Game Design

cmu carnival "game night" booths

CMU’s annual spring carnival is a big deal, so when we found out the theme for the booths this year was “Game Night”, Julian, Amy and I decided to go check them out and pass judgment.  The booths ranged in quality, and in this blog post I will talk about three of my favourites, why they were good, and what I learned from them about design.

1. Cohesive storytelling – Octodad

The Octodad booth stood out because it set up a story that was understandable to people who hadn’t played the game.  The premise was familiar: a regular family, and you’ve got to help dad clean the house for a party, but with a twist: dad’s an octopus.  A clear goal and reinforcements of what the family situation was throughout gave this booth a cohesive design and story.  I especially liked the little touches like the names of books on the bookshelf being about the ocean, and this set of handprints on the wall that reminded the guest about the one strange thing of this regular family.

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The booth also ended with a fun activity, where players used tentacles to sweep crumpled paper into an area.  This not only tied back into the story very well, but gave the visitors to the booth a reason to be there, and a role in helping out Octodad with his task.  I thought this served the interest curve of walking through the booth, and what’s more, they had windows from this final area where people walking by could look in to see the best and most interactive part of the experience.

2. Player validation – Mario Party

Mario Party was a clever choice for a booth because it meant that you could pick and choose from many different mini games for variety.  Adapting video game mini games into a location-based attraction is tricky, however, as I remember there was one where you had to throw beanbags into holes in a wall that was no more than 3 feet away from where you were standing, not so much fun.  The designers did a great job of theming, however, and the booth really read as something out of the Mario Party world – whimsical with underwater sections and caterpillar trains.

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I was most impressed, however, with the choice to include this leaderboard as you exit the booth.  At the very top, it shows “YOU” in first place, which makes the guest feel really good.  Even if you’d walked through the booth not playing anything, you get this feeling of “hey, I’m awesome” by being told you are the winner of this experience.  This is great feedback and a great way to validate your player and make them feel special.

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3. Simplicity in fantasy – Minecraft

One of the simplest booths was the one about Minecraft, but I think it was of note because of how much it reflected the spirit of the game.  While other booths were about their respective games (having areas inside where guests could play the actual game), the Minecraft booth simply was the game.  It gave guests the ability to walk into the fantasy of building things with giant building blocks, rather than having a room that looked like the environment of Minecraft and allowing guests to simply play Minecraft on a computer.  I think this is an important distinction when it comes to designing for the fantasy, because something very simple can still be very effective, as evidenced by real life Minecraft.
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I quite enjoyed CMU Carnival!  Here are some additional photos from last week (17-18 April).

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