About me

Hi I'm Simon Robl, a 20-year old Computer Science and Media student from Reutlingen, Germany. I love all forms of media, especially music and (of course!) video games. I'm always open and willing to learn new skills and not afraid to take risks.

Game design and I

The first games I thought of were born out of necessity: On mostly barren schoolyards you couldn't do much. Transforming the markings on the ground into a game board, my friends and I played variations of catch and hide and seek. Playing pretend was great fun too, especially for me as a big fan of fantasy books.
My family loves playing board and card games. I grew up with a grandmother that is crazy about Canasta. The board games my parents played in their childhood were kept in good condition and new ones were bought on a regular basis - it's a big treasure trove of classics, party games, trivia, and branded games.
They were also very liberal about my consumption of digital media. And it was while playing Pokémon and Zelda I first realized that I could make games myself one day. While I would think of a game idea every now and then it was during my teenage years that this dream resurfaced. I taught myself how to program with a book I got from the library: "Einführung in die Programmierung mit C++ " by Bjarne Stroustrup. It was a good thing I had so much time back then, because the book was definitely not the best starting point! Still I pushed through it and experimented with 2D Sprites and SFML.
I also started reading critical discourse about video games. My copy of Rules of Play got a couple of battle scars during these years, as I read the pages over and over again. I immersed myself in developer blogposts, GDC videos, artbooks, anything that could help me better grasp the concepts behind game design.
My hobby became my passion. I continued to learn new languages, tools, and techniques. Today I'm finally where I want to be: Studying and making games myself and together with others. Games have a lot of untapped potential and as technology continues to evolve the frontier of game design does too. Let's make some awesome games!

Board Game Concept

As someone who loves trading card games I always thought it was a bit odd how little the spacial relations between cards count. I wanted to explore making a game where the position of pieces is a core mechanic, similar to Go, but with less depth and more accessibility. For simplicity's sake I decided on matching figures on a board.

The end result is a board game that tests players on their visual-spatial ability as well as their strategical thinking. It's a contest between two opposing forces struggling to control the board.

The rules are available here

A short summary of the design process follows.

Finding fitting figures

I started out with squares as they are the easiest shape to work with. By arranging them in a grid I got all kinds of interesting figures. I chose a grid size of three for the figures as two gave me too little and four too many options.

Before I generated all possible combinations I added some constraints. Each figure consists of five (at least diagonally) connected squares. This makes the figures similar enough to be fair while still making them visually distinct.

After generating the shapes with ImageMagick I categorized them, as many were just rotations of the same figure. I also removed those that were mirrored versions of each other. That left me with 12 figures.

All 12 shapes

The core mechanic

From the beginning I knew I was designing the game to be played by two players. So I had to make sure they interacted with each other. I wanted players to compete instead of cooperate so the game's goal is to complete your own shape before your opponent completes theirs.

Each round a player is allowed to place a square on the board. The board is a four by four grid which allows for some variation. But it still forces players to get into each other's way - willingly or on accident.

Prototyping

I tested the game with both friends and family in a rapid fashion. The number of square colors evolved from one to three. Having more than one color allowed players to hinder each other. The third color was there to provide a neutral option and preserve the aspect of using your opponent's pieces against them.

Besides diversifying the options a player had each turn, I also added die rolls. They fixed a lot of problems:

At one point a player's actions were completely determined by a dice roll. I scrapped this idea quickly as players felt the game was taken out of their hands and strategy didn't matter. Around the fifth iteration the design was mostly solid, leaving room for small improvements. Since these would have no impact on the physical parts of the game I went ahead and build it.
The game is made of painted wood. Personally it feels more valuable that way. Using plastic would also have taken longer, as even with 3D-printing the pieces still need some polish.

Gameplay

Design

"Bullet Hell" is a subgenre of Shoot 'em up popular in Japan. This type of game requires precise movements and the ability to recognize the patterns and formations enemies are grouped in.

The learning curve is steep, mostly because little is done to accommodate inexperienced players. In most games you die after one hit, and, in combination with limited continues and sparse check points, learning to play these games is an exercise in frustration.

This is why I chose to make the following design decisions:

Halo 4 Custom Maps

Halo's forge mode is great for quickly building and testing new ideas. Here are two examples of maps I designed.

Canyon

Canyon was designed as a battleground between two players only. This restriction affected both the size and the layout of the map. The available area is rather small so players are bound to clash again and again with very little downtime. Buildings are there to break sightlines and provide vertical movement for multiple attack angles.

There is only one of each weapon on the map and their respawn timers are long enough to force players to use them all. This means that there is no dominant strategy. Players have to adapt on the fly.

Personally I like to think about the locations in terms of the options they provide. Each location should provide at least one unique option to justify its existence. Options include weapon spawns, tactical cover and corners, and access to other locations.

Space Station

Space Station was designed for teams of 2 - 4 people. It rewards players that fully explore the map with powerful weapons and vehicles. The central chamber connects all the possible paths, so no one can go missing for too long.

The wide corridors favor automatic and long-range weapons, but there exist some ambush opportunities around corners. The weapons are mounted to walls to make them visible from a longer distance.

The outside area has lower gravity than the rest of the station. Jumps are higher and last longer. Timing and patience is key to winning a firefight.

Lyrics for Spotify

Written in Python with the Kivy library. Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The application connects to your account over the Spotify Web API. This means that playback on any device will be recognized. After it has found out the artists and the title of the song it searches the web. Results are scraped and formatted before being shown. The font supports both western and eastern characters.