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Second Screen Framework, Outline

I’m working on a new project. It’s already underway. It doesn’t have a name yet (I’m terrible at naming things, so it’s just “Second Screen Framework” for now), but I’ve got a basic structure outlined and that’s more than enough for me to start working on something. It’s a second screen kind of thing, which isn’t really new, but I thought I would combine a few elements together and come up with something fun. Well, I hope it’s fun. Anyway, here’s some bullet points that sum up what I’m talking about:

  • Background
    • Mario Party used to be really fun
    • Jackbox is really good, has a great way to jump in and play
    • Airconsole.com is neat, but I don’t like their model
  • Objectives
    • Use a second screen (phone, tablet, etc.) not just as a controller, but show dynamic content
    • Make it super easy to connect
    • Works without an app, but downloading the app provides extra things like customization and achievements
    • Mix of co-op, PvP, and competition mini-games.
    • Create an adaptable framework that can be used to easily add content for later expansion
  • Development Acceleration
    • Use connection code from GravSplash to make it easy to connect devices automatically
    • Leverage mini-games from Unity Asset Store and anywhere else.

Mario Party used to be really fun. I started with Mario Party 2, but the one I played the most was probably Mario Party 3. The first few games had a lot of randomness to them: you roll to move, spin wheels, randomize mini-games, and the ever-fickle pity stars at the end of the game. I think there can be a better way to put mini-games together like that without devolving into playing random (or “random”) games. Letting players draft, vote, or just plain round-robin pick the games would be beneficial. You can always throw random mini-games in there to get people exposed to content that they haven’t tried, and add in a way to turn off certain mini-games so they don’t come up. But in general, make it less random and more player-guided.

My gaming group loves Jackbox. Who doesn’t, really? I’ve gotten my grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc. on board the Jackbox train and everyone has a fun time. They’ve got a brilliantly simple way to connect and play; no app required, just a website with a 4 letter code. Easy-peezy. Play the game on your phone with your friends and laugh it up the whole time. The latest version (Party Pack 4) has more audience interaction, so if you have more than 8 players, the extra players can still write quips or get involved somehow. I’ve tried games like Sony’s That’s You! and it’s just not nearly as clean as Jackbox. It feels slow and clunky with the app and just doesn’t measure up to the laughs we get playing Jackbox.

My thought is to combine Mario Party and Jackbox. Not super original, but definitely a challenge. I tried out some similar ideas that are already out there like airconsole.com, but I don’t really like their model that much. They just use the phone as a controller (and we should all know by now that an NES controller doesn’t work when you make it into a touch screen) and they don’t really do anything else with it. I feel like if you’re going to go to the effort of connecting a phone to a game, there should be some meaningful content on both screens and not just a display of some controller. Ideally the connection method is simple and doesn’t require an app, however I could encourage app downloads with things like character customization and achievements, but it should never be mandatory. Once connected, the TV should host the game and display overviews and the scoreboard. The phones should act as input devices, but avoid turning into an actual console-like controller. As a simple example, the phone could give a list of things to vote on like Jackbox does, you touch the item you want to vote on, rinse and repeat. As a more complex example, the phones would all display a mini-game like Puzzle Fighter and when you have a big move to screw over another player, you can select which player to give the extra blocks to. Or maybe each player is searching part of a room on their phone and they have to communicate to get clues from each other in order to escape before time runs out.

The biggest thing I want to keep in mind is the framework surrounding connecting, playing rounds of mini-games, and somehow determining a winner. For connecting, I can re-use a lot of the network discovery code I wrote for GravSplash, so that’s cool. The rest of the framework should be dynamic enough to handle anything I want to throw at it – voting, drawing, action, turn-based, pvp, co-op, etc. So I’m putting a lot of thought and effort into getting a good framework up front. I’ve got a big list of mini-games that I want to get in there. Not all of the games will make it, and that’s ok. It’s going to be an iterative process. But the more that I imagine now, the more robust I can make this framework and the better the game will be in the long run. I hope. Once the framework is in place, it’ll be all about adding mini-games and prototyping new ideas and that’s where the big fun is, for me, during development. For starting out, there are plenty of projects on the Unity Asset Store that could (relatively) easily be adapted to fit the framework. I’m really looking forward to that point in development, but for now I’m focused on getting this framework up and running properly.

Wish me luck!

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