Designing Kindo Pt. 2

Kindo was designed as an exercise in constraints: an important part of every creative endeavor, which can take many forms. It’s a common misconception for people early in their creative careers to think that constraints work against us and our ability to come up with new ideas. While it’s true that having too many of them is likely to create an unpleasant and less creative environment, I find that having too much freedom also increases the risk of getting that famous creative block.

As Trey Speegle puts it:

“You have to set up the narrow parameters that you work in, and then within those, give yourself just enough room to be free and play.”

There’s also one quote from Getting Real, a book written by Basecamp co-founders, that I find interesting on the matter:

“Instead of freaking out about these constraints, embrace them. Let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.”

Indeed, constraints allow me to focus. They give my brain a framework within which to think, boundaries and landmarks in a world of infinite possibilities. If you learn how to work with and around them, they can become a very powerful tool and help you leverage your creativity.

Often, when I’m struggling with a design problem, I take a step back and look at the given constraints of the project. There are lots of them, taking many, many forms. The most obvious ones are time, money and skills.
But there are also technical constraints related to the platform you’re aiming to release your game on, or the game engine you’re using—although one could argue that you should not design "for" the engine, sometimes you don’t have this luxury.
There are demographic constraints depending on your target audience, their playing habits, their physical and cognitive abilities (also called "player skills"), etc. Take a step back and you’ll find a lot of different constraints.

I believe that it is one of the main reasons why game jams are so interesting. They usually give you very specific constraints, like a timeframe (a few hours, 2 days, a week, etc), theme, genre, aesthetic, platform, engine, demographic… Game jams are both fun and scary because they take you out of your comfort zone. That’s where clear constraints can help you stay on track.

Kindo started as an exercise similar to game jams. I set out to design a game by picking a set of constraints first.

First, I recalled myself as a kid, playing a lot of board games with my siblings, my parents and my grandparents. We had the usual suspects: Checkers, Chess, Reversi, Connect Four…
Connect Four and Checkers were super easy to pick up and play, and I always liked Reversi because of the turnarounds. You were constantly going back and forth in your quest of domination with your opponent. Pieces kept on flipping, and it was exhilarating. So I decided to work on an Abstract Strategy game which would use turnarounds as one of its core ideas.

Then, I remembered playing a hardcore shmup called E4 a few years ago. While it clearly isn’t the kind of game I would play with my parents, I loved the feeling of power the player experiences in this game. The goal is to use a single action at the right time (self-destructing your ship/character in a continuous flow of entities) to create long-lasting chain reactions and achieve the highest possible score. I had never used chain reactions in a game before and I thought that it could be a great mechanic to play with.

To sump up. the game which later would become Kindo was supposed to:

Here’s how Wikipedia defines an Abstract Strategy game:

“a gameboard, card, or tile game in which there is no hidden information, no non-deterministic elements (such as shuffled cards or dice rolls), and (usually) two players or teams taking a finite number of alternating turns.”

I wanted the game to benefit as much as possible from belonging to such a classic genre. I would try and use familiar mechanics and rules in order to create as much Intuitive Interaction as possible. It is a well documented concept that:

“involves utilising knowledge gained through other products or experience(s). Therefore, products that people use intuitively are those with features they have encountered before.”

So I took a very close look at the genre and its most famous representatives. I quickly noticed that most of the games can be sorted in two groups who shared similar core mechanics. Players:

  • place new pieces on the board in Go, Reversi, Connect Four, Tic-Tac-Toe
  • use a set of pieces already available on the board in Chess, Draughts, Abalone

I started to imagine players engaging in battles all over the board, conquering and losing ground tile after tile. I also figured out that placing a piece would require a simpler interaction on touch devices. Indeed, it would only require the player to tap a valid tile, whereas moving an existing piece would most likely require two steps: selecting the piece you want to move, then tapping the new position. So I picked tile placement as the basic mechanic of the game.
Also decided early on was the foundational "2 actions per turn" rule. The idea was that it would feel slightly different from other games and increase the tactical possibilities.

As soon as I set my mind on this, I started to look for a familiar yet gripping objective, following the Intuitive Interaction concept. I chose the most obvious one to me: defeating your opponent’s king.

Now that I had a core mechanic and a goal, everything began to fall into place rapidly. Two players would take turns placing tiles in order to expand their territories and ultimately capture a King. They should not be able to place their tiles directly on their opponent’s king, or anywhere too close to it. So they would have to start from their own king, progressing tile after tile. And the two kings would have to face each other from the edges of the board.
It quickly became obvious that cutting tiles off their king should have some sort of implication. That was when the "turnarounds" constraint came into play. From now on, a player would capture their opponent's territory when cutting it off. This was really fun to achieve for the attacking player, but I started to think about adding a defensive action to increase the tactical options.
That's when the number 2 seemed to become key in Kindo, an interesting constraint to work with that helped create a common thread, a sort of resonance throughout the game. Kindo is a game for 2 players, in which both have 2 actions per turn, and there are 2 types of actions you can do.

Anyway, I had to figure out that new defensive action. Blocking your opponent from progressing in one direction seemed like a good fit for a grid-based territory expansion game. I picked the fortification metaphor. It fitted the minimal medieval setting I wanted to use for the game quite well.

Which brings us to another constraint involved in the making of Kindo: my inability to draw very detailed illustrations.
Along with my experience and interest in minimal user interface, and the fact that Abstract Strategy games should also have very little to no theme, it drove me to design the game the way it looks.

Ok, time to wrap this up now! I’d just like to end this post with another great tool that I’ve been using to overcome design problems or to validate my ideas: Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell. It is a great set of “lenses” that you use to look at your project in new and different ways. You can read it like a regular book or use it as a toolbox. It is also available as a mobile app for iOS and Android, as well as a deck of cards.

Paul Vauvrey

Paul Vauvrey