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Goombagrams (Unity, 2014)

Lemmingrams/Goombagrams was a prototype asynmmetric co-operative game developed in the first year of my PhD research. It's first incarnation, Lemmingrams mashed-up Lemmings and Scrabble. As part of a collaboration with Microsoft Research's Illumishare project, the Scrabble-style player could even use real-world letter tiles on a physical tabletop to position their pieces while the Lemmings-style player could use a touch-screen tablet.

Lemmingrams screenshot showing the virtual game world interacting with physical letter tiles

Eventually renamed Goombagrams, later iterations of this prototype swapped out the complex, custom-built hardware interface for commodity tablets and gamepads, while switching the asymmetric mash-up to Scrabble with Super Mario X Megaman: where one play controls a Megaman-style platforming character seeking the exit of each level. The second player focuses on solving a series of Scrabble-style word tile puzzles that can help/hinder the platforming player by create new platforms, containing/freeing enemies, or activating machinery. Simulaneously, the platforming player can uncover new letter tiles for their partner.

Goombagrams screenshot

Deliberately developed in parallel with Beam Me 'Round, Scotty!, the purpose of Goombagrams was to test the utility of my evolving design framework for asymmetric co-operative games in a novel context. Early in it's development, the mechanics of Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! often flowed from that game's narrative theme in a bottom-up fashion: i.e., since Kirk and Scotty are crewmates on a Star Trek-style away mission it makes sense (or at least, players expect) that Scotty should be able to teleport Kirk. In contrast, Goombagrams' was a narrative blank slate and so gave us a chance to design new mechanics from the top-down, without worrying about narrative justification yet. We could deliberately target specific forms of interdependence mechanics in terms of directionality, synchronicity, and necessity, etc.

Not only did this "exploring the design space" approach prove illuminating for the design framework, the lessons learned with Goombagrams> would prove critical by the time BMRS3 came around...

Goombagrams screenshot