules that I could use or build upon. This was one of my most prominent and fruitful experiences in Making to Think
- The Pyramid as the Apex card and the winner with highest cards (monument conquest) wins. The one with the Pyramid goes to the ancient world, so while he has the apex advantage, the user only stars with 6 of the ancient wonders. The other user doesn’t have the apex advantage but starts with 7 (new) wonders.
- Keeping just these 14 cards as a constraint I can simply build game rules within only these many cards.
- The Apex card can function as a trick-or-trade card – where it can pass on its power to another card and therefore, there will be a hidden Apex card. Now all 14 wonders are competing to defeat or spot this hidden apex card, and the player who has it either knows about the advantage or doesn’t and the other will try to figure it out.
These are some rules that jogged my mind and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Also, I am assuming these for just two players or two teams – but this assumption might have risen from the prototype itself which has two teams, two colors, etc.
Research, Inspiration, and Precedents
Key takeaways from my domain research related to game design and this topic of travel and world wonders:
- Playing cards are items which people want to use, rather than having to be persuaded of their cultural importance, and which even in the more sumptuous packs are relatively inexpensive.
- Edmund Hoyle, the first systematizer of the laws of whist, and author of a book on games, and his rules on card games helped me get a kick start on framing the rules for my game. His sample card game rules were a good way of starting with a rule set to help prototype.
- Looking at Amazon.com’s best-seller card games today (Nov 20th, 2017) you will notice that the gameplay, the ‘fun’ quotient and the expansions all lie in the content, topic or subject of the cards and not particularly in the rule set or the gameplay itself. All these games come loaded with hundreds of cards without which the game cannot survive.
- Therefore, I wish to limit my card size and keep the focus on the gameplay and the rule set to generate the true game experience than to focus wholly on the content of the cards itself.
I created this Idea Poster as a representation of my thoughts, ideas, memories, inspirations and precedents – WWE / WWF Trump Cards, and TarotProphet.com, Merge Cube VR, The Crystal Maze, Once Upon a Time, The Metagame, Cards Against Humanity, UNO, Genesis and Skylanders AR games.
Brainstorming Ideas for Gameplay Rules
I shared the Idea Poster to my friends, family, and relatives in USA, India – that covers the user base that I am intending this game for – which is working young adults, retired older adults, teens and college students. Here are some of the responses.
Most interesting takeaways where:
- Some users imagined a board-game which was in direct opposition to my plans.
- Others added to my inspiration and AR version of monopoly was a fascination response.
- I liked that the cube was generating replies like “What’s the cube in the center? Pandora’s box?” which was my intention of using something like the cube to generate wonder, awe, and curiosity.
Persona Generation with Physiognomy
Steering away from typical Persona generation, which I frame myself in my mind, I used a method inspired by Physiognomy, because of my wide-user base.
- Here, my friend and I draw a random face of a person between the ages of my user base, i.e. 13 to 60 years old.
- My friend need not know the kind of project I’m working on. They simply draw a face.
- We exchange the drawn faces and then we go full force and judge the faces we see with our biases, assumptions, and all senses.
- We then answer the following questions and write them down in a story format.
How do you think he is going to die?
Below are two personas that were generated by me and my friend Sev (Yiming Liao).
This is Jennifer Alexa. She lives in New York City and is a writer in a publication house. She is single and skeptical of having serious relationships. She stays away from family. They are over-protective which may have made her very intolerant and cautious. She is trying to change that. Jennifer reads books, watches movies like a couch potato and runs in the park daily. She normally has a light lunch, something like a sandwich. She listens to country music or soft rock or sometimes pop-Asian music too. She’s never got in legal troubles, ever. She secretly smokes once a while, but she actually hates it! She likes spicy food. She avoids leadership or the spotlight and likes to work behind a desk. She is healthy with great skin. She is slim, weight in control and fit. She may live long, but her over-cautiousness may lead her into an accident.
