Category: toolbox

The White Box Essays (Book Review)

The White Box, and its accompanying book, “The White Box Essays” are a FANTASTIC resource, and I wish I’d had them available to me as I designed Elevation of Privilege and helped with Control-Alt-Hack.

The book is for people who want to make games, and it does a lovely job of teaching you how, including things like the relationship between story and mechanics, the role of luck, how the physical elements teach the players, and the tradeoffs that you as a designer make as you design, prototype, test, refine and then get your game to market. In the go-to-market side, there are chapters on self-publishing, crowdfunding, what needs to be on a box.

The Essays don’t tell you how to create a specific game, they show you how to think about the choices you can make, and their impact on the game. For example:

Consider these three examples of ways randomness might be used (or not) in a design:

  • Skill without randomness (e.g., chess). With no random elements, skill is critical. The more skilled a player is, the greater their odds to win. The most skilled player will beat a new player close to 100% of the time.
  • Both skill and randomness (e.g., poker). Poker has many random elements, but a skilled player is better at choosing how to deal with those random elements than an unskilled one. The best poker player can play with new players and win most of the time, but the new players are almost certain to win a few big hands. (This is why there is a larger World Series of Poker than World Chess Championship — new players feel like they have a chance against the pros at poker. Since more players feel they have a shot at winning, more of them play, and the game is more popular.)
  • Randomness without skill (e.g., coin-flipping). There is no way to apply skill to coin-flipping and even the “best” coin flipper in the world can’t do better than 50/50, even against a new player.

The chapter goes on to talk about how randomness allows players to claim both credit and avoid blame, when players make choices about die rolls and the impact on gameplay, and a host of other tradeoffs.

The writing is solid: it’s as long as it needs to be, and then moves along (like a good game). What do you need to do, and why? How do you structure your work? If you’ve ever thought about designing a game, you should buy this book. But more than the book, there’s a boxed set, with meeples, tokens, cubes, and disks for you to use as you prototype. (And in the book is a discussion of how to use them, and the impact of your choices on production costs.)

I cannot say enough good things about this. After I did my first game design work, I went and looked for a collection of knowledge like this, and it didn’t exist. I’m glad it now does.

Image from Atlas Games.

Toolbox: After a Conference

Wow. Blackhat, Defcon, I didn’t even make the other conferences going on in Vegas. And coming back it seems like there’s a sea of things to follow up on. I think a little bit of organization is helping me manage better this year, and so I thought I’d share what’s in my post-conference toolbox. I’m also sharing because I don’t think my workflow is optimal, and would love to learn from how others are working through this in 2018 with its profusion of ways to stay in touch.

First, I have a stack of queues to process:

  1. Email. My inbox, but I also have a folder called “followup.” I move a lot out of my inbox to the followup folder so I can see it when I’m back from travel. (I also have a set of monthly sub-folders: followup/august, followup/september, they let me say “I’ll get back to you in three months.”)
  2. Signal
  3. iMessage. For both of these, I go back through the conversations I’ve had, see if I had followups or if I dropped the ball on someone.
  4. Linkedin. I get a lot of linkedin requests, and I’m a fairly open networker. Sadly, the UI works very poorly for me. I would love to hear about tools that allow me to effectively move messages to something other than a LIFO queue.
  5. Workflowy. I’m experimenting with this as a note taking tool, and it’s not bad. It’s a bit of a pain to extract the data (for example, I can’t email myself a branch of the tree), but copy and paste from the website is decent. It turns out the website has great export, but still learning.
  6. Business cards. I go through the whole stack of cards for todo items. I try to write notes on business cards. I discovered I did that on one of 6 cards where I remembered something. That’s not very good odds, and forces me to consider what I might have missed. Still exploring how to make best use of cards without notes. Advice really welcome here.
  7. Slack channels. Go through, look at DMs and channels. I suppose I should use some feature to note that I intend to followup. Is the Slack way to say “come back to this” to star a message?
  8. Calendar. For each meeting, think about the meeting, check my notes, see if I remember followups or things that didn’t make it to an email/workflowy note. And yes, there were several discussions that I know we discussed followups that I re-discovered by looking at my calendar.
  9. Photos. Photographs are the new note-taking, and so going back through pictures you took is important.
  10. Twitter, Facebook. I’m trying to break from Twitter, and don’t use Facebook, but I figured I’d include them here because they’re maybe worth remembering.

After the queues, as a consultant, I have customer work to get back to and sales contacts to followup on. I have expenses. I haven’t found an expense app that I really like, and so I stuff receipts in an envelope each evening, and then deal with them when I get home.

If I missed any followups, I’m sorry. Please reach out!

But more, I’m curious what works for you? What’s in your toolbox?

Photo: Patrick Perkins.

Navigation