Hopskotch Hamlet

In the first week of Game Design class at CMU, taught by the infamous Jesse Schell, we were asked to design and prototype a game based on the ubiquitous Hopskotch.

We were first asked to observe the game, evaluate its strengths and shortfalls, and pick a specific design problem to address in the assignment.

Okay, let’s start this…

Part I

A) The Strengths

There are multiple variables that gives the game of hopscotch such universal appeal. The most obvious is its convenience of accessibility, requiring minimal physical hardware: a floor, a random object, and something to mark the lines with. The gameplay mechanics and the rules that govern them are simple enough for even a kindergarten child to intuitively understand. More specifically in terms of mechanics, the physical dynamism in throwing and hopping across the boxes gives the fun factor in the gameplay. One could even presume that the mechanic connects deeply with the players in that it taps on human’s innate attraction to childlike play. On top of that, despite its simplicity, there is a lot of room for improvement and mastery in this core mechanic, partly due to the sense of competition as one of the motivating factors.

B) The Shortfalls and the Problem Statement.

Despite its many appealing attributes, the game of Hopscotch has its own set of shortcomings. First off, in spite of its minimal gameplay rules and simple mechanics that account for its popularity across all age groups, it runs the risk of being too easy for advanced players to master. This may be due to the disparity in cognitive capability between age groups, and it is a hard problem to address. On top of that, given the repetitive nature of the gameplay, the replayability of the game becomes questionable; it may become dull for advanced players after a couple rounds. Furthermore, although hopscotch is a social game, it only permits one player at a time on the play field, hence runs the risk of boring the other players if they were to idle for a prolonged period. Last but not least, the game itself does not have a background narrative behind it, hence rendering the mechanics to have no real meaning beyond a mastery of skills. This is not necessarily wrong, however an engaging story may immerse the players even more.

C) Hmm, in what ways could I address the Problem?

Here are 50 optional ideas I came up with:

