Turing - Designer’s Diary Part 1 – Concept and intro
So, it’s been a weird 12 months, to say the least. My intention 12 months ago was to be well on the way to launching a storytelling game called Song Of Tales on Kickstarter. We’ve got most of the artwork locked down, which is a large part of the investment, and traditionally is what slows down most of our Kickstarter releases. However, the current situation has really taken the knees out from our playtesting schedule, particularly for a game that’s about sharing tales with mechanics around moving a shared marker. Additionally, I’m not totally confident that people would react well to a game about relaxing around a table and telling stories with friends right now. As such, we’ve taken the decision to put back the release of Song Of Tales.
However, we’re not going to be sitting back and doing nothing. For one thing fulfillment for Rage Of Montalbano is going to be running until May or June most likely so that will be keeping us fairly busy along with some (good) personal changes at home. In addition, Rage has meant that we will be selling out of our initial SSO print run, so we’ll be going back to Kickstarter to fund a re-print once the fulfillment is complete, along with a new Challenge Deck expansion. We were planning on doing more of a humble project towards the end of the year, something pocket sized that we could use to start upping our cycle of releases, it looks like that something is going to be quite a major release for us now, and that something is Turing.
I love limited communication image interpretation games. Things like Dixit, Mysterium, Shadows: Amsterdam and other games not by Libellud. The idea of building up a private shared language or communicating based on private knowledge and stories is fascinating. There is a game, not by Libellud, that has taken this theme to an amazing extreme, Greenville 1989. In that game it’s the shared description of images and storytelling around them that is the central game mechanism. Essentially its image interpretation taken to one of its extremes, being all about the communication of very complex ideas and personal interpretation attached to them. As such, I felt that extreme was well covered and decided to go to the other end of the concept. What I am interested in doing then is stripping the idea of limited communication based on abstract interpretation down to its basic elements.
The theme of Turing is related to, unsurprisingly, the Turing test. For those who aren’t aware the Turing test is a thought experiment where a judge carries out a text only conversation with two subjects, one is a computer, the other is a human being. The conversation continues until the Judge feels willing to identify the other participants and if it identifies the computer as a human then the computer can be said to have exhibited intelligence. That’s all well and good for the computer, but I’ve often wondered what it means for the human who wasn’t identified as being human.
Now, I’m not capable of putting together a cardboard computer that could give an interesting shot at the Turing test (I’m pretty sure that if I could it wouldn’t result in a pocket-sized filler game either), but what I can do is place a set of restrictions on a human player that can make them fail my version of the Turing test. Most gamers will have come across one or another controlled communication game where getting over even a simple message to their partners is almost impossible. If that message is “I’m the real human” then by limiting communication I can build an interesting cardboard version of the Turing test.
Clearly, allowing players any kind of linguistic communication would make controlling them in a way that would work almost impossible. Human language is incredibly complex and we’re generally adept at making ourselves understood by virtue of it. As I said, I love image interpretation communication games such as Mysterium where a task of communicating a single card is rendered interesting and difficult by needing to do it through setting up patterns and connections in abstract images. By stripping those games down to just that element, where the only thing that needs to be communicated is that an attempt at communication is being made Turing was born. So, in Turing players are asked to place out a series of abstract images in an attempt to show that they chose those images while the game places out a randomly selected series of abstract images. If players can simply show the basic existence of an intelligent thought process over totally random selection they will win. Its easier said than done.
The result so far is a game that’s very easy to test over Tabletop Simulator. Actually, one of the trickiest things in the design so far has been how to obscure which card was randomly chosen and which was player selected, which is extremely easy in Tabletop Simulator since it allows for hands to be hidden with a convenient shield, so testing has been almost excessively easy in that respect. The game is also a lot of fun in that conversation and argument generating way that limited communication games can be. I’ll go into further detail in the game’s design elements in a future diary, we’re testing it right now and are hopeful to see a Kickstarter launch in the late summer once Rage of Montalbano is fulfilled.