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Game Design Challenge...Begin!!
by Rob Lockhart on 05/01/14 10:13:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.



Last year, 2013, was the last year for the amazing GDC Game Design Challenge.  It was a highlight of every GDC, but this year it was nowhere to be found.  This left a hole in our hearts which I am attempting to fill today, by beginning a game design challenge of our own!

I'm your moderator, Rob Lockhart, and I've brought together a group of amazing designers, who will each do their best to create game designs for the theme, which is... Well, I'll tell you the theme in a little bit.  First, let's meet our contestants!


ChrisBellChris Bell is a game designer currently working with Giant Sparrow, the creators of  'The Unfinished Swan.'  Previously he designed 'Journey' with thatgamecompany and 'Way', the award-winning game about empathy and communication that launched his career (free at Chris has been able to create amazing bonds between strangers with a thoughtful, authentic approach to design.


Jenn Sandercock is an independent game designer with a lot of innovative and compelling projects under her belt.  Titles like 'The Dragon Whisperers' -- a game for two people trying to communicate with a dragon when each of them only has half the dragon dictionary -- have demonstrated how willing Jenn is to go beyond conventional game mechanics.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.19.26 PM


Jake Elliott (on the left) is half of the game studio Cardboard Computer, creators of the amazing episodic game series 'Kentucky Route Zero,' but the first of his projects I saw was 'Beulah and the Hundred Birds,' which is a game about his grandmother as a young woman collecting birds into a flock.  Though steeped in a digital aesthetic, Jake has an appreciation for atmosphere that is very theatrical.

Tanya Short is the founder of Kitfox Games, whose Sci-Fi RPG/roguelike 'Shattered Planet' is stretching the limits of those labels.  She's currently working on 'Moon Hunters,' a randomly generated open world adventure that promises to be both action-packed and accessible.  Tanya seems to be enthralled by player choice -- allowing for choices in identity, moment-to-moment action, crafting and user-generated content -- she seems to optimize her work for interesting decisions.

Liz Ryerson is an independent game designer, composer, writer, and digital artist. Her work aims to re-evaluate the ways we experience and understand digital spaces - and examine the strange, forgotten threads of game history that might lead us into new territory. Her game 'Problem Attic' explores the troubled psychological landscapes of its protagonist through willful abstraction and unconventional game design choices.

John Murphy is part of the Young Horses team that brought 'Octodad: Dadliest Catch' into the world.  He is also an in-school game designer for ChicagoQuest, a middle and high school which infuses its lessons with games and gamelike experiences at every level.  John's designs have a humor and childlike playfulness that makes them irresistible.

I'm pretty confident that these folks are going to knock your socks off.


Here's how the challenge will work.  Each of these impressive individuals will create a video describing their design, and in about three weeks you, the Gamasutra readers, will decide whose idea you like the best.

Now, what everyone's been waiting for...



With current technology, the trip to Mars will take between six months and a year, depending on the relative positions of Earth and Mars.*  NASA has identified boredom as one of the biggest dangers to a Mars mission.  Design a game to be played by astronauts or civilians on their way to the red planet.  This can include participation from other players back on Earth, but keep in mind that the lag on Mars due to speed-of-light limitations can range between 4 minutes and 24 minutes.*

That's all, Folks!  Good luck to our participants, and we'll see you all again in three weeks!


Your Host, Rob Lockhart is creator of Codemancer, an educational fantasy adventure game which is now on Kickstarter.


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Rob Lockhart
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Anybody have thoughts about what your design would be?

Michael Joseph
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I spy with my little eye something beginning with "s"....
That's right, a star!

maybe a type of parlour game "Murder on the Mars Express." The player perspective and visual aesthetics might resemble something like Chris Hecker's "Spy Party" except that the player can pan the camera to every room in the ship. Suitable for passengers of all ages. That's as far I've gotten and probably as far as I'll get. :)

Yama Habib
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Playable for a 6-12 month period and 4-24 minute delay on multiplayer interaction make me lean towards something turn based.
Perhaps a game where the astronauts play the roles of themselves and people on earth play as Martians in a pseudo-4X Mars cultivation game.
The game ends when both factions make peace or one wipes the other out. The astronauts have to terraform mars by cultivating flora that generate various gases, and the Martians breed and evolve into different species of herbivorous fauna that can be docile or hostile depending on gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Simon Ludgate
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This might derail the competition somewhat, but wouldn't someone on a six month to a year trip to Mars with only one game to play want to play a game that will be fun to play continuously for six months to a year, rather than a game that has a martian theme?

Michael Joseph
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I suppose there is a subtle implication that designers should attempt to create THE game, but there's no reason the astronauts can't play many games during their journey. The main concern of NASA would be that the games consider the challenges facing the astronauts. Games should promote the social interaction between as many of the astronauts as possible to strengthen social bonds, encourage players to be physically active rather than sedentary, challenge their minds but in a whimsical way, and allow them to maintain a sense of connection with the folks back home.

Nick Harris
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What is this mysterious 'THE' game of which you speak? Please provide a link to a YouTube gameplay video as I am unfamiliar with it.

Michael Joseph
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:) i thought Simon was suggesting that a single game be played for the entire trip. That would have to be quite an amazing game to avoid turning fun into torture. Much easier and less risky to utilize a host of games for variety's sake if nothing else.

Rob Lockhart
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I never said it had to have a martian theme.

Felipe Budinich
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It would have been *much better* to make it an open competition.

chen zhuo
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this remind me the sci-fi book The Martian by Andy Weir ...