  1. A hopscotch designed like a track with multiple bump obstacles for the players to jump across.
  2. A hopscotch where there is a particular required ceremony per playblock.
  3. A hopscotch where the path is intertwined and looped into itself. *
  4. A hopscotch where each block is spaced fairly apart, non-adjacent to its neighbouring blocks.
  5. A hopscotch where a dice is rolled to determine the number of steps one can take per turn, and that person must remain frozen in place while the other player takes his/her turn.
  6. A hopscotch with projection mapping to creative a dynamic, interactive play field rather than a static one set in stone.
  7. A hopscotch where moves are made only in sync with the beat of a background music. This music may change tempo throughout the game.
  8. A team-based, competitive hopscotch where each member takes turns progressing their team’s position through the playboard.
  9. A hopscotch where the player footprint is restricted to the border lines, not the zones themselves.
  10. A hopscotch where the number of each playblock is not represented by a written number but by the number of lines that hatch a given zone. *
  11. A collaborative hopscotch where the playboard can only be properly seen from a certain perspective. This way, one member must act as the observer while the other acts as the hopper.
  12. A spelling-bee hopscotch where the play zones are marked with a particular alphabet and the goal is to “spell” a given word in the correct order.
  13. A pace-based hopscotch where the player is instructed to hop to a particular zone within a short timeframe. It functions much like the Dance Dance Revolution. *
  14. A competitive hopscotch where the playboard is a maze field composed of different shapes: circles, squares, triangles. Each player is allocated his/her respective shape via straw-draw and is tasked with getting to the other side of the field by hopping onto his/her assigned shapes. *
  15. A collaborative hopscotch where the players must work together to create a navigable path connecting the starting and end points. Each player takes turns throwing their object, and the landing position of the objects determines where the play zone is created. The limit of play zones the players can create is pre-defined.
  16. A tabletop, competitive hopscotch where the players use their fingers, instead of legs, to kick their objects and step onto the play zones. The first one to get to the destination is declared winner.
  17. A haunted house-themed hopscotch where the playzones branch into different rooms, each with a corresponding character and activity. The player can only advance upon exercising this activity. There are some to-be-avoided rooms where the ghosts dwell, which players can circumvent by throwing their objects into the “safe” paths.
  18. A team-based, competitive hopscotch where the team members form a “train” and must jump into the succeeding zones without breaking the chain. The person in front throws the object to govern which path to take.
  19. Rather than a well-defined hop zones, this hopscotch variation takes on a Venn-diagram approach to the numerical sequencing, intersecting and embedding geometries to form a dynamic field of hop zones.
  20. A turn-based, chess-like hopscotch with multiple players on each team. The players navigate by throwing their objects to their desired destination and taking the “life-tag” of the opponents they damage.
  21. A combat-based hopscotch where the players can physical interact to hamper one another’s progress. The players must hold on one of their legs and use that as the weapon to nudge the others over the zone boundaries, which delays them by the number of zones defined in the beginning of the game. *
  22. A 3D playground-like hopscotch where the players navigate platform to platform using a variety of gameplay mechanics. It is more like a parkour.
  23. Using Makey-Makey or other conductive control input system, using the hopscotch play zones as input “keys” to the game ongoing on a digital screen / phone. It can be either individual or collaborative.
  24. A time-dependent hopscotch escape game where the playboard acts as a bridge between a burning building and its adjacent building. There are several players involved, each playing one at a time. *
  25. A cooking-themed hopscotch where the ingredients are laid out in the play zones (instead of numbers). Each player chooses a dish and is given a recipe of ingredients to collect along the way. The scores are determined by how many correct ingredients one has.
  26. A two-sided hopscotch platform where the two players start out in the central arena and rock-paper-scissor their way to driving their enemy back into their starting point. *
  27. An operation-themed hopscotch where the player must jump on the correct play zone to “stomp” the bacteria fast approaching the heart. Once any bacteria reach the heart, the game is over.
  28. Hopscotch game where the path is intertwined into a visual hodgepodge. The player must “trace” each number sequentially, which will take them on the correct path to the finishline. *
  29. Hopscotch game where each playboard is a subset of the succeeding playboard, embedded within one another. As the sizes gets larger per level, the gameplay mechanics switches from tiptoeing between small zones to all-out highjumping between large zones. *
  30. Hopscotch fused with the Freeze Pose game, where the players are closing on the “It” player at the end of the path. When the “It” player turns around, the players must freeze in place to guarantee immunity, otherwise they are disqualified.
  31. A multiplayer hopscotch where the play zones are laid out in a grid. One player chases after the others to “tag” them. The players must avoid being caught and progress towards the destination. They can advance / recede not more than 1 order or magnitude at a time. *
  32. You are a thief breaking into a house to steal a treasure, and must freeze when the owner announces “Hey! Who’s there!?” There are designated safe play zones with a specific colour, and if the player is in this zone he/she is considered safe, otherwise disqualified.
  33. Instead of throwing an arbitrary object, player throws his/her own shoe, which he/she retrieves after every lap. He/she must alternative shoes until the whole set is over.
  34. Disabled-friendly hopscotch where an array of track is laid in nonlinear order. The non-disabled players must obey the original rules, avoiding stepping on the lines and outside the play zones. The disabled player on his/her wheelchair must ensure that the wheels stay on these line “tracks.” *
  35. Hopscotch combined with hacky sacks. The player must constantly dribble to keep the sack afloat while he/she moves across the playzones.
  36. Every time a player jumps, he/she must change his/her orientation in the direction specified by the feet graphics on each play zone, and must land more or less on the graphics. *
  37. Every time a player progresses, he/she must do so while adopting a specific pose specified by the graphics on each play zone.
  38. Instead of turning around on the way back, the player must jump backwards.
  39. The player must carefully listen to a background music which cues either the player must remain still, go backward, or go forward.
  40. World map-themed hopscotch (like Civilization series) where the player travels through different parts of the world. The player must obey the rules of the respective play zones pertaining to each continent.
  41. A multiplayer hopscotch where the players simultaneously start at different departure points. The goal is to synchronize the movements based on a music beat, the players that don’t are disqualified. The paths also intersect, causing more complexity in coordination between players. *
  42. A team-competitive hopscotch where each team is tasked with carrying over a number of objects to “finish” the puzzle at the end of the path. The first team to do so wins.
  43. Each play zone panel is transportable, which the player must strategically throw to form a path real-time towards the destination. *
  44. Using hexagonal grids for the play zones, allowing more mobility and diversity of movement directions.
  45. Hopscotch where the player is given an optics glasses that allows him/her to see the optics-paint numbers, but not the play zone boundaries.
  46. A point-based hopscotch played with AR glasses with virtual enemies to avoid and objects to collect for bonus points.
  47. A trivia-question hopscotch where the player is asked a question to solve, where the player can choose his/her answer by hopping to the respective player zone.
  48. A branching narrative hopscotch where the player makes a series of decisions based on each respective situation.
  49. An interactive, Guess-Who hopscotch where a player makes a series of choices across the play zones, giving away general characteristics of his/her “Who.” The other players have the option of guessing mid-game or at the end. *
  50. A crossword puzzle hopscotch where the player inscribes a letter based on a description provided by the facilitator for that particular region.

