Here’s a short evolution of company thinking for the pieces that might come with a PlayTable. I’ll walk through a few of the design parameters for these to get us started. It would be great if some generic set of pieces that came in the box could somehow be changed in order to be used in any app that you download from the PlayTable Store. Why is this advantageous? Because it’s hard to ask players to purchase a new set of pieces for each game they download. Most games should have a standard digital-only version, or should be playable with some standard out-of-the-box pieces.
1) At the very beginning of my time at Prizm we were thinking of common game prototyping materials that are often used by game designers: ie meeples, spinners, small colored cubes — anything that belongs in a standard game design prototyping kit — because these items are designed to migrate between games. I quickly found my way to hexagons. They’re great for gameplay prototyping and I even found some very promising looking (great feeling) pieces inside the game Hive. Pros: Nice weight, can be used across many hex-based games. Cons: 1.) The picture on the tops of these is not visually reconfigurable from one game to the next. Perhaps a sticker would have to be changed on the top of the piece to give it a new visual identity. Alternatively, the custom attributes might appear as animations on the screen surface around the piece when it is set down.
Note that pieces of this size and basic quality could come in circles (for circle-based games) or square tiles. So the available pieces that could be used to play any game might be: Hexes (with the box), or an upgrade to square tiles, or circle tiles with a similar feel. Another issue with these pieces is that they make a tremendous amount of noise on the surface. It wouldn’t feel nice to set them down. It makes an unnerving “clack” sound. So they would need to have a pad on the bottom.
2) Because of the difficulty of visually changing the look of the piece for a new game, Michael and I started thinking up new options for the pieces. We started thinking, what if there were a thin digital screen that could hold and display a little bit of info about a picture that is right for that piece in that game. This screen idea was quickly dropped because it’s too costly to use (what are essentially) Sifteo Cubes.
3) Then Michael came up with the idea of the magnifying glass or magnifying blob piece. In this version, a plastic semi-sphere would sit on the digital surface. The image would exist underneath the blob, and the blob would effectively amplify the digital image of the piece — projecting the image on the top of its sphere to make it easy to see from all angles.
I thought this was a fantastic idea, but just in the hussle and bussle, the idea has fallen by the wayside.
4) Even more recently, I’m thinking about soft cubes that developers can Print on Demand. Developers can use an online interactive editing tool to take a cube and print anything they want on it. If their game requires chickens, cows and farmers, then they can work inside the 3D editing tool (that we provide for them) to generate basic cube versions of the chicken their cow and their farmer. The design they create gets sent to a manufacturer who prints/manufactures x number that the developer ordered. The material would need to be something soft (like a rubbery, spongy material) and something that has a nice weight to it. Also, the cube material needs to be sprayable so whatever cubic image the dev created can be visible on the cube. This is kind of interesting! What can’t you make into cube form?? The RFID is also embedded in the bottom of the soft cube. I would still need to look into how print on demand services work, and what the smallest run might be. If there are print on demands CD’s, I’m sure we could create easy print on demand Cubes!
Update: Even more recently, we’ve returned to #1 above.