Enigma: A Code Breaking Game

Project Info

Aesthetic: Tabletop role-playing; Historical narrative

Platform: Tabletop + Mobile

App Development Engine: Unity

Project Length: 4 Months (Spring 2018)

Client: Jessica Hammer (ETC Faculty) and her colleague

Team Size: 6

My Role: Producer, Experience Designer

Responsibilities:​​

  • Leading team in concept and pre-production phase in researching and ideation.

  • Managing project production, including process, branding, scheduling and meetings.

  • Taking charge of communication with client and community, arranging playtest sessions, gathering useful feedback.

  • Leading design team toward precise design decisions, keeping the team in high efficiency.

  • Helping design the structural flow of the main experience, developing emotional moments    and theories to create the moments in the experience.

  • Actively collaborating with teammates in puzzle, prop and App design.

More Details

        Enigma is a graduate student project created at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. It's a tabletop role-playing experience enhanced by physical props and mobile application. It also involves collaborative puzzle solving sessions.

        The players identities in the game are the women Codebreakers working at Bletchley Park in England during World War II, who contributed significantly to decoding the German army’s ultimate cipher machine – Enigma. During the experience, players will walk through a story from the entering of the Bletchly Park and becoming a team, to a big event Coventry Bombing as a climax, where the emotional impact is really huge.

        More information can be found in it's website: 

        Enjoy a short video that walks you through Enigma: 

New findings as a Designer

        Experience design, especially story-driven experience design, was a new challenge to me as a game designer. Also, working with 3 other designers was a fresh experience, since previously I mainly did design work by myself.

        What we learned the most is how to break down the big challenge and nail it from different smaller aspects. As a designer, I used to think of every corner of the game all the time, to make sure the system is still dynamic and won't be killed by changes of some small parts. However, Enigma is such a huge design task, and it's never possible to think of it both in detail and in structure. Also, when more than one people get involved, the responsibility starts to get unsettled and not clear.

        It took us some time to figure it out, luckily it was just on time.

        By realizing our experience has several components such as the image shows, we are able to break the design tasks into 4 different parts: Narrative(story), Puzzle, Scenario(experience flow), and Technology(App). Each of the parts was taken charge of only one of the 3 other designers, and I was right in the middle of the team, to make sure the framework we use could work.

        It was both challenging and fun.

        First, I needed to be in consistent communication with every other designer, and understand most of their design, but meanwhile not step over and make decisions for them. It got tricky for some times, because the design could go to either direction, and different people had different consideration, so there was never a right answer. However, as a project, we need to make decisions to move forward. In that case, communication was really important, since we not only needed to decide, but also to keep everyone on the same page. If a decision is made but nobody knows about it, the project still gets stuck.

        Second, I learned to be a good listener. In many occasions, discussion can go bad, get personal and emotional, and that makes everyone frustrated. We had some moments like that, and after then, I realized the very common reason of it was things were complex, and people were holding different opinions towards them, they started to only focus on their own opinion, and ignore others' perspective. In that occasion, no one actually listened to each other, so the conversation couldn't actually go anywhere. To solve that, I tried first by myself to keep my own idea after others explained it thoroughly. It helped me a lot to understand others' design and eliminate confusion after they talked about everything, and we could actually discuss base on a better shared understanding, instead of arguing about some minor details which were not relevant at the moment. Then I also encouraged my teammates to do so, it really helped our meetings and design discussions go much smoother.

        And last, I learned to consider more practical when making decisions. Since this was a project that will last for only 16 weeks, the deadline were always clear even from the very start. So when we made some decisions, we always knew how much time did we have left to develop or realize the design. Sometimes we found the decision was over scoped, so later on we put more attention on analyzing the practicality of design.

Learning as a Producer

        In this project I also worked as a producer. Being in this position was a delightful experience. I really liked to be on top of everything and be able to see the big picture. But it was indeed also a great challenge, especially for a design project like Enigma.

        First challenge was about overall direction. Our client left us a very open idea of what she wanted: a tabletop RPG, with puzzle, with technology, with story. It was totally up to us how do we build the experience. For example, which story to choose, what form the puzzles are in, what platform the technology should be on... we had so many decisions to make. Finding out the direction needs some time, and as a producer I had to be cautious about our schedule, since we only have 16 weeks for the whole project. We spent the first 3 weeks on researching and finding a lot of potential design directions, and in week 4 I pushed the team to make a decision, otherwise we won't have enough time to develop on any idea.

        Then, it was the main challenge about scope. For design, it is always hard to estimate and evaluate. When it comes with a complex system like ours, it gets even harder. I liked the fact I was a designer myself, which helped a lot in managing the schedule. We did a great job in scoping, in my opinion. Because right after we finished our pre-production phase, we made an estimate of what we could deliver by the end of the semester, and that plan came out very accurate.

        A lot of new work as a producer was familiar, but ETC has some special requirement for student projects, like branding, half-sheets, quarters and soft openings, and so on. Managing the team to meet all those events, setting deadlines and milestones based on the bigger schedule, and keeping track of our progress, all of these work got me more comfortable with my position being as a producer.

        The images are our many playtest sessions, I kept track of them and stored all the feedback, since it it a very important step in our iteration cycle. Seriously, tons of playtests!

        ETC hosted a open house when it was close to the end of the semester, and it was a great chance for us to show our project to people, while also get more tests.

        A meeting with a real Code Breaker in WWII!!

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©2019 by Magian Li.