 

Part II

We were then asked to choose 3 ideas from the list above that we think are most promising, and further elaborate on them.

Here are the ones I picked:

  1. A multiplayer competitive hopscotch where each player is provided a fixed ammunition of patches which they throw to create one’s own path to the destination. Hence starting point and destination are positioned on opposite sides of the open “play arena” where the players create their paths. The players are penalized to take one step back if 1) they fail to hop onto their patches 2) they collide with an another player 3) they ran out of patches to throw. A player is only disqualified from the game if he/she steps outside the boundary of the play arena.
  2. A multiplayer competitive hopscotch where the play path is looped into a circle. The number of players depend on the size of the circle (hence the number of play zones). There should be enough play zones between the players so that there is a low possibility of them colliding with one another. The players are expected to hop to the beat of a background music, which provides the audio cues to change body orientations and reverse the flow. (either clockwise or counterclockwise) A player is disqualified if he/she 1) falls behind the tempo of the music for more than 2 tiles 2) fails to follow the audio instructions.
  3. A multiplayer competitive hopscotch where the players must progress through a field of play boxes, each labelled with a number, while avoiding the “It” player that tries to tag them (which sends them back to the starting point). The players must follow the numerical order, which can be either increasing or decreasing, each tile they hop. However, the difference between the numbers must not be more than one order of magnitude. Alternatively, instead of numbers, each player in the game could be assigned their “shape,” that only he/she can hop onto.

 

Part III

Out of the 3 above, we were asked to choose the ONE to fully focus on developing the idea, starting with a complete ruleset through rapid iteration process.

A) First, the Ruleset.

A multiplayer competitive hopscotch where each player is provided a fixed ammunition of coloured patches which they throw to create one’s own stepping path from the starting point to the destination. Hence these anchoring points are positioned on the opposite sides of a single rectangular “play arena,” the area in which the players can craft their paths. Players may either stand on one leg or two, and the patches may be picked up and reused. The size of the arena depends on the number of players playing. The players are penalized to freeze in place for 5 seconds if 1) they fail to hop onto their patches 2) they collide with an another player 3) they are hit by an another player with a patch. A player is only completely disqualified from the game if he/she steps outside the boundary of the play arena. Each player is sequentially ranked in the order he/she reaches the destination.

 

*Plan sketches, preliminary layout, and coloured patches.

B) Playtest!!!

Given the limited indoor space of the RPIS, I was able to outline a zone big enough for maximum three players. Fortunately, three of my willing classmates from the game design course volunteered to playtest the game, each with a distinct physique and play style. Right from the beginning, I noticed a difference in the way they approached the game and devised their own unique strategy. First, I noticed that the Player One (Jacob) immediately deployed the intended mechanic of picking the patches up after himself and reusing them successively. Given the limited number of patches, this strategy allowed him enough patches at every point of the progress to set both of his feet down. As for Player Two (Rajat), I noticed that he was mainly concerned with laying out patches one at a time and hopping on one feet, without bothering to pick up the patches behind him. This initially gave him a fast start, however due to the instability of balancing on one leg eventually led to him mislanding numerous times and hence ultimately delaying his progress. Most surprisingly, Player Three (Ketul) had not even stepped into the play arena by the time Player One reached the destination. What turns out was that he was busy “planning” out his route before hand, and therefore concentrated on throwing the patches into the correct places. And most importantly, despite Player One’s short-lived attempt in the very beginning, I observed that none of the players were very much concerned with throwing the patches at one another. They were more concerned with their own progress.

