Do You Haiku?

I made a new game!

It’s been quite a while since I last updated.  Longer still since I posted anything that resembled a game.  But today, gentle reader, is the day I remedy both of these ills with a single stroke!  Even so, it’s probably going to be a while before I’m allowed to make fun of friends who don’t update their webpages in a timely fashion, but so it goes.  You’re safe for now, friends with un-updated web pages.  For now.

For everyone else, though – I have made a new game!  It’s called Haiku Hero, and is being sponsored by the fine folks over at Kongregate.com.  It is very different from my last game.  (But fear not, SHMUP fans, I have something in the works that I should be announcing soon, which should be a bit more interesting to you)  I think it is pretty neat!  I’m fairly happy with how it ended up at any rate, and and I love the music.  (Courtesy of the excellent Kristin Miltner.)  It’s basically a game about making Haikus.  And you can play it right now.

Play Haiku Hero at Kongregate!

Or, you can read on, for a much longer-winded description of what it is and how it came to be!

Haikus can be about almost anything.

The long description involves a brief and seemingly unrelated detour to talk about Rockband, but stick with me, I’ll get to the point eventually.  So, Rockband:  I like Rockband!  As a great many people know by now, it is great fun!  Especially if you can get the full 4 people jamming together at the same time.

When I play Rockband, I prefer to be shredding on the axe.  This feels right and good.  But gradually, over the course of playing, I began to realize an inequity:  The guitarist and the bassist play the game by aping real world skills.  No one kids themselves into believing that playing toy guitar equals real guitar, but it is fun to pretend.  (The whole game is really just dressing for helping people play act that fantasy.)

The drummer and the vocalist however, are not aping anything.

The drummer has to learn real drum skills, as far as I can tell.  And the vocalist is pretty much spending the whole time singing.  So if you and some friends end up playing a lot of rockband and getting the group up to the point where you can rock out on songs with everyone playing on expert difficulty, then you probably now have some people who are pretty good at things like singing, and at hitting things to a beat.

… And, you have two dudes who are really really good at pushing buttons on a toy guitar while pretending to strum it!  Rad!

Doesn’t seem fair at all, really.  But it does seem really really interesting. We have a situation here where playing the game actually makes you better at something in real life. None of this hand-wavey “well I guess maybe your hand eye coordination goes up” stuff.  You are measurably better at drumming afterward.

It got me wondering.  What other skills could we make fun to practice through games?

So I decided it might be a fun project to make a game that tries to encourage you to learn an actual, useful, real-world skill.  Something to bust out at parties when you need to justify all the time you spend playing video games.  Since I am always of the opinion that the world can use more poems, I decided the skill of “making pithy haikus about a variety of subjects, on a moment’s notice.”  (Clearly I am an absolute blast at parties.)

And so, a game!

Some of my haikus end up better than others...

It’s a bit of an experiment, really.  Because judging the quality or artistic merit of a poem is not something that you can really write an algorithm for, I have kept things like “score” and “ratings” out of the experience.  I made a conscious design choice that I really didn’t want to end up in a situation where someone wanted to write a poem one way, but it wasn’t “optimal”.  (Since this would probably lead to either them not doing what they wanted in order to maximize a number, or the game punished them when they did do what they wanted.  Neither of these seemed like good outcomes.)

The result is a game that is not really heavy on external stimuli or direction.  There is no high score to try to beat, and no ladder to climb.  It tries to make writing haikus easy and fun, with some variety, but if you don’t find that fun, the game doesn’t really give you much motivation beyond poetry for its own sake.

It’s been interesting watching reactions, really.  Some people have complained that they wanted more direction.  Other people have apparently really really liked it for simply writing poems in, and spent the entire week of playtesting flooding my inbox with haikus about Cthulhu.  (I have decided that this sub-genre should be officially called “Haikuhlus”.  Tell your friends!)

So now that it’s public, where will people end up?  I’m actually pretty interested to find out.  So go!  Make haikus!  Share them with friends!  And if you’re feeling really nice, tell me what you think of the game!

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