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Hanukkah Special — Day Eight | Summary & Outlook

Today, on the last day of Hanukkah, we will do three things: wrap everything up, briefly; talk about the three missing elements period style, game type, and game loop; and draft a task list with items that would be needed to advance our conceptual sketch toward something pitchable, i.e., a game treatment.


From the first to the seventh day of Hanukkah, we sketched a purposeful/educational game about Hanukkah with cooperative, intergenerational gameplay for a Jewish and a non-Jewish player, primarily children, and a Jewish parent or relative as a guide. The game is played along the actual eight days of Hanukkah, one level per day, with special provisions for days that happen to fall on Shabbat. Through and beyond physical, cognitive, and empathic challenges, the level objectives are tied to mysteries that can be solved by logical deduction. The level locations are different times and places that encompass the diversity of the Jewish experience and important historical events, and resolve into insights in various moods that are cognitively and emotionally rewarding. Each level, moreover, presents different aspects of the game’s theme, “hope,” through the use of motifs. The game’s core playing experience is located in the ludological dimension, focusing on exploration and the physical enactment—with the help of mobile device sensors—of traditional Hanukkah activities and, at the end of each level, the lighting of the Hanukkiah. Mechanically, the game revolves around the motifs “anticipation,” “ambition,” and “trust.” Artistically, the game’s mysteries will be presented in comic art style with a muted color palette and two prominent guidance colors that represent positive and negative motifs related to “hope,” respectively. The game will probably have a transparent gameplay interface for affective feedback, augmented with diegetic items that provide, as part of the game world, additional feedback and information. The game will have traditional music including prayers and recitations and all kinds of foley. Dramatic speech will be rendered as text, probably supported by foley effects. All these artistic means will also be used to boost key events and key player actions, notably kinesthetically. A narrative conceit holds everything together: a conceit that requires and enables the players to visit different locations throughout space and time where Hanukkah is celebrated, solve the game’s mysteries through logical deduction, deliver a Hanukkah candle or vial of oil, and light the Hanukkiah for that day together with that level’s non-player characters. Ideally, the entire narrative—or at least most of it—can be conveyed through gameplay, i.e., player actions and the exploration of the level mysteries.

Unresolved Elements

Period Style. As the game levels are located at different historical times and places, the game will need different period styles that correspond with these times and places on the one hand, and with mystery as the game’s genre style on the other. That way, each level will engage the players with a unique period style, presented in different comic art styles.

Game Type. As the players literally play themselves, first person view strongly suggests itself. Still, avatars are needed for the game’s cooperative gameplay, as at least two of the players are visible to other players. (If and how the character of the parent/relative is visible to other players depends on the narrative conceit provided by the game writer.) Thus, the game should provide comic-style templates for avatars that the players can personalize in ways they like to see themselves and be seen. Furthermore, while mysteries are generally well-suited for 2D worlds, the game’s ludological core and prominent kinesthetic elements rather call for a 3D environment. A reasonable solution, then, would be a 3D first-person adventure, perhaps with some Mirror’s Edge–style 3D platformer elements that use the game’s guidance color system and complement the mysteries’ cognitive and empathic tasks.

Game Loop. The game begins with a brief introduction into the narrative conceit. But, as the players have to explore the nature of the mysteries themselves, there are no “mission briefings” at the beginning of each level. The players are given their daily candle or vial of oil and sent on their way, and maybe they even have to find out when and where they wind up! That way, the first node of the game loop would be “explore.” To understand and close in on the nature of the level’s mystery, they will have to solve tasks and collect all sorts of items and clues and health vials and tools and power-ups to solve further tasks and find further clues. This adds the nodes “solve” and “manage” with their own sub-loop to the game loop. “Solve,” in turn, will feature micro-loops for physical, cognitive, and empathic tasks. Next, the mystery is resolved, the candle or vial is delivered, and the players prepare and celebrate Hanukkah together with the level’s non-player characters. That adds “prepare” and “celebrate” to the loop. The level ends with the return of the characters to their own time and place and, virtually, the real world. Thus, a “return” node closes the game loop for the day. Nothing fancy, overall, but it’s varied, probably enjoyable, and expandable by further nodes and micro-loops that might pop up during concept development.

Task List

A lot of stuff has to be accomplished to turn this concept sketch into a game treatment that is worth pitching. Here’s a selection:

  • Documentation to keep track of everything that’s important, but without dragging everybody down with fatal amounts of overhead.
  • A lot more research, both in terms of the game’s target audiences and in terms of times, places, and events for the game and level narratives.
  • A competitive analysis about what similar games get right and what they get wrong and how they performed, to create a great value set that differentiates and distinguishes the game beyond its USP.
  • The game’s general rule system and all the rules, parameters, and numbers needed for a prototype level.
  • The game narrative and level narrative outlines.
  • Defining the game-driven goal and sketching the game’s dramatic structure down to subgoals, objectives, and tasks.
  • A rough draft of the game’s difficulty settings in terms of player proficiency spectrum, learning curves with thresholds and ceilings, and difficulty and density conditions.
  • A vision statement directed at the team and the game’s target groups (the “desire-driven goal” in Ludotronics parlance) and a synopsis directed at potential publishers and supporters (the “design-driven goal”).
  • Concept art for the game in general and its interfaces, avatars, non-player characters, and all eight levels based on the level narratives.
  • A rough draft of the game’s motivational elements, its emotional intensity curve, its failure system, and its reward system.
  • A number of concrete physical, cognitive, and empathic tasks as representative challenges.
  • Coop balancing for the two exploring player characters on the one hand, and the two exploring player characters and the guide character on the other.
  • A polished, playable level as a prototype that features some easier challenges, at least one of them involving kinesthetic player action to showcase the game’s core dimension, around an emotionally rewarding key event.
  • Music and foley for that prototype.
  • The preparation and execution of playtests for the incremental refinement of that prototype.
  • An excellent, in-depth calculation of the project’s time frame and costs.
  • A killer pitch presentation.

Nothing a crackerjack team can’t handle!

That’s it. I hope y’all enjoyed this Hanukkah special. Now go and have a great New Year celebration!


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