 

*Illustrative sketch of the throwing/hopping mechanic.

 

C) Then analyze the Goods and the Bads

From the First Playtest, I was able to withdraw certain conclusions about the game design choices I’ve made. For one, the idea of having an “open” play area definitely allowed for more variability in terms of player’s movement and pacing, creating a unique experience for each player. Also, the players immediately caught onto the core mechanic of setting down the “stepping stones,” and devised their own strategy in using the limited resources given to them. And most importantly, players found it fun and engaging – competition brings out the best in people.

On the downside, there is a number of shortcomings that need to be addressed. For one, there was a division between the players who thought to reuse their patches versus the ones that did not. Upon further scrutiny, this may be due to the overall size of the play arena being too small, primarily lengthwise. As in the case of Player Two, this allows players to complete their path in a single pass with the given number of patches. Also, the reason why players were not using their patches as weapons may be due to the two possible scenarios: 1) the players could not clearly distinguish between the weapon and stepping patches in the heat of the action, 2) the player had more incentive to use their patches to progress their path rather than to attempt to hamper the progress of others. Also, the lightness of the patches made it difficult for players to aim and throw, and even if they managed to hit their target, the player hit did not receive a clear feedback as to when he/she was hit.

D) Don’t get attached. Revise the game, then Playtest again.

Based on the analysis above, I have made the following adjustments to the game design:

  1. The play arena was elongated to twice its original length. It took up the entire length of RPIS.
  2. Separate weapon patches visually distinct from the stepping patches.
  3. Weightier weapon patches to make throwing more satisfactory + hit feedback clearer.
  4. Rather than the original freezing penalty, the player hit must pick up the thrower’s patches for them.

Then, I conducted a second playtest to test the ramifications of the design changes above. This time, for the sake of encountering diverse target audience, I gathered up three different people who are not enrolled in the game design course, as I thought this may lead to more revelations about the game.

E) Yes, Analyze it again.

Right off the start, I noticed that increasing the length of the play arena allowed for a more adequate duration of gameplay, hence forming a more gradual interest curve as contrary to the short-lived version in the first playtest. Also, the player was able to clearly understand and deploy the core game mechanics of throwing and hopping, as well as the idea of picking up the patches on the ground and reusing them to continue their path. Most importantly, the majority of the players (2 out of 3) was actively deploying the weapon mechanic to hamper one another throughout the entire duration of the game.

Of course, I also observed some flaws with the game. For one, all players respectively held the two different patches in different hands. I would presume that having two very functionally and visually distinct patches have elicited this behaviour. While this may sound good in writing, one of the players kept constantly mistaking the type of patch they are holding and sometimes threw one in place of the other (ex. throwing weapon patches for stepping). Also, all players held the stepping patches in their dominant hands and the weapon patches in their secondary hands, which allowed a better aim for laying out the path but not for hitting their desired target. This issue is also compounded with the fact that the players had a harder time throwing in the direction opposite of the swinging hand.

Another issue was that one player did not realize the shortage of patches until they completely ran out at the end of the path. Hence they had to run back to the beginning of their path to retrieve the patches, which significantly delayed their progress not only because of the time taken to retrace their way back but also because they exposed themselves for more attacks.

F) So… did the game address the problem statement?

In my opinion, based on the observation and analysis from playtesting, I believe the game ultimately satisfied the majority of the problems outlined in the initial statement. This is because 1) the game incorporates multiple players to play simultaneously and interact with one another 2) the complexity and simultaneity of the aiming+hopping mechanics make it difficult for one to easily master them 3) the variability of scenarios resulting from an open play area and multiplayer interaction increases the replayability of the game. The one problem I was not able to address was the lack of engaging narrative behind the gameplay experience, which I intend to further incorporate into the development of this version of Hopscotch.

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