Here’s Dr. Spencer. He lives in Berlin and teaches psychology in college. He is single and the only pet he has is a goldfish. He likes reading and attending storytelling activities. He doesn’t speak at those events but just listens. During leisure, he likes going hiking and swimming alone. Most of the time, he brings sandwiches from next door, for lunch. He rarely listens to music. He is very careful of offending someone, of breaking the law. He has a secret – he likes pink color and also has a pair of pink socks with pictures of cats on them. He may marry a local woman, maybe his colleague and may have two or three children.
Based on this article by Prof. John Sharp, my Design Values for this game are as follows:
Theme: Ancient meets Modern and Emotions: Fun, Connect, Compete
- Point of view
This is just a standard average player point of view or a player who wants to play a game of strategy, team play or even wants to try his hand on some luck and play his strategy around that. This should also be exciting to travel enthusiasts who want to play.
The challenge is to compete or race to win or survive eliminations. The gameplay challenge is the choice between luck and strategy, the player makes at every opportunity that comes his/her way.
The cube or the ‘mystery’ will influence all the player’s decisions. Color codes on the cards are to assist him to comprehend these mappings or decisions.
Refined Design Statement
I am creating a game for users of ages 13 onwards to have fun, compete and connect with friends, family and colleagues – one that is engaging, thrilling, killing boredom, that has an underlying aim of subconsciously educating the players of the various cultures of the world through the old and new 7 wonders.
- This should subconsciously educate the players in one game or over time
- The gameplay must arouse or maintain ‘curiosity’ or ‘suspense’
- The gameplay and understanding should be minimal and simple
- The novelty factor of the Augmented Reality should not only play to attract or add to the ‘wonder’ factor but also influence gameplay.
- [The game can be played without the AR novelty using a regular wild card as well. This can also function as a fail-safe mechanism and make the game more portable.]
Why is the Cube important and needed?
- It adds to my criteria of awe, Wonder, and curiosity
- Game Design dictates – Choice and Contest, Luck, Role-play and Thrill are important values to consider (K. Salen and E. Zimmerman, selections from Rules of Play: “Defining Play” and “Defining Games”).
- As I learned from Game Designer Prof. Colleen Macklin an important part in making effective games today, is to take the familiar and make it unfamiliar.
- While the Merge Cube is ideally built for AR/VR, I am also using this as the traditional Dice.
- This satisfies making the familiar unfamiliar and also adds the factor of Luck, Suspense and Thrill in this game, via AR.
Prototyping must serve its well-defined purpose, single or multi-dimensional, and my purpose was the rule set. My prototyping focus was mainly on the ‘experience’ than the role or implementation, which had a limited degree of variation at this stage.
I explored a few rule sets by simple math and logic and then printed the needed to play them. I initially played a few of them myself, and found some rules to be outrageous! So this self-test helped my filter out the good concepts from the really bad ones.
I proceeded to make my aesthetic prototype to start the playtests immediately, to test the ‘good’ rulesets. This had a pack of 52 cards: 7 old wonders, 7 new wonders, 21 finalist world wonder monuments, and their respective country flag cards, plus three cube cards (something like Joker cards from the traditional card pack). This will be played along with the cube (or a wildcard since the cube works with AR and that comes in the second phase of this game development).
This was an iterative and most time-consuming cycle, because some of the games ended by 30 minutes luckily, and some went on for about 1.5 to 2 hours to get the final winner. I thank my peers who volunteered their time to test, even more than just one game.
Note: The cube in these tests is only symbolic, but is replaced by a wildcard, since the app and AR part is for phase two of this game. I followed Valve’s Approach to Playtest.
Some interesting user reactions were:
- “I know this is a prototype but maybe you can make labeling clearer since all will not know how to match the flags to countries and the wonders. Some of us have poor geography you know…”
This validates my criteria to keep the knowledge quotient about the wonders int he gameplay at a minimum, and that the education must happen subconsciously. Revealing interesting facts about the wonders, through the AR cube when disclosed during wonder/blunder moments, would suffice, and this needs to be tested.
- “There are so many patterns for me. It’s a little complicated. There’s too much to understand in the first go for one try. Maybe it’s easier the second time? Also, these monument names are a little long – kinda takes time to get familiar with them.”
- “It’s a very long game for me. I wouldn’t play for more than an hour, but this can turn around anytime. I like it though… it’s unique I guess, and understandable also.”
The core of the feedback was obtained not just by user comments or suggestions but during direct observation and evaluation of the playtests themselves.
After forming each rule set, they were refined and reduced for efficiency by prototyping with one or more of these four methods:
After writing down and printing the rule set, I used my prototype to play with myself as three players. The confusion for myself was very apparent with certain rules, and hence they had to be eliminated. These complications do not arise when I imagined them within the system. Hence this method was valuable.
- Snowball Effect
Adding one simple or small rule to the game seemed fine until a playtest was done. With each passing round of the game and that simple rule snowballed to become complicated further into the game. These rules had to be eliminated.
- Pitch Perfect
I tried an exercise of explaining my rules to my peers from the other design studio within 1-2 minutes. This was done for about two hours constantly. With each visitor that I made my pitch too, I realized the complications in understanding the rule set. Towards the last visitor who checked my game, the pitch became shorter, clearer and simpler and the user was able to easily understand the essence of the game.
- K.I.S.S. Principle
‘Keep It Simple Silly’ was a principle suggested by my studio Professor Morry Galonoy. This, in essence, reflects all the valuable inferences I obtained from the above three methods.
Branding and Aesthetic Inspiration
- I first used google translate and tried to use words from the language list for the word ‘Wonder’. Surprisingly, I never thought about languages from my own country. That’s probably because my languages are Kannada, Konkani, and Tulu which I would never use to describe a rare word like ‘wonder’.
- However the other popular language from my country, Hindi (internationally at least) has a great word called ‘Ajooba’ which means wonder. It also has a catchy, playful, magical name, something like UNO, Eureka or Wallah! I decided to finalize on this because it also reflects my own identity and signature. I added a trailing ‘A’ so that the name has 7 letters. Hence, I give you… AJOOBAA.
My aesthetics inspiration mainly sprung up from the Merge Cube and Magic in general. Also, the jingle shown below helped add to the ‘experience packaging’ of the game and to help users understand the essence of the rule set easily.
Extending from the above, I drew inspiration from movies like ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘XMEN Apocalypse’ and proceeded to make mockups as below.
Critique and What’s Next?
- Tested on 22-30 years old only so far, so why say its a game for 13 years and older?
The Merge Cube itself is made for 10 years and above. Indeed 13-20 years is a safe assumption for now. Need more testing with teens and younger college students.
- AR Prototyping
- Are you sure people would want to use their phones for AR when an analog game is to liberate them from it?
- Why don’t you use the same color for both sets of seven wonders to educate them to differentiate between them than help them with the color?
Because playtest feedback suggested that more labeling and description is helpful and decreasing labeling would destroy the simplicity.
- Once I am confident with the Game Design success and the AR prototyping, I would like to convert the entire form into an app, so that people can play it with anyone across the world from 7 different places.
- Prof. Morry Galonoy
- ‘Wonder’ Movie Theme Soundtrack
- Movie: X-MEN Apocalypse, Movie: The Great Gatsby, Movie: Wonder Woman, TV: Once Upon A Time
- Merge Cube
- Macklin, Colleen; Sharp John. “Game Design and Play”. May 19, 2016.
- Valves Playtest Principles
- Houde, Stephanie; Hill, Charles. Apple Computer, Inc. “What do Prototypes Prototype?”. 1997
Title of Game / Logo – Ethlinn Font
Wonder Card or Flag Card – Market Deco
Country name – Market Deco
Details – Market Deco
Rules – Market Deco Card and Lato